Wow. So quite a lot has happened since my last update. I’ve been having technical issues though which is why everything might be coming at once!
So not an hour after I wrote on the bus, I arrived in Mui Ne. At 1am. It was supposed to be an overnight bus. Nobody told me this. The bus company I’m travelling with is pretty useless if I’m honest. I’ve used the bus twice so far and every member of staff has been really really rude. I’m given no information just thrown on a bus with a fair few death stares just to make me feel more welcome!
So there were two other British girls on the bus with me and a boy from I’m not sure where. The four of us were dumped in the middle of nowhere when we got to Mui Ne. It turned out that it was outside the bus company’s office. There was a man with a motorbike ready to take us to our accommodation. Myself and the girls had already booked hostels but we were in two separate directions. The boy stormed off to find somewhere straight away. We weren’t sure about the motorbike taxi man. I use motorbike taxis a lot in Bangkok, especially when I’m running late. (Which is a lot, because I have the option of a motorbike taxi. I don’t know what I will do when I get back to Bolton and I can’t hop on a motorbike to the pub or the bus stop!) The girls flagged down a taxi and I just didn’t feel ok with riding on the back of some fella’s motorbike at 1am, on my own, in the middle of nowhere. I hadn’t a clue what to do. I was a little bit anxious, I won’t lie. Luckily, a little further up there was a “beach bar” that was still open.
I went in to try to explain my issue and ask for some help. One of the barmen was Vietnamese and I’m guessing that the other was European. Neither of them could understand me and I think they panicked when they could see I was upset. So they called over the bar owner and she was a lovely Canadian (I think) lady who told me everything was fine and she called me an actual taxi. Everything WAS fine. And then I got to the hostel. And everything was closed. Again, I panicked. Then a security man appeared. He asked if I wanted to check in. Of course I did, BUT, let’s not forget that I thought I was on an overnight bus. I’d booked the hotel for Friday night, not Thursday night. And the hostel was full. There was nothing they could do. They pointed at reception (which wasn’t very far from the main road) and they were like “you sleep here!” Again, the panic was rising. I wasn’t sleeping on the floor outside reception within a stone’s throw of a main road! They assured me that I could check in at 7am when reception opened. I just had to wait it out. Then they were gesturing to the left. There was the pool! There were around 30 deck chairs around the pool and they were suggesting I sleep there. This was a better prospect. They locked most of my luggage away along with my valuables. I didn’t want them on me if I was going to be sleeping somewhere so open. I sat down and looked up and the stars were so clear, and the security men were there too patrolling and sitting and I thought, this isn’t so bad!
But, on both occasions, in the bar and by the security men, when they saw that I was upset, I was asked if someone on a motorbike had hurt me. I’m pretty glad I didn’t get on that motorbike!
Anyway, I was settling in for a long wait and giving the mosquitoes a right good feast, when a drunk Dutch boy came over to ask me what on earth I was doing sitting by the pool on my own in the middle of the night. Then more drunk people arrived and it was almost a pool party. Half three came and there were talks of the sand dunes. The hostel does a tour which takes you to these amazing sand dunes where you watch the sunrise. Some of the party goers were staying up and they were telling me to join them. So at four, quite a few people were gathered outside reception and I was hovering hoping that the man would let me buy a ticket. He didn’t have any, it was a prebooked thing. However, there were four English people on my left and they said well we’re a five and we’re only four just now, so you can have our spare ticket. Result! They wouldn’t even let me pay for it. I’m telling you, those guys saved my sanity on Friday.
So off we went, there were 8 of us in the back of a Jeep. I don’t know if it was a Jeep. It was a rather old and rickety four by four. I sat in the very back facing a boy from the group I had now become a temporary part of. We had a great view out of the back and the breeze was fantastic. Until the vehicle came to a halt… We hadn’t gone very far and we still had quite a way to go. The driver jumped out, popped the bonnet and started pumping something. I’ve really no idea what he did but after a few judders, we were going again. This happened quite a few times until we stopped and no amount of pumping could get us going. The sky was getting lighter and pinker by the second and we knew we had no chance of catching the sunrise. The driver stood in the road and asked people who were passing to help out. I presumed he was asking them for a little jump start.
