I haven’t blogged in a while, due to my own laziness, a hectic working schedule and a defunct laptop charger. During the time that has elapsed since I last posted, I’ve moved to a nice apartment (with a gorgeous pool that bad weather is currently preventing me from enjoying on my only day off, as it does almost every Monday. I’m annoyed.) and enjoyed several visitors from home, the first of whom was my sister.
Six months is, especially if you’ve always been a complete homebody like me, a long time to go without seeing your family. Luckily, my sister, Molly (or Mollie as she spells it but I refuse to), was willing to travel halfway around the world to see her beloved sibling (or use me as an excuse for a holiday. Six of one…)
In the week leading up to Mols’ arrival, I was pretty homesick, probably because home was on my mind a lot more due to her impending visit. It was great to see her and I felt so happy once she’d arrived- and not just because she brought lots of goodies from back home. We chilled out, went to find pho, treated ourselves to a spa trip and then headed to the Good Restaurant (yes, that really is its name) for dinner before she conked out after 30+ hours of being awake. I still had to work for the next few days but luckily my Saigon fam kept her entertained, and before we knew it was time to head to Hanoi.
Saigon’s weather is pretty crazy, but Hanoi’s was even more so. Just as I’d been told, Hanoi was a lot prettier and more photogenic than Saigon; more quaint, old-timey Asia. The streets are also almost themed, which is pretty cool: one street sells almost exclusively shoes, another clothes, another fruit, and there’s even a meat street (which smelled horrendous, I hasten to add.) We wandered around for a few hours, crashed in the hostel for a while after our disgustingly early flight and booked ourselves onto the infamous Castaway Halong Bay tour. In the evening, we had dinner with some friends I’d met on my TESOL course and ended up eating bun cha, drinking beer and chatting until late.
The next day, we headed to the women’s museum- when they suggested 2-2.5 hours for the audio tour, I thought it was going to be a bit of a drag, but learning about the history of Vietnamese women was actually really interesting. We then headed to Tay Ho lake and visited a pagoda but left pretty quickly because a storm was threatening. Our Uber driver very graciously dropped us off not particularly close to the address we gave him and left us to shelter in a shoe shop (luckily, the owners didn’t seem to mind.) We tried to go to a water puppet show, but an inability to use google maps put a spanner in the works, and when we finally found one, we realised there weren’t even any shows on that day. Defeated, we found food and went back to the hostel. There was a pub quiz going on with some ‘interesting’ bonus rounds, one of which involved acting out a story blindfolded. You can imagine the contents. I’ve probably never looked like more of a tit in my life (and that is saying something) but I did win the contest, so the public humiliation was semi-worth-it.
The next morning we were up very early to begin our journey to the famous Ha Long Bay. After several groggy bus and boat rides, we arrived around midday on a gorgeous island in the middle of one the natural wonders of the world. On the island was a gong which, when struck, required the ringer to buy a round of drinks for everyone on the island. Naturally, the guys on the trip used this as an opportunity to show off, which I have absolutely no complaints about since everyone enjoyed a lot of free booze over the next few days. The rest of the afternoon was spent lazily swimming, drinking and tubing: laying on a large inflatable donut and being pulled along by a speedboat that makes sharp turns very frequently, ensuring that everyone gets whipped off by the end of the ride. In the evening, there was a big party which ended up with everyone in the sea until the wee hours.
The following day was the ‘booze cruise’; we spent it on a boat travelling through the bay, shotgunning beer and kayaking through three of the bay’s caves. The caves truly were amazing and lent the feeling that we were the only people in the entire world. The only negative to the kayaking experience was that Mollie was less than impressed with my rowing prowess… After that, we headed back to the boat and the rest of the day involved swimming, boat jumping and a party very similar to the one we had the night before once back on the island.
We expected to spend the final morning in the bay chilling out on the beach before our departure, but instead we were woken up by the reps running around and yelling that there was going to be a storm and that we needed to be off the island as soon as possible. We made it back to Cat Ba island, where we were meant to catch out final boat to the mainland, but the storm was so severe that it was decided no boats were leaving the island for the rest of the day. This was not good news for Molly and I, since we were due to fly back to Ho Chi Minh from Hanoi that night. We resigned ourselves to our fate, checked into a hotel on the island and after a very subdued lunch, took an afternoon nap to pass the time. That evening, our reps organised a bar crawl on the island which no-one was initially very enthusiastic about (“hmm… might go for one…”) but actually ended up being a really fun night.
In the morning, we made it back to Hanoi, found some delicious Mexican food, bade goodbye to our fellow tour-mates and headed back to Saigon that night. Suddenly, our time was up. Molly’s flight back to the UK was the next day, and although I was fine saying goodbye to her, I confess I might have shed a few tears on my way to work…
Luckily, however, I had the promise of a new batch of visitors just three weeks later to buoy me up. Lizzie, Jack and Cameron arrived in October, kindly letting me stay at their hotel with them (a veritable palace compared to my cockroach infested room) and it felt like we’d never been apart. Since they arrived pretty late on Sunday, the first night was spent ordering room service, drinking beer and catching up; but for the vastly different setting, we could have been back in the Hoops. Although I unfortunately wasn’t allowed to take time off of work to spend with them, Monday is my day off and so we spent the day exploring the city, swimming and drinking cocktails in the hotel pool and finally going out on Bui Vien Street. We also had dinner at the Good Restaurant, which Cameron had been banging on about doing for months…
On Wednesday, they went off to Hue and Hoi An, and I met them again on the following Sunday afternoon in Da Nang, a beach city. It was nice to just relax and chill; we spent Monday at the beach, drinking beer and playing silly games. The sea was very choppy so we enjoyed wave-jumping in the ocean, although we didn’t stay in for too long. On our final night together, before the others left for Ha Long Bay, we ate an an American BBQ restaurant and headed to an expat bar (Cameron’s new obsession) for drinks. Although I really wish I could have had more free time to spend with the three of them, it means the world that they came so far to see me.
Having visitors abroad is a great experience; it’s wonderful to be able to share your new life and environment with them. I remember Jack telling me, “It’s mental that you live here.”
“What is?” I responded. “The city, or the fact that I live here?”
“Both,” he said.
In a few short weeks, I will have another visitor: my friend Sophie is coming out to spend a very unconventional Christmas with me! As wrong as it feels to see Christmas degrees when it’s 33 degrees outside, I absolutely cannot wait.