Island Life – A Cambodian Odyssey

Dystopian Days

The initial part of my week on the Cambodian coastline was one of relative solitude amongst an array of characters which tested my own self-doubts and my disturbing relationship I have with my own age.  I found myself somewhat lost amongst many young people who themselves were far more lost than me, in a strange beach hostel made of wood and bamboo.  It was the beginning of spring and the weather was as tumultuous as my own thoughts, lashing furiously between bright sun and thunderous storms.
Paradise Lost comes to mind – so much sadness and confusion in a place so beautiful, where all they had to live off were the likes of the Instagram snaps their friends back home no doubt clicked in jealousy, unaware of the longing in the eyes of those posting them.  On the first night I went to a ‘jungle party’ which was actually fairly decent and continued until sunrise, but other than that I spent the majority of my time here with everybody else silently watching an unending stream of movies on the large communal screen, ignoring the beauty that surrounded us.  I swam a few times and played Volleyball once, but essentially did little else.

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Run to the Islands

My escape came in part from an unpaid debt which I still fear reprisal for should I ever return to this odd, quiet piece of beach south of Sihanoukville.  I stayed for three days sleeping on their sofa, but never checked in or paid for their hospitality, and on the last day after a boat trip I collected my bag and walked off down the beach without paying my tab.(that’s not entirely true, the boat trip was overpriced and we were promised free booze which never materialised, plus I did look for the guy to pay but he had disappeared and I had places to go)

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I crashed that night on another sofa at a more welcoming bar further up the beach where I had stayed briefly before and befriended the bar staff. For this free-loading, I was, at least, granted permission. At sunrise, I fled north to Sihanoukville and caught a ferry to a random island called Koh Rong Samloem, upon which I met a friendly young man who was completely broke and going to work as a volunteer at a diving centre so that he could learn to dive. He gave me tips on where to find volunteer work should I ever have the desire to work for free.

Wild Wanderings

For some reason, no doubt influenced by the abject confusion of the past three days I ended up at the most awful westernised tourist trap of a hostel on a remote part of the island, and once again decided checking-in was for suckers.

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However, before I had time to find an abandoned hammock to crash in I met three Norwegians who had been drinking for two days straight and I instantly agreed to join them on an aimless trek through the jungle in search of greener pastures.  We departed for our epic quest on a rickety fishing boat to the other side of the bay, unfortunately during which time the exceptionally inebriated Vikings decided this was all too much for them and asked the fisherman to take them to a ferry port so they could return to somewhere with electricity and running water.
I was far too sober to make such rational decisions and decided to continue on alone into the wild.  The wild turned out to be a ten-minute walk through some palm trees to a small town literally a stone’s throw from where we were.  Did I mention it’s a really small island?  It’s really small.

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Constance

I wandered along the beach of this tiny village until I came to an attractive looking bar/hostel appropriately called Chill Bar – so chill that all the staff were passed out and one of the more regular customers was running things.  Constance* had been coming to this tiny place on this tiny island for two weeks a year for the past five years as a means to escape the mind-numbing routine of daily life back in some forgotten town in middle England.
She didn’t need to tell me it was her last night there and she was flying home tomorrow – I could have guessed from the sadness and longing in her eyes, a pleading almost, to give her a reason to stay.  Tie me to this bar, those eyes screamed…. make me miss my flight!  I didn’t understand what she was going back for, she had already served me three drinks while telling me her story – she had a perfectly good job here.
We ended up getting raucously drunk off the free booze of the unattended bar, walked to the tip of the island to watch the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen, got somewhat intimate in the ocean together and then hung out at the bar again for a bit before heading back to her room.  Unfortunately, she was sharing her room with a friend so I couldn’t actually sleep there, but luckily found a hammock on the beach after her friend came home.  Free booze and accommodation in Cambodia were working out great for me so far!

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Broken Boats

The next day, despite my insistence that she was making the wrong decision, Constance left that gorgeous piece of paradise to return to another island – albeit a cold, wet, muddy one on the other side of the world.  I remained and spent the rest of the day alone on that quiet beach contemplating life and drinking (sadly not free) beer until a boat arrived and I stumbled upon it, completely unaware of what incredible adventures awaited me.

Shortly after leaving the island I discovered this boat was heading back to the mainland, however after suffering engine troubles it had to re-route to the nearby island of Koh Rong (the big brother of Koh Rong Samloem – Samloem presumably meaning “small or “south” due to it being south of the main island.)

I didn’t actually have any intention of spending another day on the islands due to limited time and a desire to visit the temples of Angkor Wat before having to leave Cambodia, but as I sat in the boat at the jetty staring at an inviting looking bar up on a hill something made me decide to get off here.  So I impulsively left the boat and stepped onto the pristine white sands of Koh Rong, very short on cash and unsure whether one could actually draw money on an island with very little infrastructure.