Oh no. Another four by four finally agreed to help us (quite a few had said no and driven on!) and as he got closer and closer to me and the boy in the back we were like no, really? The other car was basically going to ram us to get us going. I’ve never seen anything like it. I wish I could have videoed it or even taken a photo but my phone was dead in my bag. It was absolutely hilarious. The driver had a little chill out and we cruised down a hill for a while without much help but the other Jeep stayed close and kept bumping us when we needed it. Finally he turned away and sped on up the road. We wondered why and then realised he’d pushed us to our destination. A PETROL STATION. We’d run out of fuel!!!
Some people were a bit mad about the pullaver but I thought it was a hilarious experience! It was just so ridiculous that it was pretty brilliant. We finally made it to the sand dunes and the sun was already up. The sand dunes were beautiful and the sunrise from there would have been breathtaking but well, it wasn’t to be! We did climb them and have a nice little sit at the top which was lovely. Then we went to some more sand dunes, but this time they were red. But they were a bit dirty and they weren’t as impressive. As we pulled up to these sand dunes, our four by four was mobbed by Vietnamese people waving big sheets of plastic and shouting “slide down? slide down?” My energy had started to fail me by that point, I hadn’t eaten since Thursday afternoon, I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours and I’d just climbed a couple of sand dunes. Once we were at the top (which wasn’t even high) sliding down seemed like a pretty attractive option! And there was more to see! Next we went to a little fishing village and again I was gutted that I didn’t have my camera because it was so picturesque and colourful. But it stank, obviously. Then, we went to a “fairy stream” which was really really pretty. Sadly, we didn’t see any fairies, but we did see some ostriches (I have literally no idea why) that tourists could pay to ride on. Don’t even get me started on the whole tourists riding animals thing. Just no. Like is riding an ostrich even physically possible?! Why is that a thing?!
The fairy stream was basically a really long and picturesque stream lined with rocks that had been worn away in pretty patterns. I’m not really sure how to describe it. There were cows grazing as we walked around the twists and turns. I didn’t manage to get to the end of it, it was pretty long and I was really flagging, but apparently it was the same all the way along. There was nothing different at the end. Which I’m glad of! The fairy stream was our last stop and we headed back to the hostel. I was so looking forward to a shower and a sleep.
It was 8.30. I got to the hostel and went straight to reception. I was not met with a warm reception at all. I said I’d like to check in please. The woman looked at me and said “Check in is 12. Check out is at 11.” I was gutted. I tried to plead and explain that I’d been there since 1am but she just repeated herself. Looking back I know that there was absolutely nothing she could do but there was just no need for her attitude. And the fact that seconds later I discovered that the ‘secure’ luggage room (close to the road) was not only unlocked but wide open riled me even more. I was not happy. Literally all of my money, devices, everything was in there. I hadn’t even been able to buy myself a bottle of water on the tour because I had no money on me, (yet another way in which my adopted group saved my life) everything important was in that luggage room. Luckily everything was fine but the shock of that, the attitude of the receptionist and the lack of sleep and food made for an awful combination. Friday the 13th! I asked her where I could get some real food and for the WiFi code and she pointed to nowhere in particular and said “restaurant” It turned out that the restaurant was next to the pool, I hadn’t seen it earlier because it had been dark and closed.
