My Travels – Vietnam Part 1

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Vietnamese women chilling at park near the Ho Chi Minh post office

So, the fourth country I found myself in 2015 was Vietnam.  Now, getting into Vietnam was quite interesting.  Apparently, as a Canadian, you need to get a Vietnamese visa before entering Vietnam.  Luckily, on my second day in Cambodia, some fellow travellers gave me the heads-up and I was able to apply for a last minute visa with a travel agency when I was in Siem Reap, Cambodia.  It cost $60 and I got my passport back with a Vietnamese visa within 24 hours – not bad.

Now, from Siem Reap, there are different options to get to Vietnam, usually to fly in or take a bus.  Since I decided to travel without an itinerary  this time around and go with the flow, I didn’t book anything in advance.  So last minute, here I was trying to catch a flight into Hanoi, Vietnam via one of the cheap airliners – but of course, they were all booked the day I had to travel, leaving me no other option but to travel overland to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam by coach.  For a VIP ticket (meaning you get onto a sleeper  bus with your own comfortable bed), it cost $24.   While it was a sleeper bus, it wasn’t the bus I was sold.  I arrive to the coach station at 12 am only to find out that I’ve been jipped by the travel agent.  So, apparently, I’m supposed to share this 5-foot-nothing bed that’s 1 meter wide with this American guy from Miami (Nick) who I just met who’s like 6’3 for the next 8 hours.  We’d literally be spooning – that’s how much space there was and there was no partition like the other one I was on. Thankfully though, I had a chit chat with the bus driver and was able to secure my own sleeper bed/unit on the bus, much to Nick’s  appreciation too cause he got his own space too now. We ended up chatting the entire time and became travel buddies for the journey.  But yeah, we need our own space!

Once we made it to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, they got us on another bus to continue our journey to cross into Vietnam.  Of course, this one wasn’t a sleeper bus, but by now, all I wanted was just to get to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon).   I had an aisle seat next to Nick, which was cool, but then all of a sudden the bus stops yet again and they pick up this old man and put one of those plastic outdoor chairs in the aisle and had him sit next to me. Dude stank for one, and was watching porn on his phone the whole time. Who does that??? Nine hours of torture ensued – the things you come across in life. lol On a more positive note, in one of the many pit stops, while I was sitting with the few foreigners (Canadian, Brits and Americans), a lady came and gave me a bowl of tom yam soup. It ended up being from a Muslim family who was also on the bus with us.  Some great Muslim hospitality there!

To make a long story short, what was supposed to be a 14 hour bus journey in a VIP sleeper bus ended up being a 19 hour journey on a normal bus which had no wifi, kept on stopping and picking up people from everywhere and didn’t even drop us off at the bus station like it was supposed to (which was near the guesthouse I booked), so we had to walk 3 miles to get to my guest house.

I was so relieved to get to the guest house, but now, my day was pretty much done since I lost 6 hours from the traveling delays.  First things first, I booked my flight from Saigon to Hanoi for the following night.  Then, I went out to go get something to eat (pho, of course) and explore the city a bit, before returning to the guest house, taking a shower, and crashing on my bed for the night.

When I awoke in the morning, I had to remember where I was.  Once I caught my bearings, I got dressed, and headed downstairs for breakfast.  Fortunately, I met this amazing Vietnamese girl while having breakfast who was visiting from Hanoi for her first time. I mentioned that I wanted to go on a vespa tour and explore the city, and she wanted to do the same, so we linked up.  She offered to rent the vespa, but when she tried, they wouldn’t rent it out to a Vietnamese citizen (ridiculous) so I had to deposit my passport.

The great thing about going with my new found friend for the day – Vu Thi – was that I didn’t have to make any plans or read any pamphlets to find out what to do.  More importantly, I didn’t have to de trying to ride one in the traffic there. I just sat on the back of the vespa and let her become my tour guide to Saigon.  We hung out together the entire day, until it was time for me to catch my flight of course, and explored the city together. Renting that vespa and going with Vu Chi was the best decision ever – got to see and do so much in my brief visit!  It also made up for my previous day which was consumed by traveling, misinformation and getting ripped off. 😛

 

In Saigon, Vu Chi and I went to the Ho Chi Minh Museum, the old presidential Palace, checked out Saigon Central Post Office (a post office built in typical French colonial style) in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, near Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, the city’s cathedral, where we sat down to enjoy a cup of Vietnamese coffee.  We later went and rode around downtown, visited the Ben Tenh Market (old central market) and the famous street which I can’t remember the name of for higher end designer shopping, and ended off our day eating dinner at a recommended restaurant (sorry, can’t remember the name.

