My Post Covid-19 Bucket List – The Top 5 Places I Hope to Visit Once the Travel Ban Has Been Lifted…

As we are all, HOPEFULLY, locked up and abiding by this critically important “Stay at Home” mandate, I have spent time hard core “Wanderlusting” the places in South East Asia I wish to visit, once the world is back to normal, Covid-19 has been eradicated and the global travel ban has finally been lifted. It may be a long while until that’s a reality, but at least it gives me the chance to start saving my coins so that I can make some of the following happen. This is only Part 1, as there are many other places I have discovered in my research that look absolutely amazing!! So… I’ll follow up shortly with a Part 2 blog post, that is, if some Netflix show doesn’t suck me in again… (Sidebar, I’m totally embarrassed to admit, but I have literally binged watched ALL 5 SEASONS of Merlin on Netflix in a week and a half. LOL!!!)

  1. HA LONG BAY, VIETNAM

One of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, located within the Quảng Ninh Province of Vietnam, Ha Long Bay is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam. A bit of a pain-in-the ass to get to, you must fly into Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, and either take a 4 hour bus ride or rent a car with driver (I’ll do that) to get there. There are several 1, 2 or 3 night, all-inclusive, converted junk boat cruises available to sail throughout the incredible limestone formations, where they will loan you a kayak so that you may explore the region’s breathtaking grottos and caves and take you to the local floating fishing villages to sample the freshest catches of the day. I seriously CAN’T WAIT to go!

2. NUSA PENIDA ISLAND, INDONESIA

Just a quick 45 minute trip by boat from Kuta Bali, Nusa Penida Island looks simply incredible. Beyond the pristine and must see IG photo spots like Atuh Beach, Crystal Bay and Broken Beach, as an avid scuba diver, I found several dive trips that will take me to swim with giant Manta rays. I mean…

3. BAN GIOC WATERFALLS, VIETNAM

This seriously DOES NOT LOOK REAL, right?? Located in Non Nuoc Cao Bang Geopark, in the Cao Bang Provence of Northern Vietnam, these falls currently rank as the 4th largest waterfall along a national border, after Victoria Falls, Iguazu Falls, and Niagara Falls. I am really hoping the travel ban is lifted during our Monsoon season, in the upcoming summer months, as the falls will be bursting in full regalia and the water is supposed to be absolutely crystal clear. Care to take a dip??

4. ANGKOR WAT, CAMBODIA

If you have seen the film Laura Croft: Tomb Raider, then you have seen pieces of Angkor Wat. A Buddhist temple complex in Cambodia, it is one of largest religious monuments ever constructed, spanning more than 154 square miles. It is hot AF in Cambodia, like in Vietnam, so I don’t picture myself exploring all 154 square miles of it, but when I visit Siem Reap, I’ll definitely do a day, or half day trip to see as much as my sadly out of shape ass will allow.

5. MONDULKIRI ELEPHANT AND WILDLIFE SANCTUARY, CAMBODIA

I looooooove elephants. They are probably my favorite animal species on planet earth. I clearly remember the purest joy I felt as a child, visiting the Central Park Zoo and feeding them peanuts through the bars of their pen. As an adult, I STRONGLY appose keeping elephants in zoos as the weight on their joints cannot handle the confinement, but as a kid, I did not know any better and visiting them was one of my favorite things to do growing up in NYC. Located in Senmonorom, in the Mondulkiri Province of Cambodia, this elephant sanctuary offers day trips, jungle trekking trips and a 2 day, 1 night tour where you get to stay with an indigenous family and completely immerse yourself in the local culture and cuisine. The cost of the overnight is an $80 donation to the sanctuary, so that is for sure the route I will take when I visit. www.mondulkirisanctuary.org

Keep Wanderlusting my friends!!!

