Heading out of Hanoi

 Today I will be leaving a city that has very much become “home” for almost 6 weeks. I have mixed feelings about moving on, in all honesty. Despite the pickpocket (who I still wish incredibly nasty things to happen to), Hanoi has been incredibly good to me and a wonderful experience. I’ve met some great people, made good friends I know I will keep, seen things I never thought I’d see and witnessed a culture that I am completely taken by.

But time moves on. I have places to be and people to see. However, there is no doubt in my mind that I will return to Hanoi someday, perhaps next year.

I am starting this post at the Blue Dragon office off Hong Ha near Long Bien market. I had to come and say goodbye to everyone and it’s going to be a very sad event. The staff here are some of the nicest people it has ever been my pleasure to meet, both the Vietnamese and the foreign volunteers. Many of these people are giving up their time for free to help the most important resource Vietnam has – it’s children.

 How could I not mention the kids? Without exception they’re smart, hard-working, dedicated, loving, friendly, strong, brave… I could run out of superlatives if I allowed myself to go on. They have made me feel as welcome as any person ever has and I am genuinely very sad indeed to be leaving them behind. I hope with all my heart that one day each and every one gets to the point in life where they can have the opportunity to do what I am doing and see other parts of the world. Perhaps they will themselves “give something back” and help someone else, somewhere else. Regardless, there’s not a doubt in my mind that every one of these children will succeed in whatever direction they decide to go.

It has been a privilege to work with these young people. Even the ones who enjoy tugging at my beard or telling me that Zidane is better than Shearer!

Again, I’ll ask anyone who’s not done so to please check out the Blue Dragon website from where you can donate some cash to help this hugely worthwhile cause. Vietnam has a very low cost of living compared to the west, so even a small donation from you could make a huge difference over here.

Begging over 🙂

At the time of typing, my ATM card has yet to appear. Speaking to Skye, she reckons that 3 weeks is realistic for airmail to make it here. This would mean my card arriving next week sometime. I’m part-tempted to leave cancelling the “lost” one for a couple more days. If it turns up before the end of the week, Mike or Max could concievably forward it to the British Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City for me to collect. However, this delay may mean that the replacement card won’t make it to Christchurch before me…

 As it stands, though, I’m going to get stung by Lloyds TSB for at least one cash withdrawal in each of Vietnam, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. At least in Oz and NZ (possibly Singapore), I should be able to use my credit card for a lot of purchases. It’s Nationwide as well, so no penalty fee for using it abroad. Annoyingly, the hostel I’m currently at don’t take plastic at all (not that many places in Vietnam do, to be honest) so I’m going to have to make three withdrawals to cover my outstanding accomodation bill.

To put this in perspective, that’s £6 in fees as I can only withdraw 2 million dong a shot from an ATM and my current bill is just shy of 5 million dong. £6 is roughly $US11 at the current exchange rate – that’s two nights’ accomodation right there.

I got a nice reply back from the Gecko Lodge in Darwin, where I’ll be staying in about 12 days. I’m arriving at around 3am and normal procedure is “no arrivals until 8am” without prior arrangement unless booking for the previous night (i.e. the one you’re arriving halfway through) as well. I explained my predicament regarding cash and the email back simply read “Iain – crash in the lounge until reception opens”. Superb – my other option was to sleep in the airport and get a later bus down.

Looking at the tours they provide, I’ll have to make another visit anyway. Virtually every one is 3 days or more and involves camping out in various locations in the Northern Territories. Money allowing (come on, house sale, hurry up and complete), I may head up there after Melbourne and go on one of the longer tours. To be honest, there’s not a lot on offer for someone who’s there for 3 nights, although I’ll be happy just to take in the beach and the nearby Charles Darwin National Park. Treat this as a “scouting trip” to see what the place is like.

 Sydney is going to be very much a flying visit. Option 1 was to hoik all my kit into the CBD from the airport at 9am and find a place to stay. The cheapest places are in the Kings Cross area that I’ve been warned about, and some don’t offer (or at least advertise) secure lockers. Add to that, most places don’t allow checkin and storage until midday and I’d be wasting quite a bit of time. My flight out is at 7:50 the next morning, so I’d have to be leaving the hostel at 5am or thereabouts to get to the airport to check in.

Enter option 2: Deposit my major baggage in a locker at Terminal 2. This is likely to cost no more than $AUS15 – the same as the cheapest hostel but a heck of a lot more secure. Bagless (or with a small daypack) I can then make the much easier journey into the CBD and spend my time getting round as much of Sydney as I can before late evening. I’ll then head back to the airport using the still fully-functional (i.e. not night service) public transport, collect my luggage and sleep on a bench. I’m sure it’ll be at least as comfortable as Paddington Station was about 10 years ago!

I have also just booked my visit to the Kakapo Encounter, though this is partly provisional. It involves one long bus ride, two ferries, a hotel and a flight. The flight is the only one I’m certain I have booked. I really hope the rest come back as “OK” or I’m screwed…

I won’t have any interwebnet access until Sunday night without taking a motorbike from Hoa’s Place into Da Nang, so I’m going to leave updates until I get into Ho Chi Minh City. Hopefully, I’ll have plenty of photos of the beautiful beaches and countryside around Marble Mountain. Posted by Picasa

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