“What you see is what you get.” Not necessarily. Henry David Thoreau said, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” As a philosopher, I think he was describing what we see internally.

It boils down to this: We only find the world we’re looking for. As photographers, we often search for that perfect landscape, the ones we’ve seen in the photography and travel magazines, only to miss what’s right before us. Instead, we should give up our preconceived ideas of what an image should be and open our minds to the unexpected.

I’ll give you a few examples from photos published in my new coffee table book called In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: The Long Way Back.  

Visitors and residents flock to Darwin’s public beaches to view the glorious sunsets. While visiting there, of course, I planned to go there at sunset as well. Imagine my surprise and dismay when I arrived to find hundreds of people with the same idea as mine! Many of them had walked right into the surf to take their photos. Being short, I could never walk though that surf to get in front of them; nor I could I shoot over their heads! I decided to take a photo of everyone else taking a photo, and to describe what the people of Darwin came there to do.

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I used another example of this approach when I photographed a crew, Kate, on our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, looking back at the sunset behind her. We readers can then share in her moment of bliss.

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When entering the bleachers to see the dancers perform in the Festival of Pacific Arts in Palau, I caught sight of this dancer beneath the stands, putting on his make-up. That photo became one of my favorite pictures of that event.

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There was no way I was going to make it up all the way to the top of the pilgrimage to Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) without beginning that climb at 3:30 a.m. so I could photograph the view from the top. I could, however, photograph those who were coming back down. This 82-year-old Sri Lankan guide has been leading pilgrimages there for the past twenty years.

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Sometimes, I see someone walking into the scene and I wait patiently until he or she is just in the right spot:

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Other times, I want to portray how small people seem in relation to the immensity of the structure.

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Truly “seeing” requires that we slow down, wait, and get into a different space in our heads. Try that the next time you take a photograph.

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We writers are expected to wear two hats, that of an introvert who retreats to her writing cave and excels in words, phrases, and commas; and that of an extrovert, a flamboyant artist who tells tales and binds an audience under her spell. And sometimes, we’re expected to wear both hats at the same time.

This summer and fall, I couldn’t wear both hats and meet my publication deadline for the final book in the trilogy, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.” Something had to go, and that something turned out to be this blog. My sincere apologies to my followers.

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My lowly gardening and pool hat and my expressive roaring twenties hat. I failed to wear both at the same time.

Last Monday, The Long Way Back went on the press in Anaheim, and since then, I’ve donned my extrovert hat. I’ll be launching the book after it’s printed.

Meanwhile, here are photos from the press check:

 

 

 

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My book designer, Alfred Williams of Multimedia Arts, and the owners and staff of LightSource Printing have been wonderful! I can’t wait to unveil the gripping conclusion to my nautical trilogy, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.” Coming soon to Amazon and www.LoisJoyHofmann.com.

I’m sitting on the top deck of the Ariana while the sun shines on the rippled but peaceful Danube River below. Controlled by numerous dams and locks, the medieval wildness of the Danube has been tamed centuries ago. We began our trip in Passau, Germany; we’ll reach the delta of the Black Sea before turning around to head back.

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The view from our cabin while traveling through Germany to our first destination in Austria

Called the King of Rivers by Napoleon, the Danube is really the Prince. The King title belongs to the Volga, the great River in Russia that drains into the Caspian Sea and is 500 miles longer than the Danube. And even though the Danube is the second longest in Europe, it is only the 25th longest in the world. The Danube begins in Germany’s Black Forest and ends on the Romanian and Ukrainian shores, in the delta region of the Black Sea, 1777 miles away.

While sailing, I’m reading “The Danube, a Cultural History, by Andrew Beattie.” He relates the stories of empires that have risen and fallen along the Danube, from Macedonians, to Romans, to the Hapsburgs, the Ottomans, to the Nazis, and most recently, the countries that have shrugged off the yoke of Communist Socialism.

