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What About Vietnam - 2-18

How to mastermind your best experience of Vietnam.

Kerry Newsome: [00:00:35] Xin chau and welcome to what about Vietnam today, I'm delighted to have Kirsten Pilz on the show because we're going to discuss how journaling or writing can help you explore the reasons why you want to go to Vietnam.

Together, we take a real deep dive into how to capture that pre-trip, excitement and anticipation as none of us know when we will be traveling abroad again. We are all looking for ways to do that. Does that explain the boom in travel groups on social media as we all want to keep our dreams alive and chat about where we want to go after Covid?

Can a journal tease out those begging questions of why, how, when and if?

Kerry Newsome: [00:01:23] And can it be our companion pre the trip during the trip and post the trip? Let's find out.

Kerry Newsome: [00:01:31] Kirsten, in her recent Tedex talk, spoke about the healing power of writing as a way to heal and grow. In the context of travel; In this episode, we talk about how a journal can, from the very beginning, help tease out any fears. You might have & expectations.

And of course, it helps you document that bucket list of things to do.

And we discuss how writing can be the companion to your experience and help you overcome those feelings that you know right now you just can't explain, especially as we venture out after the covid pandemic.

Kirsten tells us about her writing retreats in Hoi An and how many solo women travelers joi them. They come to connect with other travelers and to give themselves permission to possibly deal with all feelings that they haven't had a chance to express in a creative way.

Let's face it, writing for yourself is a dialogue with yourself. Essentially, you become the author of your own experiences and your own holiday. Dr Kirsten Pils, as she's also known, is a published author, former academic with almost 20 years experience as a teacher and a wellbeing coach who runs her own online business and writing retreats in Australia and Vietnam.

And when Kirsten moved to Vietnam in 2016 and set up a popular online business, Write Your that allows her to share the tools that helped her transform, grow and heal. Thanks to the pandemic, she's currently in Australia and finishing her memoir, Falling Apart Gracefully. You'll get a real sense for how her and I both feel about travel in Vietnam. And in this episode we share just how we've used writing, journaling and creating trip books to capture our experiences. Please welcome Kirsten to the program.

Kerry Newsome: [00:03:39] Kirsten, hello and welcome to what about Vietnam? Thank you for coming on the show.

Kerry Newsome: [00:03:45] Look, I'm really excited about this episode, so let's jump right in as we've got a lot to talk about. I thought let's, do this a little bit differently this time.

Kirsten, let's just pretend we're taking a leisurely walk together and we just chatting. And I begin our conversation by saying, look, once we're allowed to travel, I would really like to go to Vietnam. I'm seeing it come up quite a lot in the media. And it seems to have had and been fairing really well through the Covid crisis. But I'm not sure, I don't know… would I like it; would I feel safe? Is it really my kind of destination? I don't know a lot about it. I mean, what do you think? How do you think I can kind of process should I approach it,  that kind of thing, about whether to go to Vietnam?

Kerston Pilz: [00:04:42] Yeah, that's a great question, Kerry. Thank you for that. As you know, I teach writing, personal writing and journaling. And I think a journal, a travel journal can begin way before the trip itself.

And as we all know right now, the idea, even just you and I strolling around Sydney is almost unthinkable. So the idea even to go overseas, you know, really makes everybody quite nervous. And so the Journal is really an opportunity to actually get in touch with those feelings, with our fears and maybe also with our reasons for actually going on a journey.

Because any trip, whether we're going to a safe place or whether we're going to a really far flung place like I did last year to Iran on a off the year before, takes us outside of our comfort zones. And that is where the journal comes in handy, because any trip is inevitably a form of ourney as well. And that inner journey begins a long time before you standing there at the airport with your mask and perhaps trembling knees. So that is right.

Kerry Newsome: [00:05:57] So where do you begin with a journal like that? Does it start with research, do you think? Or like you're talking about that in a journey? I don't know where to start. Why do I want to go to Vietnam of all places?

Kerston Pilz: [00:06:19] It was just a statistically named as the second best country, having dealt with Covid just after New Zealand.

So it's obviously one of the safer to go to. I personally have been a solo traveller for much of my life and I would say Vietnam is one of the safest countries. But the journal really you can use it obviously for the sort of nitty gritty trip planning, of course, there are Apps around that you could use. But it's also really nice to use a pen and paper journal and to write down your itinerary.

