Tuesday, 31 October 2017

#33 Vietnam part 2 & A hopeless romantic in Pondi

Every time I've travelled to India things have happened in sequence just before that cannot be explained.

This time two things happened that made me think, as ridiculous as it sounds, that India was calling extra loud this time.

The first thing was a spontaneous purchase. For some reason I was drawn to a man selling books on the streets of Hanoi. He had a friendly, intelligent face and something made stop and investigate what he had for sale, despite my limited budget. He had the usual historical novels and guidebooks which I flicked past. Then a book with a blue cover caught my eye. It was the Life of Pi and I made a spur of the moment decision to buy it.

It wasn't until I got back to the hostel that I remembered it was set in Pondicherry, India at the beginning. I was going Pondicherry! This was the first sign.

The second coincidence was a message from Super Chill Mumbai Guy. He messaged me on the exact day I was flying despite not having a clue when I had booked my flights for.

Call it a coincidence, or whatever you want, but as far as I was concerned India was calling loud and clear. The universe was unfolding as it should.

My last few days in Vietnam passed quickly. The new volunteer arrived at the hotel and I played pool one night with a group of Spanish friends I met.

We also went to Viet Hai fishing village again for a night with Viet's friends, and Stevie, the other Vietnamese guy who worked at the hotel.

This time we visited a cave, went hiking and had a campfire in the evening. We sat around it drinking Hanoi beer, cooking corn on the cob and telling scary stories under the starry night sky.

Viet then informed me I should go on a boat tour the next day. So I did. On the boat tour we visited Monkey Island and climbed up some seriously dangerous and jagged rocks. I was amazed at the lack of safety precautions and that no one hurt themselves. I even did it in jandals!

We stopped near Halong Bay and were told we could jump off the boat for a swim. It was quite high up and because I was on my own I had no one to egg me on. So I sat for a while and watched everyone else jump off. Finally I decided maybe I could do it too. So I did! And it wasn't even that bad. We then did some kayaking through some impressive sea caves before heading home.

That evening Viet convinced us to go out as it was my last night on the island. I was so tired I had to have a little nap first like an old lady. This seemed to work and after a while I was awake enough to join them. We went to one bar that played western music and served laughing gas in balloons for free during happy hour. I'd never come across this before and decided to give it a go. It was a very weird sensation that I would not like to repeat and it didn't even make us laugh. I'll stick to laughing at genuinely funny things instead. Much more enjoyable.

After a few more beersies and several different bars I spotted a Canadian couple that had been on my boat earlier so I went to say hi. They were also going to India soon so we exchanged details in case we were ever in the same place again. The evening passed uneventfully and eventually we decided it was time to head home in the wee hours.

The next morning we slept late and Viet informed me that my bus to Hanoi would leave at 4. I kicked around the hotel until then and said a final hurtied goodbye. Funnily enough I met the same Canadian couple on the boat back to Hanoi and we had a nice chat to pass the time.

I arrived in Hanoi around dinner time and found my hostel. It had a cheap female only dorm and free beers between 6-7pm which I decided to opy out of (by this stage I had consumed more beer in the last week than any other week of my life including in my first year of uni).

The next day I explored Hanoi on foot with an old fashioned paper map. I wanted to see Ho Chi Minh's body which was on display in a mausoleum. Sadly I got there too late and it was closed. Instead I got to look around the house he worked and lived in and wander around the old presidential grounds.

I liked Hanoi. It was elegant. There were cute little boutique stores, coffee shops on every corner and really good sandwhiches for around $NZD 1.

That evening I ventured out again, after a rest, to a lake in the centre of the city. That's what I like about Hanoi. If you stay in the old quarter everything is walking distance so you can see things wihout wasting money on taxis.

There were also enough things to see just on the streets that meant you could have a good taste of the city without having to buy tickets to all the 'must see' things. I did happen upon a water puppet theatre however and spontaneously decided to book a ticket because why the heck not.

