January 5, 2011

January Beach

Nothing is sweeter for a girl who has spent every January of her life on the icy tundra of North Dakota than the prospect of an entire month of uninterrupted beach. In 10 days, that's exactly what I will be embarking on. 


Never ever did I think I would be backpacking and island-hopping my way through southeast Asia. I will bid Alex farewell next Saturday, and as she gets on her US-bound plane, I'll be halfway through my 20-hour train journey to the China-Vietnam border. I'm trying to pump myself up for the train ride, everyone I've talked to says that trains in China are something everyone must experience, so why not I guess. It's not going to be glamorous, in fact it might be nothing short of hell. My friend Jenn and I will be only two of the billion or more folks shuffling around China for Spring Festival, their equivalent of Christmas.


After we arrive in Nanning, the city on the border, we'll secure a Vietnamese visa and take a bus to Hanoi. We'll snake our way down the Vietnamese coast for two weeks, checking out Halong Bay, soaking up sun, and seeking out some market finds. I also plan to get my open water diving certification while I'm there.


Our Vietnam journey will end in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) and we'll fly to Manila via a one night stay  in the Kuala Lumpur airport. I am beyond excited for the Philippines. Last summer, I started talking to my grandpa about trying to visit where he was stationed for World War II. He showed me the islands and wrote down the names, but I never actually thought I would be able to visit. Away I go! I plan on checking out a number of historical sites while we're there. It means a lot to me to be able to share modern Manila with him, even though he can't come with me. 


From Manila we're heading to Palawan, an island in the western Philippines. The island has zero ATMs, sketchy cell service, limited electricity, and some of the most pristine beaches in the entire world. All of our lodging (from what we've figured out) is either in small villages or in cottages right on the beach. I. Am. So. Excited!


I've never been on a tropical island before. Ever. I've never snorkeled. And I certainly have never been scuba diving. Hell, I can count the beaches I've been to on one hand. Now that I think about it, it's quite the ridiculous assortment: Cape Cod, Jersey Shore, Boca Raton, Amalfi Coast, Capri... the list will undoubtedly look different once the adventure is over.


After a week in the Philippines, we're off to Borneo. You know, the same island that Planet Earth and Survivor were filmed on. Half of our time there will be spent diving in one or two of the world's top diving sites and the other half will be spent in a jungle camp. At the camp, we'll go on guided hikes (both day and night) through Borneo's rain forest. We'll be sleeping on bamboo platforms with mosquito nets... don't worry though, the staff feeds us three meals plus afternoon tea (thank goodness for the tea, I'll feel like Jane from Tarzan for sure). 


Once our weeklong Borneo adventure is complete, we'll fly back to Hangzhou via another night's stay in the Kuala Lumpur airport. 


One month. Three countries. Countless beaches. Endless adventures.


Given that I had never heard of El Nido until a month ago and just learned what "Nha Trang" was today, this trip has been a bit of a doozy to plan. I've had a crash course in southeast Asian geography and have had a thorough lesson on which countries need visas, vaccines, or special medicines (umm, malaria anyone?)


In addition, my body has been through booty bootcamp and ab torture (though the results are marginal at best). It feels very unnatural to be donning a bikini mid-January. To top it off, I've been charged with the terrifying prospect of buying a bikini in China in the next week. Somewhere along the way, this country ate mine and it's nowhere to be found. 


Unlike in the US, where I could go to Target in Fargo and buy a bathing suit, most Chinese dress for the season (which makes much more sense). Rather than cutesy spring fashions filling store fronts, Hangzhou still appropriately is displaying their warmest winter coats and hats. Lord knows that most Chinese women are microscopic, so even if I do find a swimming suit, I'm hoping it'll be at an international chain like H&M. I have a feeling I may be resorting to Vietnamese markets for my beach gear though...


At any rate, I'm excited and scared and in total disbelief that this adventure is happening. My passport is about to get much more colorful.

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