Wednesday, 27 January 2016

My Solo Trip to Vietnam v1 (Ho Chi Minh)

I’ve been back from my Vietnam trip for two weeks now but the memory I had in Vietnam was still vivid. Each time my friends asked me how was Vietnam, I found it difficult to put my two-week experiences in words. There are so many things I have gone through, from overcoming my fear of crossing the bustling streets of Ho Chi Minh with motorcycles coming from literally all directions, to riding a crazy taxi in Hanoi rushing back to my hostel to catch my sleeper bus ride to Sapa rice terrace. I watched my new found Australian mate riding an ostrich in Mui Ne for VND100k (~RM20), and I myself dived into the freezing water of Halong Bay twice with a rather less gracious posture compared to my friend working for a startup at Silicon Valley (my first dives after all).

The memories put into the back of my mind was simply priceless. I know I will remember this trip for an extended period of time.

Over the course of two weeks travelling alone, I had penned down a detailed record of my adventure and thoughts at some points of travelling. Please bear with me, of course what I have written down during the trip was rather unrefined as most of them were written late at night with a tired mode after a long day of exploring around. But you can be rest assured the following 12-day adventure that I am about to write would be much better. Because the stories can be quite lengthy, I’ve decided to separate them into a few series. So, here comes the first series…

Day 1: Ho Chi Minh, 21 December 2015. 

It was pretty chaotic with all the motorcycles roaming the streets from all directions. With this kind of traffic accidents are pretty common, but I have yet to witness one. Immediately I was slammed with a challenge I must overcome: crossing the road. Sound easy? Not as you first thought. We have cars traffic jam in Malaysia, but in Ho Chi Minh there was motorcycles traffic jam. Having stood at the road side for 5 minutes and observed how the locals did it (crossing the roads), I decided to just close one eye and cross anyway. Beep beep! Okay they honked at everyone and anything that moved! But ultimately nothing happened! I survived, and my first achievement unlocked! 

I walked to the War Remnants Museum and spent VND15k only to discover the depressing and sorrowful history of Vietnam War including Orange Agent and Napalm + Chemical war. Downright hideous. My heart ached further when I saw a picture depicting a girl teaching her younger sister to GIVE THANKS despite all the unfortunate destructions happening around. They had probably lost their parents and their lives were at stake. Who am I then to complain over little petty things when I can give thanks for all the things I have? I was ashamed to admit but I could have done better by being extra grateful.

Then I went to Cho Ben Thanh market for some Vietnamese food because I had yet to have my lunch. I had my first bowl of Pho Nga (beef noodles soup) and Che Thap Cham (a kind of dessert with fantastic mixture of jelly, beans and nuts). Sweet! After that I went back to my hostel located at the tourist hotspot (Pham Ngu Lao Street), and I met Doris, a Vietnamese girl working with the hostel who also loved travelling! She introduced me with loads of Vietnamese food, and I was really grateful for her sharing.

Then I decided to get my hands dirty by trying two shots of Vietnamese coffee. I first went to Highland Coffee, but I felt cheated! “Iced Vietnamese coffee with milk” here basically means a shot of Vietnamese coffee with a little portion of condensed milk, then throw in a ton of ice into the cup. That was my first shot of Vietnamese coffee and I got instantly hitched! So I decided to walk to Trung Nguyen coffee chain nearby for my second shot of coffee. Pure satisfaction!

But I had to bear the consequences that night and had a hard time sleeping. Maybe it was the coffee effect, or perhaps I was still settling in to the fact that I was now in a foreign land all by myself. Arsenal beat Manchester City 2-1 that night, I’m happy. =) 

Day 2: Ho Chi Minh, 22 December 2015.

Today was the day for Mekong Delta tour. Just yesterday night I wrote I had yet to witness an accident occurring despite the chaotic traffic condition, and I saw one this morning around a roundabout. Two motorcycles collided and one fell down. Ouch! On the bus, I met Ray, a Canadian guy around my dad’s age hailed from Alberta. We talked about many things and inevitably discussed about several life lessons. Ray was also a Christian so we talked about God and how God has touched our lives so immensely. Sometimes I can’t help but ponder how amazing God really is.


