Vietnam Pt.III

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After another journey on a night bus, we arrived in Mũi Né to find that our dorm room was dark and cramped. We couldn’t expect much else considering that it was costing each of us less than £3 a night to stay there, but we were in for a pleasant surprise. The place where we had chosen to stay also had villas and a hotel on site with a resort that could have easily passed as the resort of a 4 star hotel somewhere in Europe. It turned out that we had full access to the resort, despite only being in the dorms, meaning that we were suddenly on a relaxing holiday for the next few days.

We took full advantage of this, so after finding our new English friend already occupying one of the sun loungers when we got there, we all proceeded to do very little for the next 3 days. On one of those days, I did not move from the same spot for around 7 hours, as the staff would bring food and drink to whomever asked. I felt like a king. The three days also ran over Halloween, and the bar gave out free drinks to whomever dressed up that night, which gave me the perfect excuse to buy something outrageous that I was most likely going to buy regardless of the situation:

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How great do I look?

Getting off our arses

Being stuck in our lethargies of relaxation, we had not actually done what we had come to Mũi Né to do, which was see the red and white sand dunes. Therefore, we booked one more night and vowed to actually accomplish something. We managed to follow through with that vow by booking ourselves onto a tour with a group of other backpackers. This tour, for some reason, started with us walking aimlessly down a dirt river for 20 minutes only to then walk all the way back up the river and question why we had even bothered, and was followed by a trip to the nearby fishing village to check out the sights. Only then were we taken to the white sand dunes so that we could explore them. While some, including our English friend, decided to explore the dunes on foot, others, including Anya and I, rented out some quad bikes for the next half an hour.

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View from the fishing village.

We were quickly shown how to use them and told to drive towards the closest dunes. Immediately, both of us were confused as to why a local had jumped onto the back of each of our bikes as we made our way up there. Only when we had made it to the top did we then realise that there was no way that they would have allowed us to drive down the scarily steep dunes. It was at these points that we would swap positions with them and they would try their best to terrify us with high speeds down sheer drops.

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Clearly loving life.

Time flew by, and while Anya’s driver screamed in her ear, “Maximum! Maximum!” followed by, “Not maximum! Not maximum!” as directions on how much throttle she should be using as she drove, my driver led me to the top of one of the largest dunes he could find. He took over as driver and proceeded down the dune as fast as possible. At the bottom of the dune was a small pond, with several cows resting in it. As we quickly approached the pond, the driver showed no intention of slowing down. The size of the cows grew exponentially and the growing certainty of an impact caused me to brace as best as I could for what would come next. Only in the last moment, as we hit the water, did the driver steer away from the unfazed cow leaving me soaked and shocked at the same time. He laughed while I tried to get my breath back. The half an hour was over.

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The man who tried to terrify me and I.

After the white sand dunes, we were taken to the red sand dunes so that some of us could sand sled while others sat down and waited for sunset. It was cloudy, so no one expected to see anything, but it turned out that the breaks in the cloud made for an impressive view.

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Anya checking out the sunset from the white sand dunes.

With the tour over, the three of us headed back and went to the bar in the evening to try and win at the pub quiz. Teams were quickly formed amongst all the people that were there, but as the quiz was about to commence, two late comers joined. Our team was the smallest, so they asked if they could join us, and as the winner would get a free tower of beer, we were more than happy to have the extra brain power join us. The late comers were a light-hearted and funny German couple that we shared drinks with long after the quiz was over. We did not win the quiz, but in our defence, the quiz master was useless. Many of his answers to the questions were wrong … not that we were cheating and using our phones or anything like that …

As great as this German couple were, it was our last night in Mũi Né and it was their first. We said goodbye to them without any expectation of being able to see them again. Of course we were still unaware of just how small this world really was.

Onwards and upwards

The next day, the three of us jumped on a minibus that would take us to the mountainous town of Đà Lạt in Vietnam’s central highlands. The 6 hour journey took us along long and windy roads with edges going over precipitous drops that would make even the bravest gasp. Yet again, the driver we had ended up with had never developed his own sense of danger or peril, and was gunning our mini bus at breakneck speeds around some of these bends. The passengers on our bus were fearful for their life on more than one occasion during the journey.

We made it in one piece. However, during the journey I became increasingly aware of the group of English girls closer to the front of the bus with their rice paddy hats. They were loud and annoying, and it was highlighting to me the stereotype of British people being hated abroad. I made jokes about the bad luck we would have if we ended up staying at the same place as they were, and I was glad to be off of the bus and away from then. But when we reached the place we had booked to stay at, the owner was currently out, so we were let in by some of the other backpackers currently staying there. They told us that a group of girls had checked in only about 10 or 15 minutes before us and the fear that my jokes had rung true had begun to set in. I asked them what they looked like, and when they told us that they had all been wearing rice paddy hats, I knew that my jokes had just become reality.

The owner, Lucky, returned shortly afterwards and showed us to our beds. It turned out that what he had done was convert a part of his house, including his loft, into a place for backpackers to stay. We would be in the loft with the girls. The loft consisted of around 12 mattresses placed on the floor one after another. The concept seems ludicrous, and even laughable considering that this was the loft of someone’s house. But the mattresses were so comfortable, with soft, thick blankets to protect us from Đà Lạt’s cold temperatures that we were so pleased to be there. What’s more, Lucky himself was a lovely man who tried his very best to accommodate for his guests, and would end up taking us all to a bakery at midnight on that first day so that we could all pig out to our heart’s content.

It was on the first day that I realised how wrong I was about those girls. After we had settled in, we began to get to know our roommates, and it wasn’t long before I found myself laughing at their jokes and group dynamics. It became abundantly clear to me that I had come to judge these girls far too quickly, using a single situation to try and work out their entire personalities. It was an eye-opener for me. I was clearly in need of reigning in my judgemental ways.

A change in climate

The weather so far for us in Vietnam had not been kind. We had expected nonstop sunshine, and so far, had been greeted with almost nonstop rainfall. The situation was not so different in Đà Lạt, only now, being in the highlands, the welcoming heat had been replaced by a crisp cold. For that reason, when the girls we were sharing the loft invited us to do canyoning with them the next day, we turned it down. Canyoning involved abseiling down waterfalls, swimming in rivers and watersliding. As great as it all sounded, it was too cold for us to even consider that as an option. We had already become so acclimatised to the heat that we could only imagine ourselves being cold and miserable if we partook in it. Therefore, we chose to do a tour of Đà Lạt instead.

The tour covered a number of places. After first being shown a now-defunct train station as a result of the war, and after being shown a local strawberry farm we were then taken to see a village that belonged to the Cơ Ho so that we could learn about them. The Cơ Ho are one of many ethnic minorities found in Vietnam and are a family-driven matriarchal society whose language is only spoken, and not written. Being a family-driven matriarchal society, we learnt that the women are the leaders of the household, and it is their duty to find and propose to a male that they hope to be their husband. The male must then negotiate with the women’s family about what they shall gain from the marriage, perhaps a water buffalo or two may be what it takes. Once a deal has been struck, a marriage can ensue and the husband will live with the woman’s family from then on. Any children will bear the mother’s surname, and the eldest daughter will receive the inheritance.

It was fascinating to learn about these group of people. They live basic lives in simple wooden houses. They have no electricity, use fire pits to keep themselves warm in the evenings, and some still dress traditionally. They willingly choose to follow these traditions and this way of life. They mainly keep themselves to themselves. Interactions with outsiders is limited. Personally, I found this all to be astonishing. They were aware of what life was like outside their village, but they chose not to adopt it. I found a link about them if you wish to learn more about this enthralling group of people: http://bidouptour.com/en/eco-tourism/95-k-ho-people-and-cuture.html

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A typical kitchen in the village of the Cơ Ho people.

After the village, we were taken to a cricket farm, where we were shown around before being able to sample some of their produce. As you would expect of anyone in that position, we were wary of trying fried insect, but as it turned out, they weren’t that bad at all. In fact, I personally loved them and gladly ate everyone else’s leftovers. Anya had more mixed feelings.

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Trying the local grub with our English friend grinning in the background.

After the cricket farm, we were taken to a silk farm and factory to be shown the process that is undertaken to collect and treat silk for use in the clothing industry. Our guide, an incredibly sweet Vietnamese woman who had melted all of our hearts, guided us through the process. She also pulled out a live silk worm that we could hold in our hands. Once we had all held the worm, I tried to hand the worm back to our guide but she told me I could keep him. I had no idea what to do with him, but there was no way I was just going to toss him away either, so I carried him with me wherever we went around the factory. I also carried him back to our minibus and I held onto the worm until we reached our next destination: Elephant Falls. There I found him a lovely place in a little bonsai garden where I set him free before exploring the falls themselves.

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I think I named the silk worm ‘Colin’.

After that, we explored the neighbouring pagoda before having a group lunch with the other people on the tour. A large selection of traditional Vietnamese dishes were brought out for all of us to share. With our bellies full, we were taken for the last guided tour of the day to a local Kopi Luwak farm, or to translate that for you: a Civet coffee farm. As it turns out, Luwak coffee is one of the most expensive and luxurious coffee in the world, costing around $700 per kilogram. It is made by feeding coffee cherries to civet cats. They are very selective with their cherries, and will only eat the ones of best quality. Their digestion system then begins to ferment the coffee before excretion. Farmers then sift through their faeces to find and clean the coffee beans before roasting them. It is believed that the slight fermentation of the beans is what produces such high quality coffee, and despite not sounding like the most appetising of coffees, we did try some while we were there.

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Anya and I at the pagoda.

With the day of touring behind us, the minibus dropped us off at Đà Lạt’s ‘Crazy House’ so that we could explore it before heading back to Lucky’s place. Looking more like something that you’d find in a theme park, this guesthouse has 10 differently themed bedrooms hidden within a jungle of unique and expressionist architectural design. Think of being in a fairytale on acid. We got lost more than once in this place. Satisfied that we had explored most of the ‘Crazy House’, we headed back to rest for the evening. It had been a long day.

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A fairytale on acid.

Crossing paths

The next day, the girls in the loft left. They were heading to Hội An next, and we would follow the next day. We originally considered the possibility of heading to Nha Trang first, but after hearing nothing but bad reviews of the place from fellow backpackers, we decided otherwise. With a night bus booked for the next day, we proceeded to have yet another day of relaxation and catching up with various TV shows. I became bored so went to visit the day markets in the city centre, and then all of us went to visit the night market with some other newly arrived backpackers in the evening before heading to the 100 Rooftop Bar.

This bar continued on the surreal and crazy architecture of the crazy house that we had seen previously, only this time, alcohol was thrown into the mix. A crazy maze of stairs and corridors entertained us before we became exhausted and found a place to sit down. We sat and shared stories and experiences for hours with the newly arrived backpackers, but none of our stories could beat their retelling of the tour around Chernobyl that they took. We did not even know that such a thing was possible.

It was during our time at this bar that our paths crossed with two familiar faces. It was the German couple from Mũi Né. The three of us were so pleased to see them again, and they were pleased to see us. We only spoke for a few minutes with them before they went off to find their friends, but it was clear that we had got on with them far more than we had realised. We also found out they would arrive in Hội An the day after we did, so we told them were we had booked to stay so that they could book themselves in there too. We would be able to explore Hội An together.

Two whole blogs with no “nightmares”

That’s right, with this entry finished, I have managed to write two whole blogs without any “nightmares” transpiring against me. However, little did I know at the time was that another was incoming. After our last night’s rest in Đà Lạt, the three of us killed time during the day and boarded our night bus in the evening without any problems. Only once we had arrived in Hội An was it that the texts about my travel card started coming through on my phone…

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Vietnam Pt.II

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Before heading back to Saigon, we decided that we would stop off in the city of Cần Thơ for 2 nights so that we would be able to see their morning floating markets. My stomach was already feeling strange, but I managed to keep any urges to go to the toilet at bay (thanks to a handful of Imodiums). Anya on the other hand, felt absolutely fine.

