The Full Moon Party and an Interview in a Garage 

When I arrived in Koh Phangan for the Full Moon Party I instantly felt the party vibe, even days before the actual event.  It was beautiful and sunny out, and thousands of people were arriving daily leading up to the big night.  For those of you who don’t know, the Full Moon Party is a party on Haad Rin beach in Koh Phangan that is held (shockingly) every full moon.  

Prior to arriving in Koh Phangan I contemplated switching my plans last second as I had thoughts of heading to Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai and Pai) instead. I originally wanted to check out the Full Moon Party, however after all of the cultural experiences I had in Vietnam there was a hunger for more authenticity then was to be expected from Koh Phangan.  However after some thinking and speaking with family I decided to stick to the original plan and give this crazy party a shot (while I’m still young enough to justify going).

The owner of my hostel (Marysun Hostel) Marysol and her partner Mikewere extremely nice and laid back.  The hostel was empty the night I arrived so we had a chance to hang out and enjoy some amazing Thai food.  Marysol’s sister was in town and we all had a great time getting to know each other and telling stories.  The beach was only feet away from the front door of my hostel, which was convenient for access to the party as well as just chilling on the beach.  Even days leading up to the party there is a pretty cool scene on the beach, so I walked all 15 steps from my hostel and went to check it out.

I got a chance to meet a few people, and do a little bit of dancing. As the night went on you can see the younger kids who were partying getting more and more wasted, as a sand bucket full of liquor only cost a few dollars on the beach.  To my disbelief I ran into 2 friends whom I had met in Vietnam, and we spent a lot of time talking and catching up. When we parted ways it was around 4 am and the scene was starting to fizzle out. 

The next day I woke up and walked around the beach a bit. I was informed that my hostel was to be filled with a group of 10+ friends from Chile that day, so after a while of tanning I headed back to the room to introduce myself.  The second I walked in and met this awesome group I instantly knew that these people were special. They all had the biggest smiles on their faces, and were beyond nice to me. We instantly hit it off. 

They knew I was a solo traveler, and went above and beyond to make me feel like part of their group. We hung out on the beach, grabbed dinner, and really got to know each other.  With it being the night before the Full Moon Party there was an even larger party scene on the beach, however I had to spend a lot of that night away from my new found friends from Chile.  Instead I had to sit for an interview I had been preparing the last month for…



This was the email, the email that I re-read over 100 times leading up to this night.  I had made the decision months prior to apply for a position in the Peace Corps.  When I had applied I knew it was a long shot as it is extremely competitive, however when I received this email stating “Macedonia” as the country under consideration, I truly thought it was fate.  I was enthralled at the chance to help the youth of Macedonia grow as individuals and as a community, as well as the chance to spend time volunteering in the country in which my father was born and raised.  When I received that email I thought it was the next step, the reason behind the numerous things that had occurred in the past leading to that very moment, the “call to adventure” in a heroes journey.

Since I only received my interview time slot 2 days prior, I had to improvise a bit. It was a Skype interview and my wardrobe was nowhere near suitable.  I was also situated right by a beach with thousands of drunk kids partying, yet I couldn’t venture too far because I needed reliable wifi.  I ended up using an abandoned garage right next to the hostel that was still in range of the hostels wifi.  I borrowed a button up shirt from Mike, sat with the cleanest of the 4 walls behind me, and proceeded to have a 2 hour long interview with the Peace Corps. The interview went absolutely amazing and I left that garage certain that come this September I’d be heading overseas to Macedonia.  It was 2 a.m. when the interview concluded (2 p.m. Washington D.C time), and my friends from Chile were on the beach having a blast. We celebrated the fact that the interview went so well and partied all night.  I met tons of great people that night and was able to witness one of the most beautiful sunrises of my life. 


Due to the fact that I was awake until noon there isn’t much to share about the day leading up to the Full Moon Party. I spent most of the day sleeping, dreaming about all the lives I will be impacting, and how my own personal life will change once I join the Peace Corps.  When I finally got out of bed my newfound Chilean family and I began preparing for the big night. We got some food in our bellies and covered ourselves with body paint as if we were warriors preparing ourselves for battle.  

