June 22nd, 2018
So, Asia. I’ve been now.
From the 28th of February to the 25th of March I was travelling.
Let’s start from the beginning. (Also, disclaimer, this is going to be long and is more for myself than anyone else so don’t feel like you need to read this, okay thanks and back to your regular programming.) I had a beautiful flight to Singapore that never ended and the little map on the screen kept saying we had seven hours to go for the entire flight. Of course, I did not sleep on the flight because that would be too easy. This was also the flight where I had a minor freak out and screamed in my head ‘Why the hell am I going to Asia?! Whose idea was this? What is happening?’ you know the usual thoughts. I get to Singapore and am then even more confused because there was no immediate customs and passport control and as a frequent flyer between the US and the UK this is insane to me. Now this is an airport I would get very familiar with. A total of 20 hours in layovers was spent at Singapore airport, if I never have to see that weird carpet again I will be quite content. This was just a minor eight hour layover, meaning I was not prepared to cave and get a hotel room because we’re broke out here. This led to my airport laps. On these laps I saw a 711 which was very entertaining to me for some reason. After a few exhaustion break downs, an entire reading of a 400 page book and a ton of people watching, it was time for my connecting flight. I fell asleep before they’d even finished the safety talk.
Now for Hanoi. I’m exhausted, I’m hungry, I’m very stressed because there is no one explaining what’s going on. I stood in a visa line and bonded with a New Zealand guy who also didn’t know what was going on but soon parted ways as the Vietnamese man pointed in the general direction of somewhere, said go, despite me continuing to throw questions at him mainly, ‘WHAT’S GOING ON?’ but alas, they fell on deaf ears. After standing in a queue sweating because stress I went through with a new stamp in my passport but still you know stressed. I grab my bag (a mere 6 kilos at this point, I pack light) and go to find my airport pickup from my group leader who lo and behold, is not there. I mean my driver was outside the entire time waiting for me but still the thoughts of having to build a home for myself in Hanoi airport did cross my mind. My driver did finally find me in my puddle of stress sweat so I was fine. This car ride was when I wrote my first ‘Asian observations 28/02-01/03’ which are as follows with no editing since I first wrote them in said taxi:
Not very smiley people
No queue respect
Speed limits sometimes 90!!
No pedestrian privilege
No one likes driving in their own lane
Very horn happy on the roads
Almost everything in Singapore was in English first
Singapore adverts were majority white/western celebrities
On the same notes page, I wrote the tale of this taxi ride. We sat in silence for ten minutes then for the rest of the journey he pulled up a song from YouTube and played it on repeat. In between the replays he hummed the song so for a solid thirty minutes I heard the original and acoustic remix of a song in a language I still cannot identify. I tried to use this story to bond with my group later which received very little amusement causing a second minor freak out of me thinking ‘I’m going to be stuck for 12 days with a group of people who don’t think I’m funny, can’t wait!!!”. But anyway I met the group briefly at dinner but bailed very quickly from drinks after, which is where I met Luna, a fellow exhausted bailer and future roomie.
Day two in Vietnam. We met downstairs for breakfast which was three very small pancakes with a honey I’m not sure the bees would be proud of. But I got my first intro travel bracelet and had a really riveting welcome and safety talk that boy I wish was longer! Then the trip really started with a walking tour of Hanoi of which I honestly remember very little from other than the streets had specific merchandise like bamboo street or paper street and there was a fact about how many motorbikes were in the city which I don’t remember but sure was interesting. There were a lot of smells, a lot of fruit tasting, a chicken getting slaughtered in the street, normal Hanoi. We also played Vietnam’s national sport (?) and could have given their team a run for their money (we were atrocious, so, so bad) while waiting for the rickshaws. Luna and I had a rickshaw and did about two of the tasks we were given one of which was to get a hat. Was the rice hat borderline unacceptable for us to wear? Quite possibly. Did Luna get two hats for a ridiculously low price? Yes, yes she did. After that we went to a coffee shop and had some free time before dinner. I think this was the dinner where free shots of rice wine were given out and I almost died a swift death. The same night Julia took three shots of rice wine like they were water. A night out proceeded the rice wine, where I tried hard to rally but guess what, I bailed very early again. I see a trend happening here. Weird. (Spoiler: I broke this trend later, don’t worry).