One big cluster f&%k after another…

When I made the final decision to move to Vietnam, just after the New Year, I envisioned what that picture would look like. It would be an opportunity for exploration and self realization. I would travel throughout South East Asia and Indonesia, visiting the iconic and historic sites I only dreamed about, eating exotic street foods and relishing in my own personal “eat- pray- love” moment. I would easily find a remote job, writing for a travel or food related magazine which would be more than happy to publish my unique content. I would contribute daily to my blog, sharing this juncture of my life with the beloved family and friends I left behind. This image of my new life is what I conceptualized. It’s the vision I projected into the universe and what my new life would undoubtedly become…. UNTIL…

Two and a half weeks after my arrival to Ho Chi Minh City, my sister and brother-in-law got the dreaded 4 am phone call that would change absolutely everything. Gregg’s mother had become critically ill, was being housed in the ICU in Rancho Mirage, CA. in an induced coma with pneumonia in both lungs. It was her doctor’s opinion that her illness was dire and that she would most likely not survive it. Obviously shocked and devastated by the news, as any loving son or daughter would do, Gregg and Sam got on the first available flight from Vietnam to Los Angeles in order to be with his family at her bedside, leaving their two boys home in my care. At the time, there were under 200 Covid-19 patients in all of America, and considering the fact that Gregg’s 83 year old mother’s weekly routine was not much more than getting her hair and nails done, food shopping, CVS runs and socializing with her friends at the Country Club, there was no possible way she could have ever been infected with this deadly virus. Regardless, the hospital administered the test to rule out the possibility, and as tests took nearly a week to process and get back, Sam and Gregg stayed at his parents’ house with his sister, brother and father while awaiting the results and praying for her recovery. As fate would have it, Barbara tested positive and was, quite unbelievably, patient 1 in the Palm Springs area, (I don’t believe that patient 0 has to date been identified) and number 200 in the country to be infected with Covid-19.

After speaking with the CDC, although Sam and Gregg had not been in direct contact with Barbara, Gregg’s father Shelly had been. So, just to be safe, the family went into self imposed quarantine at the house, keeping Shelly isolated within his room and carefully monitoring him for any signs of the illness. As testing was practically non-existent in the US, and only provided if the patient was symptomatic, the question of whether or not Shelly was positive remained. After 10 days or so, they were finally able to get a test administered for Shelly, which took an additional 5 days to get back, and, lo and behold, he was indeed positive. Therefore, as Sam, Gregg and his two siblings had been in direct contact with Shelly this whole time, they all had to quarantine, AGAIN, for an additional 14 days, starting on the day of his test. So, what was originally supposed to be a one week max trip to the States, had turned into 1 month and counting. And, the insane irony of all of this is the fact that, although Vietnam borders China, they were much safer here here in Ho Chi Minh City that in the States; literally within 24 hours of landing in America, both Sam and Gregg were directly exposed to the virus…

Meanwhile, back in Vietnam, my job has been to hold down the fort… single parenting my two nephews, taking care of our five dogs, paying the bills, food shopping, managing the kids’ home schooling etc. etc. etc., when all the while anxiously awaiting Gregg and Sam’s return. And, as Murphy’s Law would have it, smack in the middle of their newly imposed quarantine, the Vietnamese government closed the country’s border for God knows how long, and now they are both stuck in California, unable to get home. It could be weeks, it could be months… But knowing how the Prime Minister of Vietnam has managed the containment of the spread of this virus, it could be a very very long time…

All the above said, I am very happy to report that Barbara survived and is now back home in Rancho Mirage, recovering from her ordeal. She is truly one tough and inspirational woman!! And, Sam and Gregg both tested negative for the virus, which is an incredible relief.

To be continued…

The New Normal – Coronavirus Xenophobia

When I made the decision to move to Ho Chi Minh City in the beginning of January, it was just at the beginning of the onslaught of Covid-19 in China. In late February, when it was time for me to relocate to South East Asia, fear had risen about the virus, and several friends and acquaintances were texting and DMing for me to reconsider my move until it was contained. I chose not to, and made it here without issue, other than the lingering case of bronchitis I was still managing.

My IG post the night I flew to Vietnam

Vietnam has been one of the most proactive countries in the world regarding the prevention and spread of Covid-19. As the country boarders China, since the first week of February, the Vietnamese government shut down its border, banning all in and outbound flights from mainland China, Macau and Hong Kong. It closed all public and private schools, and put responsible government mandated measures in place to protect the health and well being of its citizens. The US government should really take note on what competent protocol actually looks like, but being that Vietnam is a “Communist Country“, they never would. To date, there have been only 44 total cases of Coronavirus in Vietnam, with ZERO deaths… A far cry from the apocalyptic shit storm barreling down on America.

