It has been a while since my last blog post, but I plan to make it up to y’all with a long and juicy post about my recent globe trotting shenanigans. Like most American Universities, Vietnamese students at CTU get a month off between semesters in December. Naturally, I took full advantage of this opportunity. Follow me as a recount my journey through 4 countries in 4 weeks!
First stop: Nepal
My decision to spend a gap year in Asia is largely thanks to my study abroad experience in Kathmandu, Nepal. Ever since I left Nepal in June 2014, I have been itching to get back to see my family and friends that I left behind. The devastating earthquake in May 2014 has, of course, only added to that yearning. If that weren’t bad enough, Nepal has recently been crippled by a shortage of basic commodities following the establishment of a new constitution which upset the Madhesi minority as well as India (see link below for an informative read on the current blockade situation). For these reasons, my return to Kathmandu was extremely emotionally charged and I worried about what it would be like to see the country I loved in shambles. I worried about seeing my families and if they truly had everything they need. I worried about my Nepali and if I would remember how to communicate with people.
Stepping off of the plane at Tribhuvan International Airport was a breath of fresh (and slightly polluted, but you get the point) air. All my worries melted away because I was home and all the time and distance in the world couldn’t change that. Accompanying me on the trip was my fellow English teacher and friend, Matt!
Before rendezvousing with my host families, Matt and I hit the streets of Thamel (the tourist district) to drink insanely cheap Ghorka beers and hit all the main tourist destinations. The normal hustle a bustle of the city was considerably dim – I assume because most tourists are scared or hesitant to travel to Nepal following the earthquake. I encourage anyone traveling to Asia to stop by Nepal. The people, the food, and the culture will captivate your heart and they need your tourism now more than ever!
After a few days, Matt hit the hills for a short trek and I met up with my host families. I am happy to report that they are all doing well, largely thanks to my family and friend’s generous donations! Their old brick home was completely leveled by the earthquake but their new cement home is almost finished and looking very modern. They struggle without having access to oil for their motorbikes or cooking stove but all in all, they are amongst the lucky ones. Depicted in the picture below is my aamaa (mom) and I before a family puja (worship ceremony) to bring luck to the new house and the new crops.
Second stop: India
India…. oh, India… What can one really say about India? If I had to plan my trip over again I probably would have skipped it. Not because it wasn’t wonderful but because I only had 5 days and therefore only had time to hit what people call the “golden triangle”: Delhi, Agra, Jaipur. These cities are more or less tourist traps where everyone is out to get your money and not in a way that is remotely socially acceptable at all. Although the sites were beautiful, by far some of the most outstanding architecture and history I have seen in my entire life, myself and my other travel companions felt like our experience in India was slightly tainted by the constant and relentless soliciting. Having said that, I want to give a little shout out to northern India for really hitting the nail on the head when it comes to cuisine: butter chicken is AH-mazing and pretty much all I ate for 5 days straight!!!
Third stop: China
My dear friend Maria was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to conduct her own research in China (I know, my friends are super legit). I’ve never been to China and have always wanted to go so of course I had to visit her during my month of vacationing. After a very confusing, very hilarious miscommunication that involved Maria showing up to the Xi’an airport a day early and having everyone in the airport searching for me, we were finally reunited! Maria, as if she wasn’t impressive enough, speaks fluent Chinese which made my stay in the country smooth like butter. She took me around to see all her favorite sites, most notably the terracotta warriors where we eavesdropped on Chinese tour groups for free. We then boarded an overnight train to Shanghai where we both got a much needed big city pampering. We went shopping at H&M and bought Christmas drinks at Starbucks. We drank wine and went to the theatre. It was all so magical that by the end of the trip we were BOTH daydreaming about moving to Shanghai in the future! Maria flew to Thailand a day before me so I filled my last morning with a cooking class where I learned how to make the infamous soup dumplings. They were delicious and I can’t wait to cook them for my friends at home!
Last stop: Thailand
My last stop was on the beach in Krabi, Thailand where Maria and I met with big group of friends from college. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my first Christmas away from home then with amazing friends in a tropical paradise. In the picture below from left to right we have: Patrick, John, Eli, Liz, Maria, Emily, Me, Riley, and two random blonde girls in the back who decided to photo bomb our reunion picture.
My sneaky parents somehow managed to send me a Christmas gift basket to my hotel filled with cookies, champagne, and a teddy bear. On Christmas day, the Thailand squad treated ourselves to morning cocktails and eggs benedict, followed by a leisurely day at the pool, and a sunset on the beach with champagne and secret santa gifts. Twas lovely.
I think someone knew I was having TOO much fun traveling around Asia because on my way back to Vietnam I got super sick on the plane from Bangkok to Saigon (I will spare you the details…). The kind stranger sitting next to me on the plane offered to drive me in his car to a hotel in the city where I slowly recovered at the expense of my first two classes of the semester (oops…). Even though as I write this I still don’t feel 100%, the experience was a welcome reminder that people are kind. This random Thai man repeatedly told me “its ok, its ok” as a threw up in his car and I hope to pay it forward in the near future. Happy holidays to everyone out there! Hope you are spending this season in the company of love, good food, and even better wine.