Day three meant more tiny pancakes and strange honey. We packed up ready for a delightful four hour bus drive to Ha Long Bay where the bond with my Vietnam hoes really formed with the exchanging of vines. A beautiful journey of annoying everyone around us, something that would happen more and more as the days went on. This began the boat days where there were so many boats, so much sea, much waves. We got on a boat (with life jackets) to get to the big boat (without life jackets) and got settled into our new rooms. I was back rooming with my two Germans much to their dismay I’m sure. Then it was kayaking time. Not my favourite time I’ve got to tell you. I was there for a nice leisurely kayak down the bay but everyone seemed to be in training for the kayak Olympics. First of all, this kayak never ended, when we finally got to the end we had to turn around and go all the way back. Second of all, was a great little current to get into the lagoon. Were Jade and I the last ones to get into said lagoon? Absolutely, yes. Good times. After that debacle, we all headed for the hot tubs on the boat. The Vietnam hoes thought we had found one in the back away from everyone else but guess what, the rest of the group thought that too, resulting in 11 of us in a very average sized hot tub. Again, not my favourite time. But then one of my favourite times did happen. The staff on the boat did some incredible musical numbers that were Broadway level talent. Vietnam hoi. If you know, you know. Followed were many jaeger bombs, some lemon drops, a round of beer pong, the first Tom encounter, the throwing of some shapes, Swedish Adam, chats on top of the boat and against the odds, Victoria managed to be one of the last ones to go to bed clocking out at around 3 in the morning. All while wearing my pyjamas. Go me.
Day four was freedom island day. I stayed on a private island in Vietnam, no big deal. This might’ve been one of my favourite days in Vietnam. Minus all the boats. We moved from the big cruise ship boat to the smaller boat which then took us to an even smaller boat which took us to the island. We had the day to do whatever we wanted and without wifi that meant beach volleyball. Things I’m not good at: beach volleyball. Things I will continue to try and do despite knowing I’m terrible: beach volleyball. It started with just the Vietnam hoes (to clarify, the 'Vietnam hoes' are what I called Luna, Ffion, Julia and me) but quickly grew until we got taken over by people who could actually hold a rally for more than 2 seconds. At one point there were about six of us against two and we were still losing so I graciously and definitely not bitterly, bowed out. The rest of the day consisted of just hanging out by the beach, talking, playing cards, learning first hand from the great and wise Tom just what turbulence is (it was a mystery before) and ended with me and Ffion sneaking fake pringles and oreos upstairs to have a late night snack in secret.
Day five was the goodbye to the island life and hello to Ninh Binh, my future home. We woke up in our cosy 16 person dorm room, had breakfast and moved back to my fave tiny boat. Then we were back on the slightly bigger boat discussing black mirror until we got back to the big cruise ship that would take us to Ha Long Bay again. Next we started our grand five hour bus ride to Ninh Binh followed by ten minutes in cars that really had us all airborne inside because the road was so bumpy. It was worth it to get to the little bungalows overlooking the lake and mountains. This was the roommate reshuffle meaning I was rooming with my baby Luna in bungalow number three right next to my other babies Ffion and Julia. We all suffered some frog issues in the bathrooms but we all handled it calmly, smoothly, with no screaming. Frogs are apparently quite big fans of the Ninh Binh homestay.
Day six was fun. Also hell, but mainly fun. I had an amazing breakfast of a warm baguette that made my bread loving heart sing. Found out that our room was being used as storage for everyone’s bags, so Luna and I had to try sort our stuff out in about two seconds causing very high stress levels. Also, as someone who never seems to listen to what the plan of the day is, led to me being unaware of what I was getting myself into when we left the homestay that morning. A bike ride (which I was aware of) around Ninh Binh was top 5 favourite things we did in Vietnam. I was living my best life with my bag in my little basket on the front of my bike. We stopped for a boat ride where the women used their feet to row the boats. An interesting technique that allowed for multitasking such as phone calls and selling artwork. After a long boat ride with very uncomfortable seats for someone with no butt, we headed over to lunch and the big chicken burger scandal. Now this is the part I was unprepared for. I thought we’d go back to the homestay after lunch, regroup, mentally ready ourselves for ‘the big trek’, this did not happen. We were going straight to the mountain of horrors, more fondly known as the Dragon Peak viewpoint. I’ve been told it was only 450 steps, but I believe it was closer to 7000, give or take a few. After receiving a lot of crap from Mister Adam and the always lovely Alice about my athletic abilities, I made it to the top, and I wasn’t even last so suck a dick Alice. After a very sweaty photoshoot at the top and a decent view, we headed back down like I hadn’t given part of my soul away to get to the top. It’s been about three weeks since this day and I’ve got to say, still not convinced it was worth it. But anyway, we rode our bikes back to the homestay and formed a very civilised shower line followed by the last dinner with Mr Hi and his family. At 8:30 we departed for the infamous overnight train after a quick karaoke in the car much to our drivers delight. We had some old school 2012 Justin Bieber and Kesha blasting. After a quick pit stop at a supermarket we arrived at the train station and started story time which continued on the train. Our four bed cabin became the story time headquarters with seven of us crammed in sharing weird stories and experiences (not the bungalow story though, oh no, that must never be revealed) until one by one everyone went to bed.
End of part one! Stay tuned for more riveting story telling by me!!
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