Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Potty break

I have a million travel memories in my head. They float in and out at random, distracting me for a split second from whatever it is I'm doing. I'll smile and think, "I really need to write this down,"... but never do.  Motivation evades me. Time continues to move on and the memories start to fade.

Twenty-two months have gone by since my time in 'Nam.  Nearly two years. Two years of new memories pushing my Vietnamese experiences further back into the dark crevices of my mind. Followed closely by all the other countries I visited after it.

What once were images full of vibrant colors are slowly becoming bullet points:
  • Wasted money on Easy Rider tour - minus the great food we had along the way.
  • Spent two days in Nha Trang, aka. Little Russia. 
    • Note to self: never visit a town that has a direct flight from the Motherland.
Yet, there are still some moments that have held strong, where the ink hasn't faded as quickly. One such is my evening get-away from Nha Trang.

It was a bus not unlike all the other buses in Vietnam. Sleeper-bed style. Except this one was old. And crowded.

Refresher: Vietnamese buses have three rows of bunk bed seats, for your sleeping comfort, allowing two aisles that nearly reach the back of the bus. At the tail end of the bus are bunked, cushioned, pallets accommodating up to five people.

The top bunk at the end of the bus looked enticing, minus the duct tape holding the entire thing together. There I joined three other female travelers. That made four of us on a five person bed, allowing a bit of space to move around. It was idyllic.

We were just getting comfortable when the driver's assistant commanded a little Vietnamese man to share the back bunk with us. The selfish side of me begrudgingly allowed my compassionate side to move over so the little man wouldn't have to spend the entire 11 hour trip laying in the aisle. Noting his size as he positioned himself between me and the wall of the bus, I imagined still having plenty of space to be comfortable. Little did I know, he would sprawl himself on top of me throughout the duration of the ride regardless of his stature.

In the midst of swatting away his arm or leg, I'd routinely have to brace myself from sliding off the leather cushions every time the breaks were applied. It was a near rhythmic dance routine.

But if that wasn't torture enough, a few hours in, I had to pee. But the half way point would be coming up soon enough, I reasoned, and we'd definitely have a potty break.

As 12:30 came and went, I realized my calculations were incorrect. I watched as people slept around me. We'll stop by 1:30, I told myself. But that came and went as well. Still no break. At least not for us. The driver did stop long enough for his assistant to hop out and grab a soda from a night-time street vendor.

Two O'clock, I concluded. It had to be 2:00 when we were going to stop. I was in such pain I mentally willed the driver to stop by then.

It didn't work.

Two became 2:30. I had enough. I had to ask. But I had no clue how I was going to move myself off the top bunk, all the way to the front of the bus without leaving a trail of urine down the aisle.

Miraculously I managed.  There I stood at the front of the bus nearly doubled over in discomfort and asked the driver's assistant when we were going to have a bathroom break.

He looked at me blankly and waved me away.

"Oh, nuh-uh!" I exclaimed.  In my head.

I repeated my question a second time. Clarifying it with the words: toilet, WC, potty, pee.

He stuck his miserable little hand up. Five.

"Five what?!" I demanded. "Five minutes? Five o'clock? Five hours?"

The driver looked over and asked me what I wanted.

"When are we stopping for the bathroom?" I repeated myself once more.

"Uh... soon," he responded.

I heaved a sigh. Of pacification? Of annoyance? Of being overwhelmed with the thought of having to waddle all the way back to the end of the bus without bursting at the seams?


Fifteen minutes later the bus stopped at the side of the road.

I somehow managed to run off the bus, being one of the first on solid ground.

"Where's the bathroom?" I asked.

The driver... or was it the assistant... shrugged his shoulders and indicated to the left and right with his head.

It was nearly 3:00 in the morning on a two way, moderately trafficked street. We hadn't stopped at a typical rest area. On either side of the road were sidewalks lined with evening street vendors. Behind them, row houses as far as the eye could see.

Anywhere, he was motioning. Pick a spot. Give the night vendors a show.

I probably grumbled something. I can't really remember. It has nearly been two years after all. But knowing myself, I most likely didn't bite my tongue.

I went across the street, on the other side of the bus, in search of somewhere with even the tiniest bit of privacy. That came in the form of two white maintenance vans parked next to each other. It was in between them that I found my make-shift toilet, which was subsequently used by all the other female passengers in dire need to relieve themselves.

