Lao – Vang Vieng

My main attraction to Vang Vieng was for tubing down the river, having seen my friend do it on her travels. I didn’t quite get that it was meant as a party destination, and with a non-drinking boyfriend, that wasn’t really what I came there for – hoping for more nature than anything else. As I write this, I’m on my final night, sitting on the balcony of a private room, looking across at mountains and trees, the flow of the river Nam Song below. 

The first night we got here, we decided to cancel the Organic Farm once we found it wasn’t central. It had said it was central online, so I felt a bit cheated, and having spent seven hours on winding roads, albeit with fantastic views, we just crashed at the first place we saw. I booked Chillao Youth Hostel as it seemed like fun and the breakfast looked great. However, I was then kept up by horror stories from my friend and people online about this hostel – people drinking whisky at 10am, peeing and vomiting up the walls and in showers, as well as staff stealing from someone’s private room. That I night I was kept up by drunk people from Gary’s Irish Pub, but more so my own anxieties about what could happen at the hostel. I made a swift decision at midnight to cancel and then try to get our booking at the Organic Farm.
The next morning, we get a tuktuk there as soon as we woke up. We were tempted by the balcony and the swings at. The bottom, but regret not picking the cleaner and air-conditioned room. It also had twin beds, and sharing one fan has not been fun. I feel pretty silly for staying near the river too, as my blood type (negative O) means I’m more prone to bites, and being in a country that is high risk for malaria and dengue fever adds another layer of anxiety to being covered by these horrible sores. There were also holes in the mosquito nets, and the bathroom had little protection from insects getting in, meaning lots of ants were everywhere. We had a nice breakfast (which I was shocked wasn’t included at all, considering the price of the place) but it took a whole day for it to be removed – ants were everywhere!

But less about the accommodation, and more about the place. At worst it felt like it could be anywhere that they’ve stuck a bunch of tourist activities on, and at best it was a haven of relaxation and fresh air. It’s been eventful… which is why we needed a but of a beak this afternoon. The first day we went back into the town, and by the time we got round to doing that, we ate lunch before doing anything but walk around the area. Initially just wanting a snack, I got a cookie and drink from the bakery, which was really good. We ate far too many times at a place called ‘Arena’ – we could have had cheaper meals, but this one tasted so good, especially the chicken satay, spring rolls and Pad Thai. 

We hired bikes afterwards, once I realised I had a photocopy of my passport that one place took – you need it as a despot to do basically anything, but I’d read that it was dodgy to do this, so wanted to avoid it… plus, we had forgotten our passports and Organic Farm is a 45minute walk, which we had just travelled for the purpose of hiring bikes. Anyway, it was the first time I had ridden a bicycle since I was at least eleven years old, so about 15/16 years ago! It’s true what they say… I was able to do it all right, though my bum ached (and still does). Even in the rain I loved it. I felt like a child again, getting wet and not caring. In this rain, you would also see Lao children playing, naked in the street. In fact, on our journey down there were a few kids slipping and sliding in the rain. We dried off and changed before heading out again. Luckily, the rain stopped, but we tried to go to the waterfall and failed to make it before we had to return the bikes, but it was worth it for the scenery alone.

The next morning we went tubing. I got a little scared at times as I seemed to go down a lot faster than my boyfriend, and I guess I was just afraid of the unexpected – if I did it again, and if there were more people doing it, then I’d have enjoyed every minute. Some parts were like Rapids, but once you realised it wasn’t a waterfall you were hearing, those bits were the most fun. We followed the very small crowd of people from bar to bar, and the second one was the best – drinking Beerlao from a hammock and chatting to others was great fun. It was easy to see how you could spend the whole day there. But we spent about 4-5 hours doing it before we saw the sign indicating the end. There were two cows chilling where we were meant to get out, so we got out a little later beside the kayaks.

That afternoon we got a motorbike and just rode through the mountains for hours. It was like Cat Ba, so beautiful and hard to capture with cameras. It would be have been perfect, but there was a moment where I fell off the bike, thankfully it was still and I was just trying to get back on. I rolled down a hill, and by this point I ached a lot anyway, so the sunset was a little tainted by this, as well as having to rush back to drop the bike back in time. We ate at a place near the river which would have been nice to chill out at, but since moving to Organic Farm, we couldn’t risk staying too late. The night before we had walked 45 minutes, which wouldn’t haven’t been so bad in the cool night air, but the only light we had was from passing vehicles. A tuktuk back cost about 50k, which is around £5, so basically £1 a minute! 

