There are probably about 100 spas in the small city of Danang. I spent quite a bit of time in them this trip, as I’ve tried sorting out the muscles in my leg, and I had an array of experiences from excellent to “what the heck just happened to me?”
Most of these spas are run by women who sleep during the afternoon while tourists are at the beach and work hard in the evenings, when tourists are walking around, looking for dinner and something to do.
The prices are astoundingly low. You can get a 1 hour foot and leg massage for about $10. A hot oil massage is usually around $15. The fancier places have larger packages with more options (facials, body scrubs, mud baths etc…), but even the high end places are reasonably priced when compared to Canada.
Of course, in Canada, you’re paying for a certified professional who went to school and learned about the body. In South East Asia, you’ll get some masseuses that know a thing or two but you’ll also get ones that don’t seem to understand that the human body isn’t just a large punching bag.
We decided to go for Thai massages together on new year’s Eve at a little place called Kaly Spa. It was the worst massage of my life and anything but a Thai massage! They punched and slapped me, and dug their toes into my ribs. Multiple times I had to ask the woman to ease up. At one point it felt like she was trying to remove my shoulder blade. She dug her fingers under it and pulled and pulled until I actually got mad. And I’d like to say you get what you pay for, but this was the most expensive massage I went for the entire trip (it cost about $30).
Of course, I also had some very good experiences. Thuy Nguyen Spa was fantastic. It was down a back street, a few doors down from our first Hotel. The women there were lovely, and they undercharged me every time I went. Vicky, the woman I saw there, was determined to help me, because she knew that I was in a lot of pain. She would work on me for 2 hours but only charge me for 1. Amazing and caring people.
So if you’re heading down to Danang, be sure to stop into a spa or two! The hot stone massages are so nice, and there’s nothing like a nice foot rub after a day of travel (or leisure!)
We knew before we booked that Danang wasn’t going to be a bit cooler than it had been in southern Vietnam. Still, it was an affordable holiday destination with great food and coffee!
Our first few days here were actually lovely. We had Sun and relaxed on the beach. It was nice and warm, without being too hot to do things. Perfect weather.
Then winter hit, the sun disappeared and we wished we’d packed more than 1 sweater each.
Still, we aren’t ones to let weather dictate the quality of our holiday, so yesterday we head down to the hot springs near Danang to get some swimming in!
On our drive there and then again on our drive back, we got drenched in little mini rain downpours, still it was worth the trip!
After drying off, we decided to do another bbq dinner at the night market. After we’d enjoyed yet another delicious meal there, we decided to do a bit if shopping, and had into the sales market. That’s when the skies REALLY decided to open!
We hung around until the weather cleared, and then walked a few streets down for the new year countdown. Why let a little rain ruin our fun??
There is nothing like a South East Asian market! They’re an endless collection of souvenirs, shoes, bags, clothing, with the odd live chicken to keep things interesting.
It’s overwhelming being in these markets. Sometimes, shop keepers will try pulling you by the arm. Dave and I never purchase anything from anyone who does that. The market is crowded, noisy and full of strange smells. For some reason though, I love it. There’s such a buzz in these places and it’s almost like a game, trying to get a good price on things.
This particular market had seamstresses making clothing for people right then d there. They take measurements, you choose a fabric you like, and then a style of dress or shirt… and they make it for you! I’m sure they get paid a far more reasonable wage for this than what they get paid if they work in an H&M or Walmart factory. It’s a pretty cool set up!
Speaking of name brands, you’ll find everything from knock off designer bags to ‘faulty’ H&M clothing. Shoes, purses and clothing, everywhere you look! Some of them actually have legit tags, which is why we figure they are either somehow faulty or an old model that didn’t sell. Other items, of course, are just blatant knock offs.
Pro Tip: try and get everything you need from just 1 or 2 sellers. The more you buy, the better of discounts you get! It can save you a lot in the long run.
I consider myself a strong supporter of ecotourism. When planning a trip anywhere the first thing I do is look for the best ecotourism destinations within the country we’ve decided to visit. Then I look for companies that provide eco-friendly and eco-conscious options. In Indonesia, we discovered Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking. In Thailand we discovered Elephant Nature Park.
