ACAM: Vietnam — Where to Go, Part 1

Rounding up guidebook and Internet advice, here are some places to visit and things to see and do while I’m in Vietnam. Part 1 because I know commenters will have suggestions!

female puppets dance on the water

Do they break out in song? Do they dance?

See a show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theater in Hanoi, or some other water puppetry venue. Apparently this art form developed as a way of appeasing spirits and entertaining fellow workers in flooded rice fields. Today, puppeteers stand offstage and manipulate the puppets via bamboo poles and string, and the puppets appear to walk on water. The shows are usually comedic. Sounds like fun!


Eat a lot. Here are some foods I’ve been encouraged to sample: phở bò, bánh xèo, bún thịt nướng, cơm tấm, bánh mì, banh bao vac, lau, and French-influenced foods like croissants and duck. I think every single person who learns I’m going to Vietnam says a variation on “oh the food!” This is a promising start.

imposing, with a flag in front

Mlle. O'Leary has a souvenir t-shirt from here

Visit war memorials and museums. I have a longtime fascination with what we Americans call the Vietnam War, and I’m interested to see it presented from the other side. The Hanoi Hilton, the Ho Chi Minh Museum and his mausoleum, and the National Museum of Vietnamese History are all in Hanoi and should give a pretty comprehensive view of the struggle, and there’s also the Vietnam History Museum and War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

Thien Mu Pagoda, Hue

Take a boat to Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue. It’s one of the oldest structures in Hue (a town midway between the two major cities of Vietnam, on the coast), and it’s still a working temple populated by monks.

Image 1. Image 2. Image 3. Image 4.

Montreal or Bust!

Well, dearest fellow travelers, we decided to ignore your advice completely. Rather than go to DC or Cape Cod or Kentucky or any of the delightful places you suggested, my sisters and I decided to make this road trip an international adventure. We really do appreciate the thoughtfulness of your suggestions, and I certainly hope to be able to check them out in the not too distant future, but we decided to go a different route (pun!).

We thought, Emily lives in New York so let’s have Lisa and Heather fly there and save one person flight expenses, and she can contribute what those would’ve been to the rental car. Ta da! Money saving.

And the destination is… Montréal!

Here’s what we’re looking at:


Day 0
Lisa and Heather fly in to New York, NY, crash with Em and Lizzie

Day 1

New York, NY to Lake George, NY — 4 hours
leave in the morning, get in for lunch, spend the afternoon and evening doing light hiking, taking pictures, making a good dinner

Day 2
Lake George, NY to Montréal, QC — 3 hours
take a leisurely morning, drive a bit around looking at trees some more and singing musicals, arrive in Montreal in time for dinner/setting up wherever we’re sleeping

Day 3

Biodome! Frenchy things! Poutine! Casino! Queer times!

Day 4
Variations on above

Day 5
Montreal, QC to New York, NY — 6.5 hours
L&H fly home on evening flights


Adirondacks / Lake George
Auto Touring
Scenic Byways Map
Example of Accommodations with efficiency kitchen (good for making dinner and save money!)

The Village
Casino de Montréal (keno, slots, table games, etc.)
Other Things to Do
Biodome (indoor zoo that reconstructs specific ecosystems, includes penguins, supposed to be really cool)
Le Drugstore (mostly lesbian club, 3-6 floors of bars/dancing/etc.)


Car Rental
$280 ($40/day + taxes/fees) + insurance + extra driver fees, about $330 total, except that Emily has agreed to pay the average of the flight costs for me and Heather, since she’d be buying a plane ticket if we went anywhere else. Em will pay about $200 for the car rental price, which leaves the remainder at $50 each.

approximately 700 miles total, average rental car is 30 mpg, 12 gallon tank, 350 miles per tank, need 3 full tanks (have to return it full), $50 per tank, $150 total gas, $50 each.

Food & Drink
I’m hoping we can do light breakfasts, sandwiches for lunch, then maybe go out for dinner kind of thing, to cut down on costs. So a mix of grocery stores and restaurants. Probably $150 each.

Day 2 accommodations will probably be a place like this motel for $60/night ($20 each).

We decided that three nights in Montréal is enough time to really get comfortable, and sleep well, and feel good about where we’re staying. We’re looking at Vacation Rentals and Air BnB for more home-like places to stay in Montréal. Those look more like $70/night for 3 nights, or $70 each. Probably $100 each total.


Gambling=$30? 40?

Probably safe to budget $100 each for this, since miscellaneous costs will come up.

$450 per person for the week, + L&H round-trip tickets

So whaddya think? Have you been to any of this places? Any recommendations on what to do/what not to do, etc.?

Running the Numbers: Where to Go

Hello, dearest fellow travelers! Sorry about the unannounced break; there were weddings and BBQs and many delightful things that kept me away, but now I’m back for our regular Tuesday/Thursday schedule. Today I’m introducing a new recurring feature called Running the Numbers. It’s time to get serious about budgeting for this world trip next year (NEXT YEAR JUMP BACK), so I’ll be working out what I can reasonably afford and sharing those insights with you so we can all furrow our brows in a shared nervousness about RTW budgets. Fun times, right? The budget I’m planning to work with is $30,000 over the course of a little under two years.

When I tell people I plan to travel around the world for about two years, the questions usually go: Really? By yourself? Is that safe? How can you afford it? To which I respond, yep, yep, as safe as living in a major American city, and I sure hope so! Since I plan to leave in 15 months, it’s time for me to get serious about that last part, and I’m starting to break down the budget and be judicious in which places I can realistically visit on that budget.

