Category Archives: Nomadic Life

Dispatch from Living the Nomadic Life, a Global Odyssey: South Korea to Vietnam

For our Oxalis tour of the Hang Tien cave system we strapped on army boots (provided) and spent the next three days walking straight through rivers, jungle and caves © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Eric Leiberman and Sarah Falter, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eric and Sarah are on a 6-month around-the-world sabbatical, joining a huge movement of young people who are choosing to live the nomadic life (at least for a time) and travel or work remotely, becoming immersed in local life and culture. They are filing these dispatches periodically. They previously reported about their month in Mexico. Here’s their report from South Korea and Vietnam:

“This is the way so many of the great meals of my life have been enjoyed. Sitting in the street, eating something out of a bowl that I’m not exactly sure what it is. And scooters going by. So delicious. I feel like an animal. Where have you been all my life?” -Anthony Bourdain eating in Vietnam (and we couldn’t agree more). 

We write this second installment of our sabbatical dispatch from Phu Quoc, Vietnam (an island in the Gulf of Thailand very close to the Cambodian border).  We were very stoked to make it into Asia just a couple of weeks after border re-openings, and it’s been fascinating (and at times eerie) to be some of the first tourists here.

We spent our first week traveling Asia in Seoul after Eric was denied entry into Vietnam because he accidentally mistyped the entry month on his e-visa (*Note: if you want to read Eric’s best Aaron Sorkin impression in further documenting the gripping drama of being turned away at the border, see the PS). In South Korea we saw 100% mask compliance inside and outside everywhere we went (though those smoking cigarettes on the street get a nonsensical pass hehe), and never in our lives have we seen every single person in sight staring at their smartphone! It can look dystopian at times. Sarah happily embraced the quiet, introverted culture. Eric had to fight the impulse to chat up uninterested locals. 

Seoul © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But, we came together in our love for chilly mornings spent at the market scarfing down some impressive form of dumpling/kimchi soup while seated on heated benches, saving room for lots of lunch/dinner Korean bbq (and in Seoul you don’t lift a finger when prepping your bbq–it’s all done for you by extremely impressive waiters who manage 8+ grills at once). We also checked out a local baseball game where cheering is technically banned because of Covid (cheer in your heart), though when a team scores, their fans impulsively scream anyway. To our delight, the stadium allows BYO beer/soju and fried chicken, all conveniently sold right outside.

 

Joining the fun at a baseball game in Seoul © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our second attempt at clearing customs in Hanoi went off without a hitch (thanks to Sarah triple checking all of Eric’s documents), and being able to finally taste the forbidden fruit made it all the more sweet! We immediately felt invigorated by the delicious smells coming from every direction, and having to be on our toes when crossing the street (the rushing river of cars/scooters never stop, they just, without fail, go around you). We loved figuring out that what seems like complete and utter chaos really has a very predictable and harmonious rhythm to it. 

Hanoi, Vietnam © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Hanoi, Vietnam © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Hanoi, Vietnam © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hanoi, Vietnam © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the food department, we quickly realized that the best meals come from street stalls with tiny plastic chairs and just one thing on the menu. The insane combination of unlimited chewy rice noodles, tangy broth, chilis, crunchy peanuts, and mountains of herbs make every dish a choose-your-own adventure of deliciousness. We could’ve been convinced that some of the street food we were eating for $1-2 came off a Michelin tasting menu – the Bun Cha and Banh Cuon were especially incredible. We also learned that the French colonial rule in Vietnam is what sparked the popularity of bread here, consumed daily by millions in Banh Mi, and re-invented with rice flour here. We’ve enjoyed the food scene endlessly, but there is also a hint of sadness in this reopening world. Many stalls/restaurants we research and can’t wait to try have no reviews the last two years, and, we come to find, have just disappeared. 

Continuing on in Hanoi (our favorite city in Vietnam) we were captivated by the Hoa Lo Prison, where French colonists imprisoned and killed Vietnamese political activists in the late 1800s through the mid 1900s, and this same location is where American POWs were incarcerated during the Vietnam War. Learning about the many generations of occupation that the Vietnamese have endured brought us deeper meaning and reflection as we thought about the US’s recent departure from Afghanistan and Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine. And we also really enjoyed the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, where we learned how valued women are in the work and family unit in northern Vietnam, and that Vietnamese women even propose marriage.

With the constant beat of vehicle horns in the air in Hanoi, Eric was beginning to itch to get on a motorbike (no shock there). So, we hopped on an overnight bus north to Sa Pa and hired a motorbike guide named Kin- a pure soul, the same age as Sarah and a father of three. Kind Kin said yes to all of Eric’s crazy ideas and before we knew it we were motorbiking from Sa Pa to Ha Giang along the Chinese border (a total of about 500km over 3 days) stopping at small homestays on our scenic way. 

