Travel Time with Tanmay — 3

[This is the third post in what I hope will be a series of my travel stories. Read the first one here and the next one here.]

Hello again! If you’ve read my previous posts, you’re well aware that I make a very curious traveller. I wouldn’t say I’m too bad, but I’m not the picture they’d have in the dictionary under the words smart traveller. The last story spoke of misunderstandings and then a bit of carpe diem but this story here is of a series of kind of unfortunate events that in retrospect were just very weird.

Background and planning

In the spring (?) of 2016, I was pursuing an internship in Bombay at a law firm. My good friend A happened to be doing the same and naturally we got talking about plans in general. Now, both A and I are seasoned travellers and also generally get along superbly (A, you’re reading this, tell them!). A’s mum works in Singapore and while talking an idea hatched between the two of us to visit her and then travel forward to somewhere in the south east. A part of us probably romanticized visiting the tropical lands of Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. Or at least one of them, we had college and attendance to get back to. Anyway, we each did our research and in lunch breaks would studiously exchange notes, compare budgets and plan itineraries. At the end, it came down to either the vast ruins of Ankor Wat in Cambodia or the mysticism of Communism in Vietnam. The final decision was made by flipping a coin and the land of Ho Chi Minh won. We commenced booking and whatnot. Sorted out all our flights, stays and days down to the last hour (not minute, we had a bit of yolo in us).

Singapore, March 2016

A had been to Singapore a few times and hence used the days there more as a staycation, however, I’d never been there and I spent most of my days exploring the city. I ate the best Chinese food I’d ever had and went on fun rides at Sentosa and remained scared of committing a fine-able offence all through the trip (another college friend, S, saved me before I took a swig of water on the subway!). On the third of our four day stay, A got news from a friend that she might have had some exam related matter to settle at her college and was something she had to do in person. Shucks. What an absolute bummer of a situation to be in! It was a long and difficult night figuring out what to do, but finally decided to take the day, travel as decided and see if something could be done.

Vietnam, March-April 2016

‘Nam baby! We landed early in the morning on a budget flight (still students okay) and found ourselves in Hanoi and made our way to the backpackers quarters. Literally, that’s the name. Tons of cheap hostels. Cheap everything actually! Hundreds or even thousands of dongs (hehe) for everyday things like crips packets and water bottles. Amazing economy.

ANYWAY. Back to a few days before this trip even began — back in Bangalore. Now, ideally, before one travells, one tries to get to know about the place right? You read up on what to eat, what to do, what not to do, cultural dos and don’ts and the like to make sure that one isn’t on the wrong side of the law or people. After all, they are your hosts! One other thing that one usually does check is the weather. Standard stuff especially if one is packing clothes! But well, it’s Vietnam no? All the knowledge from war movies and books has got to come to good use. “It’s a tropical country. It’s warm and moist and rainy and how bad can it get? Pack light TDawg, you’re travelling budget, with one carry on only.”

WRONG. Hanoi in April happens to have an evening temperature of 15 deg C. 15! That’s definitely jacket and trousers worthy. But guess who had no jackets, no full sleeves shirts and only one pair of jeans and two shorts. This guy. Yup. I went overseas, across two countries only to find myself smack dab in wrong type of weather. Froze like hell when evening came and we walked about the backpackers’ quarters. Luckily for me, Vietnam is where all the fancy textile companies make their stuff and there are tons of reject clothes being sold across the city. I found me a good North Face jacket (still got it) and I was saved.

Or was I?

Now the next stop in our trip was to the uhhhh hill station city of Sapa which happens to be waaaayyyy up in the, what I know now as, the very long country of Vietnam. A had to return to India after one night in ‘Nam unfortunately and wasn’t there for this leg of the trip unfortunately. I was already bummed about this and now I’m on an unintended solo trip. Sigh.

I got onto my night train to Sapa and woke up early at the station and stepped out to the wonderful city of Sapa, where the average daily temperature was eleven degrees Celsius. Yes, 11. “What have I got into?” Trouble, apparently. More so because the actual city was a good 45 minutes into higher altitude where it frequently rained. Yay!

So here I am. Up top, it’s raining, there’s fog and I’m tired and annoyed from being alone and having spent a night aboard a train. But determined to make this a proper scene, I trudged my way to the hostel, had a hot shower but still felt cold. So I wore another tee and my jacket. Still cold. Another tee. Still kinda cold, dammit. Another tee. And that was it. Oh no, I had a spare vest! Wore that too. If you’re picturing this, you’re not too far off. I was still cold, but determined! I went out and about, only to learn that it is Sunday and everything is shut. Wheeee. Got back to the hostel after looking at a firetruck responding to some sort of minor fire at the town square. That was it. That was the maximum fun I had the entire day after being cold, wet and sad.

Came back to the hostel quad — at least they had good wifi — and sat down to pacify myself with some buzzfeed compilations. I got talking to some other travellers and learnt that none of them were prepared for it to be this cold either! HA. Vindicated. Somewhat, I didn’t see them having layered clothes on. I kept my jacket firmly zipped up stating that I was from a far flung, hot country (absolute lie, I came from Bangalore, I wear PJs in June). But then nightfall came and IT GOT COLDER! I didn’t think it was even possible! So here we are. Tired, weary travellers from 6 different countries, on different trips, whining about the weather (and one whining about how he was suddenly alone, wonder which one) and shivering in the quad because there was no central heating. But wait! There was a fireplace with wood and some lights. One of us, definitely not me, was accustomed to camping and got us a small fire alight. We praised him and thought we’d at least have a cozy place insta story / pics at this point. Nope. Hostel person came in and said in broken English that it was not safe or some such and proceeded to put out the flames with water. Water. Cue a TON of smoke filling our faces. At least it gave me a legit reason to let the tears flow (“Nono I’m okay, it’s just the smoke, I swear”). We all hightailed it out to get dinner and just ended the day. The next day was the last and I, still wearing all clothes, had a decent day around and finally left the city, spending hours in the station just to get some warmth.

You’d think that as someone born in the era of liberalization, having had the internet at home since the year 2000, a phone since 2008 and a smartphone since 2012, I’d have had the basic, good and common sense to just Google the damn places I was visiting but nope. I did not. I suffered those sins for you to be chuckling right now, so I guess there was some good out of it all.

There was a lot more good out of that trip too. My next destination was Halong Bay and I had an absolute blast with the most diverse set of travellers upto some very questionable shenanigans. This leg actually gave me one of my favourite travel memories. I got to go kayaking for the first time in the turquoise waters of the bay and went swimming afterwards (them shorts did come handy :D) and it was while I lay afloat on my back between the chalky rock outcrops my ears underwater muting the sounds of people having fun, I finally found the reason to travel. To make experiences like these that I can’t make at home. To come back with stories of fun, food and people and entertain others giving them a glimpse of what I saw and hopefully inspiring more folks to cross the threshold of their homes.

Cold but pretty sights!
Notice the fog and the layers
Swam and kayaked somewhere here!

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Tanmay D

Tanmay D

I'm a 29 year old son, brother, friend and colleague who enjoys reading, playing video games and complaining about never having enough time. Read my thoughts!