Scottish Surprise

Strolling down the beach wondering what this all means, who do I bump into but those two crazy Scots lads from the slow boat in Laos!  We had a few beers, chatted about what we had respectively been doing the past month or so and they invited me to join them on a pub crawl they were doing that evening.  It started at the bar high up on the hill where we were serendipitously forced to leave our shirts since it was required for all attendees to wear the official pub crawl vest for the event.
The pub crawl itself was quite fun – I was in a very upbeat mood, got involved in a lot of the games, won a bottle of vodka, shared it among everyone, drank most of it myself, and eventually passed out in a hammock on the balcony of the final bar.

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Destiny

In the morning I wandered back up to the first bar to fetch my shirt and decided to stay for one drink.  I got chatting to some of the staff and developed a certain rapport with a very beautiful, six foot tall Eastern European girl by the name of Destiny*.  We continued to drink and chat as the day wore on and I soon realised I wouldn’t be leaving the island that day.
As evening descended and her shift ended, we decided to go for some dinner together during which she agreed to go night swimming with me.  She led me by the hand to a secluded beach far on the other end of the island where she told me she wanted to skinny dip since she had never done so before.  After getting naked we swam out into the ocean where she showed me an area full of luminescent plankton that shimmered and shone with each disturbance.  We floated on our backs below the exceptionally dense milky way and marvelled as the plankton outlined our every movement in bright blue sparkles.

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Destiny had initially come to Koh Rong for only a week, but not letting herself be controlled by the constraints of a schedule like Constance, had decided to stay and take a job at the bar up on the hill where she had been working now for six weeks.  Of course, she was five years younger than Constance and so less likely to be bogged down in a career, but then again I was five years older than Constance and I still think ‘career’ is what a car does when it goes off the road.  At least that’s certainly what my career’s doing.

Out of most of the people I’ve met travelling, I found I very closely relate to Destiny – neither of us wants stability or structure in our lives, but we are also not carefree enough to not work at all, knowing that we need money to travel and do the things we want.  I spent that night with her and we discovered we have very similar tastes in music, people and ideas about life.  She convinced me to stay one more night and go with her to the jungle party on the mainland that happens weekly every Wednesday, near to the beach hostel where I had taken liberties with my accommodation.

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Reluctant Return

I was wary of returning too close to the scene of my deceptive behaviour, so we headed first to the relative safety of the friendly bar that had allowed me freeboard previously, and I booked us a bungalow for the night.  (I figured I should pay for accommodation at least once this week). We chilled there for a few hours drinking, eating and listening to the awesome DJ in the bar. Around midnight we eventually headed to the jungle party and danced until morning when it started to rain, and then danced even more.
It didn’t occur to me at the time but this would be my final night in Cambodia, and in essence the final night of my entire trip.  Fittingly, throughout the night I kept bumping into many of the characters I had met along the way, some people who I had not seen since Thailand, months before.  All in all, I was reunited with about twenty friends, many of whom I never thought I would see again.

Eventually, quite a few hours after sunrise, saturated both inside and out, we headed home.  During the past few days we had become extraordinarily close considering such a small time span, but sadly neither of our mental states were in a clear place at that time so our goodbyes were fumbled and misspoken, and as I climbed on that night bus to Bangkok and Destiny boarded her ferry back to the island, I felt that ever familiar twinge of regret in my heart, like maybe leaving wasn’t the best idea.

But alas, I had places to be and as destiny would have it we saw each again not long after.


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Bangkok Bus

Fortunately, I fell asleep almost instantly on the night bus and slept until the Thai border, where we trudged through the usual customs procedures and then got stranded on some steps outside a KFC awaiting our connecting bus to the Thai capital.  And there I found Freedom*.
As is commonly the case with those who should be given attention, I initially didn’t pay much heed to Freedom’s story of lost love and her quest to rekindle it.  However, during our inexplicably long journey to Bangkok, I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the honest and genuine innocence of her story.
She had met a man on the muddy island of tea drinkers months before and developed a connection so strong in the space of only an hour that it drew him to come visit her for a week all the way in Northern Thailand.  During this time their passion for each other had deepened greatly, so much so that when he eventually had to go home she had resolved to hitch-hike across the world to go be with him – a resolution not wavered by the fact that by the time I met her he had already told her he was with another woman (yet still wanted to be with her).

