Or, 8 terrible choices that made for great stories.
In a span of 15 days, I lost my earring (or thought I lost it) four times. FOUR.
When I went on a holiday in Vietnam, I went at it the way I usually do when travelling by myself: have a very basic plan about where to go, how to get there, and where to stay when there.
But Vietnam scoffs at plans, apparently, and gleefully proceeds to fuck it up with its glorious food, pretty towns, and great beaches.
So I lost my earring four times. And made a lot of terrible choices.
Lodged in a motorbike.
The first time my earring disappeared I was annoyed with myself. I loved that earring and use it all the time. I was ready to chalk it up as a loss but the universe has other plans.
I took the train from Ho Chi Minh city to Quy Nhon. It was a twelve-hour deal (7pm to 7am) on a train that’s…just fine (but definitely not as comfortable or clean as the Bangkok-Nong Khai train in Thailand).
The moment I stepped off the train, I decided that I’ll find alternative transport for the rest of my trip.
Having arrived early, I dropped my bags off at the hostel and started exploring the seaside. Fortunately for me, the hostel is offering a free guided tour to everyone with a motorbike. Unfortunately for me, I don’t know how to drive a motorbike so I can’t exactly rent one.
Hostel roommate to the rescue. We got introduced while I was dumping my stuff at the room, and he ended up offering me a ride to join the tour.
The tour was fun. Took a boat to an island where I went on full lecture mode about skin cancer and proper sunscreen to an Egyptian, two Frenchmen, and a Dutchman before almost bashing my brains out scrambling on the slippery rock face.
It was fun though.
Went back to mainland and went to the other end of Quy Nhon where we found sand dunes. Sandboarding commences until sunset.
It was fun, even though it took me a long, long time to shower off all the sand. Sand gets everywhere, doesn’t it?
The next day, roommate asked me if I’d like to bike my way from Quy Nhon to Hoi An with him.
What the hell.
Terrible choice #1: “Sure, guy I just met two days ago, I’ll trust you with my life and join you on a 9-hour motorcycle ride. For a start.”
I got a refund for all my train tickets and used that to buy a helmet. Roommate (let’s call him D for dude) lent me a pair of pants because I didn’t have my own.
Nine hours on a motorcycle is butt-numbing, let me tell you. So we took rest stops. Somewhere between Quy Nhon and Hoi An, my earring made a bid for freedom.
I figured I lost my earring when we stopped at a roadside stall selling one of the most delicious Mi Quang I was fortunate to try, made by an old lady who just smiled at everything we do and say.
For some reason, roadside food stalls in Vietnam seem to always be managed by old ladies who do not understand a word of English. I find it very charming.
But nine hours is nine hours, no matter how charming the people you meet.
Tired, hungry, and desperately in want of a shower, we went directly to check in to the hostel and immediately began unloading our bags when we arrived in Hoi An.
Exploring would come later; food and shower first.
Luckily, while unloading the bike, the earring caught the light and D discovered it wedged between the motorcycle seat and the rack holding our bags.
Dropped on the bar.
The second time my earring disappeared I didn’t even notice. I could barely remember that night, let alone when I last noticed it still in my ear.
Hoi An is beautiful.
I am quite seriously considering moving there.
Upon arriving, I dropped off to sleep at 9am, which means I woke up 6am the following day. The 30-minute walk to the beach was quite easy. Plus the beach made it worth it.
The water was cold so I enjoyed it. Every morning I was in Hoi An, I’d walk to the beach after breakfast and be back to the hostel by 2pm for a quick shower and change, after which I’d proceed to the old town.
Hoi An old town just breathes art. It’s a pretty place that I enjoyed walking around in, especially at night. I bought quite a few art prints.
D and I decided to just travel together. Since he’ll be driving straight up to Hanoi it figures that we keep each other company until Hue, where I am hopping on a flight back to Ho Chi Minh City.
There’s only one bit of a problem.
Terrible choice #2: “Hey, guy I’m motorbiking with. I realised on day 2 that I totally forgot your name but it’s now day 5 and I’m still not going to ask.”
I honestly forgot his name. And by the time I thought that maybe I should ask, it was way past the time when it’s still acceptable to say “sorry, what was your name again?”
My solution was to pay attention to when he introduces himself to other people. But D is much more of an introvert than I am and didn’t go out of his way to talk to anyone else. Plus, it’s not like we’re together all the time. We both just randomly run into each other as we go about. Usually meet up for lunch or dinner when we’re at the Old Town.
