Constant crouching, cricket munching, Hoi Ann drinking, soup slurping Vietnamese.
As soon as we touched down in Vietnam out came the hoodies, socks, trousers and long sleeve tops. Turns out your body really does get used to the heat, even twenty degrees felt boltic. We jumped into a taxi and drove into the busy city in the north of Vietnam, Hanoi. Everywhere we turned were tiny little ladies walking around in socks, heels and pajamas with sun hats or crouching at the sides of the road on miniature stalls, slurping Pho (noodle soup). One thing we quickly noticed about Vietnam aside from the strange fashion sense, is that there are no set meal times, there are constantly people eating. Even at three in the morning, (sober) people are crouched on the pavements in huddles and cooking on their home made stoves, playing cards and eating chicken feet.
So our Vietnam story begins when we had lost our sleeper bus ticket and each of us girls were having minor panic attacks when we bumped into Mr. Chu, Kam and Quentin. Unfortunately, due to the stress of the situation, conversations were not polite, but hey I guess that they were so astounded by our beauty that they chose to follow us to our next destination. Mr. Chu is an American born half Chinese, half German guy, who is possibly the most consistently entertaining person I have ever met. I guess falling head over heels with him was not part of my plan, but hey, what can you do. Kam, aka ‘Mr.Smooth’ (also American) and the constantly drunk yet brilliant gentleman that is Quentin quickly became part of our travel arrangements, and so we created ‘The Roadkillaz’. Hell yeah, we had decided to cruise Vietnam on motorbikes!
As The Roadkillaz were ripping up the dirt roads of Vietnam, there were a few times when we had to stop to appreciate the miraculous things that we were baring witness to. Have you ever seen someone driving one-handed along a busy motorway, carrying an industrial fridge on the back of a tiny miniature moped? Or seen a dozen ducks strapped onto the back of a bike with string, and the family’s prize-pig grinning at you out of a rear-facing wicker basket? Or have you seen a moped so completely consumed by hay bails that you can’t even see the bike, let alone the driver, and who knows how he can see the road. You see the thing is, no- one in Vietnam owns a car. The tax on them is so high that everyone just sticks to motorbikes, and by everyone I mean everyone. Little kids drive them to school, pajama-clad women in heels drive them to work with five of their friends hanging on, and grandparents who look too old to even walk, drive them around like crazed yobo’s. So there are all kinds of crazy people on the roads.
When we skidded up on our bikes at each tourist site, we would have been the coolest looking westerners around, had it not been for the tour groups. Each tour group we saw normally consisted of around 30 middle aged men and women dressed to the nines in their khaki safari shorts and shirts, donned with local-tourist hats. These are the Vietnamese triangle shaped hats which you rarely see on anyone except the sellers, and in stereotypical postcards or paintings, which is why it is so hilarious for the tour groups to all be modeling them. It is kind of like me going to France with a stripy shirt and a beret on, saying ‘hohehohehoooo’.
Bia Saigon (local beer) drove us through Vietnam, from North to South as we drunk copious amounts of the beer and munched on chicken feet. Each town we travelled through had a different forte; our favorite was Hoi An, a fashionista’s paradise where all clothes can be made from scratch. You can draw a design and the locals will create it for you, tailoring it to fit your body perfectly, and have it ready for you within 24 hours. In all honesty the best part of Vietnam for me was riding through the scenery on the bikes, but I didn’t fall in love with the people or the food as hard as I did in India, which is still my front-runner.
We bussed it to Cambodia, and after being reunited with the other Jersey folk who we originally met in India, we decided to unpack our rucksacks and settle down in Sihanoukville. Mine and Jodi’s money situation wasn’t looking too healthy, so we got ourselves jobs at a bar called the Dolphin. We quickly realized that our main responsibilities were to distribute a few flyers (whilst drinking) and get people into the bar (whilst drinking). We were being paid in booze and food, so obviously the majority of the time we would be, yes, drinking. We managed to hold down this job for about 5 days, reenacting Kayote Ugly (dancing on the bar whilst pouring drinks with our Aussie lovelies), before we accepted that our bodies were going to collapse if we didn’t stop intoxicating ourselves. Our job at The Dolphin Shack had helped us to make friends with the locals who ran the bar, with the westerners behind it and also the punters, so after a few weeks we had a little community. We came to know the local beach kids (very annoying yet they grow on you) and actually have some fun with them, rather than just receiving the usual bunch of swear words that they string together and throw at you if you don’t buy from them. ‘Buuyyy my fruiiit’ was the daily dreaded line we heard from a young boy seller known as ‘Beyonce’. Each evening we spent on the beach, eating stunning BBQ food and watching the local guys spin fire. The locals here are unreal at fire poy, you can just sit and watch them for hours, or you can do a ‘Jodi Fallen’ and get up there and do it yourself. That’s what Bacardi courage does to you! Every night, even after we stopped working, we would end up at The Dolphin, winning games of pool with the local kids in exchange for bracelets, drinking a few casual buckets whilst they started the bonfire and generally having a ball. Our time in Sihanoukville got even better as it neared the Khmer New Year, the kids celebrate this by launching talcum powder and water bombs at all tourists and it turned into a constant warfare. The New Year lasts for four days and each of those four days was hell for all of us. Paints were brought out on the final day, an evening when we wore just swimwear and scummy vest tops in order to prevent anything we cared about getting ruined!
After a couple of weeks in S-Ville the itchy feet started nagging at me again. We decided to calm them by going to pirate an island called ‘Koh Rong’. Crystal blue seas, paper-white sand, no jellyfish, no sellers, no hassle and most importantly, hardly any people. We shrugged on our rucksacks and attempted to trek through the jungle onto the other side of the island; unfortunately we were unable to locate the tourist path and so explored bare foot and mowgli-style before we managed to emerge from the bush. When we got out of the greenery we found ourselves surrounded by tree high huts on stilts, with a shower room on the second floor so you could bathe whilst watching the sun rise. I never knew that algae could glow until we went swimming at night time and the plankton in the sea shone on us like a torch through the black water. The men of the group grafted and made a communal bonfire, whilst the women played barmaids and kept the drinks flowing. We sat around our fire long after the sun went to bed, and eventually passed out in hammocks on the beach, proper beach bum style. Eventually, we accepted (begrudgingly) that we couldn’t stay in this magical paradise forever, and acknowledged that yes, all good things have to come to an end, and we all dragged our feet back to Sihanouvkille. The New Year was over. The sand began to change under our feet. Familiar faces left, and new footprints appeared. We soon decided that it was time for us to pack up our two rucksacks, attach our trainers, and begin a new adventure in a new place, once more. To Laos we go!