The Full Moon Party was above and beyond what I expected; 30+ thousand people occupying one beach with the occasional kid being burned thinking they can jump rope while the rope is on fire.  Thankfully the owner of my hostel (also from Chile), threw a Latin Party in front of the hostel that night, so most of us spent the night just partying it up there.  A much smaller, more chill vibe than the insanity on the beach.  Throughout the night I had met an awesome friend from Canada who told me about an after hours spot up in the woods overlooking the ocean, so I concluded my Full Moon Party adventure there. 

The next day was a day of recovery and rest for us all, yet we did manage to go out that night for dinner to celebrate a birthday. We blasted Spanish music, sang songs, played pool, and told stories. I remember sitting back in awe when the clock struck 12 for Vito’s birthday.  The raw, unabated love between everyone had for each other was like nothing I had ever witnessed before. 


 The beauty about backpacking is there are always opportunities to learn about other cultures.  Yes I did miss out on the culture of Northern Thailand, however I learned so much about the kindness and love of the Chilean people.  It blows my mind to this day as to how this huge group treated me so much like family, and even now almost a month after parting ways we all talk frequently. I am counting down the days until I see my Chilean family again!

Video 2 of my friends made about their trip

Luckily for me upon leaving the island I was able to get some much needed recovery in Phuket for the weekend, and spend some time with my family that I was staying with in Hong Kong. 


Sherif (The Trailblazer) got me my own private villa with its own infinite pool; a HUGE step up from the 16 room dorms I  had been staying in.  We hung around most of the weekend and relaxed, and with me being all partied out I was more than willing to babysit at night so they could go and do their own thing. 

The weekend came and went and it was time for us to part ways; they were heading back to Hong Kong, and I was off to experience the Kingdom of Cambodia.  Unfortunately for me the self induced insomnia I had endured during the Full Moon Party had lingering lethargic effects, and led me to oversleep and miss my 6:40 a.m. flight.  Instead I got to spend the better half of a day inside the airport waiting for my new (and far more expensive) flight.  In that time I wrote a blog, went over tons of pictures and videos.  I reminisced about all the people I had met in Koh Phangan, and most definitely sent some gratitude to my cousin for taking such good care of me. 

When I finally took off for Cambodia it was Monday around 8 p.m. (8 a.m. Washington D.C time), and I found myself  updating my email feed repeatedly awaiting news from the Peace Corps.  When we took off and the “no service” sign finally appeared on my phone I placed the phone in my pocket, closed my eyes, and tried my hardest toenvision  how the rest of my travels would play out…  Oh how wrong I was!


5 Things To Expect Your First Week Backpacking

You’ve decided to spread your wings and venture out into the wild world of backpacking.  You’ve read tons of travel blogs, read countless reviews on hostels and destinations, bought far more than needed in terms of travel supplies, and have a huge itinerary of places you want to go and things you want to experience throughout your journey.  Even with all the due diligence complete, nothing can quite prepare you for when you finally touch down and embark on your priceless journey.  With that being said I present to you the 5 Things To Expect Your First Week Backpacking.

Your fears will quickly begin to dissipate  – Traveling across the world, where you know virtually nothing about the area nor the people or culture is surely exciting; albeit undeniably scary to some degree. Arriving in your first country, even the most subtle differences such as the flow of traffic or humidity in the air will make you feel just how far from home you are. Add on the VAST differences such as possible communist propaganda posters, strange offers from Tuk Tuk drivers that are simply wrong on so many moral levels, and just completely different culture and way of life and you have yourself in a very strange position.  You may think to yourself “what the hell did I get myself into”, and that’s fine, I think the initial fear leads to an even more enhanced excitement once you realize all will be.

Some people’s fear or reservations may dissipate naturally by just walking around the city for a while and getting accustomed to a new culture, but for many (including myself) your first hostel is where the change occurs.  Entering your first hostel may feel like the first day at a new school at first, but within a very short time you will acclimate to the “backpackers” way of life.  You realize you are merely one of MANY going on the same (yet different) journey you are on.  You will be able to share your relatable first experiences with others, and they will gladly share theirs with you.  You will realize that you are not alone in feeling the way you do, and others will take you under their wing.  I’m not sure if it’s the feeling of nostalgia that coincides with taking someone brand new to backpacking under their wing, but on my first day people I had so many people offering to take me out and show me the city.

