After getting clothes tailor made and stomaching the amount of money we spent on uneccesary items, we decided to continue up north to a town called Hue. Hue used to be the capital of Vietnam and is famous for its "Imperial City". I'll admit, I did not take the time to really research the city and history of everything. Sometimes your mind just needs a break. I ended up just walking around and enjoying all of the old buildings and asian architecture. A lot of the Imperial city was damaged by natural disasters and war, but they are working hard to rebuild it. It is pretty fascinating to view the intricate designs and bold colors. I can only imagine what the city looked like at its prime. Perhaps I will come back to visit in 10 years when everything is rebuilt again.
Our last night in Hue, we decided to have a couple of cocktails. I have to be careful not to go out too often because of my budget, but every few weeks we have a "party" night. We moved from one bar to the next. I was really on a mission to have a good chat with other travelers. Since we don't go out too often sometimes you don't meet as many people. Especially since I have been traveling with Laura, I don't go out of my way to socialize as much as I do when I am alone.
I started chatting with this Indian guy named Sumit. He lives in England and was traveling with 4 other Brits. Laura was getting tired (or as I say....wussing out!) and wanted to go home. I was just getting on a roll for the night. I asked Sumit if I could tag along with them. Our hotels were in the same area so it was safer for me. We ended up finding this one bar with a pool table. We asked the locals what time it closed...they said as long as we were buying beer and betting on pool with them, we could stay there as long as we wanted. After rounds of pool, drinks, and deep conversations about how our generation needs to make the changes to better the world, the sun was starting to rise. I could not believe I was still awake....I thanked the British boys for the nice chat and drinks and headed back to my room.
Back in Cambodia, we met an American couple from Idaho (Katie and Andy). They were on the same route as we were so we ran into them often. We all decided to hire a boat together in Halong Bay.In order to meet up with them in time,Laura and I needed to catch an overnight bus to Hanoi. Until now, we had not done a proper overnight bus. I did them a lot in South America and had gotten used to them. But I would soon learn that overnight busses in Asia are a little different then the busses in South America. We got to the bus station and saw a bus with tons and tons of Vietnamese people pushing to get on. There are no queues here or any form of standing in line. The asians are so little and they just push by you and squeeze around everything to get where they need to go...kinda like little ants. I finally got onto the bus and the driver handed me a plastic bag to put my shoes in. You cannot wear shoes anywhere near where people sleep. As I looked around the bus to find a seat I noticed that there were none left. My ticket did not have a seat number. It was complete chaos...I finally got my shoes back and stepped off the bus. There were about 5 other foreigners that did not get on as well. Clearly, the neanderthal white people were not the quickest ones onto the bus. The driver told us there would be another bus shortly that we could get on. I am kind of glad we didn't get on the bus because as I looked more closely, I realized that half of the front window and door was ducked taped together.
The next bus came and we were all able to get on. The bus has 3 rows of these things that they call beds. It is only a bed if you are shorter then 5 foot 5. If you are a tall person then it is very uncomfortable. All of the single beds were taken except for the very back of the bus. There were 5 beds together in the very back where the A/C was not working. Laura and I threw our bags over and jumped in. I was laughing histerically because all of these kids were running around with face masks and vietnammese music was blaring...it was one of those "What the F is going on" moments!
No one else came on the bus so it appeared that we were going to have the 5 beds all to ourselves...which we were excited about. But at the last minute, 3 foreign guys jumped on and headed to the back. They were 3 Irish lads named Ollie, Eoin, and Patrick. Patrick and me were stuck in the middle beds. He jokingly leaned his hand over and introduced himself. We were literally laying so close to each other as if we had known each other for ages. They were very tight quarters. The Irish boys were a good crack and we strategically placed our bodies around each other so we could play a few rounds of cards. After a little while we all decided to lay in the beds and try to get some rest. Patrick and I continued chatting while everyone else drifted asleep. He was a very cute guy who is a teacher back in Ireland. We got to know each other while chatting for a few hours. We joked back and forth about how we all 5 had to spoon in one direction in order to fit on the beds. Then we would all have to switch over to spoon the other direction every so often. The beds were not made for 5 foreigners. I am not sure if it was the tight space, the daunting sticky heat, or the 12 hour bus ride....but you could feel the attraction between Patrick and I as we laid close to each other chatting. I have met plenty of people while traveling but it is not so easy to meet guys since you move around so much. I am not interested in the party hook up travel circuit either, which so many people get involved in. It would be nice to meet someone genuine, but it is not that easy with this type of unpredictable lifestyle. Anyways...the whole point of my schpeil is that it was nice to have a good chat with this guy for a few hours. Even though we had only just met...we ended up having a good cuddle session on the cramped, hot bus. It made my bus ride a lot more enjoyable then it could have been. I will probably never see Patrick again, but it was fun :) Next time I take an overnight bus I will request a cute Irish talkative lad to sit next to me..HA!
