Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Bangkok Blackout - Omaha Beach v.II

So last night I thought it would be a good idea to try out Kho Phi Phi's 'Burger Challenge' - 800 grams of beef (tower of three burgers), followed by; a plateful of potato wedges, 20 doughnut sized onion rings and a large bowl of coleslaw. I had 30 minutes and if I completed the challenge, I would get the meal for free as opposed to paying 500 Baht.

I wanted to die.

Having thrown in the towel at the last hurdle (8 more onion rings) and a tactical chunder later, I realised what a f***ing stupid idea it was and will never ever do it again.

As of this point in time of writing, I have exactly three weeks left until I return back to the United Kingdom. There is also a woman behind me talking to a baby on Skype making the most irritating sounds. I cannot quite believe how fast it is going, but this is unsurprising when one does so much on a daily basis. To make matters worse; On those all too frequent days where I don't actually do anything, I have usually been in a zombie-like state from a copious amount of alcohol. As such I declared that my time in Kho Tao would be...


Furthermore, as a lot has happened over the past 3 weeks, I will only discuss the 'highlights' to keep this prose as succinct as possible. See this as the Thailand update.

So I arrived in BKK International Airport at around 11 in the morning on the 8th November. The whole flight went pretty smoothly, but getting up at 5 AM to catch the damn thing was painful. Immigration was an entirely different matter. In one of those typical Sod's Law moments it seems I chose, quite possibly, the slowest person in the world who seemed to enjoy staring at the computer screen without actually doing anything. I knew the Thais were laid back but this was ridiculous. Anyway, I eventually proceeded through, collected my bags and met my mini intro-tour leader, Shell.

For those that don't know; Even though I have been travelling independently for quite some time, I found a pretty cost-effective package called ThaIntro which I thought would alleviate the burden of 'travelling' for a week. Basically a vacation on a vacation. Furthermore, it was a guaranteed way of meeting people and I certainly met some cool  and interesting characters. Some of the stories I have to tell of our adventure, I will definitely be leaving for real-life conversation. Even now I can't quite believe what actually happened.

After a 40 minute taxi ride I arrived at our guest house and chose to go off solo and explore the local area. Immediately, I was beset upon by men repetitively screaming "Tuk-Tuk!?", and within 10 minutes I had one guy trying a ridiculous scam. He basically claimed he worked for Unicef (It was across the road) and wanted to tell me where to go and what to do. This was fine, but having been travelling for over 2 months, and having pretty much seen it all, I saw straight through him. Part of the conversation was like this: -

Man: "My friend, I am just on lunch from my job." (Points at Unicef building)

Me: "Oh yeah? Well what do you do?"

Man: "Oh, haha. You know... Looks around. Things."


Conveniently his tuk-tuk mates were hanging around so I politely told him to stop wasting his time and headed back to meet the rest of the group, the majority of whom were English with a couple of Canadians mixing it up. (Much love to you all).

I have always been intrigued by Bangkok because it really is the decompression chamber of first-time travellers. I'll be honest, I had heard some pretty crappy opinions of the place prior to going, but I actually liked it. I'm not sure if it is because I am now more experienced and as such had no culture-shock to taint it; but having come from the very intense hustle and bustle of Vietnamese cities, Bangkok was just fun. Even the notorious Khao San road, which is basically just a long street filled with 7-Elevens (my God, I love these stores; They take convenience to a new level), bars and Western restaurants. Not a particularly cultural place, but you must see it if you are there.

The first night was a relatively early one (2 AM, ha) for I was shattered and we had to get up 'early' to undergo a river cruise and Wat sight-see. However, the occurrence most worth mentioning was my first, and probably last, Ping Pong show. (For those that do not know what these are, I suggest, and warn beforehand, you Google them). 

To be honest, I really did not know what to expect. Well, I did in that these women were going to be particularly adept with their, uh, 'region'. But some of the acts were just plain bizarre. One of them was basically Jesus and somehow turned water into what looked like Pepsi. I'm aware it was wine in the Bible.

