Tag Archives: nature

New Zealand: Trauma to Triumph

The Crater Lakes look like you've landed in Jupiter, but it's actually a reward for the punishment and pleasure that is the Tongariro Crossing.
The Crater Lakes look like you’ve landed in Jupiter, but it’s actually a reward for the punishment and pleasure that is the Tongariro Crossing.
My amazing journey through the New Zealand
My amazing journey through New Zealand

There’s a reason New Zealand inspires filmmakers to shoot its unparalleled natural landscapes or use them to create even more fantasized versions of them in Lord of the Rings, Avatar, X-Men and more. Everything about this country feels bigger, greener, surrealistic and stunning. I spent a month in this country of physical (and in my case also emotional) extremes. There’s nothing about New Zealand that doesn’t test and ultimately reward you for making the long trek to the edge of the world to see this place for yourself. I experienced some of the lowest and highest moments of my 10 month journey, I felt more isolated than anywhere else I’d been and thankfully I also met some remarkable people that I believe will be lifelong friends. The country is so far and isolated from the rest of the world, I felt a bit like an explorer discovering new and unchartered lands. New Zealand transformed me into an outdoorsy person or at least as close as I was ever going to get as I faced harsh weather without winter gear. My tropical Southeast Asia clothes weren’t going to do me much good here.

Christchurch has some really cool art displayed around the city.
Christchurch has some really cool art displayed around the city.
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My first stop was in Christchurch, a city that is unfortunately best known to many of us after the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and another smaller one in 2016. I really liked this city. You get a feeling of resilience everywhere you go and its residents who are still very much recovering from the natural disaster and aftermath. Some of the locals I met conveyed an attitude of moving on without complaint. That’s something I really admire about Kiwis, they’re used to handling hardcore weather conditions, remote areas, physical extremes and they do it with a friendly and optimistic ruggedness.

One of the best things about being a tourist in New Zealand is that they have these amazing I-Sites, which are the information centers for tourists and they help with everything from transportation, tours, hospitality and general questions. The super helpful woman at the Christchurch location helped me determine that I would take the Intercity bus system that you can use to bus all around both the south and north islands. I know a lot of people drive around the islands and camp, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing it on my own until I got to the north island where the majority of the population lives and in the end was happy with my decision. The South Island is a Jurassic World of forests, mountains, lakes, waterfalls, jaw dropping cliffs, fjords, glaciers, volcanoes and it felt like five kilometers there was something new and awesome and I wouldn’t have been surprised if I spotted dinosaurs roaming around.

How could I drive and also pick my jaw up off the floor?
How could I drive and also pick my jaw up off the floor?
Before I began my bus journey around the south, I took the famous TranzAlpine train from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass National Park, home of the Franz Josef Glacier. The TranzAlpine was shut down the month before due to serious fires that took the line down for some time so I was lucky that the train just started running again. The ride gives you a plethora of opportunities to “oooooohhh and ahhhhhh” with the most incredible scenery. Arthur’s Pass Village is a tiny town, population total of 29 with a general store and two cafes. But you’re going to Arthur’s Pass to see the glacier, and do some of the many walks through the forest and mountains. Remember how much I loved Iceland’s glaciers? Turns out they’re also awesome in NZ.

The famous Tranzapline train line with stunning views to the west.
The famous Tranzapline train line with stunning views to the west.
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I took the bus from Arthur’s Pass to Greymouth for a night where I stayed with an Airbnb host who gave me a friendly interrogation about Trump and how it was possible that he became the President of the “greatest country on Earth”. The Trump questions and concerns do not end and I can’t blame people for asking. Not too much going on in Greymouth, it’s a bit of an industrial town but a good stopping point.

Hey Franz Josef Glacier, you're as lovely as the one I met in Iceland.
Hey Franz Josef Glacier, you’re as lovely as the one I met in Iceland.
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I've taken a lot of photos of great signs all over the world like this.
I’ve taken a lot of photos of great signs all over the world like this.
Then I traveled from Greymouth to Wanaka, my favorite in the south and maybe all of NZ. I stayed in another Airbnb and met some friendly non-Kiwis who were both working and living in NZ and a lovely woman from the UK who was hiking all around the south. It was in Wanaka that I received news that someone in my family died and although it wasn’t necessarily unexpected, there’s always a shock that accompanies death. 

