Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Well, hello again friends. The travel bug has bit again and one of my best friends and I are off to Iceland at the end of may. But that’s not the point of this post.

You’re probably thinking – “But, Aaron those are Christmas lyrics. And, last time I checked its April”. Well, you’re n0t wrong. But, in just over one month, the Eurovision Song Contest will be happening in Stockholm, Sweden and you should most definitely watch it.

While it gets little coverage on this side of the Atlantic – Eurovision is one of the highlights of the year and you should watch it not only for the tackiness of some of the performers, but if you’re lucky enough to stream the BBC’s version – Graham Norton’s comments (here’s a sample).

Ok, now I’ve got you thinking -“Aaron, what the f**k is Eurovision”. Here’s a short explainer – Back in 1955 the Europeans were rebuilding from the ravages of World War II. Worried that another war would decimate the continent – they decided to put down the guns and fight their battles through song. Which is cute right? It started out small, with a handful of countries but now has morphed into one of the biggest live TV events of the year featuring 20+ countries (including Australia, because why not).

Each member of the European Broadcasting Union is able to send one representative to the contest, but they don’t have to (which is why Portugal isn’t participating this year). Every country, minus “the Big 5” – France, UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, has to go though the semi-final process.The reason why “The Big 5” are exempt is because they contribute the most $$ to the contest. Each country is then judged by Televoting and a score from a professional Jury and the top move on to the Grand Final.

Now, this is when the best 4 hours of your life happen. In the Grand Final, all the countries that made it though the semis and the Big Five perform and they are then scored again. Each country then has a representative to deliver their points from 12-0 on stage. If you’ve ever hear the expression “nil points” – this is where it comes from. Seeing who voted for who is one of the highlights of the evening as sometimes countries that traditionally vote for each other don’t and it messes everything up. The Wire did a great run down of traditional voting “blocs” and you can check that out here.

“But, A-a-ron, why should I care?” Well my friend. There are many many reasons why you should care. Firstly, Eurovision gives all the countries of Europe a chance to come together and put aside their political differences for one night of music (note I didn’t use the word great… as one YouTube search would prove that wrong). Plus, Eurovision is an amazing stage for the acceptance of everyone. Not only was Iceland’s 2014 entry called “No Prejudice”  but that same year an Austrian Drag Queen named Conchita Würst (google the translation) won the entire thing. How cool is that? You can check out her winning song, “Rise Like A Phoenix” here.

But, this isn’t the first time a Drag Queen has participated. In 2007, Vera Serduchka from the Ukraine graced the world with her wonderful ditty – Dancing Lasha Mumbai which was featured in the Mellissa McCarthy movie “Spy” (also, click the link I dare you). Also, Dana International from Israel has participated 2x, along with many other additional LGBT performers. But, this is not the only reason why you should watch Eurovision. Basically, Russia’s 2012 entry by a group of 80 year old grandmas called “party for everybody” sums it up nicely . Because it is. I’m gonna skip over the part about how it promotes the performing of songs in national languages for the fun part.

Eurovision is basically a four hour hot mess.

Each year, the show has one over arching theme. It’s usually some vaguely non-sensical idea – but it is there. For example, 2014’s theme was “#JoinUs” and 2011’s was “Feel Your Heart Beat”. But, each country is responsible for their own staging and this does not have to fit in with this theme. Which has lead to – this, this and this.

And, while most countries send “normal” songs – with questionably translated lyrics. “Tick Tock, can you hear me go tick tock, my heart is like a clock and steady like a rock… my heart is like a clock you won it with your love” is an actual lyric from a real song that was performed during the contest – that song (Tick Tock from the Ukraine) placed 6th with 113 points. Yikes. Some countries have serious lapses in judgement and the result is wonderful pieces of music that will forever live in infamy. Here are 3 wonderful examples of times that people should have thought twice about what they were sending to an international song competition – one, two and three. Also over the years, there have been songs about Social Media, a singing turkey, and some INSANELY high notes (see: Miracle – Paula Seling and Ovi, 2014 – Romania).

It’s hard to sum up the essence of what Eurovision is in words. And thus, friends – I present, without further adieu,  my top 10 Eurovision contest entries. These are sure to stick in your head for the next few days, and when May 12 rolls around, will cause you to watch the wonderfulness that is Eurovision.

