Back to Ho Chi Minh City – reflections and thoughts

My last day was a transit type of day. I had some breakfast along with a few other Austrlian expats at the same place as yesterday and then relaxed for a bit in the room. I had to check out at noon so had them call a cab for me and went to the Ferry dock and had some Vietnamese coffee there and waited.

The ride back was a little over 2 hours and it was smoother than the ride going so no evident signs of sea sickness. I have to admit to feeling happy to get back to Ho Chi Minh City. I thought a lot about the expatriate population and how just about everyone down my street and in all the hotels were expatriates. It was hard to find local cuisine since all the places seemed to cater to the expats. I think the location I was in is one of the community centers.

Now that I’m back, I have less than 2 weeks left here and some things to do. I’ll be heading back out tomorrow to walk the city and take photographs. I may walk down to the Saigon riverwalk area and go the opposite way and see what I can see.

I also set a few dates for things so I don’t miss them as the time ticks down. I must get to Chinatown this next week and I think that will be a full day. I also must get over to the museum of history which is a good walk from here. Both of those are day long events since the Chinatown area is huge and I will want to see all I can by walking. The museum has an area beyond it I want to see so I will go exploring there as well.

As I traveled back, I was thinking quite a bit about solo wandering. I guess because seeing all the expats in Vung Tau made me realize there are so many ways of doing things. People see the world and turn on all different realities. There are those on the limited tour type trips. The longer stay people. The RTW people. The gap year or reset people. I’ve been reading a few blogs of the different types. Its healthy I think to question the steps I take and what I expect out of them. I could just leave Vietnam and then take another year long tourist visa and come back and live for up to a year and leave on visa runs every 90 days. I’m sure a lot of people do that. But there is nothing compelling for me in that. I would just settle down in a place and hang up the wandering shoes. I believe in what I’m doing and the pace at which I’m doing it. I have this basic plan of things and places. Some random but I have to say there are things that are not. I have specific dates for things. I have to leave Vietnam by 16 September. My visa runs out then. I will want to go by then. Cambodia calls for a year. I know without ever being there I want a lot of time in Cambodia. I want it to be a home base for me to support other travels into next year. It has the basic stuff I need and prices are reasonable.

So I pretty much knew I could never be an expatriate and find a place to settle in and call it home. I have to wander the roads and walk them and take pictures and prove out my lifestyle. I waited too long for all this to simply take one of the lifestyles and call it quits. I cannot see a year from now but I do know that I will be still moving slowly but through Cambodia or perhaps in Laos or Thailand or even flying on to India.

So all this reflecting stuff kept me busy on the 2 hour catamaran ride. I realized that solo travel is not for everyone. Its okay to have doubts and question things. I have realized though that there is nothing for me in the states either. No home, car, job, people that really care if I am there or not. Children grown, friends moving to their beats of life. I don’t want work any more. That tank is empty. So I know that this kind of travel is the best for me. The slow movements of months or so in each place. I get to get a sense about the life in a place. Walk the city streets, sit by the beach, drink a coffee or beer. But I know at some discrete moment out there I will leave. That’s okay too.

If you travel and you wonder what its like to go with no end in sight; its a heady thing. Being in Asia is a wonderful thing. Having time to walk and take photographs and see the things leaves me open to question critically the paths. Like today I knew that I would not settle down in some place and heed the siren call. My call is down the street, around the corner. On that bus going to Da Lat for months. If you are on the road, I wish you happiness and sadness. Success and failure. Wonder and disappointment. Most of all don’t lose the questioning. You need polar opposites I think to know the value of the thing you are doing. Its okay to question and have doubts. I do.

The Hobo’s Realization – Travel is not the means or the end

Its been four months since I retired and have left the states. All told I’ve been to Japan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. In Japan, I visited Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Osaka and was fortunate to ride the Shinkansen Nozomi Line since I had pre-bought the tickets prior to leaving. In Hong Kong, I only had about three days to wander around. Then there’s Vietnam. Way back when I decided to spend six months in Vietnam. I wanted to start out in Hanoi and then travel south on the train but also do shorter trips here and there combined with my walking and photography hobby. I spent three months give or take a day in Hanoi and also did a few day tours and then longer trips to Halong Bay, Hue, and Hoi An. Each place has something that I will remember. In Halong Bay it was the first day’s sunset and sharing a beer with the tour manager as we watched the sun go down.