Anyway, it was a great drive with amazing views, and I took this photo which really captures of the lively things I’ve found in Laos – family life, cute children and, in this case, paternal love.

Today has been tiring and stressful, but at the same time had its good points, having had new experiences. We rented a buggy out for off-road travel, but we hadn’t considered the rain would make it very muddy and had no protection whatsoever. I’m now praying my phone still works after my not-so-clever boyfriend sped into a muddy puddle just after telling me to take a photograph of the surroundings… I didn’t have much fun after that, especially as I was then bombarded by muddy puddles, and later on drier muddy ground, I had big chucks of mud flung at me. Needless to say, I was horribly muddy, and then when we stopped off the crawl into a cave, I could only half enjoy it, just wanting to be back on dry ground. The wheel of the buggy had no mud-guard, so I had it worse than my boyfriend, who drove us around, and the smell of petrol was a bit concerning, to say the least. That said, I also took the wheel for a bit and  it was really fun, just a shame the mud ruined things. On the way back we were held up by a funeral procession, and eventually after stopping behind it for a long time, had to go through the crowd, which was really embarrassing! It was interesting to see that a lot of women were dressed in white, there were monks leading the way, and a white casket was decorated with elaborate designs and carried on its own transport. Others followed behind on foot in multicoloured clothes. There and back we had to cross two bridges, one of which was extremely rickety and we worried about making it over! 

As I’ve said, it’s been eventful, and there are maybe some things I’ve missed out. For instance, at one point, my boyfriend nearly stepped on a snake when we were getting into our accommodation, and a massive spider fell on me at dinner once. We will probably have a wander around the farm here, and then get an early night for our return to Luang Prabang. 

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Lao PDR – Luang Prabang

Arriving in Luang Prabang, we shared a taxi with a couple of guys, who we ended up bumping into a couple more times in this small city. We checked into the guesthouse and went out to get some food, eating at a restaurant beside the night market, before going to bed.

We needed energy for the next day, which was a little too busy for such a relaxed place as Lao. We were in a great location for walking, and we did a lot of it! Starting at the Ethnology Museum, I was in luck to find the featured exhibition was focused on women, and I was told by a member of staff that the women work harder than the men – seemingly a general global predicament that women find themselves wanting to take advantage of new opportunities to progress themselves, but are also expected to do the majority of caregiving etc. I bought a hand-stitched ornament from their shop.

We walked to the Mekong river and wandered the streets. We eventually made it round to the Royal Palace Museum, and this was filled with such overwhelming wealth, as my boyfriend would say – it’s hard to put into words. We spent most of the day looking at some of the thirty-three temples Luang Prabang has to offer. All the streets were very neat and pretty, and it certainly didn’t feel like one of the poorest countries in the world at this point. Prices were higher than we were used to in Vietnam, but obviously a lot cheaper than in Western countries, and we afforded to eat in two very nice restaurants that day.

That evening we barely took a break and went to see a traditional Lao dance show at the theatre within the Royal Palace complex. I was so happy to see some arts, but it has made me think a lot about the privilege of the arts in a way I hadn’t considered before. To me, life has little meaning without the arts. Here, most people’s lives are a struggle, and can’t access art in the same way I am used to. On one hand, you can see from the traditional crafts such as the stitching and dying of fabrics, that art and creation are integral to our being as humans. On the other hand, there is a limitation to this, where traditional art forms perhaps struggle to find their place in modern society. There must be a balance between the two. 

Before I digress even further, I’ll continue to say that we went up to the Phu Si temple at night as my boyfriend had arranged to meet someone – we were late, and alas they were not there. Maybe we will visit again at sunset, or sunrise if we are ever able to get up so early! There were moths everywhere and my phone torch was dying, so we were down pretty fast! 

The next day was more chilled out. We booked a minivan to the Kuang Si falls, and booked our next trip for the following day to Vang Vieng. The walk started slow an steady, and we got to see bears that had been rescued.

The climb right to the top of the waterfall was a challenge. As I went up, I wondered why I was putting myself through it, how on trips with school, Woodcraft and family holidays I had moaned as a child about these things, and here I was putting myself through the same torture. I suppose it was the same thing that meant later that day, I did 50 lengths of the pool to relax. It was nice, but spoilt by some dude who decided to talk to me when funnily enough I wasn’t swimming to attract attention, and it couldn’t compare to the freezing cold water that pooled naturally at the waterfall. I wished we had more time to swim there in the sunshine.

