Ha Long, Ha Long must we sing this song… A Beautiful Day in Vietnam

 

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If I can’t see ‘the island’ back home, I know that it’s raining. Or else, that it will be sometime in the very near future. Islands are fairly black and white in that sense.
They stay put.
Although still unpredictable, this small droplet of observant common sense derived from a fine-tuned intuition has proven more useful and informative than many weather forecasts. Strange how a place can become so familiar that you tune into it’s weather-warnings and signals as naturally as if each gust of wind were it’s very breath.

This morning, over 6,000 miles away from home, the fog is so thick that most of the boat tours out into Ha Long Bay from the mainland have been cancelled. I can’t see the ‘islands’; big chunks of grassy rock and land protruding at random from the still, grey waters like stubborn weeds or sudden video-game obstacles to be navigated – an image which makes progressive sense after the go-karting and uncontrollable chaos of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city.

 I admire our guide’s positivity. “Sun come out later”, he reassures us.
“You will see. Trust me.”
So I do.

The Northern bay of Vietnam is colder than I’m expecting. The ‘cruise’ ship’s blind persistance through the eerie silence of pre-dawn waters sends a chill down my spine, along with a twinge of regret that I failed to check the weather conditions for today. No matter. Experience has taught me that storms always lift, and that even through the most deafening downpour of rain– the islands always stay the same.
Making the most of my short time in Vietnam has meant bypassing several stops I had previously intended on, but there hasn’t been a draft of the guidelines I’ve drawn for myself where Ha Long Bay does not feature.
One thing I notice as the waves become more stable is that the sea breeze here doesn’t quite cut the skin like it does back home. The chill I’m feeling is purely due to movement – our progression through the still air the only instigator of activity for several hundred meters around us – the distance from our boat to the next stationary vessle, a ‘party boat’ still lying sleepily comatosed in the early morning haze. Several small fishing boats have passed since setting out from the docks, a familarity I can’t help but admire – it takes a special kind of storm to perturb the fishermen in the West of Ireland too.

As expected, our approach to the main attraction slowly brings clarity to the previously foggy mounds of matter. The mainland view might be good, but the towering mountains rising from the surface of the water like proud statues of Gods overlooking their kingdom are even more impressive up close. Colours saturate every glance. Pure nature, pure height, depth, and growth dwarf every man-made structure I’ve ever laid eyes on.

All attempts I’ve made at reassuring myself this trip it won’t be in vain fall overboard, as I stare in awe around me. These aren’t islands. These are natural works of art.

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‘My Super Sweet’ 1916

“My Super Sweet 1916”

A game of ‘who doth dare
To step upon streets guns have hounded,
Never have I felt
More isolated yet surrounded.

Language. Country. My own self;
It all froze on the line.
Irish girl in Ho Chi Minh’;
A headline of our Times;

Drawing stares and looks as pale skin
Took aback a driver,
Walking out, her independence
Bursting from inside her.

An extra vehicle with feet
And legs instead of wheels,
We steered away and took our land
Through crossfires and fields

From those who didn’t understand;
Confused, misheard inflections,
A language provides insight,
Understanding, and connection.

It’s within all our chemistry;
To share and seek direction,
But whatever way you look at it;
No leader sells perfection.

Without precursors, bloodtests, or a
Steady flow of income,
The land we sought, remained the same
Held us, as we held ransom.

But a bullet’s only bloody
if it reaches where it’s aimed,
And Sunday may be sunny still
if we just played the game,

Click’ and ‘click’, those fifty years
Passed by in echoed rounds,
Another decade, maybe five,
Made heroes of the hounds

A template for the ‘work-from-home
Convenience of now,
Potential seen as fact and not
The questionable ‘how’?

Determined as the vehicles
That race East Asian roads,
Our little country rebuilt what
A constant fear erodes.

Rationing what few reserves
Remained; ‘ár lá, ár saoirse’,
As hope became a daily bread
We preserved faith and reason

Grand old Dukes and Earls and Leaders
Marched their men to fight,
While clerks and tailors crossed-out tactics
Threefold overnight;

A world within a paling land,
A word replaced- a meaning;
Names of those we lost are still
Proclaimed on banners streaming.

One hundred years,
One hundred anniversaries of might;
One hundred times,
One might have bowed to gold way out of sight,

And as for me, I’m just relieved,
I’ve reached the other side;
My language and my country
Safe, to spread further our pride.

Ar Thóraíocht Taistil – Ho Chi Minus 1

****LEAGAN BÉARLA FAOI – ENGLISH VERSION BENEATH***

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An chéad rud a rith liom nuair a chuala mé an preabadh ísle, domhain i bfhad uaim is mé ag tógáil céime amach roimh éirí na gréine in Ho Chi Minh, ná go raibh an ‘oíche amach’ aréir nach raibh diúltaithe agam ach cúpla uair a chloig roimhe sin le mo chairde nua ón mbrú fós ar siúl. Bhí mé leath ag siúl go bhfeicfinn ag teacht ar ais iad leath-dallta timpeall an chúinne, nó ag léimt ó chúl ceann de na tacsaithe-moto nach molfainn d’aon turasóirí lena dtaitníonn a gcuid seilbhe luachmhara leo comh luath is a dúisíonn ceantar na mbackpackers in Saigon le titim na hoíche.

Is mé an leanacht liom ar an tslí aitheanta anois don pháirc láirneach, ag trasnú sráid Le Loi nach raibh ach ábhairín níos ciúine ansin ag 4 ar maidin is a bhíonn i rith an lae, bhí muintir na sráide gafa ag ‘glanadh’ deannaigh ó áit go háit ar an tsráid le scuaib fite, is iad ag réiteach le haghaidh trácht na maidine. Thug mé le fios nach cur isteach drochbheasach ón oíche roimh ré agus ‘Happy Hour’ ag leanacht ar aghaidh go ‘All Hours’, a bhí sa cheol leanúnach a chuala mé ag briseadh ‘suaimhneas’ na cathrach, ach a mhalairt san iomlán a bhí i gceist. Bhí orm athbhreathnú a dhéanamh sular thuig mé i gceart a bhí os mo chomhair – grúpa ollmhór d’mhná meanaoiseach Vítneamis i lár spás oscailte sa pháirc, gleasta in leggings agus tléinte ildáite, agus iad uilig ag gluaiseacht le chéile ar nós airm aisteach polyester, in am don chuisle leanúnach nár shíolraigh ó áit ar bith faoi leith go bfhaca mé – ní raibh sé fiú geal faoin am seo. Faoi dheireadh d’airigh mé go raibh cead agam stanadh a thabhairt ar ais do dhaoine a thugann dom iad comh minic sin anseo, mo chraiceann geal agus gruaig rua mar chúis grinn do go leor daoine áitiúla – tuigim go bhfuil mé aisteach, ach ní bhíonn mise ag déanamh aeróibicí sa pháirc ag a 4 ar maidin!!

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Bhí trácht cloiste agam ar an nós seo sa Chambóid, ach ní raibh sé feicthe agam ag tarlu go dtí seo, agus bhí sé deacair an gáire a sheachaint nuair a chonaic mé cúpla bean a bhí tar éis achar a chuir eatarthu fhéin agus an cuid eile sa lár, le casadh agus lubadh leo fhéin ar nós Sims ar an gcosán. Le firinne bhí mé ag iarraidh damhsa leo! Chuir sé an Hokey cokey i gcuimhne dom ón scoil sa Chambóid, ach amháin gur na céadta mná Vítneamis a bhí ann ag bogadh leo féin le púis orthu is iad i mbun cleachtadh coirpe na maidine seo roimh éirí na gréine agus an teas meanlae, seachas grúpa páistí. Is dóigh go dtugann na gluaiseachtaí rialta seo cead dóibh an bia friochta agus oiliúil sin a ithe gan mórán iarmhairtí freisin..
Aisteach.

Is dóigh gur mar gheall nach raibh mé ag súil leis is mé fós leath i mo choladh ag iompar chuile rud gur liom ar domhain faoi láthair a tháinig an oiread sin ionadh orm iad a fheiceáil ann, ach seans mhaith freisin gur mar gheall nach raibh mé tar éis an cathair a shiúl comh luath seo riamh, agus toisc gur ‘early riser’ mé fhéin ar aon chaoi, ghlac mé nár tharla aon rud sular éirigh mise – cé comh mícheart is a bhí mé!

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Thaitin Ho Chi Minh i bfhad níos fearr liom an uair seo, ach amháin an dorm le 18 duine eile sa mbrú buiséadach – ach ar $3 in aghaidh na hoíche, cé atá le gearán faoi? Cé nár éirí ro-mhaith liom roimhe sin mo bhealach a dhéanamh ann, an uair seo go tobann bhí mé go breá in ann na sráideanna a loingsiú go héasca le níos mó muiníne agus píosa cleachtadh taobh thiar dom. Thaitin an ‘World Food Festival’ liom a bhí ar siúl sa pháirc don deireadh seachtaine áirithe seo, thug sé neart deiseanna dom níos mó bia aisteach a thriail agus freisin tuilleadh nósanna aisteacha fheiceáil nach bhfuil mé cinnte a bheadh riamh in ann teacht i bhfeidhm anseo!12351388_10153218838373483_843405117_o

 

D’éirigh liom cúpla bronntanas Nollag Víteamise deirineach a fháil ( níl pictiúirí agam, mar….bronntanais!) le seisiúin crua ag stangaireacht in Aonach Ben Thien sa lár, agus d’fhág mé le tuilleadh ábhair ná mar a bhí ceannaithe agam riamh ar bheagáin airgid. Táim ag dul i dtaithí ar seo!

12348755_10153218958898483_772053028_nSílim freisin go bhfuil mé ag dul i dtaithí ar na nósanna bóithre atá acu…tá feabhas tagtha orm ag transú na bóithre gnóthacha leis na sruthanna gluaisrothair agus gluastáin beaga nach stopann le teada – nílim ag iarraidh ‘jinxáil’ a dhéanamh ar seo, ach tá feicthe agam go n-éiríonn níos fearr leat do chuid spáis fhéin a léiriú le beagán muiníne, seachas a bheith ag braith ar chomhghlacaithe nó turasóir eile an bealach a dhéanamh duit. Chuir mé le líne tráchta is mé fós mar lucht siúl – ag seasamh le gluaisrothar ar gach taobh díom, bhí orm fanacht go dtí gur chas na soilse glas chun leanacht ar aghaidh – chuile fhear (nó bean) dóibh fhéin a bhí ann, agus bhí orm léimt ar thaobh chuig an gcosán comh luath is a lean mo réamhthachta ar aghaidh.

