It’s no secret that I like my creature comforts. My routine. My make up bag worth the equivalent of one month’s rent. I fear the unknown in the same way that I fear my eyebrows ever being “off-fleek”. In short, I can be a bit of a diva.
But if Beyonce has taught me anything (and she has taught me EVERYTHING) it’s that a diva is the female version of a hustler. So naturally, this diva booked herself onto a 10-day shoestring tour around Southeast Asia with a bunch of total strangers, some questionable hotel rooms and a fair few creepy crawlies. Here’s how I got on…
Landed at Bangkok airport at around 8am and kicked off my trip with some passive aggressive glares and tuts in an over crowded baggage reclaim area. After staring at the conveyor belt of misery for about 40 minutes, I realised my luggage had already gone past me four times, I just missed it because I got a new suitcase before I went away and had forgotten what it looked like…
Eventually made it to Bangkok Central Hotel and chilled by the pool, which was actually blissful. Made friends with a very nice hotel lady who was eating noodles out of her drawer as she played an eclectic mix of Shayne Ward, Westlife, and Pitbull. I also got talking to some guy called Josh who didn’t know whether to stay and travel around the Thai islands “coz they sound totally sick” or go to Singapore and Malaysia “which will be a real cultural voyage.” #firstworldproblems
Met my tour group later that day. I’m sharing a room with a girl called Demi. She’s great, she does that thing where she talks about people really loudly when they are right behind her. She seems to give zero fucks what anyone thinks, a trait which I really admire in people. I also chatted a lot with two Irish girls-Ciara and Helen, a girl from Exmouth called Chloe, plus a Kiwi called Rose. All in all, I went to bed feeling positive about the week ahead and the company I would be keeping.
Today we crossed the border into Siem Reap, Cambodia, which was a faff as not everyone had bought their Visas yet (in a “Nathalie being organised” shock twist I had actually done this online beforehand.) The bus driver proceeded to give us a Visa form tutorial, plus this handy example…
In Demi vs the world part 1, she decided to go for a cigarette mid-Visa tutorial and filled the form out wrong, which caused our bus driver to have a tiny shit fit. This pretty much involved him repeating: “OH MY BUDDHA” over and over again. I knew I would like Demi.
Later today we went to an educational foundation run by an NGO, which aims to school the children of Cambodia for free. The classrooms were filled with children aged 4-16. I spoke to some girls who were a third of my age, born and raised in Cambodia, yet able to hold a conversation in fluent English better than I can. British kids are so crap compared to here.
Went to the night market after that and haggled like an Apprentice candidate to get 4 pairs of elephant pants for $5. The only downside is that they rip in the crotch if you decide to sit cross legged. Still, good end to a good day.
Woke up at 4 30am to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat temple, which was stunningly beautiful.
In Demi vs the world part 2, she nearly punched some foreign guy with a selfie stick who was blocking our view. At least I hope he was foreign- because her words to him were not kind.
The walk to the second temple was something else. It was so serene and beautiful, with a clear lake on one side and a river on the other. I felt a feeling that I couldn’t describe as anything other than an overwhelming sense of peace.
The second temple itself was decent as far as temples go. The carvings on the wall depicted the Buddhist belief that there are over 30 levels of heaven and hell, and a criteria for getting into both. This got me thinking about which level of heaven or hell I would end up in. I did kill a goldfish when I was 8 because I was bored and decided to play fish funerals (classic kid’s game.) But since then I reckon I’ve been pretty morally sound. I never microwave smelly food in the office, and I always help crying girls in the toilets on night’s out. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.
Later that day we went quad biking which was fun, except for the fact that the instructor said: “my steering no very good.” He then decided that it was necessary to sit on the back of my bike the whole time, in a bid to stop me from mowing down a bunch of bison. Helen, my new Irish friend consoled me and said: “He just fancies ya and wants a cheeky grab pet.” I like Helen. She tells me what I need to hear. ￼
Started the day with an amazing coffee at a local cafe, followed by another long bus journey into Phnom Penh.
On the way, we stopped off at what was possibly the grossest food market ever. People were selling fried scorpion and tarantula. Demi and I ate some scorpion which wasn’t great. A baby also tried to sell me a dead tarantula. Full from the scorpion, I politely declined.
Later that evening we went out in Phnom Penh. The clubs give you waaaay too many free shots and let you put on whatever music you want, and yeh, one thing led to another…
Next we ended up in Pride of Cambodia- one of Cambodia’s only gay bars, where we were looked after by some waiters who I’m fairly sure were not gay. At about 2am, Rose, Chloe, Demi and I went back to the hotel. I begged the hotel staff to find us pizza which they couldn’t do, so Demi kindly made me a pot noodle which I ate in bed with Pringles and raisin bread dipped in.All the while, Ciara and Helen were getting a massage each from the not so gay men in the gay bar… I think it’s safe to say a fun night was had by all.
What goes up must come down, and over the next couple of days I went through a bit of a low point. On day 5 we went on a tour around the Killing Fields, just one of the mass graves where thousands of Cambodian children and adults were slaughtered and buried during the Pol Pot regime.
