I did it… for the first time in my life I managed to keep a journal/diary of my WHOLE summer! Ever since I was a kid I’ve been told, pushed and encouraged to keep [at the very least] notes of any holiday or adventure I go on. I remember having to complete holiday books/diaries for school and it always felt like such a chore… As I’ve mentioned in many posts, I’ve never been a writer. I’ve never been one to keep a wordy documentation of my life… I keep bits, things and photos, but never words… that is, until this blog came along.
My Granny and Grandad Parker have done more than their fair share of travelling in their life, and my Gran could tell you which restaurant they went to, where they sat, and even what they ordered, from a place they visited anywhere between 20 – 50 years ago (don’t quote me on those numbers). This is not only down to incredible memory, but down to her piles and piles of travel journals. She’s always been so committed and dedicated to them; I was both envious and (shamefully) judgmental towards her books when I was younger. But now, after hearing her speak to my dad (about his recent trip to Canada with Nat), I can see how beneficial it’s been, how it’s made those adventures into part of who she is. Those memories haven’t faded, they’ve stuck there for who knows how many years… and I want that. I want to be able to sit down one day, talking to my children, niece, nephew (no pressure Sam & Dean), friends, grandkids, whoever… I want to be able to answer their questions about the beautiful countries I’ve been so damn lucky to visit, to be able to engage them in stories, and maybe, just maybe… even inspire them.
So, now let’s finally get down to it… The last few weeks at work were both crazy busy and insanely boring. We socialised a fair bit, doing a few fun things (HK Camping #2, River Trek #2 & floating down the aqua duct, Mojito parties, beer pong tournaments, comedy nights, quiz nights etc etc.), and generally wrapped up the year saying “goodbye” to friends/students. Work officially let out on Sunday the 9th July, when a very very hungover bunch of international teachers sat at the back of a 3 hour meeting (all in Chinese of course), that, thankfully most of us managed to sneak out after about an hour (ok fine, 20 mins). After that I had all of 3 days to sort out my apartment for a long summer of being unattended in a sub-tropical climate, go shopping, do some research, pack, and say some more goodbyes! It was a nonstop few days, and after a long week at work, I was officially knackered. So by the time Wednesday the 12th July rolled around, I was already dead on my feet. Sam (the driver man) picked me up, and then we collected Bob & Carly who happened to be getting on the exact same flight as me!
Oh! I almost forgot a big fat bunch of stress that occurred before my pick up! So, Alice was flying from Manchester the day before me, and getting on a flight from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh the next day. She had a layover in BK Airport, and, the poor gal LOST HER CREDIT CARD. The travel card which she had topped up with all her travel money in preparation to avoid withdrawal and transaction fees…GONE. She was obviously devastated, but quickly picked herself up, called to cancel it, and got on with her wait. Prior to this, she had been denied check-in due to not having booked her departure from Vietnam. It didn’t matter that she had a flight booked out of Bangkok, Thailand within her Vietnam Visa dates… nope, not good enough. So she had me, a couple of friends from home, and herself all desperately trying to do some research and find some “proof” of departure without having to spend any money… Luckily, she managed it and was able to get on her flight (unlike the poor British dude in front of her who was denied exit from Thailand and sent to the embassy for having a minimal tear in his passport!… we still wonder what happened to him.)
So, back on track… Alice finally arrived at our hostel late that night/early the next morning, and crashed on her bunk trying to kick the jetlag. During the last couple of hours of her beauty rest I had landed, had some food with Bob & Carly, grabbed the bus, found the hostel, checked in, and found my own bunk, just across from a sleeping Alice HD.
Now, I’m going to try and wrap up this (almost) month long trip into only a couple of blog posts. Writing up about Tokyo literally killed me, and that was only 6 DAYS of travel… So, I’m going to try and stop with the needless middle man ramblings (after this paragraph I promise). I waste so much time talking about trivial little things that are probably boring your eyeballs off… so, in order to actually get all this typed up within the next few months (that’s being optimistic), I will try, my very best, to skip to the good bits….
Ho Chi Minh City:
Arrived: Wed 12th [Day1]
Departed: Fri 14th [Day3]
Hostel: Hangout Hostel
After a shower and change of clothes, a whirlwind catch up, and food at the hostel (the worst spring rolls of our entire trip, and trust me, we had a lot so that’s saying something), we grabbed a city map and headed out for our first day of Vietnam!
The map we had was a walking map and seemed to show most of the main points of interest, so we meandered the streets vaguely following the map to some sort of route. We had no idea how long it would take us to walk between points so we weren’t sure how much we would end up hitting on Day 1… turned out to be a lot! We went to: a huge market (Ben Thanh Market), a square with a statue of Mr Ho Chi Minh, Notre Dame Cathedral, the giant fancy building of the post office, the Independence Palace, City Hall, a couple of war museums (one showing the torture devices and all the information to go with it which was a really intense experience) and a few random places in-between!