So I went to the theatre by myself and it was great. The water puppets are controlled by people behind a screen with long sticks. They were very skilled and pulled off the whole performance without a hitch.

That evening I unpacked and repacked my whole bag in preparation for my international flight to Trichy, India. After my Vietnam immigration kerfuffle I wanted to make sure I was properly prepared for this one.

I don't know if it was the two very strong Vietnamese coffees I'd had that day, or excitement, or both but I hardly slept that night. My mind was already on the bustling streets of Trichy before I'd even reached the airport.

A hopeless romantic in Pondi

The next morning I left the hostel at 5.30 am to get to the airport nice and early. After one final delicious Vietnamese coffee I was off to Kuala Lumpur. This time I got the window seat but I barely looked up from the Life of Pi the whole 3 hours. I was hooked! It was a literal page turner and I can totally see why it won so many awards.

We soon reached Kuala Lumpur and I found a nice cheap meal of Nasi Goreng for lunch. After going through customs again, time flew, and it wasn't long before I was at my boarding gate.

Now things were starting to get real! I was the only white face in a sea of Indian ones. I felt so out of place and the nerves kicked in again. Trichy didn't seem to be a standard place for western travellers to visit. I was really getting off the beaten track.

On the flight from KL to Trichy I was wedged between a Malaysian Muslim couple who didn't speak or look at one another for the first hour until the lady was given a biryani, ate the biryani, and then, from what I could gather, complained that it wasn't a biryani. The flight attendants weren't happy.

Immigration went smoothly when I arrived in Trichy. The airport was old and dusty and there was a sleepy looking man at the e-tourist visa desk who looked very alarmed when I walked up to his desk. He probably didn't have much to do on most days and was watching a Bollywood video clip on his phone when I interrupted him with my visa requirements.

My bag arrived and I withdrew rupees from the ATM without any problem this time. I must have stuck out like a sore thumb. I was literally the ONLY foreigner in the whole airport. I could feel eyes on me but no one hassled me and even the taxi drivers were very relaxed.

Because I was arriving during daylight hours I hadn't booked a hotel. All the ones I could find online were kind of expensive and I had read there were plenty scattered around the bus station so wasn't too worried. The first few I tried didn't have rooms left but I found a reasonably cheap one after a while with no problems. The man on the front desk first tried to charge me 990 rs for a non A.C. room but when I walked away the price miraculously dropped to 660 rs instead. This is what I love about Asia!

The room was basic but clean and the bed was very comfortable. There was no shower but I am getting better at washing with a bucket now so it wasn't a problem.

That evening I went back out to find food. The hotel was crammed along side the very busy bus station and I wended my way through the crowds again feeling as though all eyes were on me. I felt like people were looking at me, but actually, I don't think they were.

I didn't catch many stares, at least, none that made me uncomfortable. They were just brief glances of surprise much like I would give a woman wearing a saree back home. I was the equivalent of that here. A random white girl wearing pants and a t-shirt whilst everyone else was in sarees and kurtas.

It's hard to describe the level of happiness I felt when I got back to my room and stuck my head out the window to survey the chaotic scene below. It felt SO good to be back in India and I have no idea why.

Maybe it was the people. The food? The sounds? The way the traffic moves? The warm air? The smells, both good and bad? The electric energy. I was asleep before 10pm after a long day of travelling.

When I woke up the next morning a smile crept over my face when I remembered where I was. As I lay there listening to the cheerful honking outside, I briefly mourned Vietnamese coffee, but I soon got over it when I remembered I could find a delicious steaming cup of chai instead. Sweet, cinnamony, milky goodness with a thin layer of skin on the top. Mmmmhmmmm. This was very much the right decision. Why hadn't I come back sooner??

I wandered around the town for a bit after a breakfast of some kind of sweet pastry and a mandarin I'd accidentally brought with me from Vietnam.