You will toss away your itinerary if you made one – Prior to backpacking S.E. Asia I spent literal days researching and planning where I would be every day of my travels, what I would be doing, and how I would be getting there.  Part of it was because I knew there were certain things I wanted to see, but the major part was a fear of not having everything planned out.  When I arrived at my first hostel the people I met laughed when they saw my itinerary, saying “you wont be using that much longer”, and they were absolutely right.

The people you meet, the stories you hear, and the vibe you get in each place will guide throughout your journey.  You may absolutely hate or love a certain city you are in, and with no itinerary there is nothing stopping you from leaving that very night or extending a few days.  Remember, traveling is a business, so anywhere you may go, there will be plenty of services to help you get to a cool destination in the area, or services to help you travel to another city or country.

You will also hear about places you never even knew existed, and are going to want to visit them all!.  In my first few days backpacking I heard about 3 places around Hanoi that were not even on my radar, and 2 of them ended up being some of the highlights of my trip.  Talk to people, hear their stories, and let the journey flow as natural and unplanned as possible.

You will be shocked by how fast you form close relationships- Back home most people you meet are consumed by societal norms, expectations from family and friends, and begin to wear the mask of what they feel is expected of them.  Forming close relationships with people whether it be work associates or friends of friends sometimes takes months, even years.  I like to think that building a relationship with someone is the process of 2 people taking off their masks ever so cautiously to reveal their true selves.

While backpacking you will come to realize that mask has already been taken off.  People will express themselves to you in their truest and purest form, partly because you will already have so much in common being a fellow backpacker, and partly because they’re all the way across the world so who gives a shit what anyone thinks.  As long as you are willing to say “hi”, you will begin to form bonds at a rapid rate.  The conversations you have will be rich with thoughts and experiences.  Throughout my travels I can say with absolute conviction that I have made dozens of true friends that I will keep in touch with long after my travels have concluded, and will never forget.

You will learn real fast how often you have to say goodbye –  I remember my first 2 days in Hanoi, I had linked up with a group of friends and we did everything together.  Out of 8 of us I was by far the newest to backpacking, so when one of the kids got his bags together for the 30 hour sleeper bus to Laos I was shocked at the dynamic.  There were hugs and the occasional “make sure to add me on Facebook”, but then he was gone, just like that.  He hopped on a bike that would take him to the sleeper bus, and everyone else went back to what they were doing.

It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially when you’re saying goodbye to people you’ve grown extremely close to; however learning to say goodbye will make you that much stronger and wiser throughout your travels.  You begin to learn the beautiful yet tragic truth about just how large this world really is, and how small we as individuals actually are .  The French Novelist Gustave Flaubert once said “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world”.  Just as water constantly flows down a river, so to will the people you meet.

You’ll realize you have made a life changing decision – I believe this moment of awareness is so personal to each and every person I would be doing an injustice saying when this moment will be.  There are so many reasons people decide to go backpacking, whether it be to come to terms with something serious that has happened in life, to gain a better understanding of the world, or to just experience something completely new.  There will however be a defining moment very early in your travels, and when that moment comes you will be enveloped with an indescribable feeling that the journey you are on will forever change you.

With all that being said, none of this is possible if you don’t step outside your comfort zone.  Sadly I witnessed people stay in their dorm bed all day and watch movies on Netflix, something that surely can be done within the confines of their own home.  Speak to travelers, but also make sure to speak to locals.  Eat what they eat, dance how they dance, try to speak with them in their language even if it is just a word (believe me they will love you for it).  Enjoy all the scary, exciting, awkward, sad, indescribable experiences that backpacking has to offer.  Go out and experience the world, and don’t be scared to make an absolute fool of yourself.  And remember, you are far from being alone.

“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” – Wendell Berry





Living in the present, Uncategorized

Smelling The Flowers – A lesson learned on the streets of Bangkok

Up until this point I have posted blogs mainly about the cool things I have done while backpacking Asia (it is my hope you have enjoyed them).  The thing is, the trip has not been merely a journey from place to place; it has also been a journey of the soul, and I would like to share in a few of my upcoming blogs some of the thoughts and personal experiences I have had during my travels.

I arrived in Bangkok and had a list of places I wanted to see.  I was only there for 2 days so I was adamant about seeing as much as possible.  I couldn’t wait to check all of these places off of my list; however, as luck would have it, I came down with a severe stomach virus.  I was bed ridden and had no energy.  My day and night slipped away and I looked at my list with despair knowing I would not see all I originally set out to see.

