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A Year In Review

This month marks my one year anniversary with Vietnam and wow has it been a wild year. I made amazing friends, traveled around south east Asia, gained wonderful new experiences, and learned a lot about myself and the world around me.

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In the beginning, when I first moved here, I essentially came with three other people, arrive all within a month of each other. And for the first 6 months of living in Vietnam, those people have given me unparalleled support to try new things and have pushed me to live outside my comfort zone. We were all stuck together; living in this city with no English capacity. We relied on each other and that’s what cultivated such strong relationships. These once strangers have become one of the main reasons I have profoundly loved my experiences so much. We call ourselves a family because we have become one. Sometimes it really isn’t about where in the world you go, but it’s more about who you had surrounded myself with.

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The bitter time came; one-by-one we all needed to say our farewells and take our leave in order to continue on our incredible adventures. The day when Raychel decided to leave me, I don’t know what happened, but I cried. It was eye opening to see how fond I have grown for these people, the center, and absolutely wonderful city. Then a month later, as I was leaving and headed off to the airport, I was crying as well. And not the type of crying where you look cute as you are seeing off some friends, the type of crying that is unexpected and takes over: can’t talk, can’t walk, all you are is a babbling idiot.  Over this year, I am so grateful having made everlasting friends that I adore and continue to connect with. Every person that I have connected with has all taught me something valuable.

Being in a new country, knowing that time is limited, there is an silent, yet strong urge to capitalize. And, for me, that means exploring as many new places as time (and money) allows. There are too many highlights to share and with so many incredible people. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to travel around the whole Vietnam & even more outside the country. I get nostalgic thinking about all the wonderful (and miserable) trips I had.

These last 12 months, I have been looking for any opportunity to travel and see more. Now, I’m looking through my photo albums and remembering all that I’ve seen: lanterns with Raychel, went hiking with Ngoc, cleansing temples with Sydney, endless meat sticks with Kyle, frigid waters with Mom, and squirt guns with Tammy. What amazing memories that will last a lifetime. These memories? I wouldn’t trade for anything. I realized that traveling is more about gaining experiences rather than taking photos of landmarks.

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Through thick and thin, teaching has made it possible for me to continue exploring. It has been a cornerstone and foundational throughout my time here in Vietnam. I couldn’t write a year in review without mentioning teaching. For me, teaching is a new experience and wildly different than what I thought it would be. I thought how hard could it be: I already know English. Boy was I wrong. I have a huge new found respect for teachers. Lesson planning and cutting things up for an hour only for a 10 minute activity. In the beginning and first classes, I remember how nervous I would be for every class and how I would stress about going up to present.

In hindsight, I clearly overthought the gravity of the situation. I believed that everything I that I said and did had a direct impact of student’s life. While I was right…  it ain’t that deep. I was too concerned with how the students thought of me and less concerned of how and what the students were learning. I started off teaching lessons that were teacher-based, now moving toward student-centered. What I realized over the past week is that I really do care about my students success and their growth with the English language. I take pride in being a teacher (which is hard because I am not properly trained to be one). I am happy to be a teacher for these next few months, but it’s not a job that I will be doing say 5 years from now.

Next for me? That is something that is still to be determined. I’m not sure what the future holds exactly, but I know one thing for sure is that I am still mobile and not ready to settle down yet. Maybe I’ll be a city near you next.

Cheers to another great year, wherever I am.
Perry

 

 

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Realizations of Living Away

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When I was first moving out, I so strongly remember the feeling of excitement. I was happy to be on my own for the first time. No rules, no regulations, and no more sharing a room. And what we are blinded by, at that age especially, is the flashing lights and a conglomerate of emotions. Often what is forgotten is all that we have and that which is given up on our exit out of the nest. For most, like me, that was experience occurred when taking the journey to college.

I was reminded of that exact feeling when I left America to continue my adventure, post-graduation, in Vietnam. Excitement and nervousness; filled to the brim with  giddy feelings and butterflies. (Exhibit A: my first few posts here.) And I was blinded by my own emotions — like I often am. To be clear, having excitement about a new adventure is never a bad thing. The mistake is allowing the feeling to completely take over. And that’s what happened. Caught up in the bliss of expedition, I lost sight of what I was leaving behind.