Then I discovered my Indian SIM card was no longer registered so I sat at the Vodafone centre for hours whilst they filled out enough paper work for me to have been sworn in as the new the prime minister of India or something. I even had to name either my husband or my father and provide an Indian address and reference. Patriachy is still alive and well in India. But we all already knew that!

Finally I had a SIM with unlimited calls and a reasonable amount of data to last my entire trip. The ladies at the store were SO lovely and taught me some new words in Tamil and Hindi whilst we waited.

I had a quick lunch of samosas and went back to the hotel room to consider my options. I could catch a local bus to Pondicherry that afternoon or stay another night in Trichy in the hotel and go the next day. I decided to catch the bus that afternoon. Pondicherry sounded nice and I wanted to get there as soon as I could. The bus also happened to leave right outside my hotel. It would mean arriving in the dark around 9pm but I decided to risk it.

Admittedly I was a little wary of catching a local bus at night time but I felt braver now I had a working cellphone and data. If I began to feel uncomfortable I would simply get off the bus and find a safe hotel to wait until morning. Plus I strongly believe that you'll always be surrounded by more decent, kind people in India than bad ones, despite what everyone who has never been, will tell you.

It was as if immense and insatiable curiosity transported me to Pondicherry rather than the rickety old bus I squeezed myself and my backpack onto.

For the next 5 hours I sat next to various beautiful South Indian women who smelt of the flowers in their hair and gave me shy smiles. One woman in a pink saree fell asleep on my shoulder. Two boys sold me warm roasted salted peanuts wrapped in a piece of newspaper written in Hindi and shot me brilliant white smiles when I handed them some extra rupees.

I'm constantly in awe of how smoothly everything works in India. I was dropped off in Cuddlelore right next to my connecting bus. This bus cost 30rs for an hours journey and was just like the city busses in NZ. It was brightly lit so I felt very safe even though it was dark and raining outside by this stage.

It's difficult to describe how much happiness I felt as I listened to the scrambled sounds of Tamil (Tamil Nadu's dialect) spoken around me and the gentle Bollywood music that played in the bus.

I arrived in Pondicherry around 9pm as expected and caught a rickshaw to my hotel (which I had booked in advance on my phone on the bus ride as I knew I would be arriving after dark - that's my rule now - only book if it's a matter of safety).

The hotel was dirty and run down but had a certain charm to it. It had an open court yard with Chinese lanterns hanging across it. There were some sad looking pot plants that desperatley wanted watering, huddled around the winding staircase. The walls had once been painted a cheerful blue but now the paint was peeling off and the floors needed a good scrub. I didn't mind. There was a bed and a bathroom. That's all I needed.

The poor boy at reception looked at me like he'd just seen a ghost. Obviously he didn't get many strange foreign women travelling alone and checking in at 9.30 at night. I had to suppress a giggle. Instead of feeling self- conscious I was beginning to find people's reactions to my solo-ness kind of funny and quaint.

Pondicherry had an unexpected effect on me. They say the feeling of falling in love is actually just a rush of dopamine similar to taking a drug. Well this is the only way I can explain how I felt the next day when I discovered this beautiful little town.

I fell completely and unapologetically head over heels in love. I don't think I've ever really, properly been in love with a person before so it's probably a bit weird that my first love is a place.

The combination of elegant French architecture plus the South Indian vibes, food, smells, smiles and French coffee made for giddy, addictive combination.

I wandered down a small road towards where I thought the beach was. Suddenly the sky got wider and there it was! The glorious Andaman Sea!

A comforting breeze ruffled the palm trees on the boulevard and men with bamboo ladders hung fairy lights from trees. It looked like they were preparing for some kind of event. People were also hanging banners in the Indian flag colours from a gazebo and rickshaws bleated as they hurried past.

I found a cafe by the beach which served croissants and French coffee and sat there for a while watching the waves and people pass by.

I dreamt of marrying a nice Pondicherry boy and living out the rest of my days writing nonsense and drinking French coffee by the sea.

