I walked alone down a bustling street in the heart of Ha Noi. The sun was hot, the air was thick with humidity, and my skin was slick with sweat. I stuck to one side of the street, partly because it was in the shade, and partly because crossing the street here is scary! The road has three lanes, but with the scooters, cars, and trucks all squished together, a terrifying traffic wall forms. The only way to cross is to play a real life game of Frogger. Step one: begin walking slowly, making eye contact with scooters in your immediate path. Two: continue walking – don’t stop! Don’t forget to keep eye contact as the scooters and cars fly by. Step three: Ignore the laughter coming from the Vietnamese onlookers, it will only distract you. Step four: When you get to the other side, stop holding your breath, exhale.
I walked until the sweet smell of delicious food being cooked nearby stopped me. I walked in, and found myself to be the only non-local in the room. A man behind a counter looked at me. I smiled. He stared. I looked around. Everyone in the restaurant looked at me. I smiled. They stared. The man behind the counter motioned for me to sit down. I did.
I looked at a menu for only a moment before I realized it was all in Vietnamese only. It didn’t matter though, for the man from behind the counter brought me something. He placed a dish in front of me and smiled a big, toothy smile. I smiled back! There sat a beautiful fried egg, beef (I think), another kind of meat, something that resembled green onion (and very well could have been green onion), potatoes covered in brown sauce, and something else that was green. It sizzled away on the plate. It smelled divine. I began to eat. As I ate, I tried to decipher what the heck it was I was eating. I had no idea. All I know is that it tasted so good.
The couple sitting across from me stared. I tried to ignore the stares, but I couldn’t. I choose to believe they stared because they have never seen someone as beautiful as me. I looked at them and said, Hello! They both smiled and nodded. The man said, Hello. The woman giggled. She pointed at her chin and said something to me in Vietnamese. Confused, I touched my own chin. Oh! There was a huge smear of the brown sauce dribbling down my face. I laughed and the woman laughed with me. I thanked her for saving me from embarrassment. I finished my dish, said farewell to my lunch mates, and prepared myself for the next game of Frogger.
We jumped on the boat and I said “let’s sit on the side, by the window!” We found four seats, that were not next to the window, much to my dismay, and the boat was off. Now, quick side note: when we booked these tickets the other day, Dermott asked the guy, “is it really rocky? Do you feel all the waves?” The man assured us not, and told us how new the boat was and that, “it really just flies.” Ok. That’s the side note. We were out in the ocean, and the waves were huge! I would even call them tumultuous. (I did, in fact, say to my friends, “these waves are tumultuous!”) Some of the windows were broken too, and the waves splashed into the boat. ALL over a few people sitting by the windows. It was pretty funny to watch, especially because I wasn’t sitting by the window like I originally pouted about.
We arrived to Koh Rong and fell in love immediately. Emma and I looked at each other and without speaking, both took our sandals off. Those wouldn’t be back on my feet until I stepped back on this boat. We rocked up to a hotel and asked if hey had rooms. They had two private rooms left! As luck would have it! $15 a night for one room, it was perfect. Some folks that Dermott and Meghan knew from a hostel earlier in their travels were hanging around the beach! Claire, Amy, and Ben. They invited us to go fishing! After some sun lotion, and some sun baking, we walked to the pier with them and boarded a boat. The skipper, Tillman, loaded the cooler with beer, and off we went.
There I was, boating around a tropical jungle, and untouched paradise. When we went close enough to shore, we could see monkeys sitting on the rocks! We jumped off the boat and had a snorkel. We saw some incredible things. Giant sea urchins with huge pointy black spines, big lip things that are like clams (and might actually be clams) that look like they have huge lips, and when they eat, it looks like someone blowing their lips like a horse. We also saw this weird body rolling organism. It was like a magic carpet fish and body rolled through the water. Again, incredible. And we invented a dance move that mimics the movements of it. I love it.
After snorkelling, we boated a bit more around the island, and let the anchor go. It was here that we would fish. We fished with spools. It was SO cool. I caught 8 fish! They were only small guys, but we didn’t throw anything back. Emma caught the biggest fish. We boated to Long Beach (the longest beach on the island) and the Cambodian guys from the boat began gutting and cooking the fish. We were each given a plate with a whole fish on it. No utensils. I was in barbaric heaven. There is nothing better that picking at a freshly caught, freshly cooked fish with your fingers. Oh em gee.