Is mé ag scríobh anois táim i mo shuí in aerfort Changi, Singapore, go héasca an t-aerfort is fearr le cúpla uair a chloig (nó 28) a chaitheamh ar domhan. Táim ag súil leis an gcathair a fheiceáil anois i gceann píosa tar éis an cupáin caife Starbucks seo (an chéad ceann le beagnach 2 mhí!!), agus mar sin fágfaidh mé é seo anois go dtí go bhfaighim áit an ceallaire a luchtú!! Vietnamasté!

 

 

***********LEAGAN BÉARLA – ENGLISH VERSION ********* 

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My initial reaction to hearing a distant, low thumping beat as I stepped out into the 5am pre-dawn of Ho Chi Minh’s ever-chattering streets, was that the ‘night out’ with my new dorm-friends I had reluctantly declined merely hours beforehand had still not come to an end. Early-morning flight-jitters aside, I half expected to meet them stumbling in around the corner, or jumping off the back of otherwise ill-advised moto-taxis that prey on tipsy tourists once the nocturnal backpacker district of Saigon awakens with the dusk.

As I continued on the now familiar route to the central park-area and traversed the only slightly less chaotic dimly-lit Le Loi street as its’ occupants swept dust from one place to another with wicker brushes and geared up for another rush hour, it became clear that the music I was hearing was not in fact an intrusive occupation of an otherwise peaceful morning by the extension of a nightclubs’ ‘happy hour’ to All Hours, but frankly quite the opposite. I had to look twice before I could comprehend the abnormally large gathering of middle-aged Vietnamese women in a central clearing of the park, all dressed in leggings and coloured polyester tshirts and moving robotically in sync to a monotonous and crackling throbbing ‘beat’ that was coming from nowhere within my available line of vision – it was barely even beginning to get bright at this stage. I finally felt a sort of justification and permission to return the stares I am so regularly subjected to over here, my pale skin and ginger hair proving a source of great hilarity to many locals – I know I’m weird, but I don’t do aerobics in the park at 4.30am!!!12351274_10153217909993483_2020078173_n

I’d heard of such practices in Cambodia, but had yet to witness it actually occurring, and I found it hard to hide my amusement as I passed several women who had distanced themselves from the main congregation to thrust and wiggle by themselves to the ‘music’ in a Sim-like manner along the sidelines. I’m not going to lie – I kind of wanted to join in! It reminded me of doing the Hokey Cokey with the kids in the school in Cambodia, only this time it was hundreds of anonymous early-morning Saigonese women shaking and gesturing with frowned and scrunched up faces in what I can only assume is a regular exercise regime that both avoids the midday heat of the sun and also helps to burn off excess calories supplied by the inclusion of oil and grease to every single dish and meal.Bizarre.
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I think the fact that it appeared out of nowhere as I blearily trudged to the bus station with all my worldly possessions (or at least, everything I currently carry with me) was probably the main source of surprise, yet it may also have been due to the fact that this was the earliest I’ve ever roamed the streets of the city, and being accustomed to my name as an early riser had pretty much just assumed that nothing much happened before the hours I found myself outside. How very wrong I was!

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Ho Chi Minh this time around was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, despite the rather dodgy 18-person dorm room in the budget hostel – but for 3 dollars a night, who’s going to argue?! Previous navigation having not proven so beneficial, I all of a sudden found on my return that I knew where to go and had the confidence to somehow find the things I needed, and the timely occurrence of a World Food Festival in the central park during the day and evenings was a fantastic find when it came to securing cheap eats and yet more bizarre interactions with customs and trends that I’m really not sure will ever properly reach our side of the world…!

12348755_10153218958898483_772053028_nI managed to secure some final Vietnamese Christmas presents (no pictures, coz , yknow, PRESENTS) in my most intense haggling-session to date in the Ben Thian Market, and proudly left with more plunder for my money than I have ever before! I’m getting used to this!

I also think that since being alone I’ve become more accustomed to and adept at crossing the roads and incessant torrential flow of motorbikes and vehicles that do not stop or cater for pedestrians whatsoever in their narrow span of vision – I don’t want to jinx this, but I’ve found that in literally just asserting your space and striding with a bit of confidence instead of looking to a companion or fellow tourist to pave the way for you, I’ve had more success crossing the roads and have even found myself adding to a line of traffic as a pedestrian – locked in on four sides by motorbikes, I literally had to wait for the lights to go green before I could walk in any direction – it was literally every man (or woman) for themselves, and I quickly had to leap to one side as soon as my predecessors revved forwards.

 

As I write now I’m sitting in Singapore airport – easily the coolest place I’ve ever had to kill a few hours. Hopefully I’ll get to see a bit of the city as my flight onwards doesn’t leave until the early hours of tomorrow, so I’ll write a post on that as soon as I find a free plug socket….! Vietnamasté!!!

Ar Thóraíocht Taistil – Fánaíocht le Ho Chi Minh

***Leagan Béarla faoi (English Version below)***

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‘Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost…..”….Bhí mise!

Fánaíocht fánaíocht fánaíocht. ‘Sé an t-aon rud a dhéanaimse na laethanta seo. Níor thosaigh mé amach le plean faoi leith. Níl aon rud faoi leith bainte amach agam go fóill seachas meas níos láidre ar mo chuid scileanna loingseoireachta agus cumais féin, agus freisin an t-eolas go bhfuil mé go breá in ann aire a thabhairt dom fhéin agus mo bhealach a dhéanamh go dall (nó bodhar) trí chuinsí nach bhfuil leagtha amach go cinnte romham.

Tuigim go maith freisin agus airím na rudaí beaga sa bhaile – frása a usáidtear i bhfad ró-(Ho Chi) mhinic(!) ach faoi láthair comh fíor domsa gur féidir liom an t-aistear abhaile a shamhlú agus dinnéar na Nollag le fataí breá na hÉireann os mo chomhair a bhlaiseadh cheana féin – is i bhfad ó rís agus soy sauce a togadh mise! (#Notions)
Cairde réidh le casadh tar éis téacs scioptha i ndiaidh na hoibre; bia réidh le hollmhú sna cófraí; nósanna coitianta; ranganna íoga le freastal orthu agus coinní rialta nach bhfagann mórán le bheith buartha faoi ó thaobh athruithe gan fógairt; córas taistil a bhfeidhmníonn sách maith agus caighdean slándála nach dtugann cúis imní ar bith d’germaphobes ar nós mé fhéin…leanann an liosta ‘home comforts’ ar aghaidh. Ach fós, is láidre an maitheas ná an t-olc leis an gcineál taistil, slí bheatha féin-cruthaithe seo, agus mar sin is féidir liom glacadh leis níos fearr anois agus é a shlugadh siar, mar a deirfeá. Níos tábhachtaí ná haon rud eile anois ná gur féidir liom sult a bhaint as na ‘droch’ rudaí freisin, seachas díreach iad a fheiceáil mar gnéithe a bhfuil orm cur suas leo.

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Turtle Tower (yep, sin an t-ainm atá ar!) i lár Hoam Tiem Lake

 

Is príomhchathair Vítneam í Hanoi a bhfuil tréithe cosúla aici le roinnt príomhcathracha eile atá feicthe agam, sa chaoi is nach bhfuil an iomarca deacrachtaí ann í a thrasnú…tuigim go bhfagann an pictiúir atá in éineacht leis an bpóstáil seo a mhalairt le tuiscint, ach thug ár mbrú (Drift Backpackers’ Hostel) léarscáil dúinn (comh maith le bricfeásta agus beoir saor in aisce!) a bhí sonraithe go maith agus a chuir go mór lenár gcúpla lá ann. Níor chaith muid pingin ar iompar taistil an t-am uilig is muid ann, agus fós d’éirigh linn na pointí spéise is mó sa chathair a fheiceáil agus a aimsiú, ar nós Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake), leis an Turtle Tower agus Huc Bridge a mhaireann ann ón Ming Dynasty, iarsmalann Ho Chi Minh, iarsmalann Staire, agus Airm Hanoi, agus Mausaleum Ho Chi Minh (sa phictiúir). D’éirigh linn teacht ar an ‘Bia Hoi’ san oíche freisin, le cúpla deoch ‘al fresco’ i measc na sluaite daoine áitiúla ag stanadh orainn ach ag baint sult as an oíche, muid uilig inár suí ar stólanna beaga plaisteacha ‘nós na cinn a bhí againn sa gháirdín sa bhaile is muid óg, a bhí mar dréimirí dúinn don doirteal sa leithris.

Theip orm teacht ar an studio íoga a chonaic mé ar líne, ach ní gan iarrachta ar mo thaobhse a tharla sé- chaith mé uair a chloig ar fánaíocht thart timpeall an cheannscríbe a leag Google Maps amach dom, ag cuartú in aisce an Zenith Yoga Café nach bhfuil ar an bhfód a thuilleadh, de réir dealraimh. Is ar éigin a d’éalaigh mé ó roinnt mná ag seastáin a bhí ag díol maisiúcháin Nollag bándearga, a d’iarr mé orthu go neamhurchóideach faoin áit – arís leis an bhfánaíocht – sular éirí mé as an iarracht le seacláid te a cheannach ar an mbealach ar ais – tá sé ag éirí fuar i Vítneam! Níor cheap mé ariamh go ndeirfinn na focail sin!

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Bhí roinnt cómhráite thar a bheith spéisiúla agam le grúpaí mic léinn a bhí beartaithe i hataí, cótaí agus geansaithe móra cíbe uair a thóg ár gcosa in aice an locha muid. D’iarr siad cead orainn go cúthaileach pictiúirí a glacadh linn, cómhráite a thaifead ar ghutháin chliste agus taibléidí, agus go bunúsach labhairt leo i mBéarla go nádúrtha faoi rud ar bith – faoinár mbaile fhéin, ár nósanna, tír, agus teanga. D’inis siad liom a gcuid freisin, agus dúirt siad go raibh siad thar a bheith buíoch as an t-am a thug miuid dóibh – ach le fírinne, ceann de na rudaí is spéisiúla le tamaill a bhí ann domsa comh maith! B’iontach spreagúil an díograis a bhí acu i dtaobh foghlaim teanga, agus bhí an cur chuige díreach ceart acu comh maith – labhairt go nádúrtha le cainteoirí dúchasacha, ar bhonn neamhfhoirimiúil…d’fhéadfaimis go leor a fhoghlaim uathu!

