2 days later, I felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day as I stood in the line to check into my 6am flight to Hanoi to meet back up with Kirsty, Ed and Sarah. Only this time, I had gotten my Vietnam visa sorted out in Bangkok and was going to actually get on the flight!
I had waited long enough to finally be able to step off the plane and say those 3 words. GOOD MORNING VIETNAM! I met a super cool English chick named Pippa waiting to board, ended up sitting in the seat next to her and then we were both heading to Hanoi Backpackers Hostel to meet up with other people. It worked out nice and made it a better travel journey to chat it up with Pippa until we arrived. I was able to get into the same dorm room as Kirsty and the place was absolutely packed. Completely booked and seething with partying backpackers. I had no idea how much drinking was going to be taking place in the next couple of days.
Kirsty, Sarah and Ed showed up sometime shortly after I arrived and we went walking around so I could get a glimpse of Hanoi. It was hotter than Zimbabwe and I could not believe my eyes with all the motorbike traffic. You couldn’t wait for a clear moment to cross the street, you just had to walk and let them all go around you like a river stream current flows around the rocks. There is absolutely no acknowledgment of street laws and regulations. Its pretty much a free for all and you just go. It’s almost indescribable, as I had never witnessed anything like it. I thought the traffic in Buenos Aries was crazy. It was nothing compared to this madness. We went to the prison where John McCain was held back in the war. It was the pretty crazy to see the conditions in which the people kept there were forced to live.
While we were there, Kirsty ran into a friend she had gone to university with who was super cool and it was just so completely random. Turns out we were going on the same dinner to Snake Village later that evening and we would be having a fantastic evening together.
The Snake Village was an outdoor restaurant that specializes in….you guessed it, SNAKE! When we first arrived we were all able to hold one of the snakes for photos then moved over towards our table where our group of about 20 would be eating.
One of the main attractions to the place is that someone cuts the heart out of the snake and someone else swallows the heart in a shot of its out blood while it still beats. Of course I wanted to be one of those people so one of the Dutch guys sliced the heart out while I waited with my shot glass. I couldn’t really taste much except the vodka they pour into the pitcher mixed with the blood but you can feel the heart still wiggle as it slid down my throat. The next hour or so we were served many different dishes that were ALL made out of snake. Snake spring rolls, fried snake skin, snake ribs and so on. Our guide, Ciaran had us doing a shot of either snake whiskey or snake vodka between each new dish that was brought out. They were super strong and did not taste very good but when in Rome (actually Vietnam). The funny thing is, I don’t even think the Vietnamese people eat the snake hearts, its just some crazy gimmick they came up with to sell to the insane backpacking westerners.
The Dutch guy who had sliced my snake heart out noticed we missed a round of shots and by this point, we were all ready quite drunk and could have gone without that one but he was keeping us on track. I think everyone in our group was stumbling back to the van to the hostel after many snake dishes and too many shots of alcohol. Thank goodness Hanoi has a curfew and the town pretty much shuts down at midnight or I may not have made it up for our tour the next morning.
We had to be up and ready to go for our 8am departure for the Rock Long Rock Hard Halong Bay tour and when I woke up there was no sight of Kirsty in the bunk across from me. I just started getting my stuff together hoping she would make an appearance before we had to go when she popped in the door. We headed downstairs to meet the group in the lobby and sitting at the computers was a familiar face I was thrilled to see again. InZane had made his way to Vietnam and just arrived in Hanoi that morning. I filled him in on the previous night events and showed him the video of me swallowing the snake heart at Snake Village and he was determined to do the same that evening. After catching up briefly on the few weeks since I had seen him last, our bus showed up and our group was handed out brightly colored sombreros and ushered into vans to head north.
Kirtsy and I slept for most of the bus ride knowing that the first night on the boat was going to be another big drinking night. We had heard from other people who had already done the trip that the tour guide has you playing drinking games from dinner until the late hours of the night. We boarded our boat and were heading out to the middle of Halong Bay where we would stop for lunch and swimming before our sunset kayaking adventure. Kirsty and I thought it would be best if we didnt drink until after the kayak trip because it was supposed to be a long way. We all jumped off the top of the two story boat and swam while 2 boats full of Chinese tourists cheered us on like we were a tourist attraction. It was really wierd…they all came up close to our boat and took a bunch of pictures of us and cheered and clapped when someone would jump off the top into the water.
When it was time to kayak, Kirsty and I both being a bit competitive in nature, were right on the tour guide’s tail to the cave and hidden cove. It was a really long way and we were glad we waited to have a drink as our reward when we got back. The limestone out-jetting scenery was amazing so it helped distract from the distance. We didn’t have enough flashlights for everyone who wanted to go through the caves so as we were climbing through small holes in complete darkness at sometimes but I was fine with it. When we came through the other side and saw the beautiful cove, it was well worth it. Most of us got in and went for a swim and enjoyed the beauty of the place we were totally enclosed by the limestone walls and lush greenery. We made it back out to our kayaks with just enough time to get back to the boat while the sun was setting.