We hoped on a ferry and were quickly back on the mainland. From there, we needed to get a bus, so we got onto the bus that we were directed to and boarded with our bags. This bus however was not a coach, but an old local bus that surprisingly still functioned. It was hot, cramped and disgusting, but at least we had some seats to sit on, as our journey was going to be about 5 or 6 hours long. We were the only westerners on this bus, with the rest of the passengers consisting of Vietnamese locals. The bus began to depart when one of the old women began shouting at the driver at the top of her lungs, while consistently shooting glances back at us during her intervals. We had no idea what she was saying, but it clearly involved us.

The bus driver ignored her, but she became even more insistent, forcing him to stop. She began pointing at us, but we did not know what to do. We did not understand a word of what she said, and she did not understand a word of what we said. Eventually, she took matters into her own hands and walked up to our bags and tried to drag them off the bus. Tensions were rising quickly. This woman had some kind of problem with us but we didn’t know what it was. It wasn’t long before someone ran off the bus to fetch someone who could translate, and it was only then that we found that this woman did not have an issue with us at all. In fact, she was trying to help us.

It turned out that we were put onto the wrong bus with neither of us had the faintest idea that this was the case. To this day we have no idea where that bus was destined to go, but when that old woman saw two westerners on the bus, she just knew that the destination of that bus is not where we wanted to go. If she hadn’t intervened, who knows where we would have ended up? We owe a debt to this mysterious old Vietnamese woman.

Madman on wheels

We were then taken to the correct bus, but alas, it was still a dingy and small local bus. However this time, as we were one of the later people to board, the bus was already full. But if there is one thing we have learnt from our journeys in Asia, it is that you can always make more room. A kind man let Anya take his seat on the bus while I was told to sit on the step at the back of the bus and lean back on the legs of the man sitting behind me. Tiny sitting stools were then pulled out so that the people who got onto the bus after us could sit in the aisle between the rows of seats. When this option was exhausted, more locals tried to board, so they were told to either stand where they could fit, or sit on the interior engine bay cover at the front of the bus next to the driver. The bus was now truly full.

The journey was sweltering and confined, my knees were in agony, and our driver was a mad man. Speed was his priority, and his sudden jerky movements would throw the people on the bus from one side to another. There was a mother with her baby in her arms standing near the front, but the driver paid no heed to this. Eventually, the recklessness of his driving culminated in a moment when he suddenly performed an emergency stop. The mother and her baby flew forward into the group of people sitting on the engine bay. The baby began to wail and everyone around them quickly checked to see if they were okay. Luckily, neither the mother nor the youngling were harmed so everyone began to look out of the window to see why the bus driver had stopped so suddenly. A man lay on the road next to his moped beside the bus. People from the nearby petrol station were running over to see if the man was okay. Our bus driver had not stopped fast enough and had collided with this man on his bike. The man was conscious, so the bus driver took this as enough and drove off. His priority was still making it to the destination as hastily as possible.

Next stop, the bathroom

During the journey, I could feel my stomach still churning away. I was beginning to fear that the Imodiums that I was taking would fail me soon enough, but fortune was on my side, for once, and I managed to make it to Cần Thơ with no undesired events transpiring. We checked in to a hotel as there were very little hostel options available in the city and I quickly occupied the bathroom in our room so that I was finally able to relieve myself. Following this, I was in and out of the bathroom thoughout the entire evening while Anya still felt completely normal. We only had two nights booked in Cần Thơ however, meaning that we need to check out the morning floating market the following day. I reluctantly booked a tour with Anya down at reception and just hoped that I would feel better by the next day. With that, we decided to have an early night, as we would have to be up before 5am to see the markets. However, neither of us got a lot of sleep that night.

I myself was not up too often throughout the night, but whatever we had eaten back in Phú Quốc had finally struck Anya down. She was in and out of the bathroom every 15 minutes to vomit, and the time for us to be getting up was quickly dawning upon us. There was no way that we could be able to bounce back fast enough before the tour was due to start, so I went downstairs to reception to see if it was possible to reschedule for the next day. The only person I was able to find was a sleeping security guard who had been awoken as I entered the lobby. I tried to explain the situation to him but he did not seem to understand me, so he called a number on the phone and handed it to me. It was the receptionist that we had booked the tour with earlier, and it was quite clear that she had just been awoken. I felt so guilty for waking her up and bothering her while she was at home, so while I explained the situation to her, I apologised repeatedly. She told us it would not be a problem to delay our tour by a day, so I returned to bed for some much needed sleep.

We were extremely glad that we had been in a hotel when this happened, and not in a dorm of a hostel where everyone would have to constantly be awoken with our trips to the bathroom. Therefore, upon waking again in the late morning, we extended our stay by another night and decided to devote the day to recovery. Neither of us were running in or out of the bathroom much anymore, but we were both exhausted. Anya was more so than I, so spent the entire day in bed, but as I was starting to feel better, I quickly became bored so decided to use the opportunity to explore the city and find myself a new laptop.

As I explored the streets, I began to feel somewhat like a celebrity. Any person that I passed would stare at me with either amazement or shock. At first I did not understand why, but eventually people began coming up to me just to shake my hand or to take a picture with me and it became increasingly obvious that were astounded to see a white man. I was flabbergasted at this, because with Cần Thơ being a city, I imagined white tourists were nothing new to them. But as I paid more attention, I began to realise that were no other white tourists around in the city that I could see. Regardless of this, I was still astonished, and when I finally found an electronics store with the laptop that I wanted, the staff treated me like a first class customer. They tried to make me feel as comfortable as possible, and every time I finished a glass of water, it was instantly and automatically replaced with another. They provided me with a series of free gifts to compliment the laptop, and when the transaction was completed and the new laptop was set up, they asked if I could take a group photo with the all of the staff that were in the store at the time. I was happy to oblige, I just wish that I had asked for a copy of that photo for myself.

After returning to the hotel with my laptop (which cost millions of Vietnamese Dong thanks to their extremely inflated currency), I told my tale to Anya and she began to tell me of similar experiences that she had when she left the hotel in search of food. She too could not help but notice all of the people who were surprised by her presence. She went on to say that the cashier who served her at the supermarket physically gasped and was taken back by her pale white skin.

On the mend

The next morning, we were up before the sunrise to meet our tour guide. He led us to the docks where we met our boat driver. We quickly boarded the boat and were on our way down river to see the floating river market. The markets began at the crack of dawn and were already dying down by 7 or 8 a.m. We eventually reached the market to see exactly what I had envisioned: a huge conglomeration of large boats overloaded with locally produced supplies. Smaller boats full of buyers moved amongst the larger ones in search of the best deals.

Our boat docked with another boat that was serving phở as breakfast to all of the locals, and it turned out that we would be getting some as part of our tour. As delicious as it was, our fragile stomachs were not ready for the onslaught of Vietnamese food, so we hardly were able to make a dent into our bowlfuls of phở. After breakfast, we continued on with our tour of the markets. It was incredible to see that people lived their lives this way, spending most of their lives on or around this river. Many of these people’s homes were their boats, and if it wasn’t the boat that they slept in, they had rudimentary shacks built on the edges of the river, leaning over the water.

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How they can eat phở so early in the morning is beyond us.

After seeing the market, we were taken to a place where rice noodles were made, and after being shown the process involved in making them, we were allowed to have a go ourselves. We then were taken to a fruit farm where we were allowed to relax with a cup of tea as we learnt about the farm and the worker’s way of life. We then, very randomly, watched a female entertainer sing for a Vietnamese family that were on holiday from the North.

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Part of the rice noodle making process.

When we arrived back at the boat, so that we could head back to our hotel, our boat driver gave us gifts that she had weaved for us out of reed while we were gone:

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Just two of the gifts that we received. Anya also got a bracelet and ring with roses on them, and I also got a bracelet with two grasshoppers on it.

I had been wondering on what she was working on, because for the majority of that morning our boat driver had been multitasking between driving our boat and working on some form of handicraft. I had assumed that the handicrafts were some sort of second job she had that she would later sell at a market, but I never considered that they were for us. I was so amazed by them, that I had them sent home in the leftovers of my laptop box for safe keeping.

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It turns out that I took a photo of her weaving our gifts and I had not even realised.

Backtracking & surprise

We used the rest of the day to sleep and recuperate further before heading back to Saigon the following day. We would end up spending a whole another week there, waiting for Anya’s replacement travel card to arrive after she lost hers in Bali. We had no idea what day it would arrive, so we would have to extend our stay day-by-day while also finding ways to entertain ourselves. This mainly compromised of going out in the evenings and dealing with a hangover the following morning, but we did also treat ourselves with a trip to the cinema to see Dr. Strange.

One evening however, after joining the hostel’s bar crawl yet again, Anya and I were outside of the first bar on the crawl enjoying ourselves when Anya suddenly turned around and noticed someone standing only a few feet away from us. It was the Columbian who we had met in our very first hostel in Indonesia. The same Columbian who then appeared in our dorm room again 2 weeks later in Kuta through no planning whatsoever. Needless to say, we were stunned. We kept crossing paths with this man through nothing more than chance. We were thrilled, and spent the rest of the evening with him and his friends.

After nearly a week had passed, finally, the replacement card arrived. We would only need to spend one last night in Saigon, but we had to move to another hostel due to a lack of beds available. At our new hostel, we met an English fellow who had gone to the same university as us but had been in the year above. It had also turned out that he was heading to Mũi Né the next day just as we were, and even staying at the same place as us there. At this point we had no idea that we would travel with this man all the way up to the north of Vietnam…

Vietnam Pt.I

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Upon our arrival at Hồ Chí Minh City, previously known as Saigon, we quickly boarded a bus that would stop just outside our intended hostel. This was the first city we had experienced on our travels and it certainly was a new experience for us. The chaos of the city’s streets beggared belief. There was no order, only chaos, and more scooters than any one man could count. Every driver, be it on their moped or inside the safety of their car, repeatedly suffered from a near miss with another vehicle with every minute they remained on the over-congested roads. They took no notice of it however, as this was a normal day to all of them.

None of the city looked like it was well maintained, with one building, road or pavement just being built half-heartedly over another. Not even the powerlines that towered over us had any order to them. Hundreds of cables were tangled into an unsolvable mess. If one of those cables failed, it would take an engineer days to find the correct one. Despite the wide, multi-lane roads, the city still felt small and compact with all of the people that it contained. This impression was further exacerbated by the market stalls and local street vendors that took up all of the free space on the pavements (that had not already been occupied by parked mopeds!).

Personally, I was a bit taken back by what I had seen so far, but it had nothing to do with the organised chaos or the sense of uncleanliness, but with all the capitalist ventures in the country. My parents had grown up in the Soviet bloc under communist rule. They were raised on next to no money and ration coupons as the communists had decimated their country and left all of their stores with empty shelves. That is why Vietnam had surprised me so. I hadn’t pictured a communist nation to be immersed in capitalism, especially on the scale that we had witnessed.

When we finally got off of the bus, we checked into the hostel and went straight to bed. We needed to recover from our hellish sleeps in Kuala Lumpur. Upon awaking, we explored our surroundings after some lunch. The clustered roads were not something we were used to. There were never any breaks in the traffic to use as opportunities to cross the road, so we ended up standing at the side of the road for the best part of 10 minutes trying to figure out how to tackle the challenge ahead of us. Only when a local came to the side of the road had we finally work out the secret. We just had to walk out, and force our way into the road, lane by lane. It was the only option, so following as closely to the local as we could, we finally made it across. We kept using this tactic of following the locals until we finally plucked up the courage to do it ourselves. By the end of our stay in Saigon, this means of crossing the road had become second nature to us.

