Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai (watch out, watch out, there’s an incredibly cute set of elephant pictures about)

I started this post on 25th March 2017, when I got back from the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. Then I fell asleep, hung out in Chiang Mai and Pai for a few days, tootled off to Bangkok and flew back to Heathrow what a mistake so this post has spent the last two-plus years as a list of bullet points. But today is International Elephant Day, apparently, so here are some elephants.

an elephant in Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, eating watermelon

According to my bullet points, elephants consume 10% of their body weight each day. They can have many teeth in their lifetime (sets of teeth, presumably), and their lifespan in the same as humans’.

elephants in nature park behind a fence

I visited the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai as it it was the only one I could find without a single bad review. The elephants who live there are rescued from illegal logging or circuses; there are no fences; the elephants are pretty much allowed to do what they like. Some ‘sanctuaries’ that have rescued elephants from circuses or the like will employ the same methods of control (prodding them with hooks to get them to behave) and allow visitors to ride them, which apparently is bad for their backs.

None of that happens at the Elephant Nature Park. Our guide (whose name I did not record, my bad) explained that they only tempt the elephants with food, and if they aren’t interested then whatever, man, do you want to get trampled by an elephant? I am paraphrasing. Our group had fed an old lady elephant (who refused any food she didn’t like) and we trotted down a trail some distance away from another elephant. Our guide just said, ‘he’s not into people. We’ll leave him,’ and ta daa off we went.

elephant next to trees at Elephant Nature Park Thailand

elephant with leaves in its trunk

Fun fact: African elephants and Asian elephants are completely different species. I dunno which one Dumbo was because I only saw that film once, when I was maybe four, and it made me cry so much I’ve refused to go near it since. I have a feeling the picture book version I had did the same. Interestingly (thanks bullet points), if an elephant is kicking and moving its head back and forth, you’re seeing signs of neurosis, ie it’s gone mad. If you’ve seen an elephant in a circus or ridden one, it’s been broken as a young elephant in a process called ‘crushing’. They are tied with ropes and unable to move at all, prodded with nails or burnt until they can obey basic commands. Some zoos and circuses train the elephant to ‘draw’ with a paintbrush and sell the ‘art’ to tourists.

Gross.

elephant near river at Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai
I think this is the elephant who doesn’t do people. I WONDER WHY.

As part of the day, visitors get to help wash the elephants! They are well up for a bath, although it’s a bit more like throwing paint at a wall than it is helping someone wash their hair.

girl throwing water over elephant in river

Sometimes the humans missed the elephants and got each other… those knobbly bits on their heads denote age, if I remember correctly. We got the opportunity to pat the elephants too, if they liked people. I was not absolutely convinced it’s a good idea but, reader, it was. They’re all hairy!

girl next to elephant in Chiang Mai

You have to approach them from the front so they can see you.

Also, elephants like scratching posts. They enjoy dirt baths. They are incredibly, ridiculously, cute.

baby elephant with leaves in trunk

elephants playing in dirt mountain, Chiang Mai

I mentioned that the park didn’t really do fences. At one point a herd of water buffalo came wandering through and our guide just said something like, ‘oh, they’ve come in from the other side of the mountain.’ A few of the stray dogs who hang out there barked. The elephants did not take notice.

water buffalo and stray dog in Elephant Nature Park

My final bullet point is that the elephants may have hip or foot problems from logging (don’t we have machines to do that for us now?) so they can add that to their list of problems, which already includes ‘being used in bullshit circuses’ and ‘being killed for their ivory because for some reason it is fashionable to have stuff made from elephant teeth’. They are also facing habitat loss, because who isn’t these days.

On the off chance you ever visit northern Thailand, I highly recommend you visit the Elephant Nature Park. It’s absolutely lovely… and I recall the buffet being very tasty.