The absurd irrationality of such a commitment was matched only by her truly authentic believe that what they had was worth fighting for.  However despite such trivial matters of the heart, what struck me as interesting about Freedom was the ability to entertain such fleeting and fancy-free ideas, unburdened by commitments or bothersome details such as money and work.  I didn’t outright ask, but her never-ending ability to bum cigarettes in a country where they only cost $1 a pack indicated to me that she may not be particularly well off in the financial department.  I may have been wrong but either way, it was impressive to have such a free-spirited approach to life, especially considering the story she told me about her upbringing, which was scary to say the least.


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Emotional End

Eventually, we arrived back to Bangkok where my trip began, and as clichéd as it is to say I did actually feel like a very different person.  I suppose being back in a familiar environment helps to accentuate the changes in your behaviour and reactions.  I found myself to be more calm and relaxed, more aware of the locals and people around me, and far less preoccupied with myself.  Freedom and her friends had also begun their trip here, so we had to indulge in the ritual of going to Khao San Road for one final party, even though we were all actually continuing our travels but in different ways.
During the night Freedom and I became quite close and in the morning she commented on how I had helped her deal with some anxiety she was struggling with regarding her man back in the UK, which was interesting considering I felt she had helped me deal with similar feelings.  We made vague plans to possibly meet up again a week later in Southern Thailand, but during the week we lost contact and I decided rather to return to Vietnam and meet up with Destiny again, who was continuing her travels there.

And so my loop of South East Asia came to an end with one of the most intense, emotional and crazy weeks of my life.  What have I learnt during this trip?  I don’t know, but it was awesome.  Mostly I discovered that travelling is not about where you go, it’s about who you meet.  And damn, I met some amazing people…

*names have been changed for dramatic effect.
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Phnom Penh and Kampot

It all started rather rocky at the border crossing.  Me and one other Dutch guy were the only foreigners on the bus and we both needed to get visa’s on arrival, which meant it took longer than the others.  Firstly they wouldn’t accept my $50 note because apparently it’s an old note and they only use new notes in Cambodia?  Then they tried to overcharge us each $5 but we ended up just paying the $30 fee and I had to borrow $5 from the Dutch guy because I only had $25 other than the $50 note they wouldn’t accept.  Then the bus left and parked 2km up the road and they tried to get us to pay $1 each to get a scooter there but we flat out refused and so had to walk there.  Clearly this is a scam they pull to try get a few extra dollars off foreigners.  I could have just paid it but it’s principle of the matter – if people just give in then they keep doing it.  Fortunately the rest of the trip was calm and uneventful.


When we got to Phnom Penh I walked with the Dutch guy to a petrol station which luckily accepted my $50 note, so I could pay him back the fiver.  Then he helped show me where my hostel was because stupidly I hadn’t downloaded the Cambodia section of Maps.Me, an app everyone uses in South East Asia to navigate because it works offline.  I didn’t do anything that night as it was late by then so I just went to sleep early.


My hostel was a bit crap so the next day I booked into another really cool hostel called Luvely Jubbly which has a stupid name but an amazing swimming pool!  Turns out it was the same hostel the dutch guy was staying at!  Some other guests said they were going to watch a Cambodian kick-boxing match for $10 and including unlimited free beer, so after swimming and chilling by the pool for a few hours I

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joined them.  We all piled into tuk-tuks and drove off around town for about an hour drinking beer and talking crap.  Finally we arrived at the kickboxing match and all went into this huge stadium to watch.  It was a Thai team vs the local team and we all took a few bets with each other, me backing the local team.  It started well and looked like Cambodia was winning but in the end the Thai team won, so I lost a dollar.  I definitely drank well over $10 worth of beer though!

Back at the hostel my friend Shenaz from Vang Vieng had arrived as I had told her earlier I was staying there.  We all went out to dinner together with the Dutch guy and his friend, and some of the people from the kickboxing and I ate frog for the first time, which is surprisingly good!  Very much like chicken but a bit better.


In the morning we got up early as we had arranged a tour of The Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum.  We started at the Genocide Museum which was pretty interesting, if a little bit depressing.  It’s set in the actual S21 prison where the Khmer Rouge imprisoned and tortured most of the Cambodian population under the dictatorship of Polpot, and still has all the original torture devices and cells. 

The Killings Fields, which are about 45 minutes out of town, is where the prisoners were sent to die after being tortured.  In the centre is a tall square building full of the skulls and bones they excavated from the mass graves that surround it.  Pretty bleak stuff but I guess it’s important to remember history and not repeat it.


Back at the hostel I chilled by the pool and chatted to some other guests until evening when me, Shenaz, the dutch guy and his friend all went down to the river to get some food at the street market.  Phnom Penh has a surprisingly beautiful riverside promenade that reminded me of Seapoint in Cape Town, and we sat on the grass and had some vegetable fried rice before heading to a nearby hostel and bar that has free beer.