That afternoon and evening we ate street food – crepes, fruit drinks, rice boxes and spring rolls. Laos has not disappointed on that front… Other than the meal we got with our bus ride today! We spent the evening at the night market and picked up a few souvenirs, one of which was a necklace made from aluminium from old bombs. One of the most important things to remember is that this country was bombed by the US more times than every country combined in the Second World War. The US have spent less money helping to clear the undetonated bombs than they did putting them there, and there are still 100 people who are injured or killed by these bombs each year, a lot of these people being children. I wanted to get this as a reminder, as well as to carry a message of peace.

Today we made the 7-8 hour trip (not 4 as advertised) to Vang Vieng from Luang Prabang. I was worried about the bags being on top at first, but an older French man made sure they had been secured as much as possible. The roads winded through the mountains, and although I’m sure it made everyone a little sick, the views we saw at various toilet stops were incredible. I’d never seen such cloud surrounding mountains like that. 

We’re having a bit of trouble with where to stay now, but hopefully we will figure things out. I’m just hoping the rain won’t be too bad, so we can still enjoy ourselves, having waited so long to travel whilst working. Tonight we ate a great meal and tomorrow we might even get to have a Full English breakfast, or else some lovely baked goods.

For now, my anxiety is building to the sound of Bohemian Rhapsody from Gary’s Irish Bar, as the rain pours down and I’m still learning how to deal with uncertainty, and throwing myself into it all.

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Da Nang

The first night in Da Nang and I enjoyed the locals on the beach in the evening. I wore my bikini, but didn’t end up swimming at that time. My boyfriend took a walk whilst I read my book, laying on my beach towel as the sun went down. By sunset, I started to worry about him and walked off to find him, though I said I’d stay in the same place. It was a silly idea and after half an hour, I’d reached the end and not found him, so turned back. I was worried I wouldn’t found my way, but luckily followed my mind map, which he always says he can do, and I picked the right route back to the hostel. It was dark and I was still wearing my sunglasses when I got back, but he wasn’t at the hostel and my glasses and contacts were locked in the bedroom. Thankfully, he arrived about give minutes later and we went out to eat at a disappointing Korean restaurant nearby.

The next day wasn’t without its drama due to our hostel messing us around a bit, but aside from that, things were looking up. We started off the day on a bit of a sour note, or rather as stinging one. Headed to swim in the beach after a nice breakfast, we saw tons of jellyfish. And although these seemed to be harmless, the water was reminiscent of that of the Phi Phi islands, and once again I was stung by sea-lice. After a couple dips I couldn’t take it anymore. 

We went back to the hotel, then had some lunch at a nearby street food restaurant, which was half the price and much better than the Korean place. We walked to a temple we had passed in the taxi, and then went to a roof-top pool I’d had found online. A la Carte (aka A la Fart, as it was renamed) wouldn’t let us use the pool, even though I read a review saying it was open to the public. Instead, we went to Diamond Sea, where we stayed until sunset. It was 115k and included free towels and a drink each. I spent the afternoon swimming and reading, finally feeling like I was on holiday after the intensity of teaching. 

I’d just finished my last day of teaching and we had a celebration dinner, with lots of drinks and music playing. It was great to mark the ending with a gathering of so many members of staff. A few of us then ended the night with a cocktail. 

That night in De Nang, I had a beer and some chips as we watched the sun set from the bar of the hotel. We then got changed for dinner and headed to the dragon bridge in a taxi. Away from the beach, but next to the river, Da Nang proved to be the perfect location for the few days leave I had, so picturesque, with plenty to do. We ate seafood at a street food restaurant on a side road, which was full of flavour, and were welcomed by a big party of locals, who gave us beer – my boyfriend forced to down his despite not even drinking alcohol! We then went on Segways, which was really fun. We had tried it before and I was better at it, and although my boyfriend picked it up this time, I was probably still a bit better… before I crashed into a table and chairs! It seems to have really taken off in Vietnam, which makes me wonder why is not as big in the UK. That said, people do have a lot of accidents with it; but surely not more than things like ice skating and rollerblading?

Anyway, the next day we went to the Lady Buddha, and explored the temple grounds. It was amazing to see the statue up close after having seen it from the other side, on the beach. We asked the taxi to drop us on the beach, then went into another temple, which was incredibly colourful and had a very positive atmosphere. We were even invited to eat by a big group of women. The kindness of some of the Vietnamese people like this is overwhelming, especially when you can’t speak the language – all you can communicate in are smiles.