With our exploration of the surroundings concluded, we returned to our hostel and quickly discovered that it hosted daily bar crawls in the evening. Our evening plans were sorted. We got ourselves ready, had some dinner, and then joined the bar crawl.

Nightmare the Sixth

As is typical in these blogs, whenever I mention going out in the evenings, the information is followed by the mentions of a hangover, of some sorts, the next day. This was certainly no exception, as the effects of cheap Asian alcohol on the body can be most cruel. Typically on our hangover days, we like to delve into some home comforts by watching the brilliance that is F.R.I.E.N.D.S whilst we try to recover. However, on this particular hangover day, I opened my laptop and turned it on only to discover that the screen was not working. I kept turning my laptop on and off but to no avail. I could tell straight away that a part of the motherboard had burned out, so I asked the staff at reception about where I could find a computer repair shop and they pointed me in the right direction.

I eventually managed to find the shop, only to discover that the two men who worked there could not speak a word of English. The older of the two gave me a note pad and a pen and told him to write down what I needed. I wrote down:

“Laptop Repair?”

To this, the man nodded. I got out my laptop and he pointed to the younger man, so I walked over to him and showed him that when I turned it on, the screen remained off. They started to talk among themselves as they tried to work out the issue. I knew what the problem was, but I had no idea if they would understand it if I wrote it down, so I watched as they eventually came to the same conclusion. The older man then wrote down:

“The motherboard is broken. It will take me 3 days to repair.”

I was astonished. His written English was perfect, and I had not expected it after not being able to speak a word to me. I then wrote down that I only had 2 more nights before I left, to which he then wrote down a response about how he could get it done on time. He then wrote down how much it would cost and what time to return the day after next to collect it. I still found it hard to believe that this man could read and write in perfect English and yet not speak a word of it, but I agreed and then headed back to the hostel.

Anya and I had decided at this point to have an early night, meaning that we could spend an entire day learning about the city and the war that had infamously put the country on the map. We had signed onto a free walking tour early the next morning, followed by the War Remnants Museum and the Củ Chi tunnels. Unfortunately, neither of us ended up getting very much sleep, and it was all because of…

The drunken idiot

Now Anya and I may have ended up trying to have an early night, but that doesn’t mean that everyone in our dorm did. This is completely normal when travelling, and we were already used to it by this point. Drunken people would stagger in at various points during the evening. Some would be polite and try to be as quiet as possible about it, while others were not. It is the reason why both of us used eye masks and ear plugs. One particular guy came back late and made a fair bit of noise, but not enough to wake me up personally. This changed when he started talking as loud as anyone could possibly talk without shouting. I was livid, as were many other people in the room. At first I thought he was talking to his friend that had come back at the same time as him, but he was not talking to anyone. He was sleep talking.

Eventually he stopped, and I fell back to sleep. Only to be awoken again to the sound of running water and people shouting at him. I sat up to see the same man standing in the corner of the room peeing on the floor … right next to my bag. Everyone was awake now, and were taking turns to vent their frustration at the man’s act during his drunken stupor. Everyone was only met with further frustration though, as the man began to deny he had done it, saying that he did not even need to go to the toilet. He was conscious, but clearly not fully awake. We all told him that the reason that he did not need to go to the toilet was because he already had in the room. His denials never stopped, even though there were multiple witnesses who had no problem telling him that they had seen it. A staff member was called into the room to clean up the mess, but the intoxicated man stood his ground and denied everything. Eventually everyone gave up trying and went to bed. I moved my bag to the other side of the room and went to bed. The drunken man did as well.

None of us were asleep for long, before being awoken by a one of the people in the room shouting at the drunken man to stop trying to get into his bed and go back to his own. The drunken man had peed again, but this time on the other side of the room … the same corner of the room to which I had moved my bag to. This time, some of his urine had hit my bag, but only a small amount. This was because he had not been aiming at the bag, he had been aiming at someone else’s motorcycle helmet. He probably thought the helmet was the toilet bowl in his drunken haze and his aim had hit true, for the most part. It was the bed of the owner of that helmet that the wasted and befuddled man then tried to get into, prompting everyone to wake up. The same thing happened after this: denial was followed by more denial. Everyone was infuriated to say the least, and tried to get the man kicked out, but the staff said there was nothing they could do but clean up the mess.

After this, the drunken man returned to his bed. I moved my bag onto my bed on the top bunk and everyone else went to bed too. No one truly slept after that. As soon as the drunken man made the slightest movement or murmur, everyone shot up in their beds to see if he was up again. He did not get up again, but the sense of alert never waned. This left Anya and I exhausted when we finally had to get up. Anya was not sure if she could do it, but I told her to at least try to get out of bed and eat something before making a decision. My suggestion worked, and we both felt a bit better with food and coffee in our bellies, letting us proceed with our day as planned.

History Day

We proceeded to the market to meet our guides only to be surprised that the two of them were younger than us. It turned out that the man and woman were students studying tourism at university, and partaking in the free walking tour as guides was part of their obligation to finishing their course. With that, the tour around the older districts of the city began. It was interesting for us to talk to young Vietnamese students and learn more about their lives and attitudes towards us, but as it turns out, they seemed even more interested in what our lives were like. They were not afraid to ask personal and direct questions about topics such as our love lives. At first we were a bit taken back about the forwardness of what they were asking, but they were not trying to be rude, they just really wanted to know how different our lives were to theirs.

Our conservations quickly became amusing and interesting, with all of us learning plenty about each other as we walked the streets of the city. We checked out some of the local sights and also stopped off at a café to try some Vietnamese iced coffees (which are great by the way). Our tour eventually ended outside the War Remnants Museum, so after thanking them for their time and generosity, we parted ways with them and proceeded to enter the museum to learn more about the dreaded Vietnam War.

The museum covered the war in its entirety, but it mainly focused on the horrors and tragedies that occurred during it. We could tell that the information that was given to us was one-sided, with a strong bias against the Americans, and an even stronger hatred towards them, but there was no one that could deny the horrible things that they did in the war. The constant bombing, the endless massacres and the horrific decision to use ‘Agent Orange’ decimated the Vietnamese people and their country, leaving it in ruins. The effects of the decisions that the Americans made still ring out in Vietnam to this day, with many people still being born with extreme deformities and depilating genetic diseases as a result of the mutagenic effects of ‘Agent Orange’. Neither of us knew very much about the war beforehand, so all of this information was a major shock to us, leaving us in sunken moods when we finally left the museum in search of lunch.

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America funneled insane amounts of money into the conflict.

After lunch, we headed back to the hostel so that we could go on the afternoon tour to the tunnels, and when we were finally boarded on the bus we were asked to watch a short video on the history of the tunnels. This video helped solidify our suspicions that the information relayed to us was one-sided. Their descriptions of the Americans painted them as cruel and evil barbarians, so we had to take in all of the information with a pinch of salt.

At the tunnels, we were told about the lives of the Vietnamese during the war and we were shown the means that they used to resist the Americans. The Vietnamese had dug miles upon miles of tunnel networks to hide in and spring their traps. Spiked pitfalls, makeshift mines and swinging maces were among the brutal traps that we were shown. It was difficult not to try and imagine the pain that befell any soldier that sprung the traps, but there was no way that our imaginations could successfully recreate the pain and fear of those unfortunate soldiers. We were told more about how the Vietnamese would scavenge what they could. They would risk their lives trying to take apart unexploded bombs for their explosive materials. After the traps, we were taken to the tunnels so that we could go through a small section of it. I could not believe how small they were. We had to crawl through the tight darkness to fit. After only about a minute, my knees were in pain. How they managed to live in such conditions astonishes me.

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An example of one of the spiked pitfalls with a trap door.

South before north

The next day after a well needed rest, following the previous night’s antics with the drunken idiot, we checked out of our hostel and waited around for our bus in the evening. It was going to be our first night bus in Vietnam, and we were curious to see what they were like. But first, I collected my laptop, and was thrilled to see it working again. I thanked the man repeatedly. Once again, this was all done via written communication.

We had decided to go even further south down to the island of Phú Quốc before heading north as most people do after landing in Saigon. Anya was going to have her replacement travel card sent to the hostel we stayed at in Saigon, but it would not arrive for another week or two, so to kill time, we would go down to the island and check it out. I had read up about it online and heard that it is lovely to see in season, but we were not going in season. South Vietnam was currently in its rainy season, meaning that throughout our stay so far, the city was hit very often by huge downpours of rain. There was no exception when it had finally got to the evening and we had boarded our bus. The rain came crashing down in colossal and unrelinquishing quantities. From our seats we could see that the city was quickly flooding. We had made it out just in time, and we hoped the island would not be as bad.

The night bus we had boarded was not something we had experienced before. The bus did not have ordinary seats as one might expect on a coach, instead, the interior of bus consisted of three front-to-back rows of two tiered reclining seats separated by aisles. It turns out that the night buses of Vietnam were designed to fit their given name accordingly, the two tiered recliner seats acted as bunk beds. Now one would assume that based on this design, it would actually be possible to get a decent night’s rest during the journey, but they would be wrong in that assumption. Wrong because the relined seats were not designed to accommodate westerners. The seats were designed for smaller Vietnamese people, leaving any tourists on board horribly uncomfortable and cramped for hours on end during the journey. It certainly did not help that the driver was blaring out some horrifically-sounding Asian pop music throughout the entire duration of the journey. Sleep was minimal.

After our first night bus journey had concluded, we boarded a ferry and eventually found ourselves on the island of Phú Quốc. After we had successfully made our way to our hostel, we checked in and promptly went to bed for some much needed sleep. Upon waking again, we realised that we were some of the only people in the hostel. It was nearly empty. It was a beautiful, and also very large, hostel built in a traditional Chinese style. The top floor even boasted a rooftop bar, a pool table, karaoke booths and a hot tub. As it turned out, the hostel was brand new, and had been open for less than a month. Some of the only people in the entire hostel were in the same dorm room as us. This included a Dutch girl, an Irish girl and a Vietnamese student. But what the hostel lacked in population, was certainly made up for with the hostel’s hospitality.

The manager who was running the hostel was running it on behalf of his parents. He wanted to make sure that we all felt welcome so invited us all up to the bar in the evening for drinks. The night quickly had a change in pace. Before we all knew it, we were all drunk and singing in the Karaoke room to our heart’s content. The manager was as drunk as us and was even buying us all rounds of shots. It was not long before the other two managers had joined in as well.

As can be expected, the next day left us all in various states of dehydration and nausea, but none so as much as Anya, who had even managed to lock herself out of the room in the middle of the night. No one awoke to her knocks on the dorm room in their drunken slumbers, so Anya was forced to wander the corridors and halls of the then deserted hostel until she managed to find a spare key to let herself back in the room.

These hangovers left us with little motivation that day, so the following day: the Dutch girl, the Irish girl, Anya and I had a taxi take us to see the local Suối Tranh Waterfall. After a nice swim in its cool and refreshing water, we then had the taxi take us to the beach so we could relax and have some lunch before returning to the hostel.

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Anya at Suối Tranh Waterfall.

That evening led to another night of drinks with the staff. The Irish woman and I even managed to narrowly win a game of “Battleshots” against two of the managers, meaning that they had to pay for all of the shots that we had drunken. These shots were some strong locally made rice wine … they were potent. As one can imagine, another good night came of it, but no one ended up locked outside of their room this time.

Our final day was once again a recovery day, and it was then I realised that my laptop was once again broken. It was clear that laptop had reached the end of its days, but for now this laptop was not going to be a pressing issue for me, because something that we ate that day meant that we were about to be hit with very upset stomachs…

Indonesia Pt.IV

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On the day that we were leaving Kuta, when we were paying for our stay at the hostel, I found out that the moped crash had caused some damage to the bike and so I was now liable to pay for it. Luckily, due to the insane amount of mopeds in South East Asia, parts for them were incredibly cheap, so I only had to part with what roughly equated to £10. With it paid for, we ordered a taxi to take us to Sengiggi, which was near the harbour. We planned to stay at a hostel there for a night and then move onto the Gili Trawangan the morning after. However, our driver was useless and dropped us off nearly 2km away from our intended hostel. We had to get another taxi, but rather than backtrack, we decided to abandon our original plan and just head straight to the harbour. We decided to rock up to Gili T a day early.