 

The next day I went for breakfast with Shenaz and then packed up and started walking towards the road out of town so I could hitch hike to Kampot.  I couldn’t get a lift out of town so I ended up paying $2 for a motorbike taxi to the airport where the road splits off to Kampot.  I made a little sign and a girl on a scooter picked me up and took me to the bus stop but I didn’t want to get a bus so I kept hitching.  A guy sitting on a scooter nearby said he can take me some of the way.  We got chatting and he asked why I didn’t take a bus.  I told him I had no money so he offered to pay for a local taxi for me, but I tried refusing.  I said I would rather just hitch but he wouldn’t take no for an answer and he waved me down a taxi and gave me $10.  The taxi was only $3.50 and I tried to get him to take the change but he refused that too.  I felt bad because I didn’t need the money but now I had already told him I had no money so what could I do.  The kindness of strangers never fails to amaze me.


So I headed off in this local taxi which is a very strange thing for foreigners to do and everyone was looking at me weirdly.  We had to change taxi’s about 4 times and it took almost 3 hours, but finally they dropped me off in Kampot and I wandered off towards the backpacker area.  I bumped into some Geordie’s who told me there was a spare bed at their hostel so I followed them there and checked in. 

After showering I walked down to the riverside to watch the sunset and wandered onto a boat just as it was leaving to do a sunset cruise.  I had some food and a beer and watched a beautiful sunset.  When it got dark the boat stopped under some trees that were full of fireflies and we watched them flying around with a huge sky full of stars in the background.  As we were heading back to the pier some girls sitting nearby started chatting to me.  Turns out they were German so I got to practice some of the German that I learnt last year and they invited me to join them and their friends for dinner.

Towards midnight they said they were heading to bed so I went back my hostel and got chatting to the girl working the bar.  After closing we headed out on her very old but awesome motorbike to get another drink at a bar on the river before heading home.


The next day I rented a bicycle and cycled to Arcadia which is an amazing hostel on the river with a bunch of rope swings and waterslides.  I ended up drinking free beer for most of the day on a floating, shaded raft with the owners and some other staff and guests.  One of the owners, Timmy, was leaving the next day to go back to Australia so they were having a farewell party for him.   I also went down the huge slide a few times, which flings you tumbling through the air into the river.  Towards evening I bumped into Jimmy again and we sang some songs along with this guy who plays guitar very well, and then had a few more drinks before I had to head home.  It was fun cycling back drunk at midnight and fortunately the roads were deserted, but by the time I got back my hostel was all locked up and I hadn’t booked another night so I ended up sleeping on a mattress I found in an abandoned construction site.


Arcadia

The next day I collected some of my washing, bought some rope to tie up my hammock and headed off to hitch hike to Sihanoukville.   I had to walk quite a long way in the boiling heat and I found some cardboard to make a sign but it didn’t look like anyone was stopping.  After walking for about 2 hours I stopped for lunch in a local roadside restaurant and had some really good grilled chicken and rice.  Eventually two guys in a pickup truck with a boat engine on the back stopped.  The one guy could speak fairly decent English so we chatted about the usual – where I’ve been travelling and where I’m from.  They never ceased to be amazed that I’m a white guy from Africa, it’s funny.  As is becoming quite common, he also bought me a drink.  They weren’t going all the way to Sihanoukville but very close, and after they dropped me off I ended up getting a taxi by mistake because I thought the guy was giving me a free lift.  When we arrived in Sihanoukville he wanted $2 but I only had about £1.25, and luckily he didn’t seem to mind.  $2 would have been too much anyway for that short distance.  And then I headed down to a place called Otres Beach, which is a whole other crazy story…

 

Motorbiking Vietnam

While travelling solo in Laos I met up with two Irish guys, an English lad and a German girl who were halfway through a motorbike trip across Vietnam and had just come to Laos to renew visas.  I jumped at the opportunity to join them and a few days later we were all on a sleeper bus from Vientiane to Danang in Vietnam. One of the Irish guys offered us all Xanax to sleep through the bus journey and I enthusiatically took one immediately, meaning I slept straight through the lunch stop a few hours later. However at least I was awake when we arrived at the Vietnam border, which is more than I can say for the others. Needless to say the process of getting visas was rather slow and hilarious.
The remainder of our sleeper bus trip was fairly uneventful, except for when one of the group woke and asked how long until the border – completely unaware he had gone through the whole visa process and we had been in Vietnam a few hours already.  That was funny.  We briefly stopped for lunch but only had beers as we were short on local currency, and then fairly soon after arrived in Da Nang.

After unloading the bikes we set about putting them back together.  I stupidly wandered off to go piss against a far off wall of the bus parking lot and stood on a rusty nail that went through my flip-flop and quite deep into my foot.  I think only the bone stopped it going right through.  I tried desperately to remember if I’d had a tetanus shot or not while I hobbled back to the group, blood leaking all over my flip-flop.  Sammy very kindly helped me to clean it and wrap it and I think we managed to disinfect it well enough.

