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

Hanoi

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. 

Haiphong



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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The last of Thailand: Chiang Mai

The last part of Thailand we explored was Chiang Mai, and I wished we had more time there, and regret not being able to visit Pai too. I liked the feel of the place and when a stranger approached us on the street we were surprised that he just wanted to talk to us and not sell us anything! Very unlike Bangkok. After a pretty bad night’s sleep (the air con was freezing and the lights were on constantly) our first day was spent looking at Chiang Mai’s temples. What I loved was that we could walk around all of the main city, going from temple to temple. 

Our last stop involved a ride out of the main area to Wat Phra Singh. Here we walked up a large set of steps and saw a parade of music, though we were unsure of the occasion. The grounds were interesting, and the sight was pretty amazing too. The sun was setting and our eyes were closing on the 30-45 minute drive back to Chedi Home. By the time we got out to eat, we just went somewhere nearby. The food was average, and it was strange as we were the only ones there and music was pumping. Some of the locals, probably family friends, played pool nearby.


The next day was my birthday, but it didn’t feel very much like it without my friends and family around. I’m used to doing lots of things to celebrate and although I planned the activities for the day, nobody else I met that day knew it was my birthday and so it didn’t feel that special. But I turned 27, so maybe that’s the age birthdays are just a marker of another year gone. 


We were picked up at 8.30am, so no birthday lie-in for me. We attended a Thai cookery class that lasted until around 1pm. We were taken around the market and shown around the garden. I then cooked Pad Thai, a coconut milk soup, vegetarian spring roll, curry paste and Penang curry. I was worried about the curry because I knew it had ingredients in the paste that I didn’t like, but the peanuts were plentiful and it was the best one of tasted. I’d ordered it elsewhere and it had been awful, but at least I know how to make it myself now! We were given a recipe book with all the meals we could have cooked. I will definitely want to try them out when I’m back at home.


After the cooking, we rested a bit – I had a Skype call with my parents and they sang me happy birthday. I had opened some cards from family that if brought along too. We then went for a massage and it was a bit too painful, but it was cheap. We then had a swim in the hotel pool, and got ready for the evening. I wanted to go to the night market and heard there was good street food there too. Unfortunately my sweet and sour chicken tasted awful, but I did have the most amazing fruit smoothie. We spoke to two girls from China and their food looked so much better! I didn’t think I would spend so long at the market, but we were there until closing. My boyfriend bought me a magnet and a cool elephant ring as a present. We got a tuktuk back before tucking ourselves into bed.


The next day we went for an overnight stay at the Elephant Nature Park. Although I would have said that the one day was enough, I think I enjoyed the second day more for some reason. Maybe because of the rain, it was cooler, but it felt more chilled out and less of an effort to do things. The activities were more or less the same – feeding and washing elephants, but on the second day we also made some rice balls with banana and pumpkin. 


The first night as we began to wash the elephant, a storm began and it meant we were even more drenched in water than we would have been otherwise. I also somehow failed to bring a whole change of clothes, and had only brought a different top. Luckily my shorts had dried enough to wear for dinner. The food wasn’t that great there, but they did have lots of lychees, which I enjoyed. I passed on washing the elephant the next day and took photographs instead. I didn’t want to ruin the clothes I had to go back in – the previous day’s top was spattered with mud, but it came out in the wash thankfully. My friend also told me Lauren Conrad was there, and I kick myself now after realising that she was one of the girls singing to a guitar at the park! She just looked so different, I thought that it was a group of girls in their late teens, but there was something that made me wonder – I just didn’t know her face as well as my friend, who is a really big fan.


Although the baby was really cute, my favourite elephant was one called Kabul or something like that. She had an injured leg/foot and there was something about her that I liked. She was calm and quiet. It was actually really fascinating to learn about the elephants in terms of how similar they are to humans. They have memories and emotions and so a lot of them had the same name as they were given when they were working for entertainment. It opened my eyes to how horrible this side of tourism can be, as they are abused through trekking and circus shows; even the methods of getting the elephants to paint pictures involved causing them pain.


