My whole reasoning for going to Southeast Asia in the first place was to teach English to school children. It’s what I came out here to do. The kids were adorable even the naughty ones, like everything in Asia the teaching was crazy. You could never really pre-empt what was going to happen each day in each new classroom. One day a class could be perfectly well-behaved and then the next they behaved the worst in the world.
But behaviour aside, these kids all had one thing in common; the eagerness to learn. English to them was vital and you can see the hard work and determination in each student. It was worth it and I’m so glad I did it! I did have a few of my favourites – one girl GiGi with gorgeous hair and although she struggled she endeavoured to try her hardest to understand. I recall sitting with her I was teaching her about animals and when she finally understood what we were teaching her, her face lit up. Another boy although I’ve unfortunately forgotten his name, also had the most gorgeous hair remains in my mind because although at times he could be quite the mischievous chap you could tell he wanted to be there ever so much. Despite this cheeky persona, his work was always completed and with great accuracy.
In both Vietnam and Cambodia I found such honest and compassionate people. My heart however fell in love with the Cambodian people. They have a heart of gold. I found them much more inviting than some local Vietnamese. I found the Vietnamese a lot more reserved. In Cambodia they rush out to greet you as though you are a celebrity it was endearing but not necessary but still it was warm and welcoming. They always had smiles on their faces and would stop to talk to you. Don’t get me wrong the hospitality in Vietnam was great and I met such amazing and kind people there like Lucy at Freedom Hostel Hue and Chang my High Van Pass driver.
I have the locals to thank for making my stay in Cambodia and happy and memorable one. Thankyou to NaNa, Mr Beer, ChaNa, James and all their loving family for the endless amounts of hospitality they shown me and the warm conversations I had.
The charm and the sense of adventure
Both countries had such a charm. Cambodia was more of an preserved charm where as the more developed Vietnam had a different sort of charm. Each city was here different and so it’s charm is that of the surprisal element. I don’t quite know how to explain it. Everywhere I went I faced a new adventure; just getting on the buses themselves proved just that. The so much to do out here from canyoning to zip lining, to helping conserve the elephants to visiting the national parks. For me, this was both the first time in Asia the first time travelling on my own so I was expecting mayhem; mayhem is exactly what I received.
I got lost several times and even got stranded on a kayak in the middle of Ha Long Bay. It’s on the road that you learn from your mistakes like being late for your train from Hanoi to Hue – that was fun. being on the road I soon found myself becoming much better at navigating the streets as the weeks unfolded and i even rode a motorbike, ON MY OWN, through Hue for the first time – without a license might I add. So yeah, there are endless amounts of opportunities for you to potentially injure yourself or die having fun here in Asia but I believe there is an attraction to that. It adds to this nations charm. You’re almost invincible in a world where the crazy is the nations normal. Which leads me to my next point: transport.
Let’s start with Cambodia. Tuk Tuks – we should make these a thing in the cities of the UK. They’re an unforgettable ride through the hustle and bustle of the city. They are both quick and thrilling, I loved my time in them as they were my only means of transport in Cambodia. Motorbikes however dominated Vietnam everyone owned one. They had power on the roads and just dodging the vehicles was a task within itself. But it was a dangerous task I learned to love. Before I knew it I was able to cross the roads just like the locals and i took great pride in that.
Then there were the night buses. I was on five in total Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh to Saigon, Hà Nội and Nha Trang, Dalat to Saigon. The first of the five slept 2 to a bunk with the rest of them featuring reclining seat (up to 75°) leaving little room for the legs of a 5 foot 10 man like myself. Wi-Fi almost never worked, the Air-con blasted Antarctica out to get you – I remember a very angry Ciara waking up shivering. We even resulted in shoving a pair of shorts into the hole to stop the air of death escaping from its abyss. There were several toilet breaks on each sometimes on the side of the road and other times at restaurants with squat toilets – they were fun. Speaking of toilets…
SE Asia isn’t well-known for its high quality flushing toilet but what it did have instead was what I called the ‘bum gun’. The bum gun is your friend. I loved its use and it should become a common feature in the homes of Great Britain. Not only is it hygienic but it’s also very cleansing and refreshing. It’s a bit like a bidet and ensures that all the mess in that region is cleaned up.
There’s no question that the food out here is delicious. There’s a variety of flavours for you to try as soon as you walk out of your hostel door. I had both street food and food in restaurants. My go to was simple yet delicious pork with fried noodles and veg but when I was feeling a bit more adventurous I tried the likes of pho in Vietnam, durian ice cream in Hue, com tam in Saigon, a vast amount of rice dishes and curry’s and even delicacy’s like silk worms, snakes, crickets and geckos.
Before this trip, I was never a beer drinker but it had indeed grown on me. Now when I go out I’m often ordering pints with a hint of lime for myself. Changed man? I think so. Beer was just the refreshment you needed on a hot and humid south East Asian day. It was the perfect cool down anyone could ask for, and besides I was on my travels. I especially love Cambodia’s ‘Angkor Smooth’, I drank way to many of those although my friend Ciara holds the record of at least 5 a day. It was both light and refreshing. ‘Saigon Red’ had more of a fizz to it but it was still easy to drink, for a non beer consumer that is.
For more check out my coffee series in Vietnam.