Here’s to 2017

I woke up this morning with many thoughts about the new year  upon us. After my post yesterday I didn’t feel that I had anything left to say for the year 2016. I was wrong!

If I asked people what they thought of 2016 you know what I think they’d all say? “2016 was a hard year. With huge ups and downs, loss and struggles.” Or… “I’ve never been more ready for a new year. This last year was unreal.” 

For me, 2016 broke me down, shook me up, gave me the highest highs, and the lowest lows. I’m going to say something a little unpopular here though….. I’m thankful for it. 

It was a hell of a year, full of loss but I gained my most authentic self. I know myself better then I ever have. And I found so much love and passion for life and this world. Romantic love?  Sure. I had it, it was beautiful and a challenge but not one that stayed with me. I’m talking about the love for life. For friends. For family. For music. For adventure. For travel. For expanding views. For the people, connections and relationships I found this year. They have shaped me, touched me and helped me become what I am now. 

2016 you cracked me wide open. You let me break and build back up stronger. You took away some of the most loved in my life, and showed me pain and emotions I hadn’t felt before. You let my heart break and shatter. You taught me even when I didn’t want to learn. At times I really hated you and never understood what the fuck it was all for. But here I am saying thank you, something that surprised even myself when I woke up today. Things happen for a reason? Maybe 2016 you happened so that I can be grateful for new beginnings in 2017. 

This is the first year I’m celebrating New Years single since I was 16 or 17. I’m not upset by that. I woke up thankful for that. I think it’s just opening me up for a chance to really do it right this new year. I haven’t enjoyed my last few New Years Eve’s. They’ve included hurt feelings, fights and disappointment. That’s no way to start a new year! So I’m doing it different this year. Because I want a different year. I’m turning a new leaf. I’m leaving behind what wasn’t meant for me. I’m leaving behind what no longer serves me. I’m leaving behind a last name that isn’t mine, and changing it to who I am and who I identify with. I am leaving behind what isn’t needed anymore because I trust and know what’s meant for me will never pass me by.

I’m going into 2017 feeling unstoppable. I’m going in vulnerable, open, with gratitude and full of love and anticipation for what is coming next. I don’t have it all together, but I’m thankful for that too. 

  I needed you 2016 to show me that I am fully supported by the universe, and when I trust I am connected with all that I need. I’ve realized I’m the one holding myself back and I won’t do it anymore. My goals, my dreams. They’re going to happen for me in 2017, I’m going to make sure of it. Thank you 2016 for not allowing me to be comfortable. Thanks for not allowing me to stay put or content with what I have. Nothing grows in a comfort zone, so thank you for the expansion and the need for more. 

Here’s to travel, love, writing, photography and doing it all in 2017. Here’s to being the most authentic and open I’ve ever been.  Here’s to chasing my dreams, finding happiness and knowing what I want. Here’s to knowing I can have it, and that I deserve it.

I bet if you took the time to decipher this hard year that is coming to a close you’d find some brilliance in how it challenged you.  Learn and grow from it and be open to new and better tomorrows. Say farewell to 2016, and welcome 2017 with open arms, gratitude and knowing it’s going to be a year for you. Find yourself, follow your goals and manifest your desires. Get out of your own way. I think when they said that you can’t have it all… they didn’t see 2017 coming. Cheers. 

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Grief and saying goodbye

I’ve been quiet for more then half of this year and haven’t kept up with blogging or following my goals and dreams.  I haven’t had my voice in far to long. 2016 for a lot of people has been a tough year. For me it was a year of EXTREMES. Success and failures, highs and lows. Through this year and this life I have never experienced a loss like I did in June.

For those that know me, or have been following my blog for awhile you know how important my dogs are to me. They are my family. I’ve survived a failed marriage, lost people I’ve loved that weren’t meant to stay, made it through unhealthy relationships, and had some other struggles along they way. I’ve also been blessed with incredible friendships, support of loved ones,  and gotten through challenges that have allowed growth. I’ve experienced great adventures, travelled amazing places, and am filled with gratitude for all the good that is in my life. Until I lost Roxy I hadn’t truly experienced mourning of this kind.

Roxy passed away June of 2016. She was supposed to go in for surgery to remove a large suspicious mass. Things deteriorated quickly and she wasn’t able to have the surgery. The mass had grown internally. It was cancer. It had changed so quickly that my warrior of a dog was suffering. That day has changed me forever. 

My close friend Krista gave me love and support by being at my side with my other dog Presley as we said goodbye to her. We gave her the best last day anyone could ask for. She was spoiled with burgers, ice cream and so many hugs. My friend had experienced the loss of a dog before, and I think going through it with me was really hard on her, but also offered her some healing as she didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to her dog. The support she gave me got me through that day.

 When Roxy left her body, she was in my arms, and her sister Presley by her side. For me, knowing she wasn’t present anymore but her body still physically in the room was such a hard puzzle to work around. I couldn’t believe she wasn’t coming home with me where she belonged. I’ve never experienced a harder day and I haven’t completely thawed from it.

After Roxy’s passing I had many low days. Presley and I had to get reacquainted with one another. We didn’t know how to be a family of two when for so long it had been a family of three. I stopped writing, doing photography, yoga and running. Hobbies that had normally included Roxy by my side. 

During this process I had a man in my life as a close friend. He came to me days before Roxy passed away as a gift to help me grieve, talk and cry through the pain. He disappeared the day I got her ashes back. Funny how the universe works through people in such a touching way. It hurt when he left, but at same time I had been so numb, so full of loss that losing him just felt like an extension of the pain I already had. 

Presley took her time adjusting as well. She cried, and mourned in her own way. She too felt a heavy grief. We had our days of cuddles and bonding, and other days where we didn’t know what to do with each other. I questioned if she even liked me. One thing I know, she made my house less empty, a little more like home, and a reason to fight through the grief. I felt like a stranger had invaded my body and I didn’t know what life was like before Roxy.