The sunset made the day. I love the fact that though there is a sunset every day, it is still so very magical. I looked at Emma and felt a rush of joy. Look where we are, paradise. One of the most beautiful beaches, with the sun setting over beautiful water, eating a beautiful meal, with my beautiful best friend. How could I possibly be happier? The boat trip home was quick. As I gazed at the moon, and thought about my happiness. I seem to do that a lot, think about how happy I am. I am so happy.
The taxi dropped me off at the international departures gate and I joined the throngs of white people in the line to check in. I said to Eka, the cabbie, “so many white people!” He laughed agreed that there were a lot of white people.
I said farewell, and now I wait.
Something you need to know about me is that I get really riled up when I don’t get a window seat. First of all, I love to look out the window and check out the one and only, Mother Earth. You can see the coolest, most epic nature things from the airplane and I don’t want to miss out. Second, I often fall victim to motion sickness, and find the only chance I have is when I sit at the window seat and look at the horizon. Well, I’m in the aisle for my flight from Bali to Bangkok, and the couple beside me have closed the window. How the F am I supposed to a) continue my ever growing and changing love affair with nature and all things epic, and b) how am I supposed to keep my eggs down if things get bumpy?
Remember when PDA was something people liked to see? Hmm, in fact, I don’t think it’s ever been something people like to see. The couple next to me is having everything but sex. I’ve been thrown three elbows as a result from the violent rubbing and tickling going on, and we haven’t even taxi’ed away from the airport!!
Remember how I said, “I mostly like to sit in the window seat because the view of the horizon keeps my violent motion sickness in check” (see previous paragraph). If this making out, tickling, teasing, and other various methods of foreplay continues in the seats beside me, and that window remains closed, leaving me with no horizon to look at if I get motion sick, I can’t be held responsible for puking all over the place.
In the span of 5 minutes- since I finished the last thought- there has been a very obvious boob grab, a far from stealthy penis graze, an enthusiastic inner thigh squeeze, and an unnecessary number of comically audible kisses.
Who kisses that loud?
Window is still closed.
I am amazed. Here I sit, wearing noise cancelling headphones for the sole purpose of blocking out the sounds coming from beneath the blanket beside me. What are they even doing under there? Do I ask them to stop? I don’t think I have ever felt more uncomfortable on an airplane in my entire life.
Window is still closed. These two are clearly worried about the daylight illuminating their far from appropriate airplane activities.
The girl from the pornographic airplane show sitting next to me just vomited into a barf bag. Surprisingly, it killed the mood. Thank you, turbulence.
Window is still closed.
To be clear, I don’t mean, “ thank you, turbulence for making this girl sick,” I mean,“thank you, turbulence for pressing pause on the unnecessary, and wildly inappropriate acts of my seat neighbours. That being said, I did let out a bit of a laugh when she pulled the blanket away and grabbed at the barf bag. The man gave me a dirty look. I politely offered to switch seats with her, so she could be on the aisle and could have a quick and easy path to the washroom if need be. She was so grateful and we switched seats. SUCCESS! Not only am I able to sit at the window seat for the most glorious sunset, but I was able to disguise the suggestion as an act of total selflessness.
All week, I’ve seen a Canadian hat bobbing amongst the hatless heads every so often. It’s like a beacon of patriotism. I finally had to say something to the guy wearing it. I walked up to him, “I just had to say hello. You have this Canadian hat, and I love it.” We became fast friends. His name is James. His friend is Morgan, from America, who actually looks like Fabio. They were fun and friendly— just my type of people. I asked James if he has seen the red beer fridge commercial by Molson Canadian. He shook his head no. I used his phone to show him the most amazing Olympics Ad I’ve seen in a long while. (Watch it here). We watched the video at the bar, and watched when the guys point to an island on the map— Gili Air! The neighbouring island to the one we are on. Oh my gosh! We should go find this guy! James was SO excited. Fabio was up for an adventure too, and they both agreed to meet me at 11am tomorrow morning at the pier. I am so excited!!
Zarina and I went down to the pier at 11am. I saw the beacon. James’ red hat bobbing around the harbour. I jumped up and ran over. We found a boat to take us to Gili Air! We showed the captain the Molson Ad and he smiled. “This your friend?” We all nodded. “This is our Canadian friend.” And just like that, we were on a boat, sailing the waves. We all agreed that we would treat ourselves to an awesome fish lunch or something. Absolutely.