As a strong supporter of Ecotourism, I am very opposed to the following activities:
Elephant riding (torture)
Tiger Parks (over-breeding & drugging animals as well as farming Tiger parts for TCM and other gross activities)
Any tour where wild animals are fed, touched or interacted with unnecessarily
Any experience that involves using animals as entertainment (unless you’re just watching them be animals…I find that quite entertaining, actually!)
Any tour that involves unnecessary damage to the environment
Any activity that promotes the destruction of natural habitats
Any activity that takes advantage of the poor, disabled or young
I typically do a lot of research before booking an eco tour with any company. I was in touch with the folks at Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking for weeks before I booked. I wanted to make sure that my presense in the jungle wasn’t going to be harmful to the animals and I wanted to make sure that I was working with an ethical company that pays its employees fair wages and gives back to the community.
Our trip to Vietnam this time around didn’t have much on the itinerary, to be honest. We just wanted a low key holiday to relax and enjoy some sunshine. Of course, a lot of our time here has been cloudy (and therefore a bit cold), so we’ve been finding non-beach related things to do as we go.
Our last morning in Hoi’an was spent doing something that was labeled an “eco tour”. Now, given the price of this tour I wasn’t expecting much. I figured we’d go out in a little coconut boat for a bit, paddle around, admire some coconut trees and that would be all. I was wrong (and I HATE being wrong!)
We’ve run into this before. Many companies like to use the word “eco” to attract people, but never give a thought as to what “eco” is supposed to mean. For example, on a good eco tour, your guide will speak softly, so that they don’t disturb the local wildlife. This is what we experienced during our Hong Tour in Phucket. It was lovely and we ended up seeing several wild animals because no one was shouting and scaring them away.
In Indonesia, our guides picked up any garbage they saw in the jungle. Sardi, my favourite of our guides, even kept his cigarette butts and didn’t leave them behind, even though he easily could have.
In Bukit Lawang, Phuket and Chiang Mai, culture was celebrated. Staff were treated well and we were taught about traditions and customs. In Bukit Lawang we got to hear our guides tell stories about how they grew up in the jungle village. We learned about their families and we compared Indonesian culture with Canada’s and China’s. In Thailand we learned about the ancient custom of releasing lanterns into the water. Our guide taught us how to make them so that they are 100% biodegradable so that there is no pollution left behind.
The easiest way to tell if you are in a “mass tourism” situation or if you’re on a legit eco tour is this: Ecotours typically feel relaxing. You feel like you’re part of something good. You remember your guide’s names. You remember little details that made you smile. You have time to really experience things.
Mass tourism, on the other hand, feel rushed. You’re on an assembly line. No one tells you their names, or if they do, it’s a formality and they never call you by yours. You’re rushed from one point to the next, they ask you for money many different times for many different reasons, and then you’re on your way.
If you’re reading this and wondering about those Coconut Tours… Please don’t waste your time or your money. Spend a bit of time online and look for something that is more dignified, because I promise you’ll enjoy yourself more.
Pro Tip: if you’re online and confused about which companies are doing real eco tours and which are just using the words to lure people in, here are some good things to look for:
The definition of Ecotourism somewhere in there website
Mentions of conservation or wildlife protection
mentions of building up their community or community projects that the company is currently working on
Slightly higher costs (because they’re looking at quality of experience… Not quantity of guests)
If I want to look at the bright side, at least I can say that this was a good reminder of why we don’t do stuff like this anymore!
Lanterns can be found all over Asia. Different cultures have different shapes, sizes and colors of lanterns, but they seem to be everywhere we travel in Asia, and they’re always beautiful!
Chinese lanterns are mostly red, except for during the lantern festival each winter (usually in February, depending on the lunar calendar).
Hoi’an has had lanterns as a cultural artform for centuries, but historically, they were mostly circular and red, like traditional Chinese lantern. With increases in tourism in the 1990s though, Hoi’an started adding more shapes, colours and designs to their lanterns. The effects are spectacular.
Now, the lanterns in Ho’ian are a big draw for tourism. I’ve always wanted to see the lanterns of Ho’ian (I actually sort of booked this trip with them in mind!), and they didn’t lack in “wow factor”.
During celebrations, the city of Ho’ian instructs shops and houses to turn off their lights so that you can only see these beautiful lanterns along the river. I imagine it’s quite the sight!
Our time in Hoi’an has been filled with light!
Stay tuned for more on this beautiful lantern city!