Bheadh lá nó dhó eile an chathair a thaisceáladh go deas, toisc gur laghdaigh an fhaitíos a bhí romhainn dul i mbun rudaí a chuartú nuair nach raibh muid cinnte cén treo le tabhairt faoi, ach san iomlán fós thaitin Hanoi liom i bhfad níos fearr go Ho Chi Minh (Saigon!). Chuir sé seo ionadh orm toisc gur Hanoi an phríomhchathair, ach b’fhéidir léiríonn an chaoi go bhfeidhmníonn sé agus an chaoi go bhfuil gach rud comh héasca le loingsiú go leor i bhfábhar an teideal seo. Tá sé fós ina cíortuathail, ach cíorthuathail faoi a thuilleadh smachta atá inti!

Mar fhocal scor, tá cuma melodramatic ar an abairt seo ach caithfear a rá go bhfuil rud eicínt thar a bheith teiripiútach ag baint leis an tuiscint a aimsiú go bhfuil tú go hiomlán caillte agus leat fhéin i gcathair iomlán éagsúil agus i bhfad ón bhaile, agus teacht ar an eolas go bhfuil tú in ann do bhealach a dhéanamh ar ais go háit nó sráid aitheanta faoi leith. Cé nach raibh muinín agat ionat fhéin in aon chor, is mothúcháin thar a bheith láidir é. Cinnte, tá go leor le rá faoin gcumas agus umhlaíocht a bhaineann le ceist a chuir i gcomhair treoireacha nuair nach bhfuil an léarscáil ag obair i gceart (ní mise atá ann, I swear!!) agus tá an dorchadas ag titim go scioptha timpeall ort. Fós is fearr liom an rogha seo a choinneál mar ‘Plan B’, ach sa chás seo, airím go láidir gur fearr i bhfad an modh ‘tástáil agus earraid’ a chuir i bhfeidhm is tú ag taistil thar aon rud eile.

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Ag mausoleum Ho Chi Minh é fhéin

 

 ************LEAGAN BÉARLA *** ENGLISH VERSION 

 

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‘Not All Those Who Wander are Lost..”..I fecking was though! 

Wander wander wander. It’s all I ever seem to do these days. I set out with no specific plans. I’ve achieved no specific sense of anything just yet other than a greater respect for my own capabilities and navigational skills, and also the knowledge that I am actually perfectly able of taking care of myself and finding my way blindly (or deafly) through a lot of seemingly impossible situations. Okay, so maybe I have learned something.

I’ve also come to really appreciate the little things at home – a phrase used all too often, but so true for me at this moment in time that I can vividly imagine Christmas dinner and fine Irish roasted potatoes on the table in front of me – it’s far from rice and curry I was rared! Friends ready to meet at the drop of a text message, food ready to prepare in the cupboard, routines, yoga classes to attend and regular plans that leave little to be apprehended regarding last minute changes, functioning transport systems, general cleanliness and standards of hygiene that give those with germophobic tendencies such as my own no reason to be sent into overdrive…the list goes on. But still, the good outweighs the bad in this kind of travelling, self-induced lifestyle, and as such I’ve also learned to better ‘suck it up’, for want of a better phrase, and most importantly of all enjoy it, instead of merely enduring.

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Hanoi is a city akin to several other capital cities I’ve visited in that it it is actually fairly managable to navigate…I know the initial picture and caption in this post suggests otherwise, but our hostel (Drift Backpackers’ Hostel) provided us with a map (along with free breakfast and beer!) which honestly made our few days there seem so much easier. We didn’t spend a dollar (or dong) on transport the entire stay, and still managed to find and see some of the main attractions the city has to offer, including the Turtle Tower and silver Pagoda, the night markets, History museum, Ho Chi Minh museum and mausoleum (pictured), Women’s museum, and Bia Hoi old quarter for several beverages ‘al fresco’ – seated at night along a crowded street on tiny plastic stools like the ones we used to have in the garden and use as stepladders to reach the sink in the loo at home.

Considering the streets all have actual names, instead of numbers which don’t match up to any neighbouring street or follow any sensible sequence of address or postal code (ahem, here’s looking at you Phnom Penh..!), we actually found ourselves not needing the map to find the more local places after a day or two!

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Hidden gems and doorways around every turn...

 

I failed to find the yoga studio I’d located online, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying or any failure on my part – I wandered the 100 metre area of where Google Maps had led me searching in vain for the non-existent Zenith yoga café, asked numerous people and even ended up almost buying some tacky pink Christmas decorations just to fend off a particularly pushy vendor lady whose shop I unwittingly wandered into on a whim – again with the wandering – before accepting defeat and buying a hot chocolate on my way back. It has actually begun to get cold in Vietnam. I never thought I’d say thse words!

Fascinating conversations were had with local students wrapped up in hats, coats and scarves who approached us nervously whenever we strayed near the lake, looking to record conversations with us in English, pose for photos, and mostly hoping to maintain a sensible conversation with a native speaker for more than a few minutes. Their dedication was frankly inspiring, and I thoroughly enjoyed talking to them and exchanging knowledge, traditions, and facts about our own countries that couldn’t have been shared otherwise. They also had the perfect way of approaching language learning, which was fascinating to see in practice – speaking naturally and informally to native speakers in a casual setting. We could learn a lot from them….

I would have liked a bit longer to explore the city as I felt once we got a grip on the basic layout of the place it became an awful lot less daunting to go searching for things without knowing exactly where they were, but in general I much preferred it to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)! This surprised me considering Hanoi is the capital, but maybe it’s functionality and general heightened sense of accessibility says a lot to support this choice. It’s still chaotic, but nowhere near the rat races of Ho Chi Minh!

It sounds fairly cheesy, but there is something extremely theraputic about getting completely lost in a strange city and managing to somehow find and guide yourself back to an area of relative familiarity, taking a chance at each turn and trusting basic instincts to lead you right again. Of course there’s also a lot to be said for being able to admit defeat and ask for directions once it starts getting dark and you can no longer see the street signs or map in front of you, but I like to think of this option always as Plan B – in this case, I feel trial and error is always the best way forwards.

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At the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh himself..!

 

 

Oibrigh. Sábháil. Taistil. Arís. – Work. Save. Travel. Repeat.

Gaeilge *Leagan Béarla faoi – English Version underneath*

 

Oibrigh. Sábháil. Taistil. Arís.

Bailigh milliúin Dong ar do bhealach thar ‘Go’ (an ATM), agus cuirfidh sé ar aghaidh thú leis an chéad cúpla céim eile a thógáil….

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Le coicís anuas is ar nós míreanna meara de laethanta, smaointí, pleananna agus droch-ghluaiseachtaí atá an aistear seo caite againn, cuid dóibh a d’oibrigh amach i gceart, cuid eile nach raibh comh maith sin. Cluiche boird mionsonraithe de bhusanna, brúanna, modhanna taistil agus ceannscríbeanna atá leagtha amach againn dúinn féin le haimsiú atá taobh thiar dúinn agus os ár gcomhair. De réir mar a buailtear chuile chéim ar an aistear, gach bus déanta in am, sráid aimsithe, agus lóistín sroichte, airím go bhfuil éacht suntasach bainte amach againn agus neamhspleachas cosúil le turas taisce a líonadh i gceart aimsithe dúinn féin. An difríocht a bhaineann leis anois ná go bhfuil duaiseanna éagsúla ag an deiridh – bricfeasta saor in aisce nó pionta fuar ag an lóistín, radharcanna difriúla agus cairde nua spéisiúla chuile lá.

Tá sé spreagúil. Tá sé scanrúil. Tá sé luachmhar mar thaithí saoil……tá sé réadúil. Tá treoireacha gairid cosúil le seo leagtha amach againn don chéad coicís eile – treoirlíonta gairid agus dáta le bheith in áiteanna faoi leith, ach teada anuas ar sin.

Chaith muid cúpla oíche i mbaile beag stairiúil agus traidisiúnta darbh ainm Hoi An le déanaí, agus cé go bhfuil sé ráite agam cheana is muid ag teacht ar áiteanna nua ar an mbealach, bhí an baile seo mar an stop ab ansa liom go dtí seo ar an turas. Ciúin agus socair i rith an lae, na himeachtaí is mó ag sioscadh ag an aonach sna seastáin ag na céanna, freastalaí ag úsáid a gcuid Béarla teoranta le turasóirí a mhealladh earraí baile a cheannach; ‘You buy somthing?” ‘Special price for you!”, ‘No pushing here! You buy!’ (go híorónta), agus turais rialta don abhainn ag fágáil ón gcé.

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Aonach – Market

 

Tar éis an leisciúileacht agus saol ciúin i Mui Ne, bhí neart le déanamh in Hoi An, agus bhain muid sult as an deis a bheith mar ‘turasóirí’ cearta arís. Tá clú agus cáil ar Hoi An mar gheall ar na tailliúirí traidisiúnta atá lonnaithe ann, ag dul siar thar na glúinte sna clainne a maireann os cionn na siopaí beaga ar fud an bhaile. Fuair mé sciorta breá fada táilliúrtha, a leithéid de ceann a bhí feicthe agam in Topshop sular fhág mé ar phraghas €90, i gcomhair $30. Bualadh beag sa bhuiséid a bhí ann fós, ach b’fhiú é nuair a smaoiním ar sin agus ar an gcaoi go bhfuil sé táilliúrtha dom go pearsanta i Vítneam – ar fhaitíos go bhfeicfinn ar éinne eile sa bhaile é!  Cé mhéad duine atá in ann é sin a rá?!! Is buatóirí muid uilig! (Seachas Topshop!)

Níor phleanáil mé an costas breise seo ach murach é airím go mbeadh cuid den espéiris Hoi An caillte agam, go háirithe nuair a d’aithin mé go raibh gach ceann de na cuairteoirí eile ar chas muid leo san oíche ag fanacht le ceirt eadaí a bhailiú an lá dar gcionn idir culaith, gúnaí, bútaisí agus eile. (Táim sách gafa le headaí ar aon chaoi agus mar sin bhí sé cineál dosheachanta go nglacfainn páirt!)

