Happy new year my friends! I hope you all enjoyed your celebrations and are excited about what 2013 has given you and what 2014 will bring to you. For me, a new year is another reminder that life goes quick and the present is really a precious thing. I think this has been one of my biggest lessons in 2013, and I am grateful to have developed an awareness of the power each day holds. It sometimes terrifies me that we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, next week, or next year. But if we recognize this, then we also have the ability to appreciate each day’s potential. So much can be done in a day! Every day we have the opportunity to make ourselves and those around us happier, better people. If each day holds that much magnitude, imagine what can be done with 365 of them! I love what I have done with my year. Use your years wisely my friends, you never know when you will run out.
I celebrated the new year in Saigon, Vietnam with an eclectic crowd of new international friends. We were a group of- Vietnamese, Australian, Dutch, French, and American. It was perfect. (Except for that part where I woke up without an iPhone.) My nights out in Asia have generally been somewhat few and far between (25 is the new 50, when it comes to my ability to consume alcohol without a hangover) so it was fun to dress up (backpacker style) for a night of celebration. Though Saigon is generally a busy, crowded city; the people in the streets seemed to multiply on an exponential level this night. Most were on a mission to get to the harbor for fireworks. Sadly I missed these, but from what I hear they were pretty incomparable to our 4th of July celebrations. The night was a perfect way to end my month of Vietnam and mark the completion of a year of adventure. December was after all, my last full month in Asia. 😦
So, since my Christmas post I have been moving at a rather leisurely pace through the southern part of Vietnam. I spent the holiday in a beach town called Mui Ne, with some Australian friends I met in Nepal. Christmas Day included bikinis, sangria, and spring rolls. It was pretty blissful. Through the power of the Apple geniuses I was able to open gifts with my family, virtually, for the 3rd year now. I think they are getting used to my face on a computer screen. I sent back a bag of Asian Christmas gifts with my friend Alyssa, so it was fun to watch them open them. I spent a few days at the pool before making the longest 200km journey to Saigon ever. 8 hours… Seriously?! It doesn’t even make sense.
Honestly, I wasn’t much looking forward to returning to Saigon but it seemed to be the next stop on the road south so there was again. To be fair, I had only previously spent a day in Saigon, which isn’t any amount of time to judge a city. This time I was here for a week, and I did indeed leave with a new opinion! Saigon is a crazy chaotic city, but it is also vibrant and full of an endless number of things to do. I also happened to find myself in the city at the same time as many other friends and made some good new ones during this week. I hadn’t yet stayed in a hostel during my entire time in Vietnam so I decided it was time to live like a backpacker again. It was a fancier hostel than most, called Townhouse 50. I spent my first couple days with a Canadian teacher who lives in China and then a dutch guy who became my buddy for the week. We enjoyed an interesting (word choice?) tour of a cao dai temple (this religion worships the left eye and only exists in Vietnam. True story.) and a very biased adventure in the cu chi tunnels. The cu chi tunnels are an infamous network of passageways that was largely responsible for the success of the Vietcong in southern Vietnam. I believe it extends for almost 200 km. Here we watched a movie that introduced us to ‘American Killer Heroes’ and were able to witness the brutality of replica ‘American soldier traps’. Being an American, it was a little bit hard to listen to at times. All in all, it was very eye opening and education. But I would not suggest any Vietnam vets visit this place. The rest of the week I enjoyed the more local side of the city with my new Vietnamese friend, Tram. I met Tram through Alyssa, the first time I was in Saigon. She was gracious enough to take my around on her Vespa for several days and we got up to a lot of fun. To top it all off- I was lucky enough to see my coworker, Thu, who works as a pharmacist on my unit at Huntsman. We caught up over some very culturally confused German beers (served by Asians in lederhosen) and as always, it was soo good to see a familiar face from home!
The day after New Years, I left with my Australian friends for a 3 day tour of the Mekong delta that would eventually drop us at the Cambodian border. Generally, I am not one for organized tours but we decided this would be the most practical way to explore the south. It was good, we spent a few days on various rivers and waterways and enjoyed many markets and exotic dishes of field rat and snakes. I did not indulge in either of this delicacies. We made it to the border on the 4th of January, the same day on which I unfortunately realized my Vietnam visa had expired on the 3rd of January. I was sure this could only end as an expensive mistake for me and we went to passport control unsure of where it would go. Well, they handed my passport back to me with an exit stamp and no questions asked. I have no idea. We were well prepared to encounter several hassles at the border (it is not a popular tourist crossing) but miraculously encountered none. We made it through at least 5 border guards of both nationalities before making it successfully to Cambodian soil. All those people, and it only cost us a $2 bribe to the ‘health official’ who used his laser pointer to our foreheads to tell us we passed the temperature check. He must have been in a generous mood, because he gave us a $1 discount and with a big smile explained that this fee was because ‘I am police officer!’. Fair enough, at least the man is honest.
Well, now I am on the beach in the very south of Cambodia enjoying the precious time I have left on this beautiful continent! Less than 2 weeks. More on Cambodia later! xo