When I started this trip last year, I lost my stepfather Richard, my grandmother and my aunt Su all within a span of a few months. I attended a memorial service for dad and my grandmother just a few weeks before I left the country and when I returned from Florida from the service, I packed up my things and left NYC. That time was a total blur and full of so many emotions: grief, guilt, regret, anger, and sadness to name just a few. At the same time, I tried hard to focus on the positives in my life and about the journey I was about to embark on and reminded myself that this limited time in life was part of what was driving my decision to do this. But the weight of my grief from losing my family was heavy as I started my “Year of Joy”.

These guys are so cute. I don't know if I can eat lamb again after we make eye contact.
These guys are so cute. I don’t know if I can eat lamb again after we make eye contact.
I learned from the passing of my dad that complicated relationships in life leads to complicated feelings about their death. While he and I had not been in touch since he and mom divorced, his unexpected death sent me reeling. I felt the loss like a sledgehammer to my gut and was really surprised by how truly devastated I felt. How could I feel so grieved about someone who wasn’t even a part of my life in the last 15 years and with whom I always had a complicated and not very close relationship? I think it was the regret of not being as close as either of us probably would have liked that made the loss so final and cutting as well as a life cut short by alcoholism and not taking care of himself.

The views from Wanaka were my favorite.
The views from Wanaka were my favorite.
I watched the movie The Lion here in Wanaka. Or more accurately, I sobbed hysterically watching this movie.
I watched the movie The Lion here in Wanaka. Or more accurately, I sobbed hysterically watching this movie.
WOW is a word I uttered all of the time in Wanaka.
WOW is a word I uttered all of the time in Wanaka.
So when I found out about another death while I was quite literally as far from home as possible, I felt blindsided and the pain felt like a tidal wave knocking me down and every time I tried to catch my breath, I was taken under. I decided that I still needed to do what I could to try and be present for the gift of this trip and enjoy NZ so I did a lot of hiking. As previously mentioned, I’m not an outdoorsy person. I enjoy nature, but usually from afar in a protected vehicle. I’m often intimidated by it and here I am in NZ, basically nature on steroids. So much of my time in the South Island consisted of me pulling myself up higher and higher in vertical climbs that terrified me, that I wasn’t exactly practiced or familiar with and sliding down often tumbling on the way down, which is even more terrifying.

The famous Wanaka Tree that grows in the lake.
The famous Wanaka Tree that grows in the lake.
One of my most memorable moments was hiking Ben Lomond Trail in Queenstown, which I found really challenging. As usual, I was alone and stupidly did not tell anyone I was hiking alone. Not sure who I would tell. I heard it was a five to six hour hike if you go all the way up to the summit. By the time I reached a part of the trail called the “saddle” I was panting, my legs were spasming signaling SOS and I had been sobbing by myself for almost the entire two hours up to that point. I looked around and saw beautiful red pine trees, inspiring mountains, and a shimmering lake, but I couldn’t feel anything other than a blurry mix of heartbreak and exhaustion. At the saddle, the weather was starting to change from fairly cool, to much colder and I had to decide whether I’d try and summit to the top. I don’t even know if I weighed the decision consciously or if I just let the heartbreak momentum push me further up, but I realized quickly that the last bit was totally treacherous. I somehow got off the trail and found myself on an almost completely vertical area without any kind of trail and covered in sliding rocks. I slid several times, sometimes almost a couple of feet at a time and there was nowhere to grip to break the fall. I was genuinely scared and alone so I prayed “God, please don’t let me die alone on this mountain. Not right now. Please.” A minute later as I peeked over my shoulder to see the drop below, I saw a kea, a rare New Zealand bird, perched on a ledge not far from me and I swear it was making eye contact with me. As I pondered giving up on the summit knowing that I didn’t have much time before the sun would set and get dark, I still had hours to trek back and the weather took a mean turn as the wind whipped around me as a warning and it started to drizzle icy rain. But then the kea moved even closer as if he wanted to tell me something or to make sure that I saw him. I’m not sure if I imagined it, but I think that bird was encouraging me to keep going. And so I did. I slid a few more times, but somehow I made it to the summit. And I was all alone up there. It was so cold and wet that I didn’t have much time to pat myself on the back and it was too dark and rainy to take a decent photo to commemorate the occasion. All I could do was cry some more. I quickly slid my way back down and hiked the three hours back, frozen, head aching from tears and dehydration and grateful to that bird for giving cheering me on and witnessing my small triumph.

