Our “Enriched” Experience

Approaching our last week in Vietnam, we wanted to enjoy the experience of chatting with learners again, but I thought it would be an enriched experience if we went to a different place this time. We chose one of the four that had originally contacted us before we come to Vietnam. All we knew about the place that it was a “homestay” which is a common thing here in Vietnam. We assumed we would be staying at someone’s house and go somewhere to chat to English learners, like before.

After a long taxi ride, we arrived at our destination, miles from the city centre. Although at the address we were given, we simply could not find the place. Our backpacks were weighing heavy on our shoulders and the 40 degrees heat was getting to us. Our contact said on WhatsApp that he’d get someone from the homestay to call us, and eventually a young woman called Anh called, but due to noise or whatever reason, Anh and Andy couldn’t understand each other. Finally we sent her our location and she came to get us. One of the emergency uses of a local sim card! It turns out that the owner gave us the wrong address to his own property!!! Great start.

We were greeted with around 30 scooters parked at the entrance and about 80 pairs of shoes. Why 80? Well, because this is a tall narrow apartment with a dorm room and classroom on each floor, and a total of about 5 floors. Anh showed us the kitchen and the 10 people dorm room we’d sleep in. A lot of the residents of this terrible dorm room had already expanded their territory by keeping their junk on the top bunk and sleeping on the bottom one. Some went sideways and chose to exhibit their junk in a neighbouring bottom bunk. We picked the only two available top bunks -this seems to be our destiny- and left our bags on the side since there were no lockers or storage to keep them.

We were asked to attend 2 classes – one in the morning and one in the evening – which really wasn’t ideal, but we were determined to make it work.

Notice the “need more people” notes on the left

The main problems started for me when I saw the toilet had no seat on it. Of course there was also no toilet paper, no handsoap and no bin, and to top it off the shower seemed pretty useless with nowhere to attach the head either! No problem, this is nothing new and I am a big girl who can handle it. Or so I thought. I grabbed my own supplies and headed up to find a toilet with a seat which I managed to find on the 3rd floor. I thought about having to come up two floors to use the toilet in the middle of the night, but you do what you have to do, right?!

The door on the 3rd floor toilet didn’t close properly so that wasn’t going to be fun wrestling with it in the middle of the night either.

Back in the dorm room, Andy had realised that his top bunk bed had no metal side bars, and he was convinced that he’d end up on the floor during the night. I told him not to worry because there was no way of him being able to sleep on that paper-thin mattress anyway which didn’t even cover the bed. It was more of a garden chair seat cushion. Andy wasn’t impressed with the bathroom either and I was thinking to myself “with no lift in the building, going up and down these floors will certainly require frequent showers, which was not going to be easy.

We went out to hold a Crossy Summit in a local coffee shop. We weren’t happy with what we’d found at the homestay but we said we would see how it went for the next couple of days.

Trying to unwind with a coconut water, an egg coffee and the complimentary iced green tea

Later, we sat down at a pavement eatery that seemed to serve beef in a hot pot with onion and eggs. We know the Vietnamese word for beef so that was fine, but I challenged Andy to explain to them that I didn’t want my eggs runny and sat back to watch the show! Oh what fun that was to watch, back and forth with google translate, sign language and both the lady and Andy repeating everything loudly to each other in their own language. As if saying it again and again will make it understandable. By this point it’s rush hour and the traffic is building up right next to us and we’re choking on scooter fumes. I was seriously questioning our decision to sit on this street side place.

Andy seemed sure that it wouldn’t kill us that quickly so we sat on our tiny child stools and waited for our food. As the food arrived I was amazed to see it exactly how I wanted it, and gave a thumbs up to the lady intently waiting for my reaction! There were big grins, pats on the back, and teasing of the lady who managed to sort out the westerners! I said to Andy “See, this is all a part of our enriched experience”.

With a better mood, we headed back to the homestay and since there was no communal room or sitting area, we just parked ourselves in the kitchen listening to the slurps of a fellow resident enjoying her soup. Andy noticed earlier that there was a shortage of plug sockets in the dorm room and probably a hierarchy of charging phones too. Since we were the newcomers, we would not likely get our turn, so we decided to sit in the kitchen and charge our phones. We’d brought a pack of porridge oats and a box of UHT milk for breakfast, but I was already dreading having to touch anything in that kitchen. Getting the milk in the fridge was challenge enough as none of the 2 had any space among the half eaten plates of food, bags of rotten stuff and jars of smeared sauces. The woman eating her soup got up to wash her stuff. By wash, I mean that she held the glass and plate under the water for a second and put them back into a cupboard. She then gave a good snort into the sink, squeezed her nose and walked away. Great, snotty porridge for breakfast!

We were getting a bit agitated which was intensified with a loud whistling coming from upstairs. As the sound got nearer, the whistling mixed with loud singing and a zombie looking woman who was probably stoned out of her mind came into the kitchen. She said “hiiiii guuuuuys, wheeeere aaaaare you from?” “England” we said. “Meeee too” came her reply, and that was it, no more words and buried herself in her phone. Strange!

She was gone after a while and we were still trying to find a place to stay in our next destination. Frustration was building because £30 per night only got you a capsule bed and Ibis Hotel budget rooms were £114 per night! It was then Andy blurted out “oh my f…ing God!!!”

Scared out of my mind, I asked innocently “what, what, what happened?” He said he had just seen a massive rat inside the homestay running from the stairs! We looked at each other with no words but a shocked face, wondering if that really did just happen. I mean, I had mastered the art of avoiding cockroaches in the first place we stayed but there were more disturbing things in this place than just animals. After a few minutes of silence, we thawed out of our frozen state and held another emergency Crossy Summit. We wanted to be out of this place and we wanted to be out now! But it was about 9.30pm. Still, we knew if we stayed we would have to spend another day here doing the hours we had agreed to do, but if we didn’t stay, we wouldn’t owe them anything. Our deal with our contact was that we would only stay for the week if all worked out at the homestay. 

We had the number of the guy from the last hotel we stayed at back in town. We contacted him at 10pm and asked if he had any rooms available and if he could give us a late night deal. He came back straight away. I just love how hard working Vietnamese people are, and this guy had made himself available at all times and had always helped us out. Like when we went to the Mekong delta tour, we left our big backpacks and loads of dirty washing behind to take them back all nice and clean on our return. He said the only available room was on the 5th floor (no-lift) at a reduced price. We told him we were on our way!

So that was our “enriched experience”. We messaged Anh and our initial contact explaining we were leaving and were happy to provide feedback if they needed it. The response was almost confirming that they weren’t surprised we didn’t want to stay there. Brilliant!

The poor guy was waiting for us at around 10.30 pm when we finally made it back to the hotel which we had left only that afternoon. It felt absolutely heavenly to have somewhere decent to sleep and shower in. Sometimes you have to lose what you have to appreciate how valuable it is!

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