Being Chris Dennett, of course I was not going to just 'watch' the show. No. Instead; of all the couples (why they were there I will never know), perverted men, and shocked onlookers like myself, I was the one that got picked to hold balloons whilst the 'Ponger' defied physics and fired darts at them. It was not a pleasant experience; I resisted being pulled up the whole way; And I specifically held the balloons at the lowest point to ensure my hand would not be the target. And no, contrary to what people may imagine, I did not get a 'look'. 

The show only got weirder when, going to the mens' toilets, I was greeted by a completely naked Thai woman doing her makeup in the mirror. Immediately, I thought I was in the wrong and backed out to leave, but the dancer insisted that I was in the right place. It wasn't the fact that this woman was naked, it was the fact that she was so nonchalant about a man being in proximity of her in that state. A real pro I guess. 

The performance climaxed with the most non-intimate sex show I have never wanted to see and it was at this point that I questioned what me, my friends, and in fact the whole audience were doing there. Suffice to say we left pretty much speechless as we loaded into our taxi for a night out on Khao San road which is where I discovered buckets..

The Bucket: A venomous concoction of alcohol, chosen mixer, and Red Bull that may as well be speed and amphetamines, all contained in a cute sand-bucket. Colours may vary.

I do not remember anything.

According to my sources, I spent the whole night dancing non-stop and when we made our own 'street party', I relished in the joy of jumping on board mopeds that were not my own. If it was not for our local friend who took us out, I would probably be in a bad way. So moral of the story; Buckets are lethal.

The next day, our still-drunken group underwent some sightseeing of the Grand Palace and the Reclining Buddha. Due to the fact that we could not enter the grounds without the legs completely covered up, I deliberately purchased the most garish trousers I could find. Eventually I completely crashed and the rest of the day, not helped by the heat, was pretty painful. Luckily, we were to take a sleeper train to the Khao Sok national park where we slept in floating bungalows. Before I move on, I will quickly mention the train station because it was here that I experienced the National Anthem.

Thai people love their King. A Thai person may not be particularly politically-inclined but scrunch up a Baht note the wrong way and you will probably have a Muay Thai kick to the face. And so it was, at precisely 6 PM, that some music started blaring out of the speakers followed by police whistling for everyone, farang included, to stand. People that know me can rightly imagine that I was grinning throughout. And they do this twice a day, every day. Going shopping? Well you better be standing at 8 AM. Cinema? You best get the hell up before the film starts if its a 6 PM showing. 

The national park itself was beautiful. The best comparison I can draw upon would be to describe it as an inland Halong Bay - steep limestone cliffs that puncture through a glassy, fresh-water floor. It was here that my friends and I made the stupid decision to, after spotting a monkey, trek into the jungle without any insect repellant on whatsoever, and thus we got bitten to shit. Ironically, the member of the group who did not venture in was the one who contracted Dengue Fever. Go figure.

Having spent a pretty well-slept night and had three meals served by the most unconvincing ladyboy I could ever imagine (why would I in the first place), we boarded our boat and eventually underwent a bumpy ride to Surat Thani - the gateway to the South-East Thailand islands. Destination; Koh Phangan. I might as well bring up my life-threatening (not really) encounter with the local wildlife. 

So I'm waiting for my connecting bus and I wanted to wash my sweaty face in the toilet sink. As I entered the surprisingly clean (for SE Asia) tiled room, I noticed a beetle struggling away on its back. Why, after all this time, evolution has not granted them with the ability to recover from this position, I will never know. Not being one to leave a creature in need, I eventually managed to flip it over where it remained for a while, looking more than a bit stunned. On my way back, a thought occurred to me that due to its position, someone would probably step on it and I felt duty-bound to do something to stop it. Sam (love ya' mate) immediately contributed to the situation with...

Sam: "Actually, I remember watching this cool programme on the Discovery Channel about bugs that spray acid in self-defense."
Me: "Bollocks."