And you know, the thing is, we're all at the moment dreaming about going on a trip because nobody knows when we can even go. The borders can close, even state borders any minute. So just use the journal as a way of savouring, of prolonging the sort of pre trip excitement.

I recently had a very interesting course with Yale University about happiness. And the interesting thing that these researchers found was that we experience happiness by savouring the moment, and that means the anticipation of the experience.

And so there is, for example, a really good place for the journal to actually prolong this experience by writing about your pre trip excitement and sort of tease out the reasons for why you've chosen this country. It might be economical. It's just cheaper or it might be because it's different to other places. So, yeah.

Kerry Newsome: [00:08:04] And I think that cultural expectation is also an element.

Kerston Pilz: [00:08:09] I know years and years ago when I did anticipate going to Vietnam, you might be thinking I did start to write down things that I want to, I don't know, to get some verification on, because coming from Australia, there was lots of talk about the Vietnam War. Did the Vietnamese like Australians did they how did they feel about us as a country? So I had lots of No. And questions that I want answered during my visit. What do you think what do you say to that?

Kerston Pilz: [00:08:45] Yeah, I mean, that's a great point that you bring up there. And it sort of hones in on the idea of our expectations, because inevitably we always look at a foreign culture through our the lens of our own expectations and our cultural understanding and the ways we behave. So I think a journal can be very helpful in that, because also you can often surprised in our trips positively and negatively.

And the Journal is actually a way to then reframe your experiences, especially the negative ones, you know, and to really see and dig deep. And I think it's really interesting that you brought up that historical question. How would I feel as an Australian passport holder going to Vietnam? Would they look at me like strangely or hostile? And let me let me assure your listeners that that is actually not the case at all. I always say this.

Kerry Newsome: [00:09:47]  Go on. Yes, I think having some understanding. I know I read a few books at the time to get a better understanding of that, especially when I was visiting certain places in Vietnam that held a lot of, I guess, historical significance in respect to that. I looked at them, as you say through that lens. But I did refer back to, for want of a better word, my trip book or my trip planning book.

Kerry Newsome: [00:10:29] And and I kind of had a list of to DOS and some things that I just wanted to experience to say, gosh, you know, this happened then and how it really transpired. And then to see it now and to be greeted by the lovely people in Vietnam was was just such a welcoming feeling so that when I came back and people asked me again, you know, I could refer, oh, yes, I actually went to that site. And this is what I experienced in places like the Kuchi tunnels and things like that know, I think speak to a lot of historical significance. And I think they do resonate with your upbringing, with your emotions, your feelings and how forefather's, I guess, could have experienced Vietnam very differently.

Kerston Pilz: [00:11:18] Yes. I mean, it was interesting. The very first time I went to Vietnam, I went with a friend in 2004. And I grew up in Germany. My father grew up in East Germany. So Communist Germany. And I had this flash, this communist flash. I had this nostalgia in Hanoi. I couldn't get over the similarities. And I sort of felt very unexpectedly sort of a connection. Even though I grew up in West Germany, I still felt this connection between part of the Germany where my father grew up and Hanoi with the communist paraphernalia and all of that, which really, really surprised me.

And I had to yeah, I had to actually go to my journal to tease that out because my friend that I was traveling with, she couldn't really understand. She kept laughing at me. So that's the other thing that that's the other thing that the journal where the general comes in handy is also a companion, whether you travel alone or not, because obviously when you travel alone, it is very handy companion, but also when you travel with a friend, because often you do get very different reactions to places. And also you may know your friend in Australia or wherever you come from and you have that familiarity.

Kerston Pilz: [00:12:38] But once you both step out of the comfort zone, you might you might react to that other culture in a very different way. You might feel challenged in very, very different ways. I had this experience with my friend. She's a very much an extrovert and I'm much more an introvert. And so I actually liked the fact that I could lean on my journal and just have a quiet time to process and say, can you just give me a moment? I just need to write down what we saw on today. And so, yeah, that's another aspect of the journal that a lot of travelers will find useful.

Kerry Newsome: [00:13:15] Yeah. So what you're saying and I mean, I, I kind of hold you up there in the writing, journaling speech and certainly connected to travel. And, you know, your recent TED talk spoke a lot about the healing power of writing. So if we if we're talking to my audience and saying, OK, the writing aspect can actually begin well before you leave, it can become part of your, I guess, inner exploration and research technique to decide whether or not you do want to go to Vietnam.