We walked from the beach back to our hostel, which was a lot longer than I had estimated! We decided to go to another roof-top pool we had seen from the previous hotel. It was called Golden Sea hotel, and perhaps because they had two building sites either side of it (and I did get plaster blown onto me whilst there), we were let in for free. We bought a drink and enjoyed what was, for the most part, our own private pool and DJ. It looked directly onto the sea, as the pool was right on the edge of the roof. 

After getting changed, we got some food by the beach, and I got a local beer to drink on the beach, whilst my boyfriend had an evening dip. We also looked at the luminous creatures that glowed in the dark water, which was cool. Then, before heading back, we stumbled upon live music as part of a X-factor-style contest, which I think must have been the same competition I saw advertised at the cinema. One woman sang “Dancing Queen” by Abba, which amazed me as I had put it as my “favourite song” on the hostel’s information slips we filled in on arrival. I do like the song, but I wouldn’t normally have put it as my favourite song, so I was excited by this coincidence. 

We turned in for the night after an ice cream, and headed back to Haiphong the next day. I enjoyed a last cinema trip with one of my school friends to see the new Bourne film, which I was surprised to really enjoy, and didn’t fall to sleep despite my 6am rise. My boyfriend and I got an Indian takeaway and then joined a few of our new friends for one last passion fruit juice at or local, Happy Family. It was nice to have a goodbye, but so many people I didn’t get so say a proper goodbye to, but then I tend to prefer to slip out with a see-you-later.

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Cat Ba and Hanoi

The last couple of weekends I’ve been back to places rather than go to new ones. We went to Cat Ba, our favourite place in Vietnam (so far). The journey there was a lot choppier than previous journeys, and frankly it was scary! I thought I was going to throw up, but thankfully that feeling passed after a bit of time on solid ground. 

We did a similar thing to before where we rode a motorbike through the island. This time we also stumbled upon a place called “Cat Ba Green”. It was very pretty, but the animals there were kept in cages far too small, especially the monkeys. After dinner, we rested and then went on a late-night ride again. We sang as we whizzed through the island, and this made it feel even better! 

The next day we went to the beach and spent the whole day being swallowed by waves, and being burnt in the sea. I had bought a book recently from a store in Vincom (Haiphong) and spent some time under the big shades, but the sky was so clear that even factor 50 was not enough to protect us.

The book, by the way, is ‘Kafka on the Shore’. I’ve only read ‘Norwegian Wood’ by Murakami, but I loved it and I’m really enjoying this one. I bought it the same day as I discovered the BBQ places, which are great! I’ve also recently eaten at a Korean restaurant, which I had been wanting to do. I get a bit bored with the Vietnamese food in Haiphong, but it’s good finding new places to eat.

We also just came back from Hanoi, which is a great place to find a wider variety of food. Of course, it meant we also got some western food in the form of spaghetti bolognese, and beef burgers. It was great being back in Hanoi, and part of me wants to go again whilst I still have the chance, but I also kind of want a more chilled out weekend. 

The first day in Hanoi we wandered around the streets, and visited lots of little art galleries, including L’institut Francais de Hanoi. We bought some clothes, and my boyfriend got a really cool top from a place called Ginkgo, which I ended up writing about for the Norwich Radical because it seems like a really amazing clothing company! 

We stumbled upon the National History Museum, which just enough time to visit one building that detailed what happened during the war with the US. It was really shocking, especially considering how recent it was, finding out the way Vietnamese people were chained up, killed with guillotines, and dead bodies dragged along by cars. The tail-end of a bomb was displayed, and made the reality of it all the more terrifying.

The next day we went to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. After seeing the embalmed body in a casket, surrounded by guards, I felt a strange sense of regret. The whole process leading up to the experience was stressful, as I stupidly hadn’t worn appropriate clothes and was forced to put another set of clothes over the top of my dress, and the bag deposit system was a mess. It meant we worried about getting our bag back and didn’t see anything else. The fact that we had then only see Ho Chi Minh’s body like that felt disingenuous. I felt like it should be somewhere that people go to pay their respects, rather than what it was – a tourist attraction, of which I was regrettably a part. If I did go again, I would like to see the rest of the complex, visiting the museum, as well as going to another museum a bit out of the way.

Instead, we spent the rest of the day walking through streets, parks and lakes. We met a Vietnamese couple whilst stopping in Lenin Park for an ice-cream. They were so excited to speak to us, and again I felt the familiar sense of undeserving, aware of my many privileges. They were both university students, yet they had never been to the beach, and one couldn’t swim. These were things that we had the luxury of doing every weekend we chose. 

At times Vietnam feels very much the same as home, and at others it feels so far removed.