10. Zaleilah – Mandinga (From Romania, but with Bagpipes and in Spanish… because #Eurovision. 

9. Da Da Dum – Paradise Oskar (2011, Finland)

8. Popular – Eric Saade (2011, Sweden)

7. Euphoria – Loreen (2012, Sweden)

6. Only Teardrops – Emelie de Forrest (2013, Denmark)

5. I Am Yours – The Make Makes (2015, Austria)

4. Calm After The Storm – The Common Linnets (2014, The Netherlands)

3. Undo – Sanna Nielsen (2014, Sweden)

2. A New Tomorrow – A Friend in London (2011, Denmark)

1. Heroes- Måns Zelmerlöw (2015, Sweden) 

Over the years, there have been some careers launched at Eurovision (Céline Dion and Abba both got their starts there) and some that have failed to take off as well. If you can’t wait for May – there are videos of the Grand Finals up on YouTube and I highly encourage you to check them out because Eurovision is truly the best time of the year.

Also, as a thank you for making it this far, here are some of my favourite Eurovision GIFs.

When Mom asks you to do your chores but bae is coming over 

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When Mom and Dad take you to dinner

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And finally… The struggle between Wallet and Brain

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Looking back on Southeast Asia – 6(?) Months Later

Well, as Drake says late is better than never  – (I highly think I’ve made this joke before, but I’m about 400% over that fact)… so its high time I reflect on the madness that was last summer. Also its significantly 2:25 a.m., but that’s beside the point.

It’s been a long 6 months – thank you school (and Gazette.. *cough* hire me please *cough*). I consistently find myself talking about my trip – although, this could be because I like to talk a lot. Probably that. So, its high time I look back on this trip and realize the many things it has taught me. Thus, dear reader (all 7 of you), here are my top 5 things that I’ve learned from my trip. I could do 10 but I feel like bed is more important.

1. I’m comfortable being out of my comfort zone

Wow, Aaron, so original. Gold star for you. As cliché as this sounds, I’ve actually learned to thrive outside of my comfort zone. Granted, my comfort zone is pretty large – I still constantly find myself in situations outside of it. By forcing myself to take cooking classes (Superman has kryptonite – I have cooking), I’ve learned that its ok to step outside of your comfort zone and fail; there are people around you to help you (ew, I used a semi colon -does that make me a real writer now?).

2. Do things for you – not for the souvenirs

This seems like common sense but it’s so easily overlooked. While souvenirs look cool on your shelf – thats all they are. When you take the $10 you were gonna put on that keychain and put it into an experience you can only get there (Hello, Marina Bay Sands) you’re gonna have memories that last a lifetime (or, at least until you start forgetting things). I’m not saying don’t buy any souvenirs – by all means, get them, but think about it first – is that “I Heart La Paz” shirt really something you’re gonna wear after your trip? I guarantee you it won’t be – it’ll sit there along with that sweater you got from camp that one time and then told yourself you would never wear again.

3. Being tired is ok, in fact, its encouraged

Being tired is FINE. Its not the end of the world. In all honesty, lazy days are the best days for exploring your surroundings. When you’re too tired to hit the tourist trail, you get to explore the intimate surroundings you find yourself in. Maybe there’s a cool café you’ve been meaning to get to or a neat shop that you haven’t gone to because you’ve been too busy doing all the things on that Top 10 list you saw. So ditch it; there’s no rule that you have to see the Louvre every time you to go Paris – or even that you have to see it at all.

4. Ditch the Top 10 List

This one fits in with that last point. While Top 10 lists of things to see will help you get an idea of what to see in an area – they are not gospel. I’ll say it again – TripAdvisor’s Top 10 List of things to see in Timbuktu is NOT THE BIBLE. You don’t need to do everything it says. The biggest way to make your trip more satisfying is doing things that interest you. Don’t want to see an art museum? Don’t. It’s just that easy. You are Jesus in this situation – you are the master of your own destiny. Ok, Jesus may not have been the right vehicle for this literary device but you get my drift. (Hopefully. Otherwise I’m going to hell.)

5. Take Care of Yourself

This one is the biggest thing that gets thrown out the window when you travel. Its so easy to fall into the tunnel vision of trying to see all that you can in one day that we forget about what makes us happy. I mean, this could totally be your thing, and like you do you friend – but just be aware of burnout. Plan scheduled rest days – or redundancy days (for when things don’t work out or are closed because, surprised that happens!) to help you recharge your batteries. Trust me, it’s necessary.

SECRET #6 – Things won’t work out. Deal with it. 

Yes, in an ideal world everywhere has perfect weather and things never close. I hate to be the bubble burster (just kidding, I love it) but OMG! things will close or you will have crappy weather. Its just the way of the world. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it can be devastating when you don’t get to do something you’ve been wanting to do forever – but hey, thats why we travel. We can come back to these places and do these things again. So don’t let that one thing ruin your trip, it’ll suck in the moment – but I assure you cheap booze is probably within walking distance.