Roxy was my dream come true. She was the dog I always wanted but hadn’t been allowed. Then one day a co-worker was giving up her dog. The breed I had only dreamt about. Again the universe had my back, and gave me what I needed. I picked her up at 4 years old and we were inseparable. She went everywhere with me. She was with me when I bought my house, though my marriage, and convinced me that she needed a friend (Presley). They saw me through my divorce and then moved with me across the country to Calgary. She was my shadow, my mirror, and my best friend. She knew when I was happy, and celebrated. She knew when I was sad, and was happy to cuddle up with me through any tears that I needed to shed. I couldn’t walk anywhere in my house without her following. So when she left me, it was felt immeasurably. 

People can say it was just a dog. To me she was family. Those that don’t understand,haven’t been blessed by the loyalty and love a dog can give. If you’ve had the chance to see the beautiful tribute short movie called “Denali ”  by Ben Moon, then you’ll know just what I’m talking about. Please take the time to watch it.  I’ve included the link. He quotes at the end “People can learn a lot from dogs. When someone you love walks through the door you should go totally insane with joy” I think the world would be fuller, better and kinder place if we all lived that way. Just think about that for a moment. How often does your significant other come home and you don’t even step away from the television to welcome them back? 

The best part of my day has always been coming home to the sound of eight paws scurrying to the door with toys in their mouth to say “Welcome Home Mom! We’ve missed you so much!!!” I still take so much pleasure in having Presley welcome me at the door, and will never for a minute take that for granted.

I met a beautiful human awhile after I lost my girl, someone who shaped nearly the last half of this year. He is a dog lover and had experienced the loss of one before. He gave me a gift in Roxy’s memory, artwork in the form of her name. The greater gift I received that night was that he knew how much it would touch me, and he let me break down in his arms. I will never forget that night. He understood, and he didn’t shy away from my emotions. Him and I didn’t get to finish this year together. The months we shared were complicated but deep. Even such, the brief time we had touched my heart in such a way. I’ll always cherish this man and his kind gesture. His absence hasn’t been easy, nor one I could let go of without feeling it deeply, but his presence helped me find myself through it all.

Six months have passed since Roxy’s left and I’m still not the same girl. I guess I’m m not meant to be. It’s taken me this long to be able to speak about it without breaking down completely. I stopped blogging because I couldn’t find my breath. A lot had happened, but I felt too numb to share it. Life comes in ebbs and tides, and we learn and grow. I think that was what 2016 was for me. It was a year of gains, loss and growth. The loss seems to have a bigger percentage then the gains, but I haven’t forgotten all the beauty that also happened this year. In loss we sometimes we find ourselves a little more. To the people that supported me this year through the ups and downs of life, I’m incredibly grateful. 

I wish everyday that Roxy was by my side, and we could go for a run, play at the park, and adventure in the mountains together. Presley and I have been going to  the mountain for fresh air in her honor. We’ve found our balance again and even though we can’t see her, I know she is by my side watching over me. I don’t think the loss will ever feel lighter. It doesn’t have to. I don’t have to feel thankful for losing her. I was the luckiest to have her for as long as I did. I’m thankful for her spending the last six years of her life with me. I’m a better person due to her presence. I hope everyone has the chance to experience life with a dog. It’s a gift that shouldn’t be denied. 

Not a day goes by that I’m not thinking of my girl. I still hear her pitter patter around my condo, and it brings warmth to my heart. Run free sweet girl. Say hi to all the dogs up there, and I hope you found a giant water bowl to quench your thirst. We miss you daily.

 

Lifestyle Blog: It’s time to speak up about Abuse.

It’s been a week.I don’t think I’ve ever needed a hug so much. I had a month off work to travel a country that I’ve only dreamed about, so I’m incredibly lucky. The truth is it was a trip I couldn’t afford, but equally couldn’t afford not to take. Since arriving home,  I feel unsettled.  I’ve been a hermit and haven’t wanted to talk or see much of anyone because I’ve had things on my mind. I was feeling more like the authentic me while in Vietnam. I’m more comfortable in my own skin then I’ve ever been. I feel like some of my world is upside down, or I’m upside down in my own world. Since I’m feeling all of these things, the Universe is making me face my past head on. I’ve grown in the last month, and feel that its time for me to talk. A few things happened recently that has left me no choice but to speak out. A friend is dealing with a rape trial, another who just broke up with her boyfriend, an acquaintance who was dragged across her carpet by her now ex, a music video that is heart breaking, and me starting to speak about my  past relationships in previous blog posts. It’s time to speak out. Abuse, domestic violence, rape, it’s all around us, and it’s everybody’s dirty little secret. It was mine too for a long time. I’ve spoken out to a limited friend base about it, since I’ve been away from it, but I wont be silent anymore. Because if one person hears what I’m saying and thinks twice about going back home to abuse, or if someone asks their friend if they are really okay and starts these important conversations that need to happen, then I’ve done the right thing. It’s time we start talking.

I was afraid to speak for way to long. I didn’t want to be labelled a victim. I didn’t want to appear weak. I felt shame and most of all, I didn’t want my family to know. I didn’t want to admit what I’d been through. You see when you experience abuse, it’s not only on an emotional or physical level. It affects every part of your being. It affects your friendships, how you view yourself, how you view others, and how you interact. It affects your confidence, your future, and it affects your psyche.  Shame, regret, pain, anger, sadness, weakness,guilt and desperation to name a few of the emotions you feel when you deal with abuse. This is about the relationship I’ve discussed briefly in previous blogs that left me devastated and shattered, until I came undone and had to rebuild myself. It’s also about my past. The abuse started way before that time in my life.