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 Lựng Xanh

This weekend was a relaxing one. It started off a bit tricky in terms of getting to the correct bus stop, but despite the traffic, it took an hour and a half by bus as predicted by Google. We are at the first place we saw – it was an overpriced but edible beef fried rice.

We took at taxi to Lựng Xanh waterfall. We walked beside the gushing waters, following its pathway upwards. We got to a place where locals were playing in the waterfall, and we joined them, sitting amongst big boulders, redirecting the water’s path over our legs. 

We continued the walk, incredible mountains surrounding us like we have experienced much of the time in Vietnam. We can back round to the start, where we had seen two pools of water filtered from the waterfall, which continue further down. We hired a hoop and decided to skip the temple and spend the rest of the day swimming. 

We were invited to share pomelo and spicy salt with a group of family and friends, who then took selfies with us, as did a big group of visitors earlier. We tried to call a taxi, but needed help and the park attendant helped us. We managed to get dropped back to a bus stop and ended up on a bus that cost us 100k each instead of the 27k we paid on the way there. But it was either that or maybe not get back!

The next day we swam more at the hotel pool we go to sometimes. We ate somewhere nearby, which was nice. I’ve been working hard the last few days, but even at a local eatery we were able to try frog and it was actually delicious. The legs were the best part and it does actually taste pretty similar to chicken!

We’re now planning on going back to Cat Ba and Hanoi over the next couple of weeks. Then we’ll have four days to go away and we don’t know whether to go to Sapa and have two days there (due to having to go on an overnight bus) or to go to somewhere in the south by plane in order to make the most of the time. Any tips would be great as we’ll be going elsewhere afterwards.

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Halong Bay

For the five year anniversary of being with my partner, we decided to go to Halong Bay. We had a relatively early start and got a taxi to Lac Long bus station, and the journey took about an hour an a half from there. We took a taxi to our hotel and managed to check in around midday. The weather was forecast to be thunderstorms, but we were relatively lucky with some light rain and overcast. Being Vietnam in July, it was still hot. 

We headed for the beach, and it was packed with Vietnamese people, who we heard were at the start of their holiday period. We walked down the beach to find somewhere less crowded and swam in the water. It wasn’t a clear blue, but it felt so good. The temperature was ideal, cooling us from the humidity and heat, and it felt so smooth to swim in. It was so relaxing to float on the surface as the waves gently moved you, the mountainous landscape surrounding you. The sand was also so easy to walk on that we questioned whether it was real or not.

We went back to the hotel to shower an change, and ended up at a seafood place. The next day we went on a boat tour. We set off at 7am and boarded the boat an hour or so later and it felt like an age until we finally got moving. The first place we visited was the most incredible cave I’ve seen. We walked through twists and turns, water dripping into pools of water, lit up by multi-coloured lights. It was really impressed. Things don’t ever seem smooth sailing with us. Our boat slowed down so much that it stopped. Another boat came beside ours and we were asked to board it. Just us two. Another couple took our place and it turned out that we were on the boat for the six-hour tour and we were meant to be on the four-hour tour as we had booked too late.

The final stop was to kayak. I had been a bit nervous, as I always worried about being in control of a boat and thought they could tip into the water easily. However, it was easier than I expected and I ended up really enjoying it. It felt like I had conquered a fear somewhat, and all whilst going through different caves into lagoon-type areas. It felt so good, even as my arms got tired, to rest and float there, before picking up the oars again. 

The last stop was passing by the “fighting cocks” rocks. On one hand, I was ready to go back, but on the other, it would have been great to stop on an island to swim and eat. We got a taxi after another great seafood dish, then took a bus back to Haiphong city, arriving tired and a little sunburnt from not wearing protection under the clouds. We ended the night on a takeaway from Indian Kitchen.

After work tonight, myself and some other teachers, and one of the TAs, went to the local street food spot and had some beer and a bbq. I don’t like pork much, but it tasted good, and though I didn’t like the beef, I loved the squid, and we had some noodles with it too. Just one month left in Vietnam now and so I’m starting to plan the next lot of travels!

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Ninh Binh

Before actually going to Ninh Binh, we spent one morning researching and booking tickets online and another morning collecting the bus tickets. I thought this might be a more difficult journey, being about 3 hours away, but I didn’t know quite how challenging it would be. It’s times like these I wonder how I’d cope on my own, as there’s a strange sort of reassurance in having somebody else with you, even if they’re not being particularly reassuring; simply just the presence of them there makes you feel like it will be okay.