Bent down and about to touch the critter, the bastard did just that and with a loud hiss, acid went spraying everywhere. I cannot remember the last time I jumped so hard. Moral of the story - In a tropical country, leave bugs alone. No matter your intentions.

Moving back on with the story, we boarded our ferry (ETA 4 hours) for Kho Phangan. Now I am sure that the vast majority of you have heard about something called 'The Full Moon Party' - an infamous night where quite literally tens of thousands of travellers and holidaymakers make the pilgrimage to down as many buckets as possible and dance until sun rise. I had already made the decision that I was going to stay the week so I could see what all the fuss was about. However, once I arrived, I realised that every bloody night on Haad Rin beach was some kind of moon-esque party. This meant only two things; A financial drain; And days that would be spent in the nearest backpacker cafe waiting for the hangovers to lessen in severity.

Kho Phangan was actually surprisingly beautiful despite its reputation. For example; Myself and the rest of the gang managed to trek up a very powerful waterfall. Unsurprisingly, not everyone left unscathed. And, if, miraculously, you actually made it to the main beach in the day time, you will see that it actually looks quite nice. To quote the Arctic Monkeys; 'They say it changes when the sun goes down.' Furthermore, I felt like I lived there for I must have bumped into at least 50 percent of the friends and acquaintances I had met when travelling.

Eventually, after a Half Moon party in a UV-laser filled jungle and a few intense nights, the night of the 21st finally came around. Preparation for the evening involved slapping on as much UV paint as possible and then 'getting on it'.

Parental Advisory
The most accurate way to envisage the Full Moon Party would be to compare it to Saving Private Ryan. Thousands of people arrive by the boat load and storm the beach with the intention of getting as pissed as possible. Then when night eventually turns to day, thousands of people are left splayed about on the beach completely inebriated. 

One story I heard from a friend was that at about 9 AM, he decided that he would try to swim to the neighbouring island, Ko Samui. Now please bear in mind that it takes half an hour to get there by FERRY. Turns out that his mate had to get the Thai NAVY who then found him 2 kilometres out at sea, simply bobbing around. 1000 Baht fine later, he got a slap on the wrist and found his transport back home. Gareth you are an absolute legend and completely lucked out. Could you imagine doing that back in the UK!?

As for myself, I got back at about 8 AM, had two hours sleep and immediately headed over to Kho Tao where I pretty much did nothing but recover on a beach for three days. I had already said goodbye to some friends who had to head back home and it was time for a detox.  

Kho Tao itself is a diver's paradise and is possibly the cheapest place in the world to get qualified. If I recall correctly, you could become PADI certified for around 180 pounds. I was in no state, financially and health-wise to do so, but I would definitely like to return.

Due to the relatively timid time I had on this island due to feeling worse for wear from lack of sleep and Thai Red Bull, there isn't all that much to write home about except for bringing up my mini golf experience. Or more like, impossible mini golf experience. I mean, look at this: - (I'll put pictures up in a couple of days as the internet is SLOOOOW)

The establishment's owner warned us that the game would probably take about 2 hours and he was not bloody kidding. Some of the holes were so ridiculous that in the end, ANY sane person would simply smack the ball as hard possible - contrary to the course's clear guideline that it was not a driving range. 

Having bumped into the Canadians whom I left in Hoi An on Haad Rin beach, not only did I find myself bunking with them at a dive resort in Kho Tao, but we also decided to venture over to Kho Phi Phi together. In order to do so, we had to board a 9 hour sleeper boat over to Surat Thani. 

Now, I cannot speak for the 70 other people who laid on mattresses half a Western-body's size besides, in front of and practically on top of me, but I feel that the description of 'sleeper boat' was there for comic effect. Even Valium, which can be legally bought over the counter in SE Asia, could not help me here and I had to make do with the occasional 45 minute nap, due to the f***ing fan which seemed to have no 'OFF' button. I also do not recommend that you try to sleep with an iPod set on Shuffle and full volume, for waking up to drum and bass is not pleasant.