Settling in on the overnight bus north to Sa Pa, Vietnam © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Motorbiking from Sa Pa to Ha Giang© Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Kin said yes to all of Eric’s crazy ideas and before we knew it we were motorbiking from Sa Pa to Ha Giang along the Chinese border (a total of about 500 km over 3 days) stopping at small homestays on our scenic way © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Stopping at small homestays on our scenic way © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Motorbiking from Sa Pa to Ha Giang© Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Kin said yes to all of Eric’s crazy ideas and before we knew it we were motorbiking from Sa Pa to Ha Giang along the Chinese border (a total of about 500 km over 3 days) stopping at small homestays on our scenic way © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Motorbiking from Sa Pa to Ha Giang© Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Motorbiking from Sa Pa to Ha Giang© Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Motorbiking from Sa Pa to Ha Giang© Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Motorbiking from Sa Pa to Ha Giang© Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Stopping at small homestays on our scenic way © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eric did all of the driving while Sarah dutifully snapped pictures and videos from the bumpy backseat. The scenery was absolutely stunning-terraced rice paddies (which we learned are made that way for irrigation) every shade of green, heaps of green tea drying in the sun, and farmers markets where locals insist we sit down for “Happy Water”–Vietnamese moonshine–which Sarah does happily and Eric does also happily but with more responsibility because he is our forever DD. Lots of fog rolled in in the north, which made us appreciate the views when it did clear, even more.

Our campsite for our Oxalis jungle trek-caving trip © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
For our Oxalis tour of the Hang Tien cave system we strapped on army boots (provided) and spent the next three days walking straight through rivers, jungle and caves © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
For our Oxalis tour of the Hang Tien cave system we strapped on army boots (provided) and spent the next three days walking straight through rivers, jungle and caves © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Trekking through the jungle to get to Hang Tien caves © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Trekking through the jungle to get to Hang Tien caves © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We moved south to central Vietnam so that Sarah could realize her bootcamp potential, signing up for a multi-day jungle trekking & caving tour. The caves in Phong Nha, Vietnam, are otherworldly. In fact, the world’s largest cave is here (Hang Son Doong–first discovered by a farmer by accident just three decades ago, and so big it has its own rainforest!). We found availability on a tour of the Hang Tien cave system with the tour company Oxalis (highly recommend), so we strapped on our provided army boots, and spent the next three days walking straight through rivers and caves (fully clothed in long layers to protect against plants and insects), and then scaling rocks up and down in order to capture some incredible Vietnamese nature. Our group of 10 (5 domestic and 5 foreign travelers) bonded Birthright style during the tentside hangouts, and we were fed constantly (and deliciously) which kept us smiling 🙂 despite the unrelenting heat and humidity.  (https://oxalisadventure.com/ contact@oxalisadventure.com)

Exploring the Hang Tien cave system with the tour company Oxalis © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Exploring the Hang Tien cave system with the tour company Oxalis © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Exploring the Hang Tien cave system with the tour company Oxalis © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Exploring the Hang Tien cave system with the tour company Oxalis © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Exploring the Hang Tien cave system with the tour company Oxalis © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dining al fresco inside the cave © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Exploring the Hang Tien cave system with the tour company Oxalis © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Exploring the Hang Tien cave system with the tour company Oxalis © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Our campsite in the Jungle during our Oxalis jungle trek-caving trip © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Our campsite in the Jungle during our Oxalis jungle trek-caving trip © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After a desperate shower and laundry session we made our way to Hue, also in central Vietnam. Eric wasted no time seeking out a tailor for his absolute favorite–custom clothes. His request was so specific, that our amazing tailor Bo (we really have met people unbelievably patient with Eric here) offered to take us to the fabric market to pick one out that she didn’t carry at her shop. One scooter ride together and a couple of hours later she nailed it! Sarah also got her first custom clothing with Bo and agrees, it is really fun. Another highlight of Hue-the salt coffee. Each region of Vietnam highlights a unique version of their rich coffee, but our favorite variation is this one–salted cream that perfectly compliments the strong black coffee blend creating an almost caramel taste. 

Picking out fabric for our custom-made clothes in Hue © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Done! Custom-made clothes © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We now find ourselves on the beach in Phu Quoc, southern Vietnam. Sarah is wrapping up book number three and Eric is taking the hotel’s paddleboard about 100 times further than the buoy’s limits. The hotel seems to be approximately 10% full. Seeing as we now recognize every fellow guest were living out our White Lotus moment giving them all backstories and deciding who will get murdered (just kidding!! and watch the show White Lotus if you haven’t yet!). We continue to thrive on almost strictly street food–we went to a nightmarket the other night with a German couple from our cave tour and to Eric’s delight, found Banh Mi with steak and runny white cheese a la the Philly Cheesesteak, and sea urchin with herbs and peanuts. No food is left untried. And while Eric has been brave enough to weigh himself this week (somehow lost weight!?), Sarah continues on in ignorant bliss. 