Over the past three weeks, I returned to America for the first time in nine months. It was definitely an interesting experience. When coming back home, the place felt like nothing changed. Everything was just on pause while I was gone. Same old buildings, same old people working at the same old restaurants. While at the same time, there was so much of that city I have yet to explore. My realization of living away dawn on me when I went on a hike in the fresh mountainous air. I remembered how much I love being with best friends, how much I missed the stability of a life in America, how much I missed living close to family, and (most importantly) how much I adore cold weather and sweaters. At this point I was questioning: should I just stay home?

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It’s ironic to hear; numerous of people have said when they live abroad that they couldn’t imagine returning to a nine-to-five work week in the stale town they grew up in. That’s exactly what didn’t happen for me. When I came back, and I saw how much I craved the things that I don’t have. Reality struck. I guess the grass is always greener, huh?

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It’s amazing the perspective you gain while going abroad. While the town I grew up in hasn’t changed, I have and my outlook has. Bringing in this new mentality gives me a whole new meaning to being at home. Now, as I reevaluate where I want to be, with all that I have discovered (and to answer my own question), I continue to recognize that Vietnam is the place I want to be. I have said it time and time again, it’s not traveling to new places that excites me, its experiencing different cultures and people. I’m not done with these unique interactions. This time, as I have returned, I have not and will not forget all the great people and places of the past. While I will always keep in contact with people I love, I’m staying here in Vietnam… but I’ll be back soon.

Updates will come more frequently (at least I hope),
Perry

 

I’m Comin’ Through

The biggest fear so many people have, me included, when first coming to Vietnam is the traffic and nonsensical driving regulations. It’s both wildly exciting and utterly terrifying. At first glance, the driving seems more confusing than the US tax code, but when you boil it down, it’s not so bad.

 

The mentality is basically: I’m sure we can put this on a motorbike.If you haven’t yet seen pictures of the crazy things people do here: here are just some of the things that I have seen riding down the street. (A quick google image search is recommended as well). The best I have seen while driving are:

  • both parents as well as 3 children on a bike (yes, 5 in total)
  • various animals sitting in front
  • a refrigerator
  • rebar carried on a shoulder
  • another motorbike on the motorbike

Over the past 9 months, I have just accepted how the traffic is one gigantic mess. But one day, after thinking about how driving works logistically, it all comes down to one simple change. Oncoming traffic yields. #mindblown

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In America, aka normal traffic, incoming traffic yields. When turning left, turning right, or merging into traffic, the person turning yields to oncoming traffic. However, in Vietnam, the person who is driving in oncoming traffic yields to those who are merging. Its a small change that drastically affects driving here. And then of course all the lawbreaking that also happens on top of that. In essence, the Vietnamese are driving on the wrong side of the road, side walks, on the walls, in between cars, running reds, phasing through traffic, bouncing on cars, sleeping, talking on the phone, and all while honking like there’s no tomorrow.

Even I joined in on the fun of carrying obnoxious furniture. I bought a shelf and drove it on the back in true Vietnamese fashion.

More on Vietnam life soon,
Perry

Living Your Own Life

What’s stopping you from doing what you want to do?

In the last eight months, I’ve heard repeated comments and compliments of what an incredible journey I am experiencing. Absolutely, I am having a marvelous time exploring Vietnam and getting a taste of the culture here. But I also hear comments about how others envy my life and are jealous of the path I have chosen to explore. Comments like  ‘Wow Perry, I am so jealous of your life. I’ve always wanted to do something like this.’

I had a moment to reflect about this (… in the shower, naturally). And it prompted me to think about whether I am envious of anyone else’s life. Am I happy with where I am and what I’m doing? The abbreviated answer is a resounding yes. I couldn’t imagine anywhere else that I want to be – at least for now.

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The purpose of this post is to not convince you to sell all of your stuff and book a one way to a foreign country (although I support that decision), the point is to ask yourself: Are you living your own life?

Loaded question, many meanings, complicated and confusing; I know. To answer, self-reflection is required. It’s easy to get lost in the illusion of happiness and stuck in routine – coasting on the comforts of the past and riding on the coattails of previous successes. Day in. Day out. And ultimately day lost. Tara Branch says “The way you live your life today… is the way you live your life.” In other words, your life is not only the compilation of days you choose, it’s everyday.  If you spend today dreaming and lusting after someone else’s life, who’s life are you really living?