When we finally made it to town, around 12 of us were shoved into a vehicle that really was faithful to the term 'mini bus' whilst our driver decided to secure all of our baggage by leisurely throwing each item on the roof. However, all was not lost for whilst we waited for our connecting coach to Krabi, our hosts decided to put on a movie which I thought would at least be somewhat relaxing. Oh wait. Apparently at 5 AM, Jackass: The Movie is an appropriate choice. I love it, but at that time in the morning it was a bit bizarre. 

You may infer correctly that we eventually made it to Kho Phi Phi and here I have been blessed with some of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Yesterday, myself, some Barcelona-Ultra Spaniards, some Aussies, a Brazilian and coincidentally, but unsurprisingly, other lads I had previously got hammered with in Halong Bay, all set sail on board a long boat around the surrounding islands including the famous Maya Beach - AKA, THE Beach.

On this trip, I was also blessed with the opportunity to snorkel with sharks. This would have been lovely if they were not my one and only phobia, and if my dive buddy did not have traveller's diarrhea, thus having to abandon me as he swam faster than anyone I have ever seen, towards land. It was once some random South African helpfully informed me that a group of Black Tips (they are pretty harmless but still look like 'proper' sharks) were swimming towards me that I decided to follow in suit of my partner, but this time towards my boat.  In all honesty, it was pretty cool, and I have never been able to see them AND moray eels together before.

As for THE Beach, I was glad I saw it for it is beautiful, but it really does not look like anything compared to the film. Because the cove, alongside Phi Phi, was flattened by the tsunami, and the fact that the filmmakers shipped tonnes of sand and bulldozed everything to get it just right, it was pretty hard to recognize. Furthermore, the fact that there were about a thousand tourists there made me appreciate the intention of the characters in the story to keep it a secret. However, this did not stop me acting like every other camera-toting Japanese person, and I happily took a million photos. I even decided to reenact scenes from the film, which in retrospect, is kind of gay. 

Such a description actually encapsulates my impression of the South 'Thailands' - utterly beautiful, utterly worth seeing, but utterly touristic. It is quite inspiring to see just how fast-developing the West islands are since 2004's disaster, but, as fun as the constant partying has been, I am yearning to experience some real culture of the 'country'. To quote The Beach;

"The only downer is, everyone's got the same idea. We all travel thousands of miles just to watch TV and check in to somewhere with all the comforts of home, and you gotta ask yourself, what is the point of that?"

As such, it is my intention to make one more stop to the paradise-like beaches of Railay, and then make the journey to Northern Chiang Mai. Here I will be kick boxing, assuming my rib's healed from where I fell off a table whilst dancing in a foam party, elephant trekking, stroking tigers and eating ALOT. Just like back home. ;)

In conclusion then, I have been having one hell of a time in Thailand. Parties, sun and adventure. Now all I need is to escape the hordes of holiday-makers and potentially get killed by a Muay Thai master. Until then, I will aim to have another post up in about a week's time for a I would like to have at least six published by the time I return. Not too long now, I guess.

Kob kun kap.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Hunting in Halong Bay - Halloween in Hanoi


I have been thinking for a long time about how best to introduce this third publication in my travel blog. But no other words fit the bill. The past two weeks have left me; more intoxicated than I have ever been; trembling from physical exhaustion; and with a constant yearning for just one more hour's sleep - but they have been, quite possibly, the most epic two weeks of my life.

Where to begin?

So I last left you with the words that I was off to Halong Bay (for the first time) with the group I journeyed North with. This would have been fantastic, for the scenery is truly stunning, had I not been running around the boat for 3 hours, anxiously wondering where the hell my camera was. Turns out it was on the bus, specifically where I was sitting.

Anyway, having spent the night on the coast, where my curiosity as to how much an actual massage cost left me being chased by prostitutes on mopeds, I woke up relatively refreshed for travels onwards to Hanoi. Here, I spent a couple of days doing the typical tourist thing of sightseeing and drinking cheap Bia Hois for the pricey sum of 12p.

