Whoa, I can’t believe we’ve been travelling for five months now, and we’re getting closer to the halfway point of our travels! Instead of counting the number of days since we left home, it will be the countdown until we’re back in Canada *cries*. Just kidding, I’m starting to miss home a bit, and I get super excited when I run into a Canadian. There aren’t many travelling on this side of the world, to be honest. My friend from Toronto did come to visit us in Chiang Mai for a few days, which was a nice change. Of course, the three of us spent 90% of our time eating. In fact, we’re such pigs that we ordered six khao soi noodle soups one time for the three of us!
If you’re new to the website, visit this section for all my posts related to long-term travel. You can also start from the beginning of the series by reading this article. Here’s a short summary about me leaving Canada for a year to travel.
We spent two weeks in Chiang Mai and two weeks in Vietnam during our fifth month of travelling
Chiang Mai was very relaxing since we were able to rent a unit in a building that gets booked a year in advance! The apartment was incredible; birds and roosters were our alarm clocks, and we could often smell the aroma of home-cooked Thai food from our neighbours.
Vietnam was initially going to be a month-long trip where we tour the country, but that felt too exhausting, so we kept it for two weeks instead. I’ve already seen most of Vietnam, so I wanted to stay longer in each of the cities that we were visiting.
The timing was perfect; not too hectic but still an eventful trip. Vietnam definitely felt like a vacation from a vacation from Chiang Mai, our home for the time being.
Dates Travelled: November 19, 2017 – December 18, 2017
Budget: TBD. We’ve changed our plans so many times that I’m no longer comparing apples to apples. I’m likely going to start tracking the budget and forecast at a high level to ensure we’re not spending a gazillion dollars on our trip. That, and as long as our equity doesn’t take a hit, I’m happy. All I have to report is that there were no crazy spends this month and nothing that broke the bank except for our flights from Chiang Mai to Hanoi. Man, they were expensive by Asian standards. I’m also going to use this place to talk about underspends and overspends to help anyone who is trying to plan their own year of travelling
Places Visited: Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Ninh Binh
Items Lost: Nothing! But I did buy a sleeping liner in Hanoi!
- Flew from Chiang Mai to Bangkok
- Flew from Bangkok to Hanoi
- Took the bus from Hanoi to Ninh Binh
- Bused from Ninh Binh to Hanoi
- Flew from Chiang Mai to Bangkok
- Flew from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Our layovers were at DMK, our faaaaavourite airport in the world * I’m very sarcastic here. You’ll know why if you’ve been to DMK*
What I Miss: Canadians. I get so excited when I hear a “Canadian” accent (and then get super disappointed when I find out the person is American. HAHA JUST KIDDING. Sort of).
Scary moment #1: Being chased by an elderly lady with a cane at the top of a desolate hill, begging for money. I saw signs of insanity in her eyes as she went from Viet rage to morphing to this happy old grandma begging for money and was scared. I couldn’t predict her behaviour and was a little afraid that she’d try to beat us with her cane.
When I gave her money, she finally sat down, heaving and puffing as if she had come close to death. Once I walked away from that moment, I couldn’t help but feel sad for her. Where are her children or grandchildren? How did she get up that steep hill? Why isn’t anyone taking care of her, and why does she have to beg for money? My heart broke just thinking about her. Sure, she could be pulling a scam on us, but it doesn’t change the fact that this woman is so poor that she has to resort to this type of behaviour.
Scary moment #2: The second frightening moment was when we stopped to photograph a cute puppy in the countryside. We got off our bikes for about 30 seconds before some old lady ran to us, asking us to buy an old toy. I’m pretty sure she grabbed a toy from her grandkid and was trying to profit from a sale…?
Scary moment #3: We got chased by a dog in Chiang Mai. UGH! I’ve travelled all over Asia and encountered stray dogs all the time. All of them just leave you alone! Except for Chiang Mai dogs that have an owner. They’re batshit cray cray.
Biking around Ninh Binh in the beautiful countryside. Every so often, we’d find pigs roaming freely in the fields, pulling their heads up from the dirt to look at us before happily prancing away. I’ve never seen pigs this happy.
I met Bryan from Pho Your Eyes Only! There’s a backstory to this, which I will write about one day. I binge-watched his YouTube videos back in the day when I was prepping for this trip, and I learned so much thanks to his videos. To meet him in person was such a craaaazzyyy and surreal moment for me.
Running into Bryan (and then running after him in the streets of Hanoi like a crazy Asian girl haha) was one of those moments where the universe was reminding me that everything happens for a reason.
If you guys don’t know who I am talking about, here is your rising YouTube star alert! You should check out his videos here (bonus points if you can find the video where I cut Bryan off on his own channel!).
Another side note: While Gary was the one to spot Bryan on the streets, he only knew of him through my binge-watching sessions and never really followed the channel. Of course, he started watching Pho Your Eyes Only during our trip which ate through all of his 6gb of data! Yep Bryan, I definitely thought of you on a daily basis whenever I had to tether my data for Gary to use.
Yucky Moments: We ordered a side of dầu cháo quẩy (aka youtiao or Chinese donut) to go with our phở at a restaurant. The seller paused from cutting raw beef, grabbed a handful of youtiao with the same hand that touched the meat and dumped the donuts on our plate. Of course, she used the same hand to take our money before continuing to cut meat. Needless to say, it was pretty gross to see. The good thing was that the soup was piping hot so we made sure to let the Chinese donut cook in the soup for a bit before eating them.