In high school I was hit by a boy who I liked. He wanted me to perform sexual acts on him that I didn’t want to do. He made me feel guilty for not doing it, as we had before. He told me he really liked me, and I was beautiful, but I found out he was seeing another girl while over at his house. So I refused to. And I was slapped for it. I remember being shocked. Where the hell did that come from? I thought this boy liked me. I thought I was beautiful to him. I never told my parents, I never told my school. I told a few friends but he had a different story and it was easier to let it go, than suffer the embarrassment. So I shut up.

I married my “high school sweetheart”. We were together for years. He wasn’t emotionally supportive. He let me drown, and he made me feel shitty about myself, until the day I stood tall enough to walk away… But before that I became a small version of myself. To him, my clothing was too colorful, my dogs too expensive, my body shape a constant topic of conversation, my yoga practice was expensive stretching, I was too sensitive, my/our debt solely my responsibility, my job not well-paying enough, my friends weren’t suitable for him.  Everything that was said put me down, and broke my spirit. So I shut down.

I fell head over heels in love with the next man I dated. He had anger issues. But I could handle it. He said he’d hit another women before. But, I knew he wouldn’t do it to me. Until he did. I blamed myself. I pushed him too far. I knew he was upset. I begged him to stay.  He had family pressures. They didn’t like me. They didn’t understand me. The color of my skin was wrong, my body was wrong, my culture was wrong. None of that matters. It wasn’t about me. It was about them. And him? I promised him if he was seeking help I’d always be there. I wouldn’t leave him. I wouldn’t betray him. I promised to love him to the moon and back, and I had intended too. But that was a hurt and broken girl who made those promises. Yes. I enabled him. I came by it honestly. I thought we could work through it. That love would be enough. I didn’t understand how deep the troubles of this man ran. I didn’t understand that I was repeating my same patterns again. How did I find another abuser? What was I doing wrong? Why wasn’t I enough? Why couldn’t I fix this? We went to therapy. He went to therapy. I was proud of him. Things would get better. We’d be happy for a while. And then he pushed me. This cycle continued. The unbelievable highs and then the bottom of the world kind of lows. I spoke up to him about it. I said I wouldn’t allow it. I said it would never happen again, because he knew better. And when you know better you do better. But I didn’t leave. So I enabled him.  I became unhealthy. My anxiety was high. Every text or conversation had the possibility of becoming a war depending on his mood. I was walking on egg shells, and they were stabbing me. But I held on for dear life, and I begged him to work it out . How could I walk away from this when this man needs me? He’s working on it, getting the help that he needs, were both working on it. And then he kicked me. That’s when it ended. We both broke down. How did we fall so far down this hole. We loved each other. How could we have violence in this relationship? He said it, and I knew then we were over .”Your somebody’s daughter, your somebody’s sister, and your somebody’s friend.” He left me. He couldnt’ stay. He knew it would happen again, and he wasn’t balanced. He left because he wanted to fix what was going on in him, and deal with the abuse he himself had suffered. He left because he finally saw that I was afraid. Because he and his family had broken me down so low, and made me so ashamed, and his family taught me that I wasn’t enough. I stayed and he left. And it was a low that I hope most people never have to feel. I had begged silently at times that our relationship would just be over when we’d have a fight , quietly the voice inside my head would say this isn’t right, get out of this abusive cycle.  But I had always said I wouldn’t be the one to leave. And looking back that was the worst thing I could have promised him or myself. But I believed in the best version of him, that he could get through it and we could somehow make things work. I stayed because the love I felt for him, I didn’t think I would feel for anyone else. I believed my own delusion. So my heart broke.  But when he left I knew that we couldn’t come back from this. So I decided to break this pattern, I chose me.

I always thought that people who stayed in abusive relationships were weak. I judged it. How dare they put themselves in danger. How dare they stay when someone who really loved you wouldn’t do that. How don’t they understand it’s not love. And than I became that women. It’s so easy to judge when you’re not in it. I truly believe that every human is capable of anything. It just depends how far they are pushed. For me, I was capable of seeing all the good in a man. The thing was, it wasn’t all bad in the relationship. We had an incredible connection, and it was easy to stay when things were good. And it wasn’t always abusive. But that’s how it goes, and why I chose to stay in an abusive relationship. I would excuse it, and say I’m strong enough.  The truth is nobody is strong enough for that, and NOBODY should ever think it’s worth it for the good parts of  a relationship. “We accept the love we think we deserve” Quoted from the book The Perks of being a Wallflower. If your taught that you don’t deserve the whole world you will accept less. Why did I accept that love? It’s what I knew. Most male relationships that I’ve experienced had some form of abuse. All abuse looks different. Constant put downs, it’s abuse. Pushing or bullying. It’s abuse. Being beaten, or hit once. It’s all abuse. I’ve changed my thought process on it, released my judgment from it, and I recognize an abusive personality from a mile away now. I won’t for a second engage with it. Abusers sometimes don’t know they are abusive. And others know it but don’t try to change. And there are the ones that don’t want to be defined by it. The ones that seek help. And I hope that they all get the help they need, but it’s not for us to stand by and wait. There is no helping an abuser, in my experience it caused more harm then good.