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Siopa Táilliúrtha ‘Mrs. Sa’ – Mrs. Sa’s Tailoring

ef42fbe1-7cb7-4ba9-83ec-a3e3de46fb04Cé go bhfuil sé níos ciúine i rith an lae, is san oíche a lastar tuirne na beatha in Hoi An, go litiriúil leis na soilse agus laindéir ildaite atá le feiceáil agus le ceannach ar thaobh na sráide agus in aice na habhainn. Le hísliú na gréine lastar na soilse agus coinnle ildáite ar foluain go séimh san uisce ar thaobh na gleoiteoga beaga, agus neart earraí le n-ithe ar díol ar na sráideanna anois idir pancóga, torthaí le siúcra agus uachtar reoite. B’fhéiríní álainn iad na radharcanna agus bolaithe do na céadfaí, ag leanacht leis na turasóirí go mall síos na sráide ag blaiseadh agus ag breathnú thart timpeall orthu le hiontas, ag caint is ag druidim i dtreo na bialainne agus tithe tábháirne. Níos fearr arís ná an teas – bhí muid go breá in ann do nuair nach raibh an ghrian ag síneadh anuas orainn go trom – ba leor gúna éadrom agus flip flops le píosa taiscéaladh a dhéanamh timpeall na soilse ag margadh na hoíche.

Bhí ‘Happy Hours’ á fhógairt acu ar chuile casadh, réimse leathan a thosaigh am ar bith idir a 11am agus 12pm, le díolacháin eile agus tuilleadh oibrithe ag brú á mbiachlár agus lascainí eile orainn don oíche ar fad. Neartaigh siad seo de réir is a laghdaigh na cúplaí níos sine agus clainne óga ar ais go na hóstáin agus lóistín níos costaisí ar thaobh na habhainn, ag fágáil an bealach don slua ‘backpackers’ níos óige, mar a cuirtear orthu, nach dtógann mórán le tuineadh isteach don ‘Tiger Tiger Bar’ nó ‘Funky c07f7792-0964-4773-898e-cc7d8e43a98eMonkey‘ ar an mbealach tar éis beoir ar $0.75 a fháil roimhe sin. D’éirigh lenár bhfiontar isteach don ‘Tiger Tiger Bar’ cairde nua ón nGearmáin, Sasana, ón mBeilg, agus ón Alban a fháil dúinn, a d’fhán linn ar turas ar aghaidh don chlub is oiriúnaí don chineál oíche neamh-phleanáilte a bhí tar éis titim amach-  an ‘Why Not Bar?’ 

Meascán de cheol a bhí le cloisteáil anseo ach arís b’fhiú an turas a thógáil isteach leis an éagsúlacht pearsantaí, náisiúntachtaí agus taisteálaí uilig ag iarraidh cairde nua a dhéanamh agus spraoi a bheith acu a bhlaiseadh.

D’éirigh liom áit a fháil sa chlub do dhaoine le ‘Moto-Exhaust pipe-Burns’, de réir mar a d’aimsigh muid go raibh an-cuid againn le gortaithe ar nós an ceann a fuair mise ar mo chos os cionn coicíse ó shin anois, uilig ag stáistí difriúla den phróiséas slánaithe agus mar ábhar spéise toisc go bhfuil siad comh héasca le fáil amach anseo nuair nach nglactar le bristí gearra mar bhaol is tú ag fáil gluaisrothair ar cíos. Oíche amach iontach a bhí ann ar aon chaoi, gan smál go dtí gur thosaigh an báisteach is muid ar an mbealach abhaile – le fírinne b’athrú deas a bhí ann ón ngrian.

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‘Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”

Bhí foireann iontach cairdiúil ag obair sa mbrú inar fhán muid, Phuong Le Villa, a bhí suite go háisiúil agus go breá glan freisin. Bhí neart eolais acu maidir le turais agus modhanna taistil, agus 2 lachain gleoite a choinnigh súil amach ag an bhfáiltiú chuile oíche, a bhí muid an-mór le roimh dheireadh na cuairte!fc43a0c0-41f1-46b3-b1e7-1bceb0e1b325

Fuair muid rothair ar cíos freisin ar dollar amháin in aghaidh an lae le píosa fánaíochta a dhéanamh timpeall na sráideanna, ag seachaint na turais treoranta níos costaisí agus ag cuir dushlán romhainn fhéin in ionad teacht ar an trá mistéireach seo nach raibh fógartha go maith ar léarscáil ar bith. D’éirigh linn é a bhaint amach tamaill beag sular bhuail an teas láidir meanlae i gceart, rud a d’fhág an bealach abhaile oscailte tríd na páirceanna ríse agus droichid beaga, agus bhí orainn deifir a dhéanamh leis an ngrian nocht a sheachaint.

Fuair na céadfaí an lámh in uachtar orainn ar an oíche dheirineach nuair a thástáil muid cuid den bhia sráide – an rud ab ansa liomsa ná cáca beag déanta de fataí milse (sweet potato?), peanuts, agus coconut.

Bheadh Hoi An foirfe do saoire rómánsúil le seachtain a chaitheamh go ciúin i Vítneam, ach dúinne agus do go leor daoine óga eile ar labhair muid leo, ba leor cúpla oíche a chaitheamh ann, cé go raibh sé go hálainn. Ar deiridh, bhí brón orm an áit a fhágáil, ach ní comh brónach is a bhí mo sporrán tar éis cúpla lá a chaitheamh ag na margaí!

 

*********Leagan Béarla ******************

Work. Save. Travel. Repeat.

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Collect 1 Million Dong when you pass Go, (aka the ATM), and this will see you through to the next few rolls of the dice as you take the next uncertain leap forwards…
The past two weeks or so have been like an exciting jigsaw of days and ideas and trial and error plans that have often turned out to be the worst decisions, but at other times have pleasantly surprised us. It’s been a detailed board game of buses and hostels and modes of transport and destinations we’ve set out and reserved for ourselves to find and reach. As each step of the journey is ticked off and achieved, each bus made in time, street navigated, and budget accomodation located without too much struggle, there’s a sense of achievement and autonomy akin to successfully completing an Easter Egg or treasure hunt , only this time it’s real life and the prizes at the end are a free breakfast or cold beer at the hostel, and new incredible views and interesting accquaintences every day.It’s exciting. It’s nerve-wracking. It’s fulfilling…it’s living. The next two weeks have been planned out in a pretty similar way, a brief outline and a date to be in certain places by – but nothing further than that.

We spent a few nights in the stunningly dated and historical town of Hoi An, and although I’ve said it before on discovering new places, this town really has been my favourite stop off on our journey so far. Quiet and reserved during the day, the main activities chattering in the market stalls at the docks as the pushy vendors use their select phrases to entice Westerners to purchase many of their ‘homemade’ mass produced goods; ‘You buy something?’, ‘Special price for you!’, ‘No Pushing here! You Buy!’ (ironically), and regular river-tours departing from the docks.

dab8e589-3da8-4945-a011-39a4761e1dd5After the laid back laziness of Mui Ne, the sheer amount of things to do and see in Hoi An was amazing, and we went full throttle on the tourist clichés on our first evening and got sucked into having skirts made by one of Hoi An’s most renowned traditional tailors. It was a bit of a blow to the bank balance but definitely worth it when I consider the skirt I had made was modelled on one I’d seen in Topshop before leaving home that had retailed for about 90 euro, or something outrageous like that. I paid 30 dollars in Hoi An, it fits me to a tee and is also a uniquely crafted original piece that I won’t run the risk of seeing on someone else at home! Everyone’s a winner! (except for Topshop).

3b20fa6f-90bc-4aec-89b2-c34a931b7970It was an unplanned purchase, but considering everyone we encountered in the town seemed to have paid a visit to one of the many family-run tailors dotted here and there between the market stalls, be it for tailored suits, dresses, boots or otherwise, I would have felt like I’d missed out on a brilliant part of the experience had I not partaken (I also adore clothes and couldn’t say no, so I suppose it was inevitable really..!).

Although quieter during the day, the main walkways along the river and over the main bridge of Hoi An come alive as soon as the sun sets with an array of stunningly lit lanterns, floating candles, and even more stalls selling everything from pancakes to marinated and sugar-coated guave fruits. The sights and smells and easygoing flow of tourists wandering, tasting, talking and moving in the general direction of the restaurants and bars which line the streets is a real treat for the senses, especially considering the warm air means that even after nightfall a light Summer dress and sandles is perfect attire to explore the bright lights and pretty colours of the night markets.

751e4c36-8f17-4073-87fc-4fd5d62c867a‘Happy Hours’ abound on every corner, ranging from anywhere between 10am and midnight with specials and yet more pushy staff offering discounts and deals all day. These gain intensity once the older couples and families begin to drift sleepily back to their more expensive lodgings in the various higher end hotels, making way for the backpacker generation, easily persuaded after a few $0.75 beers to try the ‘Tiger Tiger Bar” or “Funky Monkey” along the mainstreet. Our venture to the Tiger Tiger Bar served as an introduction to some new Scottish, German, English and Belgian friends, who became out companions for the night and shared moto-taxis on to what is supposedly the most lively bar in town – the persuasively and aptly named ‘Why Not Bar?”. The music here was varied but it yet again pulled through with the wonderful mix of travellers and identities all willing to make new friends and have a good time.

I became a member of the ‘Moto-exhaust-burn Club”, as a shocking amount of fellow backpackers revealed similar burns to the one I received over 2 weeks ago now, all at varying stages of healing and the source of much disbelief at how easily obtained they are over here – uncovered exhaust pipes not proving successful partners when combined with short-legged trousers – another thing left unconsidered whilst travelling. It was honestly one of the best nights out I’ve had since coming to Asia and was only briefly tarnished by the rain on our way home – although it was welcome change to the heat we’d grown accustomed to.fc43a0c0-41f1-46b3-b1e7-1bceb0e1b325

 

Our accomodation Phuong Le Villa had incredibly friendly and helpful staff; as well as being brilliantly located and extremely clean they also offered a huge amount of information regarding tours and transportation, 2 cute fluffy ducklings keeping guard of the main recpetion area each evening, which proved popular amongst the international clientel.

