I am not sure if my 150th installment of the WP is a milestone post, but within it, is a milestone moment forthcoming. I write this last post of the year 2023 from Siem Reap, Cambodia, which is officially my 83rd visited country in the world and that is exciting as you know that this trip, coming to its end, was to happen several years ago and Covid, among other events that stopped it from happening. My time here in SE Asia with my departure tomorrow from Cambodia back to Vietnam, and then the return to the US has been an eye-opening experience for me. The cultures are so different in many ways, but in the end, I found that people simply want to live their lives in peace and enjoy what they have. They don’t make lots of money, but both the Vietnamese and Cambodians are genuinely happy people, and I was happy when I was able to go to the 94th Hard Rock Café, here in Angkor Wat last night. It crossed my mind to check, when I knew, I was coming to Siem Reap and I was not disappointed, but happiness is defined in many different ways as you will see.
I tried different foods, some to excess like Pho and much rice and noodles in many different configurations, experienced many different cultural experiences like a water puppet show, to how to tie a fishing net. Sailed on the sea from Ha Long Bay, and on the Saigon River and along the Mekong Delta. I visited several museums including the culture of the countries, the temples of Angkor Wat, and the history of the Vietnamese people. I visited war memorials and gained a better understanding of the era that was the Vietnam War, which the Vietnamese called the American War and it was substantially more complex that the simplicity of one side being bad and one side being good. I was able to talk to some people who were directly affected, and saw some of the results, good and bad, and the war ended some 50 years ago. No war is good, and many people die and are wounded, soldier and civilian alike. Perhaps there are good causes, but there must be better solutions to the problems of the world, as everyone is impacted, even now.
I was just an early teen when the Vietnam War was raging and I saw it on black and white TV with the likes of Walter Cronkite and I have heard from some, when sharing my experience last week, from those who were more impacted than others and are still to this day. History is never erased, even if monuments are knocked down, names changed or some other way of altering what has happened. History should teach us not to repeat it, but human beings don’t really heed that advice, because people want to forget events in history that have happened, but much is always out there in front of us, and we can’t run from it. I think Vietnam is succeeding in its re-birth as I saw much in terms of people owning businesses and a sense of freedom, even though it is a socialist country and even though my time here in Cambodia, also a socialist country, simply a blink of an eye, people, with little are making the most of it, so more power to these people living their lives every day to the best of their ability and overall, my guides were excellent in their willingness to answer difficult questions about what happened.
But, but, but this was not to be a blog totally about my experiences and thoughts of the past two weeks, here in Vietnam and Cambodia, but of an event, perhaps, some knew, or thought they knew or with my hints in my previous posts of something very special happening, an event that in my crazy life, never thought would ever happen, but so excited that even at this point in my life is happening, better late than never. So, I hope you read further as this has been a constant theme throughout my posts of the past almost 4 years and was not even looking when I was this really fat guy going from travel event to travel event and this time it happened to be in Rome, called Viva Italia.
I arrived late the evening of the 14th of December, and after some fits and starts awaiting my bag, customs, and my ride to the city, I was whisked to Hanoi, a city of some 8 or 9 million people and as many scooters circulating the city itself. It is a vibrant city that has a beat of its own. I am glad that I had a guide with me the first day, as trying to cross streets in this city, is a challenge to say the least. Yes, there are stoplights and zebras, but that really does not mean anything, other than perhaps, as per my guide, the people in the cars and on the scooters, if they did hit a pedestrian, would be in very serious trouble. After so many attempts of crossing the streets and some of the larger boulevards, I did get the hang of it and glad to say I am here.
The city itself is a mix of old and new, parts still of the colonial history under the French in its architecture, from more than 100 years ago, but also the modern. It is fascinating for me to see, as this is a socialist country, how much capitalism there is here. I guess the government allows a balance if people don’t push the envelope. Many of the famous expensive brands exist alongside all the street food vendors, high rises, and shacks. It is a contrast of cultures in its religions and practices from the pagodas and temples to the celebration of Christmas in all its capitalist ways, songs, and Santa everywhere. Cash is king here, but you can use a credit or debit card here in many places, but not in most street food areas. The prices across the board are very reasonable as the exchange rate with the Vietnamese dong and the dollar or any western currency is very favorable. Coffee culture is also very important, but I did, along side my guides, have a cappuccino, and an expresso and yes, tried a Vietnamese coffee. It was alright, but not really my taste.
As you know, I have done a lot of travel this year, as last and most of it has been to Europe, but my goal on this forthcoming trip and the one just finished to Botswana, was to expand my portfolio of experiences. Everyone knows me for Europe and places like Iceland and even more so for Italy, haha!! I feel that other places in the world deserve exploration, and this will make me a better travel advisor, to be able to provide experiences in some of the more out of the way places. I have also attended many international travel trade shows and conferences and so, having boots on the ground in different places. This allows me better access to some of those more out of the way places, so that when I plan travels for clients, I have many locals with which I work. This is something that I am very proud of, the partnerships I have built around the world.
My bread and butter will always be Europe, but the opportunity to share other places in the world beyond the borders of Europe is part of my plan in being a better professional travel planner. Of course, the more time in Italy and having my secret weapon in Rome and other places in the country does not hurt either. For the record, I have already attained Platinum with Delta, and thought maybe, just maybe, I could attain Diamond, but even with this forthcoming trip and no time really to add anything else, I will be just short. This happened last year, as well, but in the end, I have better things to be concerned about than attaining status with an airline. The only status for me that matters is my status with Rosa and our relationship which continues to grow stronger every day even from across the little pond.
I want to share that I believe Botswana, should be experienced and I expect to return, as I barely skimmed the surface of this amazing country in southern Africa. I did not have time to experience the Okavango Delta which, if you know anything about Botswana, that is an everchanging highlight depending on when during the year you visit, and this country is an all-year destination. I did, however, have time in the Chobe National Park and saw a lioness and other animals and did a small cruise on the river to encounter the crocs, the rhinos, and other animals and there are many way to experience this.
Weathering the Storm with the Wandering Puffin