Got to say, for a city that wasn’t on my original itinerary, I had an incredible time in Saigon!

Farewell Saigon, and Hello Hanoi!

So, I caught the last flight out of Saigon to Hanoi, reaching Hanoi just before 1 am.  There weren’t any buses running now (of course), which was a bummer because it would only cost me 25 cents to get to the Old Quarters .  Instead, we had to line up for non existent taxis.  Since I was travelling on my own and was trying to think of safety as well as save a few bucks, I started to ask people in the line if they’d be willing to share a taxi with me.  The first person I asked was traveling with three of her friends, so the taxi would be full.  The couple in front of me heard and offered to share with me, which was great.

Once we reached the hotel they were staying at in the Old Quarter, I got off as well, since I hadn’t booked a place for the night.  So here I was at 2am roaming the empty night streets alone, looking for last minute accommodations. Everywhere was closed.  But thankfully, most of the hotels and hostels kept their doors unlocked but the receptionists were sound asleep.  Finally found one after an hour and for a steal. 

To be continued… sometime… hopefully in the near future.

 

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My Travels – Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia

So in 2015 alone, my tush has been in 10 different countries. Funny thing is, every year, I think I’m only going to be in one or maybe two. Life just keeps on surprising me indeed! There’s no point in planning in my case, I just need to go with the flow.

In this post, I’ll post about the first three countries I was in this year, and continue in other posts.  Part 2 I’ll post on Monday, December 7, and Part 3 on Tuesday, December 8.

1. Singapore:

10818283_10155088315455646_2329088070445085057_o.jpgSo, 2015 began for me at the border between Malaysia and Singapore, where my friends and I rang in the New Year as we were crossing over into Singapore, admiring the firework display from the bus. It was my second time in Singapore, so this time, I tried to do things I didn’t do the last time.

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Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

The first time I was here in 2010, my friend and I went to Sentosa Island, Universal Studios, the botanical garden – a must see by the way, and then the rest of the time, we hung out eating and shopping. We had high tea at Raffles Hotel, had dinner mostly at Clarke Quay, and window shopped at Orchard Road.

 

Sounds very not Asian, right? That’s because Singapore, while it’s in Asia, is one of the financial capitals of Asia so it has a booming economy, which is evident in the country. It’s actually considered an English speaking country – a fact I learned when I was there. Most people think Singapore is only a city of skyscrapers, but there’s more to Singapore than that. If you get out of the financial district area, you’ll start seeing more ‘authentic Asia’ so to speak (or what we foreigners would presume to be “Asian”.

My trip, this time around, was more of a cultural trip, which was great. We walked through Chinatown with it’s old Singaporean architecture houses, Little India with it’s aroma of exotic spices and burning incents, and checked out Haji Lane where the Central Mosque (I always like visiting the Central Mosque everywhere I travel) is… and then once we did that, we spent the rest of our days there shopping and stuffing our faces. Of course, we hung out at Marina Bay and had a bite at Clarke Quay and Riverside.

2. Malaysia:

Ahh, Malaysia. So I lived and worked in Malaysia until mid March, when my contract ended. And while I was working there, I had the opportunity to visit 9 of the 13 states there. Malaysia is such a lovely country indeed. From the white sandy beaches, the jungles, the waterfalls, the animals, the people, the cultures, the food, and the colours – you can’t possibly get enough. I was happy to call it home the 9 months I lived there.

 

One of the most memorable experiences I had in Malaysia was when I was in Borneo, Sabah to be more exact, and my friend and I went on this sunset river cruise. We began our afternoon with high tea, followed by seeing proboscis monkeys in the jungle, and then dinner… and ended off the evening being mesmerized by millions of fireflies lighting up the night sky. Time just stood still. They were everywhere, and from time to time, we’d even catch them with our hands. I could stay there for hours on end.

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A cheeky macaque

And the monkeys in Malaysia, they’re everywhere – literally. Macaques, baboons, you name it. You’ll be jungle trekking and whoomp there it is. If you’re not careful, they’ll attack you. My friend Gloria and I were nearly jumped at Telaga Tujuh Waterfall in Langkawi by a pack of macaques. As cute as they are, when they want something, watch out! The Crips and the Bloods have noting on them.