We also rented rented bikes for a dollar a day and meandered around the streets, avoiding the more expensive guided tours and instead challenging ourselves one day to find the vaguely signposted beach (to be honest everything is quite vague here). We succeeded shortly before the midday heat properly hit, which meant the journey home through open rice paddy fields and over bridges was a rushed affair to limit our exposure to the naked sun.

One final trip into the town on the evening of our last day saw our senses get the better of us as we sampled some of the street food – a personal favourite and high point being the discovery of a sweet potato, coconut and peanut grilled patty-cake thing – yum!

Hoi An is honestly a dream destination for a chilled couply getaway – a few nights for us was enough, but if you were one of the many couples I observed jealously around the town with a slightly larger budget allowing for tours and more thorough exploring, I’m sure it may have proved a more fruitful experience. All in all I was sad to leave, and regret already the strain on my budget the market stalls and stunning colours everywhere have brought…!

Ar Thóraíocht Taistil – Ó Chonamara go Cambodia…go Vítneam

Ar Thóraíocht Taistil – Ó Chonamara go Cambodia…go Vítneam

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Níor cheap mé riamh go n-aireodh an baile uaim comh mór seo. Go háirithe toisc go bhfuil sé ráite agam cheana nach dtarlaíonn sé sin dom. De réir dealraimh, ní tharlaíonn sé sin do daoine is iad ag taistil na cruinne, pictiúirí ar Instagram agus Facebook ag léiriú na híomhanna is fearr, na buacphointí nach mhaireann ach ar luas lasrach le cúpla soicind agus iad glactha. Ní raibh tinneas baile orm ariamh is mé ar saoire nó in aon áit ar bith ar domhan, agus mar sin níor aithin mé an mothúcháin go dtí gur bhuail sé sa chluas mé – é sin ráite, ní raibh mé riamh as baile comh fada seo ach oiread.

Ní bualadh sa chluas a bhí ann go fisiciúil, dar ndóigh.

Is mé ag athrú busanna ó mhionbhus go bus codlata le taistil ó Hue go Hanoi ar chósta thoir Vítneam inné, chas fear liom agus dúirt sé comh giorraisc Gaelach is a thagann siad; ‘you’re not Irish, are you?’
Ar chúis éigin mhuscail rud eicínt i mo chroí an canúint so-aitheanta sin a chloisteáil, glór aithnidiúil agus an ghreann ghearrchúiseach céanna is atá ionam fhéin ag casadh le chéile faoi dheireadh, i dtír nach bhfeiceann ionann ach turasóirí ó Theas tagtha le hairgead a chaitheamh agus pictiúrí a glacadh. Seans mhaith go bhfuil beagan áibhéil i gceist agam leis an abairt sin, ach ag an bpointe seo bhí mé comh sásta casadh le duine muinteartha nár thug mé faoi dheireadh go raibh muid tar éis moill ollmhór a chuir ar an scuaine, agus go raibh an tiománaí ag béiceadh orainn deifir a dhéanamh (ar a laghad, sin a tháinig trasna leis na gothaí móra agus tuin glórach cainte a bhí aige).
Shocraigh muid fhéin inár suíocháin (nó ‘leapacha’, sa chás seo), agus dúirt muid go labhródh muid arís ar ball, ach ní sular bhain mé amach gur Ciarraíoch a bhí ann ar saoire lena chailín ar feadh míosa, agus gur mise an chéad Éireannach a bhí casta acu go dtí seo.
‘Cén chaoi a raibh a fhios agaibh?’
‘Do ghruaig, dar ndóigh.’
‘Ah’.
D’úirt mo mham i gcónaí liom gan dath nó díriúcháin buan a chuir i mo ghruaig, agus anois gabhaim bhuíochas leí agus le chuile rud a d’iarr sí. Comh buíoch lena raibh mé nuair a tháinig mé ar an leabhar sin ó Ross O’Carroll Kelly i mbrú sa Chambóid an mhí seo caite – an cineál greann sin a d’airigh mé uaim agus a bhí orm a mhíniú don chomhluadar Sasanach a bhí timpeall orm ag an am – ‘loike, Ó mo Dhia bhí sé focking thar barr!’

Bhí turas fada romhainn, 12 uair a chloig ar a laghad, agus na buncleapacha míchompordacha ag freastal ar riachtanaisí na ndaoine nach bhfuil cosa comh fada píleata is atá agam. Tháinig mé ar sheasamh sealadach a rinne chúis dom codladh eadrom a fháil ar feadh 20 nóimead ag an am, sular éalaigh an mothúcháin uilig ar thaobh mo láimhe deise, agus bhí orm malartú a dhéanamh chun go ndéanfar cothromaíocht ar an easpa mothúcháin a bhí ag leathnú amach ionam. Ní dúirt éinne riamh go mbeadh busanna codlata galánta!
B’fhéidir gurb iad na hÉireannaigh eile a chuir cumha don bhaile orm, nó seans gur an aimsir a bhí ann – b’iontach an rogha a bhí againn an lá áirithe seo a chaitheamh ag taistil, toisc nár stop an báisteach ón uair a d’éirigh muid ar maidin. Cíbe rud é, thit coladh aisteach orm leathbhealach tríd an turais, agus ar feadh tréimhse ní raibh mé cinnte an fíor-eachtraí nó brionglóidí a bhí ag tarlúint timpeall orm, mo chairde ón bhaile do mo leanúint trí ghoirt ríse glasa ar rothair agus muid uilig ag caitheamh hataí triontánacha déanta le tuí.
Ba dlisteanach na radharcanna a bhí ag imeacht timpeall orm nuair a dhúisigh mé, ach ní raibh tásc nó tuairisc ar mo chomhghleacaí ón mbrionglóid in éineacht liom. Bhí mé liom fhéin arís, na ‘Paddy Fields’ mar a cuirtear orthu ag imeacht timpeall orm do mo chrá lena n-ainm Gaelach agus dath uaine álainn taobh amuigh – sílfeá gur ar Citylink nó GoBus go Gaillimh a bhí mé ag pointe amháin, na scamaill agus páirceanna ag déanamh comhbhrón le mo chuimhní ón tsamhradh i gConamara de réir mar a d’imigh an ghrian ón spéir is dorchadas anabhaí na hÁise ag titim.

Chaill mé uair a chloig nó mar sin ag cuimhneamh siar ar an cúpla seachtain deireanach a bhí caite agam le daoine nár chas mé le riamh roimhe sin, daoine eile ar fánaíocht ón Astráil, ó Shasana, Meiriceá, an Ghearmáin, an Bheilg….lean an liosta ar aghaidh. Bhí cairde iontacha déanta agam, rudaí feicthe agam agus déanta agam nár smaoinigh mé riamh a bhí mar fhéidireachtaí dom; cén fáth mar sin go raibh cumha comh mór sin don bhaile tagtha gan choinne orm? An Ghaeilge i mo chloigeann a bhí curtha ar leathaobh le cúpla seachtain anuas ach amháin le sampla a thabhairt do ghrúpa ón Ísltír nár chreid go raibh a teanga féin ag Éireann ag pléascadh uaim anois gan smacht, is mé ag streachailt teacht ar leabhar nótaí nó laptop le mo chuid smaointe a scríobh síos agus cuid de mo theanga dhúchas a chloisteáil arís go scioptha– fiú má’s i mo chloigeann amháin a bhí sí.

Tugann an cineál seo taistil meas agus grá difriuil agat do do bhaile féin. Domsa, tá os cionn mí go leith caite agam anois amuigh ón bhaile agus cé go bhfuil mé anois i dtaithí ar an tslí beatha seo, an ‘backpacker culture’ mar a deirtear i measc na taistealaí óga eile anseo, tá rudaí ionam agus mar chuid de mo phearsa nach n-athróidh comh héasca sin. I measc cultúir comh éagsúil ó mo cheann fhéin tá sé éasca dearmad a dhéanamh ar na rudaí a cheanglaíonn mo chroí go hÉireann nuair nach bhfuil siad díreach os mo chomhair, na nithe beaga a tharlaíonns ó lá go lá nach féidir cuir síos nó cur amach ceart a dhéanamh orthu do daoine iasachta eile. Tá an ‘Late Late Toy Show’ ar siúl anocht, mar shampla. Déan iarracht an ceann sin a mhiniú don ghrúpa taistealaí óga ón Nua-Shéalainn a roinn mé seomra leo aréir. Go figure.
Nílim ag rá nach bhfuilim buíoch as an deis seo a fháil – cinnte, ‘sé ceann de na rudaí is fearr a tharla dom agus a rinne mé dom fhéin i mo shaol, agus molfainn d’éinne é, ach tagann chuile rud go pointe ina bhfuil ort céim siar a thógáil agus amharc a thógáil ar na rudaí a d’fhág tú i do dhiaidh. Tharla an nóiméad sin dom le linn an turas sin inné, agus sílim go bhfógraíonn sé an cineál rian leathbhealaigh atá buailte agam anois. Tá neart foghlamtha agam, neart feicthe. Ach tá fós bóthar fada le dhul agam go dtí go mbeidh mé ar an bhfód dúchais arís.

Is an bus ag leanacht ar aghaidh tríd na hoíche, is dóigh gur thit codladh orm arís ag pointe nó dhó, in ainneoin na bóithre baolacha agus síorghleo na caranna ag bualadh bonnáin ar a chéile gan chúis agus gan éifeacht seachas paisinéirí traochta agus uaigneach ón Iarthar a choinneál ina suí. Cé go raibh mé ag súil leis na radharcanna a fheiceáil ag an gceannscríbe, is an chéad chéim eile ar an tóraíocht taisce seo a bhaint amach, líon íomhanna ón bhaile agus ón Nollaig ach go háirithe mo chloigeann, agus ghlac mé le suaimhneas go bhfuil sé sin fós ag fanacht orm tar éis dom filleadh abhaile. Don nóiméad seo, a bheartaigh mé, níl ann ach cúpla seachtain fágtha, agus tá sé ar intinn agam an oiread is mó a bhaint astu siúd agus gur féidir liom.

A Panickers’ Guide To Travelling

 

Take it from a seasoned panicker – new and unfamiliar situations are always going to pose the threat of throwing you off-balance. If you’re like me and tend to overthink every potential outcome of every hypothetical situation before it’s even had a chance to become a possibility yet, it’s time you accepted the fact that you do this, and stopped distancing yourself from trying new things in fear of it.