When I walked back to my spot on the bus, I heaved another sigh. But this time it was of relief.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Easy rider

It was still early in the morning when I arrived in Da Lat. The air was crisp and had a chill to it I hadn't experienced in months. Although only a few hours away from Saigon, the altitude's effect on the climate was widely apparent. The primary reason most tourists make the jaunt inland to the hillside town instead of continuing north along the coast was the same as my own: an Easy Rider tour.

In a country boasting three-times the amount of motorbikes than people*, it's easy to get caught up in the thought that 'no real trip to Vietnam would be complete without journeying on the back of a bike from city to city'. Having never driven one myself up to that point, I jumped on the bandwagon.

I met Peter (his Vietnamese name being Tran) moments after stepping off the bus. The older gentleman with a thick head of silver hair greeted me with a smile. He was a taxi driver, he said. He could drive me to my hotel if I already had one, or around to a few he knew of, he continued.

I complied.

Parked in front of my hostel, (the hostel I booked ahead of time that ended up being full and unable to accommodate me, that is) Peter began his spiel. He was one of the few original Easy Riders, he claimed, while pulling out a massive, black, zip-up binder filled with photos he kept in the under-seat compartment of his bike.

He wasn't satisfied until I flipped through every last page. And then he shoved an iPad in my face.

"See? This is my TripAdvisor page," he informed me. "Right here at the top, do you see? It says Original Easy Rider."

"Uh, huh" I mumbled.

I was cold. I was tired. I was mildly uninterested in what he had to say. But the hostel hadn't yet opened for the morning, so I was essentially cornered.

"And here," he pointed "five stars, do you see?"

Each comment had no less than a perfect rating. He went on, pointing out five-star comment after five-star comment, despite my many acknowledgments of "I see", until he was, again, completely satisfied.

I don't like making hasty decisions when I have plenty of time to explore my options. Especially when I'm tired. Or cold. Or ornery, which is what was beginning to happen. But it appeared as though he would never leave me alone.

And... he did have perfect reviews.

So when he said he'd give me a good deal - after few minutes of negotiations and my hesitancy, I again complied.

Peter, the bike and a river we crossed during our three day journey together

(Spoiler alert: definitely not a five-star experience. And from what I discovered at the end of our 3 day journey together as he forced me to sit down with him - before taking me to my final destination - to write a review on his TripAdvisor page was that he set the rating at 5 stars. He fed me what I had to type. And I was beyond grateful that for the miraculously divine intervention that caused my review to never end up online.)

* Not necessarily a statistically accurate statement, but close enough.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

"It's strange to think that you have to come to a communist country in order to feel free." - expat living in Vietnam

It was on the long bus ride to Saigon, where we reclined in seats that lay like incredibly narrow bunk beds - two high and three rows across, the entire length of the bus (except for the back which is a large platform bunk bed that holds 5 people crammed together on each the bottom and the top )- that I met Anthony, a British expat returning home early from a trip away.

And if there was one thing I've learned from my travels, it is this: a locale is best explored with a local. Anthony, luckily, was well enough versed with Ho Chi Minh City to be one.

Due to his early return, and continued time off work, he offered to take me out of the tourist district for a few hours each day and show me the local hot-spots.

Hopping on the back of his motorbike, we traversed the city, weaving in and around the thousands of other motorbike drivers congesting the roads. Some bikes holding entire families. Mom's with babies in their arms. The adults wearing helmets, children only wearing mesh nets to prevent them from swallowing bugs. While others taking more preventative measures by creating make-shift bike seats.

Amidst all the great eateries, and enjoying the sites of local neighborhoods, what left the most lasting impression was Acoustic.

A bar who's name explains itself, Acoustic is an evening affair of local bands and individuals who play each night according to the theme of the day. The venue is large enough to hold about 100 people, but small enough to provide a cozy yet energetic environment. And aside from the small handful of Westerners, the entire audience is Vietnamese.

Monday, January 26, 2015

In with the new

Unlike a large majority of entrance visas in the world, Vietnam requires an entry date.  One in which you will only enter on or after.  However, just like the large majority of the world's entry visas, the country only allows up to a 30 day permit.

With the ability and desire to use every allotted day, selecting a date while unsure of your plans becomes a game of Russian Roulette.

As a shot in the dark, January 7, 2014 became mine. I didn't know how long I would want to remain in Cambodia. Not until I was spending my days biding time for the moment I could cross the border.

Cambodia was a lovely country. One that has provided me with many great memories. But we never truly connected. I never gained an affinity towards it. So the morning of January 7th, 2014 I entered a minivan excited for the prospects of a new adventure.  In Vietnam.