We arrived in Gili Air and jumped off the boat. We immediately began asking people if they knew Morgan from Canada. We went to Ocean 5 to eat some Nasi Goreng and take a quick dip in their pool. We showed a few fellow Canadians the commercial and they wished us luck on our quest. After lunch, we chose a direction and began to walk it. Fabio brought some portable speakers and some really funky music. He played it as we walked down the path. We all danced. It was so fun. I love dancing down the street of a remote tropical island. Locals were sitting along the path, in berogaks, and other various huts, and would smile, laugh, point, and some would even get up and join us! It was brilliant. We were quite the sight. We decided to put the dance party on hold and ask again about the red fridge. We went into Safari’s bar.
We asked the bartenders about Morgan from Canada, and they told us to walk back the way we came and to the other side of the harbour. Ok! I took a quick swim in the ocean, because I am in paradise, and the ocean was literally calling my name with each wave that gently crashed against the coral, “betttthhhh, betttthhhh….” Fabio and James bought to go cocktails, and we were back on our dancing path.
Some kids ran up to us to see where the music was coming from. We stopped walking, but kept dancing and they just thought it was the funniest thing. Then Fabio pulled out balloons from his vest! The man carries balloons with him to give to children! He blew one up, and then let it go so it would spin and fly around the little boy. They all shrieked with laughter. We showed them how to play keep up, basically you don’t let the balloon touch the ground- you keep it up- and were back on our merry way.
We walked passed the harbour, and passed Ocean 5. We continued to miander along the path, smiling and waving at the locals. I suggested we go into another bar to ask again. Paradisio’s or something. James asked a table of local guys all sitting around a table if they knew Morgan from Canada. One Indonesian man stands up and turns around to face us. “I am Dean,” he said, “and Morgan is a good friend of mine.” No way! Dean is kind of the main Gili Air guy. He controls all of the investments that are made on the island and has a lot of control with the development. He was also in the Molson Ad… They invited us to sit with them while they finished lunch. We each ordered a Bintang, and took a seat. Then they pushed their food towards us. Steamed rice, grilled fish, spicy vegetables, oh boy. Everything we hoped for today was coming to fruition! The boys passed around a big ol’, Gili air sized joint after the meal, and offered to us. What hospitality!
Dean told us that Morgan actually isn’t here, but he is actually flying back today from Canada. We just missed him. But you know what is here? The big red fridge is here! Dean walked us through the back alleys of Gili Air, past bungalows and new buildings. I said, “Gili Air is growing fast, and Dean said, “not if I can help it.” He doesn’t want Air to turn into another Trawangan and is doing everything to stop it- petitions, invoking certain laws and bylaws to ensure no roads are put in, no horns are to be installed on horse carts, etc. He also leads a group in which every Sunday, the children are taken along the beach and help clean up the garbage.
We turned a corner and there was Morgan’s office. Dean unlocked, and slid the door open. There it was! The big, red fridge! James and I looked at each other with the silliest grins on your faces. Fabio and Zarina decided to sit outside and let the Canadians have a minute of patriotism. James and I took some photos and rejoiced in the happiness we were feeling as a result of the perfect day we were having. We wrote Morgan a note to thank him and his friends for inspiring our beautiful day. We took some more photos and left.
We walked back to the harbour with Dean, and found our boat man. Just like that. It was the most perfect day. Everything just worked. The timing, the manifestations of our dreams, the big red fridge. I stood on the bow of the boat the whole way back, wind in my hair, surfing the waves. I felt like I was on top of the world. Entirely flying. Today will always remind me that when you are open to beautiful and wonderful things happening, you meet people who will spontaneously join you on epic adventures across water and land.
Later, I met a man named Gamons on the balcony of the bar. He was a lovely little Indonesian man who asked me, “do you enjoy?” “Do I enjoy what?” I asked. He just said, “do you enjoy?” I nodded. I said my life is a sequence of beautiful moments that has connected into a never ending stream of them. He smiled, high-fived me, said, “enjoy your beautiful moments”, and walked away.
We were up super early and on the bus to head to Mekong Delta. I don’t think any of us expected the day we were about to have. The boat trip across the water was nice and peaceful. Nghiep, our guide, told us a little bit about the Delta. There are islands called Unicorn, Dragon, Phoenix, and Turtle islands. It was a lovely little trip and we arrived on Unicorn Island in about twenty minutes.
First stop: We learned how rice paper is made! It’s a mix of rice, coconut milk, and water, spread over a hot plate like a crepe and then put in the sun to dry. They had samples for us, some flavoured, some crispy, some still fresh. They were all delicious. We each were able to hold a python too! I love the feeling of snakes!
