Hanoi – My first few days backpacking

It is my first day in Bangkok and have been in bed all day as I believe I havefood poisoning, so I figured I’d post a few blogs about my experiences so far on what has been nothing short of an epic journey.  

I will be posting a blog “5 Things to Expect Your First Week Backpacking”, however I wanted to also break apart my experiences as it has been rich and full of excitement. This blog I will talk about my experiences in Hanoi, as well as the overall experience of beginning my travels. I will also be posting a blog on my awesome trips to Sa pa, Halong Bay, and Yen Dux Village. 

Day One


Backpackers hanging out at Vietnam Backpackers Hostel – Downtown


 I literally had no idea what to expect when the cab driver dropped me off in front of Vietnam Backpackers Hostel – Downtown. The first thing that went through my mind was “holy shit, I’m actually backpacking Asia, I’m actually arriving at a hostel, this is for real!”  

Walking into the hostel I felt like a kid on his first day at a new school. The place was packed with backpackers, all conversating and having a good time. I’d like to think I did my best to look like I was a seasoned veteran, however I am certain my “new to backpacking” look was written on my face. 

After checking in, the receptionist brought me to my dorm, a room with 6 bunk beds (that’s 12 beds total for those not mathematically inclined). There were 3 people in the room getting ready to go downstairs for happy hour, and they all looked over and greeted me with a smile and hello. To our surprise we were all from America (not very common I have come to realize), and we quickly began talking. Backpackers are some of the friendliest people you can ever meet, it is like a brotherhood of likeminded people who accept everyone. 


A girl strumming her guitar in the dorm

After talking for bit and hearing the incredible places they had been to, we all went downstairs to the bar to enjoy happy hour. The special was buy one get one free beers, and after doing a quick conversion in my head I realized each beer was going to run me $.50! (HELL YES).  I explained my itinerary to them, and they began to laugh saying I will change my plans so many times before my trip is over, and to just go with the flow. 

I was absolutely amazed by all of the places these people had been, and the incredible experiences they have had. . After spending a whopping $2 on some beers, we headed out to dinner.  Unfortunately they had been craving Dominos for weeks, so my first authentic Vietnamese meal would have to wait. 

The streets of Hanoi can only be explained with one phrase “fucking insane!”  My cousin Sherif and his wife Jen tried prepping me for how to cross the road, saying “just walk slowly, and don’t stop”. Imagine 50 bikes and a few cars coming straight at you, no stop lights, and no right of ways. Every time you cross the road is literally a leap of faith. They couldn’t have been more accurate.  I just walked slowly, and everyone veered around me. The best way to explain crossing the road in Hanoi is like mini shots of adrenaline at every street crossing, there is the fear of getting hit, followed by the reward of making it across in one piece. 

 After our not-so-authentic Vietnamese cuisine we headed back to the hostel, where the place was bumping. Music was playing, people were dancing, and there were several free shots being passed around.  It was beyond easy to start meeting people, and by nights end I had met a ton of new people. 
Laying down in bed that night I was overwhelmed with a feeling of peace and comfort “wow, it’s really happening, and it’s awesome”.

Day 2

As I had literally no plans that day, I just laid in bed a while and soaked it all in.  The streets were buzzing with noise, and a few people I had met the night prior were heading ou to their next destination.  As with life, there is a beginning and an end to things. While backpacking, that is raised to the 10th power. It’s amazing to meet so many people in such a short amount of time, however it seems as if every few hours I am saying goodbye to a new friend. 

After a lazy day in bed it was time for my first authentic Vietnamese meal, or so I thought….    I walked a bit through the Old Quarter until I found a place serving up some street food BBQ. I was sat next to a group of backpackers and we began to chat for a bit. As we were all waiting for our food to come out one of the most insane experiences of my entire life unfolded in front of my very eyes…


Rumble in Hanoi – notice several locals weilding weapons

While trying to learn more about my new friends, we were distracted by screaming coming from the middle of the road.  Seconds later the owner of the place we were eating at ran full speed into the middle of the street and cracked another guy in the face. From our observation it looked like it was the owner of another restaurant right across the street. To my surprise a man came out of nowhere and entered the fight.  Hailing from Vietnam, coming in at 5 feet 2 inches and 120 pounds soaking wet, carrying a…. bamboo bong?!  This tiny little dude cracked the man who threw the first punch right across the back of his head, and pieces of bamboo and bong water went flying. 