Kirsty and I were determined to make it back before everyone else, including the guide since we knew our way and didnt need to follow anyone. Our competitive spirits took over and we got back way before anyone else and got to see a gorgeous sunset from out on the water before rewarding all our efforts with the first of many ice cold beers.
After dinner, Ciaran (our guide) didn’t waste any time getting the drinking games under way. We were told to leave so they could set the room up and when we returned the table had all been pushed together so we could all sit around in a big circle. There were card spread around cups at both ends of the tables and he went over the rules with us. My favorite one being the troll card, if you picked the troll card, which I was 1st on my team to draw, you had to go under the table until the next troll card was picked or the King allowed you to come up. The good thing about being the troll is that you can go around the table and tap anyone on the leg and they have to feed you a drink.
I wouldnt have minded staying under there except for the fact that I started to feel left out and was finally let out by Sarah. As you can imagine, anytime there is a drinking game involved we all got pretty intoxicated. The Holland boys were so excited to find out that Holland and advanced to the next World Cup spot and it was just another reason to keep celebrating. About half of the group were English girls who were not quite as engaged in the festivities and when they went to bed, the rest of us stopped playing drinking games and just cranked the music, danced and sang until we blew the speakers (oops!) and eventually were dancing outside in the rain.
I ended up going to sleep after it started raining and left my camera with Kirsty and was lucky enough to have some really interesting photos to come back to. Come to find out after I had gone to bed, the rest of the troublemakers stayed up playing in the rain and putting all the chair mats together to make a slip n slide. It was a wild night for just about everyone….except the English girls.
The next morning, Kirsty and I were both feeling a bit rough and we had to get up pretty early to transfer to another boat to head to Castaway Island for our second night. About half the people in the group were going back to Hanoi so our group got significantly smaller. What better way to keep the hangover away than to keep drinking? So beer in hand, Kirsty and I boarded the other boat and were geared up for another fun filled day of adventures. The first thing we were going to have to do was try to learn the names of the remaining people in our group. Although it was a much more manageable size, there was still too many people to remember all those names, especially if we were going to be drinking all day again. Kirsty said she couldn’t be asked to remember all these names and I had to agree. This is moment we decided it would be best to give everyone nicknames. We had already been somewhat calling people by nicknames in our own heads so we decided to make it official and spent most of the day discussing and agreeing on their nicknames. When we got to Castaway Island, we found out much to our disappointment that we wouldnt be able to rock climb like we had signed up for so we were left to wakeboard. I had never stood up on a wakeboard in all 10 years of trying off and on and was NOT excited about another day of failure but Kirsty and I signed up for a later slot and decided to get some beers and take the kayak out for a bit to across the bay.
While we sat in the water and enjoyed out beers, we decided that we would plan our lives together for the next couple months. She was going to be going to Australia for a bit but then would return to Vietnam and we would try to work at Hanoi Backpackers doing the Halong Bay tours. After that, we would go back to Thailand and teach English for a few months and travel some more. After we felt like we had sufficiently planned out the next few months and finished the beers we brought, we decided to head back to our island and possibly take a nap. Somewhere along the way back, while I’m singing “I’m in my kayak, bitch” to the tune of the popular Hip Hop song- “I’m in Maimi, bitch”, Kirsty gets the brilliant idea that we should do a little wrestling on the kayaks. Attempt to balance then see if we can knock each other off the kayak. What sounded like a fabulous idea at the time turned into a beating for both of us just attempting to stand and balance on the kayak. I’m quite sure at one point I might have cracked my rib because it hurt me for weeks later and would wake me up at night when I rolled onto it.
Despite the bruises and injury, we were laughing our asses off the entire time and couldnt have been happier. We got back to the island and spent some quality time in the only 2 hammocks laughing at each other as we bounced ideas around about the nicknames for the rest of the crew. It was getting nearer to our wakeboarding time so we made the executive decision to take a power nap….but instead of napping we ended up doing aerobics in our bungalow because we thought we were getting beer bellies from the last few days of drinking too much (and we were!).
It was finally time to wakeboard and I was not looking forward to yet another failed attempt to stand up on the board. I usually was so determined to get up and would feel defeated by the board every time the rope yanked out of my hands and I face-planted into the water. I don’t know if it was the change in determination and expectations or if it was just my time….but I finally got up for the first time and it felt amazing!
I was so excited to finally conquer wakeboarding which had eluded my capabilities for so many years. I managed to stand up and stay up for a bit at least 3 times and was completely satisfied with my performance. Kirsty had never boarded either and was able to stand up on the board at least once so all in all the day was a great success. We got back to the shore completely pumped up and returned to our hammocks for some well deserved rest and decided on the rest of the group nicknames. I was BAMF, Kirsty was Tramp (which is some English way of saying a homeless person), the 6 Irish gals were Guinness, Paddy Power, Nemo, Lefty, Teeth, Hollmark/Hollaback Girl, the 2 Australians girls were McGee and something I cant remember she wasnt all that memorable, Ed and Sarah were Kebab and Mum, Adam was Boom, Ciaran was Muscles (because of his lack of them), Jordan was Captain, and the Holland boys were Pride and Rainbow. There nicknames were definitely my favorite and came with a story….well they all come with a story but this one is the best.
