Is the rat employed here?

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Whenever I travel I tend to compare my new surroundings to those I've already gotten so used to. For my reading week (and a half) I had the opportunity to enjoy Bangkok (for one crazy night), beautiful Laos and perfectly chaotic Vietnam. Anxious for what lay ahead the night before my flight from Singapore, I kept wishing I had planned my trip a little differently. I wished I'd spent my time in only one country so I could better explore. Or stayed in Thailand with my one friend and just skip out on Laos. But regardless of all the wishing this was going to be MY trip. At times stressful and frustrating (especially traveling with three strongly opinionated girls) this experience could not have been more beneficial to my growth (and trust me spending 8 hours on a narrow, winding road - essentially meant for one way traffic but fuck it lets make it two way - down a mountain almost makes you feel like you can do anything). Let's skim over Bangkok since I spent less than 24 hours there and we won't comment on what happened... it's a little bit hard to recall.

Landing in Laos, my honest thoughts were "where am I?" This place was like no other as we drove through the empty "roads" in a white van, giant mountains gazing over us. We were to spend two days in Luang Prabang (the best) and then take that 8 hour bus I mentioned earlier to Vang Vieng for two days, where we would continue on another 3 hour bus ride to Vientiane for a day. Luang Prabang's night market had probably the most amazing food I've had in Asia thus far. Rows and rows of buffet tables filled with delicious noodles, bbq chicken, cooked vegetables of all sorts, and sooo much more. For about $2 you can pile your plate sky high. In fact, one woman commented on how I should add more food so I could get my moneys worth... As if the pile wasn't high enough.

Visiting the Kuang Si Falls was the highlight was my trip. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite as beautiful or rewarding as I hiked up a mountain barefoot with a nice Asian man making sure he caught me if I fell. Finally, seeing monks just casually strolling through the streets never failed to put a smile on my face. Vang Vieng was a slightly opposite experience. The morning after we had arrived, the group un-unanimously decided to rent bicycles to get around all day while visiting some caves and the infamous blue lagoon. Getting to our first cave we had to embark on a little bumpy ride through a field off from the main road. Although, we had already paid to get past a bridge which we were told would include entry into the caves, we were told by a young woman and man that we needed to pay again. Fine. So we did. As we parked our bikes, we realized we were the only other foreigners in the area at the moment. The young woman acted as a tour guide taking us into the cave a little ways inside until we were told if we wanted her to continue with us we would need to pay 10x the amount we paid to get into the cave... First of all, this was being explained as we were cramped inside a crevice in the fucking cave already! There is no second of all. Furious and not comfortable exploring the cave by ourselves, we went back with the intent to get our money back. Demanding we get our money back, my friend began to argue with the man who sold us the tickets. But he was not having it (to say the least). To cut a long story short, he threatened to fight my little fellow traveler, and when she (stupidly) wouldn't back down, he attempted to smash an empty beer bottle over her head. At this point Vang Vieng was a bit tainted in my eyes but, I still managed to try make the best out of the rest of the time in Laos.

A couple days later, we were all finally reunited! Yay for even numbers and not feeling left out. We spent most of our time in Ha Long Bay — a beautifully mystical place three and half hours away from main city Hanoi. The rainy and misty weather added to the eerie aroma circling around the giant islets in the water. Our time on the Cristina “Cruise” ship (a term used very loosely in Nam) included, exploring caves, kayaking, swimming, and some hiking. As well as, a lovely “cooking” class (aka rolling spring rolls…) and karaoke-ing. We spent one night on the famous Cat Ba Island rooming with my good friend Tea and a giant cockroach. No but really, all jokes aside it was a fun night spent DJ-ing at a grungy little dive bar filled with other backpackers. Which, I’m sure the family in the back enjoyed just as much as we did. I got the pleasure of meeting them when I half drunkenly stumbled to the bathroom. The one little boy got up from eating his meal as I smiled and said hi, which, he then picked up his toy gun, pointed it at me and proceeded to pull the trigger. Wonderfully welcoming family.

After boat ride, to bigger boat ride, to bus the next morning, we finally made it back to the busy streets of Hanoi. Busy streets is probably the biggest understatement of the year. To be fair, I was warned about them but, didn’t realize I’d have to look left, right, northeast, northwest, and up about five times before even attempting to cross the road… and then still almost being hit (once by a man in a car holding a baby… like holding it while driving…). Really though, Vietnam is a super friendly and exciting place! Two days was definitely not enough… so if anyone wants to come back with me one day, I hope I pitched it well.

All in all, I was extremely excited to come back to the place I’ve began to call “home” which is weird in itself. Comparing stories with my friends here, it’s clear everyone has completely different experiences. Although, I saw some incredible things, and did so many fun activities, I also learned so much about myself and traveling with other people. With all the travels from boats, planes and busses, and all the unexpected moments I feel like I can conquer more than I ever thought I would be able to. That’s definitely more than I could ask for.

And if you’re wondering about the name of the post, the last night in Hanoi some of us went to a restaurant across the street from our hotel — which had been recommended by numerous people. After waiting about 40 minutes for my food, it finally arrived! Enjoying the first few bites, I noticed a giant rat run by behind the bar that lay about 2 metres away from our seats. Alerting my friends, no one was too worried, until, minutes later another giant rat ran by the bar again! Immediately, our legs shot up and we informed our waitress about the rat. Her response: “mmm, yes” :). Clearly, the rat was a welcomed guest there, maybe an employee of some sort. Safe to say we got out there real quick.