Ben Lomond Trail you almost killed me, but I survived.
Ben Lomond Trail you almost killed me, but I survived.
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You take a cable car up just to get the party started on the 6 hour hike.
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Even on a grey day, the views are so beautiful
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Another awesome view
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My guardian angel, the Kea.
My time in the South Island was marked by visiting some of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen. I spent almost three weeks in wondrous awe of nature’s beauty and challenges, as well as almost debilitating pain reliving past trauma, death and grief. In some ways, the stark solitude of the south was probably what I needed to face all of these emotions and process everything. New Zealand was like the kea, watching over me as I stumbled, picked myself up and moved on. It was fucking hard though.

One of the most beautiful places is the famous Milford Sound.
One of the most beautiful places is the famous Milford Sound.
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Lucky to have a perfect sunny day in Milford
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Goodbye gorgeous
This waterfall has starred in many films including LOTR, X-Men and more.
This waterfall has starred in many films including LOTR, X-Men and more.
More awesome southern views
More awesome southern views 
Even the mushrooms are pretty here
Even the mushrooms are pretty here
A reward for all of this insane hiking
A reward for all of this insane hiking
So when my fab friends JJ and Rachna (Kiwi American) offered to introduce me to their friends in the North Island, I was so grateful. It was through them that I met Lucy and Jessica and these wonderful women graciously opened their homes, let me eat and spend time with their families and slowly nurse myself back closer to normalcy. I spent a few days with Jessica in Wellington, a lovely (yes also windy!) and emerging city that is also home to Peter Jackson’s WETA studio. She and her sons Quincey and Felix made me feel so at home that I offered to become their nanny, although 13 and 16 year olds don’t need a nanny and Jessica is killing it in the awesome mom category. And Lucy who recently moved from NYC back to her home country also let me luxuriate in their beautiful new home in Tauranga. Lucy and I bonded over NY stories, Ru Paul’s Drag Race and talking about life changes. Lucy and I even got her city kids Iris and Freddie out of the house to go on a hike one day. I connected with Jessica and Lucy immediately and just being around smart, funny, and kind women was like a healing balm. I am so very grateful to my friends who connected me to their tribe and I feel like I made two incredibly good friends in NZ as a result.

Lucy and I are super cool that's why her kids are so psyched to hang out with us. OK, maybe not that excited.
Lucy and I are super cool that’s why her kids are so psyched to hang out with us. OK, maybe not that excited.
Jessica and Nicola (another Rachna friend) and I went to yoga and promptly had a fab dinner and wine after. Namaste.
Jessica and Nicola (another Rachna friend) and I went to yoga and promptly had a fab dinner and wine after. Namaste.
Quincey is Jessica's son also my Wellington tour guide. #futureheartbreaker
Quincey is Jessica’s son also my Wellington tour guide. #futureheartbreaker
Felix is the younger son and future/current Justin Bieber.
Felix is the younger son and future/current Justin Bieber.
Lucy's adorable Freddie and Iris adjusting from NY life to being full time Kiwis. Looks like they're adjusting just fine.
Lucy’s adorable Freddie and Iris adjusting from NY life to being full time Kiwis. Looks like they’re adjusting just fine.
I also did one of the most unforgettable hikes in my life in the north island in Taupo. There’s a trail called Tongariro Crossing which is one of The Great Walks in NZ and the seven to eight hour hike is an experience like none other where you pass the gates of Mordor (Lord of the Rings for you amateurs), volcanoes, red craters, descend down the steep and slipperiest set of rocks on Earth to end up seeing a trio of lakes the colors of which I think are only seen on Saturn or Jupiter and eventually through a dark, cold forest where I nearly gave up. I fell three times on the way down and noticed I wasn’t alone as I passed a poor man who just sat on the rocks after a bad fall looking like he resolved to just stay there until the end of time. By the time I finished, every part of my body was shaking and I was covered in five layers of volcanic ash, dirt and rocks. When I got back to the gorgeous Airbnb where Shani my host, a smart and fascinating woman took great mercy on me and made me an incredible dinner and poured wine into my cup to anesthetize my pain.