I wondered how such a river affecting so many countries could be governed. The book covers this in its last chapter. In 1946 a council of European foreign ministers announced the creation of the International Danube Commission, with headquarters in Budapest, Hungary. At first, only the Eastern bloc countries, along with Yugoslavia, formed this new body; then Austria joined in 1960. Germany did not join until after the  fall of communism. With the break-up of the Balkans in the 1990s, the commission rose to ten countries, with Slovakia succeeding Czechoslovakia, Serbia and Croatia succeeding Yugoslavia, and Moldova and Ukraine succeeding the USSR. There is probably no other river in the world whose navigable length is of such international complexity!

During this trip, we will see a panoply of flags displayed on the boats that ply this river. Just as during our world sailing circumnavigation on Pacific Bliss, it doesn’t matter much what one’s nationality is. In this river, we are all Mariners.

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“We are all in the same boat, and we only have one boat.” –Paul Anastas

Circumnavigators, of all people, appreciate how the earth is one. While sailing from San Diego to the Marquesas Islands, twenty-one days without the sight of land, I would marvel at the curved horizon all around us; we were right in the middle of the dark blue sea.

Breathtaking days were followed by overwhelming nights. I wrote these words in my journal and later in my book, Maiden Voyage:

Pacific Bliss glides gently forward, skimming the ocean waves. I know she’s moving because I hear the slosh-slosh of her hulls against the waves and the occasional creak-creak of the mainsail swaying as it tries to touch the stars. I feel like I’m encased in a giant dome, surrounded by stars crowded together so tightly they resemble a thousand Milky Ways. I am mesmerized. I find many sections of the sky so dense with stars that I cannot separate the individual star from the primordial soup. I am seeing constellations that I’ve never seen nor heard of before, lights that have taken millions of light years to come to me.

I feel unimportant, insignificant. That’s how it is at sea, a mystical experience almost impossible to duplicate on land.

“A wonderful, starry night,” I write in my logbook at the end of my watch, “the stuff of dreams.”

NASA astronomer John O’Keefe said that, to the astronomer, the earth is a very sheltered and protected place. A marvelous picture from Apollo 8 show the blue and cloud-wrapped earth, seen just at the horizon of the black-cratered, torn, and smashed lunar landscape. The contrast would not be lost on any creature. The thought, “God loves those people,” cannot be resisted. Yet the moon is a friendly place compared to Venus, where, from skies 40 km high, a rain of concentrated sulfuric acid falls toward a surface that is as hot as boiling lead. Then O’Keefe goes on to say that Venus is friendly compared to the crushing pressure of white dwarfs or the unspeakable horrors of the black holes of neutron stars. He writes:

We are by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures…If the Universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances were created for man to live in…Someone made a lot of special arrangements and took a lot of time so that each of us could be alive and experiencing this just-right world.

 

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As shown from page 28,  In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: Maiden Voyage

“The earth is what we all have in common,” said Naturalist and writer, Wendell Barry. During this Earth Week, and every day of the year, is up to each of us to cherish this gift and to treat it with the respect it deserves.

 

Those who know me understand why I thought of our 43-foot catamaran as a person. And yes, she has a “voice.” Here is one of her sailors’ tales, written on the 6th day of a passage from the Maldives to Salalah, Oman. Position: 14º17´N, 59º23´E

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I’m Pacific Bliss, and I have my own story to tell. I wasn’t too happy last night. I droned along—as blissful as can be on a glassy sea—giving my wings a rest. My navigator was busy at the nav station entering comments into the logbook about the three fishing boats at the horizon to my port. “3-4 miles off,” she wrote. She could see that horizon under the light of a half-moon, beaming a silvery path right to the port helm seat. My able-bodied seaman Chris had just gone off watch. And my Captain was sawing logs, storing up energy for the dogleg watch.