Exif_JPEG_420Once the bikes were assembled I jumped on the back with Enda and I experienced for the first time the insanity of traffic in Vietnam!  There don’t seem to be any rules, other than you must constantly hoot for no apparent reason. Everyone just drives wherever they want, no yielding or indicating – every man for himself!  How there aren’t more accidents I’ll never know.  We drove off towards the river and the famous Dragon Bridge, where we stopped for some lunch at a crazy restaurant with tiny stools and really good fried octopus.  My friend told me about a hostel called Barney’s down the road so we headed there to see if they had room, but they only had 3 beds left so we ended up in a hotel a few doors down that had a 6 sleeper room with three double beds for only £2 each.  I guess I’d have to share a bed with one of the guys though, haha.  It had a great view from the balcony of the river and the many beautiful bridges and buildings.  I had no idea Da Nang was such a nice, modern city.

We went out that evening to SkyBar 36, an amazing rooftop bar with fabulous views of the16999105_10158398861415220_4051575364322011865_n city, but we just took pics and didn’t stay for drinks as it was £7 for just a small beer!  Still half the price of most Ibiza clubs though.  We walked on and ended up at Golden Pine, a ridiculous local club/bar with no dancefloor but a massive soundsystem pumping out cheesy rave music.  Craig met a Singaporean girl named Irene there and she came with us to get some amazing burgers and beer at another bar nearby called Factory 47.  We got chatting to the owner who was German and he gave us free shots and spoke to us a bit about Da Nang.

I needed to buy a motorbike so we could start the trip properly, so in the morning we went to find Craig who was at a hotel nearby.  I rode Craig’s bike there which was good practice as I hadn’t really ridden much before except that once in Vang Vieng.  Breakfast took a bit longer than expected and then I went with Craig to look for bikes while Dave dropped his bike off at a mechanic to get the gears fixed.  Unfortunately our bike hunt was unsuccessful and it was looking like Da Nang might not be a good place to buy motorbikes, only scooters. We were hoping to get a bike and head off that afternoon, but when we got back Dave told us the mechanic wouldn’t have his bike ready until 2pm the next day so it looked like we were staying another night afterall.

Exif_JPEG_420While sitting around drinking at Barney’s and contemplating how we could get me a motorbike, I looked down a small side alley and saw what looked like two old bikes covered in sheets.  Upon further inspection we found them to be some fairly decent looking Honda Win’s, albeit a bit rusty.  We enquired at Barney’s and the receptionist said they had been abandoned there and her boss was trying to sell them.  Score!  Unfortunately the better looking of the two had been sold already, so we played around trying to get the second one started.  Fortunately it kicked into life after a few tries, so after the receptionist arranged to get the lock cut off (is this stolen?) Dave tinkered with it a bit and got it nicely up and running.  The tyres needed some air and the chain needed tightening, but otherwise good.  The owner only wanted $100 which is already a great price, but I tried negotiationg anyway.  Eventually he wouldn’t budge, but the nice receptionist gave us each a free beer as consolation.

So with my bike sorted we proceeded to celebrate with a few (a lot) more beers at Barney’s until about 7pm when I had to go meet my friend Danny who had been living and working in Da Nang for the past few months.  The others all came along and we had dinner at some mexican place and then headed out to a nearby Rasta bar called Minsk.  I chatted to Danny a lot about life and work in Da Nang and it sounded like he might be able to get me some work, and it seems like a great place to live.  Most of the others all left early and after a few games of foosball I headed back with Craig.Exif_JPEG_420

In the morning Craig went to fetch Irene from Hoi An and I went with the others to get Craig’s bike and sort mine out. We all met back at Barney’s, where we left our luggage and gave them some of our washing to do.  The plan was to just take day bags, drive over the beautiful Hai Van pass and then continued on to Hue, a few hours north, spend the night there and then come back the next day and get our stuff.  It started raining just as we set off, so I had to stop along the way to buy a proper helmet with visor and a waterproof poncho. Despite the thick fog and rain the Hai Van pass was still really beautiful, and after a small complication with dirt in the fuel tank my bike was running fine.

Once we had made it over the pass it was beginning to get dark.  My rear light worked, but my front headlight didn’t work and Enda had no lights on his bike at all.  However, the road on to Hue was a main road and was somewhat well lit, so we decided to push on through.  It was still raining heavily and loads of big trucks and buses were passing us on the road, so this was pretty scary to say the least.  I made peace with myself that this is how I’m going to die, held the accelerator tight and never took my eyes off the bike in front.  Eventually after about 3 gruelling hours avoiding trucks and enduring the cold and wet, we arrived in Hue!

