Road trip diary: Hanoi – Mu Cang Chai – Sapa

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The road between the mountains

This is the second time I’ve hit long distances by motorbike, but compared with the previous trip from Saigon to Phan Thiet on perfect roads (400km two ways, plus 70km to and from the white sand dunes) this trip to the northwest mountainous area of Vietnam was much more difficult and challenging. And it was even more memorable because we, two girls, could ride a manual bike up and down the mountains and race with the big trucks on halfway built roads under thick fog and heavy downpour. It was our 3 days “living” on the bike riding through roughly 850 km (510 miles). Well, Vietnamese people do love adventures and “risking their lives”, even too much, if you ask!

Preparation: 

Seven people joined the long journey and we planned to combine charity with our road trip. The ethnic groups in remote areas of Vietnam live in very poor conditions and their kids often don’t have enough school supplies. Thus, we prepared 30 little gifts for the kids before their new school year, each of which included 5 notebooks, 3 pens, 1 small towel, 1 soap, 1 toothbrush and 1 toothpaste.

My friend and I did most of the shopping for the charity trip. The shopping part was easy until it came to carrying about 30 kilos of stuff out of the supermarket on one bike back to my friend’s place. It was quite tough for 2 slim girls like us but we managed to make it at last. And.. that was only the beginning of a tiring and challenging trip to come.

Normally in a backpacking motorbike road trip girls don’t take the drive and only sit at the back. However, one guy quit before the trip, so my friend and I decided to go together and take turn to drive. We never knew what the mountain roads looked like..

Day 1: Hanoi – Mu Cang Chai, 310km (192.6 miles)

We left Hanoi at around 7.30 in the morning. All 4 bikes were manual ones. Basically each bike looked like this, with a big bag of gifts at the back or in front and 2 people on it, each with their luggage!

This is our “horse”. We love it!

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The most beautiful love stories in the ancient Greek Mythology (cont.): Orpheus and Eurydice

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So in the previous post, I said that I would pick 3 love stories which I think were the most beautiful ones in the ancient Greek Myth. I already started with my favorite romance of all time, Psyche and Cupid, now I continue with my 2nd pick..

2. Orpheus and Eurydice:

Orpheus was a a very unusual type of character in the Greek Mythology. While most of the tales were about immortal gods or muscular heroes who built their glories upon killing and conquering, Orpheus appeared to be the most peaceful male character in the whole legend. He was a musician, a mortal human being, who used his 9-string lyre and his amazing music talent as weapons, and actually those turned out to be invincible weapons. It was him, Orpheus, not Heracles, Ulysses (Odysseus) or any other famous heroes, that could tame the vicious Cerberus guarding the gate to the Underworld and defeated the Siren‘s bewitching songs to save the life of the Argo sailors. (Sirens: the mermaids in Greek Mythology that lived on three islands in the sea. They often floated on the water singing the praise of the ocean’s beauty to seduce sailors. Their voice was described to be irresistibly enthralling, and if sailors didn’t cover their ears when passing this area they would jump out of the ships to follow the sirens and end up drowning in the sea).

Generally speaking, the legend about Orpheus’s triumph over Sirens as well as the taming of Cerberus and other fierce animals shows the supreme power of music. Sometimes music has the might to enchant, to lure, to kill but in the end it’s still the healer, the peace maker, the conqueror without killing or blood. And that made Orpheus become one of the most influencing characters in the whole Greek Myth. Even now in this modern world we can still see and feel his power whenever we cry or smile with a melody that touches our heart and soul, because that was also what Orpheus did during his time on Earth: to touch deeply within people’s heart, and no, not just people but every creature, from the birds, the tigers to the trees, the rocks and the water.

Orpheus got married to a Nymph named Eurydice. The legend didn’t say how they fell in love, so again I guess the part about how they kept their love alive was more important. They had a happy and harmonious life together. Orpheus loved Eurydice with all his heart and together with music, she was the reason he lived for. They often went together to the wood where Orpheus played his lyre and Eurydice sat by him putting her head on his shoulders and listening to his songs with admiration and certainly, love.