Want to help the elephants on this fine International Elephant Day? And on every single other day? Here’s what you can do:

  • Never get on an elephant for a ride
  • Don’t visit a circus that uses animals
  • Don’t buy ivory, even if it’s ‘antique’. I can’t remember the name of the show but I once saw an Attenborough programme in which someone pointed out that although the UK has banned ‘new’ ivory, if it is considered ‘antique’ then it’s fair game to sell… too bad no one really knows if a bit of ivory is antique or not!
  • Buy elephant coffee (no it isn’t made from elephant dung, although elephants are very important ecologically, as they spread seeds through their dung)
  • Sponsor an elephant (it’s my birthday soon hint hint)

I loved visiting South East Asia, but there are relatively few places I would jump at the chance to go back to. The Elephant Nature Park is definitely one of them.

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Phuket & the Soi Dog Foundation, Thailand, ft. DOGS

I’ve been eating a lot of curry lately, because there is almost no limit to what you can put in a curry except perhaps cabbage, and between that and that one part of The Umbrella Academy that’s set in Vietnam, I feel like South East Asia is calling to me. My bank account isn’t on my side, so I might as well share pictures of dogs at the Soi Dog Foundation in Phuket, which I highly recommend to the whole of humanity because DOGS.

So I virtually live blogged the 40-odd hour journey out of Laos into Thailand. We took such a weird route out of Vientiane because one of the places on my list to see in Asia was the Soi Dog Foundation. Originally established by Dutch expatriate Margot Homburg, in 2003 she joined forces with British expats Gill and John Daley, who wanted to do something about the estimated 70,000 stray cats and dogs on Phuket. It’s grown into an internationally-renown shelter dedicated to sterilising and re-homing strays and, if I remember correctly, helped eradicate rabies from the island of Phuket completely. It was also instrumental in helping the abandoned pets and strays left over from the Boxing Day tsunami and is campaigning against Asia’s dog meat trade – I first heard of it from an online petition.

Phuket is a lot bigger than it looks, and the Soi Dog Foundation was way further from our hostel at Karon Beach than I realised. It took the entire morning to get there by bus – but Phuket is a lot like Spain in that it’s virtually set up for tourists, so the roads were fabulous, especially compared to Lao and Vietnamese roads. Also, Thai motorists drive on the right. So do the Maltese. Sensible people. Anyway, the shelter is a bit hidden from the bus stop, so I got a lift on a motorbike from a volunteer, which was useful as a local dog, ironically, was doing a great job of nipping the back of my legs when the bike pulled up (get your vaccinations, kids, rabies eradication or not!).

 

If you’re going to Soi Dog hoping to get your fix of dog cuddles, you’ll be disappointed (I was). These dogs see humans all day, every day, they do not give a shit when another one walks into their home, although most were more than happy to come and say hello. The shelter is separated into sections: old dogs, puppies, cattery, specially-designed dog hospital (they play the dogs music!), non-human-friendly dogs, etc. The staff, who are mostly volunteers, take you on a tour and do a fantastic job of explaining how everything works.

 

Can we have these posters in England too please?

 

I visited not long after Gill Daley died (her husband John is still involved full time) and really got a sense that this is the sort of place people come to volunteer at time after time, because it’s a lovely place to work. I wish I could have spent more time there – I didn’t realise how long the journey would be – and really recommend you take the time to visit if you’re on Phuket on holiday, or if you’re thinking of getting involved with stray dogs or opening a shelter (hint hint Zakynthos).

There wasn’t a lot else on Phuket that we wanted to see – there were, like, children with their parents and forks instead of chopsticks and I was in Peak Shitty Backpacker Mode at this point – so after saying hi to Big Buddha, Maxim and I headed to the islands, where we split up to look for clues see different parts of Thailand.

 

I think they are planning to paint Buddha eventually?

 

Sort of can’t believe how good my tan is in that photo. Also can’t remember if the statues were especially large of if I’ve just got to get used to the fact I’m smaller than I think I am…

I’m going to make another curry. Come back in 6-8 months to hear about Koh Tao and Koh Samui, and then one of my favourite parts of the trip: Chiang Mai and Pai.

