Sa Pa: A Tale of Delusional Egos and Diametrical Trekking Experiences

Here’s a completely unoriginal proposition: I can be overly ambitious. Translated into my day-to-day activities, this often means doing too much too quickly. I feel valuable when I can whisk through a day of activities that reflect the ostensible vitality and productivity of my youth. On the other side of the coin, prolonged stagnancy overwhelms me. Self-satisfaction demands busy schedules and efficient time micromanagement, and when things slow down, or circumstances cause me to fall behind, my confidence and self-worth wean. This may all seem relatively harmless. Keeping busy and setting ambitious goals may register as normal, or even noble, but there are hidden dangers. Lurking behind this charade of compulsive achievement is always the hazard of overrun. The body can only endure so much physical and mental stress, and when we surpass these psychological and corporeal limits with reckless productivity, we begin to unravel at the seams. Speed kills, and so do neglectful drivers.

Continue reading “Sa Pa: A Tale of Delusional Egos and Diametrical Trekking Experiences”

Vietnam Travel Days

Vietnam is a playground for the restless traveler. From its high-octane cities, to pagodas and dynastic temples, ancient and historic towns, and stunning mountainous landscapes, the potential travel experiences are as varied as they are rewarding. In between sites, the country is gilded with emerald rice fields and white-sanded beaches, all enhanced by a local population that is curious, warm, and eager to connect. There’s a reason this country makes it to the top of travel lists, and the next leg of my trip sampled a bit of the best it has to offer. Continue reading “Vietnam Travel Days”

The Mekong Delta & Unwanted Travel Companions

It’s my first day in Vietnam and I’m lying on my bed, arching my back and pulling my knees into my chest, sweating. Another episode of abdominal cramps and nausea falls over me: it’s a heavy, shifting internal pain. I’ve just taken an exhausting journey across the Cambodia-Vietnam border to Chau Doc as part of a three-day tour of the Mekong Delta through to Ho Chi Minh City, and I don’t know how I’ll manage to carry on in this condition. Although my stomach has been ‘off’ for the last few weeks, this seems like it’s culminating with something much more sinister.

Although my stomach is rolling in pain, I feel faint and know that my body needs food. I wander the busy streets of Chau Doc, dodging motorbikes in search of something safe and palatable to eat. I settle on Pho – a Vietnamese beef noodle soup – and slowly eat what I can. The soup actually takes away some of the nausea, and I settle back into my hotel room for, hopefully, a restoring sleep. The respite, however, is brief. I’m up three times in the night with more pain, and I know that something is definitely not right. Continue reading “The Mekong Delta & Unwanted Travel Companions”

The Trouble with Paradise

As world travelers, we’re often faced with the challenge of traversing multiple countries in a limited number of weeks or months. Wanting to capture the essence of experiences that each country has to offer, we move very quickly from place to place and load our days with sightseeing itineraries, guided tours, and outdoor excursions. All the while, our travel goals dance in front of our eyes, reminding us about the enormity of what we’re yet to discover. Any superfluous moments spent in one location come at the opportunity cost of being able to experience something new, and possibly better, right around the corner. Time is our most precious traveling resource, and we put a great deal of effort into dealing with its scarcity.

No matter how well we craft our daily itineraries, though, something troubling inevitably occurs: we land somewhere that really gets under our skin, and we want nothing more than to stay. Perhaps it’s the exquisite surroundings, the close relationships we make at our hostel, or just the hackneyed “good vibe” that makes us want to sink our roots into a particular place and not move for a while. The trouble is, though, that while our hearts say “stay,” our inner achiever tells us that the best is yet to come. There is an intrinsic expectation that we left home to explore many new places, and to neglect that expectation is to subvert the original goal of traveling itself. All of a sudden, a dark fantasy emerges of a future time when, looking back at our days of opportunity, we experience heartfelt regret over not “seeing it while we were there.” We replay this troubling narrative over and over again in our minds until the idea of staying in one place is ludicrous, and even offensive. The bag gets packed, and we’re relieved to see that horrible, wonderful place we once felt attached to in the rear view mirror of our night bus to the next town. Continue reading “The Trouble with Paradise”

The Cambodia Killing Fields

There’s a bloody hand print on the wall. It’s faint against the pale concrete – you would easily miss it if you didn’t look closely. Though time has faded this unsettling stain, it still conjures a stark, horrifying fantasy of the tragic, nameless suffering that filled this place. My imagination curdles when trying to picture the violence that bloodied this person’s hand and how, when broken, they reached out to the wall for support. The wall now bears the mark of their pain, and though the victim may be lost in time, the ghost of their memory still haunts me as I pass through the room. Continue reading “The Cambodia Killing Fields”

My Two-Day Angkor Temple Blitz

Angkor. The world-renowned temples and monuments are testament to the grandeur of the greatest ancient civilization that ever ruled Southeast Asia. It was a time of god-kings, and of consolidated political and military power. Angkor Wat was originally built as a personal mausoleum for King Suryavarman II, and subsequent rulers oversaw its prolific expansion. Recent scientific investigation has revealed that Angkor had been the largest pre-industrial city in the world, with an elaborate infrastructure system connecting 1000 square kilometers of urban sprawl. Great power has a tendency to collapse in on itself, though, and after several decades of internal economic and political strife, the kingdom fell to an invading Ayutthaya empire, who were probably jealous of their temples (I’ve seen the Ayutthaya ruins, and they pale in comparison).

The kingdom of Angkor now lies in ruins – piles of stone that draw over two million visitors each year. There are over 1000 temples scattered across the Angkor historical park, although these range from nondescript piles of stone to massive and impressive structures. Still, there’s a lot to explore, and for someone prone to temple fatigue (the indifference one eventually develops when viewing too many temples), but who is also somewhat of a completionist, it proved difficult to plan out the spread of temples I would be visiting.

Luckily, Angkor is a well-trodden tourist path. There are plenty of pre-established itineraries crafted by hostels and other travel experts. Using Siem Reap as a home base, I combined the advice of my hostel and tuk-tuk driver and worked out a two-day circuit of Angkor temple sightseeing. Below you’ll find pictures of my exciting temple exploration! Continue reading “My Two-Day Angkor Temple Blitz”

4000 Shades of Tourist Etiquette

I left Luang Prabang too early. Delightful riverside cafes, cobblestone alleyways, romantic colonial architecture, and bustling night markets maintain their reputable allure. Unfortunately, the many attractions of the city were pitted against unremitting wanderlust and, to my vexation, the looming threat of diminishing time. The latter forces prevailed, and it was time to get on another bus. We headed south to Vang Vieng, the widely-proclaimed outdoor adventures hotspot of Laos and magnet for the reprehensible youth party crowd. Continue reading “4000 Shades of Tourist Etiquette”