Monday in a Picture – Hai Van Pass

Moving around in Vietnam can be done many different ways. Private cars can be hired. Bus, plane and train tickets can be acquired for travel. Then, there are motorbikes. Scooters. Motorcycles. Mopeds. They are extremely popular around the country. I learned shortly before visiting Hoi An (in central Vietnam) that it was possible to take a motorbike tour from Hoi An to Hue, a city about 100 kilometers north also in central Vietnam. I had also heard that the route was absolutely beautiful.

For the motorbike bike tour, there were two options. Option one would put me on the back of a guide’s motorbike to relax and enjoy the ride with the views. Option two would give me a motorbike to ride on my own with the guide riding another motorbike. I promptly chose option two. Last week, the time had come for me to leave Hoi An and set off for Hue. A tour guide and two motorbikes arrived at my hostel during breakfast. We were on our way.

One of the biggest attraction of the route is the 21 kilometer long Hai Van Pass. The mountain which the pass runs through separated two kingdoms in what is now Vietnam. Other than a few flash rain showers, the sun shone through some clouds throughout the day. The entire route was a visual treat. I remember riding and questioning whether or not what I was seeing was actually real. I was wondering how I’d somehow transitioned into a postcard or painting. It’s just that amazing. The photo above is a view of DaNang Bay from the Hai Van Pass.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – here’s a picture of me on my motorbike for the day. All smiles!

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From the @whatisKirbydoing Instagram: October 19, 2018 at 07:17AM

Thankful to have an awesome guide and good weather for a short #motorbike tour in central #Vietnam. Be sure to check out the blog this coming Monday for more about the journey. #HoiAn #Hue #Journey #Respect #Countryside #City #SEAsia #COS #RPCV #BlackMan #BlackMen #Travel

From the @whatisKirbydoing Instagram: October 16, 2018 at 05:07AM

Currently in Dalat, a city in the hills of #Vietnam. I’ve heard it referred to as the #CityOfFlowers. They export many flowers to neighbouring countries. The city is quite lovely, and the flowers are simply beautiful. #COS #COSTrip #SEAsia #Asia #Fun #Nature #Beauty #MakeYourOwnScreensaver #Love #Appreciation

Monday in a Picture – Koh Rong Sanloem

I had never associated Cambodia with islands and beaches. In southeast Asia, I had heard phenomenal things about the island beaches in Thailand and the Philippines. I forget who made the suggestion, but someone offered that I could find a piece of island beach paradise in Cambodia on Koh Rong or Koh Rong Sanloem.

I chose to head to Koh Rong Sanloem, the smaller of the two. I’m not sure how many people live on the island, but there is a village community on the northern tip of the island called M’Pai Bay. The community mostly consists of Khmer families, guesthouses, basic shops, and restaurants. The island doesn’t have any cars, but motorbikes are present. The motorbikes aren’t used nearly as much as they are on mainland Cambodia. Moving around the island is typically done on foot (If it’s close enough and there’s a path) or by boat. The interior of the island is dense jungle. I attempted to walk through the jungle on a path to another beach. While I made it to the other beach, it was a bit more of a hike than I was prepared for. The beach, pictured above, was definitely worth it. Of course, I got lost on the way back. Thankfully I found my way before sunset. For reference (if you ever want to go), I took this picture at Clearwater Bay on Koh Rong Sanloem.

One of the biggest attractions of the island, aside from its clear water and beautiful beaches, is the bio-luminescent plankton that can be seen just off the shore at night. In waist deep water, I could briefly see the shimmering light of plankton. As I walked in deeper and disturbed the water even more, I saw more plankton. Moving my hands underwater provided quite a show. It felt like I had figured out to do magic. It felt like I was a deity showing off my powers. This easily kept me entertained for the better part of 40 minutes. For those who may be wondering, it wasn’t possible for me to take pictures of this happening. It is truly something that you must experience in person.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

“Oh…you went to the real [insert place name here]”

Last week, I made my way to southern Cambodia. Kampot, to be specific. I had been told about the pepper farms and caves nearby. I also has heard about the crab market in the nearby town of Kep and the surrounding parks. I wanted to get out and see all of the things, so I rented a motorbike for the day.