This is Mt. Doom in the LOTR trilogy.
This is Mt. Doom in the LOTR trilogy.
This is The Devil's Staircase and when you do it, you know why.
This is The Devil’s Staircase and when you do it, you know why.
Red craters also add to the other worldliness of this hike.
Red craters also add to the other worldliness of this hike.
The Crater Lakes deserve another look. This was my least favorite to get to because it's treacherous down the hill but good lord it's worth it.
The Crater Lakes deserve another look. This was my least favorite to get to because it’s treacherous down the hill but good lord it’s worth it.
Got to see a Maori warrior dance in Rotorua. They make these crazy faces as part of the ritual.
Got to see a Maori warrior dance in Rotorua. They make these crazy faces as part of the ritual.
Hobbiton!!!
Hobbiton!!!
A month in NZ included seeing the craziest real phenomena such as volcanoes, crater lakes, mountains, waterfalls, glow worms, fjords, as well as some of my favorite fantasy fulfillment of drinking in Hobbiton, letting the waterfall from X-Men wash my face, a selfie with Gollum and much more. It was also the toughest time I’ve had this year with the mix of death, grief, isolation, and trauma as well as some of the hardest I’ve pushed myself physically which felt like the only way to distract myself from the emotional pain. I’m certain that the physical and emotional challenges I experienced there followed by the kindness of strangers turned friends, I left New Zealand feeling a sense of triumph that I have never experienced.

Ended NZ on Waiheke Island where these monarch butterflies are everywhere. Felt a bit like a caterpillar turned butterfly myself after this time here.
Ended NZ on Waiheke Island where these monarch butterflies are everywhere. Felt a bit like a caterpillar turned butterfly myself after this time here.

War & Peace in Laos & Vietnam

The top of the falls looks like the edge of the world
The top of the falls looks like the edge of the world

Just some ladies doing the Conga in the park in Hanoi. No, they're actually doing group massage. That's a great idea we should be doing this in the U.S.
Just some ladies doing the Conga in the park in Hanoi. No, they’re actually doing group massage. That’s a great idea we should be doing this in the U.S.
For a little over a month, I traveled through a part of Southeast Asia with a deep and complicated history with the United States. And in complete honesty, I realized how little I knew about that history outside of what I learned in school or pop culture.

Climbing up to another Buddhist temple
Climbing up to another Buddhist temple
I first spent a week in Luang Prabang, a magical town in Laos, a small country located between Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. There are some places where I felt this immediate and inexplicable connection and Luang Prabang was one of those places. It’s surrounded by mountains and the famous Mekong and Nam Khong rivers through the town where you can find locals swimming, bathing, boating, fishing and it feels like the life source of the community. And it’s just remarkably beautiful. There are the common sights of the region, monks, Buddhist temples, outdoor markets and what I’m certain is the highest concentration of roosters I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Luang also has a lot of great cafes to just chill out, including spots that allow you to take in the hypnotic sunrises and sunsets behind the mountains and over the rivers. The temples aren’t as massive and impressive as those in Cambodia or as glitzy as Thailand and the true appeal (at least to me) of this town is wandering around and watching and rewatching the beauty of the natural surroundings.

The majestic Mekong.
The majestic Mekong.

Hiking up to Kuang-Si Falls
Hiking up to Kuang-Si Falls
My most adventurous day was going on a hardcore day trek through a couple of villages and then up the mountain that would eventually lead us to one of the most famous sites in Laos, Kuang-Si waterfalls, the largest waterfalls in Laos. When I signed up for this tour, the description was fairly innocuous and sounded downright leisurely. The excitement of these type of tours in developing countries is that “truth” or accuracy in marketing is not exactly what’s to be expected. So when I was on hour 4 of the trip perilously inching down a rocky vertical descent to reach the falls, it’s really my bad for thinking this could possibly be an easy nature walk. But the sweat and death-defying climbs are rewarded with water so turquoise that it looks like the entire area has been photoshopped. And there are a ton of tourists here most of whom took a bus up the mountain to the falls (ummm… that’s an option?), but it doesn’t detract from the appeal of this place. And after hours of sweat and dirt, my new Norwegian friend and I decided to jump into the icy blue waters that we were told have some magical healing powers. I’m not sure about magical healing, but it definitely sent a shock and awe to submerge body in 35 degree water. I’m going to assume it’s the fountain of youth and that I’ve just added a few extra years to my life.

Kuang Si
Kuang Si

Sweaty satisfaction post hike and arriving at this gorgeous scene
Sweaty satisfaction post hike and arriving at this gorgeous scene

Fountain of Youth? I jumped in just in case.
Fountain of Youth? I jumped in just in case.
One of the other most memorable experiences in Laos was learning about the history of the U.S.’s “Secret War” in this country. From 1964 – 1973, the U.S. dropped 2 MILLION tons of ordinances in Laos. This was during the period when the conflict with the Soviet Union was escalating and the two super powers exerted enormous influence, money and military in these southeast Asian countries in a battle of “Good vs Evil”. Here are a couple of really fascinating, terrifying and in my opinion nearly silent facts about this war: Laos is the most bombed country per capita in the entire history of the world. Bombed by the U.S. in its attempt to block the Communist regime from the Ho Chi Minh trail. In fact, there are so many bombs that remain undetonated that Laotians continue to be killed and maimed, including many children because they haven’t found so many of the bombs. The other fact that I learned was that this was the first time that CIA began its practice of covertly militarizing foreign armies to influence political agendas (i.e. “Protect Democracy”). And despite the cost of so many lives and its failure to “win” the war, the CIA would continue to use this tactic of militarization of foreign groups which has lead to US connections and conflicts in Central America, South America and the Middle East.

A small war museum in Luang Prabang but worth a visit. These are some of the undetonated ordinances.
A small war museum in Luang Prabang but worth a visit. These are some of the undetonated ordinances.
Despite all of these recent ravages of war and bombs that continue to explode, Laotians are just the nicest people and I did not personally feel anything but welcomed as an American. In fact, I had more than a couple of locals talk to me about how much they love President Obama and how his visit to Laos meant so much to them. This is almost always followed by a look of disappointment, pity and anxiety about the new President.

Last sunset with a serenading Laotian Captain
Last sunset with a serenading Laotian Captain who was as equally enthused to hug it out. 
I left Laos by going on a last minute sunset boat with a hilarious man who literally pulled me off the street and insisted in his limited English that I join him and a few other foreigners for sunset. The six of us including my new friends Anna and Brian with the captain, who encouraged us to drink our BYOB while he began an impromptu “jam” session of drumming on a bucket and improvised songs, we all clapped our hands, laughed and watched another glorious sunset together.


Sunset in Hanoi
Sunset in Hanoi
After Laos, I headed to its larger neighbor Vietnam. My first and last stops were in Hanoi to visit Amie, a good friend from William & Mary whom I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years, a phrase we both kept using whenever we’d meet her friends. Amie lives in Hanoi with her husband Todd and their two adorable and energetic kids Oliver and Julia. They’ve lived in Vietnam for 7 years and were all home from work/school for “Tet” the Lunar New Year holiday, which is also the biggest holiday of the year and everything shuts down so people can be with their families. I stayed in their beautiful house in the city and I got to celebrate the Year of the Rooster with Amie’s family and their friends. After months of traveling alone and being so far from my family and friends, I didn’t realize how much I missed everyone until I got to spend time with Amie and her family. It was a gift to be in a home; to eat meals at a table with a family and talk about school, work (OK, just Todd and Amie talked about work), politics; to drink wine with a friend you haven’t seen in 20 years and pick up like we had drinks last week; to do laundry in a washing machine (major!); and Todd and Amie laughed as I gushed about how awesome their guest room was and that “the bed even has a TOP SHEET!” Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve seen one of those?!” They were so generous and welcoming to me and spending time with them was the highlight of Vietnam. It’s also awesome to have friends who can point you to where to go and what to see in Vietnam — soooo nice not to have to make a decision about those things every once in a while.

Todd, Amie and hilarious adorable Julia (missing from photo but sitting next to me is sporty handsome Oliver)
Todd, Amie and hilarious adorable Julia (missing from photo but sitting next to me is sporty handsome Oliver)

20 years and no time passed at all with my girl Amie #tribepride
20 years and no time passed at all with my girl Amie #tribepride
In addition to chill time with the family, I also had to go to the U.S. Consulate to get a new passport. Although my current passport doesn’t expire until 2019, I actually ran out of pages from all of this travel! When you’re going through Europe you don’t worry about visas (although that’s looking like that may change. Another exciting gift from this new Administration), but once you leave Europe, those pages go fast with each country. And before I headed to the consulate, the news of the travel ban was flooding my social media feeds and stories as well as rumors intensified about people trying to get in to the U.S., as well as those abroad renewing visas and passports. I was so fired up about how horrifying this ban is in principle as well as this anti-immigration policy that I was prepared to be extra belligerent if I had anyone at the embassy asking me questions about my political affiliation, being an immigrant, etc. And as I stepped to the consulate window after hours of psyching myself up to the point where my shoulders felt like they were parallel to my earlobes, sharpening my tongue for an epic verbal battle, the consulate officer could not have been nicer, nor more helpful to make it easy for me. I laughed at myself for a good while after this pleasant encounter and reminded that there are still really good people in the government.