We found a place called the ‘Google Hostel’ and the fun bouncy receptionist checked us into our rooms.  I met a French girl and German guy in the dorm room who seemed nice and we chatted about our travels and then we all went for dinner at a nearby restaurant and then played pool and drank until about midnight.

The next day we went to check out some old Chinese temples from the Ming dynasty, but itExif_JPEG_420 was still raining and pretty bleak.  Still, it made for some good photos and was interesting and very moody in the strange weather.  While heading back to Da Nang on the the bikes we lost Dave and Sammy because they took the beach road and Enda thought they had gone the other way.  Then we lost Enda because he drove off faster than us so just me, Craig and Irene headed back together.  Once we got back to Barney’s we waited there for the others and had some pizza, then we all went and checked into another hostel nearer to the beach in the area called The Village.  We got quite a nice 4 bed apartment for me, Craig, Irene and Enda, and Dave and Sammy got a hotel.  Our apartment had a free bbq on that night so we got a bunch of really nice free food and I chatted to an older South African couple who were travelling in Vietnam and seemed to really love it.

The next morning we met up with Enda and another Irish girl he had met on Tinder and we all drove the short half hour ride to Hoi An together.  We stopped for lunch at a restaurant and the woman running the place said she had a house that could sleep 7 people.  Three double rooms for the couples and me on the sofa… great.  I went out on the bike to buy eggs for breakfast and also bought a bunch of beer and we got drunk and went to the beach to swim, although it was cold and rainy so I didn’t go in.  We also arranged an English flag and a Scottish flag for me and Craig’s bikes and took some awesome photos with all of us on our bikes.  Then we went for dinner and somehow on the walk home Dave and Sammy lost us and ended up wandering around for 3 hours looking for the house and eventually sneaking into a fancy hotel and sleeping for free in a room!  Classic.
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In the morning everyone woke up and spent a while trying to get hold of Dave and Sammy.  Eventually they managed to find their way home and after some awesome full English breakfast courtesy of Craig, we all hopped on the bikes and drove off toward the mountains. We lost Enda at one point and waited a while for him to come back, but he never did so we carried on without him assuming he will meet us at the final destination – a tiny village in the hills. Exif_JPEG_420The scenery in the countryside is crazy beautiful, with just rice paddies, banana trees and stunning mountains and valleys everywhere.
It started raining a bit heavily towards evening and then Craig’s back wheel broke because his bike was overloaded.  Luckily we had just passed a bike shop so me and him turned around and tried to get his bike back there.  Eventually it wouldn’t move anymore so I drove on to the bike shop to see if one of the mechanic’s can help.  The language barrier made it difficult but eventually he understood what I was trying to convey, and hopped on a scooter off into the direction of Craig who was just stranded on the road side.  A few minutes later he came back on the scooter with the back wheel and started pulling the spokes out to repair it.
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After a short time Dave and Sammy showed up – they hadn’t seen that Craig broke down and had ridden on.  They said they passed Craig on the way back and he was just chilling with his half bike outside some woman’s house, but luckily in shelter from the rain.  Since the wheel was going to take an hour or so, we all had some dinner and beers at a tiny makeshift restaurant next door.  Luckily I also got my light fixed at the same time because now it was pitch black and raining hard.
After about two hours they were still trying to fix the wheel, so I decided I better ride over to Craig and see if he’s okay.  I found him chilling with some beers watching movies on his laptop!  Soon after the mechanic showed back up with the wheel and we got moving.  The 16999103_10158396673820220_5077872408029866829_nnext hour was spent riding in pitch black pouring rain with the bare minimum light that motorbike headlamps give off, over crazy pot-holed roads with trucks and buses whizzing past.  I guess it was character building at the least, but I could have done without it to be fair – it was really scary and difficult to navigate.  I was never so happy to arrive at a destination finally, which was really just a very basic trucker motel for £3 a night, but warm water at least.

We grabbed some noodle soup for breakfast as that’s literally the only food available out in the mountains, and then got back on the road.  Craig’s bike was giving trouble again and had no power going up hills, so I went back to help him but the others carried on.Exif_JPEG_420  We managed to slowly get it to a bike shop where they fiddled with his clutch and got it going again, but then immediately after his chain broke!  So we spent about another hour at the bike shop getting that and the sprocket replaced, and then rushed off to catch the others and get to Pleiku, our next destination. Fortunately we had no more trouble on the road and after stopping to check out a weird wooden church we met the others in Pleiku just as the sun was setting.  Enda found us a hotel with some cheap double and twin rooms so we checked in and then grabbed some fried chicken at Lotteria, which is like Vietnamese KFC.  Pleiku is a really crazy town, in the middle of nowhere but huge and busy with lights everywhere like the Vegas strip.

