Walking back from dinner the other night I spotted the moon from the corner of my eye. Tiny little slither. It was beautiful, but very hard to take a photo of. The clouds kept moving in front of it so it would disappear altogether for minutes at a time. I must have taken 40-50 photos using all sorts of settings before getting this! Quite pleased.
Despite my ever growing list of places that I’ve visited while travelling, Phu Quoc Island in the far south of Vietnam, just beside the Cambodian border, remains one the most idyllic and beautiful places I have been to. I went there in December 2013 and it was paradise.
Picture a long beach, yellow-white sand, green-blue sea, and palm trees. Behind the beach is a small track, running parallel to the beach for about 500 metres. This track, an unmade dirt road, is the road going north/south on the west coast of the island. There are no other people there, well, maybe a couple having a picnic, but they are enjoying the peace and beauty as much as you so they make no difference to you choosing a spot further up the beach from where you ‘parked’ the motorbike.
This was what we experienced. I was travelling with a girl who I’d originally met in Laos and met again by chance about half way down Vietnam whilst backpacking. We were heading the same direction and at the same speed too, so we stuck together. It was good fun travelling with someone, as I usually travel alone – you meet more people that way.
Phu Quoc island is a large island of 567km² with a relatively small population of 85,000. We arrived during the first week of December. I had a flight booked to Bangkok from Ho Chi Minh City, to spend a few days in Thailand before my flight home on the 15th. As soon as I heard about Phu Quoc I was fascinated, but I didn’t have time to see more of Thailand AND go to Phu Quoc.
I didn’t catch the flight to Thailand, and it was the best decision I made the whole year.
We took a seven hour night bus to Rach Gia, where we caught the boat: Superdong. The boat took two hours from there to the port near the south of Phu Quoc island.
Phu Quoc was exactly what dreams are made of. Small fishing villages, deserted beaches, waterfalls and rainforest. Although there were tourists, it wasn’t a case of fighting through crowds to get to the sand. There were lots of hotels in the main town, but few further out. A few remote resorts which were beautiful, and great spots for lunch.
My friend knew how to ride a bike, so we hired one from the hostel we moved to after the hotel where we spent our first night.
We had a map, and we had water. We didn’t need anything else so we headed out of town following the road as we had been directed. We stopped and got fuel and double checked we were on the right road. We were. We needed to turn off somewhere but the only turn off we could see was a steep uphill dirt track which didn’t look like it headed towards any kind of a beach.
We followed a brand new motorway through beautiful rainforest national park, to a roundabout where there was a small fishing village, and that was where the motorway ended. We had a paddle in the sea while eating a semi melted ice cream from some guys motorbike/ice cream van before heading back after some more directions to find another road which would take us west, and to the area of the island we wanted.
Every weekend I’m woken up early by loud music, singing and people counting down to do shots of rice wine. It’s a wedding.
Families often throw the wedding party at the groom’s house to save money, where they will put up a large marquee to sit lots of people and put on food etc. I dread the next morning each time I see a marquee going up near the school. Often, the party will last two or three days, and they’ll be noisy from 6 or 7 in the morning to late at night. I don’t mind the noise at night, but in the morning it’s pretty annoying.
Since I arrived in Vinh back in August I’ve been invited to 4 weddings, all of kindergarten teachers. I went to the first one I was invited to, but not to the other two. This morning I went to the fourth.
The first (Châu’s) was held in one of Vinh’s fancy hotels (the same one we went to on Teacher’s Day), but this one was in a marquee beside the groom’s house. None of the other foreign teachers from school went, but seeing as it was the teacher of my age 3 class from last semester, I wanted to attend. Plus, the bride, Huong, had been really excited to invite me.
My friend Phoebe (another kindergarten teacher) collected me at school and took me on her bike. She was very surprised that I was wearing a dress with no tights, but the only tights I have are full of holes, and she’d said to dress formal. We weren’t too far from the wedding, maybe a kilometre or two.
The majority of the school’s staff were there, all dressed up. I was glad I hadn’t gone back and put jeans on like Phoebe had suggested! It was nice to see everyone, even though I see them every day at school it was a different atmosphere. I actually don’t really get to talk to the primary and kindergarten staff as much as I’d like to because of classes and timetables, and the kids of course.
We struggled to find somewhere to leave the bike, but we squeezed it in somehow and headed down the lane to the marquee, all decked out in purple and white as many of them are.
Huong was outside with the groom and some of the kids from her class. I don’t teach that class anymore, but one of the little boys was really excited to see me which was just lovely. We walked into the marquee and there must have been about 400 people there. I felt very conspicuous as the only foreigner!
Phoebe and I sat with some of the primary staff and some of the admin/I.T staff. We had a few drinks, and ate some shrimps, chicken, pork and sticky rice. One of the members of staff sang on stage, as did a few other people from the party. There was constant talking into a microphone, which I have no idea what it was about, but people started clapping every now and then so I just clapped along so as not to look like a complete idiot. We weren’t even there for an hour.