In Hue, it had to be the history and wonder of the palace and the day tour I did to see the three tombs I got to see. I also found some really good local food plus had one of the best Indian dinners and a burger there.

In Hoi An, it was walking in the evenings in the city with the lantern and lights going full force. It was nice not having a lot of scooters zooming around but in retrospect I could have done something else and been satisfied. I liked Hoi An but I was not after getting a suit or clothing and that’s really what its about there.

Finally Ho Chi Minh City. Initially I decided to spend three months here but then changed and decided to go to Da Lat which is in the central highlands and have cooler temperatures and spend my last few months in Vietnam there. I redid my travel plans a few times to what I wanted. Cancelled airline tickets, found a hotel in Da Lat to stay in longer term and then started doing the shorter trips out of Da Lat again.

I was thinking back on how things have gone because a friend asked me how I could possibly be gone forever. There is a certain mindset to traveling solo in the way I am doing it which is completely different than the usual tourist or RTW or digital nomad or gapyear person. Its not that I don’t have goals or things I want but I found a few things which I just take for granted now that took me a bit to get to.

The first thing is losing the sense of rushing. I don’t want to rush to places only to spend two weeks and move on or a month or whatever. Rushing through a place leaves you with a memory that is rushed. You don’t recall that day where you did not have an agenda or a must or shall do. I lost the sense of purposeful travel with goals and places and things I must do.

The second thing that took me a longer time was not working. I never thought it would take so long to sink in after so many years that I do not have to work! I never have to work again. My life is encompassed in not working at all and just taking the steps and the wandering each day provides.

Another thing was minimizing things. I am not a minimalist and will never be. But I did get rid of things, donated things, selected the remaining things that I thought would work. Some things did but others were left behind or tossed or given away. I had to redo a few things which seemed like good fits like how to charge devices and have my ex-wife ship me new things. Clothing was another one. I thought at first that jeans were the way to go. Do not take jeans to Southeast Asia. You will burn! So I minimized and re-bought things in Hanoi which seemed better. Things of mine now should fit into a Tortuga 45L outbreaker backpack and a fake North Face duffel. And they do. So just proclaiming I am a minimalist is not true. I have never been one. What I am is a realist. I cannot pack two laptops, 5 phones, 14 t shirts, and a expensive set of toiletries. All that goes bye bye.

The final thing is finding value. Sometimes its best when you think there is no value to consider what it is that you have instead of what you don’t have. Its worth re-thinking on that after a beer or a big Vietnamese dinner at the homestay. What is it that is valuable in my life? What are the things that I find value in and how do I get them? I have to say that the things with no value were left behind much like I donated those shirts with collars, ties, shoes, socks, whatever it was. I was left with things I do value. Between this one and the one above, I think you find the golden mean.

Traveling is not this…

I’ve dealt with a few ideas since I retired. One is traveling. I’ve come to realize that what I do is not traveling. I don’t have itineraries and plans and agendas or real bucket lists although I did write down things I had to do in Hanoi. Traveling seems to have a meaning of getting to and from a place. When I traveled for business before, there were expectations and requirements. Must do things. The company wanted things from me if they paid for travel. Rarely did those things and what I really wanted line up.

So I tossed out the idea of traveling on 28 February. But tossing something out and not being reminded or feeling grabbed by it are universes apart.

I’m left with what this is. Upon reflection this is that purposeless wandering with camera in hand I have always wanted. The steps taken each to find a thing and the tired feeling in the legs after doing more steps. The taste of that one cold beer or ice cream at the Vincom Center or wherever. The random steps ensure that this is purposeless. I am empowered to be random. I can turn a direction. Go down one of those mysterious Hems in Vietnam and see the guard smiling and waving. See some of the mystery of the Old Quarter in Hanoi and District One in Ho Chi Minh City.

All these things separate me from the traveler. Trying to put them into words with someone on a schedule of 30 countries in 45 days is hard. If you are hitting the road, perhaps you should read what Robert Louis Stevenson said about travel,

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.

Its the moving that counts folks. If you move with purpose you may miss the little random life things that are tossed up at you. My advice?

Try to slow down. Don’t just be a minimalist because it explains away things. Be a realist. Can you pack the 10 pairs of shoes and 20 t shirts and jackets and all that in a carry on bag? Look at your expectations when you hit the road and dash them all to bits. Start with a clean slate and don’t re-think them all. Forget the goals. Delete the bucket list. Be that random person you know you can be.

Most of all; slow down. That side street may not wait for you.