I’ve had my fair share of bad luck on my travels over the past year: getting stranded on an island with one of the most annoying people I’ve ever met, sunburn, sickness and turning up to the airport with my mum’s passport instead of my own. However, these were all blips in otherwise great trips. Until this week, I’d never actually visited a part of Vietnam that I didn’t like. On Wednesday, that changed, and I had my first true travelling disaster…
Ever since THAT episode of Top Gear, it’s been pretty much every travelling Brit’s dream to motorbike the length of Vietnam- mine included. Due to a public holiday this week, I ended up with three consecutive days off of work and decided to make the most of it with a little trip to Ho Coc beach- supposedly once of the nicest mainland beaches in southern Vietnam. My passport had been sent off for my two-year visa, so I was limited to bus and bike travel. I opted for the latter, with lofty ideals of a fun and scenic Vietnamese road trip in my head. I also thought it would be a good taster of what it might be like to bike the length of the country, and if I’m being totally honest, I thought it would make me feel cool.
It did not.
It did, however, give me a sore bum, some dodgy shorts tan lines and a resolution to never bike the length of this country. I had Google Maps in my ear (which is still somewhat in its beta phase in Vietnam) telling me to “turn left turn right turn left” on completely straight roads with no exits. Google Maps is also ignorant of the fact that the primary mode of transport here is a moped, not a car. Its estimates are pretty accurate in the city, but not so much on motorways, as I discovered: the journey’s estimated two hours turned into five (including an hour-long coffee stop.)
By the time I arrived at the beach, I was starving and more than a little disgruntled. However, I hoped the sight of a beautiful beach would cheer me up.
It did not.
The beach was covered in litter and cow shit. I’d heard Ho Tram and Ho Coc beaches were nicer than the neighbouring Vung Tau, hence my decision to visit, but that must be due to the high number of resorts in the area. Since I’d opted to stay in a hostel, I was stuck with the (literally) shitty public beach. I was disappointed, but I thought I could probably try to sneak into one of the resorts tomorrow or get some sort of day pass. The sun was starting to set, so I climbed back abroad my noble steed (who I was really rather sick of at this point) and set of in the direction of my hostel. Even though Ho Coc isn’t exactly on the backpacker trail, I hoped that there would be a few other teachers there taking advantage of the holiday. I thought my day might still turn around.
It did not.
Admittedly, the exterior of the hostel was very sweet and my spirits lifted a little as I drove in: there was a pretty outdoor area with streamers and garden windmills. The staff were very friendly as they rushed to greet me. However, the place seemed suspiciously empty. The owner informed me that I was the only person staying in my dorm. I asked if anyone else was staying there at all.
“Err- yes. They are at the beach right now. But they are Vietnamese.”
This in itself is obviously not a problem- but there was a significant chance that I wouldn’t be able to talk to them. After my long and disappointing day, I really just wanted someone to chat- and let’s be honest, drink- with.
I washed up, cried a bit and then tried to find some food. There was a menu board in the garden advertising beef noodles and plates of rice, but all that was actually available were some packet noodles. Yum. There was nothing in the surrounding area- not even a convenience store- so that was my lot. I made up my mind to cut the trip short and head back in the morning.
The other guests- a young Vietnamese couple- returned from the beach with some seafood which they very kindly shared with me. The man didn’t speak much English but the woman’s was excellent, and I started to feel a little better chatting to them. Unfortunately, the owner’s husband decided it was karaoke time, so they rolled their eyes and headed off to bed to escape his crooning.
On the advice of a wise friend back in the city, I stocked up on beers and went to bed. I watched some comforting TV (well, Chuck and Blair compilation YouTube videos if we’re being honest…) and tried to sleep. When I went to the bathroom, I discovered a baby cockroach and, even worse, when I drew the curtains, a HUGE spider fell out and hit the floor, leaving a big splotch of spidey-blood on the tiles. Sadly, though, the beast was not deterred and I was forced to run around the room throwing my shoes at it. On second thoughts, it was probably quite a good thing that I was alone.
After some broken sleep, morning arrived and I hit the road as soon as possible. I could have tried to access some resort beaches or explore the local area a little more, but to be honest I was just done. I wanted to be back in the city with my creature comforts and my friends. It was blisteringly hot again, but I was able to appreciate the beauty of the country roads a little more this time- except for the part where I managed to get my bike stuck in a muddy verge and a very amused lorry driver stopped to help me.
The drive back was more bearable, I think because the roads were a little more familiar this time, but I still almost cried with happiness when I reached home. All the dust ffrom the road made me look like I’d been up a chimney, but I was long past caring.
If I’d had a friend with me, if the beach had been nicer, if it hadn’t been quite so hot, if there had been more guests at the hostel… my experience might have been different. But it wasn’t, and so I experienced my first truly negative trip. It was always going to happen at some point, and although it felt pretty gutting at the time, it really wasn’t the end of the world. Travelling is about taking the rough with the smooth, and as my wise friend (Jackie) says, sometimes you just don’t click with certain places, and you should listen to your gut and move on.
To put a positive spin on things, I’ll call my trip to Ho Coc a learning experience: I learned that next time it’s better to just take the bus.