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I’ve seen how a simple investment in development pays dividends forever

23 Oct

In Vietnam I saw that individual cash donations provided bricks and mortar to build homes for people in need, which protected them from typhoons and severe illnesses like malaria, and even improved their education and livelihoods through stability.

I’ve seen firsthand how simple contributions play a part in creating better lives and futures for marginalised households.

Here is a short video that inspires me and demonstrates how you can also do something as simple as investing in a single girl to produce positive impacts for families, communities, women and even the world: it’s called The Girl Effect.

By Marissa Toohey

Travelling for less is more

23 Oct

I’m not ashamed to admit that travelling is all about quantity rather than quality for me. I’d share a dorm room with a sasquatch and eat nothing but haggis if it meant that I could afford to spend a few extra days on the road. That’s how much I love travelling.

Considering my success in exploring nearly 30 countries over just the past few years and with no more than an average salary, I’ve realised a number of good tricks to minimise costs. These are my top tips for getting the most bang out of your buck:

Liaise directly with service providers
Plan and manage your trip directly with service providers to avoid higher prices due to handling fees. I always book my own flights through airline websites, unless I need assistance coordinating a complicated stop-over involving more than one airline.

Shea enjoyed authentic Japanese accommodation. This bed 'n breakfast was attached to a temple at Takayama in the Japan Alps.

Swap Hilton for homely
Popular hotel chains are enjoyable but they’re generally expensive and don’t offer a real taste of the countries they are in. I use hostelworld.com to identify authentic guest houses or bed ‘n breakfasts that cost only a fraction of the price and usually come with hospitable local operators and cultural quirks.

Capsule hotel accommodation in Tokyo, Japan - it was affordable and fun to experience.

Take advantage of last minute deals
Depending on your destination, it’s sometimes possible to negotiate cheaper rates for accommodation on arrival. This is particularly true in Asia and it’s all part of the fun of bargaining within many Asian cultures. Similarly, tour operators sometimes offer lower prices to fill remaining seats.

Don’t buy a new “holiday wardrobe”
Is it really worth spending a few hundred dollars just so you can wear a couple of new outfits in your photographs? Unless you will be hiking above 3,000 metres or white water rafting for several days, I guarantee you already have appropriate clothes for your upcoming journey. If you insist on jazzing up your wardrobe, buy some accessories while you’re on the road.

Only invest in gifts that really matter
Too often I see tourists spending large sums on silly gadgets and items which they can buy at home anyway. Save your spending money for things that are unique to your destination or buy goods from locals in need to make a small difference in their lives.

By Marissa Toohey

From a long journey to a single piece of paper

30 Aug

During the weekend I caught up with several members of my “Vietnam family” in Melbourne to reminisce and provide feedback to the organisers of our overseas assignments. As a reflection exercise, the event organisers asked us to illustrate significant moments throughout our time abroad.

An illustration of significant challenges and milestones during my assignment in Vietnam

I’m no Monet, so let me break it down for you: it was a bloody big year! It started like a party (represented by a karaoke microphone at the top of the drawing that looks like an ice cream) and there was plenty of time on the toilet as a result of my bad reaction to seafood and, well, stress from culture shock. I threw in a couple of computers to demonstrate that I actually worked when I wasn’t socialising or travelling. Really, I did.

In contrast, the bottom half of my drawing only signals a few of the challenges and questions I experienced as I removed the rose-coloured glasses and my understanding of Vietnam deepened. Flooding, poverty, censorship and language frustrations were just a few of the issues that caused me to question my position and future plans.

The problem was, I needed a larger piece of paper than I planned …

Hobbies to [reverse culture] shock you – a post for my dear expat friends

29 Jul

HOBBIES TO [REVERSE CULTURE] SHOCK YOU  How many hobbies does it take for a blonde to get over reverse culture shock? Six: golf, dressmaking, scuba diving, jogging, bushwalking and even burlesque dancing.

It might sound like a joke but it’s my life.

I’ve been back in the “western world” for almost half as long as I was gone and I’ve only just made it through all the typical phases of reverse culture shock:

  • the honeymoon period when I fell in love with all the little things I’d missed;
  • the shock phase which consisted of panic attacks over (what then seemed like) absurd retail prices and feeling like I didn’t belong; and
  • finally the adaptation phase as I recognised good opportunities, accepted benefits of the Aussie lifestyle and became used to and even excited about the idea of sticking around Brisbane for a while longer.