Me and my new buddies thought it was pretty funny given the size of the guy and his weapon of choice, however things got much more interesting, and dangerous. The man who had just got hit ran into the kitchen, and ran back into the ring full speed with a gigantic meat cleaver in his hand!  I have seen fights in my life where weapons were involved, however it is usually just used as a scare tactic. But this man had only one thing on his mind, “decapitate”. He chased the other man full speed, with the meat cleaver cocked back ready to deliver the death shot. 
Things started to happen fast, but the next thing I know there were 5 other guys standing in the street with sticks that had blades attached to the end of them. 


These were the same types of weapons used at the fight

Thankfully dozens of people jumped in, and from what I saw everybody walked away in one piece.  My new friends and I decided that maybe we should dine elsewhere, as there was enough tension lingering on the street that it could be cut with a meat cleaver. 

Day 3 

The rooftop terrace at the hostel I was staying at was probably the best part of the hostel for me. At any time of the day there are several people soaking up some sun rays, listening to music, and occasionally puffing on the devils lettuce. I spent a good amount of my day just lounging on the rooftop, listening to music, and really just staying to myself. I am very good at listening to others, however I am trying to make an effort on this trip to spend time listening to myself. 

A few girls on the rooftop relaxing in the sun

After a few solid hours on the rooftop I decided to go do some touristy things. I hit up a few museums, and ended my tour with “The Hanoi Hilton”. The Hanoi Hilton, or the Hỏa Lò Prison, was a prison used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for U.S. Prisoners of War during the Vietnam War.  

Vietnamese political prisoners displayed at the Hanoi Hilton

The tour is really split into 2 parts. The first is a depiction of the horrible torture inflicted by the French colonist on the Vietnamese political prisoners.  The second part, was about the U.S. POWs during the Vietnam war. Being from the U.S. I found this fascinating.  There are several old propaganda videos showing the prisoners eating the finest foods, playing volleyball, smoking cigarettes, and playing cards. The old videos continuously reassure the viewer that the prisoners were treated on par with Geneva standards. Obviously us from the states grew up hearing a different story, so it was great to see how the other side views things. 

When I got back to the hostel that night I met a few dudes who had just returned from a place called Sa Pa. They couldn’t say enough about it, and encouraged me to hop on a night bus, take the 6 hour drive to Sa Pa, and find one of the local villagers to allow me to spend the night (homestay), so that’s exactly what I did. The beauty about traveling solo is you can do however much, or however little you would like to. Within a half hour of our conversation I checked out of the hostel, grabbed my backpack, and headed to the nearest bus station. 


Goodbye Hong Kong, hello solo trip through Asia 

 So I’ve been in Hong Kong for 2 weeks now… It’s insane to say that because it doesn’t feel like it’s been nearly that long. I am guessing part of the feeling has to do with the fact that a good part of the first week was spent sleeping off my jet lag and sickness. However the main factor is the great time I always have with my family, and the amount of fun I’ve had while here. They say laughter is the best medicine, and it is most definitely is. These past 2 weeks I have laughed more than I have in a long time. I also got to spend a lot of quality time with the worlds cutest great nephew. 

Hong Kong is an amazing city.  The first week I felt like such a foreigner, and wandered the streets completely lost. But within just 2 weeks I seriously felt like I’ve lived here forever. There are such amazing things to eat (see below), amazing people to meet, and beautiful things to see.  The skyline at night is absolutely breathtaking. Unfortunately part of its glamour is the glow the buildings give off at night, A glow that is so visible as a result of the pollution in the air.  But hey, why not find the silver lining! 😉



I talked about Dr. Chen in my last blog, so I thought that it would be cool to share my journey through Asia with the stories of people that I will meet along the way. The conversation that I will share in this blog is about another doctor, this time it was Dr. Raymond.  