Our bus arrived to Hanoi which is the capital city. However, we needed to get to Cat Ba Island about 5 hours away so we could meet up with the Americans to get on our boat. When we got off the overnight bus, a rush of motorbike locals came up yelling for us to get on. It is always overwhelming when you have been on a bus for hours and then have to deal with the chaos of a new city. We negotiated a price for these 2 guys to take us to another bus station. 30,000 dong...which was way more then we needed to pay, but sometimes you don't feel like fighting the scams. The drivers then took us to a completely different bus and tried to get us to go to a different city. Hanoi is known for this type of scam where they convince you that this is the correct bus just so you pay money to their friends, etc. I had prepared myself for this scam and was not going to fall for it. I jumped off the bike and told the guy he took us to the wrong place and I didn't want to ride with him anymore. I still gave him the money because I didn't want to deal with him. I gave him 50,000 dong and asked him for 20,000 back. He pretended to ignore me and started his bike again. Meanwhile, another guy came over and grabbed my bag and tried to stick it on the bus. It was all happening so fast. I can normally keep my cool, but they are now trying to steal money from me and grabbing my stuff. I started yelling at them to leave my bag alone and continued asking the driver for the change. I finally reached in his pocket and grabbed my money back. He grabbed my arm and I told him he was not getting any money unless he gave me my change back. At the same time I was kicking the other guy away from my bag and causing a minor scene on the street. The driver pulled out 10,000 dong....I said that wasnt enough. "give me fucking 20,000 change back mister or you get nothing from me". All the men started laughing and he finally gave me the change. I grabbed my bag and Laura and I told everyone to get away from us. Welcome to Hanoi....sheeesh!!! Fortunately, the place we needed to go to was not that far and we were able to walk. Another 5 hour busride and a 1 hour boat ride and we were on the island of Cat Ba. It was gorgeous. Cat Ba is the place where Vietnamese people come for holiday. It would be like Florida or Hawaii for us. We kinda forgot that it was summer and holiday break for the Vietnamese as well....so it was a madhouse on the Island. We had a tough time finding a place to stay and the prices were really jacked up. It was pretty cool, though, to see how the locals spend their vacation. They work hard all year and save money to bring their entire family to this island for a few days....they have a good time, too.
We met up with the Americans and finalized our plans for the boat. We were going to spend 2 days and 1 night on a private boat cruising through Halong Bay. The company we went through was Slo Pony...It is run by 3 American guys who specialize in rock climbing and boat tours. They take people to areas of the bay that are far from all the tourists. Most tour groups always say that, but this is one of the first times where they were telling the truth. The reason I mention their name as a company is because they were very helpful. Instead of trying to scam you or give you a bad deal (which often happens to foreigners over here), they were very upfront and honest about their services. I was intrigued as to how 3 Americans were running a business in a communist country. Oslo, one of the owners, explained that he could write a book about the loopholes they went through to have a business here. He said that you would be amazed how business and the government works in Vietnam. They were the first foreigners to ever live on Cat Ba. He said they had to live in Hotels for a year in a half before they were allowed to buy a house. One of the guys is married to a Vietnamese girl now, so I wonder how much that has helped their situation. I didn't ask many questions, but what they are doing has not been done too often here. And it sounds like a pretty interesting situation that they have with the government to run the shop.