We arrived back at the hotel quite late and after a dip in the pool we went out for some food. We had an early night, ready for Vietnam, though after 3 weeks, still not quite ready to say goodbye to Thailand.

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Last days of Bangkok

We returned to Bangkok in the middle of the day, and thankfully it’s only about an hour long journey as I mixed up the departure and arrival time. We wanted to get the train back from the airport, but there was a lack of signage there, so by the time we arrived there, we had missed the train and there wasn’t another one for two hours. Again, perhaps we should have prioritised food, but instead we got a taxi that took about an hour and charged way too much despite being on the metre, probably because he got lost, and didn’t take the highway, where there is a fee.
This was the day I spotted that there was in fact a 7-11 and a Family Mart basically outside our hostel, when we thought the nearest was 10-15 minutes away. We had got out at around 4pm, so I was really hungry. After a few hours of chilling, we went back to this place that does street food with seats, near to the other 7-11 that we had been going to prior to that. We met a German guy and saw and spoke to him. It was 8 o’clock and the place was buzzing, packed with people, who were mostly locals. I had the same grilled chicken with rice, and it was great. 
We did our washing the next morning, and went for a walk whilst it was in the machine. There was a really unusual park there, that was part-cemetery, part-gym, and part-outdoor karaoke, not forgetting there were also places of worship around in the similar grand-fashion of glittering colours. We were welcomed by a small group of Thai people to join their karaoke. They gave us a strange sweetcorn thing that I let my boyfriend eat for the most part, and a couple of tea. My boyfriend sang in his own at first (Robbie Williams — Better Man) and then we did a duet of The Beatles’ Come Together. In our neatly-five-years together, we’d been meaning to do karaoke together for ages, but hadn’t until that day!


We chilled out most of the day, and then in the afternoon went to see a Muay Thai boxing match. We were early, so went somewhere to eat. There were hardly any cool places to go, but the place we found also had karaoke! The food was average, and somehow I got a beer, which was refreshing. That said, there was a weird vibe in there, perhaps because there were a lot of young girls in there wearing short skirts and very high heels. It was just so different from what a majority of Thai women seemed to wear — jeans, polo top or t-shirt and flat shoes. It was funny then that my boyfriend said to me afterwards, as if it was so obvious, that the place was a brothel. So, I’m still not sure, maybe it served food as a kind of cover, or was a place where women solicited with clients. Who knows?!
There was a kind of pre-match game, before the start at 6.30pm. It was interesting to see the atmosphere and hear the noise of the crowds — we had been shooed away during the first fight to sit away from where the betting was taking place. It was cool to hear the live music that was played throughout it too, and along with it the kind of stretching routine of the boxers, where it seemed almost like a dance. That said, I couldn’t follow the game at all and didn’t have a clue as to what was going on, who was winning etc. Perhaps it would have been clearer with better seats — we were in the cheapest seats available to foreigners, who’d are charged way more than Thai people. A few games would have been bearable, but we watched 8 out of 9 fights, each lasting about 30 minutes, and I was quite bored by it, if I’m honest. But then I went for my boyfriend, and he enjoyed it, so that was the main thing. I tried to get through it with popcorn and water, but the seats were also really uncomfortable after a while, sitting on big concrete steps. During one fight a guy had his shoulder broken, and during another, we didn’t see what happened, but it looked like he was knocked out unconscious, and my boyfriend even thought it might have died! That must be really rare, but I had no idea that happened. It struck me suddenly as bizarre, and I wondered why the crowd, mostly men, we’re so fascinated by the idea of two men fighting so violently. The pain endured by those fighting was incomprehensible. How was this entertaining? 