Unfortunately the ground up sea shells and unicorn dust tea did absolutely nothing, and I continued to get more ill. I finally made the decision to seek western medicine, and made an appointment with Dr. Raymond. Dr. Raymond was a soft spoken, extremely brilliant man, and has been practicing medicine for over 40 years. Our “deep” conversation began when asking about family history. I shared with him a list of family history, and when I mentioned my father passed from stomach cancer there was definitely a pause that I noticed when he was writing.  He looked up at me, and felt the urge to start sharing his experience with his mom this past year. 

Dr. Raymond’s mom was also diagnosed with cancer in 2014, and like myself he cared for her during end of life.  He explained how his mother was the work horse of the family (his father had a problem with his eyes), and how she was the strongest person he had ever known. We began to share our similar experiences with that process, and how it has changed how we think. He said something that definitely hit home with me “it’s impossible not to question what you have done with your life when you are starring death in the face”. 

After he said that statement I thought it would be the perfect time to ask him one of the questions from the list I had mentioned in my last blog “What is the greatest fear at the end of life?”  He said his greatest fear is that for his family to have to lie while writing his obituary. He shared with me that when writing his moms obituary that not once did he have to fabricate a single word, as she was full of love and compassion. His greatest fear is that his family would make up a fictitious story that would describe somebody that the readers would respect and appreciate, when in fact he did not live up to those words. 

Dr. Raymond said that the way he will ensure that this does not happen seemed pretty simple. 

  1. Be kind to all
  2. Always give back, and leave this world giving more than you have received

Dr. Raymond and I shared some final words, he gave me a ton of meds and I was on my way. 

I feel honored that so many people throughout my life have opened up to me and have shared stories that have left everlasting imprints on my life, and I hope it continues for years to come. 

 This bag is all I will be taking with me on my month and a half solo trip through Southeast Asia.  As much I am going to miss spending time with them (as well as all of the people back home), I am beyond myself with excitement for the trip to come. Part of me is definitely nervous, but the main emotion is excitement. 
I am excited to see new cultures, eat great food, meet new people, learn awesome history, and be able to quiet my brain. 

I am not nervous about the cliche things like getting sick, lost, kidnapped, being stabbed by a Thai ladyboy, or any other thing you can imagine while traveling. I’m nervous about some of the personal things I may face within myself while completely alone.  It’s been a pretty crazy few years for me, and I think it’s easy for people to fill their brains with “commercials”, and not actually ever face the “movie” that is our lives, no matter how scary or beautiful our movie may be.  Socrates was famous for saying “The unexamined life is not worth living”.

 I am across the world, I have a backpack, the clothes on my back, and I do not know a single person. If there is any time to truly examine my life, the time is now. 

Next stop, Hanoi! ✌🏼️✌🏼


First few days across the world, and a talk over tea

 The first 2 days in Hong Kong have definitely been quite the experience. The first night was spent catching up with my cousin (who is actually my nephew yet happens to be older than me), his wife (I guess that makes her my niece), and their perfect baby Jackson.  We drank some really… REALLY nice Bourbon, and laughed a lot. I’m not sure if it’s my cousins wit or his delivery, but 95% of the time I am with him I am crying laughing. 

Baby Jackson

The following day I really began to map out the places I will be seeing while I am in Asia, and I think I have it all figured out.  

  1. Macau, China
  2. Hanoi, Vietnam
  3. Halong Bay, Vietnam
  4. Bangkok, Thailand
  5. Koh Phangan, Thailand
  6. Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
  7. Phuket, Thailand
  8. Siem Reap, Cambodia
  9. Koh Ta Kiev, Cambodia
  10. HMC, Vietnam
  11. Da Nang, Vietnam

Obviously things can change, however if things go well I should hit most of these places (with a possibility of replacing Laos with something else). My “nephew” Sherif and I were joking about what the worst case scenario would be for me while I am backpacking through third world countries, His answer… “You get captured and ISIS posts a video of your final moments on YouTube”.  Yikes!