When we reached the harbour, we booked the next available boat and waited. When it arrived, we found out that these boats were not what you would called well equipped. They were small, local wooden boats that made you question their ability to stay together when out at sea. The boat did not pull in at the pier either, instead, it got as close to the beach as it could, forcing us to wade into the sea with our bags so that we could throw them onto the boat and then pull ourselves aboard. Anya was smart enough to take off her boots before doing this, but I was too lazy and submerged them into the sea instead. A decision that meant my boots still smell funny up until this day. With everyone on board (consisting of mainly locals), the boat set off towards Gili T. The 40 minute journey proved to be extremely difficult, with the rocky waves causing both of us to try desperately to fight off sea sickness. Neither of us ended up being sick, but it certainly was a struggle at times to hold back the urges to vomit.

Our own paradise

With us glad to finally reach the shores of Gili T, we jumped off of the boat and waded through the water onto dry land. The island was simply stunning. It was lined with white, powdery beaches that stretched out as far as the eye could see. Bars and restaurants bordered them, but did not take away any of their beauty. A busy strip of shops, accommodation and diving offices were built up behind it. Everything that you could want was within walking distance. It immediately felt like being in paradise, and topping it all off was the beautiful weather that welcomed us to the island. To this day, Gili T’s beaches and Gili T’s laid back party atmosphere has impressed us more than most.

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Heaven does exist after all.

 

We were also pleasantly surprised to find that this small island had no cars or scooters. What we were not happy to see though, was the alternative. Small, mistreated horses were forced to pull around carts all the day to act as a substitute to taxis. Anya and I vowed to never use one of these horse and carts. It was horrible to watch. Therefore, we walked to our hostel, and when we arrived we explained that we had arrived one day too early for our 3 night booking. They told us it was okay as they still had spaces available and showed us to our room. We were told that we needed to change rooms the next day, but we were just glad that they still had space. When we were settled, we messaged our Canadian friend and found out that she also had arrived. So she came over to visit with a friend she had already made, a pleasant Dutch girl, so that evening we went to dinner together and for some drinks afterwards. They told us that they planned to go snorkelling the next day and asked if we wanted to join them. Anya was keen but I was not sure because of my wounds. I told them that I would make a decision in the morning.

With the evening done, we returned to our hostel and went to bed … only to be awoken at half 4 in the morning to this…

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Forgive me for only providing a link rather than embedding it directly into this blog, but WordPress foolishly expects me to pay for such a feature. Anyway, it turns out that there was a mosque a street or two away from our hostel, and it used its megaphone during any of its prayer times, which included one at 04:30 a.m. Anya’s reaction was one of pure anger, while mine was of utter disbelief. Such a disbelief even, that I found myself laughing uncontrollably. It was an inexplicable experience. It sounded like the man praying into the megaphone was in the room with us. After about 20 minutes, with me exhausted from laughing so much, we were allowed to sleep again.

When we awoke, this time not to the sound of prayers from the mosque, I too decided that I would go snorkelling because otherwise I would have sat around bored until we were allowed to check into our new room. So we had breakfast, checked out of our room and met the other girls. They were not happy. The Dutch girl was covered in bed bug bites, and the Canadian was fearful that they had gotten into her clothes. They both checked out of their hostel, and would find another after snorkelling.

Before we booked Gili Beach Bum, our hostel, Anya discovered from reading reviews online that every single hostel on the island suffered from a bed bug problem. This meant that choosing a place to stay was very difficult, and we were taking a risk regardless of what we had chosen. We were lucky to have not awoken to any bed bug bites, meaning that our mattresses were clean, but we had witnessed a woman complaining at the reception when we first arrived because her mattresses was full of them. We just hoped that our next room would not have them either.

We booked the snorkelling just in time before it was due to start, so I quickly ran back to the hostel to get some water while I still could, and thankfully I did, because the muppet that was Anya had left her tablet under her pillow in the room after we had checked out. One of the staff members had found it when they checked the room and told me to go quickly get it. Who knows if it would have still been around when we got back from snorkelling?

With the tablet safe, and a ‘nightmare’ avoided, we proceeded on with our day. We tried on our fins and masks, and were boarded onto a boat. We were then taken to our first snorkelling point, so that we could jump in and see what the island’s surrounding marine life had to offer. We were treated to beautiful coral and impressively coloured fish. I was so glad at this point that I had been able to reign in my fear of the sea to some degree, and was actually able to enjoy this.

After some exploration, we were told to return to the boat so that we could be taken to the next snorkelling point: the highly-anticipated ‘Turtle Point’. I do not think that a single person on that boat was not excited at the prospect of seeing some sea turtles in their natural habitat, and before we were even close to the right area, one turtle quickly shot by our boat. Only a few had managed to see it in time, so everyone had a sharp eye out for them after that. As we approached the intended area, one of the tour guides was already on the lookout for some turtles. It did not take him long to start shouting out, “Turtle! Turtle!” and low and behold, a ginormous turtle had come up one side of the boat for air. I couldn’t believe it, I had imagined these turtles to be no more than 2 feet long, but this one had clocked in at well over a metre. Everyone on the boat was astonished and tried as quickly as possible to jump off the boat so that they could get a closer look. Never had I been so willing to jump into the sea at top speed.

With everyone in the sea, it did not take long for the turtle to get the air it required and re-submerge itself into the dark, murky depths of the sea. It was peculiar to see the turtle so calm when people were suddenly appearing in the water around it. It did not care at all, and continued on about its business as normal. Now that the turtle was gone, everyone dispersed in search of more turtles. Unfortunately, I did not get far because my snorkel was in poor condition, failed me and caused me to swallow large amounts of sea water. I had to return to the boat within a few minutes so that I could cough it all back up. Anya, on the other hand, did not have this problem so managed to find another two turtles during her exploration before having to return to the boat. It was a shame that I did not get to see any more than the first two turtles, but I did not care, I was still amazed at the ones I had seen and was happy.

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Not a care in the world.

 

When everyone was back on the boat, we were taken to Gili Air for lunch, with a service so quick that the food managed to beat the drinks to the table. With our bellies now full, we returned to the boat so that we could be taken to one more area for snorkelling. At around this time, the waters began to become rougher, and by the time we reached our snorkelling destination, the waters were too dangerous to jump into. We were then taken to another spot with calmer waters. The snorkelling was pleasant, but there was no way it could top our interactions with the turtles.

Afterwards, we returned to land, checked into our new room and showered while the two other girls went their separate ways to find new hostels to stay at. In the meantime, we met our new roommate, a fun Australian teacher who frequently visited Indonesia during the holidays. She was in the middle of a diving course so she had to be up early the next day, but as the next day was going to be her last, she said she would join us for drinks then.

When the Canadian had found her new place, she met up with us so we could go out for dinner and drinks to finish off our day. We found a brilliant little Indian restaurant and while having a delicious meal, we were suddenly joined by an odd Swedish couple. They were very nice people, but the guy was funny for all of the wrong reasons. He had clearly smoked too much pot in his life, and it left him odder than most. Nevertheless, he provided some great entertainment that night.

The next day, we met up with the Canadian only to learn that bad luck had fallen upon her. Her new hostel also had a bed bug problem, because she was now covered in bed bug bites just like the Dutch girl had been. Her hostel was kind enough to move her to a new room and had all of her clothes put into the laundry. Once again, Anya and I were fortunate to wake up to no bites whatsoever. Our new room appeared to be clean too.

Our plan for the day was to explore the island. It was a small island, and could be cycled around comfortably in an hour. The Australian had now finished her morning dives, and ultimately her course, so joined the three of us. Our plans failed however. We did not make it very far before being distracted by the cocktails served at the Indian restaurant from the previous night. After spending a fair amount of time there, we decided to give up on our idea of exploration and returned to our hostel. The hostel had its own pool bar, so we decided that we would continue our period of relaxation there. We treated ourselves to rum coconuts.

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This photo says it all.

 

One party after another

The one issue with our hostel was the lack of a good common area to meet other people from our hostel, but while we were all at the pool, one of the staff members approached us and told us if we would be interested in a family dinner with everyone else from the hostel as a means to meet people. We were obviously keen on the idea, as our last 2 nights had only concluded with a few drinks and nothing more, this was our chance to have a proper night out. We got ourselves ready and went upstairs to meet everyone else from our hostel for dinner. We met many people over dinner, with the meal that we were served randomly being gnocchi, but it was the Americans who stood out. They were genuine, warm-hearted and downright hilarious (it may have helped that one of them looked like a young Jon Malkovich with the voice of Jonah Hill). It was these people that we spent our night with and by the morning, we all treated each other like great friends.

But at the end of that night, I had returned home before Anya had. Foolishly, I locked the door from the inside after being spooked out by a prostitute who had wanted to sell me her services. I was somehow unaware that I was the one with the key despite opening the door with it. I quickly fell asleep, and eventually Anya returned to find that the door was locked. The top of my bed was right next to the door, meaning that my head could not have been more than 3 feet away from it, so Anya began knocking on the door to wake me up and let her in. I did not wake up. She began to call my name. I did not wake up. She began to knock on the door more violently while calling my name through the hole in the door. I did not wake up. Anya began to violently attack the door while screaming my name. I still did not wake up.

After 20 minutes, some locals nearby told her to give up, so she went upstairs to where we had eaten our family dinner earlier that night. Anya had a plan. She knew that the prayers from the mosque would begin to blare out at 4:30 a.m., and they would almost definitely awake me, as they always did, so she waited. Right on cue, at 4:30 a.m., the megaphone began to blast out the morning prayer. This was Anya’s chance. She bolted downstairs and to the door of our room. Surely enough, inside I had been half-awoken by the mosque, so she called out for me to open the door and I finally heard her. I let her in, she told me her tale, I laughed and then went back to sleep.

It had been an exciting night, with a hilarious ending for Anya, but we all suffered for it the next day. We had no choice but to treat ourselves to hungover burgers. This day quickly became bittersweet, as we had to bid farewell to our Australian friend. It was time for her to go home. We could not believe that we had only known her for less than 2 days. It had felt much longer, and it was a shame to part ways with her. In fact, our time at Gili T was supposed to be coming to an end at this point, with the last night we had booked forthcoming. We did not want to leave the island. We were in love with it. The beaches, the people, the wildlife and the convenience of having it all on your doorstep. We were in love with all of it. So rather than just extend by one day, we extended it by three. We would spend a week on Gili T, a quarter of our entire time in Indonesia.

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One of the Americans and the Australian were more than willing to join us for a hangover cure in the form of burgers!

 

Now without the fear of leaving looming over us, Anya and I thought that perhaps we could finally explore the island while our Canadian friend was scuba diving. Our plans failed again, with the day and night following a similar trend to the last. A day of relaxation followed by going out in the evening. This obviously resulted in the need for another hungover burger the next morning. It was on that morning that we discovered that the upcoming evening was going to be our last with the Americans. We obviously needed to make the most of it, but it was still sad news nonetheless. Saying farewell to such great people was never easy for us, but there was a silver lining to all this: the French Canadians, which we had met in Kuta, were due to arrive in a matter of hours.

The reunion with them quickly led to discussions about that evening. We had already planned on going to go out with the Americans, so now the French Canadians wanted to join in on these plans. It was something that we could not have been more thrilled about. The French Canadians and the Americans together? The formula was perfect. Therefore, we took on another round of punishment to our livers and ended up at a bar with unlimited drinks. It was so good to be with the French Canadians again, and instantly we remembered all the reasons why is was so fun it was to be around these guys. Much to no one’s surprise, we had another great night out.