This isn’t a one and done kind of mentality; it’s constant. Constantly thinking about what you’re doing, if you’re happy, and where you want to be. Without a doubt, there are barriers to following these worthy desires. These are the few questions I had to ask myself when I wanted to make a change. Be forewarned, they can’t be simply answered with yes or no.

Do you have the means? AKA the dinero; can you afford this decision? Saving up for a big adventure sometimes isn’t always realistic. Set something up where you can make money as you are pursuing your passion (or get a daddy). While money isn’t everything, it plays a role in you eating. So make sure that you have the ability to eat.

Is this something you want or just like the idea of? Often I get caught up in the fantasy of the unknown. It’s exciting and it’s perfect. But reality has a stark difference in opinion. Don’t blindly make a decision and hope for the best. Do your due diligence and research. Be prepared… And hope for the best.

What’re leaving behind? Regardless of what you do, there is some cost. If you seek a new job, you have to let go of the last. If you want to move, you have leave behind people you love. If you want to get out of a relationship, don’t ask me for advice. There will always be an opportunity cost for any decision. It’s not only about what you leave behind; remember, you will gain something from your pursuit.

So I ask you again: what’s really stopping you? Don’t live vicariously, simply live.

Ready, set, go.

Loneliness and Living Abroad

At some point in our lives, we will be alone: driving in the car, talking a walk, or living in a new country. It’s inevitable. But being alone and feeling loneliness are different. The feeling of loneliness can often accompany being alone, but being alone doesn’t always cause loneliness. And the feeling can happen anywhere: living alone, moving somewhere new, and even while surrounded by friends. I have come to realize that the feeling of loneliness is unique when living abroad.

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It seems redundant to point out that when living abroad, you are literally miles from family and close friends. But the point that is often missed is that the physical distance equates to a temporal distance as well. While I’m awake, all my friends and family are fast asleep. Meaning that when I miss my friends and call them, it’s often in the middle of the night (ngl, I forgot and it has happened a few times). On top of that, being abroad can be harder to make friends. There’s a cultural and language barrier on top of all of the typical friendship making barriers.

It’s a special combination: distance, time, and culture that make you feel truly alone in another part of the world.

But you know me, I’m a glass full kind of guy and wow what an incredible experience it is to feel these emotions. It challenges you to learn to be comfortable doing to do things on your own. It teaches you how to try new restaurants alone, go to movies alone, and have dates with yourself. It pushes me to overcome my fear of talking to strangers and making connections to people I otherwise would have never met. Lean into the discomfort as my friends would say. We may feel alone, we may feel loneliness, but we always have other people supporting us.

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I write this not to discourage others from going out, I say this to invite people discover these new experiences, despite doing them alone. (Also to express my feelings in a healthy way, rather than wallowing and sleeping all day). My advice? Let yourself feel the full range of you emotions but don’t allow yourself to wallow in despair. Find passions and achieve greatness (cheesy I know).

See ya soon,
Perry

Finding Motivation

“How do you spend your free time?”

Its a question as an English teacher I ask fairly often to my students. It struck me that when the students asked “and you?” I have been responding with superficial answers. I think it’s time for some self-reflection and to remind myself to find purpose in what I’m doing.

I recently spoke with a friend who is taking strides to live with purpose and reason, which really resonated with me. This isn’t meant to be some ultra-deep altruistic philosophic meaning of life. I simply mean to critically think about simple decisions made in everyday life. Is the extra 10 minutes of sleep really worth it? Should I really watch the next episode? What is something I could be doing with my time?

Living in Vietnam has taught me many things, one of which is the luxury of free time. Day in and day out, I walk by the same people working for hours from dawn to dusk, barely having time to catch their breath. Here I have the time to get a head start on things I really want to do. So I ask myself should I really be spending it propped on my bed wasting my day away?

To be frank, I have been really struggling with finding motivation for doing regular daily tasks. You know, the things you want to get done but have really low priority. So to get my butt into gear. Rather than wallowing in pity, I’m setting some small goals goals for myself to hopefully get a slight edge on life:
1. Wake up and get up at a regular time. Luckily, I have trained my body to wake up everyday at 6:30. The problem is that I struggle with getting out of bed. I will strive for getting out of bed at 7:30 and getting tasks done.
2. Eat regularly. I have a bad problem with not eating appropriately having 4 meals one day and only one the next.
3. Drink water. Time and time again, I have read articles and posts telling you how important water consumption is yet here I am dehydrated daily.