Vietnamese coffee is some of my favorite coffee on Earth. It’s strong, rich and delicious whether served hot or cold. One of the first things we did when we woke up our first morning was to find some coffee.
So, it always annoys me when I see those signs that Starbucks has everywhere claiming that Arabica beans are far superior to all others. In fact, most Vietnamese coffee is made with Robusta Beans… Which happen to be delicious!
Now, Starbucks is an important part of my survival living abroad. I’m not knocking the Coffee Siren or her magical Arabica beans, but to state that Arabica is “better to drink” is simply wrong. It might be smoother and lighter, but if you want coffee that’s going to kick you in the pants and get you going, Robusta’s your bean!
Of course, there’s more to coffee than just the type of bean it’s made with. One crucial element of Vietnamese coffee is the sweetened condensed milk that’s served instead of regular fresh milk. It adds to the richness of the Robusta bean, packing your coffee with flavour!
There are also all sorts of specialty coffees served in Vietnam. My personal favorite is coconut coffee. They freeze coconut cream and blend it in with the coffee to make a sort of frappe. It’s delicious!!!
Egg coffee is one of Dave’s favourites. During wartime, dairy became scarce in Vietnam, so people started whipping eggs to create a meringue of sorts. It’s still served in Hanoi now, and you can find it in some cases further south as well.
Today, Dave something new: a salted cheese coffee. We aren’t 100% sure not, but it’s likely made of a mixture of cream and cream cheese, frozen together into cubes and then added to iced coffee.
Even instant coffee here is more bearable! The only coffee we avoid in Vietnam is the weasel coffee. This isn’t because of how it’s produced, but rather because of the animal cruelty involved in producing it.
Vietnam has taught me that there’s more than one way to make a good cup of coffee. At this point, as long as my caffeinated beverage doesn’t come at the cost of an animal’s well-being, I’ll try any coffee Vietnam throws my way!
For the last 5 Christmases, I’ve gotten 1 day off from work to celebrate the holiday. It’s always Christmas day (China time), which isn’t actually great because my family is together to Skype with me on Boxing day (China time). With my change in jobs this year though, I got a Christmas holiday to enjoy! A full 2 weeks off to take a vacation and unwind.
It’s been great! This morning, we woke up early, went for a beautiful drive through the countryside and spent the afternoon on the beach. For Christmas dinner, we were faced with a few choices.
Find a hotel doing a traditional Western Christmas dinner.
Go on, business as usual, and enjoy a nice but normal dinner.
Celebrate Vietnam style: with a seafood feast, complete with noisy locals, tanks of live sea creatures and unbelievably good prices.
Naturally, we went with #3.
We ended up at the busiest seafood restaurant we could find. It was huge, full and everything smelled incredible!
We sat down at a table near the back and we told to go choose our sea food. It was hard to choose just 1, so we chose 3!
When we walked over to the seafood area it was all a bit overwhelming. Within a minute though, one of the employees had offered us help and gave us prices and info on the seafood. It turned out some of the prawns are from the river and others from the ocean. We went with the river prawns because we’d never them before. We also got some muscles and a fish.
Once you’ve chosen your food, it’s time to decide how it’s cooked! We had our
fish barbecued, the muscles steamed in Chilis and lemongrass and the prawns in a garlic chili stir-fry.
We also ordered seafood fried rice and spinach for good measure. In total, the bill came to less than 1,000,000vdn ($60 Canadian). I still can’t believe it!!!
The fish was served in a very Vietnamese fashion. Along with our perfectly BBQed fish, we were also given big green leaves and a salted garlic sauce to dip it all in. Many Vietnamese foods are served this way. You make a little wrap out of a fresh green leaf. I love this style of eating! The flavor is fresh and the textures are great!!
So that’s how we spent our Christmas! It was fab, and I’m going to be begging Dave to go back to that restaurant again before we leave Da Nang after New Year!!
In every country, you’ll meet friendly and welcoming people, and you’ll also meet people who are looking for ways to rip you off. And of course, there are always the locals who find foreigners extremely amusing and just want to get their attention. Today, we seem to have met them all.
