Jackie is an Australian living and working in the Austrian Alps. She’s very passionate about nature and when she isn’t travelling, you can find her hiking, skiing or just looking for other opportunities to spend time in the mountains and great outdoors.
My love for travel was sparked many moons ago on a ski holiday in Austria. On that trip, travelling with a friend, we spent a couple of weeks exploring a number of destinations including Austria, Frankfurt and Heidelberg. I realised that some cities and destinations take a few visits to fall in love with, others you just instantly love. I now make a living by helping people travel to and around the Austrian countryside.
I really like experiencing new and different things, that is why I travel. Cultures around the world are different. I’ve realised that you don’t really understand a culture, until you’ve been in the destination it originates from. I travel to see how people live and how they are different. I often wonder why do people do things the way they do. You go from one country to another and you realise: Wow! they do things so differently to us, and to what I grew up with. So, you just have to go there, really. To really understand, you just have to go.
To be completely honest, I don’t travel with expectations. I like to be surprised whenever I go somewhere new. You have an idea in your head about how big the colosseum is, and when you get there and and it’s smaller than you thought, you end up being disappointed. But when you travel without expectations, you open yourself up to be surprised to what a destination or a culture has to offer.
“Most of the time, to be completely honest, I don’t travel with expectations and I like to be surprised.”
It was no different with Vietnam and Cambodia. I’ve always been a fan of Asia and I’ve been to Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. Vietnam and Cambodia have been on my list for a while. This opportunity to explore came in the form of a Discovery tour at the perfect time of the year. Earlier in my life I would’ve said that I’m not really a group travel person. I have been working in tourism for more than 10 years now and I’ve realised that there’s a lot you can achieve with organised travel, a lot quicker than you can often do yourself. It just makes a huge difference on your time and what you can achieve in a day. I don’t have time to organise things myself, and going to a new destination without a plan of action, can mean you get a bit unlucky and not get to the things you want to see and experience. Joining this tour from my busy lifestyle meant I could just arrive and enjoy the ride. There are a lot of times it can be very beneficial.
When I booked the trip, I knew that the trip will take us through highly populated cities. Cities that are worlds apart from the quiet village life I’m used to in Austria. But I had no expectations to what the experiences would be like. Riding on a vespa scooter in Ho Chi Minh City in peak traffic hour, you’re on streets that are different to the ones you know, everyone is going around you in this crazy city. And in that moment, you find one of your most treasured memories. For this trip the first thing on my mind was to pack my bathers and not too many warm clothes, hoping for nice and hot weather. As for the rest, I was open to whatever the trip may bring. There are so many things that took me by surprise in Vietnam and Cambodia. But if I have to single out a couple of them, it’d have to be the fresh food, the people, beautiful tropical flowers and the history….
The tasty food made from fresh, locally-grown vegetables
The markets in both Vietnam are a bit more rustic than the ones we have here in Austria. It’s here where everything is happening, it’s the livelihood of the people. Early mornings you can hear the locals buzz around. You can find the most delectable vegetables and leafy greens like Cai Thia (Bok Choy), morning glory (water spinach), herbs, basils and other greens you can’t even find in Melbourne, which is where I’m originally from.
“Cultures are different. I’ve realised that you don’t really understand a culture that lives in a destination, until you’ve been there.”
I don’t consider myself to be a foodie, but I love to try different food and I’m not scared to experiment. Up north in Vietnam, like in Hanoi, locals would make food in the hotpots, almost coconut style soups. You can put whatever you want in there, fresh off the table. They would give you an array of leafy vegetables, bean sprouts and different types of meat. They’d make the soup right it in front of you, fresh in the pot and off you go with your fresh pho soup. It got me so excited every single time. Lucky for me, the pho stations were a standard occurrence in the hotels. I couldn’t wait for breakfast and wanted to eat it for lunch and dinner too!
The friendliness of the Vietnamese people
I’ve not been to many communist countries before and I did not know what to expect. The Vietnamese were genuinely happy people and so very calm. They’re also just really helpful. I can’t even think of a moment where I was treated unfriendly throughout Vietnam. They had a kindness that stole my heart.
“I can’t even think of a moment where I was treated unfriendly throughout Vietnam. It’s a kindness that took my heart.”
In comparison to other Asian countries, I was curious to see if the people are generally happy and able to make a happy life for themselves. A lot of people have the same type of houses and even shopfronts. It’s a humble way of living, but I was surprised to see that there was less poverty in Vietnam. People seem able to make a living in their own special way and style.
The most beautiful tropical flowers
I always look forward to travel to places that are a little bit more tropical, mostly because it’s so different to where I live. The flora and fauna is so different to back home. Something I’m always looking for are tropical flowers. Beautiful tropical flowers, frangipani and little hibiscuses. I love flowers and their colours. When I moved from Australia to Austria, I was fascinated by the beautiful balcony flowers that pop up in summer. Ever since I’ve been so aware of flowers in different countries. It’s not something I grew up with in Australia. We have evergreen plants, but the sun is just so strong that they don’t survive.
In Vietnam I realised that everything just goes with the flowers. The patterns they put on their traditional clothes looks like the flowers that always come in spring. They even sing about flowers in their traditional songs. Their national symbol is the lotus flower and everything about the Lotus means something special. There are seeds of the Lotus, the leaves of the Lotus, the designs in the Buddhist culture. I’ve looked at this picture all my life, but then, in a moment, it makes sense and you realise it’s a lotus and it changes everything for you.
Unexpectedly travelling back in time with the help of a tour mate…
My parents lived through the era of the Vietnam war. On this tour we learned more about how the Australians took part in the war and what role they played. We had someone on our tour that served in Vietnam, as an Australian, during the war. He was revisiting where he had been, so it was very special experience for him to go back. He told the most amazing stories about that time as we visited the Cu Chi tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City. Listening to him, exploring the Cu Chi tunnels, it all made a lot more sense. It definitely cut a lot deeper, what the aftermath of the war was. It was very eerie. I could not imagine being there, fighting for my country.
And, I guess, that’s the beauty of travelling in a group. And the benefit of making friends on tour. When you experience something new with someone, it’s a really special experience. You can be pleasantly surprised by how well you can get along with someone by putting yourself out there a little bit. It proves again that you have to always be open to the element of surprise.
Itching to go? Expat Explore is currently running a Vietnam & Cambodia promotion giving you the opportunity to book the deal of a lifetime. Don’t miss out!