For the first time in a long time I had made a very, very good decision! The next two months were going to be great! I could tell already.

Antique store - Hanoi. October, 2017.

The streets of Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu, India. October, 2017

Can I just live here forever now?

Monday, 16 October 2017

#32 Vietnam part 1 - Goodnight Saigon, Gooood morning Vietnam!

The Vietnam chapter started with a now funny bump in the road. It wasn't that funny at the time but thank goodness it all worked out.

With all the good chat the day before my flight I completely forgot to get $USD 25 out to pay for my Visa on Arrival. I thought I would find a cash machine at the airport and do that whilst I waited for my flight from Bangkok however I discovered that once I was through immigration there was no way of getting cash out! I was stuck.

Even the information desk people couldn't help me after I explained my problem. Surely I wasn't the only person to have this issue? Was I getting a bit too casual about this whole international flight thing?

There didn't seem much I could do about it so I tried not to worry and looked online to see if anyone had written anything about this before. They had. And luckily it said that the immigration staff could escort you to an ATM outside the airport to get cash on arrival in Vietnam.

It turned out the staff at Ho Chi Minh airport were really brisk and unfriendly towarfs everyone which was not a great first impression but I guess they've got more important things to worry about than customer service.

When my time came to get cash out I couldn't remember which account I was meant to select as I hadn't used this card for about four months.

Unfortunately I must have pressed the wrong account too many times and my card became locked! This really was a disaster because no one working at the airport had a phone that I could use to call my bank.

After talking to one unhelpful staff member after another I finally found a very kind immigration officer who came up with a solution. She lent me $10 USD to buy a Vietnamese SIM card so I could phone the bank and unlock my card. Thank goodness for kind people!

By this stage I'm sure stress was written all over my face. I spoke to the bank staff and it was so good to hear that New Zealand accent and speak to people who actually understood me! I unlocked my card and withdrew enough money to pay the woman back, for my Visa and a taxi into town.

So Vietnam and I got off on the wrong foot but I was determined the next day would be better and that I was going to like this place. As I sat in the back of the taxi whilst we crawled along in horrendous Ho Chi Minh rush hour traffic, the driver put on a CD, and I immediately recognised the familiar notes of the Hotel California intro.

For some reason hearing this conpletely erased all the stress. It was all going to be fine. I could relax and laugh about everything now.

The hostel I stayed in the first three nights was right in the centre of the city on the most touristy road but for once I didn't mind. I met a nice Spanish guy in my dorm and was really grateful to have someone to laugh with about my misadventure at the airport.

The next day I managed to avoid being roped into any expensive tours by the hostel owners and got a map so I could explore on foot. It was time to really tighten the purse strings because my baht weren't going as far as I would have liked and I still needed it to last until December at least.

I decided to look at it as a challenge. How much of the city could I experience for free? I visited most of the main sights and just looked at them from the outside instead of paying to go in. I know it sounds silly but I'm over 'must see' things in cities anyway. I did, however, fork out a whopping NZD 90 cents to go to the War Remnants Museum and I'm very glad I did.

There was a collection of horrific photos taken during the American-Vietnam war and which made quite a lasting impression. I also enjoyed learning about the American soldiers who burnt their draft cards and refused to go to Vietnam. I feel like that is equally as brave as the soldiers who fought. Standing up for what you believe in is admirable no matter what, in a way. Despite the terrible things that led to the museum's existence, I'm glad it exists. Thousands of people are reminded of the attrocities that happened on Vietnamese soil every day and I hope we can all agree that we should make sure nothing like that ever happens again.

That evening I chilled at the hostel and chatted to the Spanish guy a bit more. He was there for skating. He had these cool little wheels that went on each foot and apparently there is quite a community of this flavor of skaters in Ho Chi Minh. He was so passionate about it and you could see his eyes light up when he talked about skating.