The beach in Phu Quoc, southern Vietnam © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

* * *

PS – So there we were..3 flights and 36 hours of travel from Mexico City to Hanoi (by way of Dallas and Tokyo). It was 11PM. We were beyond exhausted because we had to wake up at 2:30AM in Mexico City to return our rental car and get to our first flight. We slept but a wink on the planes, but the in-flight viewing of the Anthony Bourdain and Alpinist docs (both must-sees btw) sustained us and we were stoked to have touched down in Asia. 

BUT NOT SO FAST the travel gods said. At immigration in Hanoi, Sarah lifted her bucket hat and mask, flashed her million dollar smile and breezed right through to the promised land. But the immigration officer looked longer at Eric’s documents. “You have to go over there,” the officer said after a few minutes of scrutinizing the documents. A lot of back-and-forth with immigration officers and airline attendants facilitated by the Google Translate app ensued, and Eric came to realize that the dates on his e-visa were wrong – it was for a May 9th entry, not April 9th. An hour of pleading for a date change on the existing visa or the issuing of a new visa on arrival fell on deaf ears. “You need to get on this plane back to Tokyo now,” the officers forcefully told him. “But my partner is on the other side,” he pleaded.

The airline officer ran to retrieve Sarah while Eric placed dead end calls to the US embassies in Vietnam, Korea and Japan. Pleading to let us book different flights to countries that were newly open to US tourists like Thailand, Singapore or Korea (instead of Japan, which was still closed, and we expected once we got there they’d tell us we needed to go all the way back to the US) didn’t work either because these countries, while open, still needed processing time for visa/Covid paperwork.

After fortunately being reunited at the boarding gate (and Sarah’s last attempt at pleas to stay), the officers forced us onto the plane for Tokyo stating our passports were now being held in the cockpit and that we’d be blacklisted from ever entering Vietnam if we didn’t board the plane NOW. We felt beyond exhausted and defeated, but quickly fired up our laptop for the 6hr redeye flight back to Tokyo to investigate our options.

Thanks to persistence and a lot of help from our travel savvy family, we were able to show proof of flights and visa documentation in Tokyo to ensure we could enter Korea and wouldn’t need to be forced all the way back to the US (and btdubs for future reference, when something like this happens, you are responsible for paying whatever the flights costs which is astronomical because of the same day booking rate; so tl;dr don’t be like Eric and always quadruple check the dates on your visas!)

© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Dispatch from Living the Nomadic Life, a Global Odyssey: Mexico

San Miguel de Allende, a 3-4 hour drive from Mexico City, is a very charming town, known for its colonial architecture which drew many artists in the 20th century © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Eric Leiberman and Sarah Falter, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eric and Sarah are on a 6-month around-the-world sabbatical, and are filing these dispatches periodically. Here’s their report after a month in Mexico before moving on to Asia.

We finally did it–rented out our house, packed a tiny sliver of our possessions into four packing cubes inside a large backpack, strapped on our water shoes and hit the road for the adventure of a lifetime–six months of uninterrupted travel! We have now been traveling together for exactly five weeks and we’re delighted to share that we still like each other!!

 

Setting off on our six-month, around-the-world sabbatical © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After visiting our beloved family in LA and NY, we spent the first month of our trip traveling throughout Mexico.

We began in Mexico City (for a brief bit, then later returned), where the ridiculously long lists of food recommendations did not disappoint. Then to Oaxaca with our travel bestie Julie, where colorful winding streets all lead to delicious mole. We did an awesome Airbnb experience where we learned about all seven types of mole and that the labor intensive process + cost of ingredients dictates when they are consumed (for example verde every day after school, up through negro, which can take a week to prepare for special occasions like weddings). And we tried this very delicious treat in Oaxaca called a Tlayuda!?!? It’s like a giant pizza/crepe layered with beans, cheese, lettuce, meat, and then folded and roasted over an open charcoal oven (enjoyed with a multitude of salsas). And speaking of SALSA, Sarahs new obsession is salsa macha. It’s a deep and bold, sharp and spicy salsa, and its made with crushed PEANUTS (kind of like the Bitchin’ sauce of salsa, IYKYK!)!? It is divine and we ordered it with pretty much every meal from that point forward.
Our food odyssey in Mexico © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our food odyssey in Mexico © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We’d come to learn that this sort of deep, bold and soulful flavor was uniquely Oaxacan, and was pervasive throughout their history, cuisine & art. They have a fascinating history of protest and human rights advocacy that permeates the art all throughout the city – from the large format street murals to the gallery walls in fine art museums. It is dark and expressive with lots of skulls, fire, protest depiction & political symbols. Learning more about this history brought new meaning to the intense flavors of mole and mezcal.

