I will try to recount Hoi An in chronological order, but as you will come to realize, I spent most of my time there drunk or drugged out of my mind. Curious? Read on, dear friend.
Rachel, one of my travel buddies from the Buffalo Run, and I checked into our hostel in Hoi An alongside our other two tour buddies and the three boys we’d picked up Hue with the intention of staying for four days then flying into Ho Chi Minh. Each time you check into a room in Southeast Asia, you have to turn on the AC. Prior to that, the room could’ve been sitting in the dead, humid heat for who-knows-how-long. This makes checking in probably the worst, or at least hottest, part of traveling across Southeast Asia. Immediately I noticed that our room was NOT cooling off. Assuming it to be broken, we asked the hostel maintenance staff to check our fan & AC unit out, but they said everything was fine.
I went to the Saltwater Hostel with George, Chris, and Andrew to visit our friend Izzie and swim in the pool. Despite always being in the center of keep-away games and getting my ass handed to me by a floatie that looked like a duck, it was a good day. That night, I returned to my room, which was still burning hot because, as we would find out in the near future, it really was broken all along.
We went to our two favorite bars, Why Not and Infinity, and proceeded to get proper shitty. To get to Infinity, which had incredible drink specials to the tune of buy 1 redbull/vodka get 1 free PLUS get 2 free Jacks & Cokes when you buy two cocktails, we took a free like boat taxi. The reason this is important is because it was the stupidest, most pointless thing in the world; the boat ride went maybe 20 feet to the dock, which was easily reached by bridge just a bit down the road. At Why Not, the only rule was to avoid the cocktails, because they are made out of ethanol and had caused many an awful night for numerous backpackers. We stuck to beer, and lots of it. Vaguely, I recall my visa/passport photo (in which I look like a drugged out terrorist) being passed around and stuck on various people’s foreheads with spit. So that was cool.
Hoi An was the first place that I ever got actually ripped off in. On a late motorbike taxi ride home from the bars, the driver pulled a classic one on me and Andrew by slipping some of the money we’d given him behind his hand and acting like we hadn’t given him enough. He caused a scene, so I – a very kind/generous/non-violent drunkard – gave him an additional $10. Which is like $50 in Vietnamese Dong. Oh well.
The next day consisted of custom clothing shopping, another pasttime made super popular by the Vietnam special of Top Gear. I decided on a royal blue boyfriend blazer, a coral dress, and a black maxi skirt. All of this was made completely from scratch over the course of two days, including two different fittings, for $140. Repeat the Infinity/Why Not night, including getting ripped off by a motorbike taxi, and you’ve pretty much figured out my night again. Seeing a pattern?
We visited a local beach one day. Chris had never eaten crab before and decided that he was going to go for it. I shit you not, he got a stone crab the size of my palm, including the legs. He spent nearly a half hour dissecting it for every piece of meat, which was pretty much nothing. Poor guy. It was during this lunch that I saw my favorite Asian typo of all time (they’re very prevalent, because they spell things the way they say them): instead of Whiskey & Coke, this menu said Wishry & Coke. To say that I died would be a gross understatement. Back to the crab. So in Vietnam, most meat dishes are served with a small bowl of salt and pepper with a lime wedge; when you squeeze the lime into the mixture, it becomes a paste that you eat with your meat. Izzie, George, and Chris dared me to eat a chunk of the paste, so I snottily took a finger-full. Within 15 seconds, my mouth started running over with spit (I really don’t have another way to describe it…there was literally drool pouring out the sides of mouth), and all I could do was sit there in mid laughter/mortification, thanking God that no one was quick enough to capture the moment with a camera.
At this point, I’d been fighting a sore throat and congestion for a few days, and it was steadily getting worse. Across most of Southeast Asia, pharmacies are shops on street corners run by average joes like you and me. They don’t diagnose or treat you; you just walk up, tell them a specific medication or type of medicine that you’re looking for, and they give it to you. And for Vietnamese prices. We’re talking Diazepam (Valium) for $10. I picked up some Amoxicillin, and despite having a weirdly high dosage (I ignored it), it seemed alright. (Later, these pills would become famous amongst my travel family as “Gary pills.” I don’t know if I had some kind of allergic reaction to them, or if the dosage was too strong (the strength per pill I was taking is used only to treat serious infections like Ghonorrhea back in the States), but they legitimately messed me up. Within 30 minutes of taking one, I would fall into a dazed, stupor. I couldn’t focus on anything, forming words was difficult, walking even more so, and the things I was saying were goofy and made no sense. I took them for two more days until my sore throat disappeared, then cut myself off. I still have them though, preserved like a shiny souvenir.)
Sometime during my stay in Hoi An (I genuinely can’t remember how early or late it was), our original group of Buffalo Runners + The Fam went out to dinner at a place that Izzie recommended. To this day, I’ve never seen anything like it. They bring out seven or eight different plates of unrecognizable items, then with lightning-fast speed they roll everything up into a fresh spring roll. If you’re lucky (or just very handsome), they’ll even feed them to you! It was so overwhelming and fast paced, but a great meal and such a unique experience!
My initial plans to stay with Rachel had changed, as I now had to stick with the boys so I could go to Cambodia. Right before we boarded a bus to Nha Trang, our first stop on our trip down to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh, one of the boys mentioned that Izzie should come with us, since she didn’t have work for the remaining week. She was adament that she could not. We continued to beg, but she said she couldn’t join us since our bus left in 10 minutes and she had literally nothing but the clothes on her back, not even a passport. (Passports are required for travel in Vietnam – every hostel and hotel, no matter how shitty, requires them. They send their records to the Viet police every night so that tourists can be tracked for Visa purposes.) Despite this, we could see her beginning to break. By the time we got to the bus station five minutes later, she was willing to ask if there was even a seat available for her. The driver looked her up and down and gave a hard no, but then another man stared at her boobs and said yes. They argued over it for a few minutes and weighed the risk of being pulled over by the police with people illegally sitting on the floor of the bus, but ultimately decided that she could get on the bus.
She hopped on (just to reiterate, she had nothing, and knew we’d be gone at least two days), took her spot on the floor, and off we went.
And THAT is the story of how Izzie became the coolest person ever.