When in Nam

When in Nam

Like many other adolescent Aussies, I too can claim I’ve been backpacking around Asia. With a couple of clothes in my rucksack, my two good friends by my side and a one-way aeroplane ticket, we were off. Looking for adventure in a place where your fortnightly Centrelink payments can get you a whole lot more than a couple of goon sacks on the weekend.

We’d already survived jungle trekking and Full Moon parties in Thailand, river tubing and methylated spirit buckets in Laos and were ready for the next destination, Vietnam. We were fortunate enough to have a distant relative’s house to stay at once we got to Hanoi, a vibrant and bustling city in northern Vietnam. However, the novelty of a clean shower and fresh sheets quickly wore off, and by our second night, we were all ready to “meet’ more backpackers. We headed into town to “The Best Hostel in Hanoi” for some casual drinks and casual hookups. (After all isn’t that why everyone goes backpacking in Asia? Angkor Whaaaatt?)

Instead, we found a handful of people playing a rather civilised game of Jenga whilst occasionally sipping their drinks. Since the three of us made up about a quarter of the people in the room, it was far too awkward to turn around, run for the door and get the hell out of there, as we all wished we could. So instead we went with the old faithful fall back plan – hit the bar, HARD.

We got flirting with the bartenders. (Standard move. What stingy backpacker doesn’t want free drinks? Actually no, what human being doesn’t want free drinks?) They quickly invited us on a bar crawl, informing us that it started at their new and improved backpackers down the road. Fuck you, Lonely Planet! Turns out we were at the Old Hanoi Backpackers, where the reject tourists stay when the New Hanoi Backpackers is fully booked.

Our night got better immediately upon walking through the doors at the real “Best Hostel in Hanoi”.  The place was packed full of people. We quickly knocked back our drinks and followed the crowd to the first bar. As usual, numbers dwindled with each bar we went to, however the cute guy I had noticed at the hostel earlier that night was still a part of the pack. By the time we got to the next club I’d worked up the (liquid) courage to introduce myself. I said something ridiculous along the lines of, “Hey. I thought I’d come and talk to you because we’re both wearing grey beanies and black Vans.” Yep, that happened. And somehow, it worked! Even better, turns out I’d picked the right guy: James was the Hostel Manager and was therefore able to get free shots all night! As I was busy smooth (shit) talking to him, my best friend Kate started chatting to Friz, James’s best friend and employee. We all spent the night together dancing, laughing and running amuck. Shots were only stopped when the corrupt police came back a second time and kicked everyone out once and for all. It was late by then, so we moved on to the last place on the bar crawl – the boys’ rooms.  Friz shared a dormitory with eight or so of the other hostel staff members, and for the next few hours, Kate too.  James and I on the other hand, had the hostel penthouse all to ourselves.

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Our other travelling partner Sarah – who is less wild, yet probably smarter – had already headed home before we met the boys. As none of us had mobile phones (something our parents found great comfort in), we had to make sure we made it back to the house before she rose next morning. We didn’t want her to wake up alone and assume that we were in some sort of trouble, or worse, dead.

To make it back on time, the two of us decided on a curfew before parting ways with our male friends.  Despite our respective drunken states, we managed to successfully rendezvous on the street some hours later, much to the boys’ displeasure.  I’m sure at this stage they were thinking they would have been better off at a massage parlour down the road. They may have had to pay, but unlike with us, at least a happy ending was a guarantee!

Luckily Friz could speak some Vietnamese, and paid a local on the street to deliver us back home “safely” to the other side of the city.  Without helmets, the two of us eagerly hopped on the back of the local’s tiny motorbike.  We hung on to each other for dear life and sped off into the darkness. We couldn’t stop laughing as we dodged in and out of traffic and hurtled down the freeway. To this day, it was still more fun than any amusement park ride I’ve ever been on.

A couple of days later we were set to start the Halong Bay Tour. We rocked up at the same hostel, got our names marked off and boarded the bus with breakfast baguettes we’d stolen from the communal kitchen.  Shortly afterwards, our tour leader hopped on the bus and introduced himself to everyone. His name was Friz. We didn’t need an introduction – Kate was already quite well acquainted.