In the morning Enda, Dave and Sammy had to get some stuff fixed on their bikes so me, Craig and Irene headed off ahead. Unfortunately Sammy wasn’t feeling well and they didn’t want to spend too long on the bikes so they decided to take another route to a different town.  We had a really good day on the bikes though, with clear skies and sun and a nice lunch in a tiny village.  As we got near to our destination, Tuy Hoa, we got on to this amazing road that snaked along a canal with beautiful little houses overlooking a stunning river and valley.  It was by far the most visually stunning 20km stretch of road I’ve ever seen and I could easily imagine myself living out my life there in quiet, idillic peace.  I’d probably get bored eventually though.Exif_JPEG_420

In Tuy Hoa we got a 3 sleeper room in a little hotel for £2 each, and then wandered off to find Bob’s, a little pizza place someone had told us about that was apparently popular with travellers.  Tuy Hoa is not exactly a backpacker town so it’s not very busy and there was no nightlife or anything, but we had some pizza and beers and I chatted to a Vietnam veteran who had moved out here to live and had some pretty incredible stories about the war.  I love talking to old people, they have some great life advice and they’re not full of shit like all the young drunk people (me included).  They are straight up and get to the point 🙂
We had leftover pizza for breakfast and then hit the road again for the short drive to Nha Trang where we would reunite with the others.  On the way we hit an AMAZING piece of coastal road that had no cars on it and just winded along the shore in huge S-bends that were so much fun to race the bikes along.  I was weaving along across lanes and cutting corners like I was in Moto GP, even though the bikes only get to a top speed of about 80km.

We hadn’t booked accommodation in Nha Trang, which was a bit silly as almost everything was booked out but eventually we found a shithole called Son & Daughter that had cheap rooms but smelt like piss.  We all checked in, showered and got some food at a Russian restaurant downstairs.  Everything in Nha Trang is Russian for some reason… ?  Then we went out to some place called Why Not bar to play pool and I ended up having a pointless drunken conversation with a lesbian Russian couple but otherwise it was a pretty tame night, I don’t think much was happening.

In the morning I moved hostels to a place called iHome which was WAY better than Son & Daughter, got my washing done, bought some more clothes and then stupidly decided to try get my phone screen fixed again.  It cost me $50 dollars and I broke it again within 24 hours. What a waste… cheap Chinese parts. Craig and Irene had been in a hotel the night before but decided to move with me to a dorm in iHome and then we went to the beach together and just lay in the sun and got drunk on rum and fresh coconut milk, listening to music on our portable speakers. It was awesome, one of my favourite days of the trip so far.  Every evening at iHome they have free beer from 6-7pm, so after the beach we made use of that and then went out to a cool rooftop bar called 55 and met some fun Canadians.

Dave, Sammy and Enda had to rush off the next morning to get to Ho Chi Min so they could have time to sell their bikes before their flight to Australia on the 8th, but we wanted to stay a few more days in Nha Trang because it’s awesome.  Unfortunately we didn’t ask to extend our stay at iHome soon enough and they were fully booked, so we had to move to another place called Backpack Hostel (creative name, lol).  It was okay but didn’t have the cool rooftop bar with free beer like iHome.  Luckily we had made friends with the iHome bar man so he said we could still come back for the free beer in the evening.  Then we got on the bikes and rode to a nearby waterfall with some rocks to jump off and nice pools to swim in.  Once back in town we met an Australian girl at our hostel who came to the beach with us for one quick drink and then we all went to iHome for the free beer.  Craig wasn’t feeling well17022067_10158417484945220_1294316953625967216_n so he went back early to sleep at the hostel and me, Irene, the Australian girl and most of the hostel went to a beach party down by the sailing club.  It was really awesome, we even managed to sneak in for free and not pay the £6 entrance fee.  The music was a bit cheesy but I was drunk enough that I didn’t mind and just danced on the sand for hours.

The next day Craig was still feeling a bit rough so we decided to stay another day, which we just spent chilling on the beach mostly.  It wasn’t as good weather though and the others weren’t drinking so it was a fairly tame day.  After that I went back to iHome again for free beer with a cool German guy I met at the hostel, and we got involved in an insane drinking game with some British people.  We were downing tequila and these huge buckets of vodka and fruit mix.  We were all supposed to go out to this rooftop bar but I was too drunk so I just went and passed out in the movie room because my head was spinning.  I woke up a few hours later at about 1am and wandered back to my hostel.

