Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Goooood Mornnnning Vietnam!

We awoke this morning excited to get out and explore the city. We had our map and a travel book and a plan to go enjoy a coffee and breakfast as we set out. The streets of Ho Chi Minh City were alive with motorbikes and cars honking and swerving down the streets. We had to figure out how to cross the street. It was a constant flow of traffic. There were no street lights. We were told to just walk. The cars and motorbikes will slow down. Trying to cross the street in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is like playing Frogger. You take a step or two into the street and then work your way across and pray not to get hit. Fara kept saying "Mik, just walk. Just go! Go! Go! Go!" Ok. I shut my eyes and went. I survived the first few corners and it slowly gets easier or we just got more courageous. I looked at her and said "you will not get me on a motorbike in this city. It is too dangerous." Yep. I said it and 15 minutes later I found myself putting on a helmet and jumping on the back of a motorbike... in a dress!  For some crazy reason I wanted to see the city by bike and talked Fara into going along with my crazy idea. I think it was the cute bunny helmet she got to wear that closed the deal. We were off to see Saigon on the back of motorbikes with our new Vietnamese friends Day and Tin!
Saigon River
At first, it was a little scary. Cars and motorbikes swerving from every direction. I just held on tight and enjoyed the cool breeze. Fara was calmly sitting on the back of Tin's bike with her hands on his shoulders. Not me! I clenched my arms around Day and held on tight! Our first stop was a traditional Vietnamese breakfast in Saigon. The food was delicious.
Fara's breakfast of mein noodles with seafood
Then it was time to put on the helmet and crawl back onto the bike and see the Saigon River.

Fara and Day- Fara, where's your face mask?

Day is a great worries!
Dragon boat on the Saigon River
Next stop was the War Memorial Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral, Post Office, City Hall, Opera House and Chinatown.

We asked Day why the city was now called Ho Chi Minh City but everything and everyone still referred to it as Saigon. He said "Saigon will always be Saigon. Everyone still calls it Saigon except the government." So, we decided to follow his advise and call it Saigon. By the end of the day, we were hot and tired. We decided to stop at the fruit smoothie stand and get fresh smoothies. As we enjoyed the deliciousness, I asked Fara "Were these made with ice?" She looked at me and said "I don't know." So, now the real question....will we get sick? Hmmm...guess that is a waiting game.

Ready...Set... Go!

Marina Casino
I set off on this adventure with my best friend, Fara, by my side. I am so excited that she was able to come and kick off the first 2 weeks of this amazing adventure. We met up in Los Angeles and survived an 11 hour flight to Tokyo . When we arrived in Tokyo, we decided to walk and stretch our tired, numb bums. We were about 20 gates away when we heard an announcement that sounded like "Fara Wash and Michelle Heiter please report to gate 46 immediately." We looked at each other. No! The plane is leaving and we will miss our flight. We took off running for the gate. Yes, a full out sprint through the airport just like the Amazing Race. We ran and ran. Finally, we reached the gate and went to the desk. We handed the woman our tickets and passports. She looked at us and said "How may I help you?" We explained she had just called our names and we thought we were late for our flight. "No, I called Ms. Wong and Michelle Fadu Hater." Huh. Well, at least we got our blood pumping and a little exercise before the 7 hour flight to Singapore! We sat and laughed how we could never do the Amazing Race because the sprint through the airport about killed us!

We both decided to take some sleeping medications before the next flight. We had to be rested for the 14 hours in Singapore. We slept a little and were ready to hit the city at 3:30 AM. We had asked several people if there was a good location to watch the sunrise. Everyone said "No." Oh well. We waited for the metro station to open at 6AM and went off to explore the city.  It was clean and very westernized. Simple and easy to get around. We arrived at the city center and started walking and exploring the area. It was dark until 7:30 and there was no real sunrise. It just got lighter and then the sun came out. Guess that was why everyone said not to bother trying to see a sunrise.  We checked out the Marina Casino, St Andrew's Cathedral, the park and harbor front. Then we were off to Chinatown for a food tour.
We had a great walking tour of the Chinatown complex where the guide explained the Chinese influence and the history of the street hawkers in Singapore. He showed us the daily fruit and vegetable market and the wet market. We should have realized that we wanted to skip the wet market when he asked if any of us were animal rights activists and explained that there were live animals in the wet market. I am not sure if it was the lack of sleep our just stupidity that we did not put it together. As we watched the fish mongers clean and prepare the fish, one of the men slipped his hand in and grabbed a frog. He banged it on a stool to kill it. "AHHH!" Fara screamed and looked at me. "That man just beat a frog to death!" Yes, and the guy behind me was beating a fish with a baseball bat. Yes, I would be a 100% vegetarian if I had to butcher an animal myself. It was definitely brutal and we were ready to move on.
     One of these poor little guys didn't survive our visit.
 Next stop was breakfast. We waited. Praying it was not frog. Luckily it was coffee and tea with butterfly pastry, Singapore donut stick and rice cakes with roasted vegetables. But, the best was saved for last. We ended the tour with shaved ice. Everyone wanted mango shaved ice but our tour guide insisted on also getting a toasted sesame and red bean shaved ice also. Both were delicious and a nice break from the heat of the day.
Yummy shaved ice! Mango (left) and Toasted Sesame with Red Beans (right).

