Mellow Yellow Reflections: on my half-anniversary

Half a year has already passed since I embarked on this crazy beautiful adventure (it’s actually been more than 8 months but who’s counting?). I wrote a long-ish text when I hit my 6 month milestone, but I never published it. Although I’m unsure of why I never published it, I’m equally unsure of why I ever even wrote it in the first place.

When I started this blog, I had a vague idea of what I wanted it to convey, and what I wanted to convey through it. Exactly 3 months after leaving Montreal, I wrote my first “reflections” post as I was leaving Vietnam. While my other posts conveyed my everyday activities, this “reflections” post conveyed, well, my reflections. I had the idea at the back of my mind to write another reflections post when I hit my 6 month milestone, as it would conclude my hypothetical time allotted in Southeast Asia, and coincide with my hypothetical new start in Australia.

Fast forward 3 months later, and I’m in a small town in Myanmar at a local festival. I suddenly remembered my intended plan to be in Australia at this point, mostly because I thought I would have run out of money by now. And yet, here I was. What’s even funnier, the previous week I had booked and paid a deposit (read: I made the ultimate commitment) on a one month Yoga Teaching Training course in Rishikesh, in northern India, that would begin exactly one month from then.

So here I am with 3 weeks to kill before my course starts in India. My original plan had been to head to Sri Lanka from Myanmar, then to India, traveling from south to north and then heading to Nepal. If you look at a map, this is, geographically, a beautifully planned route. BUT, flights from Myanmar to Sri Lanka are expensive! And flights from Sri Lanka to northern India are expensive too! And if I start out in northern India, I’ll be so close to Nepal, so maybe it makes sense to get a multiple entry visa for India, so I can go to Nepal, then come back to India and go south… My head was swarming with options.

Eventually I decided my best option (read: the cheapest option) was to take an overnight bus to Bangkok and fly wherever from there, since flights were a quarter of the prices in Myanmar. Then I had the feeling that I didn’t want to go to Sri Lanka. But I did want to go to Sri Lanka. Eventually, I realized that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to Sri Lanka, it was more that I didn’t want to go anywhere. After 6 months on the go, the idea of staying in one place for 3 weeks was becoming more and more alluring. So off to Bangkok I went, and just like that, 3 weeks passed by with the blink of an eye.

So where’s the reflection in all this? Right. I guess my point is that sometimes things don’t go according to plan, and that’s OK. That’s life. Before leaving Montreal I had a vague idea (or rather a glimmer of hope) of what this journey of mine would look like. The more time passed, the more I was noticing how much more often I was tweaking my plans as I was going along. I learned to plan ahead a bit less, and to really trust my instinct and focus on the present.

So I’ve scrapped that text I wrote at my 6 month milestone, and instead I am sharing this with you. Likewise, I am (figuratively) scrapping my original plans, and instead I will continue to go with the flow, and let the universe handle the details.

Breathe, be, and live.
Be the most beautiful version of you.
Never give up. Always let go.
You are a radiating ball of love.

– Mellow Yellow

Enchanted in Laos

It was with a very heavy heart that I left Vietnam. I somehow felt that I was leaving a part of myself behind. It also didn’t help that I was embarking on a 36 hour journey. So off I went, back to Hanoi and then on the road to Luang Prabang in Laos. My long journey was spent between sleep and thought. When I was awake I couldn’t listen to music since my phone had no more battery, and I couldn’t seem to focus on reading. And so, looking out the window at the beautiful mountains in the background and the lush greenery zooming past, I reflected on my last 3 months of travels. I thought of the places I had been, the people I met along the way, and all that I experienced in between. I felt sad about leaving Vietnam but I was looking forward to my adventures to come. I thought about how sad I had been to leave Bali, but how awesome the Philippines had turned out to be, and likewise how sad I was to leave the Philippines when the time came to head to Vietnam. It dawned on me that no matter how long you’ve been travelling for, there are some feelings you can never really shake off: the bittersweet feeling of leaving a place you love as you continue your journey, and the feeling of dread when packing up the few belongings you have into your little home that is your backpack.

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I was immediately enchanted by the stunning natural beauty of Laos. The misty mountain peaks edging around the jungle-clad valleys are sure to impress even the most jaded traveler. Eventually we made it to Luang Prabang 27 hours after leaving Hanoi. After so much time spent together on the bus, a couple of us formed a pack to search for a hostel. The next day, Marina (from Germany), Sabine (from the Netherlands) and I rented scooters and made our way to the popular Kuang Si Waterfalls. After a breathtakingly scenic ride along the countryside we made it to the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre, (inside Kuang Si Waterfall park). Run by Free the Bears, an organization that rescues endangered Asiatic Black Bears from poachers and bear bile farms, the sanctuary does not receive any money from the waterfall park admission and relies on donations only.

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Eventually we made it to the waterfalls, which were even more grand and beautiful than I thought they would be. The large multi-stage waterfall consists of multiple pools at different levels that you can swim in, and are swarming with the little fish that pick at your dead skin that you tend to see at fish spas all over South East Asia.

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After a day of swinging off the Tarzan rope and jumping from one pool to the next, we made our way up the 190 steps to Phou Si/Chomsy Hill to get a beautiful panoramic view of the city and watch the sunset. This was truly an amazing place to get a bird’s-eye view of incredibly romantic Luang Prabang, with its glittering temples, brightly colored robed monks and sleepy riverine lifestyle.