Wow – this is too much introspection for me. I don’t like it. Also fun fact, I found out what that mystery illness was. It’s a little thing called Chikungunya – it’s real, and apparently coming for us with the rage of Bernie Sanders at the political establishment.

Thanks for reading this – I don’t think you know how much it means to have people step into my inner monologue and connect with it. Especially when that monologue is full of crass jokes and stupid anecdotes.

Cheers to this great trip – and here’s to many (many!) more!

Thank You, Myanmar.

I’m not one for sappy posts, but indulge me a little please.

For those of you that don’t know, Myanmar (Burma) has just held it’s first internationally accepted election. While it wasn’t to the standards that we see here in Canada, this is a historic move for the country. What makes this election even more important is that the military-backed party lost to Aung San Suu Kyi’s popular NLD party. While she won’t be able to become president as Burmese law prevents people with children born to foreigners from becoming president (oddly specific) her party has promised to provide her with a position higher than the president. Right now – it’s looking like this is going to become a reality.

Here’s a little but of context to put this in perspective. Until 2011, the country was ruled by a military junta and for most of this time Suu Kyi was jailed. Then in 2011, after international pressure, the country held its first elections. These elections which were won by the military-backed USDP weren’t exactly free and fair and in fact, most Burmese didn’t vote. While visiting the country in the summer, I learned that Suu Kyi is revered by many people in the country – many even refer to her as  “Mother Suu”.

Here comes the amazing part. These elections were so popular with many among the country that lines formed hours before polling began, and people continued to line up for days (check out the BBC’s coverage of the election for some incredible images).

The Burmese people are some of the kindest and warmest people I have ever met – and seeing these results makes me so hopeful for the future of their country. They WANT change and it looks like they’ll get it.

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The images of people lining up around the block really struck a chord with me. Why don’t we see this in Canada? Why do we celebrate a 60% voter turn out? It still means that one out of every three people in this country didn’t vote. Not exactly something that we should be celebrating. Myanmar is one of the poorest nations on earth and yet 80% of the population still showed up out to vote.  So my fellow Canadians, get off your lazy asses and vote. Plain and simple.

These results have also caused me to do a little bit of reflection and soul searching. Currently, I’m sitting on top of a washing machine doing 6 weeks worth of laundry AT UNIVERSITY. Man, does that sentence sound privileged. Looking back on my time in the country, most people don’t have the chance to go to university let alone own enough clothes to not have to do laundry (by machine) for 6 weeks. It also puts my disdain towards my grades into perspective. Yes, they’re not the greatest. But, hey, I’m at university. Something that I know many burmese would love to have the chance to do. It’s also inspired me to work even harder, I have the chance to attend one of the best universities in the country – I may as well make the most of it.


Yet in the face of government oppression (the Rohingya people aren’t recognized as citizens and homosexuality is illegal, among other Human Rights Abuses), the Burmese are some of the happiest and kindest people I have ever met. They greet everyone they meet with a “mingalaba” (hello) and a giant smile. In fact, they pretty much have a smile on their faces all the time. We can honestly learn so much from these people and they’ve inspired me to make some changes to my daily life. From now on, I’m going to smile more (maybe this will cure my Resting Bitch Face), be kind to everyone I interact with and realize how truly blessed I am to live where I do.

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Jezuba, Myambar.

(I’ll go get off my soapbox now)

Luang Prabang is Lovely, and so is Chiang Mai

I apologize for this wooly mammoth of a post, I got tired and lazy and too busy watching the office. All in all a bad combination.

I left off after our day exploring Vang Vieng, which is where all activity dropped off. It continued to rain the next day and all the river activities had to close. Fine by me, as it means I got to sleep more! I did some catching up on the internet and met a dutch girl who thought I was dutch. She started speaking to me in dutch and it took her 5 minutes of convincing that I couldn’t actually speak dutch.

Katelyn and I packed up our stuff that day and were off the next morning to Luang Prabang in a minivan with our new friend Heike. We grabbed “breakfast” at the hostel, but that turned out to not be the best idea as it ended with money being thrown at us . I also got the wrong meal but that is beside the point. The ride had lots of switchbacks and that didnt agree with my stomach too much. We stopped along the way to pick up 2 locals who seemed a bit drunk. Turns out that the road didn’t agree with their stomachs either and they both ended up puking out the window. Not such a fun time.