The following day I did a bit more exploring on foot by the river and in the afternoon I met up with a guy from Saudi Arabia who had appeared in the dorm in the Spanish guys place without me realising.

I had been very confused when I woke up and found a different person in the bed next to me than the person I had said good night to! Apparently there had been a booking error and I slept through the whole debacle.

Nevertheless he was also good company and we decided that we both wanted to taste crocodile as I had seen it on the menu somewhere near by. As we headed out, we met the Spanish guy again, and invited him to join us. He was vegetarian but keen to try something new.

We found a stall at the night market and chowed down. It was surprisingly delicious! It can only be  described as tasting like really good chicken. As we ate, the heavens opened, and we had to decide what to do next. Spanish guy suggested we try to climb up the tallest building to see the city at night, so off we went. We were pretty saturated, but the rain was so warm, we didn't mind.

Sadly it was too expensive to get to the top of the building so we made do with the poor mans view out another much lower window. It was fun nonetheless and we stopped on the way back at some street vendors to taste some Vietnamese moon cakes and chewy rice sweets.

The Spanish guy had to go to a new hostel so the Saudi Arabian guy and I snuck up to the rooftop of our hostel. He smoked a joint and I made him tell me his life story as the rain continued to fall on the tin roof and the lights of Ho Chi Minh stretched out in front of us under a haze of water droplets.

The next day I had a flight to Hanoi and made two errors of judgement. The first one was choosing a hostel that the Saudi Arabian guy reccomended and the second one was not researching the cheapest way to get from the airport to the city. Instead I opted for a metered taxi and of course the driver chose the longest way. I was watching this on Google maps but I decided not to get angry at him because it was my own fault for trusting him and I didn't realise soon enough to make him go the shorter way.

How was I still making these stupid mistakes? I am now at the stage in my trip where these mistakes could mean the difference between affording to stay another month in India and having to go home soon. Silly, silly me.

That night I was in an 18 bed dorm with people who really loved partying. I wandered around the markets finding dinner for as long as I could to avoid having to socialise and then lay on my top bunk watching Max Key (son of former Prime Minister John Key) vlogs (video blogs) and wondering what I was doing with my life as crappy music thumped away below me.

I lied. I made three bad decisions that day and the Max Key vlogs were one of them.

The next day my workaway host Viet had arranged a bus to pick me up to take me to Cat Ba Island. You can now drive most of the way thanks to a road that connects the mainland with the nearby island of Haiphong. Then you are required to take a speed boat the rest of the way and then another bus through the National Park to the town. The island was very scenic but I was so tired from not being able to sleep in the hostel in Hanoi that I slept most of the way.

When I reached the town the driver showed me to the place I was meant to be meeting Viet down a little alley near the main road. After a very brief meeting Viet went off to have lunch with the bus driver and I was left alone awkwardly having lunch with his family who spoke about two words of English.

I didn't really know what was going on. The hotel wasn't the same one he had told me about and I wasn't sure if this was where I would stay permanently. I also wasn't sure if I was guarunteed to get the workaway job or not and it was all very confusing.

I ended up falling asleep in the room he gave me as I waited for him to get back. Later he sent an email saying to meet him for coffee and to talk about the job, so off I went.

My first impression was that he wasn't your typical Vietnamese person. He seemed very highly strung. Perhaps it was the stress of starting his own online business. He proceeded to talk at 100 miles a minute about his website and chain smoked about six Saigon cigarettes in the space of an hour.

Then we were off having dinner with some friends of his who would be joining us on a tour the next day to Viet Hai fishing village. They were British. The son had been living in Vietnam for two years and his father and step mother were visiting him for two weeks.

The conversation jumped between politics to Vietnamese culture to Viet teaching his friend phrases to say when he wanted to pick up Vietnamese girls.

His friend then proceeded to roll a joint and smoke it right there with his dad. I was still so surprised at how openly people smoked weed here compared to Thailand.