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Once you accept the fact that certain circumstances and types of people stress you out slightly more than they do others, it becomes so much easier to take a step back and put things into perspective. Perspective in this case has a lot to do with accepting your own lack of control over certain elements of life, and embracing your vulnerability instead of running from it and pretending it’s not there.

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That’s why when I announced my plans to embark on a bit of solo travel and exploration, my close friends and family were very clearly slightly dubious of me. Even if they didn’t say it or voice their concerns, I know them well enough to recgonise their polite acceptance of what I was calling my ‘travels’, when I knew all they were thinking was ‘how the hell is she going to manage?’. It’s only been a little over a month since leaving, but several short-term trips beforehand prepared me both mentally and physically for this next step of setting out on my own and away from the safety net of an organised travel group (I’m not completely on my own just yet, but will be soon, and I find 2 or 3 is a much more managable number than a large group). But I like to think I’ve proven them wrong in how well things have gone so far…..(*touches woods apprehensively*). Here’s some advice I wrote for the benefit of others that I keep needing to remember to follow myself….

1.  It’s Natural to Anticipate

I am and have always been chronically early for absolutely every kind of appointment, meeting, flight, bus, train, or any other kind of scheduled journey I’ve ever taken. 532242_265319013590365_2114068047_nIt’s this anticipation, this un-uttered fear and apprehension that something might go wrong or somehow need to be altered at the last minute and leave me unprepared that has led me to panic as I have in the past at the mere mention of the dreaded words ‘change of plan’. I am also an earlybird. I’m up before the worms, which I figure is always better than being late. It’s ok to be early for things, in fact sometimes it even works out in your favour. The tricky part though is managing to get the balance between overpanicking about it to the extent that you arrive 3 hours before your check-in time and have to sit with your suitcase in the only café on this side of the airport, and being so relaxed that you rock up 5 minutes before boarding closes and have left no time to deal with any issues that may have arisen between the sprint from the check-in desk and the quickly downed pint of Bulmers’ in departures. The apprehension associated with pre-determining things and trying to ensure it will work out as planned is exhausting, so just be aware that only certain things are in your control when it comes to transport and travel. You can only ever hope to take care of yourself and ensure you’re there on time and with all of your belongings – there’s no point stressing over others or over conditions (weather, delays, timetable changes, etc) that are outside of your control. Going with the flow is something that is most effectively learnt by literally just taking the leap and doing it, and so there’s only so many times you can tell someone before that they must take the initiative and do it for themselves.

2. Just Go For it.

This leads me on to my next point. Just Go For It. There’s only so many times people are going to listen to the fact that your main plan and dream in life is to travel and see the world until you actually set out and DO something about it. It shouldn’t be about what other people think, but I know myself that I was getting tired of hearing myself go on about it on nights out and with various groups of friends, so much so that I eventually just went for it and booked something. I was more nervous than excited right up until the week of my departure, but by then it was too late to change anything and I’d come to terms with the fact that I was challenging myself in this way for the forseeable future, and that it would ultimately prove a positive and character-building experience for me. What have you got to lose?

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3.  Language Barriers
img-thingBe prepared to encounter some pretty incomprehensible situations and difficult people on your travels. It can get frustrating and stressful at times, especially if you’re (heaven forbid) running late for something or require certain information immediately. It’s often the hardest thing to do to take a step back and a deep breath, and use your most plainly broken down English to try and get a point across. Panicking in this situation will only make things worse, as body language becomes more important and obvious when words are no longer an option – this means that the more erratic you get, the more difficult it will be for the locals to grasp your intent. Keep a ‘cool heart’ as much as possible, and you will get by without too much anxiety or frustration bubbling over and escaping in the form of angry and accidentally offensive hand gestures (many Asian cultures do not appreciate pointing). Another thing that can help with this is to try to get a basic grasp of the local language – such things as please, thank you, how much, and the numbers 1-5 have proven especially helpful in securing directions, transport, prices, and also in cooling off situations where the language barrier has been particularly difficult to scale.

 

4. Money is Not Actually all that Important
If I had’ve known how little it is possible to get by on a day in South East Asia, I would have embarked on this trip a hell of a lot sooner. If you’re smart about it (which I’m not pretending to be always, but hear me out here), the main thing you will find yourself parting with hard-earned cash for will be transport from place to place. Food and drink is another necessity which does add up (especially given the charges to refill water bottles), but if you stock up in a supermarket and don’t mind carrying an extra ‘food bag’ around with you (beware of ants!), it is actually easy enough to avoid paying extortionate amounts. Still, it’s difficult not to let budget concerns get to you while you’re on the move and dealing with tens of thousands of a foreign currency you can’t begin to grasp the value of. This is made more difficult by the surcharges that seem to exist at every unexpected turn. A dollar here for parking a bike, 50 cent there for a water refill, which actually leaves you a couple of million Dong down, really make for a lot of confusion and stressful expenditure until you familiarise yourself with the currency, which I recommend doing as soon as you arrive. Avoiding organised tours and pushy guides who convince you their offer is best is also key, and it is often so much cheaper to rent your own bike or motorbike and go exploring by yourself. BJ7Se2rCMAAmsXR You may get lost once or twice, but there’s nothing quite like the feeling of finding your way back and grasping the geography of such a foreign place – every chance you’ll stumble across hidden gems you’d never see whilst blindly following a tour guide! The sense of independence achievable by doing this is also second to none, and even if you do go astray and feel like you’ve no idea where you are, there will always be someone willing to point you in the right direction home – humans can actually be nice, you know, and contrary to what some people think the whole world isn’t actually out to get you!

 

5. You Get What You Give
I get it. You’re a nervous person. So am I. It generally takes me a drink or two to loosen up to the stage where I’ll talk freely with a stranger for no reason other than out of politeness. But travelling has really changed the way I see this. Being forced into group situations and dorm rooms where it would be just downright rude to ignore likeminded travellers’ enquiries and lighthearted banter has really made me see that I am more than capable of socialising and holding solid conversation without the backbone or safety net of a group of friends behind me. So often I’ve heard ‘oh I’m rubbish at making friends’ or ‘I find it hard to talk to people’ – excuses I’ve made myself to avoid having to involve myself in social situations that I actually end up enjoying when I get into it. I’ve found that, simply put, to gain anything from any social situation or interaction, you must be prepared to also give an equal amount to show the person you’re engaged in conversation that yes, actually I do want to keep talking with you and stike up an impromptu friendship over how we both got ripped off by a cyclo guy in Ho Chi Minh City. 7a7ba950ff1df75bec529b7b7d867adf8db12c5d783aea2d22362b117b482a5d.jpgYou never know anything until you ask, and more often than not I’ve found you’ll be surprised with both the answer and with yourself and confidence after opening up and letting people in. After all, how can you expect anyone to want to speak to someone who sits closed off to the world? Any relationship is based on give and take – even a barman is not going to know what you want unless you tell him, this seemingly minor interaction being strengthened by the only certainty of it’s grounding, which is your order. It’s more difficult with new people, when intention may or may not be clear, but I’ve found that if you let go of this factor and accept that it really doesn’t matter WHY this person is talking to you, they just ARE, it becomes easier to lessen anxiety and enjoy just living and being in the moment of the conversation.

 

6. Push Your Limits
You’re already doing this by taking the step outside your comfort zone to go travelling, so why not try and push a little more? I’ve surprised myself in many ways since leaving home; I’ve held tarantulas, tried streetfood I wouldn’t touch in a million years were it made at home, ridden motorbikes up mountains and around streets where the only observed rule of the road is ‘biggest vehicle goes first’, and put my life and valuables in the hands of bus and tuk-tuk drivers who swear they knew where my requested destination was, but have actually embarked on wild goose chases searching and asking others they see along the way. It’s only natural to be slightly on edge when trying to progress in such a foreign and alien society, but there is definitely a balance to be struck between letting the anxiety take over, and accepting that certain things here are just done differently, and that it’s kind of in the unwritten travellers’ handbook that visitors to any city or new town adapt to the local ways instead of resisting and causing negative and problematic interactions – there’s a reason many locals in tourist areas dislike foreigners!

 

7. Enjoy, don’t Endure
This is possibly the most important piece of advice I have ever received. I guarantee you, if you fill the time you have out travelling and exploring a new country with worrying and anticipating everything up until you arrive on time for your flight home, you will return with nothing but regret that you fret over such trivial issues instead of enjoying your surroundings while you were there. Living in the moment is advice we all hear on a regular basis, and I feel that escaping to a new country, a new place, with new people and new experiences is one of the best ways to put this way of living into practice. In shifting your mindset to enjoyment, focusing on the new and exciting things that surround you on all sides instead of merely existing and not fully appreciating things, you will gradually come to be aware of how easy it is to confuse enjoyment with endurance.images-1 I’ve lost count of how many family holidays or group trips away that I’ve merely endured purely to satisfy others, and I regret hugely not enjoying them and making more of them whilst I was there. It had gotten to the point where I confused the boundaries between what was endurance and what wasn’t, and I’d almost forgotten what it was to enjoy new experiences, instead focusing always on the negative – the long journeys, the heat, the lack of available peanut butter….the list of trivialities goes on. I’m now lucky in that even though I’m often naturally inclined to the negative, I have the ability to pull myself up on it and stop the spiralling thoughts before I lose control of them.

8. Learn From Mistakes
Finally, you wouldn’t have reason to panic or be anxious at all if it weren’t for past mistakes you’ve made, or the potential disastrous consequences leaving your home and comfort zone can present to you. Be aware only that things will go wrong, and you will make mistakes, but it’s so important not to view these mistakes as failures, and merely to accept them as they happen and try to learn from them. Admit to yourself that no, it probably wasn’t the best idea to agree to a city tour without fully understanding how much they charged first, but it happened, I was naive, and I won’t do it again. It’s the only way to deal with the unexpected blows to the bank balance, dignity or confidence that come naturally with travel. If nothing else so far it has taught me to take myself less seriously, and to see that literally everyone in the world is in the best way possible just out for themselves in the hope of progressing forwards. Rarely have I encountered a situation where people are genuinely nasty or mean in their intentions, and even the most stingy shop assistant will at the end of a tough haggling session sigh and take what little amount of money you have resigned them to accepting. If you’re assertive enough and aware of the potentiality of being ripped off and taken advantage of, but possess the ability to still function somewhat normally and enjoy your new surroundings despite this awareness, a good balance can eventually be struck between awareness and fear. It’s not exactly an easy ask, but it gets easier the more you remember it in tough situations, and gradually becomes second nature to take things in your stride instead of letting the anxiety win over and needing to ask for directions home to the hostel you’ve returned to without an issue for the past 4 nights already. Learning curve. Baby steps. All that jazz. Worst comes to the worst, at least you’ll have the comfort of knowing you had the confidence to give it a shot!