Thankfully the next day I felt a bit better, and decided to try to see some of the sights.  I met 2 friends who had been in Bangkok before, so we grouped up to do some sight-seeing.  We took an extremely sketchy water taxi, and ended up at the Golden Mount (Wat Saket).  After climbing up what seemed like an endless amount of stairs we finally made it to the top.  There was a breeze that cut through the humidity, and a calm in the air.  Though I was still sick, the feeling of being in my first temple in Thailand was great.  I spent some time praying and reflecting (maybe a solid 30 seconds) before the urge to get to my next destination set in.  I already missed a day, so it was time to catch up!  I completely escaped the present, and jumped straight into the future.

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Water Taxi



Next was the Giant Swing.  We walked a solid 30 minutes in extreme humidity, I was sweating profusely, and felt like I was going to faint at any minute.  When we finally arrived I gazed at the large structure for around 5 seconds before I was ready to go see the Grand Palace.



Giant Swing?

After the swing my friends and I went separate ways as they had already seen the Grand Palace.  While walking to the Palace I told myself “Ok, after the palace at least you have seen a decent amount of sights in Bangkok”.  I was not concerned with the culture around me, was not concerned with the food the streets had to offer, nor the history surrounding me. I was solely concerned with checking off the next item on my list.  As I arrived to the palace I was confronted by someone saying it had already closed, and to come back tomorrow.  I let him know it was my final day, and he was nice enough to show me some other sights to see.  Little did I know it was part of a common scam in Bangkok, bringing tourists to pointless sights, and eventually a clothing factory where you get all but forced to buy suits.  After sitting in the Tuk Tuk a while and having more than 1 conversation about this amazing “factory” my spidey senses kicked in and I googled Bangkok factory scam.  Article upon article popped up,, so I kindly asked the driver to pull the hell over and let me out.  By the time I got out of the Tuk Tuk it was rather late, and I knew my day of sight seeing was done.

I went back to the hostel, feeling as if I’ve waisted my day, and my entire time in Bangkok.  Thankfully my cousin hooked me up with an Italian friend who lives in Bangkok, and he invited me over for dinner.  I began walking to his apartment reflecting on the shitty day I had, and all of a sudden it then it happened…

I thought back to my trip to Macedonia with my father, and how similar my feelings at that moment  were to the feelings I had one day walking around Lake Ohrid.  In Ohrid there are dozens of beautiful old monasteries, and gorgeous landscapes to see. We decided to set aside a couple of days to experience the history and beauty of Ohrid.  My father was sick, and I knew this would be the only time visiting these sights (with him).  For that reason I was consumed with the notion that we had to see all that could be seen, because this is it, there is no “next time”.

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Church of Saint John at Kaneo


Helping my dad up the steep stairs to an old Monastery


Walking to our next stop (My uncle to the left)


My cousin Durim to the left


The first day of sight-seeing my cousin, uncle, father and I saw so much breathtaking beauty.  It was incredible that my uncle who is almost 80, and my father who was 71, were keeping walking at a faster pace than me.  They told me so many stories, stories about the places we were seeing, as well as hilarious stories from childhood.


My father – the storyteller


I was even able to climb into an old monastery from the 15th century.  Unfortunately my father and uncle were unable to make the climb, so my cousin and I went up.  It was absolutely breathtaking inside, and I was in awe at the paintings and artifacts that surrounded the rooms.  To think that priests lived in those very rooms hundreds of years ago was almost unfathomable.

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After this we decided to call it a day, and headed back to our village.  I remember the feeling I had going home that day, so complete, so fulfilled.

Our next day of exploration was during Ramadan.  We started the day visiting family, and paying our respects to loved ones lost.

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Graveyard in Kalishta

After all our visits were done, we set off to see more sights.  I had a list in mind of places I really wanted to see, just as I had a list of places to see in Bangkok.  However, barely any sights would be seen that day, rather an invaluable lesson…

As we started walking around the boarder of Lake Ohrid I caught my father on several occasions gazing at the water.  Mid walk he suddenly stopped and began to stare at the lake.  He expressed how badly he wanted to chop through the waves of Lake Ohrid one last time, as he did so many times in his life.  Unfortunately he was not able to swim due to neuropathy caused by the chemotherapy.  He then turned to me, smiled, and said “I am going for a swim”.  I began to get extremely worried, and that worry was followed by a combination of happiness and deep sadness when I saw what he did next.