Afterwards, we jumped on the metro back to Singapore airport and waited for our flight to Ho Chi Minh City. I was exhausted and needed to get a good stretch. So, I found an open space in the airport and did some yoga. Yes, I looked silly but it felt good and my body loved it! Then, back on a plane for a 2 hour flight to Vietnam. We both collapsed in our seats and slept the entire flight. Yippee! Only minutes away from exploring Ho Chi Minh City! Wrong! We got stuck in Visa on arrivals. We followed all the rules. Turned in our paperwork and waited for our passports to be stamped with the visa. Mine arrived in 15 minutes and then everything came to a halt. Two additional planes arrived and people swarmed the window. We waited and waited for 2 hours before Fara got her visa. We laughed as we realized that my Visa cost $65 and Fara's cost $95. She was too tired to argue at this point. Then, we had another 30 minute wait in passport control. This was killing us! We were tired and exhausted from traveling. We just wanted to get to a hotel and sleep....flat in a bed! By the time we got through passport control, we had to go on a hunt for our bags. We finally found them sitting between customs and the lost and found window. Yippeee! We eventually made it through customs and then had to find our hotel driver. No such luck. He had left so, we grabbed a taxi to the hotel. The traffic was crazy in Ho Chi Minh City. Motorcycles and cars honking and driving. We noticed immediately there were few traffic lights. I was very nervous we were going to hit a motorcycle and send a Vietnamese family flying through the air. Luckily, we arrived safely. When we finally arrived at our hotel, we were told "Just walk down that alley and it will be on your right." Ok. We did it and were happy to find a nice clean room with air conditioning waiting for us! Not bad for $10/night. We were excited we arrived but exhausted from 2 days of travel. A good nights sleep and we will be ready to explore Ho Chi Minh City in the morning.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The World Is Calling

It is official! I am taking a career break and traveling the world for a year!!  Many of you have asked how did this happen? How are you financing the trip? What about your job? was all very simple and I was quite fortunate. No, I did not win the lottery or inherit a fortune from a rich relative. It was much simpler. In November, I was informed the company had conducted global alignment of all positions. My job was downgraded. I was offered to stay in my position with no growth opportunities or to take a severance package. I could not believe what I heard.  They were handing me my dream on a silver platter!!  I was shocked. I was planning the trip before they had the offer on the table. There was never a question of what I wanted to do. Only what I should do. I wanted to follow my heart but my head was going through all the "what if's." I was shocked as I confided in friends and family and they immediately asked "Where are you going first?"  I had one month to make a decision. Obviously, I decided to follow my heart, take the severance package and plan the trip of a lifetime.
I realize a solo around the world trip does not make sense to many people. I am walking away from a successful career in a slow economy.  It may not seem logical, safe or normal.  Some of you will find this to be reckless, selfish and dangerous.  It is gutsy.  But what is a woman to do when a blessing is handed to her on a silver platter? This is my dream. It is time for a change. I am shifting my perspective and opening myself up to new possibilities. I am open to new cultures, the way I think, where my life is headed and how I spend my time. I am ready to experience all life has to offer, learn new languages, explore and develop new talents and breathe in life. I have decided to let life happen. I am hungry for this change. It know it will be hard. I will have lonely days.  Things will go wrong.   I will get lost.  Believe me, the fear is real. It is a rock in the pit of my stomach sometimes. But, the fear does not last long. It is replaced by joy. I have never been happier. I am at peace with my decision. No second thoughts. I know the success of this journey depends on me.  If I am not having fun, it is me. Nobody else. I will adapt and change.  I am putting trust in my abilities and the kindness of strangers. I have faith it will be an amazing adventure! I refuse to allow fear and responsibilities to get in the way of my dreams.  I am letting go of all the things I am supposed to do and living my life to the fullest.  I know that no matter where I go, each of you are with me. You are always with me. My family and friends give me love, support and confidence to explore and enjoy the freedom of  travel.  Thank you for sharing this journey with me.  Hugs and love to you all!