Having left our hotel in Haiphong at around 8am, we arrived in Ninh Binh at around 12.30pm. We walked to the hotel, and stopped off on the way at an art shop full of embroidered pictures. We talked to the guy working there and he gave us a picture for free, so I ended up buying one too. We checked in and had a meal at the hotel, which was pricier than some, but we wanted to get on with the day. 

We arranged a driver with the hotel for 500,000 dong, which seemed like a lot, but we figured it’d be worth it. The main attraction was Tam Coc, and we also went to a pagoda in the mountains and a very modern temple. The latter two locations were quite small, and there was some confusion when we almost missed one off and were brought back to the hotel, but Tam Coc was well worth the visit to Ninh Binh. 

We hired a boat, and a woman rowed it for us – using her feet, which was really impressive! Sadly, it wasn’t without its stressful moments – being conned into buying expensive drinks and snacks from another boat (which I’d read get sold back when you buy them something as a tip), and a confusing moment being told to get off the boat early. That being said, it didn’t take away from the stunning views of mountains, river, and rice paddies. We sailed under mountains through caves and, similarly to Cat Ba, the beauty simply couldn’t be captured by photographs.

We ate at a place called Chookies, where we had our first non-Asian meal. Beef burger and chips never tasted so good. The only thing souring my tastebuds was the knowledge that the UK had a majority vote to leave the EU. This upset me so much, I fought to hold back tears, and I felt sick about the state of my home country. Why this particular issue was put to vote, I don’t know. At a time where society is so divided, migrants are used as scapegoats for the government’s failure to tackle issues of unemployment and lack of affordable housing. Fortunately, only the latter applies to me, but other than thinking about how this impacts on my work teaching EFL, I know that there are so many more vulnerable people who this will hurt in the UK. The rhetoric around migrants is disgusting, and the declaration of “Independence Day” shows a complete disregard for the colonial history that some seem to see as glory days, celebrating the British Empire.
Anyway, back to Ninh Binh and the next day we went to Chua Bai Dinh, which is a modern temple complex. I had seen a review that stated it lacked spirituality, I could see where they were coming from, but believe it is important for cultural preservation to keep building such things if they are important to the people of that country. Just because something is old doesn’t automatically make it more spiritual. One day, these temples will be old. It was clear from the amount of construction work that Ninh Binh is becoming more developed, wanting to attract more people to the region. That said, I’m aware of the negative impacts of this, and I tried to be as respectful as possible, even if it meant wearing my cardigan in the sweltering heat and humidity. The amount of skill that had gone into crafting the site was immeasurable, each statue unique, and every corner was something more amazing.

We had lunch at the site, but after hours of walking I felt dehydrated and sick. My phone ran out of Internet, and so we went back to the hotel to check the Internet. We walked to the bus stop to check when to arrive so we didn’t have to worry about missing the bus. They had told us when picking up our tickets something about the 9.54pm time being a mistake. They’d given us a 7pm time on one ticket and wrote over the other one in pen. I had a sense of unease about this that built up to this point. They told us at Ninh Binh bus station that they didn’t have a bus passing through to Haiphong. However, they were incredibly helpful and took us to an alternative bus stop. 

We had been told to wait 60-80 minutes, and after a stressful wait, I realised the woman at this new bus station didn’t have a clue what was going on, but because of the language barrier, it was difficult to communicate what had happened. Thankfully, a man appeared and spoke to her and us, and he seemed in a rush, but also happy to see us, so we started running with him towards the bus on the other side of the road. I was so relieved and as soon as I found a seat, I lay down (they’re very reclining) and gradually started to feel better. 
I stared our the window for a good two hours before feeling inspired to write a poem, and then decided to write this. So, I’m still on the way back and hope to get some food once we’re back in Haiphong, and that this will be smooth sailing from now and no nightmare story to add!

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Living in Vietnam and taking a trip to Cat Ba

It’s been a while since I’ve written – I’ve been working 50+ hours a week, but I have had time for some fun too. I even wrote an article for The Norwich Radical, and have written some poems too. I’ve been to the cinema a lot since I’ve been here, and recently added “Finding Dory” to the list, which I enjoyed a long with “Equals” and “You Before Me”. In Haiphong, I’ve also been bowling, went to the fabric market and had a day by a rooftop hotel pool, which great views overlooking the city’s lakes. Living in a different country is sometimes just that – living day to day and doing boring things like ironing and sorting out bank cards that have the wrong name printed on them! 