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My father prior to a race in 1965



Final swim in Lake Ohrid

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My father staring at the lake – his lake.  In an article (Swimming legend Xhevit Hoxha passed away) written the day after his passing by Lebit Murtishi, translated by Premtime Zylali, he said  “But the memories of Xhevit, especially for the older generations of Struga, will remain unforgettable even for the most unique events for Albanians since: He is the first Albanian swimmer who spent about 40 km swimming through the waves of the Ohrid Lake in 1965, and unfortunately will be remembered as the last one as well… No one after him had the courage to take part in the marathon of swimming competitions that used to be help in that period once a year in Lake Ohrid.. May the swimming legend rest in peace!”

He stared at that lake for what seemed to be hours.  I never asked what he was thinking that day, and even if I did I am certain he could not articulate into words the emotions and thoughts that must have been coursing through him.  Or, maybe his mind went quiet, just the sound of the waves, wind on his back, and peace in his mind…

After a while of standing at the edge of the lake he turned to me with a smile and said “Ok, we can go now”.  As we began walking to our next sight everyone was eerily quiet, and not much was said.  I was worried that the water may have too much for him; that is until we walked by the fields of flowers… He and my uncle began picking flowers, smelling and examining each one, often debating over what they were looking at.

I stood there for a good while, yet as time went on I began to get impatient.  I wanted my father to enjoy his day, however I had this damn list of places I needed all of us to go see!   I began to escape the moment that I was in, and run towards what the next thing was that we were supposed to see.  The feeling was very similar to the feeling I had at the Golden Mount, just on a larger scale.

My dad walked over with a handful of flowers, and a smile on his face.  He told me to close my eyes, and when I did he put the flowers to my nose and said his famous “ohh ho hooooo”.   After enjoying the fresh smell of the flowers I turned to him and reminded him that there were still places left to see.  It was at that moment he put his hand on my shoulder and said “right now baby, we are smelling the flowers”.  The rest of the day we walked around, stopping every few minutes to smell flowers or examine fruits on trees.  Though it was something so basic, and could be found anywhere, he made it seem like the most precious moment in time.

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2 brothers arguing over what fruit was on the tree, though it looks like they are dancing

Walking home that day my dad looked at me and said, “that was a great day baby”.  He was right, it was.  We didn’t do much in terms of sight seeing, we simply just walked, talked, and smelt the flowers; and it was absolutely perfect.

If someone were to ask me about the trip that was now close to 2 years ago, there is no way I could explain the monasteries in detail without pulling out pictures on my phone.  However, I can still smell every one of those flowers as if they were in front of my nose at this very minute.  I can tell you the placement of every wrinkle on my fathers face when he smiled holding the bouquet, and I can tell you every thought in detail that crossed through my mind.

 I remember shortly before my dad passed helping him into the house for the last time.  While walking he looked over at his beautiful garden of flowers.  I stopped and asked if he’d like some time alone, and he nodded yes.  He was out there for close to an hour, and for a long time I wondered what must have been going through his mind.  But now, from the deepest part of my soul, I am certain that at some point when he was sitting looking at his flowers, he remembered that day simple yet perfect day smelling the flowers around Lake Ohrid.

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While walking over a random bridge in Bangkok is when that memory hit me.  I closed my eyes and could hear my dad saying “smell the flowers baby”.  I took a deep breath through my nose, and was overwhelmed with a feeling of happiness and contentment.  It wasn’t a temple, it wasn’t a piece of history, it was just a bridge and some traffic, but I enjoyed every second of it.  I enjoyed the fact that I had made it so far around the world, I enjoyed the fact that physically and mentally I could appreciate that exact moment with all 5 of my senses, and I was thankful that I felt my father by my side.


On that bridge I learned, or was maybe reminded, that it does not always have to be about the next thing on the list.  I was reminded that the streets of a city can be just as beautiful as the inside of a palace. I was reminded to be thankful for the ability to fully experience the present.  I was reminded to stop and smell the flowers.


“In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line.”                -Henry David Thoreau, Walden


Yen Duc Village – and the secret to happiness through the eyes of a Vietnamese elder

I figured since I’m in a hotel room recovering from food poisoning, as well as a torn MPFL which resulted from a knee dislocation on a remote island so bad it made someone get ill (You’ll have to wait for future blogs to read more on this), that it’s time to play catch up. 

Vietnam will have been my favorite of the 4 countries I have experienced, and my 2 days in Yen Duc Village are probably the main reason for this.  Yen Duc village is in Dong Trieu town and 60km West of Halong city, so after a night on Halong Bay I decided to do a homestay here. What attracted me was that during the war this village was all but demolished, and I thought it would be interesting as an American to spend a night here and try to speak with some locals. 

Known as the “stone wall” during the war, the village is rich with history, and you can still feel the honor that the villagers have for the many locals who lost their lives trying to protect it. Riding around Yen Duc Village you would never think that it was all but demolished during the war, as it is endless streets of beautiful homes, rice paddy fields, and lush green Palm trees.  



When I arrived at Yen Duc Village I was greeted by Gi, who would be my tour guide for the homestay.  She was extremely kind, and so proud of her village. She said that most people her age (24) can’t wait to move to a big city like Hanoi, yet Gi assured me she will never leave Yen Duc. I was the only tourist there that day which was perfect for me. Gi introduced me to the owner of the house I’d stay at for the night, Mr. San. Mr. San speaks no English, but makes the most hilarious hand movements/sound effects I’ve ever witnessed. 



After dropping off my stuff Gi and I grabbed our bikes and went for a ride.  


The ride was absolutely beautiful, the weather perfect, and every single person was smiling and waving. As time went on I started to understand why Gi would never want to leave. 

First thing we did was learn how to make brown rice. They explained that white rice is prepared via machine now, however brown rice is still done the traditional way.  There is much more to it than I had thought, and even broke a little sweat during the process 


 After making the brown rice we head stopped by to visit some sweet old ladies where I would learn to make a broom. They have been doing it for decades and do it with ease, little did I know it’s a very long, very tedious process. Gi shared that the average salary for a broom maker is just around $60 a month.  


They kept repeating a certain word in Vietnamese, so I finally asked Gi and she said “handsome”. It seemed as if I made a good impression on the broom makers, though I didn’t know the extent of my impression until I said goodbye. Saying goodbye was up there as most awkward/flattering thing that’s ever happened. 


The sweet looking 85 year old is no saint, believe me. Moments before taking this photo she grabbed my ass as hard as she could, and with her being a broom maker you better believe she had a very strong grip. After a heartfelt goodbye it was time to do some fishing. 


Fishing to them is walking through mud that goes to your knee, and slamming a basket down into the muddy water with the hopes of feeling something trying to escape.  I guess I’m a natural because I was able to catch 4 with ease. 

When fishing was done it was time to go back home to prepare dinner, but not before getting destroyed in badminton.  While riding home I heard all this screaming and laughing and asked Gi if we could stop.  What I saw was some village locals playing an intense game of badminton.  I hadn’t played in a decade but it looked like so much fun that I had to ask to play. 


It was a humbling experience to say the very least, as I got absolutely destroyed!  What you can’t see in this photo is one of the people I was playing against was a 70+ year old woman. Badminton is serious business in Asia, and it is said that playing badminton will allow you to live until 100. After a solid hour long slaughter it was time to admit defeat and go have dinner. 


Dinner was a HUGE step up from Sapa, with clean kitchenware, and absolutely amazing food. We had pumpkin soup, fried noodles, crisp spring rolls, and the fish caught by yours truly. We sang some songs and Mr. San showed me photo albums of his children.  I even got to assist in making an authentic Vietnamese dessert. 


Going to bed that night I remember how happy I was that I decided to come here. Little did I know the best was yet to come. 

The next morning we woke up and had some breakfast, then hit the road. We stopped at a nearby Pagoda that was absolutely amazing. Gardens and statues surrounded the whole area, as well as a very old bell that is rung twice a day when the monks go to pray. The temple had 3 sections, one for happiness, one for wealth, and one for longevity. I decided to spend my time at the happiness section, and meditated for about 30 minutes. 


We then went to a market to walk around and talk to some of the villagers. There was fresh fish being prepared, brooms being sold, you name it they had it. I was so blown away at how nice everybody was towards me. Even when they found out I was from the US they were nothing but smiles.  Walking through the market I met a lady by the name of Mrs. Huong, and she begged me to go sing karaoke with her (as well as find her a rich 95 year old American man).  I agreed, thinking it would be a karaoke bar or something like that, little did I know it was her living room. 


