Hiking Shoes

One of the important considerations to make when preparing for a trip is the footwear to bring. You need to consider the activities you’re going to do during your trip to make sure you have the proper footwear, otherwise it may result in a miserable experience or even worse increasing risk of injury while you’re going on the trip.

Few years ago, I rarely went on hikes or long travels, so having the correct footwear was not really much of a consideration to me. It changed about three years ago when I was about to go on a trip to South Dakota for a couple of weeks, and I needed to have something to wear that was comfortable to wear in the hot summer, light to carry, and easy to clean. I had a pair of hiking boots at home, but they were quite heavy weight and better suited for going out during the snowy winter time. And my other pairs of shoes were good for work or formal occasions, but not for somewhat rugged use.

As I searched online to find out what people recommended, I came across a brand that I never knew before as I wasn’t really a serious hiker. Keen makes footwear that were designed to provide protection and comfort for various outdoor conditions. They had a line of sandals that looked like a hybrid between hiking boots and sandals that are rugged enough that you can wear them on a hike but light and comfortable enough to wear even when going out for casual outings. Their unique design includes a black toe protector in front of the sandals that would protect your toes well when you go hiking on rugged, rocky terrains. The sandals interior were made with antimicrobial material that reduces the possibility of bad odor forming when your feet are sweaty, and it’s made so it’s easily washable and quick to dry when it get wet. Many serious hikers recommended it. All of these came with a price however. At more than $100 for a pair, it was the most I had ever spent for a pair of footwear. After wearing the sandals for a while, I purchased another pair of Keen footwear, a pair of hiking boots that also featured the rugged toe protector and lightweight design. The big selling point for me was the comfort that came from having a wider footbed in Keen’s design. It makes a big difference especially when you wear it on long walks or hikes.

Now fast forward more than three years later, I still own both pairs of Keen footwear (I actually added a third one last year, getting a pair of ‘urban shoes’ that has some trait of the other Keen footwear — including the toe protector and the wide, comfortable footbed — to wear on day-to-day basis for work). I only wear the hiking boots during the winter time especially when it’s snowing outside since it provides a nice waterproof protection to keep my feet dry. But at other times I wore the sandals everywhere I go when I don’t need to wear any formal footwear — I would say about 80% of the time. Even during the cooler seasons (fall, spring, and even parts of winter) I often wear the sandals with socks layering. And even after the constant wear and tear, it’s still in good shape — I’d say well worth the amount I paid for it.

During the Southeast Asia trip, I brought both the sandals and the shoes. In most cases I had the sandals on, except when we went to Sapa, where I had the hiking boots on (which was a good choice given the wet and muddy condition that we went through during the trek). During the hike back to the town of Sapa after visiting the Cat Cat village, we were passed by the couple on the photo below. As the gentleman passed me, he said ‘nice shoes!’ I smiled, and when I looked, it turned out that he had exactly the same model of shoes on.

Hikers with Keen shoes

Toddlers

At home in the United States, I help out with the Childrens Ministry at my church on Sundays. The age group that I work with is the preschool age (ages 3 and 4 years old). While I don’t have a child of my own, I get to observe these kids every week when they’re learning, playing, and interacting with others in class. I also get to see them interacting with their parents when they were dropped off or picked up before and after the class; some were more attached to the parents than the other, and some parents were more protective of their children than the other. It’s interesting to compare this to what I saw in other countries / cultures, especially those that may not have as much resources as the United States.

When I was traveling in Southeast Asia, especially as we went to villages in Cambodia and Vietnam, we encountered local children there. Some were a bit older (around 10 years old), but we also encountered kids that were in toddler age (5 years old and younger). I thought what’s interesting was to see these kids running around freely without much supervision from their parents. I suppose from one perspective, when you live in small village, you know everyone who lives there, so it’s probably okay for the kids to go around on their own. However, there are places around the village where it seemed to be dangerous for these kids to go (mountain cliffs, streams, even rice fields). I know if I had my own child with me I would be very careful and don’t want them to go to these places lest they hurt themselves. However, it seemed that the kids were going around fine and no one was worried they would get hurt. Compare this to the United States, where I saw many parents were very protective and for legal reasons we even have to have a strict policy for checking in and checking out kids (even simply to go to rest room, a volunteer cannot take a kid alone due to the worry of child abuse or potential issue around that).

Another aspect that was interesting to note was to see how everything in the United States seemed to be clean and sterilized. Children from young age were taught to wash their hands, use hand sanitizer, etc. All good behaviors to have, but sometimes I wonder if we’ve gone too far in the direction of being dependent on chemical substance that the children’s body were never trained to build their own immunity. Compared to the kids I saw in Vietnam, they pretty much run around, play in dirt, etc. I’m sure when they get home their parents tell them to clean up as well, but I doubt they have all kinds of cleaning supplies like what we have in the more developed country to clean up everything. One thing I noticed from the children in my class was that many these days also have allergies (to peanuts, lactose/milk, eggs, etc.) that even when we want to give them snacks during the class we have to be very careful and only give them a certain brand and kind of snacks that we know is safe from the allergies. This was unheard of in the developed countries — you’re very happy if you can even give kids snacks. So I wonder, is this problem existing everywhere, but only detected in ‘sophisticated’ countries like the US, or has the sterilization of everything caused the immune system of the children in the US to be worse than their counterparts in developed countries?

