I’d felt weary before, when I was in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, and downright exhausted in Ho Chi Minh City, but things picked up from there and the photos kept churning, the smiles broadening and a whole lot of fun was had. However, in Hanoi, a feeling of deep depression took over. Despite my initial concerns about our how our group would fit with our guide in Vietnam, I noticed the stark lack of his presence once our tour finished up in the evening as his style had eventually grown on me, and as my three days in Hanoi stretched on, my fellow travellers each took their turn in leaving for the airport or their onward journeys.
The heat was oppressive, constantly waiting for the rain to break after two weeks of dryness, and there was little reprieve from it or the humidity. I felt the loss of my new friends, and the lack of action and wonder in Hanoi. This is a city not built for tourists. They are just kind of shuffled off to the side and squandered of their cash in every way possible. Also, by the time I got to Hanoi, I was experienced enough to know I was getting ripped off, but didn’t yet have the language skills to stop it. Even on a half day tour with an Intrepid guide from Urban Adventures, she was stung for exorbitant western prices, simply because I was there.
Hanoi got me down.
It was close enough to my return to Dubai to make me want to skip out early and return to my husband, cat, my own bed and just some time away from the constant outpouring of money. On top of that, I was battling an infection of some sort, of the travel tummy kind, and I spent much of my time hanging my head over toilets, burning up with aches and fever, or just suffering from outright exhaustion. By the time I came to my last twenty-four hours in Hanoi, I only left my room to eat and drink coffee. I used hotel Wi-Fi, and nestled myself between the white bed linen, squishy pillows and white mattress. I lived in a world of cold and white, seeking Twitter and Facebook as my solace. I wanted out of Hanoi as fast as possible and held on to my booking for the train to Sapa like it was my lifeline. At times, I even considered skipping out on that.
Finally, my time came to escape the clutches of Vietnam’s capital, and I clambered aboard yet another minibus, meeting a fellow expat traveller: an American teacher and aspiring writer who had been working in Japan. I brightened instantly, knowing someone like me would be along for the adventurous journey to the ethnic minorities of the northwest corner of Vietnam. I sat in awe of someone who had already made it in Japan, the place I’ve wanted to teach for such a long time, and loved that my new travelling companion was also writing a book. I sat back; feeling all would be well again.
Well, right up until our last passenger boarded the bus: a white-haired gentleman in his 70s, ex-Navy harkening from Cairns and smelling of a day’s sweat and unwashed clothes. He was a chronic mumbler, hard of hearing, who then wondered why people couldn’t understand him or he couldn’t understand them. Even our American companion couldn’t get his head around the heavy Aussie accent and the mumbling. He quickly aired his concerns about the fact that he could not walk up hills because of pins in his busted ankle, and I couldn’t help but wonder why one would book in a hiking trip in such a condition.
Alas, I am not one to judge. We all have the right to travel, and there are more difficult and less respectful or sensitive people I’ve met abroad than he. And you know what? With a small group of just three, it wasn’t so hard to just zone out and enjoy one of the most beautiful and unique parts of Vietnam I’d ever discovered. Out of Hanoi, and onwards, my spirits brightened and I was off again, camera up, pencil out and recharged once more.