Two sights are worth mentioning; The first was when I went to visit good ole' Uncle Ho's (Ho Chi Minh) Mausoleum. The building truly is impressive, and whilst Ho Chi Minh was not actually there due to him being embalmed alongside Mao, Stalin and Lenin in Russia, it was easy to see how much this nation revered their great revolutionary. The ironic thing is, it turns out, that Ho Chi Minh did not actually want to be canonised in such a way. True to the communist ideal, it actually went against basic Marxist principle for one 'leader' to elevate himself beyond the proletariat in such a way. But hey, I have already written a similar essay on this at uni so if you truly are interested, which I highly doubt, I'll hook you up. ^_~

Much to my amusement, there are also these white lines that create a deliberate box around the building. I took no notice of these and immediately after stepping across, I had some seriously pissed off looking guards whistling and waving at me, and I do not mean in the way a builder would holler at a passing female. In all honesty, I thought I was going to be shot, let alone go to prison.

The second sight was less eventful but was equally bizarre; the Water Puppet Theatre. This art form, it seems, has some degree of cultural heritage in Vietnam, and whilst I enjoyed it, I could not help smirking because all I thought of was that scene in Team America where Kim Jong Il hosts a big party. I mean that with all due respect, Vietnam.

After a particularly messy evening which left me stumbling through the congested roads of Hanoi completely inebriated the next morning, I had to say some very slurred goodbyes to my travel companions. It was time to move on to my new accomodation - the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel in Ma May. The adventure began here.

I previously mentioned that a very good friend of mine, Russ, was going to meet me in Vietnam. You would think that after a few months apart and a rendezvous in a strange land would cause a great scene. I was also anticipating this. Instead, I woke up in an alcohol-induced delerium in my dorm room to find that very guy just stood there. It was one of my more surreal experiences to say the least. Not because I was finally meeting up with my was-to-be travel companion, but just because it was so... normal. No dramatic greetings or flailing arms, just an "alright mate" and a brief, but well meant man-hug.

We caught up in front of an Irish guy who realised he just was not going to get to sleep at that point in time, and instead he joined in the banter. He was one of the many people who indulged us in some hilarious story about his friend who managed to literally fall down the 'Mushroom Mountain' at Ko Phangan, twice. I was crying.

It took no time whatsoever for the pair of us to decide to set sail on the hostel's renowned Halong Bay tour. We had already become a big hit with the hostel staff (more on you guys later), and if the social life there was anything to go by, we knew we were in for something special. Please note that photos from around this time are missing as I am using a new memory card. I will grab some I've been tagged in over the next couple of days.

Fast-forwarding a four hour bus ride to the Halong Bay dock, I instantly knew who our tour-mates were for our uniform consisted of none other than brightly coloured sombreros. We must have looked completely ridiculous to every other tourist there, but little did they know that they were missing out.

Our first night was to be spent sleeping onboard a particularly large junk that somehow fit all 40 of us and in all honesty, the day is a blur. One minute we were jumping off the top for which those that made a particularly bad collision with the water would earn free beer (it is surprising just how tempting such an offer is). The next, we were kayaking to some beach which was apparently 'nearby'. It would have been quicker for Russ and I to have rowed to Japan due to the zig-zagging we did. I blame you Russ.

After some competitive beach football (I scored a hat-trick) and lazing on the beach, I was beginning to get to know my ship mates and after another particularly arduous kayak (my god it can be a pain in the arse), we indulged in a much needed seafood dinner. Unfortunately, it is from here that my memory becomes, for a select few of us decided to sneak away to a bedroom and drink prohibited self-bought alcohol. One of the group (Rob, the Moustached Wonder) definitely had the equivalent of moonshine for it tasted strangely of Oreos and was definitely not legit. Suffice to say, by the time we were playing Ring of Fire, I had absolutely no clue what was going on and apparently spent the rest of the night in a girl's vest top pissing in bins directly outside toilets and occasionally throwing up. All signs of a damn good night.