Patuxai and Post Offices | Vientiane, Laos

What can I tell you about Vientiane, Laos? Not a lot, actually, because I was only there for a day. I think I mentioned the hellish journey out of the city once or twice… Anyway, what I did see was really nice!

Patuxai, Vientiane, Laos from outside

This is Patuxai, which is a war memorial dedicated to those who died fighting during Word War II and for Lao independence from France in the late 1940s. It was broadly inspired by the Arc de Triomphe (ironic) and was built between 1957 and 1968 with cement donated by the USA that was intended to build a new airport. Apparently some people still call it the ‘vertical runway’.

The mural on the ceiling is of the gods Vishnu, Brahma, and Indra, according to Wikipedia. I love a ceiling mural. If I ever own a house there will be some serious gold leaf-adorned illustration on the kitchen ceiling.

You can also go up on the roof (after walking through a couple of floors are not-quite-finished and mostly full of people selling souvenirs) and enjoy the view of the city. GOD IT WAS HOT. POSSIBLY MY MEMORIES ARE CLOUDED BY THE HELLISH JOURNEY THAT FOLLOWED THIS LITTLE EXCURSION.

The only other part of Vientiane that I really saw was a scrummy Indian restaurant which introduced me to the god blessed beverage of soda water with a slice of lemon, and the post office. Which looked like a post office. I should have taken a photo, in retrospect, because every post office I’ve ever been to abroad is nicer than the ones in Britain. The one in Hoi An in Vietnam had furniture decorated with mother of pearl. Saigon’s main post office looked like a train station. One in Barcelona boasted ceiling murals. The one in Southend is attached to a WH Smith and its main decoration is a glass case with limited edition stamps.

I feel a post dedicated entirely to post offices on the horizon.

I won’t mind if you don’t read it.

Next up in the occasional SE Asia series: Phuket and the Soi Dog Foundation!

Tubing & Chocolate Bars in Vang Vieng, Laos

How do I describe Vang Vieng, Laos? Well, it’s the one with the Friends bars. The one with the tubing. The one with the famous nightlife that got toned down a few years ago because backpackers kept accidentally dying. I’m going to be honest with you, reader, in case you’re a discerning tourist who neither drinks heavily nor enjoys Friends: you don’t absolutely need to visit Vang Vieng unless you really want to go tubing or have enough money to do an eco-tour type trip.

A brief bit of history: Vang Vieng had an infamous toxic party scene in the late 1990s and 2000s, because someone had the idea to rent old tyre tubes to backpackers who could spend a couple of hours floating on them down Nam Song, the Song River. Backpackers were well into the tubing, so a bunch of bars opened up along the riverbank for them to get sloshed and high while they took a break from bobbing along the fairly shallow but fairly speedy river. Unfortunately, it’s really easy to accidentally drown in fairly shallow but fairly speedy water, especially when you are wasted and especially when you have fallen from a shitty zipwire or dodgy rope swing. So in 2012, after pressure from a bunch of foreign ambassadors who were tired of dealing with the families of accidentally dead backpackers, Vang Vieng cleaned up its act. Most of the riverside bars are abandoned and there are signs in hostels saying ‘OI MATE IF YOU’RE CAUGHT WITH MARIJUANA THIS HOSTEL IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR 6 MILLION KIP FINE.’

6 million kip, by the way, is about $60. In Lao terms, 6 million kip is a shittonne of money. People still do all the drugs and booze, just quietly.

So, we went to Vang Vieng to go tubing. Well, I went tubing. Maxim got ill and didn’t, although he did have a pair of shoes stolen. I went tubing by myself and it was nice for the first 45 minutes, when I was being all zen and thinking cool thoughts – the landscape, like all of South East Asia, is breathtaking – but then I needed a wee and my waterproof bag was not as waterproof as advertised and dickbag tourists on kayaks kept splashing me then I almost got swept away by a feisty little current that showed its face about four metres from the part of the river where you’re supposed to get out. I watched one lady float on past, and I have always wondered what happened to her. Apparently the river empties into a reservoir, so at least she didn’t end up in the South China Sea.

So, if you’re not into the tubing, you’ll have to go for the eco tour stuff. I was too poor to, but according to The Guardian there are villas and farmhouse rooms to be rented, stunning treks to be undertaken lots of fancy food to eat.

It sounds like I’m bashing Vang Vieng: if you’re into tubing, it’s a must-visit! Unusually, I actually had a good time chilling out, writing to you guys and hanging out with people – there was this Aussie guy Travis who explained the intricacies of the Australian car industry, and a French guy, Pierre, who I will one day write into a book. I have a feeling Pierre is still in Vang Vieng right now, sleeping off moonshine and cursing at every other word.

The nicest thing about Laos for me was how quiet it is compared to Thailand or Vietnam: we saw the same two Canadian blokes in Luang Prabang, Phonsavan, Vang Vieng and Vientiane. An American guy from our hostel in Luang Prabang turned up in a cafe in Phonsavan. So did a Finnish guy. There is no fork option at the dinner table, only chopsticks and a little spoon, and the night is black as pitch.

The downside to the quiet was the provisions. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this, but Vietnam does not do cheese. There are Dairylea triangles and that is it. It does do American chocolate, though, and Kellogg’s. Thailand is full to the brim of 7-Elevens, which are full to the brim with overpriced Evian and Nature Valley bars. Cambodia had American chocolate, if I remember correctly. Laos’ food sticks in my mind for two reasons: one is the heavenly Indian food we had in Phonsavan and Vientiane. The other is that, although I remember seeing those Cadbury’s Dream bars for sale (remember them? In the Heroes boxes?), Lao chocolate is vile. I bought a locally-produced bar for the minivan from Vang Vieng to Vientiane, and it tasted like actual sawdust. I have never thrown away a chocolate bar before and hope never to again.

You live and learn, I guess.

Next up: Vientiane!

Are You Taller Than a Stone Jar? | Phonsavan and the Plain of Jars, Laos

Transcript of 1000 conversations I had when I told people I wanted to visit the Plain of Jars in Laos: ‘A plane of jars? Like an aeroplane full of jam jars?’ ‘Um, no. A valley full of ancient jars.’ ‘Oh. I’d like an aeroplane with jam jars.’

I read about the Plain of Jars in a book, and it was a pretty terrible book so I won’t waste your time by telling you what it’s called, but it piqued my interest so we took a trip out to the town of Phonsavan, which is my new reference for the phrase ‘in the middle of bloody nowhere’. The journey from Luang Prabang was long, dusty and included very few straight roads. Anyway, littered around Phonsavan are a couple of thousand stone jars. Some say they were used for burials. Some say they were big old wine containers. Some say aliens.

It’s probably not aliens.

 

If the giant dusty valley full of jars isn’t strange enough, the giant dusty valley is also full of craters. Look, there’s a jar… oh no it’s half a jar.

 

To cut a long story short, Phonsavan was carpet bombed during the Vietnam War. I mentioned in my post about Luang Prabang that Laos is the most bombed country in the world; that is essentially because there was a civil war there between 1963 and 1975 which was also a proxy war between America and Russia, hence the carpet bombing (both sides, which involved North Vietnam, South Vietnam, China, America and Thailand, plus the opposing Laos forces, wanted control of the Ho Chi Minh trail and Laotian pan handle. Wiki can explain it better than I can.) Literally nothing ever changes.

So, yeah, craters. Most of the valley has been cleared of UXOs but I must say the added risk of accidental death added a certain level of interest to the trip. For scale, by the way, I’m about 5’1″:

girl next to stone jar
I’m not sure whether me or the stone come off worse in this comparison.

Giant jars aside, Phonsavan is pretty quiet but very beautiful. It’s fairly remote by today’s standards (no listings on HostelWorld!) so we kind of winged it and found a really nice guest house with hot water and open air sinks. I really think brushing your teeth in the great outdoors sets you up for a productive day or good night’s sleep, although it helps if the great outdoors is at a balmy 20 degrees.

 

Coincidentally, while I was in South East Asia my friend Maria was in Japan for university, and on the group chat one day we were talking about bathrooms (I think I was excited because we had hot water) and Maria sent us a photo of a public toilet in Japan, which had more buttons and nice little additions then I have seen on any toilet, ever. I shared this photo:

toilet in bathroom in Phonsavan guest house

Next time in the Occasional South East Asia Diaries: Vang Vieng!

Luang Prabang, Laos | Or, That Time I Dropped My Underwear in a Drain, Ate Too Much Street Food and Visited Another War Museum

Luang Prabang in northern Laos is one of the few places I saw in South East Asia that I would return to for a two week suitcase holiday. If you enjoyed yourself in Greece or Italy, you will like Luang Prabang. Awful incoming journey and unavoidable Asian plumbing aside, there’s something for everyone: nature, history, pretty sunsets, temples and waterfalls. Waterfalls!

The Kuang Si Waterfalls

Isobel, if you’re reading this: remember when we were messaging and I told you I’d just dropped my knickers in a drain? This is where that happened! So Kuang Si waterfalls are just outside Luang Prabang and they are absolutely stunningly beautiful.

Kuang Si Falls Luang Pranang Laos
The word you’re looking for is PARADISE

That water lends a new meaning to the term ‘icy blue’ though, it was bloody freezing. But beautiful! If it wasn’t for the freezing thing, I would have moved right in forever. The trees, the running water, the wooden huts in which visitors change and, if they are not paying attention, accidentally drop their undies in a drain. It was a running drain full of, hopefully, waterfall water.

Kuang Si Waterfalls Luang Pranang Laos
DEFINITELY CLEAN WATER. THAT’S MY STORY AND I’M STICKING TO IT.

There is a little bear sanctuary-slash-zoo near the waterfalls, which I am in two minds about. On the one hand, caged animals is an oxymoron. On the other hand, sun and moon bears are seriously endangered due to poaching (apparently some SE Asian cultures think bear bile is good for sexual virility. I can’t think of anything worse for sexual virility). The enclosure we saw definitely seemed kind of small, but the charity that runs the sanctuary recently posted that they have just bought more land and the bears did seem pretty chilled and happy.

Bear Sanctuary Luang Prabang Laos
That was the best photo I got. I call it ‘talk to the paw’

Laos town

There are, of course, at least three wats in Luang Prabang. I checked out a couple, although if I am being totally honest, after a while one wat looks a lot like another wat. Then again, I can’t tell Michel Barnier apart from David Davis.

Side entrance to Luang Prabang wat
Enter, seeker, and ask
Luang Prabang Wat staircase golden dragon decoration
Dragon statues always look faintly shocked to find themselves attached to banisters

Luang Prabang has a market with the usual street food, clothes, trinkets and jewellery but it also sells gorgeous indigo-dyed clothes and accessories. I’m not sure how big the local textiles industry is, exactly, but one blue scarf would have set me back £25 after haggling, which was my daily budget and about 20 times more expensive than the average cotton scarf, so I think that the industry is a) highly skilled and b) relatively unique to Luang Prabang. I really, really want to go back and buy an indigo scarf.

There is a really cool alleyway in the town with vendors selling the absolute best street food I have ever tasted from giant pans. I think it cost 50p to fill up a bowl with vegetables and eat til I was ready to hibernate. Full disclosure: I did get a run of the shits while I was there, although that could have been down to literally anything. Possibly the encounter with the drain.

street food in Luang Prabang, Laos
My love

UXO Museum

I already wrote about the Killing Fields of the Cambodian genocide and the Vietnamese War Museum and Cu Chi Tunnels, and Laos makes the third corner of a really shitty triangle. I will write more about Laos’ civil war and America’s ‘secret war’ when I post about Phonsavan, which is the next place we stopped in Laos. I blame my politics A Level, but of my favourite parts of Luang Prabang was its UXO museum. UXOs are ‘unexploded ordnance’, basically, bombs that were dropped but never went off. At least 2 million tonnes of ordnance was dropped on Laos by American forces between 1964 and 1973, but a third didn’t detonate (per capita, Laos is the most heavily bombed country in history). Over 50,000 people have been killed or injured by ordnance since 1964 and the clean up operation is slow, expensive and dangerous. I don’t have a picture, but there’s a whiteboard outside the museum detailing the exact number of injuries and deaths caused by UXOs per year since 1964; 2016 was the first year no one died from one.

Bomb Shells UXO Museum Luang Prabang Laos
Kinda love that the only health and safety is a few tickets recommending viewers don’t touch

I scrolled through my WordPress gallery and I seem to have shared a ridiculous number of photos of bomb shells. Ten points to anyone who can tell me the names of every type of munition in this photo!

Sleeper Bus Hell and Luang Prabang, Laos

Nam Kane Boarder Crossing Vietnam/Laos

You guys. I can’t tell you about the beautiful country of Laos without first reliving the journey from Hanoi in Vietnam across the boarder to Luang Prabang in northern Laos. It’s one of those events that I look back on and, instead of coherent words, all that appears in my head is a large question mark, like a Homer Simpson thought bubble. Since I am going to Barcelona on Monday and have a serious case of itchy feet, I’ve decided to tell this is in second person to really make a connection with you all and so you get itchy feet too!


5pm. You hop on a minibus from your hostel to the bus station. ‘Hop’ really means ‘sit squashed for approximately forty minutes’. The regular bus is not promising. You’re in the rearmost part of the bus next to your younger brother, who is hungover. Usually sleeper bus bunks look like faux leather recliners with little frames attached, but the ones at the back are more like faux leather mattresses, and you squish in right next to a couple of other people, including your brother who you force to sit in the uncomfiest bit of the bed because that’s what you get for travelling with a hangover.

8pm. You have dinner in a small establishment that kept a large bird of prey on a leash. You do not take photos because you have the distinct feeling that the bird of prey is a warg.

10pm. You take diazepam for the first time in your life because you wish to sleep for the next 20 hours, which is approximately the duration of your journey. You try to read a book you picked up in Hanoi but the diazepam kicks in and you start to drift into a surprisingly restful sleep. You wonder briefly if you’ve misunderstood the rudimentary Google search you did before approaching a pharmacist and have misread the possible side effects of diazepam. You briefly contemplate what will happen to your brother if you die right here in the faux leather mattress bed.

7am. You’re awake, but you’re almost comfortable. You’re at the boarder between Vietnam and Laos. It’s cold and misty – you must be at a high altitude. Everything is grey. You creep off the bus wearing flip flops and a t-shirt, clutching your passport and valuables and… you’ve walked onto the set of an apocalypse film?

Nam Kane Boarder Crossing Vietnam/Laos

Aside from about four officials sitting in drafty rooms with mugs of coffee and lots of dark wood furniture, the town’s only inhabitants are dogs. You exchange glances with your equally bemused brother and join the queue for visas. You’re pretty sure it’s twenty dollars for a visa but you’re charged thirty because there is a ‘regional cost’. You go to the loo in what may once have been a military barracks and wonder if they’ll let you come back one day to shoot the apocalypse film.

The diazepam knocks you out for several more hours; when you wake up it’s 3pm. Maybe. you’re closer to ground level and the sun’s out. You stop for food and visit a toilet lit by a single burning candle that in retrospect looks like something one would light to summon the devil. Why is a restaurant toilet lit by a single burning candle when there is definitely electricity in the building? Why are you asking that when you’ve been in Asia for six weeks already? The British are the only people in the world for whom health and safety is a way of life. You notice a series of burnt-out missile shells lined up against walls of buildings and recall something about an American war. You return to your giant bus bed.

You doze off and wake up briefly… up another mountain? You don’t remember the guide book mentioning so many mountains? Maybe it’s all one mountain.

Roadside view en route to Luang Prabang in Laos

5pm. You’re in Luang Prabang. Your hostel has hot water, lockers that work and a mysterious bottle of Jack Daniels next to your bunk that will not move for the duration of your stay.

You don’t know it that, but that’s one of the nicer Laos-related journeys you will take.


Right I’m off to listen to the new Troye Sivan masterpiece and look up the weather in Barcelona!

In Which I Climb a Mountain in Flip Flops | Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay view Vietnam

To be completely honest, we planned our route through Vietnam using the route the Top Gear guys took in that Christmas special a few years ago. Ha Long Bay was one of their stops so it was one of ours too. We went with a group from our Hanoi hostel to stay on one of the bay’s islands for a night, because Ha Long is ages out from Hanoi and the occasional group trip is good for you, probably. Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO site and, on Top Gear, looked sparkling and beautifully emerald. We went on a cloudy day, so it actually looked like this:

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam on a cloudy day

But we’re British, so it was just like being at home for the summer! Speaking of home, the dock we boarded the boat from reminded me so much of Southend on a bad day that I had to take a photo:

Dock Ha Long Bay Vietnam

Mud: check. Giant container ships on the horizon: check. Grey skies: check. There were a million little crabs trotting about on the mud, which made a nice change from the crap you normally see on Southend’s mudflats, ha.

So as part of the group trip we were required to partake in group activities. Number one: canoeing with a friend. Or, in my case, my wee brother who is actually a lot taller than me and way more into the sport of canoeing than I am. We nearly came to blows about my ability to paddle right after this photo was taken:

Canoeing Ha Long Bay Vietnam

Not as bad as Monopoly at Christmas, but close.

That night the island hostel had a beach bonfire. We tried a local type of dance with bamboo sticks that I have since found on YouTube because I don’t know how to explain it without overusing the word ‘ankle’…

The next day we took a walk up a hill. Or, to be more accurate, we climbed a mountain. Climb because it was made of rocks and mountain because there’s no international definition for what constitutes a mountain so although it may have been a large hill, I’m going to call it a mountain. Also, I did it in flip flops. This was because as we were leaving the hostel in Hanoi, someone mentioned there would be a hike of some sort. I had packed a tiny bag and left my proper shoes in a locker, because when we booked no one mentioned a hike. ‘Should I go back for my shoes?’ I thought. Everyone had shoes apart from Maxim and I. ‘Ah, live a little,’ I told myself. ‘You always over plan and over pack.’ So I left my shoes.

I am never living a little again. It was a fucking mountain.

Ha Long Bay island mountain

There were monkeys on the other side of the giant pile of rocks, which was nice, although they were basically trained to be nice to tourists which was gross. Also, when we were done saying ‘hey, a monkey’ we had to climb all the way back over the bloody mountain. I ripped the elephant pants I bought in Saigon. Always over pack, kids!

Monkey in a tree Ha Long Bay Vietnam

We had to leave our hostel the morning after we got back from Ha Long, because we’d forgotten to book another night, so we relocated to a slightly different part of the Old Quarter. I know I hate group activities, but I was sad to leave some of the people we’d been with on the trip. I don’t really do casual friends but I guess it’s hard not to bond with people over bamboo dancing and rock climbing. So if an American named Suzie (maybe Suzie?) who au paired in London before flying to Hanoi and lost her phone is reading this, hiiiii. Also: an English girl named Claire studying in Australia the English guy travelling with her wearing several ear piercings. We compared passport stamps. It was nice to meet you, and I never say that and mean it.

Oh, by the way, the bathroom of the hostel in Ha Long Bay had no window. This was the view while we cleaned our teeth:

Ha Long Bay view Vietnam

Emerald waters might be slightly overrated.