My boyfriend and I were also invited to eat at the house of one the Vietnamese members of staff, with her parents. I was nervous at first; growing up a fussy-eater means I have a certain level of anxiety when trying new food, especially when someone else has cooked it. I was also worried about the language barrier, but despite not knowing them that well, in Vietnam, it’s a casual affair to eat round someone’s house and it wasn’t long before we felt comfortable there. The food was delicious – spring rolls, tempera prawns, and pork with noodles. We drank a sweet fruit wine, but couldn’t stomach the rice wine, which tasted as strong as vodka! The portions were so generous that it was impossible to finish, but we had room for some fresh fruit, and were even given a big bag of lychees as a parting gift. We exchanged informations about our countries, and were even asked if we had eaten rice before, so it seemed the expectations of England were as somewhere very different. Of course, there are differences, but to me it seemed we were far more similar. Aside from the street food and the swarms of motorbikes, things like eating family meals and the importance of family seem universal.

There are a couple of things I would love to take back to England with me. The first is the karaoke rooms, which can be hired as a group, and you sing together in a private room filled with drinks and snacks. The second is a street food stall near work that sells pancake rolls – fried prawn or minced beef – that you put in rice paper and roll, then dip in a delicious satay sauce. The woman serving them always has a smile on her face, and named the stall after her son, who spoke to us one evening to practise his English.

I’ve been on the back of a few mopeds now, which are the standard mode of transport for running errands. However, when my boyfriend and I went to Cat Ba, this was the first time I had tried it myself. I was rubbish. I tried twice, but I couldn’t keep control and so I went on the back, which was fine by me. I felt safe, and it was indescribable to travel through the island, witnessing amazing views all around. We went inside the Hospital Cave, and climbed up a mountain in the National Park, looking around at the landscape that can’t be captured by photographs. We spent hours just driving and the roads were very clear, and we even drove at night where it was a bit busier to get a nice evening meal.

The next day we had a lazy morning and a late breakfast near the port. We walked to the beach area and walked around mountains to get to each beach. We swam in the high waves of the third beach, before heading back to Haiphong. It was the perfect weekend, and one of my highlights of the whole trip so far.

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Haiphong City and Do Son Beach

It’s taking a while to get used to living in Haiphong. As I write this, I’m ill with a stomach bug, which I think I got off my boyfriend, but now he’s not feeling 100% either, so there are many ways to contract it, and it seems like most of the other summer teachers are suffering too! One was even kept in hospital for a while due to dehydration. At the moment, I’m still able to carry on with my day-to-day life, which is good because I don’t want to miss any work and make other teachers cover me as it’s a lot of work for everyone as it is. It’s actually the first time in my life that I’ve experienced stomach cramps, and man are they painful. There’s no logic to their appearance and sometimes they will just randomly spring up on me in the middle of a two-hour lesson. 
I have a one-hour observation after my 15-minute pop-in on Sunday at 7.45am so I just hope I hold out for that! I’m working about 12 hours a day at the moment, in order to get on top of things and have Thursday mornings off. So, I’m using this morning to try to rest and write this after staying up until midnight marking tests after finishing at 9.15pm. Despite me working hard, I am enjoying it and feel relaxed when teaching, having thought for years that I wouldn’t be able to be a “proper teacher” with big classes. The job isn’t too stressful – only when there are lots of power-cuts and when being observed!

A view from a classroom.

Anyway, onto more interesting things! I put up a notice about going to the local CGV cinema in the Teacher Room and went to eat with a couple of teachers, and my boyfriend, before going to see “Equals”. I loved the film and the cinema does great popcorn; my boyfriend and I went back on my days off to see the new Ninja Turtles film, which I didn’t like quite as much. Most evenings I’m too tired to do anything, but it’s amazing being able to walk to both the cinema, supermarket and to work within five minutes. This is the difference between travelling and living somewhere, and I’m glad I’m getting to experience both. 

Lovely local Japanese restaurant

On my last weekend off, my boyfriend and I went to Do Son Beach. We took a taxi to the bus stop and rode the bus for around half an hour. It had air con and Vietnamese music, so was a fantastic experience in itself, just to listen and stare out the window. One of the things that strikes you when you get to both Hanoi and Haiphong is the topiary along the roads. I tried to take a photograph of the dragons as we passed but it was very difficult! There’s also paintings and mosaics that can be spotted now and again.