When I saw Mekong River for the second time in my life, it was still as humongous as the first time I had seen it almost 12 years ago. About 50% of the people in the Mekong Delta tour were Koreans, so I was left talking to Ray most of the time throughout the journey. We hopped onto a boat and went to My Kho, where there were sellers selling delicate handcrafted souvenirs, some of which were pretty tempting! We also got to try a freshly baked thin crispy pancake (like kuih kapit back home) but it was just okay.

Our lunch included spring rolls, rice paper wrapped with fried fish, vegetables; plus rice, pork and caramelized clay pot fish. Tasted scrumptious! One thing about Vietnamese food was that they were always served with an excessive portion of fresh vegetables! Unlike back home where the vegetables are normally served in stir fried style. Up to a point where I felt weird when I don’t eat fresh vegetables. Yes it happened and I myself couldn’t believe it because I have been pretty much carnivorous my whole life!

After lunch, we proceed to our next stop – local breed honey. The tour guide was brave and experienced enough to show us the honey collector filled with bees. After having a taster of the sweet honey drink, we went back to the boat and hopped onto gondola sized boat with punter skillfully maneuvering the boat. Reminded me so much of punters in Cambridge.


We ended the tour with a short ride on a pony cart and a taster of the local coconut candies, rice wine and some typical tropical fruits such as papaya, jackfruit, pineapple and dragon fruits. Our fruit tasting session was accompanied with a traditional folklore performance with unique Vietnamese musical instruments being played as the backdrop.


I went back to my hostel and had my first Bun Cha for dinner at Bun Cha 145 nearby! I wished I had tried this earlier because it was really delicious yet reasonably cheap! Nevertheless it was not too late and my stomach was happy! I was glad my visit to Ho Chi Minh ended with such pleasant meal. 


Goodbye Ho Chi Minh! 
That night I took Futa Bus (my first ever sleeper bus) from Ho Chi Minh at 11:30pm to Mui Ne. I was amazed by the sleeper bus’s creative and smart design, where passengers can lie down and sleep fairly comfortably throughout the journey to other cities. Apparently this design was not new and has been around for at least 10 years or more. The bus ride was, as I said, fairly comfortable as long as you are not too tall (perfect for an Asian male of 5 feet 7 inch like myself), albeit can be a little noisy with honks everywhere (Hint: Wear earplugs and you shall have a good night rest). 


Monday, 11 January 2016

Here We Go, 2016!

One full month! It’s been a month since my last post so you might be wondering where I have been.

Just before the year 2015 ended, I have made the ONE decision that I never regretted making –booked the flight ticket to Vietnam for my first ever solo trip. I was having so much dilemma whether I should go out of my comfort zone and go for some exciting adventure. After two weeks spending time alone in Vietnam, it’s pretty safe to say there was never a moment I regretted making this bold decision, but rather I was filled with so much gladness and joy. I will leave that for the next post. Stay tuned!

I spent my New Year’s Eve and New Year in Sapa (Vietnam), at one of the local farmer’s house. And then I remember making wishful New Year resolutions that most people will forget about after two months entering into the New Year. I don’t think I had written any New Year resolutions for 2014 and 2015, but along the way I still developed myself into a different person in relative to myself in 2013. Thank God, a better me!

Warren Buffett once said about thinking of 25 things-to-do but only focusing on the top 5 tasks as main priorities. Similarly, there’s no point writing so many New Year Resolutions but barely able to follow up on 3 of them by the end of February. So again I won’t unnecessarily list out 10 or 20 New Year resolutions but only my top 5 priorities.

1. Keep changing for betterment!
This is vague, but this applies to every area of my life. Never stop improving! Improve 1% every day! Improvement requires change. The moment I feel I am too comfortable with something, it’s time to change, to challenge myself to go an unconventional route, even some radical ones. Improve my relationship with friends and family, spend more time with them and put them as one of my top priorities.