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If I can do it, anyone can!

Vietnamasté – A Guide to a Travelling Practice

Vietnamasté – A Guide to a Travelling Practice

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Scenes from Mui Ne fishing village, South Vietnam

A clear head and a stretched out body makes for a clean and positive start to the day. Cheesy, but true. I’ve made a pact with myself and a new goal to ensure I attend at least one yoga class in each new country I visit. Backpacking with my mat has been both a conversation starter and a cause for funny looks, as the original mat that has travelled with me from home has now gathered an unholy amount of dirt and probably smells like the underside of some of the buses and interestingly covered surfaces I’ve now used it on.

I’ve already ticked off Hungary, Bratislava, Cambodia, and Vietnam, along with various other European countries, and in two weeks with a little luck I’ll travel to Indonesia to spend some time in one of the ‘yoga capitals of the world’ – Bali, something which I’m both excited and apprehensive about – surely the hype can’t be all that? With typical Irish cynicism I am dubious already, but this destination has been a dream of mine for so long now that I’m willing to risk it all for the potential anticlimactic flump of a mediocre experience.

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Balancing on Bokor Mountain

I’m not sure why I’ve suddenly placed all my energy into practicing yoga and the consistency of my practice whilst travelling, but it sure as hell beats having all that energy wasted on worrying and being anxious what I look like, how much and when I eat and what certain people think of me or how wrong/right the choices I’m making are. It’s as if all the energy that went into the massive effort of striving for ‘perfection’ (lol,jk, there’s no such thing!), is now being put to better use and helping me to balance upon my own two feet and move my body along instead of hindering it. The energy is being diffused physically instead of mentally, a terrible habit I’d fallen into which merely exhausted me and meant I had less cognitive capacity to deal with and process actual problems when they did occur.

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Trying too hard at Angkor Wat (again)

It really does benefit you to pay attention to your own expenditure, be it money, energy, emotions, or anything else. Travelling has really opened my eyes to this, in more ways than one. It may seem like something fairly obvious, but the very fact that I am now aware of the new spectrum of potential for me, and where I want to lead my life means that I know whenever I find myself slipping backwards into the old ways of worrying about what people think and about how I am percieved by those around me, that I have wasted valuable energy that could have potentially been used to strengthen my body or to creatively express myself and generate something new. This contribution to the world by adding my original stamp to things is something that simply will not happen if I fail to balance my body and mentality on a regular basis. I have dreams of writing songs, novels, articles, poems and stories that will make a difference, that will change and help people, and also some that may not impact or alter anyone whatsoever. To be able to focus my attention on these things, I will need energy and the ability to control where I direct it. Finding balance through my yoga practice and maintaining it by staying aware of myself won’t singularly ensure that all of this gets carried out successfully, but at the very least it will provide a firm foundation on which I can build and mould these plans and ideas.

4f2585a0-2d57-44d3-b67b-118d7e047c15As I travel I am putting energy into moving along in an alternative way, trying to make the right moves and go in a direction that will take me where I want to go; like a board game where rolling sixes and being let win by parents who only want to see you succeed is no longer an option. Many ideas float past regularly, and I find it difficult to pinpoint exact and definite concepts, instead casting short bursts of energy into writing them down to ensure I don’t forget them. It’s a totally different kind of energy expenditure which took several weeks of getting used to, and one which I’m still forcing myself to combine with as regular a yoga practice as possible.

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Recieving a blessing from a Buddhist monk

Because of the nature of a ‘backpackers’ budget’, yoga classes while on the road are considered somewhat of a luxury, even if the going rate in many Asian countries is less than half of what you’d pay at home. For this reason, over the past few weeks I’ve found myself practicing on various deserted rooftops, balconies, and most interestingly secluded bathroom and poolside areas when I’ve found them available in places we’ve been staying. Generally this is in the morning before most of normal society has awoken, or else during nights interrupted by loud music and noisy fellow-dormers returning from drunken nights out. Don’t get me wrong here, I’ve also been on the other end of this situation, and I’m not condemning it in any way – I’m just a particularly light sleeper and prefer not to lie in a state of semi-consciousness while people prolong their party around me.

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Balcony yoga studio in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Self-practice whilst travelling is something an awful lot easier said than done however, even though the addition of the yogamat to any backpack surely suggests otherwise, creating the image that’s it’s bearer is a highly dedicated and strict tree-hugging practitioner.

This couldn’t be further from my reasoning for carrying my mat with me. While I do practice at any available opportunity and location I find myself presented with, it’s more of a ‘recharging’ ritual for me. The stress of moving about and carrying your life on your back is certainly something which requires regular recharging and reassessing of both self and belongings, and it simply makes sense for me to practice whenever I can if I intend to maintain any kind of balance and help myself to move from place to place without getting too worked up or anxious.

Yoga has changed the way I see things, not necessarily life in general or the way I live my life, but it’s changed how and where I stand when it comes to expanding and living through certain things and has helped me improve my outlook on many aspects of the world. The fact that I have chosen to travel with my practice and maintain some of the balance I’ve achieved getting myself here has made me view this progress as a kind of animated road that’s extending out before me, but that is created only about a foot ahead at a time as I take one precariously balanced step and place one foot in front of the other day by day. One slip up or failure is not going to knock me off completely, but it will mean that the next few steps will be more wobbly than those before, as I strive to find the inner balance again.

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Ancient Abandoned Library at Angkor Wat

Even though the general and accepted attitude to adopt whilst travelling is one of apathy when it comes to external appearances, I really feel like I’ll be able to continue this lessened sensitivity to things on my return home, and continue to channel this energy into my practice and bettering myself instead of worrying that I’m not enough. Because I am enough. I will always be enough. Yoga shows me that I am. Moving with my disagreeable body and mind shows me that I am. It’s imperfect, but it still takes me places. It still supports me through waves that sweep sunglasses from your head and up steep hill climbs with backpacks twice as wide as any grown man’s shoulders. It supports me through each flow, each movement, each difficult leg or section of my journey that has left me unsure of where I am and what on earth I’m doing this for. Yoga just brings me back to my body, and back to the realisation that it is actually okay for me to occupy this space, and to enjoy being here.

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I’ve included some pictures from the beach resort of Mui Ne down the South coast of Vietnam where we’ve been chilling for the past few days. A sunrise trip to the sand dunes, fishing village and fairy stream trek were highlights, and were all organised through our (very affordable and clean!) accomodation Mui Ne Hills Budget Backpackers. Motorbike rental is available also aswell as windsurfing lessons, but our budget didn’t quite stretch that far and also I was so drained after Ho Chi Minh that a few days chilling by the pool with intermittent yoga practice/classes was exactly what was needed. The nightlife in the town was fairly non-existant but the poolside bar and restaurant were great. A lot of older couples holidaying and (strangely enough) Russian tourists everywhere. Would advise eating at some of the smaller family-run kitchens along the street as the prices were often half of what they were charging in the hotel and given the sheer amount of tourists around the menus were mostly actually catered to Western pickyness and cases of ‘oh no I don’t like that, thanks’.

#onlypositivevibes

Next stop Hoi An…

Useful Links:
Mui Ne Hills Backpackers / Trip Advisor 

A Ginger’s Guide to South East Asia, or any Inconveniently Hot Country

A Ginger’s Guide to Southeast Asia, or any Inconveniently Hot Country (aka how not to look like Mr.Crabs after a couple of minutes spent outside the shade)

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Shade-bathing is my new favourite pass time

There comes a time in every gingers’ (or just fair-skinned person’s) travelling experiences when he/she just has to admit defeat and accept the fact that beneath a burning midday sun in Asia is maybe just not the most ideal place for them to spend a lot of time. Having occupied the unwanted tan lines of society for many years already and met with others of my kind who’ve dealt with the ‘orange hair’ and ‘carrot top’ teasing as a kid, it’s the last thing on many ginger, redhead, or strawberry blondes’ (as I used to insist) list of preferred activities when on holiday or abroad to actually sit out beneath the sun and intentionally try to ‘get a colour’, as other breeds of human have taken to practice. Sunbathing as a way to pass a day in a foreign country (let alone South East Asia) is simply not an option for people of my skin type, and it’s often been difficult to explain this to my sallower, darker-skinned friends who live for a day spent ‘tanning’ and ‘lapping up the rays’. I say each of this phrases with a tone of disdain and immense jealousy that I cannot engage in such activities with them, instead cowering in fear beneath the nearest parasol and shining beacon-like with my latest applied layer of factor 80. Yep. Factor 80! I’m in Asia!

Once this lack of tanning potential has been dutifully noted and accepted as just the way it is, it becomes so much easier to implement measures to ensure my continued paleness is not tainted by anything save some new freckles and a stark contrast to many of the locals I find myself interacting with around here. Over the past few weeks in Asia I’ve proudly managed to secure only extremely minor sun damage by adhering to some of these strict and rigid guidelines, many of which are really just common sense. As we all know however, once a bit of sun and potential holiday fun and exploring gets in the way, this sometimes gets left by the wayside in the heat of the moment (pun entirely intended), and we’re left regretting not getting up those 5 minutes earlier to apply the suncream we forked out a ridiculous amount of dollar for. Here’s a short list of guide-lines I’ve compiled which have helped me avoid some unnecessary discomfort!