Next, we learned how coconut candies are made. After chopping the coconut open with an incredibly dangerous tool that could slice off a hand, shelling the coconut with a sharp spike that could impale your inner thigh, and feeding the coconut slowly through a grinder that could eat your fingers, the coconut is mixed with sugar and malt. It’s stirred for about half an hour and then set in the sun to dry. They flavour the candies with various things like peanuts, chocolate, and coffee. I had to buy a few ginger ones- they are just too good.
We took a row boat down one of the canals to our next stop. The boat was small, and only 4 at a time could fit in. The water was unmoving, the giant palm fronds have us shade, and the only sounds were the water lapping against the shore, a rooster crowing in the distance, and our rower’s oar dipping into the water. It was lovely.
Second stop: lunch! After walking through an inadequately secured bee farm, we arrived at a giant table. We all sat around and lunch was served. They brought out a huge cooked fish, and at the table, a Vietnamese woman made us individual fresh spring rolls with rice noodles, pineapple, and cucumber. They were very good. We had really nice battered banana, sour chicken, fried rice, jackfruit, and delicious tea with honey from the bee farm! After lunch we had a chance to all Latin hammocks and digest our food. I forgot how much I love hammocks. I love hammocks.
We took tuk tuks to our third stop. These were unlike any tuk tuk I’ve ever seen. They were converted motorbikes! Front half of a bike attached to a bed of a very small pickup truck! We wore helmets because we drove through a coconut forest, and they don’t want tourists getting bonked on the head. I think it was also because they like to laugh at the tourists with their goofy helmets on.
Third stop: we were given fresh tropical fruit for dessert! Dragon fruit, jackfruit, some amazing fruit of which the name I can’t remember, and the most darling bananas I have ever seen. These bananas made me feel like a giant. They were no longer than my index finger, but short and fat, and the brightest colour of yellow on the inside. Delicious.
Last stop: the pier. We boated in silence back across the water. As we passed more docked ships, I saw a man napping on a hammock ON A BOAT! The water was literally rocking him to sleep. I have to talk to my friends and see if they’ll go in with me to buy a boat and a few hammocks….
I also saw:
Two old men playing Vietnamese chess,
A topless man reading the paper and smoking,
A grandma playing with a new baby,
An overturned motorbike,
A boy sneak a kiss from the girl on the back of his bike,
A game of football being played by young boys in a parking lot,
Two old women using stationary bikes on a playground.
Off to Pub Street. I asked my new hostel friend, Cory where it was and how far we had to walk to get there. He pointed ahead and said, “it’s just up there!” I looked, and sure enough, there was a huge, flashing, neon sign that said PUB STREET, with huge, flashing, neon arrows pointing down the road. “Oh,” I said, “you mean just there where the giant neon sign and flashing arrows is?”
I guess pub street is known for the street parties. We have heard a few different times about the dancing, the drinking, the mingling, and the general partying that does down on the street. I saw no such thing. No general partying. The street was empty! We walked down the middle of the road and found ourselves between two bars— “Angkor What?” and… another one. Standing between the two bars, my friend Emma and I found ourselves in a sweet spot of music. You know when you drive across a border and you can kind of jump from one place to the next, or straddle over two states or provinces? It was like that. But with music. One step to the left, and it was one song, one to the right, and it was a different song, with no hint of the other. I imagined what it would be like to have the ability to see sound waves. Just huge waves clashing in the middle of the street and bouncing back from whence they came, creating a sound wave wall, and two sound wave tornados. Anyway, Emma and I started dancing. I imagine we looked like rockstars as we danced. There may be a meme of us on the internet soon. First, a picture of Beyoncé that says, “how I imagine I look when I start street parties in Siem Reap” next, a picture of the two of us, unshowered, unkempt, and uninhibited dancing alone in the middle of a street- “how I actually look when I start street parties in Siem Reap.”
It wasn’t our dancing that gathered the crowd, or our devilish good looks. I’m 100% sure it was our persistence. A few songs played and we didn’t stop. A full circle of people gathered around us, mostly Chinese, smiling, clapping, and all of them filming. Woohoo YouTube sensations. Finally, a Korean man stepped into the circle. A high waisted khaki pant, tucked in polo shirt wearing, fanny pack toting, ‘if I tuck my pants into my white sweat socks it will really bring my outfit together’ Korean man. He danced and danced. It was phenomenal. After he joined, the party began. People began to copy whatever dance moves he was doing. It was like a makeshift flash mob. Epic!
After a night out back home, it’s common practice to buy a donair, McDonalds, pizza, maybe even poutine. In Cambodia, however, the western places don’t stay open. In my slightly drunken state, I bought a bag of fried and salted beetles for the equivalent of about $0.50. They weren’t actually half bad.