Often we are so caught up with our own busy schedule and never realised the value of quality time spent with our family members and friends, until we lose it. By then only we start regretting why we never spent enough time with our family members in the first place, especially parents. It’s always dangerous when we start taking things or people for granted. Our parents never owed us anything, so maybe it’s a good idea to cherish every moment left we get to spend together.

Being extra thankful should be made a daily mantra.

2. Take care of my finances.
If you don’t put much effort into maintaining something, it will fade and eventually be self-destructive. Again it applies to everything, including finance. I am glad I have put in efforts in managing my finances. Managing own finances, especially amidst rising cost of living in Malaysia, is not easy nowadays but not impossible. Develop a habit of keeping budget and consistently accurate record of your cash flow will do.

Making wise financial decisions is also essential, considering the temptations to buy new flashy gadgets, new cars and new house are ubiquitous. Something we have to face every day and if we are not careful, might fall into the trap of buying something we don’t really need. I am currently facing that right now – buying a second hand performance car.

Yesterday I went for a short test drive of this car – Proton Satria Neo CPS 1.6, with bolt-on turbo. My friend is buying a new second hand Golf GTi, which led him to selling this precious gem. Coupled with low mileage (60k) in 5 years, this car has been maintained pretty well, except that it has been modified heavily at the same time. About 50% of the car has been modified and are aftermarket products. So far this car is clocking 228hp @7000rpm and 240Nm @4500rpm, excellent figures for a local made car. RM25k for this car is a fair value, considering the market price of this car of similar mileage and year made (according to and Carlist) is about RM27k. Good buy?

Which led me to the most fundamental question: Do I need it? No I don’t. So this is a ‘want’ rather than a ‘need’. If you had known me long enough, you will know I am a massive fan of turbocharged performance cars! Yesterday was the first time I got my hand on a turbocharged car and as expected, it was so much fun (although I got the engine stalled for multiple times because I haven’t driven a manual car since the day I got my driving license about 6 years ago). I would never be able to justify why I would buy this car, except for pure pleasure and adrenaline rushing excitement.

I would like to think I am buying the experience, not a need. There are times we can pamper ourselves, so I suppose this is mine. Maybe it’s time to save money and eat bread for the next 6 months.

3. Treat other people better, show genuine kindness!
A little kindness every day acts as a ripple effect in other people’s life. When you are being kind to someone, that same person would be inspired to be kind to people around him/her. People around him/her would in turn be inspired and act the same way. The world we live in can be a little better if everyone does this. Not everything has to be motivated by hidden agendas, as we would so often be led to think.

Maybe give some food to the homeless will help. Apparently I heard giving money to them would only encourage them to beg more, so we can perhaps show love via other mean such as food and unwanted (but still of good condition) clothes. This would help them more than you have possibly thought. At the very least, this will put a smile on their faces.

4. Treat MYSELF better!
Eat better, sleep better and live better! Treating other people better is necessary, but first and foremost we must treat ourselves better! Nobody will take care of you more than yourself. Sometimes we are so caught up with work and study that we barely give ourselves time to relax and enjoy the many little things in life. Ultimately this will only lead to stress.

For me, I hated stress so much that I vow to myself I must emphasise leisure hours. To strive an optimum balance of leisure hours and working hours. I heard actuary is one of the few jobs in the world that can attain that. Mentally and intellectually challenging but stimulating at the same time. It would be more than sufficient for me to pass at least two papers this year.

5. Travel more and see more of the world!
After my exciting two-week solo trip to Vietnam and met more than 20 friends, I can safely attest I am addicted to travelling! If you are not comfortable with the notion of travelling alone, you can always get a best friend to travel with you. See more of the world, look at how the locals live and carry out their daily life. Listen to exciting stories other travelers got to say. If you seldom get out of your comfort zone, travelling alone will definitely force you to do so. Explore yourself and get lost in a foreign land (a map or Google map will be useful). I guarantee you will not regret.

My next trip: Siem Reap, Cambodia (June 2016).


What about you? What is your view of making a list of New Year resolutions? Do you make it just because everyone else does? What is your plan of following up if you are not? Let me know at the comment below! =) 

Favourite Music! =)