I had heard Do Son beach wasn’t great and read lots of bad reviews about it, but as a local beach, only a bus ride away, it will do for me! The part we went to had a big tree where we sat on deck chairs in the shade, and the sea looked blue enough to swim in. When we got in there, it was cloudy, but we knew this was to do with the red river the water passes through, and it wasn’t “dirty” as certain reviewers had described, but it did make us worried when we felt things slide past our skin! We ate a beach-side restaurant, but it was disappointing and afterwards I wondered if it contributed to my illness! Then again, we also had to walk out of a buffet in Haiphong because the food was cold, and so that could have been it too. 

We swam a couple of times at Do Son, I continued reading my book, which I’ve now been reading for over a month, which shows how busy I’ve been over this time, because I am really enjoying it (Wild, by Cheryl Strayed). After drying out a bit, we walked for a few hours in the sweltering heat, came across some more beach areas, and it was around 4pm that we walked back to the bus stop and saw more locals than before in the water swimming and playing. I’d definitely go back, but next weekend I want to go to Cat Ba. This weekend, beginning at 7.30pm tonight, I want to relax and recover… and prepare for Sunday’s observation!

Massage gown – is this a foot massage?

My boyfriend went to Cat Ba and said how amazing it was, so I’m looking forward to going there myself. Whilst he was there, I had to work, but managed to go to the Finnish Village for a party. I went to eat at a local stress restaurant and it was so good – it tasted how the food here should taste! A lot of the meals here have been mediocre, but this was delicious, even just having cabbage stir-fry! Yesterday I also went to a place where I have decided I will go every Wednesday lunchtime before my 6 hours of back-to-back teaching. It does prawn or beef pancake rolls that you dip in the most amazing satay sauce (one of my favourite things in life). Last Thursday I also had a “foot” massage and as of next week, I hope to make this a weekly thing. It started with feet soaked in hot water, but they massaged basically everywhere else as well as the feet, and it even included hot stones. 
Two more lessons now before my weekend starts!

Remembering history – withdrawl of French colonialist soliders

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First Week of Vietnam


We spent the most part of a day travelling from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and from there to Hanoi, by plane. It all worked out well, and when we arrived at the hotel (Skylark), we had been upgraded to an apartment. This was pretty amazing and I dreaded having to leave to live somewhere that was unable to compete with its five rooms, spa bath tub and roof-top pool. My boyfriend even ordered room service one night for me – some chocolate ice-cream. We walked to a nearby restaurant and witnessed the craziness of the roads. There were bikes everywhere and for the most part they don’t stop, but instead you have to walk and hope they move around you. 

We had one full day in Hanoi, so I wanted to make the most of it. I worked out a plan, and most of it looked walking distance, so we would only take one or two taxis. We started off at Hoan Kiem Lake, and we saw a pagoda there, and sat by the water for a while. We then made our way to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, which included about five floors of artefacts and information about being a woman in Vietnam. There was also some artwork in the foyer to do with a comic competition.
We then got a taxi to the Temple of Literature, which was really picturesque, and had the biggest drum I’ve ever seen in one of the buildings. We were really hungry, and found somewhere really good nearby. We were the only people there, and the waitress was really chatty. In the end, we only had enough time after eating to go to the Fine Arts Museum. This was massive and really varied; it was a good day for Feminism as it featured sculptures and images depicting strong women. 

So, hopefully we’ll have time for another trip to Hanoi to see all the other stuff we missed. We went back on an overpriced cyclo and passed the One Pillar Pagoda. We missed the Ho Chi Mihn Museum from my rather ambitious itinerary. We ended the day with a swim and hotel food – something that tasted like a roast dinner but with rice. 


It’s been an eventful week in Haiphong. We’ve moved hotels due to the first one having a rat and mouldy rooms, and are now in the Diamond Hotel, which is so much better. I’ve done a lot of induction stuff and had my first two teaching days, but I’m feeling really run down. I don’t know how I’m going to cope with being a proper teacher here. I have 23.5 teaching hours this week, but it’s taking me so long to plan, so I need to cut it from around two hours down to one hour. 

We had a rooftop BBQ one night that was delicious, had a tour of the city, and I’ve even ridden on the back of a couple of motorbikes!  I don’t look as scared as I thought I would in the photo below. I’m currently on my first weekend off, and I ended up planning all day on my other day off, which made me ill! 

Yesterday we went for a walk around a couple of different parts of Haiphong and that was nice, but very tiring and hot. We ate at a place that seemed to specialise in frog, and brought us extremely bony chicken, which lacked meat, but made up for it in feet! 

Today I’ve just been ironing and chilling out, writing and making up for yesterday’s horrible meal. I’ll see how this next week goes and then hope to make it to the beach for my next weekend off! 

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