Singapore – When you live like a local, work with locals, and hang out with locals you can expect to have what I like to call “cultural experiences”. The people of Vietnam were so warm and open – always smiling and laughing and willing to help – that you couldn’t help but be pulled into the country’s and the culture’s embrace. Vietnam will always hold a special place in my heart, not because of the trips I took or the volunteer work I did, but because of the people I met and the cultural experiences and exchanges I had with them. I may not have seen much of Vietnam besides Hanoi, but I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything in the world.
Hanoi, Vietnam – Football is the world’s game, but that doesn’t mean it’s my game or my country’s game. Like many American kids I grew up playing baseball and watching American football and basketball, which means my natural instinct is to catch and throw a ball, not kick it. So, you can imagine my trepidation as I stood on a football field after entering the game as a sub on defense. My roommate and I had been invited to play by our office, and when they said it was just a friendly game I figured it would be fun to try my hand, er foot, at the game and see what made it so popular.
Hanoi, Vietnam – I arrived in Hanoi along with ten other volunteers from all walks of life and corners of the globe. To paraphrase a famous Latin saying: We came together, We saw together, We conquered together. As with most things in life, everything started at home. Possessing the same mindset helped us all get along, but not having TV, internet or other distractions the first couple days forced us to interact and get to know each other. Throw in the other four volunteers who were already here, and we had a very close knit group that only enhanced everyone’s experience in Vietnam. Not everything was perfect, or went according to plan, but we still had a ton of fun.
5:00 AM Wake up to rooster crowing
5:01 AM Roll over and try to fall back asleep
6:40 AM Alarm goes off, hit snooze button
6:45 AM Alarm goes off, hit snooze button
6:50 AM Get out of bed and take ice cold shower (helps with trying to cope with the sweating caused by excessive heat and humidity)
Hanoi, Vietnam – Within about 5 minutes of stepping outside the airport in Hanoi, I realized I was in a place much different than anywhere I had ever been before. There were no signs in English, or any other languages besides Vietnamese. There were no other languages spoken except Vietnamese. Although not as bad as China, the smell of smog and pollution instantly assaulted my nostrils and lungs. There was absolutely no escaping the fact that, for better or for worse, I was in Vietnam.
Hanoi, Vietnam – I find that one of the most exciting parts of traveling is the chance to meet new people. You never know who you might run into, what kind of experience(s) you will share, or for how long your paths will cross. Think about it, a life changing event or your future best friend could be out there somewhere, and all you have to do is get off the couch and start wandering until you find that person or experience.
Hanoi, Vietnam – In 1975 the ruthless communist dictator Pol Pot came to power in Cambodia, ushering in the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot’s vision was one of an agrarian society founded on equality and self sufficiency. To achieve his goal, Pol Pot exiled everyone from the cities, closed the country’s borders with land mines, disbanded modern institutions associated with education, medicine, free trade, and the media, and forced all people in Cambodia to move to collective farms (ie. work camps) throughout the Cambodian countryside. The mass migration from the cities tore families apart and forced people to leave all of their belongings behind, while the loss of all social institutions completely halted the Cambodian economy and led to great sickness and starvation.
Bangkok, Thailand – Now this, this was the Thailand I was expecting. My time in Phuket was three days of in your face sensory overload. Of course, I stayed in Patong – the party capital of Phuket – which explains a lot of the high octane energy coursing through the place. But, there was still the beach, the sun, the food, the people, the hagglers, the “massage parlor” girls, the Tuk Tuk drivers, the constant noise. You name it, it was there, and I loved every minute of it. To top it off, I went on an amazing sea canoe tour in Pha Nga Bay that provided several more amazing moments.