Kerry Newsome: [00:14:00] I mean, I'm hoping even my podcasts are part of a person's process of research and understanding of the country, because we're talking to people like yourself who have been to Vietnam, lived in Vietnam and traveled extensively.

Kerry Newsome: [00:14:18] So you've got a lot to share. So if I was to kind of point to some beginnings of that writing journal that we're starting,… at the very beginning of the process, what about if we touched on some of the things that you would advise people to include in that journal, like we've mentioned, things like stepping out of their comfort zone.

What advice would you give to a person to start the journey? How could they kind of begin? Did I write a list of things I'm worried about my number one, the food or the traffic? I didn't speak to that a little bit.

Kerston Pilz: [00:15:05] Yes, sure. So first of all, my expertise, like you just said there in my TED talk, it was the healing power of writing. And that sort of goes hand in hand with that idea of the inner journey, because as we said at the beginning, any trip is a step outside of the comfort zone. And it's really confronting and again, especially during these times when everything is so uncertain. And so the list is actually a very, very good way to turn.

I often use that in my writing groups, as in writing prompt;  Write a list of the fears you may have or write a list of the preconceived ideas you may hold towards that country and really be honest with yourself. And that's the beautiful thing about a journal, is a place where you're meant to be brutally honest because it's only for yourself.

And that's also the sort of fabulous thing in the way about a journal is a dialogue with yourself. And you can be frank. So this is a very good place. And you could list my favorite top things. I want to see my Vietnam bucket list. That could be a list, and then you could go off and do your research. The things I definitely want to do and achieve in this trip, or maybe a list about what do I want to get out of this trip? Do I want to go for relaxation, cultural awareness and deepening my cultural awareness of this country? Or maybe a mixture of both so the lists can be themed? My fears and I think that's the other thing we often do, because we do live in the culture of positivity and so on. We often don't give ourselves permission to actually think about our fears and travel inevitably brings up a lot of fears. So give yourself permission to write about those fears.

Kerry Newsome: [00:17:06] Yeah, and then I go, you know, I was just going to be checking up to ask when you did visit Vietnam for the first time back in 2004, did you have a list of things that you wanted to experience or fears that you might have had preconceived ideas or anything like that? What was on your list?

Kerston Pilz: [00:17:29] Well, you know what?

Kerston Pilz: [00:17:30] This is actually quite embarrassing to confess, but I actually was quite overworked at the time and I just needed a break in. My friend said, let's go to Vietnam. And I was so silly I hadn't even brought a lonely planet or we hadn't we hadn't actually planned anything.

We were on the plane and because I hadn't seen my friend in a while. So, you know, sometimes how it is, you catch up with a friend as you go on holiday and chatting, chatting, and then we touch down. And I think it was like going to a city and we're like, actually, hang on, we want to stay tonight. I mean, so I wouldn't advise that I normally don't travel like that anymore.

Kerston Pilz: [00:18:06] I'm also a little bit older now. I do get a little bit anxious these days. I usually have the first five books. And so here we are standing at the taxi rank, going on with the with the picnic a quarter. Where does one go?

Kerston Pilz: [00:18:21] So, yes, I would definitely advise doing that research in advance and also doing the research on like I don't know how much is a taxi to cost and how do I get from the airport to town without feeling ripped off because you don't want to start your. Journey in a negative way.  Feeling, oh, my God, that taxi driver, this rarely happens in Vietnam because it's so organized, so. Yeah, yeah. Just things to think about.

Kerston Pilz: [00:18:51] So I think when you're young and you do kind of fly by the seat of your pants in a way, and that's totally cool. But I think as you do get older, you become a little bit more of a thoughtful traveler. Do you think?

Kerston Pilz: [00:19:07] Yes. And also depends how much time you have. Like back in the day when I have a month, months of backpacking and you just go where the wind blows you, that's that's cool. That's part of that experience.

But if you're working and your annual leave is very minimal in Australia, we typically get 20 days that that is not very much to play with. So that's where, again, the journal comes in handy in the trip planning because you really want to figure out, OK, do I need one night in this place to I should give myself three nights here.