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Quan Son Lake in Hanoi – the “Ha Long inland”

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Quan Son Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam


Just 50km away from the central Hanoi, Quan Son Lake is a perfect place for nature lovers to enjoy a weekend out of the city’s dirt and noise. Quan Son used to be a part of Ha Tay Province. However, since the whole province was merged with Hanoi (which made Hanoi now become one of the largest capitals in the world) Quan Son Lake has been turned into a part of the capital itself.

Generally speaking, Quan Son tourism is still under-developed. Almost no services or activities yet, not so many people know about it either, and I guess only locals are going here because this place is nowhere to be found in any English materials. Up to now Quan Son is still wonderfully non-commercial, there is no hawkers, no beggars and no English language(!)

A lot of people refer to Quan Son as “Ha Long inland” because of its numerous mountains arranged beautifully on the surface of the water. It is said that the lake is about 850 hectare large with more or less 100 limestone mountains. Read the rest of this entry »

The most beautiful love stories in the ancient Greek Mythology: Psyche and Cupid

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The Greek Mythology has been my favorite book since secondary school. I used to sleep with it under my head and memorized every little tale by heart. In fact, it had influenced my life a lot, especially when I was in college and even now I still think probably I’ll name my kids in the future after some of the heroes/heroines in there(!) To me it is the best literary work ever made and the best stories ever told.

And inspired by a blog post that I read recently “Why boys who play guitar are actually Greek Gods” in which the blogger mentioned Orpheus and his love for Eurydice I’ve decided to pick 3 love stories that I think are the most beautiful out of hundreds (or thousands) other mostly-sexual-love-affairs in the whole legend. Mind you, ancient people were the lucky ones. While in the modern time love is actually not the most important thing in a love story since it dies out easily over a couple of materialistic / realistic / practical reasons, in the old days when people were in love then love was the only thing that mattered.

1. Psyche and Cupid:

This is my favorite romance of all time. It’s not about how they fell in love but about how they fought to finally be together. There are many versions for this legend. Wikipedia has one of them, but I much prefer what I read in the Vietnamese version edited by Nguyen Van Khoa. That was a truly beautiful one.

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I am an AIESEC alumna. I am a change agent.

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Diwali dinner with AIESEC Delhi University

If you follow my blog probably you have seen the word AIESEC popping up many times and may wonder what it is. Thus, I’m gonna spend this whole blog post just talking about AIESEC and how it has changed my life, or to be more exact, how it has changed my vision of life just like how it has altered young generations’ viewpoints during the past 60 years!

To formally introduce, AIESEC is the largest international student organization that presents in over 2,100 universities across 110 countries and territories all over the world, with over 60,000 members and hundreds thousands of former members that we call “alumni”. AIESEC provides its members with leadership experiences at a very young age, global exchange opportunities and incredible learning networks through so many national and international annual conferences.

However, to informally introduce, AIESEC simply is a great family where young people learn to take responsibilities, tolerate differences while broadening their knowledge about the world and striving to make positive impacts on their societies. Yes, thanks to AIESEC, kids grow up, fools grow wise and locals go global. Read the rest of this entry »

When you travel, remember “Small Is Beautiful”

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“Small” mentioned here is applied for both luggage and travel group. Trust me, I’ve experienced enough pain traveling with big luggage and large group that I have learned “never to do it again!”

1. Luggage:

My travel mates in Poland. All of us were abroad first timers then

In my first trip abroad to Poland I brought with me a huge 23-kilo suitcase, plus a backpack, a small purse and a laptop, so those made 4 separate items in total. And it was funny how I ended up using only half of what I brought while still having to buy extra stuff during those 3 months. I carried with me high-heel boots, piles of clothes (since it was winter), hundreds of medicine types which I never used, but didn’t even think about bringing a hair dryer, slippers and an electrical adapter. Fail!

