Wow it’s been so long I don’t know where to start. As everyone who reads this probably knows, I went home for the month of October and part of November, so I’ve just been back in Vietnam for about a month. Not much has changed…same crazy motorbikes, lovely aroma of garbage and fried food, xe ohm drivers yelling “madame, moto” at me. But there have been a few major developments in my life:
1) I got a motorbike. Now I just need to get up the nerve to actually drive it. I’ve had it for about a month now and have only taken it out once on a dinky side street. Of course, walking is probably even more dangerous than driving- I should probably just start wearing my helmet around everywhere.
2) My house got a cat. Not only do I hate cats, but I really REALLY hate this cat. It’s a kitten and its favorite activities are stalking and attacking me, trying to sneak into my room (the one place in the house she’s not allowed), and meowing non-stop. My favorite activities are throwing the cat across the room, chasing it out from under my bed, and dreaming of ways it can mysteriously disappear.
3) Two roommates moved out, meaning I no longer live in a windowless hole and actually have a balcony. It also means I lost a close friend, and am scheduled to lose two more in December. That is the ex-pat life it seems. On a side note, I wouldn’t actually call myself an ex-pat- ex-pats are usually old men with beer bellies and Vietnamese wives who look prepubescent. The other extreme is “backpackers” who my group also looks down on as dirty tourists who don’t actually take the time to know the city (although admittedly I become one when I travel). So me and my friends are…somewhere in between. We work at NGOs or teach English and plan to stay a year or two, definitely more than six months, but also know that it’s nothing permanent.
4) I’ve been traveling…a lot. In the past two weeks, I spent the weekend in Hoi An (again), got back late Sunday night and left Monday for a work trip to Bangkok, then spent the weekend in Phuket. Hoi An was fabulous, of course, and for $80 round trip and an hour flight I will keep going back there- it never gets old. I went with three friends and we stayed at a cheap hotel in town for $30 a night and then snuck into the NICEST RESORT EVER during the day- Nam Hai. I looked them up and rooms start at $600 a night. We just waltzed in and sat down and they gave us lounge chairs and bottles of water. I felt guilty, so I ordered a poolside massage- what a sacrifice.
Then it was off to Bangkok for work, where I attended a Helmets for Kids ceremony at a primary school and met with local sponsors. It was my first trip outside of Vietnam (besides my 12 hour layover in Tokyo) and…I loved it! I really like Bangkok, though it was less fun to travel alone. The area by the river is beautiful, with all kinds of palaces and temples that are lit up at night. And the night markets are an interesting cultural experience- a mix of women hawking knockoff designerware and men handing out menus describing different sexual encounters you could “order”. Interesting. I ended up spending Thanksgiving in Bangkok and decided since I was by myself I was just going to do something totally American, if not Thanksgiving-related. I went to one of the biggest malls I’ve ever visited (though I usually hate malls in my normal life) and found a food court offering McDonalds, Burger King, Au Bon Pain, Starbucks, and-no joke- Krispy Kreme. You can’t even get Krispy Kreme in Boston anymore! I had a burger for dinner, went to see Harry Potter on IMAX, and bought a Christmas tree. Not a bad Thanksgiving.
Then the next day it was time for Phuket, which was both amazing and disappointing. I had really high expectations and Phuket is definitely as beautiful as it is in the pictures…but it’s also super built up, touristy, and tacky. I spent a day on a boat touring the smaller islands though, including the phi phi islands from Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie The Beach and “James Bond” island (Khao Phin Khan from “The Man With the Golden Gun”). And of course, no vacation would be complete for me unless I tried to adopt a dog. In this case, the dog was Tucker’s spitting image, so obviously I was obsessed!! He had the sweetest disposition and was quickly my special friend after a few rounds of meat-on-a-stick (by the way- Thai food is amazing…much better than Vietnamese!). I could only justify not bringing him back with me on account of the fact that life’s not really so bad…he does live on the beach…actually I’m pretty jealous.
So overall, Thailand was great, but this trip only made me want to go back and spend more time there! I really want to travel in the North- Chang Mai and Chang Rai, where you can visit a tiger preserve, go elephant trekking, white water rafting, and hiking in minority villages. I’m back in Hanoi now and have a million more stories to share about life and work, but this post is already getting long…I’ll put up some pictures from Hoi An. Still haven’t downloaded Thailand yet.