These are just a few things I plan on doing, but would love some feedback on how to find more motivation to do the things that need to get done.

Updates to come soon,
Perry

Time Flies By

Home sickness comes for most people within the first few weeks. For me, it hits after a few months. Today is my three month-aversary living in Vietnam and it still feels like I arrived yesterday.

While have adjusted to living here: finding regular places to eat, figuring out a schedule, and avoiding getting hit by traffic daily, there are things that I miss about America. Here is my simplified list of all the things that I don’t have living in Vietnam:

Spending time in a mall – living in a smaller city, all the shopping places are boutiques and a grocery store.
Food – of course, there is a different cuisine here. The melting pot of America isn’t so prevalent here. Where are my tacos, poke bowls, and burger joints?
Happy Hour – drinking beer is common here but there’s not a designated time where friends meet together to go out.
Heating and Cooling – our apartment doesn’t have heating, so now in winter, we blanket up.
Sidewalks – the sidewalks here are made with tile that is now old and broken, making it difficult to walk anywhere.
Baking – in our apartment, the stove is gas only and there’s not an oven to bake with. That means no baked chicken, desserts, or roasted veg.

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While I miss these things about America, I miss more often the people who are there. While I have friends here, you miss those people you instantly click with. I’m still happy to be here but have an itch to go home already. The grass is always greener on the other side.

Hope to be back soon,
Perry

Traveling Thailand

 

When you travel to a European country, most of the time, the language is some form of Latin script based language. Thailand, however, uses a derivative of the Brahmic family, a script that is completely incomprehensible to me. It’s full of loops and squiggles, even the numbers were in Thai script! Though I have traveled before and consider myself a novice, traveling to Thailand was an entirely new (and exciting) experience.

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Thailand is unique is so many ways; for one – it’s full of temples. I think while Kyle and I were in Bangkok, we visited over 10 temples… in only 4 days. Some were small, some took hours to walk though, some were just ruins of a temple, some were just completed. It was astounding to see; the temples themselves were almost always elaborate with gold finishing. The buildings, called “wats” were built high and pointed toward the sky at every opportunity. When two sides of the roof met, there was an intricate piece of gold that squiggled up to the heavens above. Wat is borrowed word from Sanskrit, meaning “enclosure,” although I’m not sure why. All I know is that they are very distinct. There were some unique wats, specifically the temples in Ayutthaya. The temples there have been destroyed and are now in ruins. Nature took its course and began to grow in and around the statues and towers; even one Buddha statue was entrenched in a tree.

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One of the best parts about Thailand was the diverse transportation. Staying in Bangkok, there was the an abundant number of ways to traverse the city. There was a sky train, a subway system, and public buses; then you have taxis and tuk-tuks (3 wheeled motorbike); but what I found most fascinating was the River Express Boat. Yes, there was a public transit system on the river and its insane. The boat is crowded. The ride is anything but smooth. To top it off, there is constant whistling from the person in the back that guides the driver in the front. It’s funny to think that riding public transit is a must do in Thailand.

Like Vietnam, street food is very prevalent in Thailand. Down any street, there is a food truck like stand selling an assortment of food, anywhere from full meals to a light snack. Favorites include: mango sticky rice, so sweet with a coconut sauce poured on the rice; pad thai, salty, sour, and sweet all in one; and the infamous meat on stick, pork, beef, chicken and even fish! Not only were they delicious, they were so cheap too. Pad thai was only $1.50! Where can you buy that in America? Ahh right, no where. Then you have the not so savory food stand, selling a variety of crispy insects. My soul was not so brave to try any of the crunchy creepy crawlies. Seeing a fried roach is enough for me.

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After a long day to sightseein’, food-tourin’, and temple-splorin’, we decided to “relax” with a thai massage. Let me tell you, it was anything but relaxing. Thai massages are all about pressure points and targeted pressure. The masseur was basically pushing his thumb into my bone. Yes, INTO. It was not pleasant. I may have cried. Like one actual tear. Then, to top it off, we tried the fish tank, the one where fish eat your dead skin cells. It felt THE most strange… But surprisingly exactly how you would think it should feel: like tiny little fish biting your feet. It was slightly painful, slightly pleasurable, and abundantly ticklish.