The next morning, after what felt like the hundredth hungover burger, we bid a sad farewell to our American friends and also had to bid farewell to our Canadian friend. She was moving onto Canggu, which was also going to be our next destination, meaning that at least one of these farewells was only temporary. After all that, we proceeded with not doing very much at all once again. We began to wonder if we would ever actually try and explore the rest of the island after so many failed attempts. In a move that stunned no one, we went out yet again that night with the French Canadians.

A nightmare that was not my own.

I do not know if my luck had somehow changed by this point, because on that night out a nightmare had befallen Anya rather than me for once. Anya had unknowingly lost her card at some point during the night. It is not known whether it was pickpocketed from her or it had fallen out onto the floor at some point, but the card ended up in someone else’s hands. Anya was actually still completely oblivious to this the next day … until she received a text saying that her card been declined at another hostel. She was confused and upon trying to find her card, she quickly realised that it was gone. She blocked it, looked up where the hostel was, and went to find her card. Oddly, no one at the hostel knew what she was talking about, and had told her that no one had tried to make any payments to them yet that day. Anya had no choice but to accept that the card was lost, and proceeded with having another card ordered home.

Now obviously I was not glad that this had happened to Anya. I could easily imagine how annoyed I would have been if it had happened to me, but there was some form of joy in the back of my mind nevertheless. Not at the misfortune that transpired against Anya, but at the prospect, the possibility even, that my luck on this trip may have turned somehow. I found myself wondering if perhaps I would not end up experiencing any more ‘nightmares’ on this trip. Care to take a guess if I was right on that one?

The final night

With the issue regarding Anya’s missing card finally sorted, we quickly realised that our last day on the island was upon us and we still had not explored the island. We could delay it no longer, so despite being very hungover, Anya and I rented some bicycles and proceeded with taking a tour of the island. Anya’s hangover must have been worse than mine, because at nearly the half way point around the island, Anya had decided that she could go no further and told me to go on. We split ways and went different ways around the island. Anya went back the way from which we returned and I took the unexplored route. We met back at our hostel and rested before meeting up for dinner with the French Canadians. It was our last night, so we had decided we would take it easy. We wanted to be in good shape for the boat ride the next day back to Bali.

At dinner, the French Canadians desperately tried to convince us to go out with them again, but we told them that we could not risk being ill for the boat ride. We exchanged farewells and headed back to the hostel, but as Anya got ready to go to bed, I found myself questioning my decision to not join the French Canadians one last time for a night out. Eventually I managed to convince myself that staying in was the actual mistake, so I quickly changed and headed out to find the French Canadians. I knew exactly where they would be: the bar with the unlimited drinks offer. I was not wrong and another fun night followed. To me, it was the perfect way to say goodbye to them.

With that, the next morning we boarded a ferry and headed back to Bali. Before we knew it, we were in Canggu. Despite the fact that we had been at Gili T for a week, we still wished that we could have stayed for longer on the island. Even now, months later while writing this, Anya and I still maintain that Gili T is one of the highlights of this trip. We constantly tell people to go there if they plan on going to Indonesia, and we constantly hear others rave on about Gili T themselves if they have already been there. We both want to return there someday.

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One day we will be able to see this with our own eyes again.

 

After arriving in Canggu, we proceeded to do nothing for the next two days. Gili had exhausted us, and now Canggu was giving us our overdue detoxes. On the third and final night however, we met up one last time with our Canadian friend for dinner before bidding each other farewell. It was time for her to head home, and it was time for us to head to our next destination: Vietnam.

I wish that I could end the blog here, but it just wouldn’t be one of my blogs if there wasn’t a ‘nightmare’ to tell…

Nightmare the Fifth

After our final night’s rest in Canggu, we prepared ourselves for our flight to Vietnam. We had a morning flight booked, so we made sure to get up with ample time to arrange transport and arrive at the airport 2 hours before flying. But there was a problem in our wake. There were only two roads of Canggu. One of those roads was a narrow street built through rice paddies, and on the day of our flight, this road had been blocked. Two cars from opposite directions had tried to pass each other on a narrow strip of road. What resulted of this were two cars half hanging off the road and dipping into the rice paddies on either side of the road. There was no way through.

What this meant was that there was now only one road out of Canggu. With a whole town’s worth of people trying to leave it to get to work, it was clear that it would be difficult to leave Canggu. In reality, it was even worse than that. It had left the sole road out of Canggu completely deadlocked. We joined the queue, and in an hour and a half had only managed to move about 50 or 60 metres. It was hopeless. We had to give up our attempt of making our flight. To our annoyance, any flights later that day, or the next, cost an absolute fortune, yet we had no choice. When we returned to the hostel, we paid the hefty price for a flight later in the evening of the same day.

To further increase our annoyance, our original flight only had a 2 hour layover in Singapore, but our new flight had a 7 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur. We were forced to sleep in a freezing terminal on hard, uncomfortable benches that felt no better than the tiled floor beneath them. But when I say slept, what I actually mean is that we shivered ourselves into exhaustion, in the freezing cold, for hours on end. During that time, our only, but constant, wish was that time would do us a favour and speed up.

After the ordeal, we readily jumped onto our second flight. In a little over an hour, we had made it. We had reached Vietnam. We were sad to leave Indonesia, and the fond memories of it that it had given us, but we were also excited for what laid ahead of us. To explore a country that ran along the entire spine of South East Asia.

Indonesia Pt.III

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Our original plan was to fly from Labuan Bajo to Kuta on the island of Lombok. However, we left it until the last minute to book a flight and there were no seats available. We decided to settle for Kuta in Bali for a few days instead. It was close to airport and we would wait until there were seats available to fly to Kuta, Lombok. We had heard many mixed opinions of Bali’s Kuta in the very short time we had been away. Its large strip of bars and clubs are known as party holiday central for young Australians, and essentially equates to what Magaluf is for the British. All we heard of the place were Marmite-like opinions, people either loved it, or hated it. There was no in between. I did not arrive with high expectations for the place, but it would turn out that this unwanted alternative would become one of the highlights of our time in Bali. All because of the French Canadians that we were about to meet.

Nightmare the Third

But before that, another unwanted event transpired against me. A relatively simple one, but a pain nonetheless. We decided to book a delightfully calm and modern hostel on the outskirts of Kuta. The reason being for this that we were told to beware of the mass thievery problem in the centre of Kuta, aiming at the possessions on you while you were out during the day and night, and the possessions you left at the hostels at the same time.

We arrived back at Denpasar Airport in Bali in the afternoon and I was ecstatic to see that my bag was one of the first off of the plane. No drama this time. We arrived quickly at the hostel and decided to have a nice quiet evening to recuperate. There’s not much else to say about the day apart from the fact that in the evening our room flooded through a window that leaked from the heavy rain. All of the water pooled into a single locker under one of the beds. It was my locker. Under my bed. My bag was soaked much to my own frustration while everyone else’s were nice and dry. It was almost as if my bag was both a magnet and a sponge for all the water that came into my room. Fortune certainly did not favour me on this trip.

The next morning though, I awoke to a string of emails on my phone telling me that I was making purchases on my Playstation account using my Paypal details. I most certainly was not, so I quickly checked if it was my brother back at home. It was not. I had been hacked. So while eating breakfast with one hand, and my phone in the other, I desperately tried to shut down my accounts and go through the process of claiming the stolen money back whilst racking up an enormous phone bill because I was calling from abroad. Eventually I had to leave the table to deal with the problem further, so Anya took the opportunity to talk to a guy who had sat down on the next table over. It was one of the French Canadians, but the one who was the least confident in his English. Anya described the task of talking to him as hard work, and it highlighted the ignorance that we had in assuming that everyone can speak perfect English. I could relate to it as well, because after I concluded the pressing issue with Playstation and Paypal, I ran into him in the elevator and also just assumed he could speak perfect English. It turns out his English was just fine, he just wasn’t sure of himself without his two friends about, who were much more confident in speaking it.

Ô Canada!

We quickly met the other two as it turned out that they had just moved into our room. We got along with them instantaneously. It seemed mad that we became such great friends with them in a matter of minutes. It was so easy for them to make us laugh (admittedly, a large part of that was due to their accents), but we were able to respond in kind. Who knew an English accent could make someone laugh? It wasn’t long before we agreed that we would go out that evening to see what Kuta had to offer us. We had a plan.

So in the evening, after we got ourselves ready, we met upstairs in the common area with our drinks and playing cards so that our night could begin. Another two English people joined us, and it was at this point that I decided to teach everyone how to play ‘Fuck the Dealer’. The game was a success, and within a couple of hours we were all evidently drunk (but thanks to the brilliance of the game, some were more than drunk than others, providing everyone with even more entertainment) … so it did not help when we finally got an Über to the strip that we managed to land ourselves in a bar with unlimited drinks. The only problem was that there was only one hour left of the unlimited drinks offer, so for some reason we all came to the conclusion that we had to consume as much alcohol as humanely possible in that hour. It’s safe to say that I do not remember much past that point, but I certainly enjoyed the night. I loved it. We all did.

The only problem was the hangover the next day. Mine must have been worse than everyone else’s as Anya and the French Canadians went to the town centre to explore while I stayed back to recover. Eventually they returned and we all agreed that we were exhausted. No drinking was required that day. It was at that point that I remembered that there was a projector on the roof of the hostel. So I downloaded Superbad (because who doesn’t love Superbad?) and in the evening, everyone pulled up a bean bag, had some McDonalds delivered, and enjoyed the movie. The perfect hangover day. The only problem for Anya and I was that this was supposed to be our last night in Kuta, but the French Canadians still had another day. We didn’t want to part ways with them soon, and we couldn’t believe how much we enjoyed their company after such a short period of time, so there was only one thing we could do. We extended our stay by one day. Lombok could wait.

The next day we all went to the beach to soak up some sun. Kuta’s beach was grand and littered with people trying to get us to go to their little pop-up bar or to be given a lesson in surfing. But the French Canadians were insistent on going to one bar that they had already been at. They were right to be, as the bar was in a prime location and belonged to an overly-friendly local called Bejo. We stayed there for hours, listening to great music while drinking one ice cold Bintang after another. We took the time to appreciate where we were, far away from the working life that home would have offered us.

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Why work when you can drink in the sun?

 

After a delightful lunch near the beach, and it being the last night in Kuta for all of us, we all came to the conclusion that there was only one thing we could do that evening. Repeat what we had done the before: get drunk and go to the strip. So we did. And once again, we loved every second of it. However, we were granted a bit of a bonus gift this time. Before we headed out we noticed that a Columbian had moved into our room and he looked strangely familiar. It was one of the guys that we had got drunk with the very first day with before we went to Bali Ultra. We couldn’t believe that through no planning at all he wound up in the same room, of the same hostel (of which there are many in Kuta), at the same time. He had no choice but to join us all that night for round 2.

The next morning came too quickly and this time Anya and I had not left booking the flight to Lombok until the last minute, so after we bid farewell to the French Canadians and the Columbian, even though neither of us really wanted to, we made our way to the airport.

Nightmare the Forth

Even though I had my locker flooded in Kuta and I had an account hacked at home with money stolen from it, it turns out that another bout of unluckiness was heading my way. Because my short time in Kuta, Lombok would have me fall off a moped not once, not twice, not even three times. That’s right, I managed to fall off a moped four times. Four times. Looking back at it now, it may seem like a funny story. But at the time, I had never held so much hatred for something in my life. Mopeds, in my eyes at least, were utterly stupid and pure evil. I felt like such a fool for attempting to ride one.