All of a sudden, I was trapped like a hunted prey, my engine gasping for breath. And I’m a huge whale of prey, at 12 tons. My daggerboards were trapped at one side of a huge black net, and both my hulls were wrapped at the stern. I was helpless! I must say; my crew rose to the occasion. Lois ran to the helm. Chris was out of his bunk like a flash and shut off the engine. Gunter heard the commotion breaking through his dreams and arrived topsides, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts. My crew does take care of me. I’m important—and they know it.

Even so, it took them awhile to get me out of this predicament. First, they took down my sails so I couldn’t press forward. Then they raised both daggerboards all the way up to free the forward side of the net. But it was still wrapped around my stern—on both sides. White floats held the net, and one big float, the bitter end I think, was bobbing at the port side, trying to sneak underneath.

My crew used every hook on board to try to get that net free, to no avail. They discussed going down below me, into that deep dark sea, but no-one wanted to do that at night. I don’t blame them; that net was heavy and still attached to a fishing boat over four miles away.

As Lois and Chris peered over the port side, they heard the blow of a whale coming for air— three times to be exact. I wonder what happens to one of those whales caught in a net like that. I know what happens to dolphins and sea turtles; they struggle and drown. Poor things!

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Well, Chris managed to push that big float underneath me with that big hook we have on board. The float slid underneath me, past the rudder and sail drive, and out into the sea. That left only a small section of the net at my starboard stern. He pushed that down with the same hook and finally we were free. My engines started again, and we continued motoring to our destination.

Later on Captain Gunter’s watch, another fisherman hailed us on the VHF. He didn’t speak English well, but he gave his position. “Is that your net or your boat position?” Lois asked him three times. (She was still up after her watch, keeping Gunter company, “teaming up,” they call it.) Finally, the man gave her two lats and longs, one for the boat and another for the net. Turns out his net was 10 kilometers long (that’s about 6 miles for you Americans who still do not understand the metric system). We had to deviate course for some time.

Frankly friends, I’m relieved to hear that we have only 350 miles to go to Salalah. I’m tired of these Indian Ocean fishing nets, tired of sailing, and quite ready for a rest!

“A kiss is just a kiss…and Bliss is who I miss,” Gunter sings as I hum along.  I put my hand in his as we power walk around Sail Bay on the sidewalk fronting our condo in San Diego. It’s an unusually warm day in February, the lovers’ month. And we’re both thinking of another love, one we both shared.

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Her name is Pacific Bliss. We knew her well. She’s the 43-foot Catana catamaran who faithfully sailed us around the world. On August 28, 2008, we crossed our path in Canet, France where we had started out eight long years before. Seven voyages. 34,000 miles. 62 countries. So many adventures and misadventures. So many Moments of Bliss.

Forlorn and seemingly forsaken, Pacific Bliss waited patiently on that same dock outside the factory where she was built. She pined for a new owner throughout the turbulent winter and the balmy Mediterranean spring while the stock portfolios of expectant buyers descended into a financial sinkhole.

Meanwhile, back in San Diego, my friends inquired, “In your entire circumnavigation, which was your favorite place?”  I searched my memory bank, struggling for answers. 

My most precious memories relate to people we met along the way. I admired how the teeming masses of Sri Lanka managed to eke out a living.  Regal women in bold saris and determined men in crisp shirts defied the steaming climate and the diesel-polluted streets clogged with tuk-tuks, taxis, bicycles and even the occasional working elephant.  When the 2004 tsunami devastated that lively southwestern coast I had photographed, I sobbed my heart out.  I mourned the wizened “lace lady” in Galle who sold me the intricate tablecloth I will forever treasure. I remembered the blind man with the missing front teeth at the souvenir-stand-by-the-sea, the one who taught us the many uses of a coconut. I pictured the family with handsome dark-eyed sons who ran the turtle rescue operation south of Colombo. All gone now.

