Day 204: Highs and Lows of Vietnam to Cambodia
The last days of Vietnam would not be complete without the highs and lows that keeps this whole experiment of slow travel in a constant state of adventure, even when that means stuck at home in a five story walkup with a bad case of the Delhi belly-dehydration, NO wifi while recovering from an intense day of rock climbing. Sound familiar?
Let’s start with the highest of them all.
ROCK CLIMBING with Asia Outdoors, the crème de la crème of climbing organizations -- I believe the first to bring the sport to Halong Bay in 2006. It has been well over a year since the first time I tried my hand at climbing in Railay, Thailand circa November 2015. And to be honest, I was a serious amateur just trying to come up and down without too many cuts or cramped calves. This time around, I knew I had a bit more muscle on my bone from all the yoga and ‘you have no choice’ core training from India and Bali days – no lie, it’s been a bit of a struggle to keep up the routine in Vietnam what with all the moving around and such (think flabby skin where muscle used to reign). Not to mention, the guides all seemed experienced with nearly fluent English under their belts, which compared to my mostly Thai speaking guide with only 2 years of climbing in 2015 and zero instruction to offer, seemed to be a massive upgrade all around.
It was the perfect day to climb too. Our group of six was driven to the docks and boarded a smaller speed boat which winded its way around the bay to a larger boat where an even larger group of us had about 40 minutes to swim in the beautiful blue waters and pack in some lunch before the climb. Around 1-ish, we boarded the small speed boat once again to head to the private and shady Moody Beach for the afternoon. In proper top rope climbing fashion, our two guides set the lines up one mountain, one beginner and one intermediate with an even more advanced line waiting right around the corner. The adrenaline and angst washed over immediately. The thing about climbing is this – as much as you strategize your ascent, there’s no way of knowing what you’re really going to do until you take your first step up. As you watch others scaling the rock, it is easy to paint a mental map of your own path, which may easily go south as you realize your body’s intuition has different plans. When body and mind are in sync, things flow much more smoothly uphill, much like the experience of yoga. The no-mind was hard to access at first, but with the gentle encouragement from Vicky to “stop thinking, just grab the first rock you see,” breathing flowed much more all around.
Of the three ascents which got increasingly more advanced, I found the last to be the most grueling. With the most blister prone sensitive hands and lactic acid build up in my entire upper body, I was surely not at my finest (and the sweltering heat did NOT care). But watching three people attempt and only one make it up, I was curious to see how I’d fare. About halfway up, I entered and disappeared into a dark cave for quite some time, just trying to find some comfort from what was becoming any overwhelmingly uncomfortable position. After what felt like ages, I decided to peek my sweat drenched head out and go for round two, up to the top. I pushed onward and upward letting out occasional bursts of what sounded like tennis player groan, just completely determined to get this whole thing over with. I have no idea how I made it up, as by that point, I could barely feel my hands and fingers. The rip in the back of my shorts must have been revealing some serious trunk. But I didn’t care, I freaking MADE IT!
And what goes up must always come down.
Call it residual karma or just down right bad luck, but I got it good: food poisoning and a reaaaaaaally crippling case of dehydration. The restaurant that gave it to me was rated #2 on Trip Advisor (vegetable pho, meaning noodles and veggies boiled in piping hot broth). And I drank 3 liters of water that full day. Not sure where I went wrong, but if you ever find yourself rock climbing in Cat Ba, consider this the lesson?
Ciprofloaxin! Two days into misery, my inner pharmacist kicked in and I remembered I had a few more capsules left over from India days. Popped those pills immediately and kept my cool, waiting for the pain to pass. Unlike India, I had decent wifi for some Netflix and chill (until the last day when the whole of Cat Ba’s electricity went out) and lots of fluffy baguettes to hold me over.
LOW (more, bitter sweetness).
The countdown to leaving Vietnam was soon approaching, which also meant Wylie and I would soon be taking our own solo trips – Wylie to Chiang Mai and me to Cambodia. I wouldn’t say this was a low in the same way as food poisoning by ANY means, but all the feels came up. Also, I’ve got no beef with hostels, in fact I was excited to have this experience as it was such a positive one in Thailand, but I surely was going to miss sharing a private room with my number one travel companion <3
We hopped over from Cat Ba back to Hanoi two days before leaving Vietnam. And it wouldn’t have been a proper goodbye without an A plus dinner. We treated ourselves to amazing Buddhist vegetarian food, and might I add, one of the most excellent fruit salads ever?
You would think that seven months of travel would automatically make you an expert at one thing – getting to the airport and into your airplane seat in one fell swift move without the slightest hiccups.
Today = pits of travel. The PITS. We gave ourselves plenty of time to get to the airport by cab, only to realize we had left our passports at the hotel AS we pull up into the airport! We spend about 15 minutes on the cab driver’s phone trying to coordinate getting Mr. King (apparently the name of the guy who checked us out at Tu Linh Palace) to drive our passports to the airport. We had an hour and a half before our flights would take off, and there’s no way we could have gone back now. The language barrier did not help.
About 40 minutes later (and 45 minutes before our flight would take off), Mr. King pulls up in a cab, thank god. If he had arrived even a few minutes later, the airline would not have been able to check us in. That brings me to the next situation.
Upon checking in, I was handed one plane ticket to Bangkok, which seemed strange given my destination was Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Surely it was a mistake. The airline rep told me that it was in fact not a mistake, and that I’d have to check in AGAIN at Bangkok’s airport since my booking number was different. Mind you, I had booked the entire flight with one layover on the SAME airline, which in most normal circumstances means ONE check in. Why would there be two? I can’t think of anything more inefficient and inconvenient. But those were the cards I was dealt, and no amount of heated debate and finger wagging would have given me the upper hand.
So, what should have been one smooth layover turned into a ridiculous loopty loop pf Air Asia policy nonsense: Bangkok immigration, baggage pickup, baggage security, baggage and airline check-in, another customs line, another baggage security, and FINALLY food.
Upon landing in Phnom Penh and experiencing the smoothest 30 minutes of getting my tourist visa, going through customs and scoring a haggle-free tuk tuk to Onederz Hostel, I manifested the perfect scenario:
A room full of vegan/veggie-inclined American girls, who like me, were recovering from food poisoning. And just like, off we went to a delicious dinner through the semi shady streets of Phnom Penh.
Thank you universe.