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. 

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 ☺️

    Dreams are made to come true

    Years ago I wanted to travel to Vietnam. Due to responsibilities and finances getting in the way I didn’t go. Time past by and the opportunity came back and I wasn’t saying no. On March 17th that dream of seeing Ha long Bay came true.

    There are days that I’m out here in Vietnam that I’m so grateful I’m brought to tears. This was one of those days. The bus picked me up from the Hanoisy Hostel I was staying at in the early morning. As we drove away from Hanoi and towards Ha Long bay silent tears rolled down my cheeks because I was going to see this incredible world heritage site. My desire for travel has always been strong, and I’ve often dreamt of places I’ve never seen before. And here I am. On my way. In VIETNAM! It’s been over two weeks of travelling through this gorgeous country and I still wake up every morning in a disbelief that I’m finally here. And I’m loving travelling on my own. There’s something powerful and inspiring about solo travelling.

    As the bus arrived at the harbour and we boarded the tender boat to get to my ship (Viet Beauty) I was nearly dancing with excitement.   

        
     
    After a welcome drink on board we headed out into Ha Long Bay. It was a misty foggy morning, something out of a Stephen King novel. But that only made the bay more mystical and mysterious. What a sight to see, junk boats on the water and mysterious limestone islands standing tall. I felt like I had arrived in Neverland!    

      
     After an incredible lunch with the others aboard our boat we soon were off to go kayaking.

    What can I say, I’ve crossed that off my bucket list. Myself and my new friend I called “Germany” jumped into our Kayak and off we went!  

    After exploring for a few minutes on our own we followed the rest of the tour to an underwater cave we could paddle through. 

       
      

    “Germany & Canada”
      
      

      
    Unbelievable! That’s how this day was. Between green beautiful water, and the occasional jellyfish was this incredible scenery leaving me completely in awe.

    After kayaking we had some free time on the beach. “Germany” and I were the perfect mix of just crazy enough to go swimming in the cold water. Here I am in Ha Long bay! There is no way I wasn’t getting in the water!!! It was Cold. There’s no denying it. But with a beachful of people we were the only ones to get in. We changed that and convinced a young couple to join us so we all went in. For me it was just as cold the second time in. But I can say that I’ve swam in Ha Long bay. And that’s pretty amazing.

     

    just before convincing these two to go for a swim!
     
    After a nice hot shower in my room and a snack we sat down for a great dinner. The food onboard was incredible. BBQ chicken, oysters, fish, and pork as well as vegetables, noodles, steamed rice etc.  

    learning to make spring rolls before dinner
       

    Our evening concluded with some drinks and Karaoke. What can I say. We all had a blast. Everyone was up signing and dancing and enjoying the moment.

      
    The next morning we explored the biggest cave in Ha Long bay. It was a sight to see! Three different chambers. Felt like you could walk for hours in there. Then it was off to an oyster farm to see how they farm pearls. 

    Since I was doing a two night tour I switched to a boat that was going to cat ba island. Had another amazing lunch, went digging for clams on monkey island  and then arrived at the island. It was another misty day but that wasn’t going to stop from a 5 km bike ride. The group biked uphill and downhill to where I was staying for the night. You can either stay in a hotel in cat ba harbour or do what I did and enjoy a private quaint bungalow for the night. I’m so glad I did that. I needed a night away to relax and it was a beautiful spot to stay in a national park. I highly recommend doing the 3 day 2 night cruise if you decide to go to Ha Long bay. It makes the stay even more worthwhile as its not rushed, and you get to see and do more things. I heard the hotel was gorgeous and people quite enjoyed that option, but I had such a great time at the bungalow. It gave me time to write in my journal as well as wander around the national park.  I had a wonderful dinner of rice, steamed fish, chicken, vegetables etc.

      
     

    my perfect bungalow at Whisper Nature
      


      

    The next morning I rode my bike back to the harbour where I was picked up by my boat. We enjoyed the view and scenery as well headed back to Ha Long Bay’s harbour. 

    my view while biking to harbor
       
    I would highly recommend doing a tour of Ha Long Bay
    I went through APT travel and they were well organized, had a beautiful boat and incredibly friendly. There are so many options to book a cruise. You can book in advance or right in Hanoi.  I booked while I was still in Hoi An. The tour picked me up from the airport on arrival, took me to hotel for the night and were there in the morning to start our bus ride to Ha Long Bay! They were very helpful. http://apttravel.com/ With so many varied price points it’s affordable for every budget so do your research and find what works for you. I do believe from things I’ve heard you might not want to do the very cheapest option, but most boats offer similar options and a great tour. It’s worth looking into and I hope you all enjoy Ha long Bay as much as I did!

    Don’t be afraid to dance, sing and have fun with people you haven’t met before. They might just become a great friend ☺️. And even more life lessons: Follow your dreams and your passions. Don’t let fear stand in your way. We were meant for incredible things.

    Xo- Vanessa   

    Marble Mountains by motorbike 

    My friend Oanh knew that I had to get to Danang airport and could arrange a taxi or bus to get me there. Or she said I can hire a motorbike and he’ll take me and my luggage and drop me off at Marble Mountains for a few hours, and from there go to airport. The night before I wrote in my journal to be fearless and try new things. Yes I’ve been on the back of a bike before, even here in Vietnam but this was about a 40-50 minute trip on the highway. I was ready and excited for the adventure. 

