“I’m so happy!” — the email I just sent to mom and dad

The above quote is what I just said to the person on the computer next to me. To say such a thing out loud is rather redundant because I am grinning like a fool and clapping my hands. Anouk, my Belgian sister from the year in Yaso, is going to be coming to Thailand tomorrow!!! I sent her a postcard from Malaysia and it got to her just in time to send an email before coming over. What a world! I just sent her an email and we will try to coordinate since she will be traveling here for a month. She will be in Yasothon from July 11-18 and then will head north. I don’t know if I can make it there in time, so I proposed that we meet in Vientiane, Laos because a) neither of us have been to Laos even though it is so close and b) everyone says wonderful things about it.

I am soooo excited!!! What are the chances?!?!

Today I was given a map of Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and bits of Thailand. I have been pondering it alongside my calendar. Like I posted a few days ago, three months is not really that long of a time to travel in this fashion. I am brainstorming what route will be “best” (no such thing but you know what I mean) to follow. With this new development, my thoughts have changed a bit from what they were this morning. This is where I am at so far:

I am in Hoi An now, which is a lovely little UNESCO heritage city. I got here this afternoon by bus (I waited for the bus longer than it took to actually drive here and the air-con gave out for the last hour of the journey – joy of travel, right?) and ended up staying at the hotel/hostel that the bus dropped us off at. Usually I try to avoid doing so because it truly is a racket. The tour companies have agreements with various hotels and souvenir shops, with the tourists getting ripped off so people make a commission. Bogus! (Haha yesterday I taught an English girl the meaning of “bogus” – like if you buy a plate of stir-fried veggies and have to pay extra for the rice. Bogus! Just include it in the price!) But it actually turned out to be a nice place and was on the list of good, cheap accommodation that I looked at online before I came. There is certainly something to be said for at least knowing the section of town where you want to be when you get off the bus. Otherwise the vulturesque taxi drivers will take you for a ride upon arrival – literally. 

So here I am, at Hop Yen Hotel on Hai Ba Trung Street in lovely little Hoi An. I will be here at least two nights, maybe three, depending on what I can find to do. The streets are quaint, much like the other UNESCO site in Trinidad, Cuba. You can get all manner of clothes custom-made here for cheaper than you would pay retail back in the states. A German guy in my dorm had a beautiful leather jacket done over the course of two days. Incredible! I am tempted to get some clothes, though I don’t think the extravagance of going to a tailor is within the realm of reason on a student budget. But there are plenty of other clothes ready-made, so I may indulge in a new pair of pants and maybe a Vietnamese flag t-shirt. I am pretty good at justifying myself, and the excuse of the hour is that all of my clothes are being laundered. Which is true! I only have one skirt and one pair of pants, so maybe it is time to expand a bit? But I am not doing any shopping. As is my tradition, I am getting one small item to be turned into a Christmas ornament (Vietnam’s ornament is a communist victory pin circa  1972 dug up in the jungle) and I will get a flag for each country when I get back to the States. Otherwise, it is pictures, postcards, an on-the-road scrapbook of maps and tickets, and the maintenance of this blog that I am doing instead of souvenirs. Economically and logistically it makes much more sense, yeah?

 Moving on…. Next stop is Nha Trang. I booked an open-bus ticket that took me from Hanoi to Hue to Hoi An, then to Nha Trang and ending in Saigon. I paid $44 upfront for all the tickets and all I have to do now is just call the day before I want to hop on and let them know I am coming. Voila! That easy. Nha Trang, from what I hear, has nice beaches but is saturated with tourists. I don’t really have any desire to go as there are nice beaches in Florida, but that is where the bus goes. I am thinking of doing a small trip to nearby Dalat, located in the “mountains” (not like the Rockies but still a significant change in elevation) since people have only praise to give it. We will see how the timing works out. 

Then on to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City! There is plenty to do around there and I want to have time to visit all the museums and historical sites before scooting on up to Cambodia. Tourist offices make it easy to get a visa and transfer to Phnom Penh, so I will deal with it when the time comes. From there my plan is pretty open. I am looking at border crossings now and think that from Phnom Penh I will go to Siem Reap (another tourist hot spot) to see the splendor of Angkor Wat. Then it looks like there are a number of crossings into northeast Thailand. It doesn’t look like Thai visas for overland crossing are a problem, though they only give you fifteen days. That should be sufficient.

Once I am there, I have no worries about finding a bus or hitching a ride towards Yasothon. My Thai will flow back (I hope) and all will be well! Anouk and I may be able to cross paths there, but since she is leaving on July 18th for the north it will be little tight timewise on my part. But I think that after visiting my old haunt I will head into Laos, either by going east to the Mukdahan border (which I have been to before for a family day trip) or to the north to Vientiane, which along with Luang Prabang I have heard is amazing. I even have recommendations of museums to visit and hostels to stay at in Laos.

Kayak.com has been a great resource for looking at flights, which I do frequently. Today’s search was for a good way to get from this part of the world to India. As I thought, Bangkok is the best hub. There are flights from Vientiane, but there are two transfers and it is much more expensive than flying out of the Thai capital. So I think I will cross back into Thailand and bus it down to Bangkok for a flight out. Who knows? Maybe this time I will stay at the infamous Kao San Road. 

All said and done, I probably won’t be in Bangkok until early August. Anouk leaves August 8th, so perhaps we will fly out around the same time? That remains to be seen. She will go back home to Belgium (I think) and I am toying with the idea of volunteering in an orphanage/school near in Gokarna, which is about 70 miles south of Goa. The name of the foundation is Shankar Prasad Foundation. They have yoga classes and retreats as well. ‘Tis a thought! The place was recommended to me by Ruthi, who I met in Ubud back in Bali, so I trust it more than random charities that you can find on the internet. And I like the idea of staying in one place in India this time around since I only have a month and traveling from place to place can be a hassle, especially for a solo white lady like myself. I will be back and can do further explorations in the future!

Well happy fourth of July everyone! I hope the Davids are reading this in Chicago and that there is plenty of gonging going on…

Love!

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