With the pain in my leg being so bad lately, I found my way down to one of the many spas in Danang for a deep tissue massage. When the masseuse saw me flinch as she worked near my damaged shin (I was hit by an ebike nearly 4 years ago and have dealt with nerve damage ever since), she asked me about it…. Then, instead of avoiding the area, like most masseuses do… She dug in. She worked on that area and used Tiger balm and tried to bring down the swelling. In the end she did not charge me for the extra 15 minutes she spent on that leg. To her…I was not a piggy bank. I was someone in pain that she could help. So she did.
I can honestly say that I’ve met people like her in every country I’ve visited. There’s always someone who goes the extra mile and is extra helpful or extra nice to you; they see you as a guest in their country and try to help where they can. Whether it’s helping you find your way when you’re obviously lost (like we saw in Taiwan) or helping you choose the most representative dessert to bring back to your family (at a bakery in India), we always find kind people.
As we arrived at the night market tonight, we parked the motorbike that we rented and the girl who takes payment for the parking came over and asked for 20,000 Dong. I laughed and said “no, the sign says 5,000…”. Her face stayed straight and she said “20,000”. I saw an older woman walk by who also worked there and I asked how much the fee was and she confirmed the price I had understood: 5,000. She gave the young girl heck for trying to rip us off, we paid our 5,000 Vietnamese Dong and carried on.
It was nice that the older woman was being honest but it bothers me that a young kid, probably 14 or 15 is actively trying to rip people off. She learned that somewhere…
The other type of “annoying” we deal with involves “awkward laughers”: people who get uncomfortable around foreigners and laugh loudly and awkwardly as a result. We sat across the street from 4 or 5 of those types of people today at lunch. They were VERY amused that we were eating at a local food stand and not in the usual touristy area. The food was good… Everyone was happy. No laughter necessary. And yet…
The Less than Nice
20 minutes after renting our bike today, we were pulled over for a traffic violation. We had turned left onto a one way and hadn’t moved over to the right lane quickly enough, so we got ticketed for our infraction. It was rotten luck and we simply just didn’t know, but that’s not what made the situation “less than nice”.
Before we left the motorcycle rental agency they warned us that if we are pulled over and don’t have valid international driver’s licence, that the police would impound the vehicle and charge us 250USD.
I swear you could see the look of disappointment on that police officer’s face when we had our papers in order. He was hoping for a bribe, but we had been through this before, in Thailand, so we were prepared.
There are several morals to my story:
There are good people, annoying people and not so nice people EVERYWHERE.
Always renew your international licence if you’re going to drive in a different country.
Pay attention to signs so you can know what to expect to pay (and avoid getting ripped off)
Smile! Life is short and traveling is mostly a lot of fun. Don’t let every bad interaction get you down. After all… The police are trying to keep the streets safe and those kids at the parking lot are probably not getting paid very well and just trying to get some extra pocket money.
Tomorrow, we’ll be spending Christmas sight seeing and soaking in the beautiful views!
After being on the road for 3 weeks, we decided to make our final week on holidays a relaxing one. There are plenty of beaches in the area, but we decided on Phu Quoc (pronounced “foo quack”) because of its (relatively) empty beaches and island allure.
About Phu Quoc
Located just south of Cambodia, Phu Quoc is a Vietnamese island in the gulf of Thailand. Famous for its fish oil and pepper exports, Phu Quoc is an up and coming city in South East Asia.
This is what pepper looks like on the plant
Pepper is one of Phu Quoc’s most important exports
Although the island still has a ways to go to reach Phuket-type status, it’s clear that the Phu Quoc is being developed. One of the main activities to do on the island is to explore by motorcycle. We spent several afternoons cruising around (which is how I got the wicked tan I’m now sporting!!) and we pulled over more than once to check out the resorts that are popping up all over the island.
Resorts under construction on Phu Quoc
These red dirt roads were a bit bumpy, but a beautiful drive
These guys passed us, going WAY too fast on the loose dirt road. We passed them a few minutes later because one of them had lost control of their motorbike and wiped out
Gorgeous palm trees can be found all over the island
We were told by one American man who now calls Phu Quoc home, that 80% of the island’s development has occurred in the last 2 years!! The hotel we stayed at only came up about a month ago, so we were two of the first people to stay in that bungalow!
Mango Resort was a clean and beautiful place to spend the week
The grounds were very well maintained
This was the little bungalow we stayed in
We spent every evening in the pool.