Reluctantly, my boyfriend agreed to go to one of the bars I had wanted to go to. It was coming up to 11pm and I was tired as well, but I wanted to experience some of Bangkok’s nightlife. Perhaps we needed to be there earlier, or to go on a weekend, or simply to walk about more, but it wasn’t the wildness I had imagined. It was hard to know what part to go to — everything seemed so far away. But the place we went, called WTF (Wonderful Thai Friendship), I’d seen in the Lonely Planet guide and it was right up my street. There was design work available in the gallery, with an emphasis on words, equality and feminism. I’d ordered a very strong and expensive cocktail, whilst my boyfriend had an expensive water, and it played music I liked such as Courtney Bartlett, and the walls were decorated with paintings. However, there weren’t really any other people around, and the guy who managed it talked to us a lot, rather than meeting other travellers. After that, the other place we’d heard live music coming from, when we arrived by taxi, seemed to be winding down, and we started walking the streets, but my boyfriend wanted to head back, and I was pretty exhausted from the boxing too. Once back, I ate toast half-drunk in my underwear, in the cool of the air-con room, and munched on my last chocolate wafer, before going to sleep around 1am.


The next day we tried to pack everything back, which was not inky stressful, but impossible. I ended up with a packing-block not packed and am having to carry it to Chiang Mai (I’m currently on the sleeper train now, and it’s coming up to midnight as I write this.) We then went down a random road, as we had down for a bit the day before. This lead us to a lot of places with street food, but walking so far in the heat, I just wanted a nice restaurant with air-con. I didn’t get that, so really I should have taken up the opportunity to eat earlier,rather than hoping something would turn up around each random corner. In the end my lunch was a freshly baked cake from a lovely street bakery, and a packet of crisps. When we eventually got back (by taxi), we had a all around the park again. However, I was feeling ill, perhaps due to the sun again, and just needing cool. There were lots of different karaoke bits in the park, which seem like a great idea! The guy the day before had said there’s no other place like it in the world, and I believe him! I’d love to have more time in Bangkok just to go there again! On our wanderings we also came across another temple, a church, and a golf course where you just hit the balls out on the spot. I got mine the furthest, near the hundred mark, so I was pretty chuffed. At the same time, I was very hungry by that point, and have also hurt my finger from holding the club too tightly! 


When we were back, we had an hour before our venture to the train station again. I drank some pineapple juice and ate the most delicious kiwi, an apple, and two ice cream lollies! I felt much better then haha! We walked to a main road (15 minutes with our heavy bags) and got a taxi. I picked up the tickets and then saw there was a food court! I was worried I wouldn’t be having a proper meal all day, so seeing that made me very happy. We had a pad Thai and water for a total of 50 baht each. Bargain. It was with tofu and tasted great! We then boarded the train, and happened to be seated with two Spanish guys. I’ve been writing this and reading my book on the lexical approach in teaching (two chapters to go!) and so it was interesting trying to listen to their conversations, purely to see what words I could pick up. I could have tried to say a bit more in Spanish, but I was panicking a bit, knowing that I don’t know whether my boyfriend will be joining me on not, it’s kind of a bittersweet subject. The only words I said in Spanish were “September” and “south”. Turned out they were from Andalusia, which is where I will be working! Anyway, I better get some rest now and go to sleep — I have a breakfast coming at 7.30am!

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Phuket

The next part of the trip was much more laid back, with much less travelling around. We were based in Nai Yang beach, at a hotel called Seapines Villa Liberg. It was pure luxury. There was an ensuite bathroom, which had sliding doors, a lot of it seemed to be made of teak wood again, and a bed the size of two twins, but without the divide you sometimes get. Everyday, it was cleaned, and we were replenished with two bottles of water in the fridge. The air-con could get so cold that sometimes we needed to put on extra blankets (or turn it off!)
We had arrived in the evening and were introduced to a completely different taxi system, and quoted with 300 baht for the 10-minute drive to our hotel, or given the option of a metered taxi plus the 100 baht airport surcharge (we chose the latter after saying 300 baht was too much). It was partly the cost of taxis that kept us on Nai Yang beach most of the time, but also by the end of the time in that part of Thailand, it had been the all-round best beach. We spent two days on the beach and in the pool. The only downside to the pool was the smell of pyrotechnic lights that were lit each night — the pool itself was small, but there were never more than two other people there at a time, and this once provided opportunity to chat to other guests, and we met a South African couple, who happen to have lived in the same county as me (Surrey). 