Bangkok was truly a spectacular place to visit. The city was full of delightful and, at times, quite frightening surprises. There is plenty more to explore, but that’ll have to wait. Gotta keep traveling to new places in the world.

‘Til next time!
Perry

Saigon Ơi, Saigon Ơi!

Luckily, the English center I teach at is flexible about giving time off when requested. I decided to take advantage of this… which resulted in my first extended and out of Vietnam trip since arriving. First a flight to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and then over to Bangkok. This trip was absolutely incredible and loved getting the chance to explore more of Southeast Asia. Of course, vacations are no fun alone, so I met up with Kyle and we traveled together around Vietnam and Thailand. The plan was 5 days in Saigon and 5 days in Bangkok.

Arriving in Saigon, it was hot and I was hot. The weather was similar to how you feel after an hour at the gym: sweaty, sticky, and feeling like you need a shower. Regardless, I was excited to see and explore what the largest city in Vietnam. I went when I was 6 but don’t remember much and didn’t fully appreciate it. It’s the real first time I have been in the city… and without a doubt, it’s my favorite place in SE Asia so far.

One of the first things I noticed about the city is how diverse and well populated it is. There are tons of people everywhere from all different parts of the world, of course with a crap load of Vietnamese. Even as I was walking around, I met a woman who was from Boise! She had to, of course, fill the role and stereotype — she was there selling Idaho potatoes!

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Saigon is much different than I thought it would be. Living in a different part of the country, I had expectations of what I thought it would be. I thought wrong. I thought it would be like the quiet little town I live in where everyone knows each other and all take day naps and live life one day at a time. Incorrect. The big city is just that: big. It feels like a global hub.

Converse to Vinh,  the streets are more developed and you can actually walk on the sidewalk. There’s also an absurd amount of people who live in the city, being the largest city in Vietnam, with about 3.4 million people. The massive number of people equates to an equally massive amount of motorbike because it is still the best method to get around quickly and efficiently. So for two days, we rented a motorbike to traverse the big city. Driving around is… stressful to say the least.

Of course, we were on vacation so  we had to see all the tourist locations. Saigon is a hip-happening place with so many places to visit. We tried to fit as much as we could in and found our way through: the art museum, Bixteco Tower, the walking street, the war museum, etc. etc.

A exceptional place we visited was the Cu Chi tunnels. Similar to the war museum, it is focused on the Northern Vietnam perspective of the Vietnam War. It was interesting to see the tactics that were used against the Americans. Our tour guide Lin, eloquently described horrible conditions these people had to live in. They were civilians turned militia and forced into the battlefront, solely due to their location. Because of the war they ended up living in an underground maze network. No, it’s not a bomb-shelter type network, it was a dirty, unbreathable, and narrow shaft. Think of a shaft needed for an army crawl, and now think of a smaller version of that, and that’s how these people lived.

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The weirdest part was how this place, and really all of Vietnam, is that they described fighting against the Americans, how they would get honors for killing Americans, and are proud of these accomplishments. Its strange to see how “the other side” views the war and switch perspectives.

Aside from the war, there are plenty of other amazing places to gander. Even just walking around, we found such interesting events. One of which was the Southeast Asia Cultural experience while walking down Nguyen Hue street. During that month, Vietnam in coordination with South Korea held traditional dance and music performances to showcase each country’s unique culture. We sat in on a performance and  had the chance to view traditional Thai dancing – which was super amazing to watch. I interpreted it as some sort of fish dance and bringing it home to the wife.

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Beyond that, I visited some of my extended family; my family’s heritage is from Vietnam, specifically the south. That means I have some cousins who still live there and had the chance to meet them. Last time I had met them, was the last time I was in Vietnam… and what a difference 12 years makes. My cousin, Ngoc took me around the city to all the places she could think of for food, we had Banh Trang Tron, Trung Nuong, Kem Chien, Banh Trang Chien, Tra Sua, and so much more (trust me, it was good food). When we headed to their house to see my great aunt, who is almost 100, she thought that Kyle, who is white, was me! She was giving him kisses and talking to him in Vietnamese. It was the funniest thing.

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Saigon is such an amazing place, I love it so much. It has such a special place in my heart. But after the five days here, we headed to Thailand! More to come.