The day before we left on the boat trip one of the girls asked Rob (Pride) who he was with and he had said his partner but meant it as his brother. The girl took it that he was gay and when one of the girls was inquiring about him the next night because he was cute, she told everyone not to waste their time because he was gay. We eventually found out they were brothers and not gay lovers but I thought the story was hilarious and that’s where the nicknames came from for Rob (Pride) and Peter (Rainbow).
The rest of the night was pretty similar to the night before except that I had too much and lost my camera and blamed everyone else. It wasn’t a pretty sight so I called it a night pretty early to everyone’s relief. We woke up early the next morning to catch the boat back to Halong Bay and Kirsty and I were needing some quality time together so we headed to the top deck for some impromptu karaoke. We were having so much fun singing and sharing ipods that it carried onto the bus ride home.
Unfortunately, not everyone had as much energy as Kirsty and I did on the 4 hour bus ride back to Hanoi and I believe we may have been getting on peoples nerves to hear us singing Brittney Spears, but again, we were laughing and having a great time that was unstoppable. When we stopped at the halfway point rest stop it was hotter than Zimbabwe again so we decided to cool off with the hose in the parking lot. We got a lot of strange looks from the local Vietnamese people but by this time we were used to it and still laughing the entire time. Kirsty and I together were like a can of gasoline and a match. HUGE EXPLOSIONS of entertainment for each other. I never laughed harder on my SE Asia travels than during the couple of weeks I spent getting into shenanigans with her.
Unfortunately, all the partying came with a price to pay and and neither one of us had much of a voice left. We decided to take it a bit easier the next couple of days we had left in Vietnam and spent the next day walking around Hanoi and trying to stay cool. We ended up eating frozen yogurt and just watching movies and napping. All day long Kirsty kept saying, “I cant be asked to do this or that” and I found this to be extremely confusing. Like who is asking her to do anything? Certainly not me. I could hardly function in this heat and felt like I was walking through soup. I just chalked it up to some other funny England phrase I didn’t understand. Half the time she was talking to me I couldn’t understand either due to her accent or the loss of voice so I would just ignore it unless she called me out on it. We went out that evening and I was able to meet a friend from my job at Qualcomm back in the states, Walker. It was so good to see a familiar face from home and get some insight from someone who was living in Hanoi. I didn’t particularly like Hanoi but I think it was mostly because it was so muggy and humid I didn’t feel like doing anything. Walker suggested a different ice cream parlor for us to check out the next day since I had expressed my inability to eat anything except ice cream in this nasty weather.
The next day, which was also Kirsty’s last day before heading off to Australia, we had a mellow day eating frozen yogurt for breakfast and heading to the movies in a failed attempt to see Twilight. The movie had been out in the states for a week but as we found out after arriving at the theater, it wouldn’t come out in Vietnam until the next day so we ended up watching Toy Story 3D just to stay cool and I ended up crying. I’m pretty sure the heat was also messing with my emotions because I can’t think of any other reason Toy Story would make a normal person cry. On our way back to the hostel we found the ice cream place Walker had told us about called Fanny’s. They really did have the best ice cream creations I have ever had. I couldn’t figure out what was so funny about the name until Kirsty explained that in England, fanny was another name for a woman’s whoo-haw. On the same topic, I eventually commented back when she said for the 100th time, “I cant be asked to….” – well who asked you to? Come to find out, what she was actually saying was, “I cant be arsed to….”, which makes even less sense to me than the first one.
So the moral of the story is, people from England say some strange things. In all seriousness, its one of my favorite things about traveling and meeting different people from all over the world and hearing the various usage of the same words and learning new words for the same expression. It just cracked me up that for almost 3 weeks I had heard her say what I thought I was hearing one way and it turned out to be something totally different.
The last night out was a sad night because Kirsty, Ed and Sarah were all leaving in the morning and I had to decide what to do next now that I was going to be on my own again. The Holland boys had gone up to Sapa and were coming back the next day and leaving for Vang Vieng, Laos for the tubing. I knew some people who were going to be heading to the north of Vietnam to Sapa, including InZane who had just returned from his 2 drunken nights on the Rock Long Rock Hard Halong Bay tour. I wasn’t all that fond of Vietnam and was leaning towards just getting out of the hot and sweaty country. When Harriet was able to get her passport together and extend her trip to join me, my decision was made. We went out for one last night of Vietnamese food Bia Hoi Hanoi- which translates into “fresh beer” and is served for less than $.40 a glass all over Vietnam. At dinner we met an awesome Vietnamese family who had a teenage daughter who spoke a bit of English. She was so sweet and I spent some time with her family and promised to get back in touch with them when I returned to Vietnam for some help learning the city a bit better.The next morning, Kirsty woke me up when she left for her flight and I was so sad to see her go.
It had been a wild and memorable couple of weeks with some English counterpart but all good things must come to an end. Plus, I wasnt sure my voice could take much more of our impromptu singing sessions. Goodbye Vietnam for now…..on to the tubing with the Holland boys!