  1. Shade.

Shade is key. Shade is your friend. Shade is vital to your continued enjoyment of both life and this trip abroad which you’ve saved long and scrounged hard for with all that money you saved on spray-tans (because let’s face it, they just don’t look natural on you). Seek it out wherever you go. If you find yourself waiting to cross a road somewhere for an unspecified length of time and you feel the heat of a hundred thousand suns burning between the hairs on your pale white scalp, it’s time to find the thin shadow cast by the traffic light pole you’re waiting at and stand behind it. I’m not kidding. You’ll thank me. When exploring, make sure you walk down the side of the street that’s most covered over by stalls, canopies, buildings, or anything else that casts a safe stretch of shaded road ahead of you. If you played ‘The Floor Is Lava’ at any point during your childhood (or college years) you should be perfectly well able to adapt to this style of jumping from shaded patch to shaded patch in avoidance of the dreaded sun. It’s extra fun if you have a ginger-buddy with you to compete against! (Please consume sunrays responsibly!)

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Welcome to my cribbb..we’ve got shade here

 2. Layers.
Like ogres, onions, parfait and cake (thank you Donkey!), another thing us gingers must always remember is that layers are a MUST. Always remember that Sweat > Burning. I’ll choose a few sweat patches over a few red patches any day – a little extra heat from a light layer of clothing to cover your arms is totally worth the excess sweating and slight discomfort it may cause. At least you can remove it and wash sweat off once you’re indoors, instead of standing/lying/crying stock still for days on end because it hurts to move while you wait for a new layer of skin to grow. For people as pale as I am, it’s wise to always carry a light scarf/shawl/jumper of sorts in case you find yourself unwittingly enjoying some happy hour Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rays…. yeh I went there.

                                                  3.  Wind Burn is a real thing.

Beware of the sneaky rays that will catch you unawares as you cruise on a bike/motorbike/boat/tuk tuk with the wind blowing in your hair…sure it might not FEEL hot enough to burn, but I’ telling you now – it IS! The breeze created by the wind (even in Asia!) as you move is only masking the heat of what you usually can feel when you begin to burn, and it pays to pre-consider this before undertaking any trips or tours which will expose you for any length of time. This is not to say you can’t enjoy them, just be aware of what you’re getting yourself into so you can adequately apply sunblock before stepping outside. Any exposure to the sun can affect ginger skin and so it’s worth asking when you book how long you’ll be spending in an exposed situation.

  1. Choose your beach/pool time wisely
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I’ll stay right here thanks!

Another one that seems like common sense, but that is surprisingly very often ignored is to avoid sitting at a pool or on a beach during peak hours of heat – midday sun is a fairly obvious one, yet depending on the climate you’re in, midday heat can last anywhere between 11am and 3pm. This can often prove problematic, especially when travelling with a group or several others who see this time of day as ‘optimal tanning time’, and you’re left either sunbed-hopping as the sun rises and relentlessly chases you, or you’re forced to occupy yourself with a non-sun related activity for the day. These are surprisingly easier to find than people may expect, and often mean you’ll actually get more out of your day and travelling experience instead of a mild tan and ‘a little bit of redness – but don’t worry, it’ll fade to brown!’

  1. Rise early to get the most out of the day
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Sunrise over the Mui Ne sand dunes (*note the shawl for the return journey!)

A similar point to the one above, most Asian countries begin their day at sunrise, and people can be found going about their daily business from an earlier time in the day in order to avoid the glare and discomfort of the midday heat. Rising early ensures you get three main sections of the day to fill, the middle one of which may be slightly less busy in order to cater for the heightened heat and natural afternoon-lull of extremely hot countries. Siestas are definitely a thing here, but they’re just not given the name and are generally signified only by people lounging around in hammocks on the sides of the streets as the ‘3 o’clock slump’ hits slightly earlier and lasts a couple of hours.

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Morning scene at Mui Ne fishing village..

 

  1. Be prepared for the STARES

Local people in Vietnam and Cambodia so far have been extremely welcoming to us. While many children stare and point as we pass, in general we’ve found that returning their stares with a warm smile and a wave has broken some sort of unspoken tension, and we’re rewarded with an even bigger and toothless grin as they wave and proceed to follow us down the street or offer us whatever local produce they’re selling. If you’re someone who gets uncomfortable by being watched and looked at (something I quickly had to get over), be prepared to be the subject of much gossiping and incomprehensible giggles amongst young people when they spot you. Ginger hair is simply not a thing over here. I’ve been asked are my freckles an illness, is my hair real, and my sunburn (when I did unfortunately get some) was the cause of much interest and concern among the locals. Try to remember that it is only out of interest and genuine fascination that many locals stare, and most of them probably don’t even realise they are doing it! To them, tourists are a source of income, and so the very sight of pale-skinned wanderers causes a ripple down the street of local shops and markets, and before long everyone is out to have a look.

  1. Suncream is EXPENSIVE

Bring as much with you from home as you can, because out here it costs an arm and a leg (and you’ll pay with that, if you don’t invest in some!) to buy in local supermarkets. It’s clearly a ploy for foreigners, seeing as suncream is not generally a thing required by the people out here, but just be aware that if you fail to pack it or else run out you will be paying nearly 3 times what you would at home, even in the markets.

  1. If you do get burnt, prepare to be made aware of it

‘Oh my GOD your SHOULDERS…what happened?!”, ‘Oh! Someone got the sun today!” ‘Lookin’ good lobster!’ – I’ve heard them all over the years, and they’re not exactly helpful! Yes I’m aware I was slightly careless today, yes I’ll be more careful next time, yes, contrary to what you may think it is actually painful and yes I can feel how hot it is from an inch away….I don’t want your pity or concern…just get me some Aloe Vera!!
People will be concerned, it’s only natural, but at the end of the day it’s up to you to ensure you’re correctly prepared to face a day outside, and that all exposed skin has been touched up each morning before you leave your accomodation.

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We all just want to see the sun rise….

  1. Don’t Let People question your travel motives

‘Why on EARTH would you go to such a hot country if you can’t handle the sun?’ Why on earth not? Why should I let my skin type stop me exploring the world and experiencing things? If I’m careful enough and aware of the consequences of exposing myself to the sun for too long, surely it’s as ok for me to come abroad as it is for the next person who spends their days trying to get brown, which by the way is also seen as sun damage – any change of colour due to the sun can be seen as sun damage and by avoiding it completely I am in fact lowering my risk of it whatsoever! We’re all winners here!

  1. Finally – ‘Water Resistant’ does not always do what it says on the tin

I learned this the hard way. Sure, go for a dip, wade in the sea, get accidentally pushed in or else swept away by an unexpected wave – it’s fine! I’ve waterproof factor 50 on!
Not always the case.
While some brands are better than others in the level of protection they provide (I’d better word this carefully or it’ll end up sounding like I’m talking about something else), not all suncreams are as reliable as they’d like you to believe. While sunblock implies it supposedly blocks out all sun and refuses to let it impact you at all, suncream merely promises to prevent sunburn, and often is actually tailored to ‘encourage tanning’ – enticing the sun but actually controlling what it does to your skin? Sounds a bit dodgy to me…. I’ve found that in general, the strongest and most reliable sunblock to get are the ones advertised for children. Kids’ skin is notoriously more delicate than adults’ and as such it makes sense that their sunblock is stronger than ours. It may be extra gloopy and white and take that little bit more time to rub in correctly, but in the end it’s worth the shiny face and smelling like a baby when you reach sunset each evening with a smile just as pale and ghostly as you began the day with.

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My new best friend

‘Vietnamasté’ – On Why We All Need to Slow Down …

Why We All Need to Slow Down

Life today is so fast-paced and hurried that it’s easy to lose sight of yourself and what you really need in favour of what ‘seems right’ or what ‘everyone is doing’. If it means the next step from A to B will be easier, the majority of people will generally take the easy option and ensure the quickest escape and fix for what’s currently bothering them.

I’m not just talking from a backpackers’/travellers’ perspective, yet seeing as that’s the lifestyle I’m currently engaged with it makes sense to speak from this point of view at this present moment in time. This is another thing humans are guilty of – thinking that it’s not okay to change your lifestyle and habits to suit where you currently find yourself. Seeing as change is the one constant we seem to ever have in life, it makes no sense to cling to ‘the way you used to be’ or anything that ‘used to’ be a part of your life in general. Because of the familiarity, it’s often the easiest and most obvious thing to do to resort to it, yet we rarely stop to think actually, maybe this is not the most beneficial thing for me right now.

By practicing mindfulness, yoga, meditation, or even just taking a few minutes at the beginning of each day to reconsider, re-adjust, and observe your situation, it becomes easier to fully immerse yourself in the moment and your current state of being, instead of merely trying maintain something that worked in the past for the sake of convenience.

I regularly have to mentally remind myself to slow down, to not rush ahead to achieve things or arrive to places before it’s necessary. I’m a chronically early person, and this I feel reflects my tendency to anticipate and become apprehensive about things that don’t really matter all that much.

I feel a lot of what has been going on in the world recently reflects this exact inclination of humankind to rush ahead and try to solve issues without really taking any time to properly understand them or consider what options would most benefit them. Surely we are aware by now that violence only leads to further violence, the harshness and extremity of one groups’ actions generating a need and expectance almost for an equal reaction?? Why is it still happening that people are using violence to combat hate, hate as an excuse for lack of understanding, and premature movement and immediate responsiveness in a rush to solve issues that have taken time and many wrong turns to form into the catastrophic difficulties they have only now manifested as? Surely they will also take a similar amount of time to rectify?

While I don’t pretend to understand everything about the goings on of various political, paramilitary or otherwise groups who have been the subject of a lot of attention of late, I do understand that beneath all the violence, hate and unneccessary suffering there is an underlying confusion and general lack of understanding as to how this can all be allowed to happen. It’s easy to brush it off as something that doesn’t concern us when it’s not immediately phsyically affecting us, but the images, new stories, and panic of safety ‘check-in’ buttons being used online are enough to send even to most balanced and steady mind reeling and rushing ahead to assume the worst.

By slowing down and assessing the situation at hand and our own position to rectify or change anything about it, we remove the ‘panic’ element of things. It’s the same process I’ve employed since coming out travelling. If things have gone slightly wrong or awry in any way, which given the nomadic and changeable nature of just about everything in my life at the moment, I’d be stupid to not be prepared for, I now have comfort in the knowledge that I can deal with it, take a step back, and figure out another way around the issues that present themselves.

It’s a work in progress, and something that’s only ever going to be attainable by making a conscious decision to set a new and realistic pace for ourselves and our thoughts – one that doesn’t rush ahead, or assume too much, because in the end the only things we can ever actually know for sure are already here right now.