We arrived in Luang Prabang a little worse for wear. We met our friend Heike, and her friend Dani for dinner and then were off to bed.

The next day we spent exploring the city of Luang Prabang – and it was finally sunny enough for us do it! We first explored the Old Quarter of the city with our friends Heike and Dani. It felt a lot like Hoi An with its old wooden buildings. We found an alleyway that would take us down to the river. This alleyway was spectacular as it was so green and lush and quiet. We stumbled upon a secluded Wat along the way and stopped for a few pictures.

We made it down to the Mekong River and I was immediately struck by its beauty. Laos was so green and lush. I think the fact that it was sunny for the first time added to the mood. We stopped along the river to take a few pictures and then were off exploring Wats again. This time, we went to Wat Xieng Thong. While not the most impressive Wat we’ve been to, I found the tile detailing on the building extraordinary. We didn’t stay too long here as we were starving, and Katelyn was sweltering as she had to cover up.

On the way back to the hostel we stopped for lunch (I had fried rice because #budgeting) and we stopped to grab a few postcards. We tried to see the Royal Palace before it closed, but alas time moves differently in Laos and they wouldn’t let us in. According to the sign they only admit people until 30 mins before it closes and according to my phone it was 3:50, but they said it was 4pm and wouldn’t let us in.

We decided to part ways from our friends and head back to nap. I had some calls home I needed to make so I stayed in while Katelyn went out to the markets. By this point, I had had it with markets and didn’t need to buy anything else. Although, I doubt that thats true because Singapore apparently has the best shopping in the region.

Katelyn got up the next morning to see the alms giving ceremony. 5am is not my favourite time, and I had a brutal sleep so I stayed in bed.  I met up with Katelyn later for breakfast and then we were off for the day! We met Heike and Dani downtown and headed off for Mount Poushi. The climb to the top wasn’t too bad (although that might be a point of debate among us) but the view was worth it!

We tried to go down the mount a little different way than we climbed up. This ended up taking way more time than we had estimated, and we got confused a little before we made it back to Dani and Heike’s hostel. Originally, Heike, Katelyn and I had planned to take a Boat trip down the mekong ourselves but found out we might be able to get a deal if we had more people with us. We met some people at Heike’s hostel who said they would be interested in going, and 1 hour later (and multiple stops to gather their friends) we were on our way!

The cruise down the Mekong was beautiful. It was so cool to see the locals and how they used the river. We saw lots of fishermen trying to navigate the very strong current. We made it to the Pak Ou Caves about 2 hours later. I must admit, the caves were not the highlight of the day (they were small, and we couldn’t explore them due to the 10000s of Buddha Statues) it was still really cool to see a different type of religious site.

We boated back down the Mekong and 1 hour later we had met up with Dani and her new friend Tina and were off for dinner. We ate at a “buffet” in the Night Market for our first taste of local cuisine. It was super cheap (less than $2) – so I can’t complain (even though it was all vegitarian). We got to chatting and then explored the night market!

Remember when I said I didn’t need to buy anything else – I did. I found a really cool bottle opener made out of bombs from the Vietnam War. So thats a thing. Katelyn and I were both pretty tired so we headed back to the hostel to get some sleep as tomorrow would be an exhausting day.

We got up early the next day as we were off to the Living Land Farm. We met Heike and were soon off! This experience was a highlight, as we learned how they plant and prepare rice by doing it ourselves! It was a muddy, tiring morning but I loved it! I got to plow a paddy with a Water Buffalo which was pretty amazing! At the end we ate tons of rice products (including Sticky Rice) and tried rice wine. All in all it was a great morning and well worth it.

Full from all the sticky rice, we went back to Heike’s hostel and waited for our tour to the Kuang Si Waterfalls. As soon as we got there, it started POURING rain. I was really glad I brought my GoPro as I got some really cool pictures in the rain.

Tina, Katelyn, Heike and I decided we would tackle the muddy, slippery path to the top and we were glad we did! The view was incredible, and the water was so refreshing. On the way back down, we found a secluded pool and swam there for an hour. The best part of this was sitting on the edge of the waterfall! We booked it down the waterfall (with no slips) so we could jump off a tree before leaving! We made it just in time for the bus back to the hostel!

We were starving so we went for dinner and chatted about our lives back home. Katelyn and I were pretty tired and called it a night. We packed our bags and got ready to head to Chiang Mai the next day.