I did venture out a bit yesterday, however today was my first real taste of Hong Kong. I met my nephew near his job, and he took me to the local pharmacist, followed by a Chinese healer who practices Eastern Medicine to try and get some help fighting my nasty cold.  The main avenues of Hong Kong really reminded me of NYC, however when you peer down the side streets you start realizing you’re not in Kansas anymore. 

Dr. Chen


When Sherif and I first walked into the healing store we both gave each other a look like “What the f*** is this place”!?  I was doubtful at first because when I was in Macedonia in 2014 and came down with a stomach bug the village Doctor prescribed with none other than Coca-Cola… Needless to say my experiences outside the realm of a primary care doctor have been less than successful. Dr. Chen saw us and greeted us (speaking English which helped). He brought me to the back and asked me about my symptoms. I explained that I had swollen glands, sore throat, and a bad caugh, and he began to write on his note pad.  While he was writing he explained to Sherif and I that he was 75 years old, and is back in college for his Masters, followed by his PhD.  After writing down what my remedy would be, he explained that for the next 3 days I should not not eat chicken, fish, or spicy food.  He also told me to stay away from females.  I got my receipt and was told to return in 2 hours. 

I think it is…. nope, no clue

My nephew had to head back to work so it was my time to explore a bit. I went down to the subway station and headed over to Wan Chai (the subway stations are extremely more advanced to what I am used to in NYC). Wan Chai was a very busy area, and had more of an authentic feel to it. There were tons of ducks being displayed in windows, and packed streets of people walking. The one thing I found interesting was that since being white is obviously the minority in Hong Kong, in the rare event that you walk by somebody who is also white, there’s usually a brief moment of eye contact, kind of like saying “hello old friend, you’re not alone”. While standing around I met a nice family from California and they shared with me their experiences so far while being in Asia. I am always told that I have the ability to spark random conversation with people, and will usually be able to make them feel comfortable enough to share some interesting facts with me. My cousin Leeza always jokes saying “You are incapable of small talk”.

When it was time to head back I hopped back on the subway, ate some awesome Pho, though I unfortunately couldn’t make it spicy (Doctors orders), and headed back to get my remedy. One of the employees grabbed my cannister of meds, sat me in a side room with a few other people who were taking drinking tea or eating some black gel, poured my tea, and made a gesture to start drinking. I felt like all eyes were on me, probably due to the fact that I was the only white person in there and was starring at the gross steamy cup of something tea. It also came with a roll of “haw flakes”. I had no damn clue what haw flakes were, but one of the ingredients said sugar so I added a piece to my tea since the tea was absolutely vile. You would have thought I committed a mortal sin, as all the other patients started talking about what I had just done, and a few even giggled. I figured before messing up the whole process I should go grab the Doc. 


Dr. Chen came and sat with me, and we embarked on quite the conversation while I was trying to down this stuff. I Figured that regardless of making convo with this guy or not I will be sitting down sipping my tea, so why not try to learn something about someone I’ll most likely never see again while I am at it. 

My sister Sarina and I were in a cab 2 weeks ago in the city, and I sparked a conversation with the cab driver. It somehow manifested into him sharing his experience on 9/11, and the young girl he dropped off that morning for an interview inside one the Twin Towers. 

I remember Sarina telling me how if it were her in the cab by herself,  she would have been on her phone or just starring out the window until her destination. My sister and I both learned a lot from that conversation, and she also learned you never know what you can find out if you just stop and listen. 

Dr. Chen asked me about why I am in Asia, and what I do for a living. I explained to him that I am spending time with family, then going to backpack around Asia for a while. I also exlplained how I just graduated school, and wanted to travel before working as the last few years have been hectic.   