I look over Brisbane city from Mt Coot-tha. Bushwalking has become a hobby and coping mechanism.

The only way I really kicked reverse culture shock, though, was by getting to know my long term enemies: routine and commitment. I didn’t go crazy and sign up for a two-year phone contract or anything silly like that – I said “commitment”, not “long-term commitment”. It was new hobbies that gave me regular activities to look forward to in the short term and connected me with the Brisbane community.

Settling back into Australia was more difficult than I expected and much harder than adjusting to Vietnam. I’ve continued missing the affordable travel and daily social events of my Vietnamese lifestyle but, of course, that’s only natural. Now I’m focused on enjoying the “sunshine state” with its beautiful national parks, beaches, dancing venues and welcoming new friends.

I quite like Brisbane and it could even turn into love. But I’m taking it slow – just one hobby at a time.

By Marissa Toohey

This post is dedicated to my dearest friends from Vietnam, many whom are now returning to Australia as well. I hope you all cherish the exciting moments when you realise you can drink tap water again and walk down a footpath without getting abused by a motorbike driver. I equally encourage you to allow yourselves to mourn the loss of your Vietnamese lifestyles because we had a f*cking good time that would be hard to top. Wishing you all the best in your returns, reunions with family and friends, your coping mechanisms, new hobbies and future adventures. I genuinely hope we all remain great friends for many years to come.

Indonesia’s underwater safari: Lembeh Strait

1 May

Diving closely behind our guide, we wait excitedly for him to reveal unusual creatures hiding in the dark volcanic sand of Lembeh Strait in North Sulawesi. Using a long thin rod, he gently shifts the sand before us as he detects movement underneath. Suddenly a frenzy of goofy legs and arms spring into sight and we see one of the underwater creatures Lembeh is famous for: a wonderpus octopus.

Lembeh is different to other diving destinations because it doesn’t attract people for spectacular reefs or crystal clear water. In fact, the water is littered with incomprehensible amounts of rubbish. What Lembeh offers, though, are some of the most unusual and interesting underwater creatures on Earth and, in only around 15m depth, they’re accessible even for beginner divers.

Let me introduce you to some intriguing creatures I saw during my recent trip to Lembeh in Indonesia, with photography by Shea Pletz.

Hairy frogfish are difficult to find because of their camouflaged appearance.

Coconut octopus use coconuts and seashells for shelter.

Pygmy seahorses, only around 10mm long, are found 30m deep at Lembeh.

Stargazers bury themselves in sand and wait to attack prey above them.

Flying gurnards spread their wings and walk along the sea floor.

Ornate pipefish are rare and difficult to find.

Dwarf lionfish are as beautiful and attractive as they are venomous.

Covered in dark volcanic sand, it's difficult to tell which type of scorpion fish this is.

Pygmy seahorses blend in with the fans they cling to.

Other strange creatures you can encounter in Lembeh include: mimic octopus which contort their bodies and change colour to mimic other creatures; flamboyant cuttlefish which have long arm suckers that are brightly coloured; rhinopias which use camouflage to blend in with their surroundings; and juvenile batfish of a number of varieties.

How to get there
Lembeh is around one hour drive from Manado airport in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Flights go to Manado daily from Singapore and other domestic locations.

Where to stay
I stayed at Twofish Diver’s Resort on Lembeh Island. The resort is designed to cater for recreational divers and offers packages including daily dives and meals. Twofish also operate a resort on nearby Bunaken Island and arrange transfers and packages for both locations.

By Marissa Toohey

I’m no Aussie do-gooder

29 Apr

Australia is just full of do-gooders, and I never realised until I moved back from Vietnam.

There are rules for driving etiquette here, eating a meal properly, drinking, standing on an escalator, walking down the street, and every single person complies with these rules and leers at me when I step out of line. I’m constantly scolded for walking across intersections while pedestrian lights remain red – an action that became not only habit but an absolutely essential skill to get around in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a hard one to crack now and I just refuse to wait when there are no cars in sight.

Worst of all, though, I’m not allowed to drink alcohol on the street! I’m not even able to have a drink with dinner on a weeknight without being labelled an alcoholic while, in Vietnam, I could get away with three or four beers per night without judgement. I could drink cheap beer at home, take one for the road and then carry the same opened can into the club with me, while sporting thongs and a slur that would surely get me refused service at a bar in Australia. It was awesome.

