Just to let you know the previous blog was 3 years packed into a couple of paragraphs, I’m not in the habit of breaking up with wealthy men and making massive life decisions every week. So let’s shift down a gear now as I release my finger from fast forward and hit the play button.
I’d always wanted to chuck on a pack and go wandering. Some people say travel is a good way to find yourself but I knew who I was, I was quite aware that somehow I’d gone through life avoiding any sort of emotional maturity. What I really wanted out of this adventure was to grow, this travel was aimed at pushing myself outside my comfort zone and as a result I was determined to become independent and confident and generally a better person overall. Traveling alone through S.E. Asia was undoubtably out of warm, fuzzy blanket territory and to ensure I plummeted head first into discomfort I disregarded a Lonely Planet travel guide and skipped booking a hotel or airport transfer and left it all to be organised upon arrival.
I was devastated at leaving behind Jules, Buzz and my other friends and family but if this is what it took to follow my dreams, I was willing to do it. I told them I’d be approximately six months and left man’s best friend with a friend in need of companionship and my best friend all alone.
When I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City it was 35 degrees and sweat dripping off your earlobes humid. In my mind I’d planned to catch a bus into the city from the airport but the steadfast taxi committee greeted me at the airport exit doors. After announcing I was only willing to fork out $5 for the fare one taxi continued his persistence. I expected the traffic madness and nervously laughed my way through the ride especially when we crashed into a road works sign and dragged it 100 metres with us up the street.
The first hotel was too expensive so I motioned for my driver to continue on, this resulted in an eruptive flurry of price re-negotiation and I agreed on a room for $10 Aussie dollars. It was surprisingly plush, aircon, cable TV, mini bar and nowhere near the backpacking standard I had expected. While the room was getting cleaned I dumped my pack and took to wandering the streets. Overcome with noise, smells and the overwhelming tout attention I eventually flopped down on a park bench, my first day of my momentous trip and I felt so anxious in this alien land that I had to wonder why I had come. I was approached by yet another motorcycle driver “Miss, miss, motor bike, where you go, I take you”, I let him sit next to me and talk. He introduced himself as a tour guide and asked if I lived there as I wasn’t dressed like a tourist. I looked down at my wintery Melbourne clothes and told him I’d just arrived. I then burst into tears. As he saw dollar signs prop up above my head, I saw a sign saying “comfort zone” appear above his. I had just found someone to cling to and I was willing to pay for the benefit. In view of my discomposure he took me for a massage to a place where “they don’t look” (huh? they don’t look at what?) Oh the masseurs were blind. So there I was, almost butt naked, getting a massage by a blind Vietnamese girl in the first hour of my journey. I slept through most of it but at $1.80 it was a bargain nap and I did feel much better. Afterwards I asked to be dropped back at my hotel. “Which hotel miss?” Well strike me down as stupid, I had no idea. I was so submerged in fresh off the plane jitters that I’d altogether forgotten to take note of where I was staying. The next couple of hours was spent city street trawling. Looking for something familiar (it was all Vietnamese to me) and becoming very weary I was eventually and thankfully recognised by my hotel lady who was sitting out the front.
Day two dawned and I packed up my stuff and got ready to meet my motorcycle tour guide for a 3 day jaunt around the Mekong Delta. While I waited to check out of my hotel it suddenly became clear why my room was so cheap. The taxi driver had told them I was staying for a month and had made off with a sweet commission, leaving me to deal with a couple of irate vietnamese women expecting me to make up the difference, which I didn’t. I was happy to get out of the hectic, polluted city and taken anywhere with less people and noise. My tour guide named me “Ook (Australian) who smokes” and was fantastic at showing me around and getting me settled in, teaching me some Vietnamese phrases and about the food and culture. After returning from the Mekong Delta I booked a bus ticket to Nha Trang, a beach spot 450kms up the coast, when I asked the guy how long the bus ride would take, he held up four fingers and said five hours. The trip took eleven.
Warming myself on the beach in Nha Trang I decided to ignore the tap tap tap on my forearm, the young child leading her blind mother was the third beggar I was approached by in the last hour and I was trialling a new method. Disregard. As the tapping continued I let my mind drift….clearly I had a great deal to learn but I was starting to enjoy this place that existed outside area easy. But does enjoying being out of my comfort zone mean I am therefore back inside it?