In an odd way I was mentally prepared for the more brazen horrors, like the pyramid of skulls or the tree that children were beaten against, perhaps because these are the types of things people tell you to expect. But then I would come across something more gently harrowing, like this random tree that was so beautiful and full of life, it seemed out of place at a mass grave and only served to highlight the morbidity of it all. Unsurprisingly none of us felt like doing much else after this tour.
Over these two days we drove to Sihanoukville. I went on a boat, saw some fish, dipped my toes in the sea, lay by the pool. I could tell you that this part of the tour was as idyllic as the photos. But that would be a big fat lie.
The truth is, I went into a dark place after yesterday. Anyone who has ever suffered from anxiety or depression will know that it chooses to crop up even at the most inconvenient of times, even on holiday.
On the outside, it would appear that I was in paradise. On the inside, I was in my own personal hell. At first, I felt guilty, angry and defiant. YOU’RE ON HOLIDAY, ENJOY IT FOR FUCKS SAKE .
Maybe it was the booze, maybe it was the Killing Fields, maybe it was being in an unfamiliar place. I didn’t know. All I knew was that I had to resign myself to the fact that I couldn’t logic my way out of this one. I popped some diazepam, stayed in bed and binge watched Brooklyn 99 whilst waiting for the storm to pass. And I regret nothing.
Managed to come out of my little hole ever so slightly and woke up feeling a bit more positive. We drove for 11 hours, crossing the border into Vietnam to stay with a local family at their home. We were given a cooking demonstration and ate some amazing food.
The lack of air con, bedding, running water, and sizeable lizards and frogs were quite the shock to the system. Made me feel very appreciative of how much I have back home.
Also, funny story-accidentally bought some shower gel that makes you whiter because everyone here wants to be white. I mean, they really should make that font bigger…
Woke up feeling well and truly back on form. We went to the floating markets which were amazing. The boats would tether themselves to ours and sell us fresh fruit and coffee. Puts Uber Eats to shame…
Afterwards, we drove through Ho Chi Minh city to our hotel. To mine and Demi’s dismay they placed us in different rooms, and in Demi vs the world part 3, she kicked off at the receptionist; firstly over her audacity to separate us after 8 days of room sharing marital bliss, and secondly over the fact that she had handed over her laundry to said receptionist but without getting a receipt or collection time. At this point the receptionist told Demi to “RELAX” in the least relaxing tone ever, to which Demi responded by turning to me and proclaiming “SHE IS NOT GOING TO DO MY WASHING IS SHE, I JUST KNOW IT.” Yeah she isn’t going to now mate…
Holy shit Ho Chi Minh city takes hustle and bustle to a whole new level. I don’t know whether the traffic lights are just put there for decoration or what, but honestly, every time I crossed the road here I feared for my life.
The girls and I went shopping around the markets, and then for a gel mani-pedi. We haggled hard for a good price at the spa, but then the women demanded an extortionate tip at the end. In Demi vs the world part who the fuck knows at this point, she pointed out that we had agreed on an original price and we were sticking to it. They argued back and basically ripped the money from our hands, at which point Demi ran out of steam and went for a cigarette. Has Vietnam broken Demi
Later that night we went out in Ho Chi Minh city. I didn’t drink, so was acutely aware of how many men were hovering around and eyeing up our drinks. Apparently drink spiking is a huge issue in Ho Chi Minh. Some wrong-uns tried to chat us up, which I managed to fend off with a routine which transcends every type of creep, in every bar, across every border: The hysterically crying female routine.
Day 10- AKA the last day!
Today we went to the jungle/tunnels where the Vietcong fought during the war, a tour led by Hai, a former soldier for the US army. Hai told us that the US tempted him to fight for the South, with “cigarettes, alcohol and flirting.” Story of my life Hun…
At the beginning of the tour, Hai told us to stick together and remember his face. His actual words were “I no remember you, to me you all look the same, so you must remember me…”
The tour was fascinating. We saw all the booby traps set up by the Vietcong, and crawled through the tunnels. These were absolutely tiny, and yet they have actually been widened for tourists since the war (apparently some fat American tourist got stuck LOL.)
Later that day I had to say my final goodbyes to everyone in the hotel lobby which was of course very sad, but then mega awks because their coach was late, so we were all just kind of hanging around for a bit with our emotional words lingering in the air.
I struggled to get a cab to the airport because Vietnam won the football against Qatar, so the streets were manic. The hotel lady offered me a motorbike instead- with my suitcase in tow. What’s Vietnamese for “no fucking way”?
And now I’m at the airport, ready to begin my 17 hour journey home. It’s safe to say that this has been a trip like no other. I’ve catapulted myself from my comfort zone, I’ve seen some amazing things and I’ve met some truly wonderful girls who I really hope to stay in touch with.
I guess that brings us to the end of my little adventure. Thanks for reading, and hopefully I’ll be back in the near future will some more adventures to report on. Loveyoubye