Needless to say, I have felt completely safe here. Yes, everyone wears surgical or fabric masks when out and about, but residents have been conditioned to do so as the air quality in Vietnam is historically not great. That being said, after checking today’s Air Quality Index, HCMC is pretty good shape!!

Now that the virus has become a global pandemic, and has spread to 114 countries across the globe (there are 195 in total), I have definitely noticed a change in how Vietnamese people are reacting to foreigners, including me.

A few nights ago, I needed to get out of the house for a bit so I walked down the street to a local bar for a beer. I’ve been there a few of times before, and it’s not like I’m hard to miss with my short fuchsia pink hair. The minute that I sat down, a bartender who has served me before, came up to me with a spray bottle and spritzed my hands with some sort of antibacterial disinfectant. I didn’t notice him doing the same to other Vietnamese patrons, but I took it in stride and even doubled down by applying some hand sanitizer from one of the several bottles readily available on the bar. Last night, I hit the super market to stock up on some supplies and a security officer at the door took my temperature with the forehead gun; he was doing the same to all who entered, so I did not feel specifically targeted there. I’m a member of several Expat Facebook groups, and I keep reading that restaurants and bars all over town are, very apologetically mind you, refusing service to foreigners. Vietnam is beginning to refuse Visa renewal applications for Europeans and the citizens of other infected countries, despite the fact that they may live in Vietnam or not. With all the Asian, especially Chinese, xenophobia I keep reading about in the USA, the exact same thing is more frequently occurring here in Vietnam to anyone who is not Vietnamese. In my entire life, I have never experienced anything of this sort until now. It is completely f-ing surreal.

As this pandemic continues to grow, I fear that the Vietnamese government’s next step will be to shut down its borders to all infected countries – ALL 144 OF THEM. And, considering that my sister and brother-in-law are currently in the States due to a family emergency, leaving my two nephews ages 9 and 11 in my care, I pray and ask all of you to pray with me, that THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN anytime soon… or at least before they can get back to their newly adopted home of Vietnam.

Bui Vien Walking Street, D1.

Photo by me

Last night, I grabbed a GRAB, Vietnam’s version of Uber, and ventured out on my own to meet up with some people I got to know during my last trip to Ho Chi Minh City in November. My friend Matt Nguyen owns and manages one of the six LGBTQ+ bars in Saigon named Thi Bar, and it is located in District 1, just down the street from the bustling hot spot for backpackers, tourists and party people, Bui Vien Walking Street.

Photo by me

I arrived just before 8pm, and Bui Vien Walking Street reminded me of a cross between Times Square and Hollywood/Highland, with the back to back bars of Santa Monica Blvd. in Weho. Every bar, restaurant and club was packed full of revelers, chair dancing to techno music, drinking Tiger Beer and sucking on giant Nitrous oxide (laughing gas) filled balloons, which are ordered through your waiter or the bar. I was told you need a special bar permit to sell Nitrous balloons, and found it totally fascinating that it is legal and common here, considering the country’s highly strict and severe drug laws. I also caught the familiar scent of marijuana in the air, which is illegal in Vietnam, but evidently accepted here and smoked freely and publicly on every bar patio. There was definitely an aura of depravity in the streets, as people were there with the sole purpose of getting their festivities ON.

Photo by me. Nitrous balloons and Hookah smoke

Matt WhatsApp’d me that he would be arriving in an hour or so, so I sat down on a plastic stool at a street cart for a steaming bowl of Beef Pho, Vietnam’s national dish. At 95,000 VND, or $4, it was a completely delicious and satisfying base for the inevitable overabundance of cocktails to come.

Photo by me
Photo by me

After dinner, I wandered around a bit, checked out a few street performers and compared the prices of several local massage parlors. I made sure to to keep my cell phone housed in my fanny pack, when not taking photos, as pick-pockets and petty thieves lurk in the shadows, actively hunting for their next Westerner mark. After my tour of the block, I finally made my way to Thi Bar, and sat on the patio with Matt and his friends for beer, multiple shots and great conversation.

Photo by me
Selfie by me. Me on the left, Matt to my right and his friends.
Rainbow shots at Thi Bar

If you are looking for the place in town to go bar hopping, meet new people and get your party started, I definitely recommend visiting Bui Vien St. When you do, make sure to pit stop at Thi Bar and say hi to Matt as we all need to support LGBTQ+ inclusive establishments, especially here in Vietnam.

