Happy Vietnamese Halloween

Vietnam has been introduced to Halloween and as with most things, the Vietnamese have put their own unique spin on this unofficial holiday. The celebrations sometimes start the night before October 31st but Halloween is quickly becoming a fun, spirited people-watching event with every year. As East meets West, you will see witches, ghosts, the walking dead and goblins riding their motorbikes all over the bigger cities of Saigon and Hanoi. You may even find a haunted house filled with devilish scary things and see that many businesses are decorated with pumpkins and skeletons.

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More family friendly events are available away from the “walking street” bars and clubs that feature festive decorations, bright lights and cute childrens’ costumes. Tourists that visit Vietnam in late October are surprised by the popularity of Halloween as many hotels and malls have trick-or-treating and concerts for the kids. If you have scheduled a trip to Southeast Asia over Halloween, be sure to pack a scary mask or simple costume so you can join in the spooky and fun festivities. Don’t worry if you have nothing to wear because stores to buy Halloween decorations and costumes are popping up in the larger cities. Most locals don’t wear full costumes and prefer to don only a mask or have their faces painted by one of the many available artists out on the street. Whether you join in on the parade or sit back to marvel at the people going by, this celebration is an event not to be missed. 20171101213933-10

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Lanterns, Lanterns Everywhere, Every Night

For the UNESCO Heritage Town of Hoi An, it’s all about the lanterns, from the cute floating ones to the impressive hanging ones, there isn’t a night when you can’t experience the colorful beauty of these little gifts to the gods that hopefully bring us fortune and love. While the biggest and best lantern festival of the year happens in February on the first full moon of the year after Tet, on the 14th day of each lunar month Hoi An comes alive as locals and tourists celebrate by lighting candles and floating lanterns down the Thu Bon River. 

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The full moon plays a significant role in the monthly Lantern Festival but don’t worry if you plan your visit to Hoi An on days other than when the full moon occurs because the lanterns are permanently linked since the Japanese merchants brought them in various shapes and sizes to hang in front of their homes. Many opportunities exist to make your own lanterns but many are available for purchase, you can even hop aboard a sampan to see the gorgeous display of lights and colors of the hanging lanterns from surrounding buildings reflecting from the water, launch your own floating lantern and hear some traditional music on bamboo flutes and fiddles.

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Around 1998, local authorities began planning the lantern festivals around the full moon, a time to honor deceased loved ones by burning incense and making offerings such as food, flowers, candles and fake money which is deeply rooted in Buddhist traditions that are both transformative and enlightening. Hoi An goes dark at 8 pm and turns off all fluorescent lighting and a magical glow takes over the town as people walk throughout the old quarter along the river enjoying delicious food from street food stalls, especially  moon cakes, a sweet, yummy pastry filled with red bean paste. Our hearts and our bellies are full, what a great experience with another Vespa Adventures tour in Hoi An. 

Bravery, Hope and Healing

I had only been in Saigon for 5 days when my mom called to tell me my Daddy had been taken to the Emergency Room and then admitted to the hospital. Talk about a wake up call, that news hit me like a ton of bricks but what could I do from halfway around the world?! While I wanted to go straight to the airport and catch the next flight home, and after crying for about 30 minutes, I caught my breath, said some prayers both for my Daddy and me to be strong, then I went on the Vespa Adventures Insiders Saigon tour. What a blessing this turned out to be!

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My favorite part of taking the tours is meeting new people but on this morning I was uncharacteristically quiet as I was anxious and worried about my Daddy. The first stop on was the Thich Quang Duc Monument – aka Burning Monk Monument which encouraged me to think about loyalty, faith and renewal. Who sets themselves on fire to die for their beliefs?! A strange feeling of calmness washed over me and I began to worry less about the situation back in the US and be more present in this place to memorialize such astonishing bravery. As our tour continued, the next stop would prove even more amazing and make me feel even better.

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We entered the Chinese pagoda through these beautiful gardens with fountains, statues and ornate altars with burning incense that immediately made me feel peaceful and prayerful. I spotted hundreds of yellow, spiral-shaped cones hanging in one courtyard area, each one with a red tag. After explanation from our tour guide, I was invited to write down the name or intention that I wanted to be remembered, attach the tag to one of the incense cones, light and hang it. No need to guess whose name I wrote down, of course I was crying but doing this gave me confidence that all would be okay and I appreciated this opportunity. This is one reason that I love Vespa Adventures tours-finding these out of the way places where there are few other tourists and distractions.