Do I want a rest stop in the middle of the trip? Because when often when we cram too much into our journeys, we can come home feeling more exhausted than before we left. So definitely I would advise or I these days plan a little bit more carefully, although I didn't do that on my last trip to Iran.

Kerston Pilz: [00:19:59] Again, we just had the first night booked, but that was because there was very little information available.

Kerston Pilz: [00:20:05] Vietnam has a lot of information and the What About Vietnam podcast is, of course, one of them. So I would advise to do so, because we don't know when we'll travel.

So use this time to do a little bit of armchair travel and use the time to write about and start that dialogue with yourself. What do I want to get out of this trip and how do I expect it to change me? And what are my fears like we said before? And what are my preferences, especially if you're travelling with other people that can often be a clash. One person wants to be super active, the other one maybe wants to hang more by the pool. So how do you negotiate that and so on?

Kerry Newsome: [00:20:47] Yes, and I think that's something definitely to consider when you are traveling either as a family or, as you say with a friend or or even in a group.

Sometimes there'll be a dynamic in that group where one person is a “doing” person or group and the other person's a bit more of a chill kind of aspect.

Just on the on the writing side of it, you've got me thinking now about journaling. And I'm I'm a bit of a fan of pen and paper and beautiful little kind of notebooks. And that's probably very old fashioned. But about capturing those highlights, I tend to take lots of photos and I do.

And I have created over my life various trip albums so that includes everything from the first itinerary to the ticket, to hotel bills, to tickets to shows, things like that. I include all in a trip album so that I can go back and say, gosh, you know, I went to Vietnam back in 2010 and I was only paying so many Dong for a hotel. And now 10 years on, I'm paying this in a hotel or the sophistication is increased enough that I certainly think both you and I both seeing Vietnam evolve and become a much more sophisticated country and able to deal with the the Western traveller and in a much more, how shall I say, luxurious way than in the past.

it had. And I mean, what are your thoughts about trip books versus trip Apps, versus photo like this is your space.

Kerry Newsome: [00:22:52] So tell me more about your thoughts on that.

Kerston Pilz: [00:22:56] Kerrythank you for that question. I am quite active on Instagram because I love taking photos, but like all of us, you can take one hundred photos and then you go back to work and suddenly you forget about them. And one day you need to change phone and you go, oh my God, I haven't even downloaded those photos or done anything with them. And the same can be true for Camera. And I used to travel with a big camera.

Kerston Pilz: [00:23:26] So I really like the old fashioned journal for several reasons. One is what you just mentioned. You use it like a scrapbook and it becomes sort of this lively record to help you track your trip, you'll a treasure that more than the photos that he never downloaded from your iPhone or your camera because like you said, you can stick receipts, entrance tickets from the temple or the pagoda in there, and it becomes sort of a visual record, a scrapbook.

And the other thing is a journal slows you down. And one of the reasons we take trips is to actually get away from our everyday life. Often we feel a bit burnt out with our jobs, our routines. So traveling is a way to slow down. And writing pen and paper is a way to slow down and to really get in touch with your deepest thoughts and reactions. So I really am a great advocate of getting yourself a beautiful book, you know, with a nice, sturdy cover. Or you might even buy it there if you. That's another. Yes, it's a beautiful picture.

Kerston Pilz: [00:24:37] Yeah. Combined Vietnam and books with handmade paper and lovely. Lovely. And the other thing is, of course, I find people, you know, suddenly discover their creativity when they write. And I get so many people in my online courses who feel very, very shy to admit to themselves that they have creative stirrings. But we all have them. But they get sort of taught out of us, when we grow up. We leave the crayons in the sand in the kindergarten and then we grow up. But journaling is a is a very lovely way to get in touch again with your creativity and discover things about yourself that you didn't even know you had interest in yourself. And so savour that time, you know, and yeah, I think it's a wonderful tool to also to document your trip. It's a practical way to organize a stay organized. I just use Instagram because I like it and it helps me connect with my community. But I actually love the journal. Absolutely.

Kerry Newsome: [00:25:49] So now what do you think it is about Vietnam that does seem to inspire the “writer” in us? I know one of my trips I had the privilege to attend one of your writing classes and I really, really enjoyed it. And I think retreats or writing retreats is kind of a unique thing in itself. But there's something about Vietnam that you mentioned slows you down or there's something about the nature of Vietnam in some places like Vietnam, where where you hold your writing retreats.