The three-day Hanoi Backpackers’ Halong Bay Tour is a MUST for anyone (who is under 30 and isn’t as boring as bat shit) visiting Vietnam. Being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the history of the area is fascinating, but the true beauty lies in the spectacular views and crystal clear waters. The tour includes kayaking through limestone karsts, rock climbing, wake boarding and playing beach volleyball. Despite the array of available activities, there was plenty of time for relaxation and more importantly drinking. Essentially, it was a 3-day bender. Although everyone knows “”what happens on tour stays on tour” I can shed light on some of what went down.

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The Halong Bay Tour version of Kings Cup is played early on the first night and features body shots, the removal of clothing and dirty confessions. At the conclusion of the game, I moved on to doing shots at the bar with my new friends seeing as my other travelling partners had both vanished!  Little did I know that Sarah was getting it on with what was to be her boyfriend for not only the weekend, but also the rest of our time throughout Vietnam. Kate was also in safe hands, getting more than just a tour of Halong Bay. Whilst I spent my nights alone, dreaming of my latest hook up buddy who couldn’t make the tour, Kate was making herself at home in Friz’s private beachfront thatched-roof hut. After fifth wheeling for the weekend and having to witness Kate and Friz’s dramatic yet romantic goodbye as we sailed back to the mainland, I decided I had to see James one more time. We were scheduled back at the hostel by the afternoon, but traffic was bad, so it was dark by the time we arrived.

“Excuse me. Do you know if James is home?” I asked with more confidence than I had. The guy working behind the desk told me he was up in his room and, with a smirk on his face, asked whether I knew where it was. I laughed and nodded. Somehow I think he knew my visit wasn’t about a hostel complaint. I turned and quickly ran out the door before I could pussy out (quite literally).

Before I even knew what I was doing, I had run up the ten flights of stairs and found myself knocking on his penthouse door. He invited me in, unknowing of who it was and to my relief was delighted to see me. “I was wondering when you’d be here!” he said as he gestured for me to lay on his bed, beside him.

The small talk was silenced into action once he established my bus for the next city was departing in less than an hour. It was one of the most memorable sexual encounters of my life (possibly because it was the only sober occasion to date). And as I stood up, I realised he wouldn’t be forgetting it anytime soon. His white sheets were now red, covered in my blood and resembling a crime scene. How fucking embarrassing! He probably thought he took my virginity. I was frantically apologising (in between finding my clothes and continuing to hook up). Luckily for me, he didn’t care at all. He quickly bundled up his sheets and threw them in the hostel dorm next door, saying it was our little secret.

Except now, you’re in on the secret too!

Hostel recommendation: Hanoi Backpackers. If you’re unhappy with the service, ask for the Manager. I’m sure he’ll fix you up.

After a hurried goodbye and standard, “I’ll add you on Facebook,” (which is clearly for creeping purposes only) I ran down the freezing streets back to my friends, holding my Vans and wearing only a t-shirt. They weren’t impressed and informed that we’d missed the shuttle bus transporting us to the Bus depot. Shit! We’d already paid for the tickets and were meeting Sarah’s boyfriend at the next destination the following morning.

We jumped in the first taxi we saw and played a stressful game of charades with the driver, attempting to act out where we needed to go. I’m no Meryl Streep at the best of times, and this guy just kept shaking his head as if he didn’t have a clue what was going on. I frantically threw more and more Vietnamese Dong in his face and shouted “Bus Depot. NOW!” He got the point. It was amazing how quickly he became fluent in English! Xuang Zen or whoever he was zoomed in and out between hundreds of motorbikes, and pulled up at the depot in record time.

The three of us lay crammed at the back corner of the bus, next to the toilet. Not that this mattered, as we were un-showered and smelled of sex. We took a unanimous sigh of relief realising we’d somehow made the bus, and did a last minute check to see if we had all of our possessions.  I think I left my dignity in Hanoi, but it was too late. The bus hurtled into the chaotic traffic, heading south for Mui Ne. There was no turning back.

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