And another funny fact was that I managed to get my laptop lost right on the first day in Poland since I forgot it in the taxi from Warsaw airport to the bus station. However, during my solo and tiring trip across Europe under the snowy and gloomy sky I sometimes thought actually I was lucky not having to bring with me another 3-kilo laptop bag(!) Read the rest of this entry »

All you bloggers should go to twitter!

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I don’t understand why there are bloggers who just don’t use twitter at all! Apparently they have other means to share their blog content such as Facebook, Emails, Instant Messengers, Google+, Linkedin, Forums, etc., but if they are on all of those, why are they NOT on Twitter?! I may sound biased because personally I’m quite a twitter fan, but there are always a bunch of reasons why so.

First of all, I completely prefer Twitter to Facebook! The thing about Facebook is that if you have 1,000 “friends” reading your updates you also have to read updates from those 1,000 people plus all the news from the pages you “like” and the groups that you are a member of. Overwhelming information – you may think? However, in fact, you never see all the updates from those 1,000 friends but just from a few of them. It’s because Facebook has their edgerank system, which means your updates also only appear to a certain percentage of people. Good news is you don’t have to read all the updates but bad news is your updates are also not all read.

Meanwhile, with Twitter, if you have 1,000 followers you don’t have to “suffer” from all of them because you can choose who you want to read news from by following them back or putting them into your lists and read from those lists. Updates on Twitter are less than 160 characters so they do not take up as much space as on facebook and very easy to follow. I even know a few people who only follow newspapers, magazines, news agencies and use Twitter as a mere info source. Read the rest of this entry »

African and Caribbean music in Hanoi

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Naby reggae concert in Hanoi
Naby reggae concert in Hanoi

A few years ago probably most Vietnamese people in Hanoi had no idea what reggae was and we also didn’t care if Jamaica was in America or Africa. And in fact even now a lot of Vietnamese people still don’t have a clue (not we are dumb at geography but Africa and Caribbean are just physically and “mentally” too far from Vietnam).

However, the modern trend of globalization is creating changes in the fastest manner! In Hanoi now we even have an African reggae band! How marvelous is that! Also we have to acknowledge a lot of efforts from the cultural institutes, especially the French speaking community such as L’Espace or the Wallonie-Bruxelles Delegation, for bringing many African acts to Hanoi, so that Vietnamese people can start to get used to a “new” taste of music. Read the rest of this entry »

Beautiful tropical beaches of Phu Quoc Island

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Sao Beach in Phu Quoc island, Vietnam
Sao Beach in Phu Quoc island, Vietnam

Phu Quoc has been famous among travel experts as the most beautiful island in Vietnam (obviously the biggest island of the country too). Although it has been a long-time tourist attraction, the island is quite under-developed and the roads here are such disasters. Either they have not been built at all or just half-way built and no one is actually working on building them. However, the beautiful beaches compensate for it all. And actually the road trip may turn out to be a memorable adventure.

(More info about the island, accommodation and things to do at the bottom of the post)
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Updates on my life in Saigon

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Saigon at Night

Image source: www.citypassguide.com

Once again I’m leaving my city Hanoi to look for a new adventure elsewhere. Poland, then India, and the next challenge now comes from my own country. Yes, the destination is called Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon), a city in the South of Vietnam, also the biggest city of the country. I remember sometime ago a Saigon friend said to me that “Hanoi seems like another country to me”, I think I can now tell him the same thing “I feel like a stranger here in my own country”.

This is not the first time I’ve been to Saigon, but the last time was already 3 years ago when I was just a visitor touring around the city. So much fancy about Saigon then! Taller buildings, wider streets, friendlier people, better services, etc. But things have changed so much since, and especially when you live here it is a lot more different and more REAL than when you are only a tourist.

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