We slept in a little and headed to the airport to catch our flight to Chiang Mai. We bartered a Tuk Tuk down to 20000 Kip for both of us (from 60000kip) and he didn’t seem too happy. He still took our money, so he can’t have been too mad.

We made it to Chiang Mai without incident and were soon checked in at our hostel. This one is the coolest one we’ve stayed at and the staff are so warm and friendly! We are loving it. We set off to explore the city a little bit before dinner, and we stumbled upon a Starbucks where my collection of mugs grew again. Mom, if you’re reading this I’m bringing home a ton (I don’t care what you say <3). We found a restaurant, and I ate some Thai Fried Chicken. So good. We then went back to the hostel to shower, etc and called it a day!

Yesterday, we spent the morning exploring the many different Wats in Chiang Mai and were surprised by the fact that we didn’t have to pay for any of them! Most of them had decorations out for the Queen’s Birthday which is on Wednesday which I found to be really cool! After being watted out for the day, we went to the Chiang Mai cultural centre and learned lots about the city and its history. It was fascinating! We were both pretty tired, so we headed off for some Thai massages. I had heard about a place where current female convicts are trained in Thai massage as part of their rehab program. They were cheap and so worth it!

We found a cheap local place for lunch, and I had my face melted off by the amount of spice! We had run out of things to do so we came back to the hostel to take refuge from the sun. We ended up eating dinner at hostel as we were both exhausted. Katelyn went out to the night market to get some clothes, but I stayed back as I didn’t need anything.

This morning, Katelyn got up early to head to the Elephant Nature Park. There was only one spot left in her program, and she loves them so I let her take it! My plan for today is to finally update this beast, put some pictures on Facebook, hit some of the used bookstores in the area and then go for a massage!

I’m having a little trouble coming to grips with the fact that I only have a little over a week left. On one hand it feels like an eternity, but on the other I know its going to fly by so quickly. I’ve had an incredible time so far, I’ve loved everywhere we’ve been and I’m really looking forward to seeing Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. I’m also excited for the fact that I get a comfy bed. And to shop. But mostly to shop.

Lazy Laos

I’m gonna level with you here. I got too distracted by The Office to blog last night. I’m not even sorry.

Yesterday we bussed from Vientiane to Vang Vieng and spent the afternoon exploring what little there is to explore here. We also looked at tour operators that offer Kayaking which is something that we might do tomorrow.

Its been raining constantly since last night which is something new for this trip. Normally when it rains – it pours for about an hour then it stops. Here its been constant, with huge downpours every so often. This caused a little bit of a change in our plans as we were forced to wait out a downpour this morning and thus couldn’t go tubing. We instead hired a Tuk Tuk for the afternoon to take us to some caves and to the Blue Lagoon.

Even though it was raining, the caves were incredible to explore and I’ve never seen anything like it. It wasn’t true cave trekking though – it was a disneyfied version with paved walkways and nice stairs. Which I’m not complaining about (my feet are super sore from some mysterious rash).

On the way from the Caves to the blue lagoon we took the bumpiest road I have ever been on. Now, you’ve told me 1000 not to use hyperboles. But this isn’t. I flew off the seat a few times it was so bumpy. The ride was beautiful (the views of the rice paddies and the mountains can’t be beat) but it was too bumpy to take pictures.

We survived the bumps and made it to the blue lagoon to meet a giant group of Korean tourists playing in the water (there was a swing and some branches of a tree to jump off of). But first we set off to explore the cave that was close. This one was definitely meant for true hikers – the stairs were little bits of rocks and there was no path! I’m glad I forced myself to get up and go – it was definitely worth it!

Before heading back to the hostel, we decided to swim for a bit in the water. We even used the swing and jumped off the branches. My battered feet weren’t too happy but it was a blast. After drying off we were back in the tuk tuk and headed back to the hostel.

All in all its a great day. I’m just hoping that the wifi signal will hold on for long enough to post this!

The Travel Fatigue Is Real

Last night, after not being able to sleep for a while I hit the travel blog circuit and found out there’s a name for this funk I’m in! Thank god its not just me! Turns out its called travel fatigue and its very common amongst backpackers. There are a myriad of ways to solve it but unfortunately, due our compressed time frame most of them won’t work (ex. slowing the pace of travel down, finding places to volunteer at for months). But, one seems to have worked (this one is probably my favourite) – SPLURGE. I took this one a little bit too far – a little bit is a lie. A lot too far. But, it comes with a challenge for me.