 

What is there to do in Malaysia? Plenty. If you love adventure, nature, learning about different cultures, water activities – then this place is definitely for you. I urge you though, if you aren’t already, try to get PADI certified so that you can go scuba diving there. Worse case scenario, it’s also a snorkeling heaven!

Well, there’s much I can say about Malaysia, but I’ll stop it here and reserve that for a post on it’s own.

3. Cambodia:

Now this was an interesting trip. For the first time ever, I decided to just buy a plane ticket and just go without making any prior plans. The only thing I did was book a place to stay for the first night. Another first is how light I traveled. For the first time, I traveled with my bag only weighing 5 KG. And this trip would last for a little over 2 weeks. And a third first – I’d be staying in hostels. My friends always make fun of me and call me the three star or more traveller as I would only stay in a hotel with a minimum of three stars when I travelled (Except if it’s like an ecolodge or cabin, etc). But living in Malaysia, I’ve learned to let my standards down a bit and realized that hostels aren’t that bad after all. In fact, some where even better than the hotels I’ve stayed at!!!

Alright, now back to Cambodia. So yes, one of the things I’ve learned was that there was Genocide in Cambodia in the 70s. I never heard about it until I landed in Phnom Penh and was looking at what there was to do in the city. My goodness, it was truly a heart wrenching experience when my newly found hostel friends and I went to the prison where many Cambodians were being tortured, and then later to the killing fields where many of them lost their lives to the brutal Khmer Rouge Party. Phnom Penh was a somber visit. Outside of that, they have a lovely riverside where we walked and stopped by a couple of places along the way, visiting the Buddhist Temple and the Royal Palace – admiring their architecture, and the Central Market.

 

After two days of being in Phnom Penh, I caught the night bus and made my way to Siem Reap to go visit the ruins of Angkor. A piece of advice to those planning to go there: If you want to only go for a day (they have 1 and 3 day passes), the best way to do it is to go just before sunset (around 5 pm) when the temples are about to close to buy a ticket for the following day. They let you enter to watch the sunset. So this way, you get both the sunrise view and sunset view of Angkor Wat. ☺

So of course, I spent two days visiting the Temples of Angkor with the same friends I met in Phnom Penh as well as another one we picked up at the hostel in Siem Reap. Walking around the different temples, you just can’t help but admire the craftsmanship. It’s truly remarkable how they were able to build that in the 12th century. The temples are quite impressive as are the carvings.

I also visited the Muslim village there in Siem Reap. While the majority of Cambodians are Buddhist, there are about 250 Muslim families living in Siem Reap, most in that area. It was nice to be able to find Halal food and be greeted with the familiar, “Assalaamu `alaikum”.

What else is there to do? They have amazing markets there that you cannot miss, including the night market. Great food, and perfect for buying all those touristy stuff you’re friends and family will love.  And, they’re cheap!

 

34 and Never Been Kissed

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So I’m 34, still single, and a virgin. Yep, contrary to popular belief, those of us still exist – I owe it to my faith and my human biology background (well, the virginity part i.e.). I’m sure you’ve heard that in Islam, we’re not allowed to engage in pre-marital sex before marriage. I take that to heart. Moreover, I’ve studied the effects of different hormones on our bodies and mind from sexual intercourse, and thus, don’t want to offer the cookie, so to speak, unless he’s the right one, which I’m on the look-out for.  Besides, I’ve seen way too many heart-aches to want to intentionally put myself through it.  I’m not ready to start writing poems about it either. 😉

This year, I’ve had better prospects when it comes to love and marriage. (And no, I don’t do that whole arranged marriage thing.  That’s not even from Islam, it’s more of a cultural thing – the subcontinent to be more specific.)  I’m meeting better guys (thankfully), however, I still haven’t met the one that I’m willing to sacrifice the rest of my life and happiness for.

While they teach you that marriage is happily ever after, it’s truly not. It’s a roller coaster ride where half the time you’re preventing yourself from killing this other person whom you somehow once loved, and trying to remember why it was you loved them in the first place. So, if I’m going to put myself through that, then he’d better be the right one. While marriage has it’s challenges, it’s also equally as amazing, wonderful and rewarding too, making that sacrifice worth it. As with anything in life, it has its pros and cons.