After an exciting day eating and riding through the Kampot and Kep provinces, I made my way back to the guesthouse. During happy hour, various people were talking about their day’s events. The conversation turned to me. I talked about seeing the sites and eating delicious food. Someone remarked, “oh, you saw the real Cambodia today”. I’ve heard similar remarks several times before. While living in rural in rural eSwatini, some said that I was living in the real eSwatini. Wandering around Salvador Bahia and beyond inspired comments about seeing the real Brazil. But during the happy hour conversation, something clicked.

Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, is just as Cambodian as rural communities in the Kampot and Kep provinces. Even with its high rise buildings and KFC, it’s real Cambodia. Rio de Janeiro is as much Brazil as other Brazilian cities, towns, and villages without a picturesque Copacabana Beach. Furthermore, Copacabana Beach is as much of real Brazil as the favelas around the city. Manzini, the most populous city in eSwatini, is just as authentically Swazi with its busyness and amenities as Lushikishini (the rural community where I served).

It’s rural Cambodia. But it’s giving me memories of rural eSwatini.

I’ve never heard anyone describe the U.S. with similar language and sentiment. If someone visits Manhattan in New York and doesn’t leave Midtown, they have visited the real America. If someone visits Manhattan in Kansas and doesn’t leave the Kansas State University campus, they have also visited the real America. America, and by extension – Americans, is allowed to be more than one thing. At the same time. America can be simultaneously rich and poor, urban and rural, animal loving carnivores and animal loving vegetarians. All of this is the real America. This has been normalized. But Cambodia can’t be the urban sprawl of Phnom Penh and the rural fishing village of Chamcar Bei? Why can’t both Manzini and Lushikishini be viewed as real eSwatini?

I believe that the fuel behind this idea is the same one that fuels ideas of white supremacist racism and sexist chauvinism. It’s the idea that says if you’re non white, you can only be one thing. The same idea suggests that if you’re non (cis) male, again you can only be one thing. You want to be a Black man pursuing a PhD, and freestyle rap over beats you produce? Nah. Pick one. You want to be a woman who’s career focused and sexual liberated, or a woman who’s strong and nurturing? No can do. In a similar vein, you want to be a developing country with fanciful urban areas and abundant agricultural lands? Nope. It’s a single story, and as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reminds us-it’s dangerous.

The motorbike was full of petrol, and this guy was ready to explore.

The truth is, we are much more alike than we like to admit. Sure, our cities, suburbs, and rural communities may look different. We may cook things in different ways, but we tend to cook similar things. We may speak different languages, but we’re all simply seeking to communicate and be heard. Regardless of what stage of development a country is in, that country is allowed to be multiple things. At the same time. Just like its residents.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Pasar Malam

Some weeks ago, I started looking for my next destination. After lots of internal dialogue and price checking, I settled on Cambodia. Phnom Penh, to be exact. One of the things that I’ve grown fond of is extended layovers. Especially in places where visas are free. On the way to Cambodia, I was so fortunate.

Flying from Chennai, I had to connect in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). When I booked the flight, I started looking for things to do in the city to take advantage of my fifteen hour layover. I found that Malaysia was known for having really good food. I also learned that Kuala Lumpur has a plethora of pasar malams, or night markets, filled with the aforementioned really good food. I had to go.