It’s the unspoken social rules I’ve discovered in Australia which have surprised me though. I’ve spent the past month greeting old friends and family with enthusiastic kisses on the cheek which have been returned with scrunched up noses, hugs with about half a metre of distance between us, and a tap on the back with the strength and passion of a ragdoll. It seems my European expatriate friends in Vietnam got me in the habit of lining up double-barrelled smooches that are way too close for comfort for my Aussie mates. Apparently a hand shake is acceptable and a hug if I really must.

I’ve been back for a month now and, still, I sometimes feel like a culture-shocked immigrant who’s fresh off the boat. Imagine the troubles refugees have settling in.

By Marissa Toohey

Helping vulnerable elephants in Thailand

18 Apr

Their skin looks tough and dry but the touch of an Asian elephant warms your insides. Volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, north Thailand, allows you to care for dozens of beautiful elephants that have been injured and vulnerable in the wild. I recently volunteered at the park and got some video footage while feeding the elephants, bathing them, and watching them thrive in safe open spaces. Check it out below.

By Marissa Toohey

Gut instincts about settling back in

28 Mar

The plane pulls into the terminal and I see a mob of red and white kangaroos – the symbol of Australia’s greatest airline and an icon of the hours I used to spend travelling as a corporate employee. It’s been ten months since I earned points for my silver Qantas frequent flyer account but it feels much longer, especially when I think about all I’ve done.

In all-Australian fashion, dogs are sniffing out the crowds – beautiful pedigrees – and laid-back officials deal instructions to visitors trying to make sense of the system. “Go ahead mate”, “You’re gonna have ta get a move on if ya wanna be out by this arvo”. I laugh because I’ve learnt how difficult it can be for others to decipher Aussie slang.

The electronic chip in my passport enables me to skip queues at immigration and I can’t contain my excitement when customs officials check the items I’ve declared. “I’m so happy to be home,” I tell the woman who examines my chopsticks and other wooden items. “Welcome,” she smiles and lets me through the gates without scanning my belongings.

Brisbane is just as I left it, except for areas damaged by the floods, including the Southbank beach pictured (photographed the week before I moved to Vietnam).

I expected everything to feel backwards – driving on the other side of the road, eating with a knife and fork, cooking dinner at home, even spending every hour with my partner instead of my friends – but, instead, everything feels just as it should. It’s familiar because it’s the same as I left it.

It’s only when I walk around the area that I get an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. It takes up to one whole minute for a car to pass me in the city. It’s so quiet I wonder if something horrible has happened to Brisbane! There are no motorbikes or obstacles on the footpaths, no people calling out “hello” or trying to sell me something. I often run across intersections when the signal remains red because I can’t stand to wait while there are no cars in sight like everybody else. “You think this is traffic,” I think, “You should see Ho Chi Minh.”

To celebrate my journey home, my partner shouts me a great big feast for dinner at The Smoke BBQ restaurant in New Farm. My vegetarian Vietnamese diet is forgotten as I devour half a rack of smoky beef ribs, spicy chicken wings and french fries. It tastes even better than I remember.

As I finally lay to sleep in the most comfortable bed in the world, my mind shifts back to Ho Chi Minh where my closest friends remain. My first day in Brisbane has proven that it won’t take long to settle back into Australia and my life in Vietnam will soon feel like a distant dream. It brings a tear to my eye and I fight back more when … uh oh … like a sledge hammer to the gut, I get a painful warning that it really is going to take me, and my body, a while to get used to Australia again.

By Marissa Toohey

It’s time to go home

25 Mar

I always expected my backpack to send me home early, that’s why I invested in one of the most comfortable bags on the market. I didn’t want to throw a tantrum after months of struggling with it. I underestimated myself, though, as I’ve proven to be one of the most patient and understanding travellers amongst friends.

It took an anxious night alone in a State of Islam to conceive the idea of returning home; a thought that was fostered when dozens and dozens of people aggressively accosted me for photographs the following morning, and finally a pack of arrogant Vietnamese men lacking queueing ettiquette (one of the only pet peeves I just couldn’t adjust to) solidified the idea the same afternoon. And once the idea was cemented in my mind, it was all I could think about. It was time to go home, and it was almost right on schedule.

I wonder if people will continue selling food on the street until I return again?