Definitely coffee in this particularly nice and quaint cafe tucked somewhere in one of Hoi An’s narrow streets.
I tried to stealthily look at his phone when he’s fiddles with it, hoping to see his name when he opens Facebook or chats with friends. But my eyesight is really, really terrible.
At some point I thought just forget it. Who needs names, right? But I feel a little bit guilty when we see each other and he calls me from afar with a “Hey, Lyra” while I usually just do my best to get in his line of vision and then greet him with a “Hey.”
We’re in Day 6 when I finally found out what his name was…by not being able to introduce him. See, I was on the beach and struck up a conversation with some people. He arrived and I went “oh hey, this is (names of the beach people). This is…(pause. waiting for him to say his name).
He smirked at me, muttered “I knew it”, then introduced himself to them and me.
I’ll never live that down.
Terrible choice #3: “Ooooh, birthday shots!”
On my last night in Hoi An, I was planning on sleeping early .
But several people were celebrating their birthdays and the hostel bar decided to give out free shots…and shuttle anyone who wanted to go to the nearest dance club.
I remember only 2 things that happened between 9pm and 4am.
First is that we decided to walk (stumble) our way from Hair of the Dog (the name of the dance club) to the hostel. Which is a good one and a half kilometres. At 2am. Midway, we ran into the colourful mobile cart selling food and drinks and we decided that we really needed more beer. So we chased after it screaming for about 100 metres before it finally noticed.
Second is lying on the grass in front of the hostel, talking about why Philippine beer is the best among all Asian beer (fight me).
When I woke up in the morning I only had one earring on.
Never thought I’d see it again so I just decided to wear that one earring as I get ready to check out.
Since our luggage can’t fit on the back of D’s motorbike anymore (we each bought a lot of stuff), we arranged to have them sent to the hostel in Hue. The guy assisting us saw my lone earring and said that they found an earring on the bar the night before.
My runaway earring was found again.
Almost took a dive. I think.
The third time my earring disappeared I thought it was gone for good. I’ve been wearing a single earring for a couple of days and got used to it anyway.
Even unencumbered by luggage, it took us around 7 hours from Hoi An to Hue because damn if we didn’t stop to appreciate the view every once in a while.
Google maps was our friend here. As well as other tourists we met along the way who pointed us to some of the scenic areas between Hoi An and Hue.
We had the option of going through the tunnels but since we’re on motorbike, why would we miss out on Hai Van Pass?
It made me regret I never learned how to ride a bike, much less a motorbike. Mostly I told myself I’d teach myself how, so I can come back and motorbike my way from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi.
We decided to stay at the hostel where our luggage was forwarded because it’s easier. Also, said hostel was on one of the party/tourist streets of Hue so why not, right?
Similar to arrival in Hoi An, I had an early dinner, booked my flight back to Ho Chi Minh, then dropped of to sleep at around 9am.
Terrible choice #4: “Yeah, let’s just leave the bike. Doesn’t seem too hot for a walk anyway.”
It is if it’s noon and you decide to cross the Trang Trien bridge, which spans about 400 metres.
I was fine. I’m used to the heat (it was actually a bit cooler than in the Philippines) and had sunscreen on. Unfortunately, D was rapidly turning into the colour of the Vietnam flag.
Halfway through the bridge and I’m dealing with a cranky man who seem to be seriously contemplating jumping off the bridge into the (presumably) cool waters below, given that he won’t pass out from the heat first.
Fortunately, I have my trusty water bottle so I dumped its contents on his head instead. Such a waste of nice cool drinking water but better than dragging him the rest of the way if he faints.
I realised I lost my earring again while resting on the bank of the Perfume River after that walk. At that point, I was tired and sweaty and I didn’t care anymore.
It’s a good thing, though, that the first two days in Hue were sunny. Because the remaining two? Cold, rainy, and windy.
For two days, it’s like a tempest flew into Hue. Violent winds, sudden and continuous downpour – my poor summer wardrobe wasn’t ready for the chilly weather and I spent those two days holed up indoors, mostly snuggled in bed.
Hey, after two days of walking in the heat, it’s nice to laze around in the cold.
But I was in Hue, and I was in search of the best Bun Bo I could find. The night before I fly out, I was adamant to go back to that one food cart with a Bun Bo that tasted better than the rest I’ve tried.