Our food odyssey in Mexico © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We continued our journey on a 7-hour drive almost entirely on mountain roads with dramatic switchbacks to the coast of Oaxaca (Eric drove and Sarah passed out on drowsy Dramamine). Over the next week, we made stops at three beach towns: Puerto Escondidio, Mazunte, and Playa Bocana. Puerto Escondido prevails for its cliff-like coast line and amazing street entertainment (imagine our surprise when a man with a guitar and an amp shows up on the beach, usually a nightmare scenario at any Bay Area park, and ends up providing the most perfect sunset vibes)! 

Off beaten track beaches in Mexico © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mazunte gave us some good laughs because its “hippie” vibe is out of control and almost cartoonish; you’re weird if you actually wear shoes around town/on hikes, and if you don’t like acai and bulle proof coffee you need to get your ass out of there. But, thankfully, we (gladly) dabble in some aspects of the hippie lifestyle, so the vegan nomz, acai bowls & a two-hour (very stinky) yoga class were a welcome change-of-pace. Eric even bought a turquoise pendant (maybe a Buddhist symbol? We’re not sure; we’re posers) there that he wears most days now as a lucky charm 🙂 

Off beaten track beaches in Mexico © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A sunrise swim © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And the last stop on the Oaxacan beach tour was La Bocana; a true surprise gem. It is a tiny town with just two restaurants, one boutique hotel and several local women who provide mud scrubs (with the special mud from this beach) daily.

Our Oaxacan beach tour takes us to La Bocana, a tiny town with just two restaurants, one boutique hotel and several local women who provide mud scrubs (with the special mud from this beach) daily. Our AirBnB is a mere 50 yards from a spectacular long stretch of beach that feels like it is all ours © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our cute little airbnb was a mere 50 yards from a spectacular long stretch of beach that felt like it was all ours. And when we started exploring the beach, we’d come to discover that a 15-minute walk up the beach led to the intersection of a gorgeous river with the ocean; which was utterly picturesque and made for a best-of-both-worlds situation of enjoying the beach while swimming in the calm of the river. During our short stay at La Bocana beach, we made both sunset and sunrise pilgrimages to this beautiful spot. Anyone who knows Eric knows he can’t resist a sunrise/sunset swim. And we ate delicious camarones a la diabla (shrimp in spicy sauce) and fresh langosta from that river basically every meal there, happily.

Our food odyssey in Mexico © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The return to Mexico City was a happy one because we were excited to spend more time exploring and Sarah’s mom Marci came to join for a week! Major highlights included visiting a Luis Barragan house, discovering more neighborhoods/parks & going to the Mexico vs. El Salvador World Cup qualifying futbol game (where we tried nearly every food item sold in the stadium.. even Cup of Noodles with shrimp & hot sauce which yes, is cold and soggy by the time they sell it to you at your seat!)

Enjoying the Mexico vs. El Salvador World Cup qualifying futbol game © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another gem we discovered in Mexico City is the weekly shut down of major streets on Sundays (up to 50km we learned) to promote safe and uninterrupted biking/running/roller blading. We stumbled upon this by accident in our first CDMX stint, and were so excited to show Sarah’s mom! We went basically the entire route out to the big park, down to the neighborhood of Coyoacan, and back. Mexico City is truly as lovely and vibrant as everyone says it is. It’s like the best of both worlds of East and West Coast US cities; it has the serendipitous cosmopolitan feel of NYC with the wide open green spaces of LA/SF. Everyone is in love with Mexico City these days and it’s obvious why.

Last stop on the tour landed us in San Miguel de Allende, a shorter 3-4 hour drive from Mexico City. San Miguel is a very charming town, known for its colonial architecture which drew many artists in the 20th century. It’s a must to find a terrace to enjoy the sunset, taking in the gorgeous pink church and red rooftops while obliging every other couple’s request for a photo (Eric is a hot commodity because he takes multiple angles and never skimps on the portrait mode). Eric did finally succumb to the first round of food poisoning of the trip here (which is shocking given what he’d eaten in the previous 4+ weeks), though he recovered in a day and we’re happy to report that Sarah’s stomach of steel is still going strong (knock on wood).

San Miguel de Allende is a charming town, known for its colonial architecture which drew many artists in the 20th century © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
San Miguel de Allende is a charming town, known for its colonial architecture which drew many artists in the 20th century © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
San Miguel de Allende is a charming town, known for its colonial architecture which drew many artists in the 20th century © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eric and Sarah in San Miguel de Allende, get ready to continue their around-the-world odyssey in Asia.

At the present moment, we’re in Seoul after a failed attempt at Vietnam entry (and over 50 straight hours of travel), but were super stoked to begin the Asia chapter of our travels, where Sarah’s love for headbands and bucket hats is bound to flourish. It’s crazy and refreshing how “home” has become having each other, and our backpacks….

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© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures