Still, that's pretty much the long and short of it. I've dutifully stayed-put here in Ho Chi Minh City now for more than six months (an eternity, I tell ya, for a lass like me with a hobo gene running through my veins). Six months of same ol'-same ol' much like most everybody on the Planet - diligently commuting (albeit by death-defying motorbike) to and fro work, grocery shopping, dentist, haircut, the occasional Happy Hour, movie, etc.
(well o.k. same ol' if you don't count that I've been tucked into arguably THE most nutso city in the world, with no few side trips to wiggle toes in island sands on the Gulf of Thailand, and gawk at ancient Khmer temples in Cambodia). But still...
Itchy feet I tell ya. High time to dust off the backpack, and skip off to some new corner of the globe. After all, that's pretty much the entire reason I dismantled my comfy life in my beloved Seattle - in favor of basing myself here in Asia so as to explore this half of the world.
And so I shall. My next adventure du jour? The vast and mysterious land of a lad by the name of Chinngis Khaan - MONGOLIA! (yes, yes, turns out it's "Chinngis" not "Genghis", who knew?)
|There's a ger out there with MY name on it!|
LOL, the truth is - I do believe that the decidedly COOLER climes of Mongolia were the tipping point. After the sultry tropical temps here in Saigon, I simply can't WAIT to don a pair of long-johns!
So Mongolia it is - for a full MONTH! But first... a little side trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Why Chiang Mai you may ask? Cuz...
My 6 month teaching contract is up the end of July (and conveniently, likewise my apartment lease here in Saigon). And... you may recall (if you read TL diligently, every blessed post, memorizing each and every mot - as. you. SHOULD.) then you already know that after finishing the CELTA course last December, I really, really, really had my heart set on moving up into the cool, emerald hills of Dalat (about 8 hrs. northeast of Saigon.) But then ILA kindly offered me a sweet part-time teaching contract, and I'd have been a FOOL to turn it down. So I (wisely) put off my dream of living in cooler, quieter, Asian climes for a spell. After all, Dalat wasn't going anywhere, it would still be there after I got some good teach experience under my belt, yes?
Uh, but... why CHIANG MAI?, you may well ask AGAIN. Cuz...
|Chiang Mai - my new home???|
Before I settle down in Dalat, I just want to take a peek at Chiang Mai, to see what the expat vibe is, the EFL teaching situation, and the general cost of living, etc. compared to Dalat here in Vietnam.
So the "Plan" is thus:
31 July: Fly to Bangkok from HCMC, connect to a flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand (I already have the air booked on Air Asia for just $289 rt.)
I'll spend 5 nts. in Chiang Mai checking on English schools, apartments, the expat scene, etc. and then fly back to Saigon on 5 August.
Just 5 hrs. later, I'll hop on a red-eye flight to Beijing, connecting to a flight to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, arriving UB the morning of the 6th. (This flight too, is already booked, $795 rt. on Air China)
I set my return flight from Mongolia back to Saigon for 9 September, giving me more than a month to wander the vast Mongolian plains, mountains, steppes and Gobi desert - woo-HOO!
|And likewise, a camel with MY name on it!|
I popped into the Lonely Planet (of travel guidebook fame) travel forum for Mongolia, and put a shout out for anybody that might be in the UB neighborhood wanting to do the Gobi in early August. The response? Within a week, I'd gathered a fine group of 4 "travelnlasses" - 1 likewise from Seattle (!) and another from London (both coming by bus from Russia) plus 1 from NYC and the 4th, a Canadian presently likewise teaching EFL in Korea. Clearly an international hodgepodge are we. We'll all rendezvous on the 8th of August to do a 7 day tour through all the major sites of the Gobi (including Khongor Els dunes - 800 meteres high and 150 km long!) We've researched the different Mongolian tour operators ad nasueum, and finally settled on an NGO (Lotus Child) that runs a school for Mongolian kids that also can put together a a tour staying in nomadic family gers and camping. Cost for transport (more than 1,600 miles rt!), food, lodging, etc. for the week? $420 pp.
All well and good. And don't get me wrong, I am SO looking forward to the Gobi! But...
|Yup, gonna get me one of those furry hats...|
I mean, if you're gonna do Mongolia, you may as well DO. MONGOLIA. no? Down 'n dirty.
And when I inquired on the Back-to-Bek site, I got extremely lucky. There was a small group of 4 (apparently 3 women and 1 lad, in their late 40's - perfect!) already booked on a two week tour departing 15 August - 29 August. Check out the rough itinerary Bek (the owner, a local Mongolian that grew up among the Eagle Hunters) sent me:
Yesiree, I can hear you now - a bit rough, doncha think, Dy? I mean for a dodderin' lass "of a certain age"? And... OMG ain't that an awful lot of time on a HORSE!
Yep, the rigors of the horseback trekking rather daunted me at first as well, but I inquired as to whether there were errr... any other options to so much time in the saddle, and... Bek swiftly replied:
"Yes possible to reduce the horse riding , You can in this case just walk around separating from the group for few days and regroup after few days for the rest of the trip. (During your separation, we would suggest you to visit some families seperately from the group)"
Even better, the price for the two week Eagle Hunter tour is just $750! 'Course I still have to fly from Ulaanbaatar to Olgii in western Mongolia, but still... Indeed, the airfare for all this whizzing about comes to nearly $1,600. Ah, but, it would cost at least TWICE that were I trying to visit Mongolia from Seattle
And for the last 10 days (the Eagle Hunting trek ends on 29 September but I deliberately allowed an extra 10 days to roam "wherever" in Mongolia), I might hop on a short leg of the Trans-Mongolian train (to Choir) or perhaps head north to play with the reindeer.
In any case, I'm doing a great big ol' woo-hoo happy dance here in Saigon these days. A bit sad to be leaving my teach job (I really like it, and ILA is a fantastic school), plus the friends I"ve made here in HCMC. But it's time to move on. Have a little adventure, and then settle down in some new corner of Asia. Upon my return to Saigon in early September, I will have determined where I'll next call "home". Who knows? I may end up teaching English and milking yaks in Mongolia for a spell!
And finally, for a real treat - checkout the BBC's video on the Mongolian Eagle Hunters: