- Jamie Shannon
Hanoi - What to do? I'm running out of money fast!
Well yet again I have left it far too late in writing another post which leaves me sat on my balcony in Nong Khiaw, Laos with a completely blank mind squinting back into the past in order to try to remember what it was I actually did/accomplish back in Hanoi.
Thinking back, I didn’t actually accomplish a hell of a lot but I certainly enjoyed my time there. It was a fantastic city to relax in even though the sheer number of scooters and horns can make it a little unbearable at times.
I didn’t do much the first day as I was simply too tired from my sprint from the border with China and fell asleep in a pile of dirty clothes and cookies. I woke up the next morning with the realization that I was in fact in South East Asia. It was a momentous feeling and I wasted no time at all in walking the streets and savouring the local food. It seemed a hectic place with the sound of a million scooters zipping this way and that way and all sorts of people selling their wares along the sidewalk. Crossing the road, as some of you might know, involves stepping out into the unknown and striding confidently across and just hoping for the best. It’s fucking crazy.
Later that day I went and booked myself into a huge backpacker hostel where I had spent a few hours after my arrival. I’ll be honest and say that it’s not the sort of place I would usually book into but, like I have said previously, after so long in China without a word in English, I needed to brush up on my language skills.
It felt great to be in the company of so many other westerners and I obviously made the most of it. I met lots of fantastic people here and we had some great times together. after a couple of days. I did begin to tire of having to explain how on earth I had gotten here but I tried not to sound too annoyed when I had to answer the same questions. I won’t lie – sometimes it felt great. You really do feel as if you have accomplished something when someone walks up to you on the terrace and asks if you’re the guy who……. It’s a great feeling but I did begin to tire of it.
I ended up surrounding myself with interesting people; people who were either travelling alone or travelling by scooter or doing something just a little bit different. Most of the other people I met were really just, well, annoying. If they were in a group or travelling with someone else, they were difficult to warm to. They all wore the same clothes, they all had the same necklaces on and they all went to the same places without exception. Sapa, Hanoi, Nga Trang, Hue, Saigon. Blah, blah blah. They seem to think they are getting off the tourist trail and yet they all end up in the exact same places. Fucking banana pancake trail. No doubt due to this, this, their views of the locals are skewed as the only locals they will ever see or chat with work in the tourist industry. It’s all very sad and for this reason, I’m happy I have my own transport.
With many months in countries where there is effectively no tourist trail at all, I would now come face to face with this in Hanoi. Yes I was robbed! I had nearly $300 and my bank card stolen from my money belt. If I had had something stolen in the past then it was usually down to my own stupidity but I think I had just become too blasé about the whole thing of security. I was gutted as you can imagine.
I thus spent the next few day’s trying to sort things out which isn’t easy to do from the other side of the world. Luckily however I had some guardian angels watching over me and I guess it’s in times like these where you really come to appreciate the goodness in people.
I had no cash whatsoever and worse than that, I had no way to access my bank accounts either (having left my main card in a cash machine way back in Kazakhstan) I was right royally screwed. Luckily, I had already paid for five night’s worth of accommodation in advance but then again, I still had no money for food – not even a dollar for a baguette. Upon hearing of my predicament though, someone gave me about $12 in Vietnamese Dong and so at least I could eat for the next few days.
There was a Dutch girl sleeping above me in my dorm, and after talking to her for a while, It turns out she had also cycled from Europe to China (though had sensibly taken trains most of the way through that huge country). Upon hearing of my woes, she offered to lend me some money until I could get myself sorted. An offer I accepted the next day due to my dwindling Dong.
What to do about my bank cards though? I was only on a 15 day visa thus I couldn’t get them sent out here but if I got them sent out to somewhere in Laos, I still had to support myself until I finally received them. Hmm, what to do?
Some days later and as I was sat there thinking about it, I realised that I did in fact have another bank card! My god! Dear lord! Of course! I still had my Dutch bank card but which had been stuck at the zero mark for some time now. Well this was good news indeed. At least I had in my possession an actual bank card.
By now it was like a week later (yes I tend to leave things to the last minute) and I had about 60,000 Dong left. Why do I always leave these things to the last minute? I had requested some assistance from my Dutch guardian angels, Esther and Leon, and I now found myself sat in another hotel (the other one was far too crazy) pressing refresh on my computer screen hoping that the funds would transfer sometime that day. I had enough money for three omelette baguettes and was getting pretty worried by this point. Luckily it cleared a little later and I was thus saved once again. Thank goodness and thank you Esther and Leon you sweethearts! I lost 50 Euros straightaway however as NS trains in The Netherlands had decided that it was time to pay my yearly subscription – something that I had completely forgotten about. Oops
I met scores of people whom were working there as teachers and I was utterly flabbergasted by the amount of money they were earning, $20 - $25 per hour in most cases and when you throw in the ridiculously low living costs here it’s not difficult to see why they have all found themselves drawn to this fine place.
This all got me thinking about what I was going to do with myself. I had always thought about teaching English at one point or another but I suppose it doesn’t really become a kind of viable option until you’re on the ground and in that circle. Having talked my way through the streets of the city and done my own research as to the likelihood of landing a job, I became increasingly convinced about the feasibility of it.
I wouldn’t say I have tired of cycling in any way shape or form, but after nearly eleven months, I realised I do need a little break from it all and perhaps a little normality in my life too and so I decided I would ride off into the mountains of Laos as a kind of last fantastically difficult ride before I returned to Hanoi in order to look for a job.
This is by no means set in stone yet and even now, 150 km’s north of Luang Prabang, I’m still not entirely sure what to do. Do I apply for a new three month Vietnamese visa in LuangPrabang or simply continue my way south, completing my trip in Kuala Lumper or Bangkok. I have enough money to survive if I choose this route but I certainly won’t be having the kind of holiday I would have liked to have had and this is the reason why simply working for a bit would help me a lot.
I suppose it’s not a bad decision to have to make and there are certainly worst places to do it in but I will have to decide very soon. Watch this space!