Kerry Newsome: [00:26:35] Tell us a little bit about a writing retreat and what people can expect to experience in that.

Kerry Newsome: [00:26:43] Yeah, great question. And also, I just wanted to say that you came to was the very, very first class I ever held, so good to know, as I was very nervous that day. But that was four years ago.

Kerston Pilz: [00:27:00] We actually went online for our writers group and this year we had to do advising.  So I listen to some episodes of your wonderful podcast and you have talked about yoga retreats and skin wellness retreats.

Kerston Pilz: [00:27:17] So you can obviously do a range of retreats. And Vietnam is still a virgin territory, if you like. And as was discussed in some of your episodes there when it comes to retreats. A writing holiday is quite a unique way to experience a holiday.

Typically, I get a lot of women, but that's just because I sort of advertise that way. And often they come because they may want to travel by themselves, but they feel a little uncomfortable if you just go all by themselves. So this retreat gives them that container of safety and community. And I also often get people who are not necessarily aspiring to publish books or to write creative fiction. Most of the people who come to my retreats are actually there to connect with themselves.

So they use that like other people might go on yoga and meditation retreat. And we actually combine yoga and meditation and mindfulness with the writing practice. And so they really come to take that deep dive into themselves and to dwell on that dialogue with themselves. Often they work through episodes in their lives that may have been traumatic or difficult and. So they want to find that sort of next chapter, ….because really writing symbolically is all about closing one chapter and opening another one. And that is why I love that, …that you open it and it's a blank page…. and you can put into it whatever you want.

Kerston Pilz: [00:28:54] It really is up to you. You are the author of your trip and also of your life. And the other thing, of course, about Vietnam is that because it's not sort of so oversaturated, from an Australian perspective.

We know there's a lot of travel historically that has gone to Bali. It's sort of still more new and fresh. And a lot of people love that sort of or what I do with my students on retreat or participants is we go to the markets, and we do a cooking classes. I also take them on excursions and then we write about it. What did you see today that really surprised you or describe, I don't know, the smile on the lips of a vendor that you didn't have a common language with at the market? You still had a really profound experience connecting with that person. Describe that.

Describe the feeling of riding through the rice paddies. What did you see? And that is another way of slowing down and connecting with your senses and again, connecting with yourself in ways you don't normally do when you are following your routine. You're going through life on autopilot, busy getting through the day. So it's a really lovely way to expand yourself, your understanding and you're opening yourself up to the world in creative ways. Y

Kerry Newsome: [00:30:21] And and it's a lovely way to record your actual experience at the time, because sometimes we are so busy where we're getting on the cable car. We're going up with the kids to the top of the mountain, to Ba Na Hills or whatever. And just to make sure at the end of the day, we captured something that someone said or, as you say, the smile on the girl's face, as she said, welcome to the hills.

Or, you know, we very rarely give ourselves the privilege of that because this gets in the way. I know one of the things that I've written about in Vietnam quite a bit is in particular in Hoian is the colours. I'm always struck by the colour and how the colour and the colours I experience influenced me and my sense of happiness, my sense of joy, my sense of well-being, my positivity levels. I always come away from Hoi An, feeling very lighter andbrighter, more colourful, more creative, more open, more even friendly. I think I'm even a nicer person.

Kerston Pilz: [00:31:46] Yeah, I think that really resonate with me because as you know, I lived in Hoi An up until I became stranded here actually almost a year ago now. And I do. I mean, you make me really nostalgic.

Kerston Pilz: [00:31:59] Of course, there's a beautiful. Yeah, and the beautiful thing about the Vietnamese is the smiles, even though I often think they have gone through incredible hardship, inconceivable trauma, and yet they're smiling and they're resilient and they live in the moment.

And again, writing is actually about capturing the experience in the moment, documenting the story as it is unfolding. And so there's a point of connection there when we slow down and slow down to that very moment where I feel I can connect better with the locals because they live in the here and now. It's not about the past, even though that past could go away terribly on their minds. And I'm sure it does. But it is about living now and expressing that joy and that happiness.