This blog post helped me figure things out. After landing, I went to the city centre to check out the Petronas Twin Towers and walk around. By early evening, I was ready to let my tastebuds explore. I made my way over to the Taman Connaught night market. It’s massive. Like seriously massive. Like “go with friends and pace yourself with a bite of this and a taste of that because you’ll be overwhelmed with deliciousness” massive. There was a lot of pork, with a smattering of poultry. There were all different kinds of fruit (available whole, in pieces, juiced, and sometimes smoothied). With some dishes, noodles or rice played a prominent role. In many dishes, eggs featured generously. While most stalls had menu boards or signs in English, some did not. It’s an excellent opportunity to see if your eyes can figure out what your tastebuds desire. There were also stalls selling clothing, cell phone accessories, and other things.

After two hours of walking through the stalls, I decided to call it quits. I had been gluttonous enough. I had eaten to my heart’s content. I was ready for a corner and a nap. If you ever have the opportunity to visit (and eat) at any of the night markets in Kuala Lumpur, do it! But pace yourself. For the market is mighty, and the stomach is small. The picture above is of one of the stalls serving salted egg things.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – here’s a picture of me about to dig into something called salted egg chicken. It was pretty delicious.

Time Has Been Going For a Very Long…Time (alternative name: Kirby visits Hampi)

Months ago after I had decided to begin my close of service (COS) trip in India, several people echoed similar advice. “Don’t drink the water; take it easy on the food; prepare for high stimulation of all senses”. While I have kept those tidbits in mind, another suggestion continued to be mentioned by different people rather sporadically. “Be sure to visit Hampi.” Even after arriving in India, an array of people have suggested that I go to Hampi. Others were excited when I mentioned that I was planning to go. One traveler I met remarked that I had to go to Hampi because it was “like something out of the Flintstones”. I only vaguely understood the reference.

Last week, I made it to Hampi. As others warned me, it’s a stark contrast to the India that many tourists/travelers/backpackers see. It’s not the booming metropolis that it was centuries ago, but it’s known for being an ancient kingdom with numerous temples. It’s also much more quiet than the larger cities around India.

As I went out for a bike ride and hike one morning, I couldn’t help but to think of Petra, the ancient kingdom in Jordan. The ancient architecture. The massiveness. The history. The large rock formations gave me thoughts of the Grand Canyon. I’m not a history buff. Not even close. However, I can appreciate things of historical significance. It also amazes me how the story of these places passes down throughout generations.

If you ever find yourself in close or even close-ish proximity to Hampi, check it out. It’s also less expensive than visiting Petra. Of course, if you find yourself in close or close-ish proximity to Wadi Musa, check out Petra. The feel is different in the cities, as well. This may be because Petra is a massive, self-contained historical site whereas Hampi is a city with a vast array of historical sites spread throughout it. I should note that Hampi is still of importance to Hindus, as Virupaksha Temple still functions as a temple.

In case you missed the photos on the @whatisKirbydoing instagram (due to technical difficulties), they are here!

By contrast, here are some photos from my visit to Petra in 2014.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Where Did My Money Go?

Budgets are important. Time, money and other resources are finite so the absence of an accountability method can lead to a very quick draining of those resources. In the age of technology, mobile apps have made it easier. For my COS trip, I was looking for an app that could handle budgeting and expense tracking using multiple currencies.

After some internet searches, I came across Toshl. It can track income and expenses while handling budgeting tasks. The app allows you to set a home currency, while entering expenses (or income) in other currencies. It will automatically show conversions to the home currency at the last updated rate. For example, I can set my home currency to the US dollar and enter Kenyan expenses in Kenyan shillings after entering Swazi expenses in Swazi emalangeni. In my expense tracker, the expenses will show in their respective currencies with the day’s exchange rate for US dollars. The app has premium, paid features that I have not explored. One such feature is the ability to connect bank accounts for automatic syncing.

Overall, the app has been just what I needed. It has allowed me to keep track of my spending during trip. It even reminds me, via mobile notifications, to ensure that I input all of my expenses. Recently, I even got a notification that I’m on track to be slightly under budget (for my trip). I would recommend it if you’re planning on traveling abroad or dealing in currencies outside your home currency.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.