Why do people stay in abusive relationships? They stay the same reason people stay in stagnant relationships. Sometimes it’s easier than leaving, the good parts are comfortable. Maybe they are afraid to be alone. They think there is nothing better for them. On top of that… there’s manipulation. Your lead to believe that everyone else leaves, so you fight to stay. To prove that you wont let them down. You stay because you don’t want them to suffer. I stayed because I forgot my worth. I stayed because I was told I was a bitch, a slut, made to feel worthless and that I wasn’t enough. I started to believe it. I also stayed because I believed I could handle it. Looking back, the first time I was hit by him, I was shocked. I walked out his door and walked for half an hour. I was NOT going to be a women that gets hit by a man. I didn’t have enough money to get a taxi home, and while walking and crying and in shock I wanted to talk it out. I didn’t want him to be angry with me, and I didn’t want him to be angry at himself. I was a fucking mess and believed that it would get better. And this is why I’m writing this. Yes in abusive relationships you will have some amazing days. Amazing trips, amazing experiences, amazing memories. Then that amazing cycle hits a low. All of a sudden it’s so much worse than you thought it could be. But you cry together and say you’ll do better together. And then things get amazing again. But the next time they don’t just get bad. THEY GET WORSE.  Progressively we were on a downhill spiral, and I was fighting with all I had to save us. Why? Because I thought I could make a difference in his life. Because I loved him, faults and all. But the heartbreaking truth in life, love isn’t always enough. And there is no happy ending in abuse. There’s no healthy love in abuse.

Please talk to someone. If you think you know someone in an unhealthy relationship talk to them. If you are in an abusive relationship. Talk to someone. I promise you any day without abuse is better than the best day you could have with that person that is breaking your heart and your spirit. You leaving doesn’t mean you gave up on them. It just means you respect yourself enough to know you deserve so much more. YOU ARE ENOUGH. You do not need to stand by for one moment longer. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t blame yourself. You didn’t cause this.

I’ve been out of this abusive relationship for a long while now. I’m nowhere the same person that I was. I am calm. I am strong. I am enough. I will never let a man have that power over me, or make me feel ashamed again. I dated again, and it didn’t work. But I didn’t find abuse this time. I broke that cycle when I was shattered and devastated, embarrassed that I was abused, and that he left me. When I realized how manipulated, and low I was made to feel I told him that I couldn’t accept him in my life as a friend anymore.  I chose to let go of the anger and the hurt so that I could heal, and forgive for the bad that happened, but I couldn’t accept any longer a relationship with him.

I chose me. I gave myself some love. I reminded myself who I really was. A girl who loves to sing and dance, hang out with friends, travel, walk her dogs, and be in  nature. A girl who loves love. A girl who would never let a man treat her poorly. So I decided to be that girl again. I let her flourish. I let her grow. I let her get strong. I let her travel a country alone for a month, and feel love for the world, to be reminded of kindness and compassion, to find herself. I’m back to me. The me before I was hit by the first boy. The me before I was married. The me that grew into a warrior who loved herself fiercely. The me that knows that being ‘alone’ isn’t the same as being lonely. I have so much love for life that I feel unstoppable. I’m grateful for all that I have, and for finding my voice. I’m grateful for what I’ve learned, and the help I’ve received to be in this better place.

So to my friends that I know, and friends that I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting.  If you are in an abusive relationship, Emotionally, Spiritually, Physically. You deserve better. You are enough. Don’t stay because you think you should. Don’t stay because your afraid. Seek Help. Don’t stay because they say the can’t live without you.  Simply, Don’t stay. I STAND WITH YOU. A THOUSAND OTHERS STAND WITH YOU. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  LET SOMEONE HELP YOU.

To my friend I haven’t seen in a long time who gained the courage to stand up and admit you were raped, go to trial and now are reliving all of the trauma.This cannot be easy. It is important what you are doing. I BELIEVE YOU. I STAND WITH YOU. I LOVE YOU. YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE.

To my coworker that committed to leaving abuse after being dragged across the carpet by your hair. I STAND WITH YOU. YOU ARE STRONG. REALIZE YOU DESERVE SO MUCH MORE.

To the ones who don’t understand, or who have never felt the pain and shame of abuse.  To those who judge me, and others that have been in abuse. I STAND WITH YOU, AND I LOVE YOU TOO. We all have different battles that we face everyday. I am here for you.

Because of support from friends, and family… Even though they didn’t know what was happening. I am out of abuse. I won’t tolerate it in my life, as I have no more room for it. I AM ENOUGH. Please note that me being away from home didn’t make this happen. It started years ago. It was a process I went through and it changed me to the women I am today. You don’t need to worry. I am healthy. I am happy. I am enough.

I’ll leave you with a music video from Hosier done to help raise awareness and break the silence on domestic violence or any sort of abuse. Also, I’ve included below this phrase that I saw today that brought me to tears. It reminded me that I promised I would speak up and speak out. My intention is that this blog post helps and serves those that need it. There is no shame in what happened to me. There is no shame if your going through it. This subject is no longer taboo. Lets talk about it. Lets stop it. Lets go with love and kindness. Lets change the world.

XO-Vanessa

 

 

Travelling throughout Vietnam

While I was in Vietnam I got from destination to destination by bus, airplane, taxi, boats and scooters. On the map below highlighted were the destinations I went. The red is where I took bus/night bus and the purple is where I flew. The routes aren’t accurate as to exactly how I got there I just joined the departure and arriving cities. (Ie. Not the correct flight path or correct bus route). 

There are many  ways to travel about Vietnam. Personally I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way. Many people are weiry of the night bus, but I had good experiences when I took them. (Mui  Ne to Hoi An, and Da Lat to HCMC). Make sure to do your research and do what’s most comfortable for you. I ended up taking a bus from Hanoi to Sapa versus the train because it was on that date cheaper and quicker. I’ve heard a lot of good and bad about the night trains, just as I had about the night buses so I just did what felt right, sent a few prayers to the universe and was just fine. I had no problems with transportation in Vietnam and would happily do it all again. Even going on a scooter in HCMC!