The remarkable Ni Vanuatu of Waterfall Bay, in the Northern Banks Islands, stole my heart. They have no electricity, no cars, and no landing strip. Their island is accessible only by boat. Yet they are the happiest, most generous locals we met. We had the good fortune to anchor off their bay while we attended a festival honoring the installation of a new chief.  After three days of dancing, kava drinking, and teaching us how to make lap-lap (a pizza-like food that is their national dish) a chorus of young people belted out a song honoring the gathered sailors. Each one came forward to sing a special tribute, “My name is Joy and I love you, my name is Peter and I love you.” By the end of the song, we were all in tears.

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Photos from pages 270-271 in Sailing the South Pacific

I first fell in love with the Aussies during the Port2Port Rally from Vanuatu to Oz, sponsored by the town of Bundaberg. A farm girl from Wisconsin who grew up in the fifties, I found it easy to relate to the sugar cane farmers of Queensland and the cowboys working the vast ranches of the Outback. Many of them became our friends. We decided to spend an entire year in Oz, traveling the length and breadth of that great land.

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Bundaberg: “I love you” balloon and bouquet, page 292, Sailing the South Pacific

 

I also find it impossible to rank the flora and fauna of my favorite places.

An avid flower-lover my entire life, my heart stopped when I viewed acres upon acres of winsome wildflowers north of  Perth, then stopped again when a child guide in Borneo led me to one lone flower, two feet wide. The bloom was a rare Rafflesia—a flower that took nine months to mature.

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Rafflesia, World’s largest flower, Borneo (this photo will likely appear in my third book, The Long Way Back

My heart soared when I came upon the ancient, graying Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest, in Waipoua, New Zealand.

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Lord of the Forest, page 197, Sailing the South Pacific

Which rates higher: the majestic rock the outback Aborigines call Uluru, rising red in the pale dawn, or the brooding widow’s peak of Mount Kota Kinabalu, the symbol of Borneo, “the land beneath the clouds?”

Were the deadly saltwater crocs and ubiquitous kangaroos of Australia more thrilling than the playful orangutans in the Sepilok Forest Reserve of Borneo, the cute baby elephants in Sri Lanka’s orphanage, or the magnificent tigers raised by the monks in Thailand’s lush interior? 

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Petting the tiger; this photo will likely appear in my third book, The Long Way Back

Because I could not begin to answer the question posed by my friends, I invented a stock, smart-ass answer:  “My favorite place is the one I haven’t been to yet.” Then I would add a few lines about my next dream destination, such as:  “Right now, I’m researching Bhutan. I like the idea that they have a national happiness index. Instead of our GNP, they have a GHP. I want to check that out.”

Then we sold the boat. They say that the two happiest days in a sailor’s life are when he or she buys the boat, and when it is finally sold. 

On the one hand, I am happy to know that Bliss is no longer pining for Gunter and me, her Captain and Navigator of years gone by. She is no longer alone. Now she has other masters to care for: a family of four traveled from England to France to make her their home. They sailed her across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, as we did during our Maiden Voyage. Anticipating new adventures to come, enthused about new places to discover, they settled in. They learned to use her high-tech systems, evaluated her strength, and tested her resolve to keep them safe and secure, just as she did for us.

On the other hand, I’m sure of this: despite achieving my mission of sailing around the world, I’m still affected with wanderlust. I must continue to travel! I just may go around the world again, this time by air, land and sea. There might even be a few elephants, camels, mules and trains—and who knows what else—thrown into the mix. But it won’t be the same; this much I know. Any other mode of transportation from now on will be just that—mere transportation. 

Because now I realize that this question is all wrong. It’s not about the people, places, flora, and fauna I loved, after all. It’s about who took us there. Pacific Bliss is where I left my heart. 

WHERE I LEFT MY

1. Myanmar is more open to tourism than ever before. The country welcomed some 3 million visitors in 2014, about half of those international tourists. Five million tourists was a target set for 2015, although the numbers are not in yet. The number of tourists to Myanmar (Burma) is exploding because tourists may now enter freely after acquiring a visa online and picking it up on arrival; they can travel freely throughout the countryside without escorts (this was not the case during my first visit in 2006); and Myanmar is the most authentic and untouched of all the countries in Southeast Asia. Tourists are rushing to see it before it turns into another Thailand. So now is the time to go!