The tour came with free breakfast which was nice (a lot of hostels in Vietnam seem to provide free breakfast. It’s great! Although I am a bit sick of baguettes and eggs. I’m not used to eating that much bread really, it’s not a thing in Thailand! But it’s free fuel so I’ll soldier on 😉 ) which I enjoyed with everyone from the four by four. After breakfast I didn’t really know what to do with myself. At 10am I decided to try to get some sleep so I lay down on the floor in the luggage room. I snoozed a little but it was so hot. I was so dazed that when I woke up I was like yessssss I bet it’s close to 12! It was 20 past 10… A boy came in and was like what on earth are you doing? I explained that I really really wanted some sleep and hadn’t wanted to be in the sun in case I burnt. He said it was definitely hotter inside that luggage room than it was outside. It turns out he was right… We chatted a bit and I discovered that he was from Manchester. He was leaving but he gave me some tips for places to stay in the next towns I was visiting. The hostel he recommended was pretty fantastic actually, I wish I could thank him!
I ventured out of the luggage room and the girls from the group, Paige and Lottie were like Jill just get in the pool. It will make you feel so much better! So I had a quick shower and pulled a bikini from my rucksack. I did about one length and then just floated and chatted to the girls. They asked questions about living in Bangkok and I asked about their future travels. I don’t know how long I was in the pool but I managed to burn my arms and shoulders. 12 o clock finally came and I checked in, had a quick shower and got into bed. A boy walked in about halfway through my nap and in my sleepy stupor I was convinced that he was one of my friends from Bangkok. I called his name a few times and when he turned round I realised that he looked nothing like my friend. I got up at about half three because I didn’t want to oversleep and I wanted to say goodbye to that lovely group who had adopted me for the morning, they were leaving at four.
I had booked two nights in the hostel but I’d done the sand dunes trip and I was ready to move on. I had to pay for the night I wasn’t staying but I didn’t care. I wanted to go to Da Lat.
I walked into the town and to the bus ticket office where I had been dumped just over 12 hours earlier. I booked my ticket for the next day and crossed the road to the beach bar. It wasn’t actually on the beach, it was just concrete that went into the sea. But it was deserted and there were some four poster beds and palm trees and lanterns. It was the perfect setting for a pina colada and a vent to my best pal via voice message.
As the sun was setting I realised that I was getting hungry so I decided to walk back to the hostel before it got too dark. I’d heard rave reviews about the Mexican next door. On my way back I passed lots of seafood restaurants and stalls and had I not been alone, I would probably have enjoyed some seaside seafood. Not that I’m worried about eating out on my own, I just reckon it would have been pretty expensive to eat there alone!
This is the thing about travelling alone, it probably would be better with someone! It is a little bit more difficult, the small things seem to be really stressful and it was that day that I realised that if I’d had someone travelling with me, we would have been able to laugh it off.
As I walked back, I saw a white guy on a motorbike do a double take and park up in front of me. He jumped off his bike and started asking me questions, where was I from, who was I with, how long was I staying. At first I thought he was trying to sell me something but then he told me he’d like to take me out to dinner. He was from Moscow and he had mid length dirty blonde hair and a nice smile (which I’m a MASSIVE sucker for) In my late teens I’d have fancied the pants off him. I was a hot mess. And I don’t mean in a sexy, Taylor Swift way. I mean in a sweaty, frizzy haired, dressed in my most unshapely outfit kind of way. He wanted to ride to a nearby village and have some Pho. This all sounded very romantic and authentic and a chance to experience a bit of real Vietnam but again, I was wary of jumping on a motorbike with a man who was clearly a bit mad, and if I’m honest, I’d been thinking about Mexican food all afternoon and my desire for another cocktail and stuff with cheese on was a lot stronger than my desire to ride off into nowhere with a crazy Russian.
I told him that I had already eaten and made a vague plan to meet him at 9pm, (again, I’ve no idea why) knowing full well that I would definitely be ready for bed by then!
I made it to the Mexican and had some fantastic nachos, then headed to the hostel for happy hour and to socialise a bit! I sat at a table with two girls from the trip, who were sat with two English guys who had just finished medical school. One of the girls told me that she didn’t think that the receptionist had been rude and that I’d overreacted and they all discussed medical mishaps and accidents they had seen in Vietnam. If I’m honest the conversation scared me a little and I was still pretty tired so I apologised and called it a night.