We even had our own private little bench and chairs 🙂
The Problem with Phu Quoc
The Vietnamese government aspires to make this tiny island as popular of a tourist spot as Thailand’s Phuket, though I can’t imagine that happening in the near future. Because the island is developing so quickly, the city is haven’t a hard time keeping up with the changes. Garbage is a MASSIVE problem on the island, and more than once, our experiences in Phu Quoc were made less-awesome by the stink of rotting food or the sight of fighting rats. If Vietnam is going to succeed in making this place another Phuket, they need to get a handle on these issues, and quickly!!
Locals and tourists alike leave garbage all over the island
Garbage also comes in from the ocean, and nobody seems to clean it up
Everywhere we went, we saw broken sandals, beer cans, empty water bottles…
Broken glass on the beach…
Lots of broken glass on the beach…
We saw this on our jungle walk, on the way to see some ruins…
To Do in Phu Quoc
I have to admit, there isn’t a tonne to actually DO in Phu Quoc. We spent a day snorkeling, which was alright, but nothing compared to the Caribbean. We visited a park and we did some geo-caching, but as far as activities go, there isn’t a lot set up yet.
A nice park that we visited right before sunset
Dave wanted to stop there to find a Geo-cache inside.
It was a bit busy when we were there, so we had to be pretty sneaky about finding the cache
Dave found the Geo Cache 🙂
Geo Cache #2 was at a war memorial
Weirdly enough we couldn’ t find any information on the memorial other than that it was a war memorial…
We’re thinking it’s probably for the Vietnam War
We found some ‘ruins’ on Dave’s e-map that we decided to check out. The ruins themselves weren’t all that interesting, but the trip there was!!
The drive there was beautiful
We stopped at a little restaurant for drinks and saw that they’d made ‘boats’
The biggest coconuts I’ve ever seen
A Peaceful place for a break!
The ruins are located on a small island, so we needed to walk across a pretty rickety looking bridge to get there. In reality, we could have probably just walked across (the water wasn’t deep), but where would the fun be in that?
Those boards weren’t all nailed down
And by boards, I actually mean random pieces of uneven wood…
Dave had a much easier time…I am a clutz (just ask my shins!), so it took me a lot longer!!!
We also had to walk through some jungle to get there. We’d heard some stories about vipers, cobras and scorpions being on the island, so I’m not going to lie…I was a bit of an anxiety case going through that very un-kept trail!!!
We saw some weird plants on our walk
These were the ruins…
Some more weird plants
This seemed like a nice spot for a selfie 🙂
Our Favourite Activities
So, Phu Quoc isn’t the place to go if you like having busy and adventurous holidays. Lucky for us, I do a lot of reading when planning trips and I already knew that. This was actually a perfect destination for us, because all we really wanted from the island were some comfortable beaches, some beautiful sun sets and some fantastic sea food. Phu Quoc offered all 3 of these in big ways.
There are several beaches in Phu Quoc, but our favourite was Long Beach. It isn’t as beautiful as the south beach, perhaps, but it was empty, close to our hotel and the prices were reasonable for renting lounge chairs. We spent several afternoons soaking up the rays, swimming in the ocean, and meeting sweet dogs!
I had a couple of massages on the beach. You’d be amazed at the quality of massage you can get here for such little money!!
The beaches were pretty empty, which was definitely a nice bonus!
For 50,000 dong, you could rent a chair and an umbrella all day. That works out to $2.88
There was one dog in particular that I really fell in love with. She had 4 small puppies to take care of, and all of the tourists just loved them to bits. They always had someone to play with, which left their mum time to scrounge for food around the beach (her owners clearly didn’t feed her properly). She was a pretty good thief too! We saw her take off with a couple of sandwiches and at one point, I shooed her away from the massage lady’s bag because she was trying to steal some steamed buns. The sweet massage lady thanked me, looked at the dog, and ended up giving her the buns anyway. Definitely a good person in my books!!
Mama was so timid
This was my favourite of her pups. She was so sweet and cuddly!!
Seafood (and dessert!!)
There was only 1 day the entire week that Dave and I didn’t enjoy seafood with our dinner, and that was the night we went out for Indian food (which was also VERY good!). There is fresh fish, shrimp, crab, lobster and SO much more to eat on the island! If you go to one of the restaurants in Duong Dong, you can get pretty fresh stuff, but the best seafood is found at the night market.