I'd only been in the country four days but every day someone new lit up a joint in my presence. I concluded I should stop being surprised and just accept that things are very different in Asia especially when police officers can easily be bribed.

The next morning we all headed off to Beo Pier and took a small boat across Lan Ha Bay which is part of the larger and more famous Halong Bay. I  thought I was getting hard to impress but even I couldn't deny the beauty of this place. I'd never seen anything like it.

The limestone karsts towered above mirror - like water and the jungle was such a vibrant green.

We arrived at Viet Hai Fishing Village after about an hour and took an electric bus to a homestay where Viet told us about the traditional agricultural methods of early Vietnamese farmers.

We then walked to the site of an old village. The houses were mostly made of stone and the greyness against the bright green of the jungle around it was a beautiful contrast. We were the only ones there and it really felt like we were being let in on a very well kept secret.

Viet showed us to a river where he told us to take off our shoes and let the fish nibble at our toes. I was no more convinced than the first time I tried a fish spa in Chiang Mai. My feet are just too ticklish!

That afternoon Viet's friends had to leave and it was just me and him. He was going to show me the rest of the tour the next day so I could write about it for the website.

After a delicious meal sitting on the floor with the homestay family, Viet and the other men to sat around smoking and chatting. I left them to it and went to bed.

The next day it was time to go kayaking. We took a tiny local boat to a fisherman's house where Viet told me to go kayaking on my own in the mini bay. It was perfectly safe because there was only one way in and one way out.

They gave me a huge double kayak and a wonky paddle and off I went struggling to keep it heading in a straight line.

I explored for about an hour and then made our way back for lunch and to a junk that took us back to Cat Ba.

Viet and I met up the next afternoon and he gave me a brief description about what he wanted me to write about. The next few days were a bit of a struggle if I'm honest. He didn't like what I wrote and I didn't understand what he wanted from me. I settled for correcting some of the articles he had already written. It was very time consuming because first I had to figure out what he was trying to say and then re-word it.

I found myself getting very angry because he kept changing his mind. It had also been raining for two days straight and the foyer of the hotel had flooded. It was all a bit of a disaster.

Finally we had a sunny day and Viet told me to take the day off. I walked up to the Cannon Fort and explored some Viet Cong tunnels.

The next day we really started working. I still found it difficult to nail down exactly what he wanted or get much direction at all. It felt like he was impossible to please.

After a lot of frustration and a very heated discussion about marketing vs journalism we finally figured out why we were clashing. We were seeing things from two very different perspectives. I wanted to present factual, useful information, whilst he wanted flowery, exaggerated writing designed to make people want to spend their money and that's why I was feeling so angry!

We were both so glad to figure it out and realise it wasn't personal after all. It was just our professional backgrounds that made it hard for us to understand one another. Once that weight was lifted we got on SO much better and had some really good conversations.

On another of my days off I hired a motorbike and drove to the National Park with a Dutch girl that was staying in the hotel. We hiked up to the top of one of the peaks and the view was incredible. It was also blimmin humid and we were sweating from every pore.

Another morning I went for a walk around the clifftops and marvelled at the monstrous resorts that have popped up along the beach front.

One evening Viet took me on the back of his scooter and we drove around the island at dusk. It was fantastically beautiful. The images will be forever etched in my memory. The infinite shades of green, the gentle golden glow of the sun as it sunk into the sea, the smell of some kind of unfamiliar flower perfuming the air and the welcomed breeze that comes with riding on a scooter. Perhaps this was going to be ok after all.

I was reminded of the copy of Desiderata that hangs at my mothers house and the line that reads 'no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.'

No doubt indeed!  There's something very comforting about that.

The entrance to an old Vietnamese village in Viet Hai tucked between magnificent craggy limestone mountains and surrounded by infinite shades of green.

Fishing with Viet and the host family -Viet Hai

They let me out on my own in the bay!

The Vietnam flag and the spectacular Lan Ha Bay.