Here’s a bit of information for travelling within Vietnam:

  • Often on buses your required to take your shoes off. Wear shoes that can easily slip off, and for night bus you might be more comfortable if you pack some socks to stay warm. They provide a blanket but it can get cold on bus. You’ll also want some good ear plugs. There’s two levels on the bus, I liked being on top personally. Because I’m short I found the night buses to be comfortable. I could see it being crammed  if your on the taller side as your in a “pod” see picture below. 
  • The first time I took bus was a bit daunting. I  found someone that spoke English to make sure I got on right bus, and that I got off in the right place. Make sure the driver or employee on bus knows your travel plans so you get dropped off at correct hotel, or correct station. I didn’t know that I was assigned a seat, so I just sat anywhere, and was quickly corrected. If your not sure, just ask someone. I was lucky to always find helpful travellers, employees or locals.
  • The bus from Mui Ne to Hoi An was about 16-17 hrs with a one hour stop in NHA Trang. I’m sorry I can’t remember the exact amount of time, however most of the trip is overnight and with some good ear plugs I was able to get some sleep. 
  • The bus from Hanoi to Sapa was about 5-6 hrs (if no traffic stalls) and it has lots of winding roads. If you get motion sickness I recommend some gravol before travel. The scenery is well worth it.
  • The night bus from Da Lat to HCMC saves you about 2 hrs versus going in the day, but the road had a lot of twists and turns and I didn’t sleep at all. It took about 5 hrs, during the day it can take up to 8. You can also fly in between those destinations.
  • My flights were easy and straight forward. I checked one bag (my backpack) and had my carry on as well. They were not delayed and both flights were good experiences with good customer service. I’ve heard a lot of other opinions, but I had very positive experiences both with Jetstar and Vietjet.
  • Most buses have wifi but there is no plug to charge your phone. Charge your devices before you go, pack ear buds or bring a good book!
  • Most of the night buses have a toilet but check when you buy ticket. Normally there is 1-3 stops at bus stations that has a toilet. 
  • If you get picked up from your hotel usually they give you a 1/2 hr window of time. I usually was ready 15 minutes before that. If bus is behind quite a bit, it seems to be normal. Don’t panic, your hotel or hostel can call to double check for you. I waited about an hour in Mui Ne for my bus, and called them. They were late but they didn’t forget me!
  • When going to Sapa and Ha Long Bay I would recommend packing a smaller backpack instead of taking all of your gear. It’s common practice to leave luggage at your hotel in Hanoi and pick it up when you return. In Sapa you’ll likely be trekking with what you take with you if your going to a homestay. In Ha Long Bay it just leaves you more room especially when on tender boat to get you around the harbour. Pack light, most likely your doing a two or three day trip. 
  • Hand sanitizer and tissues will be your best friend while in Vietnam. I was impressed how many western style toilets there were, and most I didn’t have to pay to use. But occasionally there is no tissue offered, and you have to adapt to other cultural ways. It’s just nice to have some familiar options when needed. 
  • There are many great travel tour companies such as VK tours that can help book different excursions, tours etc.  There are also many destinations and things you can do on your own! I did a tour in Sapa and Ha Long Bay. Do some research and have a blast!
  • In travel things are bound to go wrong… You might miss a flight, get sick and stay in one place longer then you intended, or wind up like I did often hopelessly lost. So be lost. Enjoy the moment knowing that your exactly where your meant to be. Get so lost that you find yourself. And then maybe find where your trying to go. Ask for help, but be willing to go with the flow. Because when it comes to travel, plans change, or things go wrong. Don’t take it as a negative. Find the good in every situation. When things go a different way, they often lead you to a great adventure, or a unforgettable night, or to somewhere even better then you could imagine. There is no right way, or perfect plan when it comes to travel. Only your way, whatever that may be.

I went to Vietnam on my own, as a first time solo traveller and I would recommend it to everyone. Solo travel is an adventure that I wish everyone experienced at least once in their life. You learn a lot about yourself, how strong you are and how much you can accomplish. I felt safe and comfortable and had great freedom.  I didn’t plan too much in advance, and even skipped some of the places I had intended to go, as I found others I didn’t want to miss. So many people along the way were there to help me, and  I couldn’t have enjoyed myself anymore. Take chances, enjoy new experiences and most of all be kind. All the best on your travels!!!

    One last night in Saigon 

    I started out my journey in HCMC (commonly still referred to as Saigon), and went via bus, scooter, boat and plane to many destinations North before heading back south to depart again from HCMC.

     After leaving the lovely Da Lat I took a night bus and arrived back in Saigon at about 530 am. Now I’ve talked about how busy this city is before but at 530 am in District 1 where I was staying people were out on streets eating and drinking and having a grand time. It is truly a city that doesn’t sleep.

    sleeper/night bus
       

      I was way to early to check into my hostel, the Hong Kong Kaiteki so I sat down and had some tea and a smoothie while deciding my plan. It was my last full day in Vietnam, I hasn’t slept at all, and at 530 am the heat was already sweltering. I ate some Banh Mi op la from a local street vendor (Vietnamese egg sandwich) and asked the hotel to see if I could get some rest. I didn’t want to go through my last day feeling so exhausted I couldn’t enjoy it. I was able to check in by 630 to my capsule for the night. I found this hotel on http://www.agoda.com/ (like booking. com popular in Asia and other countries). This hotel sells beds for the night like a hostel does, except they’re capsules. I knew I had to check it out. 

    my capsule
     

    After a two hour nap, and the best shower ever (Hong Kong Kaiteki’s showers not only hot, but also has the best overhead shower faucet). Check the hotel out here for more info http://www.kaitekihotel.com

     I was able to start my day by 9am, feeling refreshed I decided to walk to the War Remnants Museum. I’ve been to plenty of museums, temples, purgulas etc while travelling Vietnam. This one brought me to tears. You’ll see in my previous blog post “War and Human Connections” my views and thoughts about the war in Vietnam. Between seeing the outstanding war photography by photographers that died, learning more about the war, agent orange, and the war crimes committed it was hard to grasp that such a beautiful, lush, kind and resilient country went through all of that. Being a photographer myself, I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like. The photos were heartbreaking and showed the true and very bitter nature that was the Vietnam War. This was a war filled with crimes against all people, slaughter and biological warfare (agent orange). 

