Category Archives: vietnam

falling action

I never expected the aftermath of my accident to be so much harder than the actual crash.

More than the pain and inconvenience, I’m crippled by embarrassment. I am a cliché, hobbling around wrapped in bandages like so many other stupid westerners. And I’m angry at myself for caring so much about others’ opinions, but it’s hard not to when locals and travelers alike stare at the massive scrape over my entire arm, and my accident has been the only topic of conversation for the past week. I’m starting to see (on a much lesser degree) what it might be like to have a deformity, and while I put on a good front, I don’t like realizing just how much vanity drives me.

Beyond the superficial, I can’t shake the feeling of helplessness that has descended on me like the gritty humidity of Saigon. The crash itself made me feel like such a burden to travel with, and still not being able to walk well is infuriating. I ride my motorbike to the hospital to get my stitches removed, and I feel myself finally breaking down when I get utterly lost for hours in the maze of Saigon’s never-ending traffic.

And despite spending six nights recovering in this city that reminds me too much of my dislike of Bangkok, my plans are still quickly leading me to a dead end, as I hurry back down to the Thai islands for a diving course I won’t be able to do with fresh wounds, a volunteer assignment that will in all probability fall through, another Full Moon Party that I’m terrified will be a disappointment compared to my first one, and another chance with the boy that I didn’t manage to leave behind after all.

Though I suppose, if anything, this trip has taught me that everything works out in the end. So here’s to the end of Vietnam, and another adventure in Thailand.

A Motorcycle Diary

The story wasn’t supposed to be like this.

I decide to remind myself that I am a girl who travels by renting a motorbike in Dalat to ride the last ~400 kms to Saigon, with a stop in the beach town of Mui Ne to make up for skipping Nha Trang with the English boy.

The best way to get over a boy is to get on to a motorbike, right?

This is an unusual plan, though, and I have trouble finding someone who will let me ride the bike only one way… until Loi.

I meet Loi at a motorbike shop that first tells me that they can’t give me a bike. I am about to leave when it seems as though they change their mind, and I agree to rent the bike for five days and then pay to send it back to Dalat on the bus.

It is only later that I realize that Loi is actually renting me his personal motorbike, with absolutely no deposit from me and no guarantee that he’ll ever get it back—except that he trusts me.

I will never again doubt in the goodness of mankind.

———-

That’s supposed to be the end of this story, except turns out, it’s not. When I call him the morning after it all to tell him the story and cry, he reminds me that life is full of curveballs.

———-

I team up with two Dutch boys to make the four hour ride to Mui Ne. We have been driving down the curvy, bumpy roads for about an hour when I hit a hole the wrong way, fall off Loi’s bike and scrape the left side of my body.

These are the moments I hate and love travel. My friends are about a kilometer ahead, but a Vietnamese man going the other direction immediately stops to help right Loi’s bike. And then I have a choice, but not really. I’m bleeding in the middle of nowhere, so the only thing to do is to pick myself up and keep driving.

Two hours later, we finally pass a hospital and I am cleaned, bandaged, and fixed up with four stitches. (For the record, all of this plus antibiotics costs less than $10 USD.)

It hurts—my body, my confidence, and my pride—but I know that I am strong and lucky and I will be okay.

And then 30 kms to Mui Ne, my bike breaks down. The battery is dead, and there is nothing I can do but helplessly sit there in my bandages and let the Dutch boys save my life yet again and push me and my bike the rest of the way. The repairs cost me about the same amount as it cost me to rent the bike from Loi (who I still believe is possibly the best person in all of Vietnam).

———-

So what is actually the lesson in this? That Mom was right and I should’ve just been content with the bus? That I’m not so competent after all? That I shouldn’t let my emotions cloud my judgement and run away from boys so hard?

I want to believe that everything happens for a reason. That people like Loi come into our lives just when we’re about to give up on mankind. That sometimes we have to get hurt to stop us from being so reckless—with our bodies, our hearts, our money. And that sometimes we just need the opportunity to prove to ourselves once again that we are stronger than we know.

As usual, I’m not sure yet—more proof that he’s right (once again) and I’m still not ready to go home, as much as I’m currently figuratively and literally aching to.

But despite it all, I will be driving from Mui Ne into the epic traffic of Saigon later on this week. And whatever happens, I’ll be okay.

“She will never need you”

It takes about a day of mourning my loss of the English boy and his friends before I remember that robberies and heartaches aside, I am a girl who travels.

And while my two weeks with the English boy ended up more of an in-depth study of beaches and cheeseburgers, I spend our first days apart indulging in home-cooked Vietnamese meals, making new friends, and pushing my boundaries. I go abseiling off a 25 meter waterfall, and while I do think to myself that I wish he was with me, I also know that I’m so glad I didn’t skip this for him.

The next day we rent motorbikes and as I drive myself around the countryside—in a skirt, no less—I already know that all my doubts were silly, and everything’s going to be okay after all.

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Here’s the thing about travel romances

Everything happens so quickly. Within days you share your life story and your tiny dorm bed. There is no such thing as a first date or perfectly timed text message banter—chances are you’ll spend almost all day together, almost every day. And then you start making the same friends and following the same route and booking private rooms and you can’t believe that you didn’t even know this person a week ago.