One of the three beautiful beaches on Cat Ba Island - This is Cat Co 2.

Looking out over Cat Ba National Park.

Crocodile meat for sale at the night market in Saigon.

#31 Thailand part 10 - Trouble in paradise

After the mixed bag that was Phuket and Koh Phi Phi I was desperate to find somewhere to stay for a while to relax properly.

Sadly that was easier said than done. The time I spent on Koh Phangan coincided with election time in New Zealand and for some reason myself and a lot of my friends felt incredibly emotionally invested in the result. It felt so personal and our general optimisim and happiness was on the line.

Since it's so easy to stay connected to everyone these days I wasn't strong enough to avoid the news or the messages from friends. In fact I actively searched for updates and discussions about what was going on.

It sounds so stupid but even though I was half way around the world and there wasn't anything I could do about it, when the results came in to say we had a hung parliament, I couldn't help but feel a surge of disappointment.

How could this be? Everyone had been so hopeful and yet things were so, so close. A weight settled heavily on my heart and even though I really loved Koh Phangan and was staying at a really great place with dorms for $NZD 4 a night, I still couldn't fully relax and enjoy its natural beauty.

I spent a lot of time lying on beaches worrying about things I could do nothing about. If got bored of that I'd worry about the amount of rubbish on the island. After I'd exhausted that topic, I'd stress over my finances, or my future career, or over America and North Korea, or the benefit system in New Zealand. It was all very unproductive and useless.

Despite feeling a bit blue, I carried on searching for experiences that would distract me. One day I hired a scooter and explored the island and another day I rented a mask and snorkel. These activities gave me some temporary relief. I visited a vegan resturant that Super Chill Mumbai Guy told me to visit and passed on a hug to the owner from him. There were so many vegan and vegetarian resturants that I decided I would do a meat detox whilst I was there. For some reason it just felt like the right thing to do even though I'm a stubborn Omnivore.

The whole experience was a good example of how even though life might look fantastic from the outside it's whats going on inside that really makes a difference. I wanted to write about it in the interest of being completely honest in this blog. In this age where everyone has a personal online brand I think its more important than ever to stay as grounded and authentic as possible.

Thankfully after mulling over all the problems in the world for a few days I eventually did find some kind of inner - peace and with that I left the island and arrived back in Surat Thani.

Here I met a girl from Singapore. Even though I'm becoming more and more cynical about these short term travel friendships, as long as you manage to get all the small talk out of the way early on, these brief encounters can be really rewarding.

Thankfully she was also keen to discuss things on a deeper level and we spent the day together drinking coffee, going to the bank to transfer baht to my NZ account and talking about life, love, travel, teaching and everything in between.

It was amazing how just having a good conversation completely dragged me out of the funk I'd been stuck in for the past few weeks.

It was also interesting experiencing Thailand through her eyes. She looked like she could be Thai and even though she couldn't speak the language she got local prices for things whereas when I asked I was given the tourist price. All this because of the colour of our skin!

I'd found a great workaway opportunity on Cat Ba Island in the North of Vietnam where I could write content for a website in return for free accomodation, food, and some free tours. I had already booked my flight to Ho Chi Minh because I'd done no research about Vietnam at all and just liked the idea of visiting a city I'd heard a little bit about from friends.

I was mostly looking forward to saying 'Goooooooood morning Vietnam' everytime I woke up and finding out how much dong (Vietnam's currency) I could get for my dollar, along with all the other dong jokes I planned on fitting into my days.

Little did I know there were many more exciting things to do in Vietnam than making dong jokes, shouting unoriginal movie references and listening to Billy Joel's Goodnight Saigon on repeat.

So on the 29th of September I said my farewells to Thailand after almost 5 months and boarded a plane to Ho Chi Vegas ready for a new chapter.

View from Haad Chao Phao Resort on Koh Phangan. Ridiculously cheap dorms, close to a beautiful beach, perfectly chilled atmosphere and this girl still couldn't relax.