“How do you manage to save up so much time for these escapades?”
“I will find a nice groom for you in the next two weeks, before you get back”
“How is a vegetarian going to survive in the land of Snake and Scorpion delicacies?”
The PHO-rmidable start!
Smiling politely at these concerns, coming from loving family, friends and some not-so-loving strangers, I set off on a much awaited trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. With my two buddies who were in a hilarious hangover from a Bangkok trip, we settled into the Hanoi Central Star hotel (over exceeded my expectations in terms of quality). Although the intent was to relax after our long journey, what actually happened was quite the opposite. From exploring every nook and cranny of the ‘Old Quarter’, to gorging on ‘Pho’ (traditional Vietnamese cuisine of rice noodle soup and beef – of course, generously customized to my vegetarian palate) to bargaining for beautiful Lacquerware souvenirs and finally witnessing the ethnic Water Puppet show – Hanoi was one whirlwind of a stay.
When I finally slipped into hibernation mode at the Halong Bay cruise – my friends wondered why I chose to alternately either oversleep or merely enjoy the view from our bedroom window. Words cannot however, express the value of some precious ‘me time’. By mentally disconnecting from the Bangalore lifestyle with single and the daily madness that it brought, I fully felt the deep relaxation that only nature, solitude and a holiday can bring.
Existing Side By Side
Hoi An is the ancient lantern town of Vietnam – a UNESCO world heritage site! Cycling through 15 kilometres of rice fields, guffawing at a poorly attempted buffalo ride (the gorgeous animal very clearly maintained a ‘Whatever!’ expression throughout) and sharing personal stories with the landlord’s daughter – I could see the dichotomy in this country. The quiet singles lifestyle here versus that in cosmopolitan Ho Chi Minh City, the rustic farmers with their conical straw hats versus the sophisticated businessmen and Opera artists in fancy gowns – all existing side by side.
The highlight of my trip was, undoubtedly, Angkor Wat, Cambodia – the largest religious monument in the world. As I gaped at the massive and serene stone faces, I could only imagine the sheer grandeur back in the 12th century – the Khmer royalty, bejeweled elephant processions, apsara dancers with their music and scores of citizens. What magnificence! As Gustave Flaubert said, “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” I couldn’t agree more.
People often ask me if Angkor is similar to the Hampi temples in Karnataka. The answer is Yes and No. Yes, because they partially share common sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses. No, because Bayon by itself looks like it is from another planet (forget about another country). People also ask if both these developing countries are safe – at nights, for solo travel and for women. I had similar fears. Although it is universal common sense to be responsible and alert wherever one travels, my worries were mostly put to rest. Both countries are designed for tourism, communicating in English is still a slight challenge but most single people are happy to help through sign language, toothless smiles and physical maps. For the lone wolves– there is always GPS.
Get Rich Or Die Travelling
As I touched down at Bangalore, I tried to resist the usual pang of sadness. I will always be grateful that this amazing trip materialized at the right time, to all the right places, with the right friends. As they say, ‘Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer’. Here’s to many more such abundant adventures.
I would LOVE to hear your travel stories and what they taught you. Let me know in the comments below!