When Kristi and I were enjoying our little snacks at the food stand during our trek to the Cat Cat village near Sapa, Vietnam, we saw several kids (likely in toddler age) coming by. It doesn’t matter where you are or what culture you’re in, seeing young kids like that makes everyone smile. I wonder, what do these kids think of the foreigners going through their village on daily basis. One thing I learned from my preschool class was that at this early part of their lives, the kids grow and learn quite exponentially. I wonder how seeing these foreigners going through their village at such early age affect their perception of the world as they grow up.

Toddlers

Condiments

Condiments are spices, sauces, or some concoction served with dishes to enhance the flavors. They are usually served on the side, and the diner would apply as little or as much of the condiments to enhance the taste. I think what’s interesting to note when visiting places in the world is the variety of condiments used. Various cultures have diverse taste in their cuisine, but very likely each has something they use as condiments, and typically the presence of the condiments is so integral to the dining experience that the diners would always look for those condiments and you would see them everywhere you go within that culture.

The condiments used in Vietnam is very similar to those used in nearby countries like Thailand, Cambodia, and China. The ubiquotous condiments are soy sauce, nước mắm (fish sauce), hoisin sauce, and chili sauce. With nước mắm, there are different grades of quality that some very discerning people could taste and rate the quality just like a sommelier would with wine. The chili sauce is often home made, though there are some widely popular bottled brands that you would find virtually everywhere you go.

When we stopped by at a food stand during our trek to the Cat Cat village near Sapa, Vietnam, we noticed the bottled chili sauce below that was as ubiquotous as Heinz ketchup bottles in the American restaurants. The brand was called Chin-su, and we tried a little bit of it with our grilled skewered meats. It was good, nothing special to me, but I’m sure for the locals who are used to its taste, they couldn’t have a meal without it.

Chin-su

Grilled Snacks

No matter where you go, the sight and smell of food at the place where you’re sightseeing sometimes can be very attractive, even though you probably would just ignore those if you come across them on daily basis. Such was the case when we were in the middle of our trek to Cat Cat village near Sapa, Vietnam.

As we’re getting closer to the waterfall on the trek, we noticed the aroma of grilled meats in the air. There was a little stand with a lady sitting on a small stool grilling a variety of skewered meats on a charcoal grill, and there were a few trekkers who sat and waited patiently for her to cook the grilled meats they ordered. Normally I wouldn’t care as much for this — in Jakarta (or even in Washington, DC) you pass street-side vendors all the time, and I could refrain from snacking. But this time, we had just walked a good 1.5 miles down from Sapa, it’s around lunch time and we had not had food since the morning, and it was wet and a bit cold. Seeing several other trekkers sitting enjoying their snacks and drinks was enough to draw us to join them.

I had a little apprehension at the beginning, since we still need to walk back to Sapa, and later than day we would go on an overnight train ride back to Hanoi. The last thing I wanted to happen is to risk either Kristi or I getting stomach upset because of the food we eat. But Kristi convinced me that it should be okay if we just have a little bit to taste. So she ordered a couple kinds of skewered meats, some roasted chestnuts, and a little cup of home-brewed apple wine to share. We also got a can of Coke and a bottled water to wash the food down.

The food was pretty good. The taste of the food was not the memorable part of the experience; the setting was. And we didn’t have any indigestion problems afterwards.

The photo below was taken as we waited for the lady to cook our order. You can see the various things she had to offer, and the other trekkers sitting in the background waiting for their order as well.

Snack stand

Waterfall

When we reached the bottom of the valley after passing the Cat Cat village near Sapa, Vietnam, we were treated with a couple more sceneries that made this particular trek more interesting than the others, a suspension bridge across a stream and a couple hundred feet away, a good-sized waterfall. The local government had developed a nice viewing platform nearby as well.

Waterfall is one of the natural features that always attract visitors. Each waterfall is unique in size, number of tiers of the fall, height, and width. Combine that with the surrounding scenery, it always makes for a wonderful photography subject. For photographers, taking photographs of waterfalls is a good way to learn how varying the shutter speed of the camera affects how one captures the sight of water flowing down the waterfall — slower speed (longer opening of the lens) allows capturing more ‘silky’ flow of the water; higher speed (shorter opening) ‘freezes’ the water flow and captures power of the waterfall. Technically, this is also an opportunity to learn the use of tripod to keep the camera stable while taking longer exposure and perhaps utilizing the camera’s timer to trigger the shot without touching the camera (further reducing possibility of the camera shaking).

The waterfall near the Cat Cat village was no exception. When we visited the site, the weather was not that great with the light rain, fog, and cooler temperature, but it’s still nice to take a landscape photo of the waterfall and the surrounding area, as well as enjoying the sound of waterfall in the distance for a moment.

The photo below was taken from the path not far from then waterfall. I’m sure others had taken better photographs of this waterfall during better weather conditions. It’s still nice to take one nevertheless as a remembrance of the visit there.

Waterfall