After re-arranging my flight back from Singapore (I now get back to Bangkok at 4pm as opposed to midnight and having to head straight to the other airport), I decided it would be fun to celebrate my last night in Asia in style. So, with my new found travel fatigue information in hand, went guns blazing to the Shangri-La’s website and booked a room (also a limo to the airport because at this point, I really don’t care). This is where I went a TEENSY bit overboard, I cancelled my hostel booking in Singapore (thank god booking.com has free cancellation) and switched it to the Parkroyal on Pickering. Oops.

Now this morning, I woke up in one of those “what the F**k did I just do?” moods. And realized that I spent a little bit more in my hotel frenzy than I wanted to. But at this point, looking at those pictures online are helping me push through the weary end of the trip. Before we left this morning I set a challenge for myself $30 a day for food, activities and lodging for every day until August 15th. If I can do it, amazing. If I can’t, well thank god I have a job interview coming up. I’ve also set some discretionary funds aside for other things. It’s not like I’m running out of money, its that I’d like to come home with a teensy bit of money in my bank account as opposed to nothing. Its amazing, I thought we had been doing things cheaply but it turns out that you can always go cheaper (at least in SE Asia)

With this challenge in mind we headed out to the mean streets of Vientiane. Our first stop was a french bakery for breakfast (so worth it) and then we headed off to the Presidential Palace. Finding a map of Vientiane has been like finding a map of Buenos Aires – we have found a few but all the scales are so different we don’t know where anything is.

On the way we found a Wat (no idea what its called, the translation of the name was nowhere to be found) and decided to make it the only one for the day (we are VERY tired of temples). It was on the smaller side but quirky enough to make it a well earned stop.

After the wat, we stumbled upon the Presidential Palace and were significantly underwhelmed. It turns out we were looking at the back side of it. A+ for us.

We then set off to conquer 2 more of Vientiane’s top tourist attractions (aka the only 5 things to do) – these happened to be 2 more Wats. But, the first one was closed for renovations and the second was closed for lunch. We were able to walk around the courtyard of the second but not enter. Oh well.

By this time we had only been gone for 30 mins and decided to take on a few more things to make the day worth it (I’ve been feeling guilty for not seeing things lately so this factored in a bit). Our first stop was the Patuxay Arch. Its a 60ft tall archway made of concrete that stands as a big middle finger to the Americans (legend has it that they donated the concrete used to make the arch to re-do the runway at the airport).  We paid less than $1 to head up to the top and were surprised with a great view of the city. It was pretty funny to see the inside as each floor had been turned into a giant souvenir shop, typical SE Asia.

After that we decided to go to Pha That Luang which is one of the symbols of the country. We wanted to stop at a pagoda called That Dum Pagoda on the way as the name sums up how I feel about pagodas right now. But we had read the map wrong and gave up on that quickly.  Upon arriving at Pha That Luang we were significantly underwhelmed at its state (the gold was black in many places and it had lots of cracks) for being so important to the country. We decided that it just didn’t seem worth the cash to go in because it looked so decrepit.

We then headed off to our last stop of the day – the COPE Centre. This was a bit of a hike from where we were but we felt that it was pretty important to see. It took us about 35 minutes to get there (water break not included) and we finished the small museum in less time than that. Oh well.

The COPE centre is run by an organization that provides Prosthetics and Orthotics to those that need them in Laos. It is the number one source of artificial limbs in the country and their exhibit was fascinating to me. It showed why there are so many unexploded ordinances in Laos (#1 bombed country in the world). I found it fascinating that people made everyday items out of scrap metal from the Vietnam War. It also showed that while UXO (Unexploded Ordinances) numbers are dropping, the number of traffic accidents is increasing leading to people needing the centre to help them after their accidents.

We got back to the hostel and rested for a bit (we had done literally all the tourist attractions in the city) before dinner. For dinner we found a Vietnamese restaurant (ironic) that had cheap rice and I managed finish the day 5 cents under budget! For including a bus ticket to Vang Vieng, lunch, dinner, water and admission tickets – I’m pretty impressed.

This evening doesnt have too much planned as we’re off to Vang Vieng tomorrow and want to play some pool at the hostel before we leave!

Sabaidee, Laos!

Again, I apologize for the lack of blogging the last few days. I couldn’t shake a sinus infection and I was laid up in bed.

Tuesday was a bit of a let down as again we couldn’t get a cruise in Halong bay, just an excuse to come back I guess! We both used the day to rest as it was much needed.

Wednesday I woke up covered in what I think was heat rash, with a migraine and a sinus infection. I decided it wasn’t worth fighting and told Katelyn to carry on without me. She had a great day exploring Hanoi, while I rested the whole day. Although I’m not sure if my body could handle the excitement she endured!