My husband and I chose Myanmar as our international vacation destination for 2014. Because of skyrocketing tourism, hotels tended to be scarce during the high season, so we chose to leave in October and return in early November. We booked through Enchanting Travels, Myanmar. They organized an independent “slow travel” tour for us via auto and plane, with a local tour guide at each destination. Our round-trip tour included the bustling city of Yangon, the fertile farms of Shan state, the mountain villages of Pindaya, the fishing villages of Inle Lake, the stupas of Bagan, a two-day cruise up the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay, and relaxing at Ngapali beach, where I had an opportunity to journal before heading home.

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You can access my blog posts and photos about my trips to Burma here:

Why Go to Myanmar?

Burma in My Blood

Walking a Village in Myanmar

Burma, My Next Favorite Place

I recommend booking hotel rooms in advance through a local travel company—at least for the first few days of your trip. Cash is king in Myanmar. You can exchange dollars for kyats as you go.  Credit cards are not widely accepted but ATM machines are readily available. WiFi is like dial-up internet of the 1990s in most places, but that only forces you to adapt to the slow travel approach. Just be patient, take it easy, and enjoy the spectacular scenery and friendly people. Pack for hot weather. The “peak season” to visit with the best weather is from November to February. We traveled in October during the “shoulder season” because we wanted to be home for Thanksgiving. If you visit in other months, you’ll suffocate (110F/45C in Yangon) or you’ll soak during the rainy season.

2. Cartagena, Colombia is one of the most charming cities we visited during our entire sailing circumnavigation. Now you can fly there from almost anywhere in the world. The city holds a special place in my heart because this was our refuge from a Force 10 storm that we encountered off the coast of Venezuela during the Maiden Voyage of Pacific Bliss. In fact, I wrote this about Cartagena in Chapter 7 of In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: Maiden Voyage:

Cartagena is a magical place that must be experienced at least once in a lifetime. But a word of caution: Once you come to see her, you will dream about when you can return. From its charming, old walled city to its historic naval and land fortifications to the posh, modern high rises and its tourist beaches, Cartagena dazzles and thrills. However, this is a city that cannot be devoured; she needs to be savored—slowly and deliciously. Mark my words: Gunter and I will be back!

The photos below are taken from Maiden Voyage.

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Although we haven’t returned to this marvelous destination yet, rest be assured, it is on our bucket list! If you want to see the city, just book a hotel and take a city tour or travel around by cab. Be sure to spend a full day in Old Town Cartagena. While you’re there, you might want to take one of the many Spanish language courses offered. Or you might want to book a day sail to Islas del Rosario for some swimming and snorkeling. If you’re more adventurous, contact Worldview Travel about one of their jungle tours.

3. I never tire of Bali, Indonesia. But beware: Once you go there, you’ll return again and again. Bali has a special significance to me because Gunter and I spent our honeymoon there back in 1995. We rented a hotel at world-famous Kuta Beach, not far from populous Denpasar. If you like loud music and crowded beaches, this is for you. If you are more adventurous, you can do what we did. We checked out of our hotel after two noisy days and booked a four-day boat trip to Lombok and then to the Komodo Islands to see the dragons. Back in Bali, we spent the second week at the far side of the island, at a quiet beach resort with a volcanic, black-sand beach. We were instructed to hit the dong of a wooden carving outside our door to call for coffee service. Later, a server asked us, “Did you know that Mick Jagger slept here—in your bungalow?” Hmm. But our favorite part of Bali was the traditional town of Ubud in the interior, where we watched Balinese processions, visited carving and silver shops, and took in a Legong Dance at the King’s Palace.