By the next morning I was in Hanoi and just hours away from boarding the flight that would take me back to my homeland, my partner and all the things I used to take for granted. I took photographs of the Old Quarter – which already looked more developed than when I saw it eight months ago – and I fantasised about how it might look when I return again. I also met with a great friend to laugh about all the things we love about Vietnam: street bars, the ability to have a cheap massage and without an appointment, the way men wear pink helmets and cuddle on motorbikes. Weight, of course, was a more sombre conversational point as we both expected to lose weight in Asia but had produced sizeable beer bellies. Patting my round centre, I kind of hoped a parasite was stirring in my last Vietnamese meal, just to help me lose a few of the kilos I had gained.

“Farewell Vietnam” I mouthed to the land during the drive to the airport. “It’s been swell, really swell.” The taxi driver smiled through his rearview mirror. He could see how much I loved his country and he was proud.

Over eight months I learnt the importance of development work, the hardships people endure around the world, the realities of communism and socialist countries, human rights, advocacy. I realised Australia really is “the lucky country”, ranking at the top of the UN’s Human Development Index for years while Vietnam ranked 113th in 2010 (one being the highest quality of life and 169 the poorest on the scale). My work in the development field is not over yet, just the first amazing chapter of it.

By Marissa Toohey

Building hope in the Mekong Delta

24 Mar

Click to read the full article in Exchange Magazine.

Our eyes locked across a flooded road at the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam. The man was standing in the doorway of his thatched, weary house on the banks of the river and his eyes told the story of decades of hardship. His pants were rolled up to his knees, just centimetres above the level of floodwater that had consumed his entire house.

I was on the other side of the road in the protection of a taxi. I was overwhelmed by the situation unfolding in front of me. Suddenly, the man smiled at me, happy to see a new face and I realised I have an opportunity to make a small difference.

Prior to my Australian Youth Ambassador for Development assignment in Vietnam, I wasn’t aware of how seriously the natural environment threatens the lives and livelihoods of people living in the Mekong Delta, which accounts for twenty per cent of the population. Before my assignment, I had never been to a developing country. Now, having stared into the eyes of an old man across a flooded road, I understand storms, floods and associated issues are affecting thousands of people every day damaging mass production of crops and fish, threatening the quality of surface and groundwater and exposing people to serious illnesses, including malaria and pneumonia.

In my position as Communications and Media Support Officer at Habitat for Humanity Vietnam (HFH Vietnam), I have also seen evidence of how simple, decent and affordable housing can improve the lives of people in the Mekong River Delta and around the country. Decent houses provide stability, improve health, safety and security, and enhance education and livelihoods for individuals and families.

Click here to read the full story on page one in Exchange Magazine.

By Marissa Toohey

Leaving behind the easy life

22 Mar

I freaked out when I landed on Vietnamese soil eight months ago. It was dirty, overwhelmingly busy and there were no familiarities – not even a 7Eleven. But the things which challenged me at the beginning are now my greatest comforts. I cherish moments lost in twisted networks of old alleys, thrive when negotiating for fresh fruits at the local market and I prefer to enjoy a warm beer with ice on the sidewalk than to sit in an elaborate hotel bar.

The thing is, I’m now more afraid of returning home to Australia than I was of settling into Vietnam. Once I overcame the culture shock, life in Ho Chi Minh City was a breeze, and this is why:

  • I haven’t prepared a single meal in eight months. It’s difficult to justify the efforts of cooking when it’s usually more affordable to eat out in Ho Chi Minh City.
  • The weather is warm all year round! The sun isn’t always shining but the temperature varies from just around 30-35 degrees.
  • Where else can you catch taxis regularly, effortlessly and affordably? It sure beats overcrowded trains and buses of Australia.
  • There isn’t a day that passes without someone telling me I’m beautiful! Seriously, blondes do have more fun in Vietnam because they’re still a novelty for the locals.
  • My HCMC home has a rooftop terrace with amazing views of the city. I finish most nights relaxing on the roof with friends, drinking Ba Ba Ba beer.
  • I have been able to travel (often internationally) every second weekend, literally. Budget travelling is so easy to do spontaneously around Vietnam and South East Asia, and you can reach many more places during a weekend than you can from anywhere in Australia.
  • Meals cost as little as $1, DVDs just 50 cents, t-shirts $3 and rent around $200 per month. Vietnam is one of the cheapest countries in South East Asia.
  • The greatest thing about living in HCMC, though, is the supportive, enthusiastic and warm-hearted network of expatriates. I’m going to miss my friends – who I have grown to know very well over shared meals and beers almost every day – immensely.