We arrived in Lombok with no issues whatsoever, and we quickly found ourselves a taxi to our hostel. We learnt that the hostel we had chosen to stay at was a bit far out from the centre by the beach. This seemed to perfect to us, as the roads in Lombok were not too busy and would be perfect for us to finally give mopeds a go in preparation for Vietnam. The only problem was the road quality, it was a strange mix of perfect roads, rocky and potholed roads and areas which were just sand or mud. We concluded that we would probably need to learn to deal with such conditions anyway, so we decided to rent one to give ourselves a taster. But before we departed, we met an Englishman at our hostel who had also rented himself a moped. He only had minimal experience so far, but it was still far more than we had, as we had none whatsoever, so we departed the hostel together. I was on one moped and Anya was on the back of his one.

We managed to get to the centre with no problems and we all decided that we should go somewhere for lunch. So we started to look for the best restaurant, we passed one that looked good so we had to turn back. Now at this point, I had about 10 minutes of experience on a moped, so when I tried to make a U-turn in the street, I tried to do it too slowly. Not too quickly, too slowly, and so I fell over, but as I had been going so slowly there was no way I could have injured myself. The only damage sustained was in the form of a hole in my shoe, and this upset me.

Due to our exhaustion and hangovers, we decided to return to the hostel after lunch, with me driving and Anya sat on the back while the Englishman decided to explore the island. We set off, and ended up on the main road leading to our hostel. We had to turn right into a dirt road to get to the hostel, and as we approached the dirt road, I started trying to turn but found myself almost physically unable to. The extra weight on the back of the moped, in the form of Anya, meant that I could not get the bike to lean far enough, so as we turned into road, we did not turn far enough, and the bike slid out from underneath us and straight into a ditch. We both stood there, still on our feet, amazed at how it had managed to slip out from under us and we hadn’t even fallen to the floor. In the space of an hour, I had managed to crash twice. Again, I sustained no injuries, and neither did Anya. Regrettably, this meant that neither of us had yet to learn our lessons.

Now that we were at the hostel, we decided we would relax for the rest of the day, so that we were ready for the some exploration the next day. We had heard tales of a woman at the hostel who had fallen victim to a bike crash and now was bed-ridden and in severe pain. We were even told that she couldn’t actually walk, so had to be carried to and from the bathroom whenever she needed to go to the toilet. At one point, we were sitting in the common area when this woman was carried in and made comfortable, she was awaiting some medical professionals to visit her and check on her wounds. Her foot and leg had large areas of skin torn off, and she suspected that she had a broken bone in her foot too. When the medics arrived, they begun to remove her bandages and clean her wounds. As they cleaned her wounds, the woman began to scream out in sheer agony. It was difficult to hear. She would scream, then breathe heavily as she tried to recoil the pain only to find herself screaming again at the top of her lungs. No one in the common area dared say anything during that time, there were a few that wouldn’t even look in her direction during the ordeal.

At that point, if the minor crashes I had already experienced were not enough to deter me from getting back onto a moped, then surely she would right? Wrong. I was proving to be a perfect display of human nature: that somehow, someway, I was unique and above it. There was no way it could happen to me. The disaster stories are what happen to others, not yourself. It was one of those situations where until something happened to you personally, nothing anyone said to you, and nothing that you saw would put you off from what you had already convinced yourself to do. All because you genuinely believed you were somehow different. At this moment, anyone would have been able to gauge the grand scale of my stupidity, and could easily predict what laid ahead of me. In reality, I was no different than anyone else.

There was one thing that I did manage to get through my thick skull though, and that was the importance of clothing. After the ordeal of cleaning the wounds of the ill-fated woman, the medics left and the woman asked me to help her up into a more comfortable position. After I helped her up, I started to talk to her about what happened and I learned that she had only been wearing a t-shirt, a sarong, and flip flops. I knew that I couldn’t make that same mistake, so I told myself that I would make sure that when I got back on my moped I would wear long jeans and a hoodie. It did not matter how hot I would get, it was not worth the risk. The other thing she told me was a tale I had already heard too many times on the short time that I had been away: it was the sand. The sand is what nearly every person I had spoken to about their crashes had told me. The sand made them lose control. Once again, I thought that I would be above it somehow.

The next morning, Anya and I left the hostel in search of breakfast and this time Anya wanted to drive while I was on the back. So we set off down the main road towards the centre. Along the way were some road works going on, and there were a large pile of rocks on a part of the road that needed to be avoided. As we quickly approached them, I started to become increasingly alarmed at the fact that we did not seem to be turning, but instead, were heading straight for the rocks. I was mentally preparing myself for a third crash when Anya managed to swerve out of the way in the last moment. When we finally reached our restaurant of choice for breakfast and got off the bike, I asked Anya as to what happened back there, we had nearly crashed after all. Her response was almost identical to the one I gave when she asked about the crash the day before: she struggled with turning the moped as we approached the rocks, because of the weight that was I on the back. I was almost glad that it had happened at that point, because she now knew exactly what I meant when I tried to explain myself the day before. Yet again, this should have been a moment of clarity for us where we would come to our senses and realise that scootering was not for us, but did we? No. Instead we decided that we just needed a moped each of our own. So after breakfast, we went back to the hostel and rented a second one.

Back at the hostel, we asked the Englishman from the day before about where he went when he went exploring and decided to set off in the same direction after he told us about how beautiful the scenery was. He was not lying, the scenery was beautiful, but this was our first extended drive on a moped so it was needless to say about how nervous we both were. The route we needed to take was a long winding route through the mountains to reach one of the often spoken about beaches of Lombok. It was going to take us the best part of 40 minutes to reach it.

Believe it or not, we actually made it in one piece, without a single issue to write about. There was one hilarious part when we were going downhill along a windy stretch of road, where I was taking the lead, and I suddenly looked to my left and saw three wide-eyed cows running parallel to me along the side of the road, followed by their owner in sprint. It did not take me long to work out their intentions. They wanted to cross the road, so I began to pray that they would not cut out in front of me or it would certainly spell out my doom. I sped up in the hope that my prayers would be answered, and instead they decided to cut across the road after me, but with enough time for Anya to slow down and avoid an unfortunate encounter with the side of a cow. Apart from that, there journey to the beach was a breeze … well apart from the roosters that kept running out into the road meaning that I had to swerve around them.

The beach was peaceful and picturesque, so Anya and I took our time and relaxed on the beach. I even treated myself to an ice cold Bintang to compliment it, but eventually the weather turned and it began to rain slightly, which was our cue to head back to the hostel. The journey back home was even better, as I began to feel more confident in riding my moped, all the fears and doubts that I had in the back of my mind began to melt away … and soon after that it went all wrong for me.

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The perfect place to unwind!

 

The majority of the journey back was downhill, once again I was leading, and about two thirds of the way into the journey we came across a fairly sharp bend with sand strewn across it. As soon as my tires touched the sand, I lost all control, and came flying off the bike before connecting with the road. I rolled, and the back of my helmet smashed into the road. My bike flew off into the bushes at the side of the road. Thankfully, the helmet I wore saved my life and had even prevented me from getting a concussion. I was in shock, and Anya had witnessed the whole thing. She quickly got of her bike to see if I was okay. She had seen the force at which my helmet had connected with the road and she was worried about the injury to both my head and my neck. Not even my neck was injured however, but I had torn off some of the skin from my right hand. I had even managed to somehow tear some of the skin off of my right arm without tearing a hole in my hoodie. To this day, this conundrum baffles me.

One of the areas on my hand looked especially damaged, and it didn’t take Anya long to conclude that it was most likely going to scar. The most surprising thing however, was not the hoodie conundrum, but the fact that after the crash, the first person to reach me was not Anya, but a local woman and her two children who wanted to see if I was okay. She had even helped me to get the moped out of the bushes and back onto the road again. She could not speak a word of English, but she refused to leave until she had seen me get back on the moped and leave safely. I couldn’t believe that she cared about a foreigner crashing so much. In fact, I would have expected her to be laughing at the stupid foreigner who had tried to get on a moped with no experience.

Eventually, two westerners drove by and stopped to help. They gave me some tissues to stop the bleeding and gave me some water to drink before going on their way. I was still in shock, but nonetheless, I had to drive the moped back to the hostel so that I could return it and pay my due diligence in rent. So that’s exactly what I did, I drove it back and hated every second of it. I got onto the main road leading up to the hostel, and ended up at the turning onto the dirt road that ended at our hostel … and that’s where crash number 4 happened.

My mind was frazzled. I could not think properly anymore and when I tried to turn in, I almost collided with a local woman and her baby on their scooter as she tried to overtake me. Thankfully, I did not, but the near miss in my state of shock only decayed my ability to think further. I apologised, and then proceed to turn into the dirt road, but I did it too quickly. I tried to slow down but as I hit the brake, I failed to realise that my hand was still pulling at the throttle. I flew straight into the ditch next to the dirt road, with the moped falling on top of me and crushing my leg. I wanted to vent my frustration but I only managed to expel a few swear words. I was exhausted, and at that moment I knew that I was done with driving mopeds.

The local woman that I nearly hit came running over to see if I was okay. She gave her baby to a random local person who was walking by and told him to look after her child. She helped to get the scooter off of my leg, and helped to get the scooter back onto the dirt road. Mercifully, my leg was okay. A bruise on my knee was all I had to show for it. The local woman checked to see if I was okay, and I began apologise profusely, again and again like a broken record. She laughed and said that there was nothing to worry about, she just found it funny how time after time she saw non-experienced westerners have a go on mopeds only to always end up the same way. She told me people needed as much as 3 months to get used their roads. I thanked her, and started to push my moped down the road towards the hostel. It was no more than 20 or 30 metres away. The local woman then asked me why I wasn’t driving it down the road and I told her that I had enough of mopeds for a life time. She laughed again and then hoped on the moped and drove it down the road for me to the hostel. I thanked her again when I reached it, she bade me farewell and went back up the road to find her baby. Anya just got to watch this all unfold in front of her yet again.

I returned the scooter to the hostel staff and was told to pay for the rental once we left, so Anya then helped me clean my wounds and bandage them up. The pain was starting to set in, and I decided that the day was done for me. I only left the hostel again that evening to go for dinner in the centre, but without a moped, Anya and I were forced to walk there. It was terrifying. The local wild dogs were extremely territorial, and we both were genuinely concerned that all of the aggressive barking and displays of dominance would conclude with an attack. Fortunately, they did not. So once we reached the centre, we ended up at a restaurant with a Volkswagen camper van for a bar. The Englishman from earlier was there with some friends, so we joined them before the evening proceeded to questions about why had bandages on my hand and arm. After dinner, and after another terrifying walk home. I resigned myself to bed.

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Nothing but regret.

 

The next day, the radiating pain from my wounds only intensified, so I told Anya that I was going to have a rest day and take it easy. She completely understood and joined me in not doing very much at all. Then we started talking, and remembered that our Canadian friend had come to Kuta in Lombok after we separated from her. We were curious about whether she was still there, so we sent her a message to find out. It had been a week at this point since she had left for Kuta, so it had seemed unlikely, but her response confirmed that she was still in Kuta. She had loved surfing there so much that she was still about for one more night, just like us. We suddenly had a plan for the evening. We would be reunited with our Canadian friend. Something good could still come out of our trip to Lombok.

With that, in the evening, we met up with her and some friends that she had made in the restaurant of her choice. It was great to see her again, and after a drink or two we found that our next destination was the same as hers: the Gili Islands.

Indonesia Pt.II

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Nightmare the Second

The ominous heading returns! I could probably write an entire series on just the things that have gone wrong for me on these travels, as other nightmares shall certainly follow this one in my later pieces. Even at this point, I was starting to wonder if a trend was going to develop where everything that could go wrong, would go wrong for me, and only me. It certainly still feels that way … most of the time anyway.