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Our tour continued with a stop at the Temple of 10,000 Buddhas which was also an astonishing place filled with reverence and respect, especially for the dearly departed. I’m learning more and more about the mix of Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity that is ever present in Vietnamese culture, always jubilant in life while celebrating death because when you really think about it-this is when life really begins.

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Stilted Villages of Tonle Sap Lake

After riding through quiet villages that seem surreal and transport you back in time, walking through the fresh market that lights all of your senses on fire and zooming over the red clay trails out to boats that will take us to Lake Tonle Sap, you are keenly aware of how amazingly different this part of Cambodia will be. Our Vespa Adventures group is large but we move along with ease as our drivers expertly navigate the way, dropping us off then picking us up at just the right spots. After a stroll through the always-exciting booths of the outdoor market, we walk through one of the oldest villages in Siem Reap that dates back to the 18th century. We are amid ruins and meet local characters that remind me how little has changed for the people here but that is, of course, purely by design and desire.

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We are then off the Vespas again as we board our skiffs and begin our journey through the muddy waterways that are lined with many long, skinny boats, houses on tall stilts, crops growing and smiling faces of the locals casting their nets and working the land as they have for centuries. This is their water and their very survival depends on the rise and fall of it but I can easily see that they have discovered what does and doesn’t work here. To imagine that the water actually rises 10 to 15 meters is mind-boggling, even more interesting is that some houses, docks and the fishing systems are designed to move as the water ascends and recedes with the season.

 

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The colors of the boats and houses are fascinating while sitting in contrast to the orange, muddy water and green grass. We enjoy cold beers on our river cruise, slowly maneuvering the narrow channel, going under hand-made bridges, being careful to avoid children playing in the water, men fishing and hundreds of other boats until we reach the Lake. This body of water is huge, it feels more like an ocean, we cannot see to the other side but spy a few nearby restaurants to host the newly found tourism industry  and visitors that have recently discovered this hidden gem, as well as fishing traps and nets and the occasional steaming cargo ship. We stop to float along while we wait for our other party to arrive before moving on to our next stop.

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We disembark to walk through part of the village passing so many interesting and different things that I can barely keep up with my group. I’m intrigued by the vibrant colors of these statuesque dwellings with their very steep staircases and all of the tools and equipment carefully hung beneath each one. I always wonder where the locals find and buy such bright paint! There are loads of tiny shrimp drying on a mat, men and women crouched under houses weaving fishing nets and children running around laughing and playing.

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We approach one house with the steepest of staircases where we will take a break and eat lunch, everyone is hungry but feeling lucky to have been part of such a wonderful day as we anticipate what is next. The women are welcoming and kind, show us around their humble home with breathtaking views of the waterway and Lake, offering us hammocks to relax in with cold drinks at the ready and then they begin to prepare our meal. The table is beautifully set, obviously we will have a feast fit for kings and queens, each delicious delight is followed by another, including my personal favorite of scrumptious fried shrimp, many Khmer specialty dishes and mouth-watering fruit for dessert. As we leave this haven of happiness with contentment in our hearts and bellies to continue our excursion, the women wave goodbye and I am sad to be leaving them and the comfort they have given.

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We continue through the village where some women have school supplies and ask for donations to help the local children with their studies. I imagine that it is very difficult to have the extra money for a teacher and school supplies so we gladly oblige and appreciate the emphasis placed on giving these children any type of education. We then cross over the creek over one of the many small bamboo bridges that have been built along the waterway. Our transport boats are waiting and we board for the quiet, slow cruise back to our Vespas. This adventure has been amazing and I immediately plan in my mind when I will return to see how much the water will rise for myself because I must see for myself how far the water rises, as I said it is almost unimaginable to me that the level reaches up to the houses. The ride home is a chance to relive the day and it’s incredible memories in my mind, this place and the people are indelibly etched on my heart forever.

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How Much Do I Love My Job?