Every single blog written by world travelers contains at least one post on how much money the authors spent on their trip, so there’s a lot of info out there to analyze. I like the breakdowns on this blog and this one, although I do get dispirited when I see that our routes are different enough that they might not make the greatest basis for comparison. In fact, they go to many fewer countries than I had been planning to visit, so I’m starting to seriously considering pruning the itinerary. I don’t want to visit lots of places only to not have enough money to see all I want to see in each.

Currently I say I want to start in Australia and then see a lot of Asia, take the Trans-Siberian, and work my way down to some of Africa, then end in India. Looking at the phenomenal cost of visas ($80 to get into Kenya! $70 to visit India!), carefully plotting a course seems an even better idea.

So now I’m thinking my best course would look something like this:

New Zealand
South Korea
South Africa

I’m sad to cut out Scandinavia, but those countries are super expensive and one of the main reasons I’d want to go, the aurora borealis, is never a certain sighting, so it’s smarter to come back another time when I can focus on patiently waiting for the lights to appear. I’m still not totally sure about each of the countries in Africa, because unlike in Asia they are much farther apart from one another and therefore they add quite a bit to transportation costs, but there are specific sights and cultures I want to experience in each of the countries listed, so I’m keeping them on for now.

Don’t forget that the plan is to return to the States after India, spend time with all the loved ones I missed, and save up a bit of money so I can go to Latin America (for those who are about to comment, “how can you not go to Peru/Argentina/Mexico?”).

Right then, dearest fellow travelers, what do you think? You’ll be reading about each of these places for the next several years, so chip in if you think I’m really missing out on a particular spot, or if you’re especially excited to hear about a place listed here.

ACAM: Indonesia — Where to Go

After consulting The Rough Guide to Indonesia and the Internet, here are some places I plan to visit when I’m in Indonesia. I also updated the map (interactive! add your own ideas!).

Jakarta, Java
The capital city’s name means “City of Victory,” which probably holds bittersweet meaning after the riots of 1998 and Suharto’s resignation. I’m interested in the colonial architecture, the puppet museum, and the wooden schooners at Sunda Kelapa.

Borobudur, Java
Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in all of Indonesia, and a major tourist attraction. It was built to represent Meru, the ordering of the cosmos, so that you start at the base–the real world–and end at the top–nirvana. Walking that literally spiritual path will be humbling, I’m sure, and all the more so because I hope to go on one of the few sunrise tours offered.

Ubud, Bali
I’m not terribly interested in the party scene on the tourist-heavy island of Bali, but Ubud, a series of linked villages removed from the main scene, does intrigue me. The villagers are known for producing arts and various local crafts, and for preserving and maintaining the ancient culture of Bali. Apparently Elizabeth Gilbert went here in Eat, Pray, Love, although I didn’t remember that from the book (oh yeah I read it, and that is for another post), so it’s getting a lot more traffic than it used to, but maybe I’ll be there in the off season. I can’t wait to see the dancing!

Gunung Leuser National Park, Sumatra
Bukit Lawang is the starting point for trips into the jungle in this World Heritage site. The small village was wiped out in a flood caused by illegal logging in 2002, and is only just now getting back on its feet. There’s a big conservation effort going on in the park and around this village in particular, seen especially in the rehabilitating of formerly captive orangutans and releasing them back into the wild. Other rare species are also found here, and it seems like a good place to visit on an “ecotourist” kind of trip, since it supports local businesses and encourages conservation efforts as a good alternative to logging. It also seems to be on the way from Jakarta to Singapore.

The Plan, In Sum

Travel the world. The end.

Okay, a slightly more detailed summary: Take my paltry savings and two years, and travel around much of the globe, on my own and ready to make friends.

Still not enough? All right. The summer after I graduated high school, I took my money from working in a second-run movie theater and the cafe of a local bookshop, and went to Europe for six weeks. This mini-Grand Tour was a solo affair and a revelation in self-sufficiency and finding happiness in independence. The summer after my freshman year of college, my friend P and I borrowed P’s mom’s minivan and drove around the Western part of the U.S. for five weeks, figuring out how to travel together and still be good friends at the end of it. (That worked out just fine, by the way.)

So I’ve long been a fan of taking extended, multi-stop trips, and by the time I graduated college, I’d decided to travel the world. Several people have suggested various ways of accomplishing this goal, including doing it in many mini-trips, working with a volunteer organization, and going on a group tour. Thing is, I want to be moving, not vacationing, so I need a long period of time, and the thought of paying for a package tour running around the big tourist stops with my drunken peers is not appealing. I’d like to volunteer with various organizations, and there are some good ones out there, but most of them require you pay a fee, so that won’t work for the whole trip.

It comes back to me, a backpack, and the very necessary spirit of adventure. I’ll happily meet up with friends along the way, so if you have any place in particular that you’ve always wanted to visit, or if you’re fluent in any of the languages of the countries I’ll be visiting (please!), let me know.

For now, the idea is to go to New Zealand/Australia in January of 2013, then work my way up Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Transiberian Railway to Moscow, Eastern Europe, Western Africa, South Africa, and India. Back to the States to make a bit of money, then down to Central and South America, and possibly Antarctica.

All of it’s changeable, except the date of departure. I turn 30 in 2013, and I’ve said since I was 18 that I’d start this trip before I was 30, before I started to settle down, move up in a career, or feel tied to a particular place. Life isn’t over when you’re 30, but if you’re not careful, the urge to try new things and become a different and better person is. So winter of 2012/2013 it is!