Having been awoken by a particularly annoying Vietnamese guy, our group were transferred over to Castaway Island for which we all pretty much spent the day recovering on the beach followed by a particularly intense Banana Boat ride. I am not sure if it is because we were the last ones to have a go, or that our squad were all lads, but Tom the Skipper certainly wanted to hurt us. Trust me; Being told as the front man to stand up and run down to the back whilst shooting across at full speed is particularly nerve wracking. It also did not help that we had spent the past hour talking about shark movies and at one point I was left stranded solo, kicking below the surface particularly hard that time.

Something happened that day that I will prefer to keep as a story to tell in person, but in short, a good lot of us bonded together to form THE HUNTERS - an incredibly cool group of people who I will most definitely be making an effort to stay in touch with. I will however mention that the evening was reminiscent of The Great Escape.

I do not know why but after another intense bout of drinking games, I got an idea into my head that I simply had to steal a boat. In retrospect this was utterly stupid, but it just felt right at the time. In the rowing boat, I got caught twice, but at this point I realised that the Vietnamese guards could not be everywhere and so I legged it down the beach to grab a kayak. Before I knew it, some guy with a torch was heading straight down the beach towards me and I ended up cowering in one of the many beach huts, only to return to Russ who had been watching the whole drama. And this was not even the grand finale.

At about 4 AM, I decided that I really needed a bottle of water. The bar had closed but I thought that if I left a note under the bar-top glass, technically it is not stealing. As soon as I stepped into the darkness I could sense a presence in the air. But I was thirsty. Having carefully stepped over the bar, I quietly opened the fridge only to immediately hear and see the most angry Vietnamese man I have ever met coming after me with some kind of bat. I darted off, half grinning, half scared for my life, and hid under my mosquito net as I watched his legs and torchlight scour the area. I will never try and take an Asian man's goods again, stealing or not. It was bloody hilarious though.

Far too soon however, the tour had to come to an end, and our very hungover group set sail and boarded a bus back to Hanoi. But the chaos was not to end there.

Immediately upon arrival, 15 of us decided to sign up for the ominous 'Snake Village Tour'. The title gives the impression of some kind of tranquil safari. In reality the night involves; a course of around seven snake dishes (including their penis); killing your own snake, ripping out its beating heart and downing it with a shot of rice wine and bile; and as many rice wine shots as you can manage. To be honest, I thought I handled it all pretty well despite nearly slicing the snake in half and being told that after being asked to boogie in the after-club I responded by staring at some motorbikes for five minutes. However, the next day I spent the morning in a very drunken blur confessing my guilt about snake killing to Dominique, one of the lovely hostel staff whilst I devoured about eight breakfast baguettes.

Sadly, I had to say my first goodbyes to some of my new-found comrades (Russ included) and the next three days were spent literally laying out on a bean bag with hope of some form of recovery. Progress was slowed by constant temptations of "just a few" with the hostel staff, dorm mates and tour crew. But at least I had some kind of rest before Halloween. Jeeeeeeeez.

The night itself cannot justly be described in words but can best be summarised as follows: -

  • My group won a pretty damn good prize for the best costumes - another Halong Bay Tour. We went as none other than the Channel 4 news team from Anchorman but because three of us had already been, we thought it only fair to offer the prize to the Brick and Veronica Corningstone of the group.
  • I spent the grand total of 60,000 Dong (two pounds) for I got free beer all night. 

I kid you not. Everyone was in such high spirits and the atmosphere was enhanced by the effort that the hostel put into its party. Let alone the fact that we were spending Halloween in VIETNAM of all places! The locals simply did not know what hit them, and I woke up in the early hours of the morning as temporary public enemy numero uno with the staff, which I would prefer to explain in person. Ha. Sorry Dan. 

