After having completed a year in Australia in 2007 on exchange and internship, I returned to Australia in late 2010 to see if I could find a job. After having sent close to a million emails to various companies while still in the Netherlands I was offered the opportunity to work as a designer/developer at a small web company in Bondi Junction.
The two years that followed flew by and I was approaching the end of the 2 year visa. I wasn’t quite yet ready to return home and went to apply for the Australian residency. On viewing the list of occupations that Australia was after, I noticed that my exact field was not quite represented. The occupation that came closest was called “Develop Programmer” and I figured that if I had been mostly working as a developer and some of my uni subjects were about developing I might have a good shot going for this occupation.
I was wrong. The skills assessment came back negative as I didn’t have enough programming subjects in my uni curriculum. I had already submitted everything else so I was now on an automatic bridging visa. Because I didn’t have a positive skills check I now had to withdraw my entire application and I had 28 days to leave the country.
I activated plan B, a one way ticket to Vietnam.
It was the first time I traveled solo with an unknown end date in sight and I came to lean on my camera for a sense of purpose. The journey lasted about 6 months before I would return to Australia to try again.
After spending the first couple of days in Ho Chi Minh I made my way to Pnomh Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. I soon traversed up to Siem Riep, the springboard city for visiting the famous Hindu temples of Angkor.
After I overheard mentions of an idyllic sea town in the south called Sihanoukville, I added it to my itinerary.
Ho Chi Minh
After having spent two weeks in Cambodia, I returned to HCMC before I would start to travel north up the long thin country that is Vietnam.
Four hours drive east from HCMC, beach town Mui Ne is a popular local holiday destination that happens to be also quite popular with Russians. It also has two sets of dunes that could make one believe to be in a subsaharan continent.
After Ho Chi Minh, I took a bus north to Dalat, a small town located in the south of the central highlands. Known for lush hills, I intended to go on a hiking trip. When I found a local tourist company specialising in adventurous trips I was told that the hiking guide wasn’t available. Instead, I could go cycling for no extra charge. I agreed and it was fine.. although halfway I got a flat tire and had to wait for the rest of the afternoon for someone to come and fix it. Upon returning to the shop I was told that the price of cycling was actually much higher, while showing me a price list with the higher price. I was caught by surprise and I genuinely didn’t carry that much money with me. I told them I had to go back to my hotel to get more money.
Upon returning the elderly hotel receptionist asked me how the hiking was and I told her the story. She became furious and immediately picked up the phone to ring the tourist company. Yelling words in Vietnamese I couldn’t understand she eventually hung up and told me not to go back to give them the rest of the money. I didn’t dare.
Next destination was Nha Trang, a city on the coast.
Continuing to Hội An, a tiny photogenic town known for its Ancient centre with an 300 year old Japanese bridge crossing the Thu Bon river.
Going further north I was often warned by the southerners to be careful. I didn’t quite know what they meant but I started noticing some subtle differences. Arriving in Hanoi, the bus driver got immediately in a physical fight with someone on the street and I was met by an army of people telling me there were no taxi’s. Ignoring them I discovered a queue of taxi’s just a bit further at the back. Not thinking much of it at the time, it turned out it set the tone for what was about to come. I started learning it was impossible to get a fair price for nearly anything. Every shop would inflate prices, every taxi’s meter was rigged and the only way to get a normal price was to go to official government run places, if I could find them, and finally, my phone was pickpocketed.
However, I was also lucky to meet some fantastic new friends and the historic value of so many buildings is priceless. The locals in the north just seemed a little less keen on rubbing shoulders with foreign visitors than the locals in the south were. But at the same time, there was so much to see that sparked my interest; the Old Quarter in Hanoi, the grand hills and rice terraces in Sapa, the remote mountains of Hà Giang etc. My first stop: Halong Bay.
Hạ Long Bay
Hạ Long Bay is known for the thousands of towering limestone islands reaching out of the water.
After 3 days roaming around the waters of Hạ Long Bay I returned to Hanoi.
I had the opportunity to explore further north, entering the province of Ha Giang reaching all the way up touching the border with China.
After Hanoi, I traveled down south to Hue and from Hue to Savannakhet in Laos. From there I stopped in the capital city Vientiane for few days before I moved up to Vang Vieng.
Vang Vieng is a small town north of Vientiane, on the Nam Song River and is surrounded by limestone mountains similar to those in Ha Long Bay.
I traveled further north to Luang Prabang, well known for its many temples and monasteries.
From Luang Prabang I traveled to Chiang Rai in Thailand. I had to do a quick visa run to Myanmar to extend my visa.
Before I moved to Bangkok, my final destination of this trip, I was welcomed for a few days with the family of my ex-boss’s wife in Chaing Mai.
The capital of the land of the smiles.