And the one thing I want to say to then is I do with my community is to encourage them to write a gratitude journal. And that's something you can also do with your journal when you when you travel, because like you say, we are so busy. Sometimes we go up and I remember meeting somebody and today I have to just get the tailor down and then I have to get this done. And then I still have to go to the then why do I have to do that on a holiday? You don't actually have to go to the tailor. You could just relax so long to capture what you have actually experiences to write a gratitude journal. Five things I saw today that made me smile. I mean, you could do that every day, but especially on a trip, it's just such a beautiful record to take home. And then even on the days when you're not feeling so happy and you know you're anxiously awaiting your next holiday, you might just go over that and say, oh, my God, that was so simple and it was so profound and so wonderful. So, yeah, it's the simple things that often end up so special.

Kerry Newsome: [00:34:02] And I think when someone then asks you down the track, gosh, you know, why do you want to keep go to Vietnam? What is it about Vietnam?

Kerry Newsome: [00:34:12] Even if I've momentarily forgotten, which doesn't happen very often, as you know. But if I momentarily why do I care or why did I go to that place?

Kerry Newsome: [00:34:24] What was it about Ba be Lake,  I am in love with it. Was it the stillness? Was it the serene environment? Was it the beautiful, warm family that I stayed with at a homestay?

Kerry Newsome: [00:34:39] Was it that really beautiful meal that I had with them when it was cold and we were all rugged up and we really couldn't converse because obviously my Vietnamese is hopeless.

Kerry Newsome: [00:34:52] However, we did have a connection through our smiling with each other, with our handshake's, with our gestures and things like that. How can I convey that this is this is one of the things that has spurred me on with my podcasting. And I think from what I know about you, has spurred you on with your writing classes, and your retreats in Hoi An and things like that, because it comes out in in what you deliver and what you give and what you invest into those retreats.

Kerry Newsome: [00:35:26] I want to finish because we are getting away with time. We do kind of touch on why Vietnam, why go to Vietnam and not Bali now? I have no answer to that. What would be your answer to why Vietnam? Why not Bali? Because we both know both places.

Kerston Pilz: [00:35:47] Yes, I actually lived in Bali for a year in 1986, believe it or not, when it was very different. So my reason for not going to Bali, I guess it's because I'm nostalgic for the Bali ,that no longer is.

But it's also I guess it has that reputation. I guess, you know, people go there for parties and it's very crowded. I actually recently did go to just before I came back to Australia, I transited via Bali and I spent a week there and it was just so busy and it sort of had lost a lot of its charm.

Kerston Pilz: [00:36:22] And I guess its become very commercialized I mean, obviously any country in SE Asia is booming. It was booming before Covid.

Also, you watched the rice paddies disappearing and so on. But I feel there's a creative energy in Vietnam, especially with the young people. It has a very large young population. And maybe because it had communist oppression and the war before that for a long time, there is sort of an opening up, a burgeoning creative energy that you often experience in countries that awaken to something new you had it in.

So I feel there is, yeah, a creative spirit and adventurousness that is, perhaps was…. in Bali years ago and is no longer there for me anyway. You know, with the young people opening beautifully hipster, I don't know, coffee bars with those, those decorations, the tiles. And suddenly I remember one reason why I did move to Hoi An in 2016, which is not so long ago because it didn't have a yoga center.

It was that here that Natalie who opened the first yoga center and yoga and up until then it didn't have a yoga center. And so everything was still new. Virgin territory like it is saturated now with yoga centres and especially after that book by Elizabeth Gilbert – Love eat pray But still Vietnam is still sort of Virgin territory in many respects. And that's what I love. There's a freshness and the newness.

Kerry Newsome: [00:38:03] Kirsten, look, it's been lovely having you on the program. I hope we together have inspired people to have a look at the option when they are investigating a trip to Vietnam, to look at the idea of starting even before that armchair version of research and armchair version of an inner journey, as you say.

And I'll definitely be putting the links to your retreat's both in Hoi An,  and at Mission Beach is which is where you're sitting at the moment, correct? Yeah. Just lovely to have you on the program, as always. And lovely to catch up with you.

Kerston Pilz: [00:38:47] Thank you so much. And you make me a little bit nostalgic now, but just to leave your listeners with this, do not be afraid. Vietnam is a wonderful place and it's it's safe. Thank you for listening.

Kerry Newsome: [00:39:03] Check out the show notes for more information. What about Vietnam? Don't forget to subscribe, write and review and stay tuned for more fun adventures in Vietnam.

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