Climbing and sitting on mountaintops only to realize that I’ve been touching mountain goat poo this whole time. Ewwww. It looked like pellets of dirt to me at first!
Thoughts and feelings during month five of the nomad lifestyle
I DIDN’T GET ELECTROCUTED OR BIT BY A SCORPION WHILE IN VIETNAM
These childhood fears stem from the first time I got electrocuted and stung by a scorpion while in Vietnam (click here to read about my electrocution experience under answer #1). The electrocution was terrible, but the scorpion sting was even more painful! I cried my eyes out and thought I was going to die. Of course, my dad’s words of consolation were something like “suck it up, you’ll be fine, I’ve been stung by scorpions a million times in my life.” I didn’t know if I could trust him because the sting was so painful (way worse than a bee sting!) and I kept thinking about how much remorse he’d feel if I died. I remember my tween melodramatic mind waiting for death to come. It didn’t happen.
No one understands me when I say washroom or bathroom in Asia
So I say toilet instead. Just one step away from acting it out. Just kidding.
Knowing many languages is a valuable life skill
Between Gary and I, we speak four languages and very broken Mandarin. I realize how much of an advantage it is to talk in different dialects. Language not only helps with travel, but it helps to connect you with people as well. Since English is my second language, I have learned to hear what people are trying to say, and not just what they are saying. Do you know what I mean? Does that make sense?
I will mention though that I can’t understand Northern Vietnamese dialect for the life of me
I’m always like
Hanoi six years ago versus now
I visited the city a few years ago during my six-week trip to Asia, and I couldn’t remember much of Hanoi. I was there for a few days, and I’m realizing now how much of the city I didn’t get to explore! For instance, the hotel I stayed at six years ago was on the same street as some of the best food places in town! I had no idea (and no time to explore anyways because my schedule was so jam-packed)!
To avoid being scammed, I left my polite Canadian self back home
That’s honestly the only way to enjoy Vietnam. No scams = happy travels. Well, little to no scams, I did get scammed BY MY OWN PEOPLE in Vietnam. Surprise, surprise…
I see children in school uniforms, happily enjoying their time off after their school day ends
And in an instant, the stories come to life.
I wanted to go to school so badly, but I couldn’t. Back then, I would watch the kids as they finish school. I would pick up whatever scraps of paper they left behind because I was too poor buy paper. And I would use that to teach myself how to write… with the stubs of pencils they threw behind.
These stories, they become more real when I see it in front of me. How lucky I am to have been able to get the education that I had in Canada. Even if it meant taking out student loans… at least I had that option. Some… they dream of school but never have that chance.
It was freezing in Vietnam, despite temperatures hovering 19 degrees Celsius
The weather in Hanoi and Ninh Binh during the wintertime felt like the autumn/winter season back in Canada. I was cold all the time in Vietnam, and I was reminded of all that I hate about the cold weather. My skin gets dry, and my hair falls very flat and limp. I also desperately need to get a haircut.
Learnings during the fifth month of travelling
Independent travels allows you to wander and explore in remote areas… which means you’ll see the realities of life in that country
Like seeing a woman doing laundry in a dirty river because that’s likely her only source of water. Or farmers working very hard tending to their crops, while rats nibble away at their yields. Or having an old lady chase you with a cane because she needs money. The struggle to survive is real in Vietnam, and it may break your heart just thinking about their lives.
If you put chocolate in your bag, make sure to eat it before it melts!
I learned the hard way; stained my bag AND wasted precious chocolate *tear*.
Some ATMs in Vietnam have crummy withdrawal limits, meaning more ATM fees
Boo. In Vietnam, I could only withdraw 2 million VND at a time, and each withdrawal had a 55,000 VND fee.
Washing hands before eating became much more important to me in Asia
I realized why when I wanted to eat chips but remembered that my hands touched rocks that were covered in goat poo. Gross, I know. You don’t realize those dry soil looking pellets are actually POO until you look closely! Yuck.
Photography progress while living the nomad lifestyle
Figuring out how to protect my camera gear while travelling
Trying to be discrete while travelling with an expensive camera is a pain in the butt.
Street photography in Hanoi is incredible
Standing on a street corner and people watching was my favourite thing to do in Hanoi (after eating, of course!)
I’m shocked at how my photos turned out because you know, it ain’t easy trying to take pictures of people WITHOUT LOOKING CREEPY!
I’m starting to take a chill pill on the bokeh
Because I paid a pretty penny to have a lens with a good aperture, I used to shoot everything at the widest f-stop, like this:
Now, I’m starting to ease back on the bokeh, but still play around with aperture to get these kinds of images:
Ninh Binh is a stunning place to take photos
Trivia question for those who care: Who is Tree?
Take a guess. Hint: Tree is in one of the photos on this blog post.
I am not a technical photographer
At all. I know the basics of photography, and I know roughly where I want my shutter speed or aperture to be depending on the photo I am shooting, but that’s about it. Then I just point and shoot.
Shooting by this door was fun.
What’s next for our sixth month of the nomad lifestyle
We are settling down in Chiang Mai for a bit to plan the rest of our trip. Stay tuned for updates on life in Chiang Mai as we take that time to catch our breaths! We need some downtime before we start travelling like a maniac! The rest of our trip will be in more expensive countries *gulp* so planning is imperative to not blow our budget.
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