See ya soon,
Perry

A Traveler’s Nightmare

This week, Raychel and I again decided to take a quick 2 day trip to explore the beautiful sights of a new city. Ninh Binh is a short 4 hour train ride from where I live. I thought it would be a quick and easy trip… I was wrong. Usually, when you go traveling you hope for the best but plan for the worst. In Ninh Binh, the worse came.

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As we got onto the train, the problems began. The scheduled time for arrival was 9:30am and the train conductors knock on your door to let you know you have arrived at your station. The train arrived at a station at 9:25 and I was slightly panicked because I didn’t know if this was the stop we got off. The train stated moving again and we decided to ask a stranger which way Ninh Binh was. “Ohh no,” he said and pointed in the opposite direction of the train “Ninh Binh.” Panic.

Train rolling along, Raychel and I sat for another 15 minutes discussing options: maybe lets just go all the way to Hanoi or get off at the next stop and wing it. The train stopped yet again and then the train conductor knocked on the door. “Ninh Binh,” he said. Surprised? Me too. We were just late…

The reason we chose to head to this city was, to be frank, a gorgeous picture we saw on Instagram. After further investigation, the city is known for its stunning views and intricate cave system. However, when we arrived, it nothing but clouds and rain. No beautiful sights to be seen.

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Again, we rented a motorbike as a means of travel and again, we ran into another problem. The motorbike wouldn’t start. It was extremely finicky and the ignition had to be pressed in the right way with a strong tug on the throttle. Finally, it started and we biked to our hotel… in the pouring rain… with cheap plastic ponchos. Needless to say we were wet and needed a hot shower. When we arrived, you guessed it, another problem.

The hotel was wet. Okay, I am being a bit dramatic, but the floor near the window and bathroom was wet. And that left everything else in the room damp. Do you know the feeling of your clothes when you dry it but its 10 minutes shy of being completely dry? Those were the blankets I slept on.

Even though I was under the weather (ba-dum-tss), we decided to roll with the punches and head back into the rain to explore the city. By this point, the rain was coming down so hard, it caused flash floods around the city. We rode around for about three hours in the rain to find an Instagram worthy photo. None to be found. We couldn’t even get to the “Mua Caves” because of the flooding.

Finally, we headed back to the hotel to take a break from the rain and regroup. It had already been such a long day and it was 3pm. We headed back out to find dinner and another problem struck. The motorbike had a flat back tire. I pushed the motorbike to a street corner where this older gentleman started tearing the bike apart. In the end he was just pulling out the tube and putting a patch on the tire. The long day turned into a super-long day.

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The next day was the saving grace. Sunshine. Warmth. Views. First we headed to see a pagoda of the city. And encountered another problem – actually more of a funny story. This time Raychel was captain of the bike. We got off so she could push the bike up a curb. She pulled the throttle a bit too hard, it ran into a wall and the bike fell over. She immediately looks up at me and says “Perry, I dropped the bike,” at which point I chuckled to myself. It fell on the opposite side where she was so all was good. Except maybe the scuff left on the bike.

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We again headed to the Mua Caves to see the city from a different perspective. When we arrived to the Caves, we left the motorbike on the side of the road in order to ride a paddle boat over to the flooded entrance. Then walked on a flooded walkway to the start of the hike. It was definitely an interesting experience. After all the problems that were encountered, the view was more than worth it. The only downside was that it went from cold to sweltering. I was literally dripping in sweat which meant mosquito bites.

Of course, it wouldn’t be travelers nightmare without another problem. As we were leaving and picking up our bike on the side of the road, I locked the keys inside the bike! Vietnamese motorbikes have a compartment under the seat so that you can store a backpack sized item while riding. We had a sweet french couple to help us out and finesse the seat to grab the key.

Let’s not forget, there’s always a big finish. To round out the problem ridden trip, the train back got cancelled due to flooding! But we headed to the train station without that knowledge and by some turn of fate, the train was rescheduled to run only 30 minutes later. Thinking this train would be only 4 hours back, we booked a seat. But heres the twist. The train took 13 hours to make its trip. 13 hours. It was parked for 8 hours because of the flooding.

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Overall, this trip was chock full of problems. But hey, that is part of the adventure of traveling.

Until next time,
Perry