You know the feeling when you walk through your own front door after weeks away on holidays? Instant relaxation, comfort, ease of mind, bliss even. That’s how I feel when I return to Vietnam after weekends travelling. I hope that feeling gets me through the first tough weeks of reverse culture shock in Australia too.

By Marissa Toohey

Video! The Gibbon zip line experience

3 Mar

The Gibbon Experience is an ecotourism adventure; a system of zip lines that soar high above the jungle. Costs go towards initiatives that protect the Gibbon monkeys in Bokeo Nature Reserve in northern Laos. Check out the video to see why I almost wet my pants …

By Marissa Toohey

It’s Tet, so lets get married!

17 Jan

IT’S TET, SO LETS GET MARRIED!  The glitter and lights of Christmas have been pulled down overnight and replaced with yellow. Ho Chi Minh City is now dressed for the nation’s biggest holiday, Tet, which is a celebration of the new lunar new year. What I find the most interesting about Tet, though, is not the decorations. It’s the superstitions and customs associated, and they differ between north and south.

Tet decorations on Dong Khoi street in Ho Chi Minh City.

One of my colleagues was married last week and she couldn’t have been happier about the timing of her nuptials. Apparently many Vietnamese couples rush to tie the knot before the lunar year ends as it’s believed to be bad luck to begin anything new during the first few months of a year. Therefore it’s lucky to marry now and avoid a waiting period.

In the weeks approaching Tet, people clean out their homes to rid bad fortune, they paint their walls, buy new clothes and shoes and visit temples to pray for luck and good health. They endeavour to settle all debts.

The symbol of Tet, yellow flowers, for sale on the side of a busy road.On the actual day of Tet, first encounters are crucial. The first visitor to a home should be successful and happy, which is believed to bring good fortunes for the family for the year ahead. People never enter any house on the first day without being invited first. Usually the first visitor is a relative but some families invite special guests.

After the Tet holiday, it’s considered bad luck to spend money as it sets a bad precedence for spending behaviours for the year ahead. Instead, Vietnamese people are careful with their money and endeavour to receive more than they spend. This presents unique challenges in the business sphere, as companies prioritise activities with existing ventures and delay new projects.

For tourists and expats, it’s especially important to be aware of customs and superstitions associated with the holiday to avoid causing others bad fortune or, at the least, ill feelings. It’s also difficult to travel within Vietnam because the population shifts as people travel across provinces to meet with family members. I’ve taken the advice of long term expats and will jump across the border to Cambodia for the holiday. But not without first snapping a few vibrant photos of the lights and brides lining the streets in the city.

By Marissa Toohey

The f*cking expat trap

13 Jan

THE F*CKING EXPAT TRAP  I’ve spent six months in Vietnam and, though I swore I would never do it, I’ve become a stereotypical expat: I’m drinking more beer than ever, going out with friends every single night, swearing more and more, riding motorbikes without a helmet and more than happy to have a cleaner do my chores. These are the reasons many people eventually return to their home countries with bulging bellies, a few scars and longing to move abroad again.

There's nothing better than cracking open a cold "bar bar bar" beer to enjoy on my rooftop.

There are plenty of excuses for this kind of behaviour: filling the void of family and friends, the need to create new social networks, lack of kitchen facilities at home, and the beer’s cheap.

Sometimes I drink because it’s frustrating living in a developing country too, which makes any Australian say “f*ck it, I need a beer”. Try walking on the footpath and being under constant threat of getting run over or abused by motorbikes. Motorbikes are at the bottom of the food chain on the roads in Saigon, but they sure make up for it by ruling the footpaths. Imagine spending a week without speaking to your boyfriend and then you finally arrange a Skype meeting only to race out of the office, into torrential rain, you can’t catch a cab but can’t walk either because your street is flooded and then you finally get home and the power is out so the internet doesn’t work and he’s almost asleep by then anyway. That’s when I have a beer, and I bet my boyfriend does too.

Saigon Barhopping costs just US$5 for five beers at local bars with great people. This photo was taken at last Friday's hop.

