What Should A Princess See And Do In Vietnam?

In 2002 I stopped in Thailand on my way to live in Australia for a year. I was so excited to be starting my independent travels with such an awesome destination. However, after 10 days, most of which were spent being ill or made to feel very uncomfortable by Thai women about not being ‘little’, I changed my flights and left for Sydney earlier than planned. That experience led me to me spend the next ‘few’ years traveling elsewhere in the world. I pushed Asia down on my bucket list, knowing one day I would get there (it counts to have whole continents as one item on a bucket list right?) I have spent hours engrossed in blog posts and articles about Asia as a whole but specifically about Vietnam. I have enviously scrolled through hundreds and hundreds of images of beaches, temples, bays, mountains, rice fields and boats.

So when faced with the reality of having to leave South Africa for visa reasons and deciding where to go, Vietnam was a no brainer. Seeing as this is a pretty spontaneous trip, it helps that flights and expenses once there, are cheaper than other destinations.

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The rise of the ‘Voluntourism’ package

There is a lot of controversy around volunteering; whether its beneficial to both parties, why it is so expensive, whether short term placements have any benefit over long term ones…the list of negatives go on.

Despite the ongoing arguments, volunteering is a part of modern day life that isn’t going away. With more and more people wanting to explore the ever more accessible world yet also wanting to leave their mark on the world, there comes a difficult decision. Should we choose to be selfless and spend our hard earned vacation in one place, volunteering our time and skills? Or should we spend our time being selfish, traveling, exploring and discovering several new places in one trip? The voluntourism package enable us to avoid making that decision.

Read on to hear more about this in an article I was asked to write for one of my favourite blogs…

Above And Beyond Travel

Today, people around the world are looking for ways to make their travel and holidays more meaningful. Gone are the days where people want to return home with a suntan, local crafts and the need to up their exercise regime to burn off the results of an all-inclusive resort.

We want to return home knowing we have seen and experienced somewhere new to us, to it’s fullest extent; that we have infiltrated somewhere as more than a tourist and also left our mark on a little piece of the world.

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The idea of combining travel with volunteering has been well established over the years with the concept of ‘voluntourism’ taking on a life of it’s own. A hybrid of ‘tourism’ and ‘volunteer’, the term refers to travellers taking part in voluntary work to help a community in which they are holidaying.

With people choosing to do more with their time…

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The ‘Romance’ of Caravanning

To start from the beginning and find out what this adventure is all about, click here.

I have no idea why I thought that caravanning (aka living in a 2m x 4m box on wheels) would be romantic. Maybe it’s the association with the old fashioned gyspy, horse drawn caravans. Maybe it’s the lack of prior consideration of how and where our basic needs will be met. Maybe it’s the emphasis on the fact that you can pick up and move on, discovering somewhere and something new as and when you want, sharing that experience with someone.

Now having been caravanning as a lifestyle not a holiday, I can definitely say it’s not romantic. It’s hard work and stressful. It’s frustrating. It’s tiring. Theres no escape from the other person, no matter how much they have annoyed you (unless you want to sit on a beach in the dark, cold wind on your own!).
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West Side Story: Chapter 2

Since Port Nolloth we have been heading south and stopping at places we like the look of (or that have gas stations). Having been disappointed so far in our search for a friendly, small, quanit fishing town with a welcoming atmosphere and opportunities to fish for our own supper, we pinned our hopes on Honderklipbaai (Stone of the Dog). Our journey here was hassle free through expanses of land covered in different types of flowers, past rocks with seals sunbathing and round a number of tortoises crossing the road.

First seal sighting

First seal sighting

We got used to keeping our eyes peeled for tortoises in the road

We got used to keeping our eyes peeled for tortoises in the road…

Even though some were missed right at the last minute!

Even though some had a narrow escape!

Two weeks later, we are still here and haven’t been disappointed.
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West Side Story: Chapter 1

We made it to the West Coast! All the way from East to West with a caravan and two dogs! There were definitely times when I didn’t think we would get here (nothing like a bit of melodrama to make changing a tyre easier, hey?)

After spending the night on the side of the road, at the top of a mountain pass and in an empty truck lay-by, we carried on with the last stretch to Port Nolloth.

Morning view from the side of the road

Morning view from the side of the road

Our first sighting of the Atlantic was coming into Port Nolloth past all the white chalky earth heading towards the ferocious looking waves with wind howling past us. Our first point of call was of course the beach where the four of us stood for a few moments and took in the salty smell, wind and waves. It was instantly obvious the West Coast is very different to the East and the water is SO cold!
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Go West; It’s What We’re Gonna Do

So, we’ve hit the road and are officially ‘caravaners’ on a road trip! We left Howick heading for Kimberley thinking we would get there that day including a stop off in Clarens for me to see a town I have heard a lot about. However, hadn’t really taken into account the difference in driving speed when towing a VERY full caravan as well as the fact we would need to stop at the top of a mountain to change a water hose in the engine. Needless to say that wasn’t as straightforward as it could have been; surrounded by howling winds with the caravan roof lifting and the back window blowing out led to a few ‘choice’ words and us questioning what we are actually doing.

Changing a hose on the top of the mountain pass

Changing a hose on the top of the mountain pass

After a cross country detour our first night was spent in the Golden Gate National Park, at the foot of some incredible mountains having driven through landscapes that, at times, felt like they were more suited to a Lord of the Rings set than here. We arrived in the dark and on opening the caravan were met by the contents of the cupboards being in a heap in the middle of the floor and the electricity not working; all of which made for a quiet and thoughtful early night!
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The Midlands, KwaZulu-Natal

Not having a plan has got off to a great start! We thought we would have left the Midlands a while ago but, 3 weeks after I got back, we are just starting to (re) pack the caravan up!

The days have been filled with caravan jobs; taking everything out (who knew how much could be fitted in such a small space!), repacking, finding room for my things too, cleaning and scrubbing inside and out. Right now, everything is in, even the washing machine (having clean clothes and sheets is SO nice, right?)…and, there’s still space to swing a (small) cat.

All this (and more) fits in the caravan!

All this (and more) fits in the caravan!

Getting used to living in a small space not designed for tall people is going to take some doing. No matter how many times either of us hit our head our brains don’t seem to remember where the sharp corners are. Morning greetings have gone from ‘it’s your turn to make coffee’ to ‘don’t hit your head when you sit up’ If they aren’t uttered in time, the other person holds a grudge for the lack of reminder 😉 The dogs are oblivious to our suffering and swearing focused on staying as close to us as possible so they don’t get left behind accidentally and miss out on the adventure they know is coming up!
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Hello lovely readers!

Ok, first off I want to point out a few things;

  1. Although I really do like pink sparkly things, I am not a real Princess (unless wearing a tiara at any opportune moment makes it real?)
  2. I haven’t ever ‘blogged’ before and am not even really a writer (unless you count inspiring primary aged children to practice their creative writing in an attempt to fill an hour long lesson?)

But I do, for now, live in a caravan.

So let me start by telling you a little about me and how this blog came about.
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