But then, here’s the other thing about travel romances: the falling out is also quicker, and messier, and it leaves you aching because there’s no time or place to retreat to the normal comforts of home. And there are so many more opportunities for jealousy and the discovery of old secrets or less than desirable character traits. So there are drunken arguments and long silences, awkward cultural outings and the taking sides of friends.

Between the perfect beach days and shared motorcycle rides, the English boy and I discover that our romantic histories are incompatible, basically. He is shut off and distant because of past betrayals while I crave affection and reassurance. He is sweet but unpredictable, and I continue to give him too many chances, my typical M.O. when it comes to boys I like. This one needs more saving than I can provide, though, and I finally gather up what’s left of my dignity and demand the more that I have learned over the past six months that I deserve.

The two weeks I pseudo-date the English boy end with me hysterically leaving the bar at 3AM, and I feel myself digressing into the pre-travel version of myself. Halfway through my walk home I stop in the middle of the road and drunkenly call you for the first time since August, and I find myself hurt, confused, and disappointed for the second time that night.

I wonder if it’s me after all; the common factor in all of my heartaches. I wonder if I want my life to fit into an interesting blog post a little too badly, and if I make poor choices accordingly.

I wonder if they’re right about me.

I run away from the English boy and his friends who have also become mine, changing my bus ticket to skip the beach party town we were supposed to go to next in favor of a more quaint inland town. I think it’s the best decision, giving us both some space, but I am angry that I am going so far as to change my whole trip for a boy, and sadder than I imagined I would be to leave these three guys.

And I still wonder what this says about me. It’s disheartening to see how easily I revert back and how anxiety has caught up to me halfway around the world. And what happens when I go back to normal life, and running away is not as easy as this? Has anything really changed or am I still just avoiding it all?

good morning

I want to be from a country where it’s not considered incredibly cocky to be proud of where you’re from. The number of Vietnamese or Lao flags waving and the countless pictures of the king of Thailand are encouraged, and yet I feel like American pride is constantly being mocked.

But then I take an exhausting seven day tour from Hanoi to Hoi An, and I think I get it. What were we doing, and who possibly thought it was a good idea? They call it the American War here, and they’re still working on cleaning up the stupid mess we made.

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on traveling and relationships, part 3

I meet five 20-year-old Australian boys on my Halong Bay tour and within 24 hours I have proposed marriage, heckled one into going kayaking in the freezing cold water, been invited to share their room, eaten every meal with them, woken them up to drink snake whiskey with me, and teased them all; when it comes time to leave, the crew thinks I came with them and searches through the pile of Australian passports trying to find mine.

———-

I’ve been traveling with three English boys for more than a week now, which hasn’t happened since the Camino.

It doesn’t sound like much, but a week is ages when you spend so much time together without much privacy. Still, every new person we meet assumes we’ve been together much longer based on our comfort level and banter.

And then suddenly I’m traveling down the coast in part of a proper couple, I think. It’s been so long that I’m not entirely sure, but it’s been nice to have someone to cuddle up with on the bus.

My Vietnam visa is a month; I wonder how long this will last.

———-

Back in Laos, I explained to the Dutch boy that I’m a wanderer. At every bar, party, hostel, or tour you probably won’t find me with anyone I came with because I’m too busy talking to new people.

The English boy thinks this is hilarious, and jokes that he can always hear me chatting up another guy across the bar when he’s drinking with his friends. But then they turn the music off at the end of the night, and I find him to get a kebab and go home with his arm around me. I think this might be the only type of relationship I can handle right now.

———-

He is the first person I call when I get my new phone because I still need some reassurance, and I know he’ll say the right thing.

But this time it sounds like distant concern, like I’m slowly becoming too risky of a hand to gamble on.

And then I finally ask the question we never talk about, which is maybe a mistake. I think the worst part about it is the pause before he replies because he knows it will break my heart.

———-

I finally finish the last Game of Thrones book on the overnight bus and it makes me miss you equally as much as it makes me feel like I’ve finished with you as well.

Words are wind, but please tell me: what happens to Dany without her bloodriders?

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renew

The world is a small and wonderous place.

I take the 30-hour overnight bus to Hanoi, partially due to cost (addition to last post: 90 USD also buys me a new HTC smartphone), and partially because when I’m upset, the only thing I ever want to do is sleep.

I arrive in Vietnam more disoriented than ever—without my phone I have no map, no exchange rate, no directions. This must be what actual travel feels like, and it’s far out of my usual comfort zone.

But the next morning I walk down to my hostel’s breakfast and find Jevhon and Dan just arrived—my only connection to home, exactly when I need them.

Over the next few days I get my life back together, and despite how big Hanoi is, I run into more travel friends than really makes sense. The feeling of community while backpacking in Southeast Asia is amazing, and I start to feel safe again.

More than anything, this experience has illuminated all the good people I interact with every day. The English boy who pinky promises to walk me home from the bar 10 minutes after meeting me. The Lao woman who gives my friend a free banana as he sits in her restaurant with me as I eat lunch. The hostel worker who changes my reservation to the correct date free of charge. The deaf Vietnamese man who watches out for us in the club and motorbikes us home when it gets too late. Every person who’s given me directions or advice. And every story I’ve heard about a taxi driver who returned a lost wallet or a hostel who helped return a forgotten passport.

I still wander around alone a bit more than I should, and my heart still stops sometimes when a motorbike races past me late at night, but these are the exceptions to the rule.

I could dwell on the bad stories, but I think it would be hard when I’m surrounded by so much good every day.