This brings us to today, we woke up early this morning and flew from Hanoi, Vietnam to Vientiane, Laos. We went for lunch then checked in at our hostel, and are now resting (early mornings and I don’t mix). Vientiane seems like a lazy city, from what we’ve seen… and the fact that today is a public holiday isn’t helping that vision out.

The plan for this afternoon is to walk along the Mekong River and then dinner and potentially some pool at the hostel. I’m hoping being able to get out and do things will help me shake this illness and it’s associated mental funk.

The Beauty of Having No Plans

Well, today ended up vastly different than how we had planned it.

We woke up fairly early and ate breakfast before we met our van to take us to Halong Bay. As soon as the bus came, we hopped on and (thought) we were on our way to an amazing adventure.

We passed the compulsory tourist take down shake down and were in the van for about 10 minutes before we noticed it pull over. My first thought was that we had a flat tire, or had made a wrong turn. However, the tour company rep turned around and told us that the cruise had been cancelled due to inclement weather. It was a little bit tough to take as we had already travelled about 2 hours out of Hanoi. But, we’re incredibly lucky that we were able to rebook for tomorrow. Stuff like this happens, getting bent out of shape about it won’t do anything. While it sucks, it just comes with the territory.

We got back to Hanoi, arranged the cruise for tomorrow, prayed for good weather and then went off for lunch. We ended up finding two really good and really cheap places to eat today!

After lunch we decided to walk to the Temple of Literature as it was one of 2 things open today. I’m honestly very surprised at the amount of temples/meeting halls in this country due to the political situation. The grounds were immaculately kept, and added to the neat vibe of the city. I’m really enjoying Hanoi as there’s lots of green space which makes the city feel a lot smaller.

We finished up at the temple and decided to visit the other tourist attraction that was open today (they must hate Mondays as much as I do) – the Fine Arts Museum. This was definitely a highlight for me as over the past few years my appreciation of art has increased dramatically. My favourite pieces at this museum date from the 1950s on as I have a fascination with propaganda and art that relates to it!

Our next stop was the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – this imposing structure was built to commemorate the first president of Vietnam. It was in the middle of a giant square which made it all the more imposing. Another thing that added to the interesting feeling of the place was the giant hammer and sickle flags that were flying. This was probably the only place on the trip that has given me culture shock as I find the whole political system quite foreign and to see flags like those up close was a little eerie.

After that we stumbled upon the One Pillared Pagoda – which dates from 1045. This was really cool to see, and also quite small so we didn’t venture in.

After finishing up we walked back through the chaotic streets of Hanoi to the hotel. I honestly can’t count the number of times that I’ve almost been run over by mopeds. They’re everywhere and pop out of nowhere. Its insane.

Ok, back to hoping for good weather tomorrow. Well, not even good weather. Just not bad enough that our cruise gets cancelled again because that would suck.

Hammer and SICKle

Seems like I’ve done a lot of apologizing for not blogging over the last two days… and here’s another. The Wifi here is even worse than in Myanmar and I couldn’t even upload my blog yesterday. Also I’m still sick… so thats another reason.

Yesterday was a bit of a long day, we flew from Da Nang (the closest airport to Hoi An) to Ha Noi. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity for our bags, we were on our way to the Hotel. We ended up arranging a car to pick us up as we had heard horror stories about brutal cabbies from the airport.

As soon as we dropped our bags we noticed that the beds had been pushed together, and as we had shared a very tiny bed in Hoi An promptly asked for them to be separated, much to the confusion of the front desk staff (“oh, are you brother and sister?”).

We got organized for the day and decided to take a walk down to Hoan Kiem which is a lake close to our hotel. It kind of reminded me a little of Central Park although not as isolated from the city. We ended up walking from there to the Vietnamese History Museum which was a little misleading to me as it glossed over the period from French Colonialism to the present. Don’t get me wrong, I love learning about ancient history but theres only so many pots you can look at.

After that we (I) decided to find a Starbucks to fill up my mug collection. I ended up finding the Ho Chi Minh City mug here, and bought that along with the Hanoi and Vietnam ones to fill my collection. The lady working the cash surprised me as they were “celebrating Starbucks coming to Hanoi” and gave me a tumbler for free (well, almost free..she charged me for it instead of a mug)!

After that we ditched the mugs and chilled for a bit at the hotel as we had had a late lunch and weren’t exactly hungry. We ended up going for Pho later which was much needed.