We got to try several new dishes we’d never tried before. My favourite was the sea urchin, but the cuttlefish and eel (a different variety than we’ve had in the past) were also very good! We also enjoyed some fantastic fire garlic snails, shrimp and crab. The options were both endless and delicious!
The cuttlefish was very much like calamari
I had to edit the sea urchin quite a bit so that you could actually see what was inside…in Vietnam they bbq the urchin with peanuts and spring onion. It was so good the first time that I ordered it again!
Dave hated this dish because it took so long to eat, but I loved it. Notice the plate? I guess they stole it from KFC!!! haha!!!
If seafood isn’t your thing, there are plenty of tasty desserts to try as well! We tried this one snack that’s super popular in Vietnam right now. I have no idea what it’s called, but I’ll refer to it as a ‘coconut rice cake thingy’.
First she puts shaved coconut on a rice cake
Next, she adds sweetened condensed milk
Then she takes a piece of sugar and does some weird stuff with it and make sit stringy…I’ll post a video to show you…
Then she tops it with peanuts
Add another rice cake to the top and VOILA!!!
Here’s a video of her working with the sugar…
My absolute favourite dessert of the vacation was a neat sort of ice cream they make on the island. Apparently it’s a Thai dessert, though I never saw it there. First, they put which ever flavours you want onto a big frozen piece of metal (think Marble Slab or Stone Cold Creamery). Then, they add cream.
These guys are set up all along the night market
I chose peanut butter and chocolate. Dave copied me :p
the flavours you can choose.
For $1.73 you can choose from all sorts of fruit and sauces
This is when they get to work…
When they are done you have a delicious ice cream treat to enjoy!
We saw great sunsets most of our nights in Phu Quoc, but I only had my camera for 2 of them. The first was on an empty beach near a mini-fishing village.
Pollution and buildings make it impossible for us to see the sun actually set in China, which is why we were so excited to see the sun go down properly on vacation. We stayed out until it had disappeared below the horizon. It made for some pretty spectacular shots with my Canon!!
This is one of my favourite pictures of the whole trip
The effect of the setting sun is just spectacular!!!
Our second sunset was at Duong Dong Pier, near the Dinh Cao Rock Temple, by the night market.
Once more, we waited until the sun completely set, and I ended up with some of the best pictures I’ve ever taken. It was quite windy out so we were getting some small waves coming in, so I wound up sitting down on the pier, and waited for the right moments to get some pretty cool shots!!
Sun setting in Phu Quoc, Vietnam
My favourite shot of the week…
I also managed to get a pretty gorgeous shot of the moon once it came up…
That’s it for Phu Quoc! I have 2 more posts planned about our overall experiences in Laos and Vietnam, so stay tuned! I should be back soon!!!
I have always loved being a student. As stressful as it was finishing my degree a few years back, I felt so incredibly motivated while I was at the University of Winnipeg. My major was in English Writing & Literature, but I took classes in Anthropology, Classical History, Drama, Psychology, Astronomy and so much more. These classes taught me about the world, taught me to think and dig for information and most importantly, they taught me that there is always more to learn!
There are 2 classes that I feel really changed the way I see the world. The first one was Physiological Psychology. In this class, I learned about the different structures of the brain and what they are responsible for. I also learned what happens when you damage those areas of the brain and I learned a lot about mental illness as a result. Now, 4 years later, a month doesn’t go by when I don’t either think about or discuss things I learned in that class. I finished Physio Psych with the worst grade of my degree, but it was one of the most eye-opening courses I ever took.
The other class that changed my perspectives was a random elective course I chose to fill out my semester. I literally chose it because it was available in a convenient time slot, but by the time the first lesson was finished, I was hooked and knew I wouldn’t be skipping my Tuesday night 6pm lessons. “Needs of Refugees” was all about refugee crises around the world.
The focus of the class was mostly on the process these people go through to get placement in other countries. I had 2 professors for that class. One of my profs was a woman who had spent months abroad working in refugee camps in Palestine, Kenya and a few others I can no longer remember. The other professor was a Somali man who had fled Mogadishu with his family when he was a child.
Through this class, I met several refugees, all from different conflicts and different areas of the world. I met a woman who had to flee Iraq because her husband had been arrested and the government was coming after her next so she had to flee with her two teenage sons. I met a woman from Myranmar who had fled years ago, who began her own small weaving business in Winnipeg.