Thanks for Wanderlusting with me!

Goooooooooooood morning Vietnam!!!

Thao Dien Ward, D2. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Hello my Wanderlusters! This is my first blog post since my arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, on the 19th. I caught a horrible and completely debilitating flu the day after my birthday, the 9th, and had to struggle to pack and clean out the loft I lived in for 16.5 years with severe bronchitis and a seemingly endless fever, sweats, chills and aches. By some miracle, I was able to board my plane on the 17th, and thankfully had my own row to sleep in for the big Los Angeles to Taipei leg of the trip. I literally drank an entire bottle of Musinex in order to stifle my cough, which was really really severe. With the intense Corona Virus panic everywhere, especially in South East Asia, I was terrified that I would get quarantined upon my arrival in Vietnam for two weeks, which thankfully did not happen. It took all of my acting skills to Jedi mind-trick my way into the country, and when I finally arrived at my sister’s home, I went directly to bed and slept for 17.5 hours straight. This past week, I have been held up in my room for the most part, trying to recover from my hellish journey and illness, and I am finally feeling better and relatively back to normal now. Thank GOD!!

My new home in Ho Chi Minh City

My wonderful sister, brother-in-law and two young nephews have welcomed me with open arms to their beautiful home in the Thao Dien Ward district, D2 of HCMC. My suite is on the top left of the house with the private balcony. I have all the creature comforts of home- A 47″ flat screen TV equipped with an Amazon Firestick and VPN in my room so that I was able to catch up on all my favorite Netflix, movies and Sling TV while getting well. We have a wonderful housekeeper named Han, who is a phenomenal cook, and so generously made me a pot of her famous “Han-ton soup” to help in my recovery. I have only ventured out into town a few times, in short spurts, getting a desperately needed mani-pedi and a Sim card for my phone so that I have a local number and 4G internet service. My sis and I went grocery shopping yesterday at the MegaMart, Vietnam’s version of a Costco/Target, where I picked up the much needed supplies I was not able to fit into my luggage. On Sunday, we ventured out to our local American bar/restaurant, The Flying Pig, for breakfast and the Wilder/Fury fight which we watched with a bunch of fellow Expats. Other than that, I have really been a home body, getting over my jet lag, getting myself well and taking care of my two dogs who successfully braved the near 24 hours of travel in a crate.

I plan to start exploring my new city later this week and will continue to document my journey so that all my friends and followers can “Eat Pray Love” right alongside me… Until then…

Prepping and Packing and Purging…

Ugh! Packing completely SUCKS!!! Especially for a self-proclaimed hoarder like me. We have lived in our Downtown Los Angeles loft for 16.5 years, and it is insane how much stuff you actually accumulate in that length of time. Trying to project what you will actually need living abroad is really hard… What to store, what to sell and what to donate. Vietnam is hot and humid year round, so my winter gear is definitely getting packed away for storage, and as I spent two weeks there last November, I quickly learned that they do not have many things that we take for granted here in the USA. IE: Advil, Amazon, my fuchsia colored hair die … And, as I am limited to a certain number of suitcases on the plane, unless I pay exorbitant extra baggage charges, how on earth am I going to be able to bring what I deem “my essentials” ??

I had to order a folding ladder for my 15 year old dog to be able to get onto my bed, as I could not find anything of its kind on Vietnamese websites. I bought three bottles of Skin So Soft insect repellent lotion with SPF 30, as the mosquitoes are brutal and I got eaten alive the first few days I was last there. Several bottles of Ibuprofen and the medicines I might need, like Z-Packs… Not to mention my beauty products. Granted, I have friends who can ship to me, but I have quickly learned how crazy expensive it is to ship to Vietnam from the US. Early last December, I put a box together of Christmas gifts for my family, consisting of a beaded clutch purse for my sister, three snorkel masks for Gregg, Wolf and Gus, and a 1000 count bottle of Ibuprofen. The cost to ship those 5 items to Ho Chi Minh City was $74. Therefore, I am trying to project anything and everything I might possibly need, and it is really HARD… Anyway, back to it!

More to come…