Episode 9 - 2016 Wrap-Up and 2017 Sneak Peak
In this episode, Matt and I cover the year 2016 month-by-month and even give a sneak peak to what will be next for us in the new year!
On New Year's Day of the year 2016, we had made the almost concrete decision to leave South Korea because of our awful jobs. We were in Busan when we really started thinking about leaving-- illegally.
A couple of weeks later, we left Korea! We sold a lot of our stuff, packed up our necessities, and even had a secret "going-away party." It was a very quick decision and departure. We woke up around 5 am one morning, headed to Seoul with our things, stayed one night, then hopped only a flight to Vietnam!
We chose Vietnam because it's incredibly cheap, it's near Korea, and they're very lenient on their visa requirements. After arriving, we quickly found an apartment in District 1 (the center) of Ho Chi Minh City, a.k.a. Saigon.
This month was also the first month that Matt worked for our online English teaching job. I waited a bit too long for the interview process, so I didn't end up starting until the end of the month. While Matt worked from the comfort of our new apartment, I found odd English teaching jobs around the city, hopping from motorbike taxi to motorbike taxi.
I did that from mid-January to the beginning of February, then quit to do the online teaching job.
During this month, we just worked a ton, since we had spent a lot of money leaving Korea and moving to Vietnam.
Since it was Chinese New Year, we didn't have a lot of work during one week, since our students are from China and many of them take vacations during that time. We also remember Ho Chi Minh City being deserted because everyone went to their hometowns for their celebrations. It was wildly serene compared to its usual chaos (we talked more in depth about that holiday in Vietnam and other holidays abroad here)!
We went to the mountains with a Vietnamese English teacher that I had met teaching in the city to visit her hometown. It was about a 4 hour bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City. Boy, that was interesting!
We hopped on a local bus with her and her two friends. The bus, which was more like a big minivan, was crammed with people, hot, uncomfortable, and overcrowded! Did I mention there were a lot of people? The air conditioner was on, but there was no point because they left ALL of the windows open AND the bus attendant left the door open while we were driving.
It was one of the longest bus rides of our lives. But, when we finally arrived, we received an incredibly warm welcome from my friend's entire family! Aunts, uncles, her mother, father, sisters, nieces and nephews! No one spoke English, but even with the language barrier, we felt genuinely welcomed by them and comfortable with them.
We were uncomfortable though because we had to sleep without air conditioners and there was only a cold shower.
However, throughout the weekend, we were shown unbelievable hospitality. We were fed feasts on feasts of fresh Vietnamese home-cooking! We were also invited to a wedding and wedding reception. However, we didn't attend the wedding because it was at 4:00 in the morning and we didn't go to sleep until 12. We were pooped from the bus ride as well. But, we did go to the wedding reception at around 7:00 AM. We hopped on motorbikes and during our five-minute ride there, the people we passed were pointing at us and talking about us. We felt like real-life celebrities! The people in my friend's hometown had probably never seen foreigners before in their lives, so we were a big deal to them.
When we got to the reception, we were actually a bigger hit than the bride and groom! Everyone there kept approaching us, pouring beer into our glasses to drink, and trying to talk to us through my friend. It was a ton of fun! And, naturally, we were drunk by 10 AM.
But it was hot. I mean, really hot. We were sweating through our semi-nice clothes, while everyone else around us was wearing suits and nice clothes and producing no sweat at all!
After the reception, we walked over to my friend's uncle's house, where we got to pick cashews and guava! We ate fresh guava, which was unbelievably good, and admired the plentiful banana, mango, cashew, and guava trees on his property. He even had some goats!
We returned to my friend's house and everyone, including us, took a nap for a few hours. The entire family, not just a couple of people. We noticed that a lot in Vietnam, by the way. It's very common to see people napping in the middle of the day anywhere-- literally anywhere, like on the back of parked motorbikes!
Later on in the day, we walked to a nearby toy store and bought some toys for my friend's nieces and nephews and, just as you expected, they loved them!
We also watched my friend's sisters kill a chicken for dinner in their yard-- and you bet we ate that chicken and it was delicious! We also ate a ton of other amazing Vietnamese dishes that night. We had a buffet of food. Again, amazing and unbeatable hospitality!
We ended up leaving the following day, since we were very uncomfortable from sweat, but we did love our stay there!
During a majority of this month, Matt and I worked a lot once again to save up some dough. But, we did manage to take a trip at the end of the month!
Matt and I made a trip to Phu Quoc, an island off the Southern coast of Vietnam (it's actually closer to Cambodia!). We went there to have a nice vacation and hang out a bit with a couple of friends I had made through Facebook (ah, the power of social networking).
We stayed at an AirBNB that was far from the main town, Duong Dong. Since we were far from the town and the beaches, Matt and I were pretty much forced to drive our very own (rental) motorbike for the first time! Because I'm the best driver of us (sorry, Matt, but you know it's true), I mainly drove us around on a motorbike and honestly, it was terrifying! There is practically no one on that island and I was still petrified to drive, so I really don't know how people do it in Ho Chi Minh City or any other insanely populated place-- especially foreigners!
We hit a few beaches, specifically Sao Beach, Mango Bay, and Cape Ganh Dau. At Cape Ganh Dau, we managed to see an unbelievable sunset, but didn't swim because it was a local beach and was a bit dirty. At Mango Bay, we had some nice drinks and food with our friends by the water. We also enjoyed swimming in the warm and clear water and managed to see another beautiful sunset. We also went to Sao Beach, which was over an hour ride away, which totally sucked to do on a motorbike, but it was worth it! It was a white-sand beach with a bar/restaurant and warm, clear, and relaxing water.
Since our hotel was really out of the way, we struggled to find food there at night. One night, we walked down the road and meandered into what looked like a brothel of some kind and we got some very interesting looks, so we quickly fled that scene! Then, we found a cart on the side of the road, making banh mi sandwiches, but with a different filling: pork wrapped in (some mystery kind of) leaves. It was one of our favorite meals there! We got 2 each and went back the night after for more!
Going to Phu Quoc? Keep in mind that it is poor there, so you should stay in the main town/on the beach. But, you definitely should go if you get the opportunity!
We spent this entire month working once again, which makes a ton of sense, since we had just spent a ton of money backpacking through the country the previous month!
After spending seven months in Vietnam, we packed up our things once again and flew to Osaka, Japan. We had an apartment already setup for us (thank you, Internet!), so we immediately moved into our apartment.
We worked for a few weeks until our friend from college came to visit us for two weeks. We did a ton of touristy things with him. We went to the Osaka Aquarium, which is one of the best in the world, we went temple hopping, to the popular area Namba in Osaka for Matt's birthday, and Kyoto.
The three of us went to Tokyo for about five days and stayed at a convenient AirBNB. We went to Akihabara (the "anime area" Matt referred to in the podcast), where we went to an awesome arcade and a maid cafe. We also went to Shibuya, the popular pedestrian crossing. We went to a club in that area as well, which was a super good time!
Tokyo was a wonderful city. Even though there's millions of people, it is the most quiet metropolis we'd ever been. It was clean, exciting, and had amazing food as well!
Our friend returned home from Tokyo and Matt and I returned to Osaka.
We then, once again, worked a lot!
We had another visitor during this month: my brother! He went to a few places we had already been to, so we worked a few days while he did that. But, we did explore a bit with him as well. We went to Kobe one day with him and Namba another night with him and two friends we had made in Korea, who were on an Asia backpacking trip! That was definitely a fun evening! The five of us also went to Nara together the following day, which is a cute town that also has a park filled with friendly deer that you can feed!
Must go to in Namba, Osaka: Space Station (video game bar) and the burger place to the right of its entrance (I couldn't find the business card or name that I said I would on the podcast! :()
Matt and I then met my brother in Okinawa a.k.a. Hawaii of Japan. We stayed in an unbelievable AirBNB, ate a lot of conveyor belt sushi, and went to the beach one time (so much rain). We were there for three days. Check out our Life Update episode for more on Okinawa.
At the end of October, we flew to Taiwan! We went out to a club the night we got there, since it was the Saturday before Halloween. We got dressed in makeshift costumes and had a blast at a club, even though it got raided by the cops!
We were in Taiwan for two weeks and backpacked through the country. Even though we were sick with nasty colds a majority of the time, we really loved the whole country, especially Taipei. Again, you can check out the Life Update episode for more info on Taiwan.
In mid-November, we went back home to New York for the holidays. On Thanksgiving, we went to my aunt's house to celebrate.
For my birthday on the ninth, we went to Atlantic City with some friends. Even though we had a good time, I couldn't help but feel nostalgic about celebrating my birthdays abroad.
For Christmas Eve, we celebrated at Matt's aunt and uncle's house. Then, for Christmas Day, we celebrated at my house with my family. We had a good time celebrating the holidays with our family, we couldn't help but feel a bit nostalgic about our holidays abroad.
On New Year's, we went to a restaurant with an open bar and buffet with our friends.
What's in store for us in 2017?
Matt and I are headed to Prague, Czech Republic in late January/early February! We have a HUGE surprise that coincides with that, which we'll tell you in the next few months.
In 2017, we are going to see as much of Europe as we possibly can, since we've never been there before. We also would like to return to Asia again while we're there, since it's not that far and we still have much to see there. We're thinking of going to China for the first time or maybe visit Thailand again.
Thank you for reading/listening! Don't be shy: feel free to comment below about what's in store for you in 2017!
Wine: Gnarly Head- Cabernet Sauvignon (California)