This morning we ended up getting up a tad late and spent the morning organizing our budgets and the like. It was a little scary looking at how much I had spent, and ended up putting myself on a budget for the rest of the trip (although that was to be blown out of the water by the cruise we’re headed on in Halong Bay).

We ended up hitting a few of the major tourist attractions in the city, and I managed to stay under my $50 CAD budget for the day. The first stop was the Vietnamese Women’s museum which was really cool. It was interesting to see the traditional roles of women in Vietnamese society, along with their roles within the traditional cultures of the country. Within the museum there was a cool exhibit on vietnamese religious beliefs (they believe in the Mother Goddess) and an interesting movie on female street vendors in Hanoi. It really put my funds situation in perspective. Some of these ladies were making $20USD every 12 days – making my situation absolutely trivial.

After the museum we headed to the Toa Lo Prison – infamously called the Hanoi Hilton. This was definitely more of a prison compared to Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh – although I’m not sure if a valid comparison can be made between the two. It was really interesting to see the positioning of the Vietnamese with respect to the history of the prison (and the Vietnam War). I won’t get into too much detail here (as this is probably being monitored… Hello Vietnamese Government!) but you can ask me all you want in 5 days!

After that we headed back to the hotel and stopped for a quick snack along the way. We found a cool café and I had a passionfruit yogurt, pain au chocolate and a fresh pressed juice. So much for that budget.

Feeling full we made it back to the hotel and relaxed (and bitched about the Wifi) for a bit before dinner. We had decided to eat at a place that was billed as “cheap and cheelful [sic]” but upon seeing no tourists there immediately changed our minds. We ended up eating at 69 restaurant, and I had the “69 Style Fried Rice” (no comments from the peanut gallery).

Now, we’re back at the hotel and headed off to bed. Our bus to take us to the boat in Halong Bay will be here at 8:30 am… pray for my soul please. I haven’t gotten up before 9 this trip (except for that one day in Angkor).

I Made Pho, and it was Pho-king wonderful

I apologize for not blogging yesterday, I was super under the weather and stayed in bed and watched Celebrity Big Brother all day. Luckily, I had brought antibiotics with me and am starting to feel better!

Today was a pretty relaxing day, we went to the Thuan Tinh Island Cooking school to learn how to make some Vietnamese food. We booked the afternoon tour, and so slept in a little bit. At 11:30, our guide Thuy picked us up from our hotel and took us to the local market. We walked around the market and bought everything we would need for our cooking class later. After the market tour, Thuy told us that we would be the only 2 people at the cooking school for the afternoon which was awesome.

We went down to the dock to wait for our boat. Thuy told us that it was “broken” and needed to be fixed – which didn’t bother either of us as it was a beautiful day and the scenery was beautiful. Thuy was an absolute gem and surprised us with vegetable graters because she felt bad that the boat was taking so long.

The boat showed up and we were soon off to the cooking school! Upon arrival, we were shown how to make rice milk and each got to try using the mortar. Its easy to see why the Vietnamese ladies are so strong!

As soon as we got to our station, we were given passionfruit juice (the first of many of the day) and were soon learning how to make fresh spring rolls! They were definitely easier than I thought they would be, and I’ll definitely have to make them when I get home. Also, the peanut sauce was incredible. Just saying.

Next up was Vietnamese Pancakes or Bahn Xai. These were a little bit intimidating for me due to the flipping of the pancake (I’m an absolute Klutz in the kitchen) but they came off without a hitch! My only gripe with these was the amount of oil used to fry them (but we’ll chalk this one up to the fact that my parents are the the cleanest eaters around).

We then tackled Beef Noodle Soup – a simple yet super tasty dish. This one was definitely the toughest for me as the chef (Tuy) wanted us to decorate our plates with vegetables. Not my cup of tea. Hell, I can’t even draw a stick person how do you expect me to make something with vegetables.

Finally, we made some Pho. This was by far the highlight of my day and was easier than I thought it would be! The most difficult part was by far getting the spices just right for the broth! Everything was downhill after that.

After a long day we were taken back to the hotel, and we immediately crashed for a bit. After that we headed out for “dinner” (as we were still quite full from earlier) and ice cream. I finally tried White Rose – a local specialty, its a type of pork dumpling, and it was so good! I also had a Banana Pancake which was supposed to come with Nutella but didn’t, oh well. I finished it off with Pineapple and Passionfruit Sorbet. All in all it was great.

Now, I’m off to pack as we’re off to Hanoi tomorrow. I don’t think its set in that we only have a little over 3 weeks left as it still feels like an eternity, but will go by so quickly.