When we first decided to take an international honeymoon, I had no idea that we would be gone this long. Okay, well maybe that’s a little bit of a lie. I had hoped we might be gone this long, but had not really planned on it. All of the research I was doing pre-honeymoon was on round the world (RTW) trips, packing lists, and selling off all of our belongings. The theory being, if you do not have monetary obligations at “home”, then you could live on substantially less money abroad. We did not prepare for that kind of trip, but are finding ourselves 50 days away from home.
We have stayed in 11 different cities in 4 countries, and I could not be happier. I have never been away from home this long. The closest to this was when I did a study abroad program in Guadalajara, Mexico for six weeks. I loved exploring new places each weekend, and looking back, it probably instilled a travel bug deep within. Currently I’m sitting in a hotel room in Duong Dong, Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam. It rained a lot today, which has been much of our trip thus far. On rainy days, we often find ourselves lying in bed, reading, watching old and/or bad movies on HBO, catching up on social media, and just relaxing. We have even ordered food in! But many days, we venture out in the downpour, ready for our next adventure.
What have I learned from this first 50 days?
- That I’m incredibly lucky to have such an amazing woman to call my wife. Who else would be crazy enough to go on this long of an adventure with me? She has taken care of me when I haven’t been feeling well, carried my pack, and let me have the third pillow. That’s love.
- I miss cooking. Kiki and I had a pretty significant diet change upon crossing the Pacific. We previously ate and cooked a lot of unprocessed, fresh foods, and did not eat many grains. When in a foreign country, with a much higher risk of foodborne illness, almost everything has to be cooked or processed to some degree. Also, meat is a more of a side item, rather than the main meal. So our eating has been a lot of rice, noodles, soups, bad pizza, burgers, sandwiches….a lot of what we really haven’t been eating in the last two years. I missed some of the foods, but what I’m not really enjoying is the carb hangover, bloating, or the decreased energy. Oh well, there are worse things.
- There is a lack of what most Americans would view as “common sense” in Asia. At least, that is what I’ve experienced. It comes into play with a lot of things: getting a visa, business hours, and DRIVING. Oh, someone wrote about getting a Vietnamese visa in Laos in five minutes? We had to come back the next day. Oh, you’re supposed to open at 9am, that’s nice, maybe it’s just a suggested opening time? Oh, you want to turn left from the right lane without a blinker, sure, go ahead. I’m glad I don’t have to drive here, but being a pedestrian is also quite risky because you have to look both ways more than once as you’re crossing the street.
- What the menu says is not quite what you’ll get. The other night there was a picture of beef stir-fry with a small side of fries. The menu item read: “beef stir-fry with fries”. Seems simple enough, point at the picture, order, wait. My dinner arrives with fries stir-fried right into the sauce…brown soggy fries. So even if there’s a picture and you point to it, it still might not come out that way. Another time I ordered a crab and asparagus soup, complete with a picture of a green soup. What I received: an egg drop type soup with shrimp and mushrooms. My U.S. personality would have called the server right back, asked to talk to a manager, and had the situation remedied as soon as possible. When in a foreign country the thought process goes more or less, can I eat this? Am I allergic? No, well then eat it. But this night, I really wanted this green soup. So I called the server over, explained the situation, and he told me, “It’s all mixed in there.” Um, NO it’s not, but at this point, I knew I had lost the battle. There is a lot of cultural pressure to “save face”, so it’s best not to argue too much to avoid making someone look bad. Kiki didn’t get what she ordered either.
- Foreign standards of cleanliness (in restaurants) are not near to what I’m used to. The hotels have been clean, and re-cleaned every day, but the eating establishments are a different story. If you go to a place with an English sign, and English menu, then you probably won’t run into this. But, wanting to try the local cuisine, and eat where the locals eat can be challenging. For example, if you’ve ever had pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup, you will know it comes with a side of bean sprouts, basil, chilis, and a bunch of other greens. In Vietnam, the side items that you don’t use, will be regrouped and served again. They are a waste-not society, which I admire, but I also know I just ate off my chopsticks and am sticking them into the piles of herbs, and am sure someone else did too.
- People are accommodating. When going into a Vietnamese “restaurant” (more like street kitchen), there might not even be a picture of the food items served. No amount of miming would convey said food, but we sit down anyway, and food is prepared for us. This happened our first night in Hanoi, and we received a delicious plate of noodles with beef (bo being the only Vietnamese food word K remembered.)
While this list is not necessarily exhaustive of all of the things I have learned, they are what strike me at this moment as being noteworthy. I am happy that I have a supportive travel partner, and that we are able to enjoy this journey together. Here’s to the next 50 days!