When we visited Bali the second time, during our world circumnavigation, we knew exactly where we wanted to stay. With Pacific Bliss safely berthed at the Bali International Marina, we took a taxi to Hotel Tjampuhan on the outskirts of Ubud. For one week, we enjoyed a totally hedonistic experience in a secluded hillside bungalow overlooking a lush valley.  Birds called back and forth, their high notes overriding the deeper sounds of rushing water far below. Squirrels raced up tall tamarind trees and red hibiscus blooms added color to the verdant landscape. We swam in a cool, spring-fed pool, and enjoyed side-by-side massages at a spa dug into the hillside above the waterfall. In the cool of the evening, we walked into town and enjoyed performances at The Royal Palace. Later during our sojourn in Bali, we booked a few days with friends in Sanur Beach—a much better alternative to Kuta. I haven’t been back to Bali since the advent of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love book and movie but rest assured, this island will never lose its charm.

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4. Vietnam is a must visit that combines history and beauty—and they openly welcome Americans. We visited Vietnam in June 2006, along with a cruising couple who had set up our private tour for four with a local travel agency, Focus Travel. That worked out well because we could share a van and driver. In fact, the total cost for each of us to tour there for 10 days, including guides, private transportation, four-star hotels, tours, a cooking class, 10 breakfasts, 4 lunches and one dinner, plus domestic flights from Hanoi to Danang and from Hue to Saigon was $673. We flew from Langkawi, where Pacific Bliss was berthed, into Hanoi and out of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

Vietnam has over 2,000 miles of coastline and our route from Hanoi to Saigon covered most of it, backed by central highlands and jagged mountain ridges throughout most of it. Fertile farms line the rivers and deltas. We loved Hanoi with its charming French colonial boulevards and landscaped lakes. The city was a wonderful mixture of old and new. In addition to taking in a Water Puppet show and a Vietnamese cooking class, we toured the Military Museum and the sobering Hao Lo Prison Americans called the “Hanoi Hilton.” 

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We found the people giving, gracious and anxious to please. I was fascinated to learn what the younger Vietnamese think about what they call “The American War:” According to them, that was but a blip in their history, following a1000-year war against China and a 30-year war against France. Yes, the older generation of Vietnamese are battle-hardened, proud, and nationalist. But for the energetic younger generation (the median age is 29) Vietnam is a place to succeed, to earn a lot of money, and to have a good time. They care little about politics; they were born since all those wars occurred.

From Hanoi we drove along the coast to Halong Bay, a World Heritage site, then flew to Danang with its stretches of unspoiled sandy beaches, and drove on to Hoi An to relax at a beach resort for a couple of days. In a town famous for its tailors, we dropped off clothing to be “copied” and picked up the next day. Next we drove over the mountains to Hue, the former capital city of Vietnam where we took an evening barge trip down the Perfume River. We flew to Saigon and checked into a 1920s hotel in the heart of downtown, great for shopping and touring a city that, in 2006, had no McDonalds, KFC, or chain stores of any kind. From Saigon, we toured the Mekong Delta and then drove through industrial areas south of Saigon—car assembly plants, and numerous manufacturing complexes. There, we could see that rapid industrialization was underway.   

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With over 90 million inhabitants in 2014, Vietnam is the world’s 13th most populous country. A full 65% of its population is under 30. Since 2000, the country’s GDP growth in has been among the highest in the world, with the U.S. as its largest trading partner. When we were there, the populace was very excited about joining the World Trade Organization in 2007.  Since then, much has changed dramatically, so if you want to see parts of the old Vietnam with the simpler life, go there soon!

5. If you want a more adventurous vacation, check out Savu Savu or Fiji’s remote Lau Island Group.  We sailed almost all the way around Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu, then left our yacht in Savusavu, on Fiji’s second-largest island, Vanua Levu. We had obtained a special permit in Suva to visit Fiji’s remote Lau Group for a thatched-hut-on-the-beach experience. Not easy, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Chapters 8 and 10 of Sailing the South Pacific, my second book in the adventure series, describes two sailing seasons we spent in Fiji, where we had too many adventures to list here. Feel free to ask for advice in the COMMENT section below.

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What are your travel plans for 2016?