Please click on and look through the photos for a little more detail and information about these places! Unfortunately this was the start of my journal writing so I didn’t put too much down, I wrote more about the evening’s antics than the full day of exploration haha, shame on me!
After a nice cold drink (and me freaking out because I could have sworn Nathan E-H was sat next to us), we headed back to the hostel to sort ourselves out for our first night in Vietnam! We’d booked ourselves onto a tour/trip for the next morning so we didn’t want it to be a big one… we had our TWO FREE BEERS EACH and got chatting to a lovely girl from Holland (the first of many) called Flor who ended up spending the evening with us. We kept drinking, carried on into happy hour, and because it was Ladies Night, not only were the drinks even cheaper, but the male hostel staff (Vietnamese and western) were wearing dresses. We all ended up playing a game of Truth or Dare Giant-Jenga and it was a pretty fun night… my dares were either “Give a kiss to….” “Receive a kiss from….” or “Do your happy dance.”
We finally decided to go and get some food and Flor came with us to grab some noodles/rice. As we were on our way back to the hostel, the Bar Crawl were on their way to the sister hostel, we waved them on their way and got a (semi) early night! Flor was in the bunk below me, and we had 3 guys who came in pretty late after the Bar Crawl too.
The next morning we were downstairs and eating our free breakfast of eggs and bread (eggs any style, and a nice little baguette thing) at around 7.30am. Flor was heading to the airport, and Darius (some Italian guy who we met the night before) was coming on our trip with us. The tour guide, Fu, collected us at 8am, and walked us with a bunch of other people to the bus down the road, and off we went to start our tour of the Mekong Delta.
It was a 2 hour bus ride (with a toilet break in the middle where I got speaking to a lady living in the same province as me in China) to our first stop which was…
- A Buddhist Temple: this place had a huge, very fat, very happy white Buddha. We were able to wander around, shoes off, for about half an hour/45 mins, and there was quite a crowd of people worshiping too which was really nice to see, even though it did feel like we were seriously intruding!
- Coconut Island: another bus journey and a short trip on a boat (where we were told that the reason all the boats were painted with eyes on the bow/front was to try and scare off and trick the crocodiles in the river!) to Coconut Island we were shown how the husk them [now I have that Moana song stuck in my head – skip to 1 minute], scoop out the flesh and turn them into chewy sweets. There was a work station in the middle where a few women were WRAPPING THEM BY HAND. We were allowed to try some different flavours and we went for chocolate ones and nut ones, however there were loads of options, including the infamous durian fruit… People were also offered a shot of Snake “Wine” which literally had a coiled up snake in it (and an eyeless gecko)… the snakes have to be in there for a minimum of 6 months, and a maximum of 2 years…. Gross.
- Dragon Island: after another short boat ride, we were taken to Dragon Island (so called because apparently it looks like a dragon from above?). Here we were treated to a pretty good lunch, Al went for the veggie option of tofu, and I went for the pork. We had quite a lot of time on the island after lunch so we went in search of bicycles that our guide had told us is the best way to see the island. After a lot of wandering we finally found them (next to a pit filled with a load of crocodiles where people were dangling meat in hanging from sticks), but we had no idea where to go on the bikes, or who to ask about them, so, we settled for the other option which was eating ice-cream and lounging in hammocks!
- Unicorn Island: not sure why it’s called that, but it is… so back on the boat and to this third island, we were ushered around some small tables, about 6 people per table, and were given some traditional tea which was made up of honey, nectar and cumquat juice. We were also joined by roughly A MILLION wasps, and Darius couldn’t take it so he got up for a walk… Next up we were asked to separate into groups of 4 (Alice, me, Darius and a lady from Chilli) and we were put into long thin boats with a Vietnamese lady at both the front and the back. They took us down the narrow winding river which had overgrown bamboo hanging from both sides and a few shanty huts. We were each given a traditional hat, and it was exactly like all the pictures you see! (see our own version of the picture below). Our Italian pal was made to help out with the rowing, and at the end we were made to tip/pay the ladies, just like we were when we were given a large platter of fruit after this little boat ride. We were sat round a table with 2 Irish lads and 2 German siblings while music was played and songs were sung before we headed back to the bus, to start our journey home…
- Bamboo & Coconut Fibre Factory: or so we thought we were heading back into the city! Just as everyone was nodding off on the bus, we stopped and were told to get out and head into the factory/shop building. We were escorted into a very white room and we all sat on little fold out chairs with a cup of awful tea. Then, a Vietnamese lady came out with a load of products, and spoke to us for half an hour about allllllll the products you can make/buy with bamboo and coconut fibres. Now, this doesn’t sound too bad right? Well, now imagine it ALL in Vietnamese with little to absolutely no translation. I felt like I was back in the all Chinese meetings at work! To make it even worse, when all the products were being passed around, me Alice and Darius were always skipped for some reason! We then had to walk through a huge shop selling everything we had just seen, most of us just walked through, but some people actually bought quite a lot! A French/Canadian family with an Asian dad were super late for the bus because they bought so much! (The dad had spoken to me and Alice earlier in the day and turns out he knew of Wales, and “proved” it by saying “Ah, yes, where the princess is from!”)