It started off pretty awkward, no really awkward. However when the song “I just want to dance with somebody” came on, things got wild. Mrs. Huong speaks no English, except for the numbers 1-2-3, so while I was singing she kept repeating 1-2-3       1-2-3, and we even danced a bit. 

My final experience at Yen Duc Village was undoubtedly the most important to me, meeting Mr. Te…
Mr. Te’s home is the oldest home in the village, built just over 180 years ago.  During the war the whole village was more or less destroyed, and Mr. Te’s house was the only house left standing. When I first saw Mr. Te he was sitting in his beautiful garden,  with a huge smile on his face. I knew nothing about his life at that point, just that his presence embodied happiness. He offered me some tea and we sat for a while. Mr. Te spoke no English, yet when talking to me he was always looking at me rather than Gi, which made it that much more personal. He asked where I was from and when I said America, he smiled and shook my hand. He then invited me inside his home because there was some things he would like to show me. 


Mr. Te looking with pride at his family tree


70%. of Mr. Te’s family tree (could not fit whole thing in one photo), notice Ho Chi Minh at the top


Mr. Te began going over his family tree, explaining that the reason it is so large is because his Grandfather had 3 wives!  The admiration and pride he has for his family was something I’ve never witnessed before.


The shrine is for all of his ancestors, and     Pictures of them were all over the wall. Every day he keeps up with the offerings, and makes sure it is perfect.  While looking at the wall of pictures I noticed that many of them had served in the war. I was so intrigued by Mr. Te that I couldn’t help but ask if he lost a lot of family during the war, “a lot” he responded in Vietnamese. 

He then walked me over to a very special photo, and the only one of its kind. 

Ho Chi Minh’s personal security team

The person at the top left was Mr. Te’s oldest brother, personal security to Ho Chi Minh. I couldn’t believe my eyes, the way the young men stood around Ho Chi Minh, the look in their eyes, the look in Mr. Te’s eyes looking at the picture… The love they had and still have for Ho Chi Minh in Northern Vietnam is indescribable.  Gi asked me if I wanted to leave, but while Mr. Te stood there with a smile on his face not knowing what Gi was saying, I felt like there was more I wanted to talk about, so I asked him if we could sit.  

After expressing my gratitude for teaching me about his family, I wanted to know if I could ask him something personal.  “As you know I am from America, what were your feelings towards me when you were showing me all the family you lost during the war?” I asked. While Gi began to translate a smile went across his face, “What’s in the past is in the past. I can’t blame somebody who was not even born during the war, nor do I blame the ones that fought in it. The soldiers had a job to do, and they did their job to the best of their ability. If we look in the past too much we can not prepare our children for the future, nor enjoy the present”. 

Before leaving I had to ask him one more question, as some of you know there are certain questions I wanted to ask wise elders on this trip, and it seemed like Mr. Te was a perfect candidate. I asked Mr. Te what the secret to happiness is, and again a smile went across his face. 

“That is easy, for there is only one key… To help other people.  If you help them they will smile with you, and if they don’t smile, your heart will still smile. That is the golden key to happiness”.  

It seemed so simple, but he said it with such conviction.  Obviously his answer isn’t a breakthrough of some sort, but looking at him you can see that he not only knows what to do to be happy, but puts it into action. 


Mr. Te

Mr. Te thanked me for the conversation, as did I. When I hopped on my bike I turned around, and there he was, sitting in the same chair, with the same smile, looking at his flowers. 


Sapa – A beyond authentic experience

When I caught the night bus to Sapa, I had no clue where I would be staying the next day, however fellow backpackers from the hostel I was staying at assured me I would find a homestay easily.  The 6 hour ride to Sa Pa was my first taste of a “sleeper bus”, and was tremendously awkward to say the least.  When I jumped on the bus, they handed me a blanket, told me to put my shoes in a bag, and pointed to the very back of the bus where there were seats to accommodate taller people.  The bus was full of solo mini beds, except for where they put me of course.  I had to snuggle up next to a nice couple from Germany since the back of the bus was a combo of 3 mini beds side by side.  I shoved myself as close as I could to the corner and got some Z’s. 

woman from one of the 5 villages trying to offer homestay’s to tourists

Just as my fellow backpackers assured me, the second I got off of the bus woman dressed in pretty authentic clothes started rushing up to me “homestay?, homestay?, homestay?”  I declined all offers for a few minutes to try to scout out which lady seemed like she would be the best fit. After scouting for a bit I finally came across a woman with whom I accepted her offer. She started by saying that for trekking, lunch, dinner, “happy water”, a place to stay, breakfast the next day, more trekking, and then a bike ride back to town would run me $30. After a bit of negotiating I was able to get the number down to $20 (not bad considering all included), and off we went. 