They loved Vietnam too
They loved Vietnam too

This strong lady paddled us in this squatting position all along the Mekong Delta
This strong lady paddled us in this squatting position all along the Mekong Delta
I spent the new few weeks traveling all around Vietnam from Halong Bay all the way down to Ho Chi Minh City fka as Saigon, spending time in Danang, Hoi An, and Hue. Being in Vietnam, it made me think about how many friends I have back in the U.S. who are Vietnamese Americans and I couldn’t help but think of them as I traveled through their beautiful country. There is so much to love about Vietnam. The food is probably my favorite in all of the Asian countries I’ve been to so far. There are unforgettable natural settings, crazy busy cities with mopeds, cars and pedestrians competing for dominance, beautiful and tiny women (my guide said Vietnamese people are genetically the smallest among Asians. I haven’t fact checked this but my Vietnamese friends who have big personalities are generally petite), a fascinating history of foreign colonial powers vying for control over the country, wars both civil and foreign and eventual independence into a unified country.

Some of the other highlights of my time in Vietnam:

A street food tour in Danang with a great family from the UK who are originally from Nigeria and experiencing the intense but friendly attention of being with a black family. People literally reached out to the women to touch their hair, both the mom and daughter had their hair in long braids. It’s funny, I get a lot of attention traveling through Asia, much more than I thought I would, but it turns out that I don’t exactly blend in here either.

Famous Dragon Bridge in Danang. Fire and water shoot out of its mouth on the weekend.
Famous Dragon Bridge in Danang. Fire and water shoot out of its mouth on the weekend.
Hoi An seems to be everyone’s favorite city in Vietnam and it’s probably mine as well. It’s hard not to fall in love with this city of lanterns, canals, old boats and picture perfect cafes. It feels like the Venice of the east and like its western counterpart, it’s crowded and a bit chaotic, but so pretty that you don’t mind bumping into people. I also got to enjoy a little beach time in Hoi An until the weather turned cold and then I enjoyed warming myself with some seriously soothing clam congee (rice porridge).

Yes it's that beautiful
Yes it’s that beautiful

Floating lanterns in Hoi An
Floating lanterns in Hoi An

Hoi An at sunset
Hoi An at sunset
Hue is another popular place for tourists to visit, but candidly, it wasn’t my cup of green tea. It was probably also that it was freezing rain every day that I was there and it’s hard to really get into something when you’re cold and wet. There were also a heavy presence of a young, backpacking crowd aka white dudes with dreads, which is also not my scene. But I did think the Imperial City and Palace were super impressive and I loved learning about the history of these royal dynasties.

Imperial City in Hue
Imperial City in Hue

The gardens at Imperial Palace
The gardens at Imperial Palace
Saigon (I didn’t meet anyone who called it Ho Chi Minh) was a busy, chaotic city, but I really enjoyed it, especially my tour with my new young Vietnamese friend Tu. She’s a university senior studying English and tourism and she took me all over the city on her moped and taught me more about Vietnam than AP History class. I went to the War Museum, which for some reason had their air conditioning off that day and was super crowded, but it somehow felt more appropriate to revisit the history of this devastating war under more uncomfortable conditions. So many lives lost in this war and so many lives still affected by the horrors of injuries and illnesses from bombs and poisons, as well as the trauma. They have powerful photographs of the war featuring everyone from soldiers (US and Vietnamese) and civilians, including the famous Napalm Girl photo that became one of the iconic images of this tragic time. The photos of all of the children and babies born with major defects from the toxins of Agent Orange are burned in my memory forever and should not be forgotten. But Tu and I also had fun/light moments to enjoy, including an awesome meal of Vietnamese pancakes, stuffed snails and other delightful new dishes that I hadn’t tried before. It was great to spend time with a smart, somewhat shy, but incredibly insightful young person who reminded me of my sister Sylvia.

A fabulous guide and new pal Tu.
A fabulous guide and new pal Tu.

A Vietnamese donut in orange sesame glaze aka YUM
A Vietnamese donut in orange sesame glaze aka YUM

Mr. Ho Chi Minh
Mr. Ho Chi Minh

Offering at the temple
Offering at the temple
I left Vietnam feeling like I gained a good perspective on this diverse and special country and people and it was good for the soul to spend time with friends and reconnect. I wish a very lucky Year of the Rooster to all of us.

Happy Year of the Rooster
Happy Year of the Rooster