Getting married is easy. It’s the staying married part that worries me, especially in our society today where most people carry divorce in their back pocket. People no longer try to fix a relationship. And with Muslims, marriage has become synonymous with having sex. If you want to have sex, get married. While it is one of the perks, marriage is more than sex. Many divorces have happened because couples realized they really weren’t a good match and were merely driven by their hormones. Generally though, many people jump right into marriage blindly to begin with, not really realizing what they’re signing up for.

I guess for some people, it’s just one of those stages of life you’re supposed to go through. You go to school, you go to college, you get a job, and you get married and have children. So, they end up getting married to the first person they fall in love with and figure that love is enough to maintain a relationship. If it’s love as in the verb where you’re constantly working on it, then yes. But if it’s love as in the abstract noun and infatuation, then you’re going to need a little more than that to sustain a relationship in the long run. Many, unfortunately, had to learn this the hard way.

And then of course, you have that pressure from others who expect you to have that box ticked by a certain age or stage in your life. When are you getting married? You can’t keep saying no. You’re clock is ticking. If you want to have kids, you better get on that soon. And even worse, you’ll get these: Don’t worry about finding the one. Just get married. If it doesn’t work out, at least you have a child out of it and you can raise him/her on your own. It’s no biggy. It’s kinda the norm now. And sadly, it’s not only older women who are saying this, but younger ones too.  So, the whole purpose of getting married, apparently, is to have a kid? Not to have a life partner, nor to love and be loved and share your life with someone you consider not only to be your lover, but friend too.

While I love kids and would love to have them, I’d rather raise my kids with a loving husband, who will be there till death does us part (and no, I don’t plan on killing him ;)). I won’t rush into marriage just because my clock is ticking and I want to have children. I believe that every child deserves to be raised by a mother and father and it’s healthy for them to see their parents modeling how to be a mother and father, and wide and husband. I want to marry a man who I’d want my son to grow up just to be like, and my daughter wanting to be married to a man just like her father – setting her standards as high as they should.

Now, because I’ve had many prospects, people assume that I’m just picky. But that’s far from the truth. Every time I sit with someone and go over my mental list (I’ve never written it down), they agree that I’m not asking for too much.

And no, I’m not a gold-digger nor high maintenance.  A man with good character who is kind, generous, educated, puts in effort and chooses to put me as a priority trumps a man with fancy cars, loads of money who pampers me with gifts but doesn’t have character and puts himself first. Well, while I’m at this, I’d also like him to have a fun-loving personality, a good sense of humour, to be athletic/active, family-oriented, and intelligent – yes, I’m a saposexual. Feed my brain and my heart, and I’m sold!

Then, once I’ve established that I’m not picky, I get the… but men are intimidated by you. Look at all the places you’ve been to. Where you’ve lived. What you’ve accomplished in life. To that, I’d have to say, boys are intimidated, but not men. Moreover, it’s also those who come from a different paradigm than me.

While I travel a lot, I’m not rich. For the love of God, I don’t even have a car or house. Women who travel, believe it or not, are actually less materialistic than women who don’t.

While I’ve always been a strong woman, due to my life circumstances, I’m actually not as intimidating when people do get to know me (outside of all the boxes they decide to put me in). Because of my job and where I’ve lived, they assume I was this STRONG BLACK WOMAN, until they speak to me and realize I’m this big kid in a woman’s body – lol – not but seriously, I am.  The Toys R Us commercial jingle was made for me – I never grow up.  Unfortunately, if you’re a single woman and successful (and black in my case), you’re automatically put in the STRONG BLACK WOMAN or the “she’s definitely out of my league” box, shooting themselves in the foot before even trying – smh.

Thankfully, I know who I am, and what I want in life. I won’t rush into marriage, nor settle, just to be married and have kids. Yes, I want to love and be loved, but that’ll just have to wait until I find my Mr. Good-enough. I know he’s out there somewhere; our paths just haven’t crossed yet.  Or as one of my good friend joked, “he’s busy trying to figure out which countries you haven’t been to.” 😉

Marriage to me is a serious commitment, one were both parities have to equally invest in. And, until I find that person who is willing to put me first (as I would him), and puts his words into action, then I’ll continue my life as a happily single woman who lives life.

And to all those 30ish single women who have yet to find their one, don’t rush and give into fear. You’ll find him; he’s out there somewhere looking for you. In the meantime, live your life, follow your dreams, and do anything and everything you wouldn’t be able to do once you get married, settle down and have kids. That’s why I travel a lot. ☺