Unfortunately, it is a sidestreet cart.
Terrible choice #5: “Yeah, but that cart has the best Bun Bo I’ve ever tasted. We should eat there again for our last dinner in Hue.”
I dragged D along and we walked the streets of Hue at 8pm to head to the corner where said cart was found. I was wearing a summer dress. And even with a scarf wrapped around my neck and the hoodie D lent me, my stomach was uncontrollably shivering because of the cold.
Never mind that. The important thing is the Bun Bo, and 8:30pm found us standing in front of the cart, huddled under the tarp they hung at the side to protect it, waiting for that bowl of steaming noodles.
We ate our Bun Bo standing up (mainly because they didn’t put out seats because the wind keeps blowing them away), hands stiff and shaking, shivering everytime there’s a gust of wind, with the tarp slapping at the back of our heads.
It was glorious.
Back at the hostel, I was reading when D came back from picking up his laundry at the front desk and held it up to me.
Taped on top of the vacuum-sealed bag is my runaway earring. Apparently, it fell out as the laundry lady was sorting D’s clothes for washing
And here I thought it fell into the Perfume River.
Fell down the winding staircase
The fourth time my earring disappeared I watched it fall. I may find it later, I may not, it all depends on whether I remember to look for it.
Two things shook me on the day I flew from Hue to Ho Chi Minh.
First is that D said he wanted to come with me and also booked the same flight, leaving his motorbike and most of his stuff at the hostel. He’ll fly back and pick them up again to continue his trip up to Hanoi when I fly back to the Philippines, he said.
Second is that Hue airport security allowed me to bring onboard the one litre water bottle I was holding on to until the last second because I was only able to drink 1/4 of it. That’s way over the 100mL limit. Really cool.
We arrived at Ho Chi Minh just before lunch. The heat of Ho Chi Minh was a jarring change to the cool of Hue and I ended up taking a five-hour nap. I woke up with just enough time to get ready to meet my colleague who lives in Ho Chi Minh.
Terrible choice #6: “Maps are overrated. Besides, it’s fun to just walk around and discover new places.”
It is, but not always.
I met up with D after a couple of drinks with my colleague and his friends and we proceeded to walk around the city aimlessly. Mostly we ended up walking along dark streets without any open establishments at 9pm.
We learned two things that night:
One, Ho Chi Minh is lively at night.
Two, not everywhere in Ho Chi Minh is lively at night.
There were a few minutes where we got lost in the darks streets that are far away from the bustling tourist and business areas and just went on walking because neither wanted to admit that we’re starting to get nervous.
Until we were walking on a rather darker alley (probably an office area) where our footsteps echoed. Then we heard a loud squeak and large thing (rat, maybe?) scampered in front of us and startled us into a walk-run to the end of the street.
We did stumble upon Ben Thanh market after that and rewarded ourselves with a good seafood dinner. Halfway through dinner, we were able to laugh about what happened in the dark alley.
But we took a Grab back to the hostel.
The following day was a full day of no plans seeing as it’s the last one before my flight home. After lazing the morning away with a book, I wanted to get out and walk around again. I was surprised D agreed to accompany me after the previous night’s somewhat distressing walk.
Terrible choice #7: “See, the historical sites are way over there and I’m just too lazy to figure out how to get there.”
Not that it’s difficult. Maybe just a bus ride away but I didn’t want to bother since we’ve both been to the Independence Palace and War Remnants Museum and other usual tourist sites in Ho Chi Minh before.
So, walking it is. Then coffee and lunch in one of the cafes along the way. After that, we came upon the Ho Chi Minh Museum of Fine Arts.
We spent a couple of hours there. I particularly loved the buildings the museum was housed in, especially the Ancient and Contemporary Art building.
I was admiring the winding staircase from the fourth floor when something glinting fell and bounced off the railings down to the ground floor.
“I think that’s your earring again,” D said.
So it was.
Never mind. I just kept going around the building. It was eerily quiet as no one else seems to be in the building – not even staff. The building looks like an old house that has been converted into a museum, with it galleries flowing from one room to the next separated by open doors and wide doorways.
Eerie but peaceful. And just the right mix of ancient and contemporary to fit its name.
Half an hour later, as I stood on the last step of the staircase, I looked down and saw my earring just off the side.
Terrible choice #8: “Same time next year?” “Sure.”