    War Remnants Museum
      

      
       

      

    Comparisons between wars.

      

    After the museum I wandered about, took in some sightseeing  and enjoyed some food and refreshing cheap cold beer. 

       

      

        

    All day happy hours
        

    Quyen, my friend I met in Ha Long Bay lives in HCMC she and her friend Nam came and picked me up on there scooters to show me around town and have a great dinner. You remember my first post about traffic in HCMC? On that first day in Vietam if you had told me I’d get on a scooter I would have said not a chance. But this trip has been about saying yes to things, and taking in the adventure so hell yeah I got on the scooter with Quyen.😉 (By now I’d been on several just not in HCMC). It was crazy seeing what it was like in traffic from a drivers perspective. What fun we had! They drove around town showing me some sights and then we stopped for an amazing meal of hot pot, frogs legs etc. After dinner we went for ice cream and then it was off to my capsule to bed as my alarm was set for 02:30. Can’t believe that I was heading home after a month of travel. I wasn’t ready, but I was filled with appreciation for all the people I met, and the amazing adventures that I had along the way!  I’ll post soon about the best of Vietnam and some travel guides etc.

    Quyen and I
      

       

      Me on back of scooter down less busy street, safer for a video ☺️

    War and Human Connections

    After a month in Vietnam, and meeting hundreds of wonderful people I have had countless interactions, connections and stories to share. On my last full day I went to the War Remnants museum. I was moved to tears and filled with pain knowing our history as humans, and even now today that the world is still at war. In Vietnam the war isn’t the Vietnam war. It’s commonly referred to as the American War.

    I was moved to tears for a few reasons, and wasn’t sure if I’d share my opinions but I will say this. Have we as humans learned anything? My biggest fear when it comes to war is that we’re not doing better today. Nobody wins in war. Vietnam, America, and the world, they all lost in this war that lasted over 19 years. Crimes that were committed have just come to light in the last 15 years. I have two stories to mention here that stuck with me when we talk about war.

    1. I met two men who fought in the war while I was in Ha Long bay. We had a moving conversation over lunch. One was discharged from the war after a land mine explosion, and the other that served in the army over 20 years. He has come back to Vietnam the last 3 years in hopes of healing, but mostly he’s looking for a few Vietnamese men that fought in the war that were his allies. He hasn’t seen them since the war, has no idea where they live and if they’re still alive. He has been travelling to small remote villages in hopes of reconnecting with these men. He also came back because as he said during the war, they saw what a beautiful country it was. Now they can safely appreciate the beauty. He had tears in his eyes, and gave everyone at the lunch table goosebumps as he told his stories. Both these men lost a lot in the war. Friends, a brother, they saw things that will change a man. It’s moving to see them back in Vietnam with a love for the country, as well as hoping to reconnect with some of the Vietnamese from the war. I would like to think, maybe this trip or the one he has planned to come back next year that he will find who he’s looking for. The universe works in incredible ways. This man still has traumas from the war and he spoke about how he’ll never visit certain areas such as the tunnels in Vietnam, but he also has love and hope in this country. I think he’ll find what he’s seeking.
    2. In Da Lat on the news at every restaurant and bar was the attack on Brussels. I choose to not watch the news. Not because I am naive about what’s happening. I don’t like the glorification of war or of breaking headlines. The news creates fear, and they sell fear. I sat at the bar one evening with a man from Brussels and his friend. He’s now living in Vietnam and has been for several years. He hadn’t slept in days watching what’s going on in in his home on the media. He spoke about his views and how these attacks are happening around the world and it’s causing fear. But when do we learn as humans? He had the same concerns as me. We focused our conversation on the kindness that we’ve seen while travelling, and the people that help you along the way. We talked about how a simple kind gesture from a stranger can renew your faith in humanity. We talked about the beauty in nature, and in likeminded humans. This in my mind is what humans should focus on. The good. The kind. The love that still exists in our world. We hugged as we all parted ways and they thanked me for listening and for still seeing the beauty that exists around us. There are no words to explain how moving these conversations were.

    These two experiences will stay with me. Even in war, there are human connections and stories of love. How do we change and do better? I’d like to think when we talk about war, or terrorism, or any of the major news headlines that we speak about the humans that have made a difference, or the stories of sticking together and being positive. Choosing kindness and love not fear. It might not be possible everyday or in all things. But when we share some light with another human, the world does shine brighter.

    Kindness is contagious. Go forward with it, and you’ll receive it back. People were nervous or afraid of me travelling solo. I wasn’t fearful one bit. Because I chose to believe in the kindness of others. And everyday I was shown it. I had no negative experiences. I was sick at times, but people helped me. I was lost at times. People helped me. One time I was charged extra in a taxi and for a moment felt devastated. And then you know what happened? Someone helped me. I told the guesthouse what had happened, and they made my one night stay free. Solo travel is popular because it teaches love, kindness and tolerance of oneself and others. It restores faith in the goodness of others.

     My whole trip went smoothly and my experiences were unbelievable. Many cannot be put into words.  So I’ll leave it at this. 

    The world is still kind.

    💜💜❤️❤️

    Da Lat ( is where it’s at 😉)

    I flew into Da Lat from Hanoi and knew right away I was going to love it. A quick tip when you arrive the airport is quite far from the city centre so make sure to arrange a shuttle from where your staying, or take the bus. The taxi service is pricy to get you to the city centre.

    Da Lat is in the central highlands and is often referred to as refuge from the humidity and heat in Vietnam. It does still get hot, and there’s no shortage of the sun but by mid afternoon the tempature cools down and it’s a nice break from the sweltering heat of other places in Vietnam. They make  wine in Da Lat as well as coffee beans. So who wouldn’t want to go!