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That night we went to the night market for dinner where for 15,000 kip (roughly $1.50) you can fill your bowl with as much food as you want/can. Challenge accepted. After stuffing our faces, we made our way to Utopia bar where we met up with our bus buddies. Once the bar closed at 1am we made our way to the only place that stays open late – the bowling alley. Full of backpackers looking to keep the party going, I felt like I was at a kid’s birthday party. But as the game started and the beer kept flowing, I started to get the hang of it. I even coined the “Melissa Style” bowling method to try to up my game, which was essentially the same method I used when I was a kid and too weak to throw the ball with one hand, using both arms to launch the ball through my legs. While this initially garnered attention due to the fact that I looked like an idiot, after I started striking out more and more people followed my lead in hopes of improving their game. The cherry on top was when the tuk-tuk driver dropped us off at our hostel and pointed at me, then proceeded to imitate the “Melissa Style” bowling method. Priceless.

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The next day, Marina and I had a long breakfast (delicious baguette and coffee, what else?) and enjoyed the town’s picturesque charm, watching local life pass by. At night we headed to the night market, which seemed to stretch on for miles and miles, showcasing the best Laotian wares – intricate weavings, elaborate silver trinkets (sometimes made out of unexploded mines leftover from the previous decades of seemingly endless wars), and tasty specialty foods. We went to Gary’s Irish Bar for some good live music (and a free beer between 8-10pm) and ended the night at the infamous Sakura Bar (famous for its “drink triple, see double, act single” tank tops worn by backpackers across Southeast Asia, which you can get for free for every purchase of two vodka drinks).

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Our next stop was the thriving tourist center of Vang Vieng, commonly known for being the backpacker mecca for partying. Although things have seemed to calm down quite a bit since the government has cracked down on the number of bars in the area, Vang Vieng seems to have established itself as the exception to the rule that Laos doesn’t have a nightlife. Besides that though, the limestone cliffs and riverside scenery remain gorgeous and offer a lot of potential as a base for adventure tourism if that’s your thing. While the main attraction for many visitors remains the tubing (read: 20-something year old backpackers), it’s quite easy to avoid the party scene and use the town as a base to explore the surrounding countryside. After a night of indulging the party scene, Marina and I decided to skip the traditional tubing experience and instead went on a day trip outside the city. We swam through a cave on tubes and went kayaking down the Nam Song river (that covers the same part of the river as tubing and a more untouched part further upstream).

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The next day was raining so we took advantage of the situation and spent the day eating pancakes and watching Friends at a restaurant near our hostel and ended the day with an amazing traditional Lao massage. Unfortunately I only had one week in Laos, since I stayed a bit longer than expected in Vietnam, so I didn’t get to see as much of Laos as I had planned. Having said that, I heard amazing things about trekking in the far northern provinces, the mysterious Plaine des Jarres, the lazy island life in the far south, exploring the ‘in between’ in Pakse and the 4000 Islands at the border of Cambodia.

Destinations aside, Lao food is sure to entice the inner foodie in you. Spicy buffalo salad (that I hadn’t tried personally, being a boring vegetarian and all), sticky rice, noodles, curries and the culinary remnants of French colonial occupation in the form of delicious crunchy baguettes and sweet ice coffee. Add to that an ice-cold Beerlao (obviously) and take in all that Laos has to offer.

Next stop: Phnom Penh, Cambodia!

Mellow Yellow rating : 💛 💛 💛 💛 💛

Mellow Yellow Reflections: on my 3 month-versary

Today marks 3 months since I left Montreal, since I left my home. Today is also the day I leave Vietnam after a wonderful 35 days in this beautiful, crazy, delicious country. Although I can’t help leaving with a heavy heart, I also leave with a taste of excitement for what is to come.

I have noticed that every time I leave a country, I enter this deep stage of reflection, where I think of every single moment that passed and evaluate how it had an impact on my trip, and on a larger scale, on my life. I think about how funny it is that, in life, any decision you make, no matter how trivial at the time, can have a huge impact on your life. Every decision inevitably leads you to the events you will experience and the people you will meet. Call it fate, destiny, or chance, this much I know to be true.

Before embarking on my journey, while waiting at the airport for my flight in Montreal, I found myself slightly overwhelmed after saying goodbye to so many people in such a short amount of time. Although I don’t think I ever actually said “goodbye”, just “see you later”, this was the first time I would be away from home, from my comfort zone, for such an extended period of time.

After my month in Bali with Gab and Fred ended, I experienced such strong and mixed feelings of sadness and excitement that I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. It was very difficult to say goodbye to them, but once they were gone, that was it – I was travelling alone for the first time in my life. Sadness and excitement turned into fear and doubt, which turned into me trying not to cry alone in a corner at a cafe in Denpasar Bali airport. So I did what I usually do when I’m not sure what else to do, I wrote in my journal. I wrote what I was feeling until I felt better.

Fast forward to one month later when I’m in an airport again, this time in Manila, Philippines. I re-read my past entries before reflecting on my past month as I usually do. I couldn’t help but laugh a little at the Melissa in Denpasar Bali airport.  She felt scared while I felt exhilarated. In my first month traveling alone I was never really alone. That’s the type of thing that I kept hearing about but never experienced for myself. While sad to leave behind the Philippines and all the amazing people I met there, I was looking forward to the next adventure that would be Vietnam.

And what an adventure it has been. In the past 3 months I have truly experienced some amazing things and have met some truly amazing people. Although fleeting, the people you meet while traveling will always have a special place in your heart, right next to that other special place in your heart for Hot and Spicy Pringles and Oreos with chocolate filling on a long bus ride.

So after a long 3 months away from home, the conclusion to my reflections is that, for the first time since leaving home, I feel like I’ve just left another home.

Vietnam, you’ve been lovely.

Cảm ơn.

– Mellow Yellow