Anyways, we met another couple from Spain and Germany who put money in on the boat as well....there were 6 of us. Early the next day we boarded the boat and set off to Halong Bay. It was pouring down rain, but it was still a sight to see. Limestone cliffs and rock formations are all around the bay and gives it a very mystical look. The first day we went kayaking. There are all these caves that go into private lagoons. There were hardly any other tourists around. One thing we noticed, were that there were a lot of jellyfish swimming around the lagoons. It was fun to look at them, but we sure as hell didn't want to get stung so we stayed in the kayaks. We spent the rest of the day eating, swimming, and chatting with each other. It was so chill and nice to relax after our hectic travel up there. At one point it was pouring down rain, but we all decided to swim out to this island. It was awesome being in the middle of Halong bay in a storm. We joked about jellyfish...I was seriously paranoid about them, but tried to keep my cool. Everyone else seemed so comfortable frolocking in the water, but I was constantly looking around me and making sure nothing came near. That night, Katie, Andy, Laura and I stayed up late drinking beer and chatting about our travels. Katie and Andy are from Idaho and have been on a 4 month trip. They only have 5 more days left of their trip. Katie is going back to school to be a scientist and Andy is going back to start medical school. It was nice to chat with 2 American travelers and compare stories. When it was really late we decided to go night swimming because you could see the phosflurescents...which is the glow of the algea swimming in the ocean. As we were about to get in, the captain came running over and said that there were a lot of jellyfish out that night. We decided to just stick a paddle in the water to see the glow...it was neat. I passed by the other couples room (they had gone to sleep a few hours before) and noticed that the light was still on. As I peered through the window I saw Chemma (the spanish guy) walking around blindfolded and Carina (the german girl) laying in bed watching him. I was like...WTF? are they doing in there? I seriously thought they were playing some sort of sex scharade game. We had a laugh outside about it because Katie and Andy had to share a room with them. They felt awkward going back in later that night. Well as it turns out, they were not playing a weird sex game, but instead they were sleeping with the lights on because there were so many cockroaches crawling all over the beds. Carina woke up to one in her hair and you could hear them crawling all over the sideboards. With the lights on they would stay hidden. They laughed so hard the next day when I told them that I thought they were getting all kinky on the boat.
The next day we continued to do more kayaking and swimming. We went deep into one cave and were surrounded by bats. The bat poo smelled awful, but it was pretty cool to be that deep into a cave. After that though, another round of nausea came over me. Ever since I have been sick in Cambodia I get these weird waves. Most of the time I can mentally convince myself that I am fine and it will pass, but for some reason it would not pass this day. I went back to the boat and layed down. Lunch was ready and I thought that maybe I was just hungry and not nauseas. I tried to eat, but as soon as I smelled the food I ran to the bathroom and vomitted. After that I was fine. I must have a weird parasite living in me because I have never thrown up this much before. After getting sick I was back to my old self again and continued hanging out on the boat. We decided to go for one last swim before we headed back to the island. We were all laying in the water and chatting it up. I joked how the ocean scared me because you never knew what was below...I was more of a lake girl myself. The water felt so nice and I would lay on my back and stare up at the sky....so relaxing. And then I felt it....this wave of burning fire stroked my right ass cheek and I instantly knew that I had been hit. "Oh my God...Oh my God...I've been hit. Seriously y'all....I am not joking...a jellyfish...Oh my God" I screamed this as I swam the fastest I have ever swam to the boat. I was out of the water in olympic time. Meanwhile, everyone in the water was freaking out because usually there are schools of jellyfish so they all grabbed the side of the boat and were hanging there paranoid. I climbed out but was so scared to look at the burn on my ass. For all I knew there could have still been a jellyfish hanging off of me. Chemma walked out of his room after he heard the commotion. I asked him to tell me how bad it was. "Yeah...you got stung" is all he said as he stared at it wide eyed. I started shaking because I was kinda freaking out and tears formed in my eyes. It burned bad, but on top off that I was so frustrated that it had been me who got stung. The one who was most paranoid. My voice quivered as I said "Why me....why did it have to be me". I looked down at everyone hanging off the boat and asked "So...which one of you is going to piss on me." No one replied. I sure as hell wasn't going to piss on myself. After my initial freak out and being upset that I was the one that got stung, my whole entire body started to itch really bad. It was at that point when I realized I knew nothing about jelly fish stings. Was my body about to go into cardiac arrest? Was I going to have temporary paralysis? What the hell happens to you? Chemma just looked at me and said "Well its been 5 minutes and you haven't died yet....so I think you will be ok". We headed back to the port. I sat up on top and tried to get my mind off of my burning ass. And the fact that it was on my ass pissed me off even more....of all the places! Anyways, I continued scratching my body and figured it was just the toxins circulating through my blood stream...no big deal. We arrived back to the Slo Pony shop about 1 hour later. I went up the Eric, another owner, and asked him how bad a jellyfish sting was. His first question he asked very seriously was "What color was the jellyfish?" None of us actually saw the it after it stung me...we had no idea what it looked like. "Does it matter what color it was?" I replied. Then he asked how long ago it had happened. I told him it had been an hour. "You got stung an hour ago and you are this coherent and talking to me right now?...Wow...that is pretty amazing. I think you will be ok." People react differently to the stings and it sounds like I was pretty lucky. He then told us a story about how his friend was rock climbing and fell off the cliff into the water. He came up with a jellyfish wrapped around his face. He layed on the rocks for 6 hours crying with agonizing pain. He ended up peeing in a cup and pouring it on his face. After I heard that story I was very thankful it stung me on my ass and that my reaction was minor.