We finally got back into Ho Chi Minh and were dropped off just down the road from Hangout (our hostel). The 3 of us (us and the Italian) stopped for some food before going back to our rooms to shower (I used my LUSH Shampoo Bar which was super handy for this trip), we changed and met back downstairs for…. You guessed it OUR TWO FREE BEERS EACH. It was toga night, but again, only the staff were dressed up. We sat, chilled, chatted and booked a bus for the next morning to take us onto the next stage of our travels. The activity for the evening was “Beer Olympics”, we were persuaded to enter a team and Alice named us The Weird Italian. After a little while, and some more drinks, we were all herded over to the sister hostel, HideOut, where, after a few more drinks, the games began! First up was…
Flip-Cup: where each team member has a red plastic cup in front of them with beer in. The first in line must down the beer and then place it on the edge of the table and using only one hand/a couple of fingers, they must flip it over so it stands open end down. Once they have completed the task, the 2nd in line goes, and so on and so on until all 4 cups are flipped. The first team to have all 4 cups face down on the table are the winners!
Although we only had 3 people in our team, which meant our Italian took one for the team and did 2 cups, we actually won! I was the last in line for our team, and by some miracle, I got it in one shot! What a fluke! We had to go face to face with a few teams; we won each time by varying amounts, although some were pretty damn close! Then it was onto the second event….
Beer Pong: teams are face to face, lengthwise on a table. Each team has 6 cups in front of them forming a triangle pointing in towards the centre. The cups all have beer in them, and each team takes it in turns to throw 2 ping pong balls towards the other teams cups. If a ball goes in (and isn’t blown or fingered out by the other team before it hits the liquid) the opposing team must drink the cup, and the throwing team get another go. The winners are the ones who get rid of all their opponents’ cups first. You’re also allowed one “rearrange” which you can use to rearrange the cups when you’ve got rid of a few to make it easier.
A few matches went by and it was soon the final match of Beer Olympics. It was us vs. a team of British lads who took it waaayyy too seriously and were just a little competitive… We managed to save a few balls by blowing them out, but on our last cup the ball hit the liquid, we started to celebrate winning the game, but the lads on the other team scooped it out, the ref didn’t see this cheating action, and we lost… the other team won…
But, we carried on our night, had a great time, had loads of people coming up to us telling us that we played really well and were cheated out of a win! Ha! With a big group of us; me, Al, the Italian, the Irish and Germans from the tour, Shirt Guy, some strange Australians and a Canadian, we set off for the bars and clubs of HCMC! More drinks were had, songs were danced to, and on my walk home I ended up trapesing through WET CEMENT in flip-flops, getting about 2 meters through it before coming to a stop and having to get out! What a mess hahaha
The next morning, Day 3: Friday 14th July I was, obviously HUNG OVER AF (that night put us off drinking properly for about a week). We messily packed our bags, went downstairs, got some water, Alice got take-out breakfast, and we headed for our 8am bus that would take us to Mui Ne…On our way to the bus, I managed to splosh through a black filthy puddle, so not only did I have the remnants of cement on my legs, feet and flip-flops, I had dark sludge on them too, and, not surprisingly, the driver wouldn’t let me on the bus until I’d gone and hosed myself down in the toilets! Thankfully, and very very necessarily, our bus was a sleeper style bus, so we managed to grab the beds at the back and have 5 between the 3 of us (another girl from our hostel). For the next 5 hours I slept, drank water, slept some more, and listened to Tom Petty & the Heart Breakers, doing my very best to shift/get over the worst of the hangover.
So, I’ll leave it there for now, for this post at least. I’ve only covered the first couple of days of my summer adventures, and it’s already a stupidly long post! So please, forgive me… but I hope it was a somewhat enjoyable read. I’ll get to work on the next instalment as soon as I can! I’ll sign off with the quote that is on the front of my journal (which was given to me by the girls):
If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad. – Jane Austin