The next morning, I was up early to catch my bus to Da Lat. The bus was due at 7am. I sat outside reception from about quarter to. A few buses came and each time, they were for other people and someone would come up the drive to the hostel to collect the passengers. At about half 7 I was getting worried that the bus company had just given up on me when a bus came into view down the road. The hostel manager said just wait, they’ll come up and check. They didn’t. The man (I guess the driver’s assistant) was standing across the road gesturing at me and shouting. I loaded all my bags onto me and walked towards him thinking he wanted to check my ticket. He waved away my ticket and shouted at me. He grabbed my bags and threw them into the bus. Again, there was just no need! They were late, not me! There were a group of travellers from Indonesia sitting behind me but otherwise, all of the other passengers were Vietnamese. I later learned that my bus company didn’t have a bus from Mui Ne to Da Lat, so they just used one that did. The journey wasn’t too bad although it was extremely bumpy. It was kind of uncomfortable but bearable, it’s all part of the experience, I told myself. Although the Indonesian guys and girls behind me exclaimed loudly.
AFTER. EVERY. BUMP.
I put my headphones in and had a lovely Jack Johnson soundtrack to accompany the beautiful scenery as we ascended the mountain and to push away the worry about a distinct lack of seatbelts and the occasional launch into the aisle of the bus…
We arrived in Da Lat and I had the warmest welcome that I’d had so far in Vietnam. I’d already booked 2 nights in the hostel from the recommendation of the boy from Manchester and they had emailed me to ask if I would like them to pick me up from the bus station. Ironically, the bus stopped right in front of the hostel. Mr Vu, or Jean, hopped onto the bus with a sign with my name on it which I thought was a lovely touch. I grabbed my bags from the pavement and went to check in. My bag was soaking wet. And even though I tend to exxagerate a bit sometimes, I’m not even kidding, my bag wasn’t just a bit damp, it was actually leaving sticky pools of something in the hostel reception. Jean told me it was some kind of fruit, when they’d thrown my bag into the bus it had obviously squashed a load of fruit and been sitting in it for five hours. Joy of joys. He told me that there was a washing machine on the top floor so I took my bag upstairs and washed everything that was sticky and then turned to my bag. I needed to wash it otherwise I’d have flies and wasps and all sorts following me for weeks. The supplies were limited and I couldn’t find a cloth. However, it was amazing of them to let me use the facilities, laundry services weren’t part of that hostel. Honestly, nothing was too much trouble at this hostel.
I scrubbed and scrubbed with a few different cleaning products, soap, washing powder, and lots of water. I left it to dry in the sun and went back downstairs to find out more about the hostel.
On your first night at this hostel, the family prepare a meal for you as a welcome dinner. They also provide free beer for everyone at 6.30 every night. I’ve never known a hostel to do that, ever! I also booked a trip, I was wondering what to do in Da Lat, my friends came at Christmas and they absolutely raved about going canyoning (climbing waterfalls and then jumping off them) I read the itinerary and thought yeah, I like a challenge I could do that! But then there was mention of trying to walk on a slippery log and I was out. Then I was told about the Easy Riders tour, where you can do a two or three day trip riding a motorbike through the Vietnamese countryside. You can ride your own or ride on the back. It sounded awesome and it was a chance to experience some REAL Vietnam. I didn’t feel like I actually had experienced any so far! So for my next part of the journey, I wouldn’t use my bus ticket, I’d be going by bike! I booked the trip (and had it highlighted to me again that I’m ‘big size big size’ when it came to giving me the tour T-shirt…) and went back to my room to sort my stuff out. (the contents of my backpack were strewn across my bed) Another girl had arrived and was just coming out of the shower as I walked in. She was Dutch and she was riding a motorbike through Vietnam on her own. She’s TWENTY ONE. How brave is that?! People keep telling me I’m really brave for doing this alone but I’m 26 and won’t even try and traverse a slippery log…
She had been driving all morning and she was about to take a nap. I still hadn’t caught up on sleep and I thought this was a mighty fine idea. I pushed the contents of my rucksack to the bottom of my bed and curled up for a little napsie.