    It was another gorgeous hot day in Hoi An when we left on the bike and I enjoyed the ride so much. The fresh air felt amazing.

    I arrived at Marble Mountains and started climbing step by step. (You can take an elevator up if you have mobility issues but I wanted to take in the full experience).  The steps are uneven and at times challenging but the sights were well worth it.

       
        
      Marble Mountains is a collection of 5 mountains just outside of Danang.  It is also called the element mountains. The five mountains are named after the five elements; Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire) and Tho (earth). There are many statues, temples, caves and purgulas along the way. There are different steps and different paths you can take but I chose to go all the way to the top. It felt like a great accomplishment!

     Me at the top of the mountain.  
             
     
       It was sweltering hot and I underestimated just how high up I was going. I was prepared with good footwear but I hadn’t eaten lunch before I left and it didn’t take long for me to feel depleted. If you go to Marble Mountains my advice is to have lots of water, good supportive shoes and make sure you’ve eaten a proper meal. I had a snack halfway through walking about and felt much better. I was very thankful for my keens while on this mountain. They are the perfect supportive sandals for travelling with. Mine are the rose sandals and the toe protector has been  a lifesaver on the uneven sidewalks and stairs in Vietnam! Plus they’re pretty cute ☺️ http://m.keenfootwear.com/en-ca/product/shoes/women/rose-sandal   

       

     
      

    Was a great way to spend the day before taking my flight to Hanoi. Another wonderful day in a beautiful and kind country. I’m thankful to be travelling like this!

    For more pictures of my travels be sure to check out my Instagram learningtofly.live is my username 💜 
             

    Unforgettable nights 

    I spent a total of 3 nights in Hoi An. I could have stayed for weeks biking around, exploring, laying on the beach, and of course eating.  Hoi An is known for its culinary excellence and there’s no end to the cooking classes offered.

    Hoi An is a world heritage site recognized by UNESCO. It’s a city full of flavour and romance. I posted about it once but I have to continue as so many wonderful things happened. 

    I stayed my last two nights in Hoi An at the Lilac Villa. It is a wonderful place with a big hearts. I became good friends with Oanh who works there. She was so helpful, kind and always had a bright smile on her face. If you want to feel right at home, and a part of the family you should stay here. Plus they also have a pool and a nice big shower! 

     Oanh and I  

        
        

    The Lilac Villa    

      
      

    My second night I wandered again around the night market and somehow got hopelessly lost on way back to my villa. One thing that’s given me some insight these last few days is you can walk or bike  up and down the same streets everyday but once you cross the street you see a completely different view. A new perspective. I like that. Sometimes taking a step back and seeing a different perspective is exactly what we need. However, it seems to be a contributing factor in me losing my way to my villa. The thing is I’ve enjoyed so much losing my way that I don’t try to change it! However this time was late at night, and the back alleys cast giant shadows and my mind started playing tricks on me. Using the app maps.me helped me find my way back. It’s a free app that’s awesome for traveling. You can find information about it at this link maps.me I was very happy to find my bed that evening. ☺️

     My friend Steph that I met through trip advisor arrived in Hoi An on my 3rd day.  Her and I met at the very beginning of my trip in HCMC so I was thrilled to see her again. The world brings people together that are like minded at the right time. As wonderful as solo travelling is, it was the perfect night to have a friend. She is a kindred spirit and beautiful soul.

    After I enjoyed some time at the beach I met up with her. We wandered through ancient town, bought some artwork, took in the sights and enjoyed each others company as well as a few refreshing drinks. I got to be her culinary guide enjoying the street food. Chicken fried rice, soup, Cao Lau, Banh Mi (Vietnamese sub) just to name a few things! We had a blast together and some very memorable conversations. Steph I’d be happy to travel again soon with you !

     Local artist. He let us try our hand at painting. Lol lets just say he’s the expert.  Quote in one of our restaurants we stopped at. 
    Choosing some art to bring home. 

      

    Steph and I.
        
      Night market 
    Enjoying the night market and a visit with Mr Thanh at booth 34. He insisted we try his dinner. It was delicious 😝  
       

    I spent the rest of evening dancing with friends and wandering the streets and meeting some of the people living in Hoi An! Vietnam stays up late and it was nice to visit and take in the nightlife. The bar was packed but I met some fellow Canadians and some lovely girls from France. We danced til late in the night and then walked back to hotels. Along the way we even enjoyed some “happy water” shots with some locals.

    The next morning I booked my trip to Halong bay and Sapa. It has been a longtime dream of mine to go to Halong bay. No words can explain how grateful I am that this trip is actually happening !!! 

     I then went to the beach knowing that Northern Vietnam is a bit chilly and I’ll miss the ocean and sun. After I enjoyed the beach for awhile, it was back to villa to pack up, say goodbye for now to my wonderful host Oanh, and start my next adventure!!!

       
     
      Did I mention it includes a motorbike and climbing countless steps up a mountain before a plane ride to Hanoi? Life is good! And it’s a grand adventure 😎
    Hoi An you have a piece of my Heart. I’ll make sure to visit again soon ❤️