Beaming after such a successful evening and a hilarious post-night, hungover discussion with my dorm mates, I concluded that it was time to leave Hanoi before the city sapped me dry, finance and health-wise. Thus, some very cool Canadian forest fire fighters, the 'Hunters' and myself headed down South on some horrible contraption called a 'sleeper bus' - destination, Hoi An.

In reality, the bus was not too bad because I discovered a little thing called Valium. Furthermore, I was hypnotized by the most sparkly show I have ever seen - a bizarre Vietnam pop-concert. The one back to Hanoi where I am currently waiting for my flight to BKK however, was an entirely different story. 

Some of you will be wondering why I  returned to Hoi An when I had already been there. In all honesty, I was simply glad to get out of a city, and this town is particularly charming. However, I did not get the R&R I needed at all because, of course, there are bars in Hoi An. One night in particular involved me being chased by two Vietnamese security guards, completely naked, after half the club decided that jumping in the sub-zero pool was a good idea. 

My mum will hate this, but I did however, get to ride a motorbike for the first time in my life which was fairly chilled out, if not for the initial flat tire that left me skidding all over the place. My Canadian escort Ben, Sonja (whom, it turns out, lives very close to where I live) and I ventured to a certain natural wonder called Marble Mountain. It was here that I saw some particularly inspiring views, despite the torrential rain which only seemed to add to the experience. 

Eventually though, the remaining Hunters (or Channel 4 News team, whichever you fancy) had to disassemble, and I was, admittedly quite sad about this eventuality. But such is the way of travelling, and I have a feeling we shall reunite in the not so distant future. As for the Canadians, this was not as such a parting, for we will be meeting on November 21st. The Full Moon Party...

God help me and ensure that I do not wake up in Cambodia or something. 

And so it is here, back in Hanoi with my darling hostel staff-friends, that I find myself anticipating my next adventure in Thailand. ETA 11:30 am, November 8th, 2010.

There is so much left unsaid that to even attempt to put my travels into prose would create an anthology, and let's be honest, this is long enough already. Besides; Some things have significantly more impact when spoken about in person. And of course, some memories I will be keeping to myself. ^_~ 

However I will provide a photograph that shall aid you in your inference...

As for my final impression on Vietnam?

Vietnam is a country that is drastically different depending on where you go. For many, this offers insurmountable opportunity for diverse experiences. For others, this means that there is no particular 'season' that one should travel there. My only regret is that I did not find the time to head towards the Mekong to get a a bit more of an authentic feel. However, instead I chose to take in the nightlife of what truly is an Asian 'Tiger' as economists say, driving towards development and progressive tourism. In many ways then, Vietnam and its people are leaving the past behind them. After all, and correct me if I am wrong, this is the longest that a war has not been fought here. As difficult and wrong as it is to make generalisations, there is validity in the common traveller's sentiment that the people are out to get your money. And why not? Us tourists, travellers, pilgrims, whatever you want to call yourself, earn significantly more than 90% of the population. But at what concessions? 

After all, the Vietnamese, whom to this day adulate their revolutionary leader, are supposed to be leaders on the communist frontier. But such a facade is hard to believe amidst the corporate Highland coffee chains, buzzing night life, and expensive beauty salons. Ultimately to myself, Vietnam, a country I loved, is a nation of contradictions. Where else will you find RC cars racing around skateboard-wielding children, soccer-star teens, and coffee-cup wielding yuppies, all under the watchful gaze of Lenin?

A huge shout-out goes towards my Gap-crew, my shipmates, my fellow Hunters and Huntresses (you know who you are), Gary Payne, McKarley Culkin, the Canadians, the Channel 4 News Team, my dorm mates (Lewis, Gareth, etc), Sonja, the Swedes, in fact, just about everyone I have met so far. And who could forget the lovely Jenny, Dominique, Romy, Dan and all the other hostel staff who had to contend with my drunken state at night, and me in my pants in the day. I have met some incredibly cool people and I wish you all the best with wherever you end up. We'll meet again. 

Dam biet.

As for you readers, see you in Thailand.