Our first stop was to grab some coffee and water before the 8 mile trek to her house. There I met 2 girls from the Netherlands who were staying at the same house that night. We had our coffee and a small breakfast and off we went. 


Fem, with her son strapped to her back, taking in the view

The 8 mile trek back to Fem’s village was more challenging than I had anticipated. There were very steep areas, sketchy cliffs, and rocks that I thought were going to break off and take me with them at any moment. Thankfully, along the way we took several breaks, not only to catch our breath, but to also take in the amazing scenery. 




The mountains surrounding Sapa are endless rolling fields of rice terraces farther than the eye can see.  Being up there all you can here is whatever noise the wind may make, as well as the occasional woman or young child hauling something back to town. Sitting up on those mountains I sat there, closed my eyes, and thought about how similar it was to when my father and I trekked the mountains in Macedonia just a year and a half ago. 

My father and I in the mountains surrounding the village of Ladorisht, Macedonia. (This was after his first 5 month round of chemotherapy)

When we finally made it to Fem’s house I was shocked, there was no running water, no electricity, absolutely nothing.  Kids were playing outside, the men were drinking and singing songs to celebrate Tet (Vietnamese New Year), and the view… absolutely breathtaking. 

After making my rounds and introducing myself to everybody, they invited me to sit down and eat. After trekking 8 miles informed quite a big appetite, so the fact that the food looked like it wouldn’t come close to passing health standards didn’t phase me. 


Once lunch was done the woman got to work preparing for dinner. I walked around and just took in the amazing landscape for a few hours, and just took it all in.  It was so quite, so calm, so away from it all.  However the longer I was there the more I started to catch the gaze of the children from the village as I think they were starting to warm up to me. 

Smiling and laughing is the universal word for happiness, so after a few laughs and smiles we became best friends. We kicked around a makeshift soccer ball for a while, and played with different filters on my phone that changed their faces. It’s amazing how much joy they get from the smallest things. 


After observing and being enveloped in their culture for the day something dawned on me.  I kept asking myself how these people could be so happy without having much, and I came up with a conclusion that I hadn’t thought of before. My first thought was that they know nothing else, but they do. A walk down to the center of Sapa and they can see a completely different life. I believe what provides them with such contentedness is the mere fact that tasks like cooking, cleaning, and other necessities literally take all day.  Back home if I want to cook, clean my clothes, and shower I can have it done in 30 minutes, and then a sort of void sets in.  I have to look for the next task to do, or something to make the day seem as if it were productive. 

Fem uses a helmet flashlight so to help her cook


This sticky rice is the staple dessert of Tet (Vietnamese New Year)

Dinner was served later in the evening, and the “happy water” was flowing. I was lucky enough to be there during Tet, so the guys were really partying. They sang songs for hours on end, and even though I had no clue what they were saying I would mimick their verses and sing along. The whole family thought it was hysterical, and personally I thought my singing was spot on. 

Singing and eating, with POSSIBLY some liquor involved

After all was said and done I went to bed, which was in a shed style room next to a machine to help make rice.  The wind was howling at night, and dirt (plus God only knows how many insects, kept blowing in my face). Thankfully I survived the night and the next morning it was time to say goodbye. I tried my best at expressing my deepest gratitude and we made our way back to town. I saw some amazing waterfalls and scenery, but it was extremely hot so when an offer to take a bike the rest of the way presented itself I was all over it!


Arriving back in Hanoi was an interesting feeling.  There’s such freedom in knowing that I literally caught a bus last second and had  this amazing 2 day experience, and now I am back where I started with no clue what tomorrow will bring. My dorm that night was filled with new faces who had just arrived in Hanoi.  They asked me about my day and were enthralled by the experience I had just had.  They pulled out their phones and took notes so they too could experience Sapa for themselves.  I thought to myself “I am now the one giving advice on things to do in Southeast Asia”, and when I went to bed that night I really felt like a true backpacker. 


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! ✌🏼️✌🏼