When I woke up there was still about two hours until dinner so I decided to have a wander into the town. I was wearing a dress, a tie dye one that I’d picked up in Pai (a really hippie little town in the mountains in the north of Thailand) and it was the first time I’d worn a dress since Bangkok. Going from wearing dresses and make up five or six days a week to it being an event to put a dress on is more of a shock than you’d think! I felt good. I had a walk and took lots of photos on the way.
I was heading towards the famous market to have a nosey around. As I started walking, people were staring but we said friendly hellos and on I went. Two girls asked if they could have a photo, I went to take their camera, but they were like no no with you! It’s happened before with Chinese tourists and with a lot of my students so I obliged and thought nothing of it.
But as I got nearer and nearer to the town I noticed more and more staring and pointing and giggling and staring. And then some more staring.
Now I don’t know if it’s because I’m white, because I have curly hair or because I’m “big size, big size”. (Believe me, as a BodyGossip ambassador, [www.bodygossip.org] I have a LOT to say about this, but my thoughts on bodyshaming in South East Asia will have to wait for their own blog) Usually it’s all of the above but this time it just felt different. I felt awful. Like the biggest woman to ever set foot in Asia. Now I joke about this with my friends and family quite a lot, but I was really feeling it. I wandered around the market a little half heartedly, passing groups of people grabbing each other as I passed as if to say ‘ohmygod look’. All of the stalls were pretty much exactly the same, selling coffee and dried fruit in the food part and weird clothes and shoes in the other part. I paid 30,000 dong for an apple (that’s £1 for ONE apple) and started to walk back. As I crossed the road on the way back, a couple nearly crashed their motorbike because they were staring so hard. There was an audible “wow” and it wasn’t in a good way. It really got to me and it actually made me teary. I sent my best pal a voice message from a bus stop to get it all out and pull myself together before the welcome dinner.
The dinner was wonderful but I did feel a little uncomfortable when they moved me out of the corner to sit somewhere else so I had more room. They were being really sweet and accommodating but in my teary mind, I felt disgusting. After dinner I let it all out on a girl who at the time I didn’t even know the name of. We chatted and some of the other girls shared their stories of being singled out in Asia. I knew I was being silly but it’s crazy what lack of sleep can do to your mind!
A lovely trio from Singapore who I’d been sitting with at dinner invited me to go out for dessert with them. Dessert was the last thing I wanted. I ended up going out with the girls. I put my favourite dress on (by the way Henry Holland, you have broken my heart AND wardrobe by moving out of Debenhams) and quite a bit of make up. I was probably overdressed but I needed it. I needed to feel pretty!
The five of us (2 Scottish girls, Christine; my Dutch roommate, another English girl and me) walked into town to find a bar that we’d heard about. It was a bar that had a few bars on each level but you had to navigate an indoor maze to find them. It was unreal. I’d never seen anything like it and it was pretty fantastic. There were lots of dark nooks and crannies and themes like underwater and secret gardens. It looked so small from the outside, you’d never have believed it hid so much by looking at it from the front! Some parts were closed off so we only made it to the first bar, but it was an adventure. (Although there was a bit of climbing involved, my favourite dress probably hadn’t been the best idea!)
As the bar was about to close, we decided to go home. Christine was a bit merry and she had found a group of people who wanted to carry on partying somewhere. The Scottish girls were ready for bed and so was I but I had my favourite dress on and I didn’t need much convincing. Actually, we didn’t end up finding anywhere to go except a kind of hostel cum bar with a pool table. We had a beer, and played/watched the longest game of pool ever. We called it a night, said goodbye to the group we’d adopted and skipped (yes, literally) home.