Continuing on from my last piece, the four of us took a taxi from Ubud to Denpasar Airport, where we exchanged farewells and went our separate ways. It was upsetting to part ways with them so soon, but as we would learn later on, it was a feeling we would have to get used to during our travels. We passed through security easily, and before we knew it we were on our way to Labuan Bajo. It was a short flight, and we had touched down on the ground again about 50 minutes later. I remember being in such an upbeat mood because I had been going on and on about seeing the Komodo Dragons for months on end, long before we had even left home, just like a child eagerly waiting to go to Disneyland. My love for them stemmed from all the research I did on them for an A-level Biology project. The more I learnt about them, the more fascinated in them I became, and now I was finally going to get the chance to see them in their natural habitat.

Upon arrival, it was evidently clear that Labuan Bajo had embraced the reason behind the newly-growing surge in tourism to the place. Komodo dragon pictures and statues could be found all over this minuscule airport, and it only further fuelled my excitement for what lay ahead. We made our way to the conveyor belt and waited for our bags to be returned to us. Anya’s bag came quite quickly, but mine seemed to be taking its time to appear.

Back when we first arrived in Bali, we were presented with the exact same situation, and we began to joke that my bag had been left behind. After a while of waiting, the joke weaned itself as an ever growing amount of worry started to replace it. It felt like this hypothetical situation, that we talked about so carelessly, was beginning to crystallise into reality. Fortunately, it did eventually appear on the conveyor belt along with the final few bags from the plane.  Now in Labuan Bajo, the situation was repeating itself. An odd sense of Déjà vu materialised as the jokes were once again replaced by an ever-increasing sense of worry. But living the same story twice would be boring, so this time, my bag decided to never appear on the conveyor belt. My bag was still in Bali. It had been left behind.

After finding a man who dealt with the “bule”, and Indonesian word for foreigners, it turned out that my bag had fallen off of the carriage somewhere on the runway and it was never made it onto the plane. I was told that it wouldn’t arrive until the next morning. It had ruined our plans to go to Komodo Island the very next day, as all of my things were in that bag, and I needed to make sure the bag did actually arrive like the man promised it would. The only silver lining at this point was the fact that I had taken my laptop, camera and kindle with me as hand luggage, so at least I had still had those.

We had booked to stay at a hotel in Labuan Bajo, as accommodation pickings there were slim when we checked online. We were picked up from the airport by our hotel and on the way to it, we quickly began to realise why there were so few accommodation options available: Labuan Bajo was … well it was a bit more remote than we had expected. There was not much there, but it did give us a glimpse into what most of Indonesia is actually like when you are away from the tourism. It made us very aware of how lucky we were to have born in a much more prosperous part of the world.

Originally, we were planning on giving scootering a go there in preparation for when it would be needed later on in South East Asia, but the road quality made us think otherwise. I had never seen such poorly maintained roads before. It was a mix of dirt track roads and broken tarmac, both of which had potholes the size of canyons. There were hundreds of these potholes dotted across every road we saw, and all the locals could only drive at about 10 miles an hour, as they constantly weaved along the entire width of the roads to avoid the canyon-like potholes. We were happy however to arrive to a pleasant and newly built hotel, so we decided to relax and take it easy until my bag arrived the next morning.

The next morning, we awoke in sweat, which was unusual as we had left the air conditioning on during the night to keep us cool. So I got up and went to the bathroom, only to find that the light would not turn on. There was no power. It appeared that we were amidst a power cut so we decided to ask around to find out what was going on, and we quickly came to learn that Labuan Bajo was infamous for them. The island would simply run out of power, and sometimes for up to 24 hours at a time. So now we had to wait for my bag in the undying heat of Labuan Bajo. We were entitled to a free breakfast at the hotel, but with no power to cook or toast anything, all they could offer us was bread. We were in no way satisfied, and our hatred for Labuan Bajo grew exponentially as we both quickly began to feel filthy in the growing humidity of the day. We needed showers, and it was at this point that we realised that there was no water either. The hotels water pumps required electricity to work. Our hatred was strong now.

The morning quickly became the afternoon and my bag was still nowhere to be seen. At this point, I well and truly felt disgusting, so Anya was kind enough to loan me her bright green Celtics NBA vest so that I could change out of my foul-smelling top. I then got a lift to the airport only to find that my bag was not put on the morning flight, but would be put on the afternoon flight so should be with me by 4 p.m. All I could do was return to the hotel and wait, so Anya and I had to use the last of the charges in our phones, my laptop and her tablet as ways to entertain ourselves as there was nothing surrounding the hotel that we could use to entertain ourselves with. I was so happy that Kindles have such amazing battery lives, because eventually that was all I had left.

We began to reek. We were in dire need of a wash, but there was still no water. We couldn’t even flush the toilet. The only water available was in the water cooler in the dining area, but we had no way of getting that water to our bathroom. It was at this point that Anya remembered that there was a small pop-up shop across the road that sold water by the bottle. We could use the bottled water we brought to wash and top it up with the water cooler water if we ran out. So that is exactly what we did: we immediately ran over to the other side of the road and purchased 2 large bottles of water. We then returned and took turns washing ourselves in the shower with them. Whenever one of us ran out of water, we would pop our head out of the bathroom with an empty bottle so that the other one could go to the water cooler and refill it. It was an incredibly frustrating, but simultaneously hilarious, scenario to end up in.

Now that we felt slightly cleaner, we continued to wait for 4 p.m. to come around. It came, and it passed. Another hour and a half went by and I was beginning to wonder if my bag would ever arrive. With my frustration growing, I returned to the airport only to find out that I had just missed it, so by the time I returned to the hotel, it was there waiting for me. I was relieved that the hellish saga of endless bag waiting had finally come to an end.

With that, we got a lift into the small town centre only to find that it was struggling with electricity just as much as the outskirts. Only here, the power cuts were sporadic and would return as they saw fit. For the time being, the power was on, so we began to investigate the best prices for getting to Komodo Island. We only had one more night after this one so we had to do it the next morning. Whilst in one of the stores, talking to the locals about their best offers, the power went out. All of the westerners in there immediately reacted, whilst the locals didn’t stir in the slightest way. This was far too common for them.

Eventually, we managed to book a boat for early the next morning, so we proceeded with joining a German man for dinner at one of the restaurants. We told him about the day that we had, and he could not stop laughing. He promised that people back at home would be told the tale. After a quick trip to the small corner shop, at which point the power failed again and the locals still never reacted, we headed back for the hotel.

When we returned to the hotel, we were overjoyed to find that the hotel was illuminated with light. The power had finally come back on! We immediately took opportunity of the situation and had showers without the need of bottles of water and the water cooler. The power could have cut out again at any moment, we couldn’t take any chances. The power remained on, so with the torment finally over, we called it a day as we had to be up at 4 a.m. the next morning. My excitement was returning. We would finally be able to see the mighty beasts of Komodo.

Jurassic Park

The next morning we were picked up and taken to the harbour, we were quickly fitted for snorkelling gear, as we would be doing that too, and were sent on our way with a lunch for later. The small local boat we had rented was surprisingly pleasant and colourful, which we were glad for as the boat journey would take 4 hours to reach Komodo Island.

Shortly after departure, we were treated to a picturesque sunrise which would come to illuminate the stunning views of the surrounding islands. The constant beauty made the 4 hours fly by, and before we knew it, we were approaching Komodo Island. It was like a scene out of Jurassic Park. We had travelled so far, and so far out of the way, to get to a small remote island where giant lizards ruled supreme.

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A beautiful start to the day.

We were warned beforehand that spotting Komodo Dragons could be extremely difficult and it was even possible that we may not even be able to find any for the entire duration that we would be on the island, so as we approached, Anya and I wondered how fortunate we would be. Suddenly, one of the boat drivers pointed to the shore, and exclaimed, “Dragon, Dragon!” and low and behold, a Komodo Dragon was taking a leisurely stroll along the beach, whilst throwing its weight around like a king.  The scene only contributed further to the whole Jurassic Park vibe that we were both feeling and we laughed at how easy it turned out to be to spot one.

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Approaching Komodo Island.

We were dropped off on a pier and saw that the very same Dragon had decided to take refuge in the shade beneath it. It was going to be a good day, it just had to be after how the day before had turned out. We were quickly introduced to the ranger who was going to take us around the island, and we promptly began our trek in hunt of more Dragons. We were told that if their bellies were empty, we would not be allowed to approach them. He carried with him a forked stick that was his deterrent to keep any Dragons at bay if they got too close to us. We were convinced that the stick would do nothing to stop one coming at you, but nevertheless, we placed out trust in him as he began to lead us deeper into the island.

As we walked along, he told us many interesting facts about the Dragons and the island itself. It turns out that all of the rangers on the island came from a single village on the coast of the island. It was the only village on the island, so it was simply called Komodo, it did not need a name. He went on to tell us about how the Dragons could cause problems for them. They would frequently visit the village and do as they please. The livestock were never truly safe, but there was nothing they could so as the Dragons were protected. If you opened your door one day to find a Dragon resting on your porch, then there was nothing you could do. You would just have to find another way out of your own house.

We quickly came across wild chickens, deer and boars on the island, and as great as it was to see them in the wild, they were simply not Dragons. I was anxious to find some. Even the ranger told us that spotting them could be difficult, but almost as soon as the words came out of his mouth, he ran off to right and told us to follow him carefully without making too much noise. He told us that he found one, but it quickly came apparent that he had not found one, he had found 5 or 6 of them.

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They may as well be called dinosaurs.

The dragons surrounded the remains of a deer. By remains, I mean that a skull and half of a spine remained. The dragons had devoured the rest, and now they all rested around it as their digestive systems got to work with the month’s meal. Only one Dragon was still thrashing the remains around for some last scraps of meat, giving up shortly after. The ranger quickly told us that we were incredibly lucky, as finding so many of them together like this was extremely rare. They had only finished the meal about half an hour before we found them, and considering that they only eat once a month, it turned out that we truly were lucky indeed. Their food comas made them extremely docile, and we were able to get right up and close to them. At one point, I was only 2 metres away from one with my camera. Even the Ranger was nervous by that point for my safety.

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I dared not get any closer.

The ranger told us that he could get a picture of us with one if we stood behind it, and it resulted in one of my favourite photos ever being taken. The ranger only managed to take one photo however, as another ranger then tried to spook it to look at the camera, and the Dragon was having none of it. It began to charge at the ranger and the ranger fled at a speed I had never seen before. Only his own safety mattered at this point, no one else’s. Lucky for him, the lizard only wanted to show him who was the boss so it did not pursue him any further. It was safe to say that if things went wrong, they would most likely be ahead of us in a run. I found it to be crazy that the rangers were still so how scared of them, despite seeing the Dragons so often. It made it very clear to us how dangerous these reptiles truly are.

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Best. Photo. Ever.

Before we moved on with the rest of the trek, a juvenile Dragon dared to approach the carcass, something that the adults did not agree with (as they very happily will eat their own young). The juvenile was forced to retreat, but the rangers were completely aware of this and they decided to help the little one out. They carefully moved the deer remains into the nearby bush so that the juvenile could eat in peace.

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This juvenile was taking a big risk being there.

We continued with our trek around the island and were presented with some beautiful views of the landscape and coast. We were shown the nesting grounds of the Dragons and then taken to their village to see if we could find some more dragons there. We were not disappointed to find them being the pests that they were described as earlier. We found one Dragon sprawled across a footpath without a single care in the world, and a whole group of them hiding in the shade beneath a local restaurant.

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Maximum relaxation in the village.

With the trek finally drawn to a close, we thanked our ranger for such an amazing experience and returned to the pier to get back onto our rented boat. The dragon from earlier had not moved from under the pier, it would seem that he too did not have a single care in the world. Our next stop was pink beach, further along the coast of the island, one of only a few pink beaches in the world due to its mixture of red and white sand. We quickly scoffed down our lunches before the boat stopped not too far from the beach, but to get the rest of the way, we would need to swim, because between us and the beach were beautiful corals that we could explore using our snorkelling gear.