It was Saturday night and the Vietnamese holiday was in full effect. We had not booked a hotel in advance. We asked Slo Pony if they could help us find accomodation. They said they had a few people they could call, but it was not likely they would find something...but they offered the couches in their office. Fortunetaly, one of the rooms they own in a hotel was open so they put us up there for the night for a really cheap price. As I mentioned before...these guys were super cool dudes. The room was pretty decent. It was your typical bachelor pad. A tiled artwork of a naked asian woman in the bathroom and dishevled furniture. But it was clean and a roof over our head. The AC unit was directly over where I was sleeping. Every now and then a drip would fall on me when I was sleeping, but it didn't bother me too bad. However, at about 3 am a rush of water came out of the unit onto my face like a waterfall. I woke up freaking out....."make it stop..make it stop". We were all disoriented and Katie found the remote to turn it off. I was soaking wet and so was the bed. I turned around and slept in the opposite corner in a ball. It just wasn't my day I suppose :)
The next day we made our journy back to Hanoi. We continued traveling with Katie and Andy and all decided to get a hotel room together to save on the costs. It was a sweet room with plenty of space, air con, and a flat screen tv. Hanoi is a crazy city...much crazier then Saigon in my opinion. A lot of people do not enjoy Vietnam because they feel that the people are pushy and in your face. If you started your travels in Vietnam up North in Hanoi, I could understand why you would start off on the wrong foot. I was not that impressed with the vibe in the city. I am thankful that we started traveling South and then up because we were able to see a better side of the country.
One night we all went out to dinner. In Vietnam they have these places called Bia Hois. It translates to Draught beer. Each day they make batches of this fresh draft beer and sell 1 glass for 3,000 dong. 18,000 dong equals a dollar so you can have 6 beers for 1 dollar. It is brilliant! Anyways, at dinner we were given a drink list. There were regular priced beers and then 2 items at the bottom for about 8,000 dong. We figured this was some of the local beer but that the prices were jacked up a bit since it was a proper restaurant. We ordered 2 of each of the "local beers". 5 minutes later the waitress walked out with 2 bottled waters and a plate of shredded beef. Wow...how cool... we thought. They give you free water and a snack before dinner. Well, it turns out we just didnt know what the hell we were ordering. We ordered water and shredded beef instead of beer....we had a good laugh over that.
The next day I ran into my old British friend Dave and some people that he had met. We all decided to go out to have a big dinner together. It was me and Laura, Katie and Andy, Dave, and french guy named Antione, and Brit named Chris, and a Belg named Jeremy. I always love the international dinners. Before dinner though, Andy and Katie wanted to have a few cheep beers and the Bia Hoi. It was there last day in Vietnam so we wanted to celebrate. I know it sounds like I have been drinking a lot in this blog, but seriously.....6 beers for $1. How can you pass that up? The beer started flowing, we all met up for dinner and then continued on to more Bia Hois after dinner with our big group of international travelers. We went on a Bia Hoi crawl from one street corner to the next. They are not proper bars by any means. It is simply a keg surrounded by small plastic chairs on the sidewalk. Very basic, very cheap, very amazing! Instead of saying cheers...in Vietnamese you say Mot, Hai, Ba....YO! and clank your drinks together. It was a fun night!
Well today is our last day in Vietnam. Dave, Laura and I all crossed from Cambodia to Vietnam so we decided to cross together to Laos. All of the sleeper buses were booked for days so we bought tickets for a "sitting" bus. It is going to be a 24 hour long bus ride to cross the border and we will be sitting the whole time. It is going to be one hell of a busride. Ah well.....another epic journey to a new country. Vietnam has been awesome.....I have had some really cool experiences here. Goodbye Vietnam. Let's see what Laos has to offer :)