The next day I had a motorbike tour of Da Lat. This was part of the tour that I had booked, in order to help you get used to being on the back of a motorbike. The first stop was a temple on a hill. I thought that this was the Linh Phuoc Pagoda that I’d read about before arriving in Da Lat. It wasn’t, and I was a bit disappointed. The man who was driving me (I feel a bit snobby and entitled saying “my driver” and I have a bit of a sievehead sometimes so I don’t remember his name) instructed me to look around the temple, then get a cable car but only to take it one way. He told me that he would meet me at the top. I was wearing a playsuit and needed to cover up. Did I have any of the scarves I had with me in my bag? Of course I didn’t! So my first stop was the gift shop for a scarf to cover my shoulders/cleavage. I still had my legs on show but there wasn’t much I could do. I was trying my best to be respectful. I wandered around like a walking circus show and took a few pictures. It took me a while to realise that I wasn’t at the pagoda and I crossed the road to find the cable car ride.
It was a little scary at first, especially as it creaked and jumped a bit as it climbed higher, but it was actually quite a highlight and the views were amazing. I took a few Snapchat pictures and videos but they cleared themselves because I had no internet connection. The joys of technology!
The next stop was the Linh Phuoc Pagoda and I wasn’t disappointed! It was absolutely stunning.
The pagoda and the shrines surrounding it were decorated with broken ceramics and glass. It was so beautiful. I took so many pictures!
There was also a huge Lady Buddha made from yellow flowers. At the bottom of the pagoda there was a large bell which people were attaching prayers to and then hitting the bell with a kind of hammer. I climbed to the top of the pagoda but only the first floor doors were open and I couldn’t actually go out onto the balcony. There was a different Buddha on every floor and the stairs got narrower as I climbed.
After that we went to the railway station, which is the oldest in Vietnam. It has a lot of French influence and made for a great picture.
Our last stop was the crazy house. The crazy house is pretty much exactly that. It’s a combination between a hotel and a tourist attraction. The architect was a bit of an artist and wanted something really different. It actually reminded me of the maze bar that we had been to the previous night. It was like a bit of a maze, with themed rooms here there and everywhere. There were bridges that looked like vines, tiny little Alice in Wonderland type doors and steps, a big giraffe that you could climb. There was a sign saying that the crazy house is one of the top 10 strangest buildings in the world but I’m not sure what the source was!
In the afternoon, I had a walk into the town again (even though I was dreading it) because I needed to find somewhere I could exchange some money. Absolutely everywhere changed US dollars but nowhere would accept Thai baht. It was a Sunday too, which was a problem. After I NEARLY handed over all of my savings for a measly amount of dong, I gave up and hoped that we’d be able to go to a bank first thing in the morning, before the start of the motorbike trip. I went to a cafe for some Pho and some blog writing and called my mum because I was fed up! We came to the conclusion that I was just tired and putting too much pressure on myself. I relaxed a little and went back to the hostel to find Christine.
I was still pretty hungry, so we went out for dinner and a beer and to find an internet café so that she could Skype her boy and I could get some more writing done!
We broke through the language barriers and had a “hot chocolate” each which ended up being lumpy powdery milkshake, with ice! When the WiFi stopped working, Christine dropped me back at the hostel (on her motorbike) so that I could pack my rucksack ready for the trip in the morning. I’ve no idea how in just one week, the contents of my rucksack were just impossible to repack. Every time I have to redo it I find it harder and harder and there’s not that much new stuff going in! At home there’s a packing fairy but he’s no use on the other side of the world. (Yes I’m 26 years old and my dad still does my packing for me. And what? He’s a WIZARD at it!)
I got a minor injury getting off Christine’s bike which didn’t bode well for the next day, but I’m a soldier…