For the first few minutes after jumping into the water, I found myself struggling due to my fear of open water, but I was eventually able to calm myself down, and I began to really enjoy snorkelling. The corals beneath us were beautiful. We were actually there in search of Manta Rays, but they proved to be too elusive for us, but it was worth it nonetheless. For both of us, it was our first time snorkelling, and both of us quickly realised that it definitely was not going to be our last time either. We eventually made it to the beach, and relaxed for a while. I wish I had some pictures to show you, but there was no way that my camera would have survived the swim to the beach. After returning to the water for some further exploration of the corals, we returned to the boat for some sunbathing before we began the return journey to Labuan Bajo.

We told our boat drivers that there were no Manta Rays to be found, and they were kind enough to stop along the way back to some hotspots were they could be spotted. Unfortunately, they still could not be found, but it did not matter anymore, because Anya and I had begun to realise that we were both very, very sunburnt and we needed to stay in the shade. It was quickly becoming the worst sunburn I had ever had, and both of us would end up suffering from it for days to come, but in the grander scheme of things it did not matter. The hellish day before did not matter either, neither did the fact that when we finally got back to the hotel, the power was out again. None of it mattered because all of it just made us appreciate the good things about this trip even more so. The entire trip to Labuan Bajo and Komodo Island was not the cheapest of excursions for us, but the positives most definitely outweighed the negatives. The impression the island has left on me is simply unforgettable, and I would go back there in a heartbeat. I really hope that one day I can go back there and explore the surrounding islands and waters more vigorously.

 

Foreword & Indonesia Pt.I

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Foreword

Where to begin? These blogs are something of a personal project for me, and will help me remember all of this for many years to come. I’m choosing to share them as I know that there are people at home who would like to know more about what I have been up to, but at the end of the day, the audience this is intended for includes only myself, so I apologise if these blogs are not your cup of tea.

This first entry only covers the first week of my travels, which at this point was about 6 weeks ago now. I actually started writing this entry about a month ago but a few things along the way distracted me or physically prevented me from continuing, but at last I have a chance to come back to this and finish it. It is taking me a while, as I have to sit down, recall and then sift through so many memories and experiences, and more importantly, remember my frame of mind at the time. For that reason, it is very possible that these blogs may be edited over time as more memories come back to me that I wish to include, which again, makes this very much a personal endeavour.

Back at the two week mark I could already say, with the uttermost confidence, that going travelling was the greatest decision I had ever made, and I still stand by that comment now. I have dreamt about travelling for years, and I am still finding it hard to believe that I am actually doing this. I was very fortunate to have begun with Indonesia, where we spent a large amount of it on the island of Bali and some of its surrounding islands. Bali is stunning, with so much to see and do there. You can surf, you can dive, you can climb mountains, you can relax, you can experiment with their amazing cuisine or you can even just party. The possibilities there appeared to be endless, but what I loved the most about the island of Bali in particular was its culture. The majority of the Balinese people are Hindi, and have constructed beautiful temples and shrines all across the land to pay homage to their gods. Every day, they leave little offerings to them, be it a sprinkle of rice, a cigarette or even a small piece of confectionary. I found these sorts of things to be utterly fascinating, and it was a shame when the time finally came to say goodbye to Indonesia after spending a month there.

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You’re never short of temples in Bali.

I have met remarkable people along the way too, with a vast array of nationalities including: Germans, Canadians, French Canadians, Americans, Slovenians, Austrians, Dutch and so many more. Nearly everyone that I meet out here seems to share similar views, beliefs and ideals, allowing you to become the best of friends with them in just a matter of hours. At this point now, I am beginning to really struggle with understanding how you return to a life back home after something like this. That’s not to say that there haven’t been some struggles for me along the way however, so let’s begin.

Nightmare the First

Despite the ominous subheading, this blog is not all about the doom and gloom of this trip. There are just little tales along the way that have taught me what is actually important and what is really not, so I may as well include them.

We arrived in Seminyak at 1 in the morning, so we quickly went off to bed, but as soon as I had awoken, Anya had already befriended some of the people in the hostel and found out that the second night of the Bali Ultra festival was the place to be that afternoon and evening. So with that, I immediately parted with a lot of money to pay for a wristband, but by god was it worth it. The Potatohead bar became a huge pool party that played host to the likes of Galantis and Martin Garrix. We were in the pool with the rest of our hostel for hours, loving every second of it. It was an incredible first full day and night for me. Unfortunately, my phone was ruined in the process. I had no idea I was going to be in a pool before I got there, so I had to leave my phone by the side. It was fine at first, but I failed to realise that after a while the waves from the pool started to splash over the sides and right onto my phone.

At first, admittedly, I was too drunk to care, but I certainly did by the next morning. It was still on, but the screen was a pixelated mess, so I did what anyone else would do in that situation: I ran to the supermarket and bought a bag of rice. The worst thing was that the pin to my travel card was on that phone, and I was in dire need of withdrawing more money. Thankfully Anya was there to help me out.

We took it easy the next day in Seminyak and just took in our surroundings while nursing our hangovers. We befriended a Canadian, two Germans and an American, and spent the time with them. On the last day, we took a trip to Tanah Lot, a sacred Hindi temple on a small rock just off of the coast of Bali, which can only be reached when the tide is out. The temple was beautiful and made for a superb view, but unfortunately I wasn’t there to see the beautiful sunset that it is most famous for. Instead, we found ourselves back at the Potatohead bar that evening to relax before heading off to Ubud the next day. The change in atmosphere there was remarkable. Whereas before it was out of control and hectic with the Ultra festival, we returned to see it as a calm and peaceful beach resort, with comfortable sun loungers to relax on and take in the coastline with its powerful waves.

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Despite the number of tourists at Tanah Lot, it was still worth the visit.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Along with one of the Germans and the Canadian, we headed to Ubud where we had booked a bed and breakfast, of sorts, together. Everyone was laughing at me because I was carrying my bag of rice with me, still hoping that my phone would recover if I left it in there for long enough. When we arrived, I realised that we only got a small taste of the Hindi culture back in Seminyak, because Ubud was bathed in it. There were temples dotted all over the town, with many of the locals dressed traditionally, while the town itself was surrounded by luscious rice paddies. There was no denying that this town was very laid back in comparison to Seminyak, and I instantly fell in love with it. We arrived at Raka House, the place we booked to stay at, and I instantly fell in love with the accommodation too. We all did, it felt so pleasant and authentic, and so we asked if we could stay 4 nights rather than 3. We were fortunate enough that we could.

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The front garden of Raka House.

That evening, we went to see the Kecak Fire & Trance Dance. It was an extremely bizarre sight to behold from a foreigner’s point of view, but exceedingly unique at the same time. There must have been about 100 men wearing cloths around their waist creating an assortment of sounds that all derived from a basic “cak, cak, cak” chant. They told the story of a cruel and wicked giant known as Rahwana that battled Prince Rama and his grand monkey army. It was an endeavour that ultimately failed and cost him his life. I can honestly say that I struggled to follow the plot from beginning to end, but the atmosphere, the choreography and the costumes of all of the main characters were impressive enough to make up for my utter confusion.

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I wish I could tell you what part of the story this is, but alas, I do not know.

The next morning, we were treated to crepes and coffee on our balcony as we sat down to plan out our day. We were just around the corner from a large clothing and souvenir market, so we all decided to start off there and see if there was anything there that tickled our fancy. I personally wanted to just find some outrageous clothing for myself and friends back at home. I can tell you now that the market did not fail to disappoint, but it was hard work. The locals are persistent and will not leave you alone, they are determined to sell you something and it quickly becomes laborious to constantly avoid them and get them to leave you alone. I did find the haggling to be enjoyable though, and it is definitely a skill that takes mastering, as the locals will do try their very hardest to make sure that you part with the most amount of money possible. The best tip I’ve learnt that is to suddenly lose interest and walk away, then have the local chase after you with a substantially lower asking price.

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The vibrant market is an experience in itself.

With the shopping spree completed and a cheap Indonesian lunch lining our stomachs, we decided to venture into the sacred forest and take our chances with the often-infamous monkeys. It was not difficult to come across them, as they littered the entire forest, constantly looking for opportunities to get food from the tourists. We were warned that if you walked in with any food that it would not be long before it was torn out of your hands by a feisty primate, so we made sure to follow that advice. Despite this, it didn’t take too long for them to try and get something from me: two young monkeys jumped onto my shoulders and desperately tried to get into my backpack. Luckily, I had padlocked it so their attempts were futile. Anya, on the other hand, had her water bottle stolen from her only to then be taunted by the monkey who proceeded to open the bottle in front of her and start drinking from it. When we had seen our fair share of monkeys, the Canadian, the German and I decided that we were going to have an early night in so that we could be up at 2 a.m. to climb Mount Badur, one of Bali’s volcanoes, in time to see the sunrise from the summit.

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This little thief beared no shame for his actions.

Sunrise Mountain

I never did get any sleep, I was foolish and decided to watch some television instead, so I was already tired when we left at 2 a.m. towards the mountain in a minibus. When we arrived at the base of the mountain, we were given a hilarious breakfast to be consumed at the summit which consisted of a boiled egg, a banana and slice of sweet bread. It was still pitch black, so everyone was given a flashlight and we started promptly.

The tiredness, combined with my lack of fitness, made parts of the climb very challenging for me. I genuinely considered giving up at one point and turning back because I believed it wouldn’t be physically possible for me to reach the summit, but it eventually became easier. Oddly enough, the first part, which consisted of walking up steep and smooth roads was the most difficult for me, whereas climbing up the steep rocks after that proved to be a fairly simple feat. We reached what I thought was the summit and I instantly felt so proud of myself for making it … only to then realise that we had only scaled one of the smaller mountains and the summit was still further up. A grand sense of achievement instantaneously transformed into utter dread as the final part involved ascending a steep mountain caked in volcanic ash. In essence, it was like climbing a blackened sand dune. It was tremendously difficult work, but I was motivated by the light creeping up behind me. I had to reach the summit in time to see the sunrise.

I made it. Barely, but made it nonetheless. The grand sense of achievement had returned in full glory and it was all suddenly worth it. The views were breath taking, and to this day I maintain that Anya missed out on an amazing experience, even if she continues to disagree with me about it.

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Proof that I made it to the summit!

Luckily, the descent was far easier, and I even managed to meet a group of girls from Southend on the way back down. The chances of that happening must have been so slim! But I failed to sleep when I got back home, instead I had some more of the delicious crepes for breakfast and then proceeded with walking out of the town to check out the rice paddies with Anya. It proved to be an incredibly exhausting adventure for me after not sleeping the previous night, climbing a volcano, and then still not having any sleep afterwards. We managed to find a restaurant in the middle of the rice paddies where I could take a break and rest. The views were so tranquil and easy on the eye, there was nothing western as far as the eye could see; it was 100% Asian through and through.

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0% Western.

After an early night and plenty of sleep, we were left with only one last full day in Ubud, so after yet another round of the delightful crepes for breakfast, we decided to do something very touristy and visit ‘Big Tree Farms,’ a chocolate factory fairly close by. We met two Slovenians there, friends of the German, who helped to make the visit a truly fun day out. Therefore, we all met up again in the evening for dinner and drinks. It was the perfect way to finish off Ubud, because the next day, we would all part ways. For the German it was time to go home, the Slovenians already had plans of their own, and the Canadian was heading for the island of Lombok, while Anya and I were going to head for Labuan Bajo: the gateway to Komodo Island. This trip would lead to my second nightmare, but at least my phone had revived itself! It spent the entire time I was in Ubud in that bag of rice and it had done the trick. I left the bag of rice behind, much to the pleasure of the owner of the Raka house, who was genuinely pleased that I was leaving him with a bag of “good rice” as he put it.

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We all loved our headwear at the chocolate factory.