In the morning we got Craig’s bike fixed and then left for Da Lat, a small inland town we were going to stop in before Saigon.  Irene had left the night before to go home, and the German guy, Ollie, was also going to Da Lat so he joined us.  The first bit of the ride was through some beautiful mountain passes with huge waterfalls, but my bike was struggling a bit going up the hills so it was slow going.  Once we got over the pass Ollie’s bike broke down so we spent about 2 hours at a bike shop drinking beer and getting a part of his engine replaced.  We finally made it into Da Lat just as the sun was setting and checked into a hostel called Wolfpack that somebody in Nha Trang had recommended to Ollie.

That night we had a huge buffet dinner at the hostel with all the guests, and then the 30 strong crew of us headed out to find a famous bar that has a huge maze inside it that an American guy there had heard of.  We eventually found it and it was well worth the walk!  Definitely up there with the best bars I’ve ever seen – this cavernous maze set over about 5 stories with stairs and ladders and crazy decor all made with concrete and dimly lit with small areas to sit and have a drink while you try find your way out.
I got very absorbed with the whole maze experience and I even got a group together to play hide and seek.  I’m pretty sure I’m still mentally a 12 year old.  It closed at midnight so we followed a Canadian to another bar he had heard of that stays open late, but it was crap with just a pool table and no music.  I was with this American guy who was awesome, and this German girl and another American who builds art cars for Burning Man.  We got talking to a rich Chinese guy who I’m pretty sure was gay and hot for the American dude, but anyway he wanted us to come back to his apartment for an afterparty but it never happened for some reason and we ended up just heading back to the hostel.

In the morning me and Craig packed up, said cheers to our new friends and headed off towards Saigon, our final destination.  The road out was crazy busy and we lost each within the first hour.  I waited at this circle for Craig for about 30 minutes but he never showed up so I continued on.  Eventually I stopped at a gas station and asked to use their wifi so I could message him.  Turns out I had passed him and he didn’t know so he was waiting for me further back at some coffee shop, but by the time I had seen the message he had moved on.  I messaged him a place to meet further down the road and drove on, but when I got there the place I had planned to meet him didn’t exist.  By some stroke of luck I happened to see his bike parked outside a coffee shop nearby so I found him.  After a quick coffee we headed on until about 2pm when we stopped for lunch at an awesome little truckstop with hammocks to chill in and Craig got his biked checked out next door as it was still giving trouble.

About 6pm we finally rolled into Saigon after 2 weeks on the road.  Craig’s bike had almost completely died by then and he had to keep running down the road amongst the crazy Saigon traffic trying to push start it.  We checked into a hostel that had been recommended to us called Vietnam Inn which looked pretty good and had free beers and stuff for a few hours every night.  Saigon is pretty mental, I thought Bangkok was mad but this place is insane.  We went down to meet the others and find a bar on this street called Bien Muy or something where all the travellers go, and there’s just lights and noise and “massage parlours” everywhere.  We all reunited and had some food at a BBQ place before heading out to some or other bar called Donkey bar where we met a Swiss couple and chatted shit for hours.

After free breakfast in the morning we ended up back at Donkey bar playing pool and darts for hours with a funny Canadian guy called Jimmy who had been working in Saigon for 6 months.  Then the others joined and we went to a nearby hostel where they were playing drinking games with jenga blocks.  On each block was written a different challenge.  A northern English girl chose one that said she must swap clothes with someone and she picked me, so we swapped all our clothes.  That was quite interesting – I spent the rest of the night walking around in tight denim hotpants and a thin string top while she had my baggie pants and vest on.  Fortunately neither of us were wearing underwear as it’s too hot in Saigon and nobody does, so I didn’t need to try squeeze into her panties.  At some point she swapped my vest with Jimmy so at the end of the night when we swapped back I eneded up with his random dirty vest and then I couldn’t find him to get my vest back.  Anyway the rest night was fairly boring, just pub crawling and then ending the night at a club dancing until 4am.

The next day Dave and Enda left for Australia, and I spent the morning printing signs to sell my bike.  Then I met up with Dave and Sammy and we had some food and then went for free beer at the hostel.  I didn’t plan on partying again that night but the alcohol gods had other plans for me and once again we were out until about 3am.  I bumped into Jimmy and he still had my vest on as he had gone back to a hotel with some girl and not been home yet.  Obviously he didnt want to give it back to me then and go home shirtless so I told him I’d get it the next day.

In the morning I showed somebody my bike but because I didn’t have a bluecard she didn’t want to buy it, and I figured nobody else would either so I just ended up selling it to a bike shop for $80.  Only a $20 loss, not bad for almost 3 weeks of biking and some of the best times of my life!  After that I decided I was done with Saigon and booked my ticket to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, packed my shit, got my vest back from Jimmy finally (he was still wearing it!!), had one last beer with Craig and got on the bus.
After a few short hours I arrived at the Cambodia border… and that’s the next adventure.