I also interviewed a man from the Congo. He was angry. He’d been in Canada for more than 10 years when I met him. He’d been struggling for a decade to find a suitable job, but because he’d been living in a refugee camp for the better part of his life, he had little education and few skills. It frustrated him that he had so little opportunities in Canada. Still, at the end of the interview, he took a moment to clarify that although he was angry, he was also grateful. He told me he’d rather have no opportunities in Canada than to wake up to the sound of bombs back in The Congo. He taught me a lesson about gratitude.
If you have me as a friend on Facebook, you know how I feel about helping Refugees. You also know how I feel about mental illness and trying to fight past the taboos that prevent people from getting help. I didn’t always care about these things. I’m sure that I’ve made thoughtless comments about mental health through the years. I know that there was a point in my life where I never really even thought about what a refugee even was.
But school isn’t the only place where my perspectives have shifted. Travelling has taught me so much about the world. Since moving to Guiyang in 2014, I’ve learned about what it means to be an ethical tourist, I’ve seen real poverty and I’ve spent a great deal of time educating myself about the history of South East Asia and India (something never covered in my high school history courses…).
Of course, being in Vietnam has also given me some new perspectives. I knew about the Vietnam war. I knew about the draft, the protests and I knew about the fight against communism. I had never really considered what all this meant for people on the other side of the ocean though…
One of the many tanks used during the Vietnam war
Now, I’m not here to say that the Vietnamese didn’t do awful things to American soldiers, but when you see things that that happened to the people here, you can’t help but wonder how Vietnam could have possibly deserved the war crimes they endured during that horrible war. Napalm, agent orange and mass bombing campaigns nearly destroyed the country and even today you can see victims of Agent Orange. The chemical created genetic defects that are still being passed onto the current generation. It’s pretty awful stuff.
It’s easy for people in North America to shrug off the Vietnam war because it was so long ago now, but in Vietnam, the war still affects people. There are still bombs all over the country that never detonated properly during the war. Every year, people lose limbs and lives because of these UXOs.
We visited the War Remnents museum when we were in Saigon, and learned about the war through pictures as well as through a few displays. Horrible stuff was done here.
A model of one of the prisons where the Vietnamese POWs were kept
Weapons used against these POWs
An eerie model.
A Guillotine that was used to kill enemy soldiers.
We also made a short visit to the Phu Quoc prison, where thousands of enemy soldiers were kept during the war. The first thing both Dave and I noticed was how much the prison looked like a concentration camp.
The tiger cages were a horrible punishment. People couldn’t even stand in them, and they were left in these cages for weeks
The door to this metal room was closed with all of these people inside. People died of both heat and of freezing
The models did a good job of bringing the place to life and giving in a touch of reality
Layers of barbed wire kept prisoners in
But Vietnam was not the only country affected by the Vietnam War…
Laos is often forgotten during discussions about that 20 year war. I’ve mentioned in other posts that Laos is the most bombed country in the world. We learned more about what that actually means at the UXO museum in Luang Prabang.
America dropped 260 million cluster bombs on Laos over the course of 580,000 bombing missions. This is equivalent to a planeload of bombs being unloaded every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. There are still 78 million bombs in Laos, that need to be detonated, and as you can imagine, this caused a lot of problems from this developing nation.
Large bombs were dropped from airplanes on the country
These bombs were full of small ‘bombies’
Notice how they kind of look like balls? Or toys? 60% of the victims of these bombs are children…
The UXO museum was quite an experience…In addition to having a wide variety of bombs on display, there were a few videos to watch and lots of information of how the UXOs still affect Laos today.
These bombs prevent agricultural development in large portions of the country
When people are wounded by the bombs, their families are often left without their primary bread winners
Something as simple as starting a fire can cause bombs to go off
Many kids are blown up when digging…one boy lost his eye and scarred his face when he dug for worms too aggressively. He just wanted to go fishing…
I guess what I’m getting at with all of this is that there’s always more to know. There’s so much happening all over the world right now…I feel like the best thing any of us can do is to educate ourselves. After all, how can you really have an opinion about things when you only ever hear 1/2 of the story.
I know that when I have kids, I will encourage them to travel. You can learn about so much more than food and temples when you’re in another country.
So there you have it…those are my two cents.
Next, I’ll be writing about our week on the island of Phu Quoc! Stay tuned!!!