I like my newish job more than you will ever imagine! When I think about all of the travel opportunities I have been a part of because of working for Vespa Adventures, I could scream with joy! While there is much hard work involved with the writing and making of promotional videos, etc., it’s always thrilling to meet new people, see interesting places and experience exciting things that I never dared to dream about. You know another thing I really like – BEER, COLD BEER!! Since I’ve been rather busy with work lately, I decided to share some of my most recent “work” with you, here’s an article I wrote about the Vespa Adventures Craft Beer tour in Saigon-enjoy! Please be sure to make note of some of the names of the beers-that’s my favorite part!

http://vespaadventures.com/craft-beer-fever-vietnam/

 

 

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My new beer buddies Ulee and Ben
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My favorite CB Tour Guide

 

 

 

 

 

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Why don’t you try to learn Vietnamese at the age of 53?!

I’ve quickly realized that the Vietnamese language is very difficult to learn but another ongoing problem for me is “speaking” Vietnamese as many words have a different meaning depending on the inflection of your voice which means that my southern drawl has got to go! When I do attempt to say words or speak in Vietnamese, I’m usually saying profane things that mean body parts spoken of only in private! I will never stop using “y’all” and I still say “thank you” because I’m sure people get my meaning. Thank goodness that I’m dealing with Roman characters, I can’t imagine trying to learn a symbol based language such as Japanese or Chinese. Even the Google translator doesn’t understand half of what I enter!

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Honestly, I’m not making much of an effort to learn Vietnamese, I know a few names of foods I enjoy but I can’t handle a new job, new living environment, food I don’t recognize, not having my own transportation and playing catch up with computer skills,  programs and technology on top of learning a new language. This old dog cannot do that new trick, don’t judge me! On a positive note, I’m developing a new form of sign language, it’s a Westerner white girl system, a Sister version that is not highly effective because I am the only one that understand it!

I have a quick wit and fast tongue, I try to slow down my speech but I get excited and I can’t help myself! As well, my bubbly personality and enthusiam are often misunderstood, why are the eternal optimists and happy people always accused of having too much to drink? Slowing down seems like I’m treating people like they were elderly, deaf or stupid, and let’s face it-most of these folks are smarter than I will ever be. Names and some faces (I will stop short of saying everyone looks alike but they do, especially in motorcycle helmets!), are particularly tough to remember but I like that different names have meanings that seem to fit people’s personalities, another fact that is universal. My new friends have one easy name to remember-I have about one hundred-so far! The Sister party continues even if I don’t know the names of the invitees!

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Bathrooms

It’s now time to discuss a topic which must be addressed – going to the bathroom, and before you start saying “gross” and “eeeeeeew,” just listen. “Going” is very different in foreign parts of the world, not that I thought everyone had private, above-ground toilets but I do appreciate a little bit of peace and quiet, as well as privacy when I use a powder room, water closet, lavatory, latrine, john or my personal favorite-the loo. Don’t worry if you are staying in a hotel or eating at a restaurant – you will be fine but here are a few things you should know about using a bathroom here: First: what is up with barely any toilet paper and no paper towels in Vietnam, is this part of some wicked tourist initiation?!

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Some toilets in rural, outlying areas do not even have a flush handle or button, there is a hose or spigot that goes to a bucket with a scoop or ladle, then you pour a few scoops of water into the bowl to flush, strangely effective depending on whether you went #1 or #2 and if you had any toilet paper. I’ve read many articles about how going “sqatty” style is much better for you physically but again, if all you find are raised sides to stand on and a drain, you better pray your thighs and knees can take it! My biggest suggestion is that you always carry extra tissues and be prepared to dry your hands on more extra tissues or napkins, your pants or wave them around to shake off excess water and air dry. Two words here ladies………Pure and Ell!

 

 

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The rest areas in rural areas of Vietnam are actually made for resting and eating, not really going to the bathroom. and what is up with Vietnamese men thinking it’s acceptable not to use a restroom at all – I’ve never seen so many guys peeing on the side of the road in my life! You”re welcome for no pictures of that! You have been warned so be prepared and be thankful that most homes, hotels and hostels are available with a safe, private bathroom for a fairly peaceful bathroom experience! I’ve included a picture of my new bathroom with awesome pink tile and a bathtub – I knew this was where I would live the moment I saw it! Let the Sister bubble bath parties begin…………………….!

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