    I arrived before my check in time at the guesthouse, so I walked about until I found Pho Trang. What a lovely experience. The beef is served rare and the broth is full of flavour. They also have all the spices you can add if you want it more on the spicy side. More then the great pho was the great service. The owners sat with me and talked for along time about things to see and do in Da Lat including the best restaurants, and things to do during day and night. It was so nice to talk to Robert and Heo and I ate there everyday for breakfast or lunch that I stayed in Da Lat. Located at 79 Hai Thuong, just up the street from the nice guest house I stayed in called Nguyen Minh.

       

    the amazing Heo
     
    Robert is an accomplished photographer and has lovely photos on the walls there. Be sure to stop by and eat there, and tell them Vanessa from Canada says hello 😊.

    One of the places that was suggested to me was the escape bar. They play live music every night at 9 pm so I decided to go check it out. I was glad I did. The band there was incredible. I spent three evenings with them and became great friends with the band and bar owner. When you go to Da Lat this is a must stop! https://m.facebook.com/TheEscapeBarDalat/?rf=438523539505876

    The bassist Teemu suggested a hike for me the following day up a mountain. So I was off that next morning taking a short bus ride to Lang Biang mountains. It was already hot and I started my 16 km hike at 1030. It was no walk in the park. The elevation gain is no joke and it was truly at times heart over brain to keep continuing.And of course I choose to go to the highest peak. But what an accomplishment when I did get to the top!

    When you go, you need plenty of water and snacks, or pack a lunch and enjoy it once you get to the top. Also allow at least 4-5 hrs for the hike and be aware last bus back to Da Lat is at 17:15. 

    I hiked up the road, until the provincial park where there’s a gate you can’t miss. After paying the enterance fee I met some kind Japanese tourists who were stopped for lunch. They greeted me and gave me some snacks and I was deeply moved by that kind gesture. (I had eaten my snacks and still had 4 km to reach the top before going all the way back down). As I had considered quitting a few times, which I wasn’t going to allow myself, the act of kindness motivated me to keep on going. I hiked through pine forests, into the rainforest and up steep steps to reach the top. It wasn’t the easiest hike I’ve ever done, but the reward of making it to the top was incredible. I was filled with gratitude that I had done it, and that it was recommended to me. It was a clear day, and birds were swooping over, and overlooking the other mountains and down on the city of Da Lat. It was an accomplishment going at it alone. After going all the way back down the mountain I caught the bus back and stopped for a well deserved bowl of Pho. 😉

     

    Made it to highest peak
      
        
       

    The next day after a nice walk around the lake my friend Teemu picked me up in the afternoon and we headed for a coffee. Da Lat grows the coffee beans in Vietnam and they do it well! From there we took his scooter up to Paradise lake. It was the perfect afternoon to take in the gorgeous views and enjoy the peacefulness. I then enjoyed taking in the crazy house. It’s a house that is an architectural masterpeace that can only be described as being built by a brilliant and creative mind. It was interesting to see if you have the time. 

    Crazy House
      

      

    Paradise Lake
     
    That evening I went to the market and bought balut. I think when travelling abroad you have to be brave and adventurous enough to try some of the “delicacies” Teemu said earlier in day he hadn’t tried it yet so I figured best to do with another person then alone. Can’t say he was thrilled but… Don’t tell a Canadian girl your up for the challenge! He was a great sport about it and although I’m glad I tried something new I can speak for both of us that we won’t feel the need to do that again! 

     

    before attempting Balut
     
    My last day in Da Lat I walked to the Cam Ly waterfall and then to the golden Buddha statue. Both were beautiful. The Buddha was breathtaking and there was a lot to see there, many temples and Buddha statues.
     
    Cam Ly waterfall
      

     
        

     That evening was my last in Da Lat so I went back to the escape bar and even got the nerve to sing a few songs with the band! I’ve been trying to say yes to as many opportunities that come up during my travels, so I allowed myself to say yes to this too. I sang 4 songs with the band and enjoyed every minute. It was the perfect send off before heading out on the night bus back to HCMC (Saigon).

       

    me with the band 😎
      

    Da Lat you were so good to me and I enjoyed every moment. The people in Da Lat were friendly and helpful, and made it such a great experience. I’ll be back one day, you can count on that.

    Let’s just talk about the food 😉

    The food in Vietnam has been epic so far. So let’s just look at some pictures. I hope your not hungry!!

    Depending on the region in Vietnam, the food has different flavours or different dishes. So for example the Pho in the south tastes very different then the Pho in the north. Also some dishes can only be found in certain cities such as Cao Lau is only found in Hoi An.

    So enjoy some food photos and be inspired to go travel and enjoy some of the Vietnamese cuisine.

    seafood hot pot, frogs legs and good company
    Overcooked rice. you rip it apart like bread! It was great!
    close up of hot pot and frogs legs
    pork wonton with yellow noodles
    fried rice
    coconut icecream. so sad only had this on last night! it has ice cream,coconut, sticky rice, and even corn. was so great!
    well… I had to try at least one “delicacy”. my friend and I indulged it Balut. And when I say indulged I mean attempted it. Its certainly not for everyone. … It wasnt for us!!
    The Pho is different in every region. Personally I think the North (Hanoi) and Central (Da Lat) do it best. I had Pho everyday in Da Lat at Pho Trang. It’s a must
    Oh the coffee in Vietnam! ❤️
    I rarely enjoyed anything except Vietnamese food. Except for 1 pizza, and one Mexican meal. This pizza in Da Lat was fabulous, from Primavera
    tofu, beef, chicken, pork etc etc. What a great spread!
    steamed fish
    spring rolls, bean sprouts, veggies, chicken and so much more
    spring rolls, cabbage, chicken and more
    the Sangria with watermelon and passion fruit was unreal!

    bbq’d oysters. So good!
     