Dr. Chen then grabbed my wrist again (kind of like the picture above when he was diagnosing me), and after closing his eyes for a while  he looked up and  said that I was born to heal people. It was interesting that he said that, as I was in social work for years, as well as my fathers caregiver during his end of life. By no means am I saying I am now going to become a Chinese healer, however there may be some valid points behind his findings. He went on to explain how he did not practice medicine his whole life, but felt like it was his calling and pursued it much later on. It reminded me a lot of a story from a book my mom had given to me “The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die” by John Izzo. He interviewed almost 300 people who displayed wisdom and happiness, and from them he wrote a book on their experiences.  At the end of the book he gives the reader a list of questions for “interviewing your own wise elders” so I figured I’d ask the Doc. He was old, and seemed wise (if I die from this tea I take the wise part back). 

“What has brought you the greatest sense of meaning and purpose in life?  Why does it matter that you were alive”. He didn’t say anything for a second so I was scared I offended him, but then he started to explain. He said that education and pursuing his dream of practicing medicine has brought him purpose to his life.  He told me “I am aware that by the time I get my PhD I will not be able to do anything with it in my life, but it will do a lot for lives in the years to come.”  He went on to say “Children are the next generation, and it is our duty to guide them correctly. My life has meaning if I can show the next generation that it is never too late to follow their passion, and to also continue to learn”.

After I finally downed my tea he wished me the best of luck, we shook hands, I slightly bowed my head (not sure if I am supposed to but it felt like the right thing to do), and I was off. While walking back to the house I couldn’t help but be amazed as to the conversation I had with a random stranger in Hong Kong. Life can be funny like that, I was able to find some reason behind  something as simple as a cold…


The Next Chapter


Well this is my first blog. I am uncertain as to what proper “blog” etiquette is, but I will try my best to share my journey.  As I write this I am sitting at terminal 6 waiting for my direct flight to Hong Kong. This is a trip I have been planning to take for 2 years now, and is my 4th attempt at doing so. I feel that the fact that I have made it to the gate and the flight is on time, the next stop will actually be Asia.

My first attempt to Asia was 2014, to intern at my cousins hedge fund.  unfortunately, my father was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer in January of that year, and I decided spending time with him far outweighed any benefit I could have received by the summer internship.   My father and I spent the summer in his home country of Macedonia, and we made memories that will last me the rest of my life.

My second attempt was an 8 day trip departing June 12th of 2015.  A month prior to the flight I had just graduated college, and my father was still in decent health (or so I thought).  The promise we made a year prior was that I would fight to do my best in school (and I graduated near top of my class), and he would fight to stay alive to see it come to fruition.  Thankfully he and the rest of my family were able to see me on my graduation day.  However, 2 days prior to my flight to Hong Kong my father passed after a long, strong, and courageous fight with stomach cancer.  Obviously trip attempt #2 was cancelled.

My third attempt was to be the very beginning of this year, as I had what I thought was a guaranteed job on Wall Street, as well as 2 other definite fall back jobs.  The trip would have been around a week, and then I was to fly straight back to continue working.   While my father was still alive he begged me to take some time off before jumping into a career job, as what I had endured the last few years had taken a lot out of me. At the last second all of the job potentials fell apart, and I had a decision to make.  I could have continued to hunt for a job, and certainly I could have found something to “get me by”, or I could have accepted what it seemed fate was trying to tell me.  

Though I was a finance major, the most important classes that I ever took were “intro to philosophy”, and “search for meaning in contempary America”, both taught by the greatest professor I ever had the honor of learning from, Dr. Horton. He taught us about many of the schools of philosophy, but what resonated with me the most was Stoicism.  The Stoic Philosopher Seneca once said “Fate leads the willing, and drags along the reluctant”.   

I am taking a few months to travel Asia, with no idea what I will be doing, nor where I will be living once my journey is complete and I come back to the USA.  I believe we must make efforts in our life to seek what we think the next step is (we cannot just wait for good things to always happen), however sometimes our fate has plans in which we did not expect.   It is my belief that this trip around Asia, spending time with my family, and seeing different countries and cultures will be a life changing experience, and I welcome you to join the journey with me.