Working hard in Vietnam

I’d expected to post more while I was out here, but I’ve been incredibly busy with work so simply haven’t had the chance. I’m working as a Tour Guide for the Hanoi Backpackers’ Hostel which is a 6-on-1-off working week. When I’m “on”, I’m away at Ha Long Bay with no internet and I don’t take my netbook with me.

I’ll explain the trip first, then tell you why it’s such hard work after!

The trips are hard work, very tiring, but also great fun. The trip involves 4 hours on a bus to Ha Long harbour where we jump onto the Jolly Roger, our private boat. There we chill for a bit until lunch, then have fun diving off the top of the boat into the water. Our kayaks then arrive and – tides allowing – we paddle off to an island nearby with a lagoon hidden inside. As far as I know it’s only our tour groups that go here.

Back on the boat, we chill out till dinner and then happy hour begins. This usually involves the start of the drinking games, dancing, loud music and partying in general.

Next day, some people head home (though we usually convince them to do the extra day as it’s definitely worth the extra) while the rest of us swap onto a smaller boat for the 90 minute trip to Castaway Island. Here, we do wakeboarding or banana boat and rock climbing. Kayaks are available so anyone can just take a boat out and explore the surrounding area.

Overall it’s really chilled out until after dinner when – again – it’s party time. Around midnight we usually try to get everyone into the water to enjoy the bioluminescent plankton. On a good night, of you reach the pontoon about 100m from the beach and stand there, it looks like millions of blue-green fireflies are swimming towards you!

Next morning, it’s a 7am rise for breakfast followed by 2 boats and a bus ride back to Hanoi for happy hour at the hostel.

The hard work is mainly in the hours. I’m up at 7am on day 1 to gather everyone up and make sure we’re not missing anyone. We then split into two buses if required and have a 40hour journey. Then it’s corralling everyone to make sure we all get tickets and onto the boat, often in groups if there are too many – the transfer boat seats 20 at most.

A lot of the work is just keeping people in line. Making sure they follow rules, hoping that nobody minds sharing a room with a stranger – sometimes with just a double bed! I shared with one of the guys on the last trip. Thankfully he didn’t snore.

Safety is an obvious concern, especially when people are jumping from heights and messing in water. We had a guy on the trip before last who couldn’t swim but who still wanted to join in. Fortunately I had a great group who were very supportive. We got him a life jacket and two girls taught him some basic swimming. He even did the wakeboarding on the Island. Ken, I salute you!

With the kayaking, it’s the sense of what the hell are you doing?! when I set off (at the back of the group) to see 18 kayaks all over the place instead of following the Vietnamese guide at the front. If anyone reading this is going to do the trip, please save us a lot of stress and don’t go paddling off randomly. It is possible to get lost in the Bay given the fact that it’s 1500km2 in size. The 2000 rock formations can look a little similar after a while.

Next up is judging the group. When you play drinking games you’re going to divide people – those who are game for anything and those with some level of reservations. Also, if you have a large group it’s often hard to hold interest if you have to circle 40 people.  One of the guests on an earlier cruise taught me Hacienda which is great as you can rattle through it with 40 people in 10-15 minutes, everyone gets drinking and nobody gets a chance to get bored. It also doesn’t involve forfeits so it’s a chance to loosen everyone up without pressuring anyone.

As the night goes on, it either gets wilder (usually) or the group divides which can make things better as you’re only overseeing the ones who have few inhibitions. Less embarrassment!

The partying can run on until 4 or 5 am on the boat. Most people forget that they have to be up at 7:30 for breakfast. I have to be up earlier than that to make sure they do indeed rise. Fine if it’s a smallish group who go to bed early. Hard work if it’s a large group and I have to sleep on the deck where they’re partying!

The island is relaxing for me during the day as the guests chill or go out on their watersports. We may organise a game of volleyball with the Vietnamese staff if anyone’s up for it, or take a small group out in the kayaks. Again, though, I have to get the party going after dinner. I do have the help of the resident wakeboard instructor, another of the hostel staff, which takes some of the burden off me and does give me someone else to “play off”.

Again, this can go on until 3am or so when the staff turn off the generator so they can get some sleep! And again, people forget there’s an early rise. I’m up before 7 to bang the breakfast gong. We have a long trip back to Ha Long and then to Hanoi, where I usually catch up on some sleep.

If that sounds like a lot of partying with little sleep, remember that I take out two trips back to back. I get back from one and straight out on another the next morning. The night I’m back I may also end up taking a group up to Snake Village, which means drinking shots and snake wine with the group.

At least there are gaps in the day when I can catch up with a snooze but it’s really tiring! It’s also incredibly rewarding though. We had two birthdays on the last trip and one girl told me it’s the best party she’s ever had. That made my trip for me.

Tonight’s the England v USA game and I’m in two minds about watching it as it’ll mean bed at 4am or thereabouts. I don’t want to be a mess in the morning!

When I get home I have my year’s probation to go through to qualify as a teacher. Right now it’s seeming as if that will be my holiday!

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