    When someone offers you to try this. you do! great fried noodle with shrimp and pork
      

    rose dumplings
    cao lau

     

    always say yes to the coconut dounut
      
    one of my favorite dishes. Banh Xeo, also papaya salad. delicious! One of my best meals at the waterwheel in Hoi An.
     
      
       
        
       

    Hello Hanoi

    Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and I believe the population is close to 9 million people. It’s a very busy city but there’s a lot of history and beauty throughout it.

       
     I arrived to Hanoi from Sapa in the evening and was quiet sick. Luckily by the morning I was doing better and was able to view the city. I had previously stopped in Hanoi overnight before going to Ha Long Bay but was such a short visit I didn’t  get to see much. I stayed at the Hanoisy Hostel which was surprisingly quiet for being in the backpacking district. Being sick is never fun but there were two lovely girls staying there that got me some medication and checked on me a few times. Was a huge help.

    I went to the Hoa Lo prison, also known as the “Hanoi Hilton” that imprisoned Vietnamese political prisoners before the war and US pilots during the war. It was a sobering view of history. I’ll get into the Vietnam/American war talk in a future post.
     

    Hoa Lo prison
      

     I also visited the temple of literature which is a tranquil getaway from the noise in the city as well as an important part of Hanoi’s history, as it was the first national university in Vietnam. I got to witness a bunch of graduates taking there class pictures there.

       

    Temple of Literature
       

     

    I was pleasantly surprised by how clean this city was considering how densley populated it is. There’s lots to see and do in Hanoi especially when it comes to the history of Vietnam.   

    In the evening I met up with Nguyen of VK Tour Co, Ltd. We connected through Instagram as he has stunning photos of Vietnam posted. He used to be a tour guide, and branched out to start his own company. If you need help booking a trip to Vietnam, or booking tours I would highly recommend you contact him. http://www.vktour.com/

    He was able to help book my flight the following morning to Da Lat. It was a pleasure to meet him. 

    We ate some of the best pho I had on my trip at Pho Cuong. Hanoi is famous for their pho. I wasn’t disappointed !

     

    Nguyen and I
     
     
    my ride to Da Lat
     
    Hanoi wasn’t big on my list of places to spend much time in, but I’m glad I spent the two nights and one day. There was lots to see and I’ll have to make it back one day to explore some more.

    Sapa 

    After Ha long Bay I was on my way further north to the mountain town Sapa. When you see pictures of Vietnam, Sapa always stands out with beautiful tiered rice fields, and lush greenery. I couldn’t miss seeing it.  I packed some warmer clothes, jumped in the bus and away I went!

    Highway to Sapa

     I set up a 2 night 3 day tour including home stays and trekking through APT travel. When I arrived I enjoyed a lovely lunch and then it was time to explore Sapa. 

      
      

    The best way to see Sapa? On foot.  And with a guide who knows the route. When you set up your trip to visit Sapa you’ll likely be doing some trekking. Make sure you have good footwear. Runners or hiking boots are a must, as your days will be spent trekking an average of 15 km. You’ll also want to dress appropriately. I had met a few girls when I was travelling in the Mekong Delta and they were very cold while up in Sapa, they bought jackets and blankets etc while they were out there. When I arrived about 10 days after they were in Sapa it was hot and sunny. Being in the Mountains up north the weather can fluctuate, especially between January and March, they’ve even had snow a few times.

    Our first trek was to the first homestay I would be staying at. It was 15 km and we went through many different villages and walked and talked with some of the locals.  The trek went through rice fields, villages, streams etc. Was a hot day so there were a few breaks to stay hydrated. 

    A homestay is  chance to rent a room with a local and experience life in their village. Often they’ll have several beds available to accommodate a few people at once. I find it to be a humbling and wonderful way to travel as you’ll be living in their village and seeing the day to day life of people that live in different parts of Vietnam. Usually they’ll let you cook with them or show you a more authentic version of life where you are travelling. I highly recommend it. When I get back to Vietnam I’ll extend my time in certain places so I can stay in one place longer with a family.   It’s been my preferred method of lodging while abroad Vietnam and I’ve been lucky to stay in some wonderful ones.

       
       

    One of the many tribes in Vietnam, the black h’mong

     Once arriving I was greeted by the hosts of the homestay. They welcomed us and prepared a snack of homemade garlic French fries. I met some of the others staying at the same place, and we were entertained by the young daughters laughing and playing. We helped make spring rolls as part of the dinner and the hosts put on quite a meal for us. Was a great evening with kind and gracious hosts.

        
    The next morning before breakfast I was up early enough I walked to a waterfall that was nearby and climbed up to see it. There’s giant rocks surrounding it so I was able to sit right on it. It was a lovely and calm morning and I could relax and take in the moment.

       
          

    After a nice breakfast one of the girls I met the previous night, Jeanette and I met our local guide who would be trekking with the two of us 17 km to the next homestay  called Hong located in the village Ban Ho which is a mostly Thai speaking village. We trekked through bamboo forests, rice fields, villages, and down the mountain taking many breaks for pictures. Sapa is breathtaking and the views are stunning. Shom, my guide was wonderful and we all had a great day travelling through Sapas rugged terrain.

       

    Children in Sapa. Be sure to bring some pens when you visit as they need for school

      

       

     

    We arrived mid afternoon at the 2nd homestay. It was wonderful. The  hosts were so kind, the place was perfect and even though we didn’t speak their language they were hilarious and great company.

      We walked down to the waterfall an then enjoyed a great dinner with another couple from Paris. After dinner we played a card game and whenever someone lost they had to dance. It was a memorable night. It’s a beautiful thing when a group gets together not knowing one another, speaking different languages, from different places but everyone is laughing and enjoying their evening.

       

    Such a fun night!
      

     

    Jeanette and I
      
    Shom and I
      
       
    grinding root vegatables for pig food
     
     Sapa you were beautiful and I promise I’ll be visiting you again one day.