After three and a half weeks of travelling through Cambodia and Vietnam, Zac and I have quite a few thoughts, discoveries, realizations, observations and reflections. The following list isn’t in any particular order of importance or significance but includes things we think are worth sharing. I’m sure that those who have travelled through SE Asia will be able to relate to many of our findings and may even have a small chuckle or smile at the memory of similar experiences. For those that haven’t travelled through SE Asia I don’t know if there is any amount of descriptive and detailed writing that would help you visualize what we’ve experienced, but nonetheless we want to share them with you.
1. There are many odd things we’ve encountered that aren’t necessarily negative, just make us shrug our shoulders, look at each other and carry on. Like there is a sink in/outside all bathrooms but rarely any soap and never a hand towel, paper towel or dryer for washing and drying your hands. Or we have to take off our shoes on the sleeper buses and in the majority of hostels, hotels, guest houses and some businesses in Vietnam. Or our hostel room has a fridge in it but our room only has power to it if our room key is inserted in a special slot so the fridge doesn’t stay cold very often.
2. The horn is the most commonly used object ever. Drivers honk to signal they are coming up behind you, directly behind you, in front of you, turning, to tell you to move, to greet one another, to ask if you want a ride, to signal they are going around a curve and to simply announce their existence. As a friend of ours said, a common question when purchasing a motorized vehicle here is probably “what’s the life expectancy of the horn?”
3. One of the most difficult things to do is say no to a child trying to sell you something. We want so badly to purchase the postcards, wooden flutes, dresses or plastic trinkets they thrust up at us but it’s often not wise to buy items from them because it encourages their parents to keep them out of school. It’s difficult to understand why there aren’t rules and regulations about children “working” but it is important to recognize there is never any shortage of love among families. I’ve thought about many assistance programs that could be put in place but all my ideas come from my perspective of western ideals and I’m sure it would be much better if something were developed with local sensibilities in mind.
4. All the food is delicious. We try to eat where we see locals eating and we use chopsticks for the majority of our meals and we’re starting to get pretty good with them. Noodles/rice dishes are what we eat most often, but we also like bahn mi (a submarine style sandwich), banana pancakes (which are usually a crepe with bananas and chocolate sauce), noodle soup, fried spinach with garlic and fresh fruit. The fresh fruit is incredible. Mango, papaya, dragon fruit, pineapple and passion fruit taste like completely different foods here compared to in Canada and we love it all. Dairy and whole grains basically do not exist here but we have yet to see and overweight local so the food can’t be all that bad.
5. Wifi is almost everywhere, which I have mixed feelings about. It’s so great to have quick access to the Internet to find accommodations in the next town and stay connected with family and friends. It’s also too easy to get sidetracked by Facebook, Instagram and Netflix. I was really hoping to get away from that while we’re traveling, but so far it hasn’t happened. It’s just too easy to be connected so I am really making a conscious effort to limit my wifi time (aka time spent on social media and watching tv series).
6. Going out of my comfort zone is difficult. It’s not as easy as I thought it would be to push myself past what is comfortable and familiar. I’m not scared to try new, weird and random experiences or foods, but it’s hard to do that with everything every day. It’s too mentally draining for me to take risks with every single decision. I have to decide what things in a day I can take a risk with and which things I need to stay inside my comfort zone on. I’m hoping I can work up to the point where it’s exciting and adventurous to go outside of my comfort zone with everything I do in a day, but after only three weeks of travel I’m just not there.
7. Learning another language is hard. Not only is it challenging on the brain, but English is every where. Catering to tourists is one of the main forms of income for the majority of the countries in SE Asia so all the locals know how to speak English on some level. Its great when you want to know if you’re on the right bus to your next location, not so great when you want to learn how to properly say basic phrases. I wish that learning a second language in school was mandatory when I was growing up as I truly feel embarrassed at my dependence on others to speak my language when I’m in their country.
In the long, long list of thing we experience every day, those are just a few of the things that stand out for us. As we continue on our adventure we know the list will grow so we will be sure to share some more of our thoughts further along in our travels!