There’s always welcoming drinks for new volunteers or friends, farewell drinks, birthday drinks and drinks for an opening of a new venue or exhibition. There’s temptation with promotions like Ladies’ Night at Lush Nightclub on Tuesdays which offers free drinks for women until midnight. There’s Saigon Barhopping which costs just $5 for a whole night of local beers at local pubs with a great mix of new people (thanks to my housemates for creating this brilliant venture). Heck, you can buy a carton of beer for less than $10 and a coconut full of flavoured vodka for just $3, so why the f*ck not!

There’s a website which expats in Saigon love because it sums up these types of experiences, frustrations and f*cking fun. Go to www.whattofuckingdoinsaigon.com now. Cheers!

By Marissa Toohey

2010 year in review

29 Dec

2010 YEAR IN REVIEW  I am due to splash into the New Year while dancing up a storm on Sentosa Island in Singapore! At just over an hour away from Ho Chi Minh City by plane and with budget priced tickets, it’s an easy trip to make for just a couple of days, and it prompts me to reflect on all of the spontaneous journeys I have been able to take since I moved to Vietnam in July.

During August I ventured on my first field trip with Habitat for Humanity. My Tho City in the Mekong Delta was the scene where I joined a group of American volunteers who built two houses for needy families.

Mui Ne was my second destination and another trip with friends from Habitat for Humanity. The country’s wind surfing mecca was a fun destination for team bonding and brainstorming activities and the perfect way for me to get to know my new friends.

In October I spent a day in Kuala Lumpur on route to Malaysian Borneo to meet my partner Shea. We dove what was described by legendary scuba diver Jacques Cousteau as “one of the greatest dive sites in the world”: Sipadan. With countless sharks, turtles, anenome fish and dozens of interesting species I’d never even heard of before, it certainly topped my list of adventures.

The following weekend I flew to Phu Quoc Island for a relaxing retreat with Shea. We stayed at eco-friendly resort, Mango Bay, with no phones, computers or televisions and went diving with Rainbow Divers on the southern tip of the island.

Click here to see photos of some of my adventures.

One of my favourite weekend journeys was to Soc Trang province in southern Vietnam. My friend Jess had been doing great work in the area of water and sanitation in the region and she took me on a heartening motorbike ride through the local villages.

The weekend trip I was most looking forward to since learning of my position in Ho Chi Minh City, was to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. The purpose of the trip was actually to join friends for a floating birthday party on the Mekong River, but I made the most of spare time to see the sights of the city and to gain more insight into the nation which causes me the most heartache.

November saw my first solo trip to Bangkok in Thailand. While the first day was jam-packed with around 18 hours of sightseeing, I saved Sunday for indulging in things I’d been missing, like strolling around western shopping centres in air-conditioning, eating McDonalds and relaxing in the cinema.

My parents came to Vietnam for a whirlwind 8 days during November, including a few days in Danang and Hoi An in central Vietnam. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them as happy as when they held hands to cross busy roads, explored Cham ruins at My Son, climbed hundreds of stairs at the Marble Mountains and laughed at me as a local tailor felt her way around my body to take measurements.

The day after my parents returned to Australia, I flew to Vietnam’s capital: Hanoi. As I’d already seen the sights during my first week in the country back in July, this time I got to know more people in the volunteer network and experienced the wicked effects of Hanoi Vodka. It was the first time I celebrated International Volunteer Day.

My second trip to Phnom Penh was in December to support the efforts of friends who organised a charity Christmas ball to raise funds for youth-focused NGOs. After living five months without make-up or hair maintenance, it was heavenly to straighten my locks, wear heels and to enter a glitzy venue without feeling guilt.

My latest retreat was to Cua Dai beach near Hoi An, where I joined my sister and her friend Carlia for the Christmas holiday. I planned to snorkel Cham Island but it was cancelled and I was happy to remain on the beach to be consumed with the pages of a new book.

Click here to see photos of some of my adventures.

Now embarking on the eve of the new year, I’m saddened that my departure of Vietnam is becoming closer. I’ve fallen in love over and over again with South East Asia, and especially with the ability to travel frequently, affordably and effortlessly. During 2010 I have worked really hard but clearly I’ve been able to play really hard as well.

So then, looking forward to my upcoming departure and with no plan of what’s ahead, what do you suppose my new year resolution should be? To settle down? No way! To travel more? That might be considered selfish. To ditch a few of the kilos I’ve gained over here? I think there are greater things I could focus my attention on. What do you think it should be?

By Marissa Toohey

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