We tried to go to Sirinat National Park, and paid 100 baht to get in, but after an hour of walking around we accidentally went in a circle, couldn’t find any park life, and ended up in a school grounds. When we asked some people at the information centre, where lots of construction work appeared to be taking place, they basically said there was nothing there, and to go over to the beach side. We tried to get our money back, but the woman refused, and kept laughing, perhaps out of awkwardness. We could have just walked up the beach with it paying, so didn’t quite understand what we were missing. We got some street food and tried to walk along the beach, but all we saw was a dead water-snake, and more frequent little crab creatures. 


We booked a tour of the Phi Phi islands for the next day. I had been worried about the weather, as the threat of storms persisted, but we were really lucky. To be safe, I wanted to opt for a reputable company, and so we probably paid a but extra for that security, but our transfer was included, which would have been at least 1000 baht if bought separately. We also wanted an early-bird option, which meant an extra expense, but it was probably worth it. We went with “Phuket Let’s Go!” but it seemed that the tour operator was actually Siam Adventure World Tours, or something like that. I’d seen positive reviews for both. It was mostly a good experience, but would have been nice to include the photos, which we ended up buying but somehow forgot to watch at our hostel in Bangkok upon returning!


We started off at Maya Bay and Losa Ma Bay on Ko Phi Phi Don, and were given around an hour there, which was enough time for a look around and a swim. We then did some snorkelling, and this was the start of my annoyance with the German-language tour guide (all the other staff were great). He asked if I wanted a life jacket and made a comment about my face, like I looked worried. It’s like, no, that’s just my face. It’s so rude to comment on people’s faces like that, I don’t know why people do it. At other points during the trip he also kind of seemed disgusted that I was sandy… after being on a beach… and just the way he spoke seemed quite arrogant. But anyway, as I tried to explain to him, at that point I couldn’t see anything as I had taken off my prescription-sunglasses. Snorkelling with the lifejacket was infuriating, and I ended up just using it as a float and handing it back, though it turned out that I had just done it up incorrectly. As it happens, snorkelling as a whole is completely pointless when you can’t see more than a metre ahead. I saw some small fish in front of my face and that was it. 


Next we passed by Monkey Island and took some pictures of some cute gibbons hanging off the edges. Though I would have liked more information about how the gibbons came to be there. After that we stopped for some more snorkelling, and at some point were given bananas. I tried to snorkel again, but left the flippers and took my sunglasses, making sure to step in as carefully as possible, rather than jump in as I had done before. I didn’t stay in long after I realised it was completely pointless, as of course, I couldn’t see anything, I forget the order of things, but we also swam in a lagoon for a while, and were handed slices of pineapple whilst doing so. We also saw a Viking cave whilst on our way to the final stop, which was on Bamboo Island. Here there was a small buffet, which was tasty, as well as more fruit. This beach, like the others, was made of beautiful near-white sand and turquoise water. There was a large area to walk around here, and we were given ample time to swim too. The only downside to the swimming, which I normally love and could do endlessly, was that we kept getting stung by what we were told were sea-lice. In the end, the stings were unbearable and I had to get out. 


That night I had my first alcoholic drink in Thailand, opting for their Chang beer. After another day of chilling and having our first traditional Thai massages, I moved on to cocktails. The rain was coming now, and although it had only been in the evenings, it happened when we had our massages, which was perfect timing really, so can’t complain! That night there was a dog that lay next to me whilst I ate. Although I was fine with it then, I think I’m becoming more cautious with them now. We listened to some live music, played darts and then pool (where I won by default rather than potting balls). Phuket was more expensive than Bangkok, so you really do pay for the sunny beach location, and this section very much felt like a holiday. 


The next day we got up relatively early and tried to get a taxi to the Gibbon centre. I didn’t realise that the taxi number we got from the driver who dropped us off had a note to book the day before. So, in the end we had to pay the 500 baht for a 20 minute drive. The gibbons were nice to see and learn about, and they were very loud, sounding like police sirens. It was also sad to see one of them sucking its thumb, another with missing limbs, and others that for various reasons couldn’t be let out back into the wild, which is the main aim for most of the gibbons there. We walked for a bit at Bang Pae Waterfalls, but it was very hot. We then walked for 40 minutes to the pier, which was a challenge. I joked that I felt like the character in the book I’m reading — “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. At the pier, there were families of gibbons bathing in puddles, and eating on top of cars. I worried that the nightmare I once had about being chased by a monkey was a premonition. Luckily not, but when I reached into my waterproof bag to try to take a cheeky picture, the sound of the Velcro made the one on the roof of a car’s head turn and so I didn’t! We nearly go scammed again to get into a private boat — understood properly when talking to another couple that when the guy had repeated something about being the pirate/captain, that he meant “private” not “pirate”. 


We took a public longboat to Ko Yao Noi, once we had said no to the other guy, and his partner in crime who tried to sell us some sort of pre-boarding ticket. My boyfriend wanted to ride a bike, and I wanted to try it out. However, because there were no helmets I was wary. I guess part of me didn’t want to be the one to always spoil the fun, but just because the people selling it don’t care about your health and safety, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t either. Without having had any lessons to drive, and not even being that great at riding a normal bicycle, I thought I’d go in the back. My boyfriend did a couple of laps, and was then told that he couldn’t do it and that he would have to pay for everything if there was an accident, and how difficult it would be on the road with cars etc. So, we managed to get our money back, and this guy said he would drop us off and pick us up in time for the last boat back, for 300 baht in total.

We ate at a beachside restaurant, and chatted with a couple who had met backpacking. Then we squeezed in a swim, but despite its pretty appearance, with fantastic landscape views, the water was very shallow, and there were loads of rocks at the bottom. So, although the water didn’t sting, it wasn’t a patch on Nai Yang beach. I had picked up a shell and a little Thai boy came up and gave me a shell, and so I exchange with him. He handed me more and more, and then it appeared that some of them had claws! There were lots of tiny crabs in shells as the water ran in small streams through the sand. 


When 4.10pm came, and the driver didn’t show up, I started to worry. We couldn’t quite get our heads around this scam, but thankfully the lovely staff at the restaurant called someone and he drove us there just in time to board the boat and to get a seat each! We thought maybe he wanted us to get stuck and have to stay somewhere, or maybe he had a private boat he wanted us to go on, or maybe he simply forgot! Anyway, thankfully it became a story to tell, rather than a nightmare to live out. I don’t know if it’s me, but this is definitely not helping me become more chilled and cool, but moments like these are testing, and I was in the verge of tears and meltdown, when really we would have been okay either way, and maybe I need to learn from that at least. We even managed to share a taxi back as an American couple happened to need to go to the airport, and our place is on the way there, so they stopped off to have some food there. We really needed a wash and change, but being out at 7pm was about the earliest we had done before. It rained whilst we were eating on the beachfront.


The next day, we started off with a massage. This time I got one focused on my back, but it felt so bruised the next day, so I guess it was a bit too rough for me! We spent all day in the beach, had a quick dip in the pool, and finally made it out before sunset, at around 6.15-30pm. It felt sad to leave Phuket, wishing I could take the sea with us. That said, it turned out we were conned again, as the journey back from the hotel to the airport took at least half the time it had done on the way there. It was funny that after nearly two weeks in Thailand, and one being in the beach the whole time, a guy came up to us thinking we had just arrived because of our white skin. We have been quite careful, have minimal burns, and always use factor 50, but I do have a little watch-mark on my wrist, so we are a bit less pale than we arrived! 

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