In Vietnam, if you even vaguely know someone then you’re invited to their wedding. The assumption is that each guest gives money, so obviously the more guests the more money. This way they don’t end up with 4 kettles and all sorts of ugly vases and serving sets – quite a good idea actually. I had been explaining to someone recently about the wedding list system in the UK and they were quite impressed.
The Vietnamese tradition is that the bride moves in with the groom and his parents after the wedding, unless they can afford their own house. Women are not wanted as a bride here if they aren’t a virgin, so you often hear pregnancy announcements very soon after weddings. It doesn’t matter if the bride and groom sleep together before the wedding, but it has to be the bride’s first person. Couples often get married after 3 or 4 months of being together, and the engagement is only a few weeks before the wedding. Everything happens very quickly.
Divorce here is still very frowned upon, and men can be very cruel and difficult to their wife, but the women rarely complain. For them, it’s just normal. I think that’s really sad. I know of a couple of people who have difficult and cruel husbands but they think they won’t be able to marry anyone else, so are better with him than without. Men can marry again, but no man wants a divorced woman. Quite different from the UK.
So, that was my morning. Nice and different from a usual Sunday morning. I usually lie in bed all day until I have to teach later in the afternoon. I’m not teaching on Sundays anymore, so it’s turning out to be a good day!
After five not always easy or enjoyable months working here in Vinh, Vietnam, I have decided it’s time for change. I have handed my notice in, and have just over 3 weeks left to work before flying home to a currently very cold and snowy Scotland. I can’t wait to see everyone, especially as it’s about a year earlier than I’d planned on heading home!
I originally trained as a paediatric nurse, but following a rough ending to my university degree I thought nursing wasn’t for me. Maybe teaching was. I tried my hand at it, and really enjoyed it.
Following my time in Thailand, I thought I wanted to be a teacher, but knew spending more time teaching abroad would be more sensible than jumping straight in to another degree.
It is now clear to me that teaching is not that way forward for me. I’m sad, actually, though relieved I think I’ve decided which path, and which direction to take.
I’m going to go back to nursing. I’m going to apply for a Return to Practise course and I’m really looking forward to it.
This all sounds really doom and gloom doesn’t it. The course doesn’t start until next January (assuming I get in!), so have ages, like, a whole year.
This coming year could be the last time I’m completely commitment free and I don’t want to spend it in a small city, working in a job where I’m not particularly happy. I want to do lots of things before I have a career and a flat and all the other things that come with growing up… like a dog or something!
2015 is going to be epic!
This year, after a few weeks at home, I’m going to: India (with my Dad), Thailand, The Philippines, Japan (to visit a friend I met when living in NZ), Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia (to see extended family), where hopefully my amazing friend from school will come out and join me, and then Fiji (to see my host family from when I volunteered there back in 2009). Yes, 2015 is set to be another year of travels and excitements, highs and hopefully a very small number lows in comparison to this year. All of this travel was planned before leaving the UK back at the beginning of August 2014, and I was going to keep going after Vietnam, but then I realised I was low on space in my passport so would need to go home. Then thought, let’s throw India into the mix too! My Dad has old family ties there so will be nice to learn more about those as well as finding yet another new culture to jump straight into.
It turns out I do actually have JUST enough space in my passport. This time next year I will have to get a new one for sure though.
I’m slightly sad for myself that I haven’t stuck out the contract I was so desperate to get, but I really think I’ve made the right decision and I need to put one foot in front of the other and get the ball rolling in terms of my career and life plans.
I’ve also set 3 ten year goals (none yet for nursing – we will cross that bridge when it comes to it…).
- Visit Antarctica
- Learn a language (No – I can’t speak Vietnamese… it’s next to impossible for me, and as much as I try STILL no one understands what I’m trying to say)
- Learn to ski!
I guess in terms of nursing I’d like to be working in a Children’s A+E somewhere, but I’ll take nursing as it comes for now.
First thing’s first though. I CANNOT wait to get back to Scotland for a proper cup of tea and some normal food!
See you all soon 😀
All I want to do is spend my life travelling the world, seeing sights that take my breath away, reading books and drinking tea and cocktails. Is that too much to ask?
I actually felt pretty nervous about having Christmas over here in Vietnam. I mean, it’s just another day and all that, but it’s still Christmas, and I’d rather have been with my family.
Saying all of this, it wasn’t half as lonely and or as miserable as I’d anticipated, thankfully.
The countdown in school started at 20 days to go. Each classroom had the number on their door, just to rub in the face that I wouldn’t be at home. I think my mind refused to let me get into the christmas spirit. I didn’t want to accept that it was going to be Christmas and I was still going to be stuck here.
English teachers didn’t teach for two weeks on the run up to Christmas, because the rehearsals for their Christmas show were more important, apparently. I was very sceptical about this, as I was about everything around this point.
We had to teach War is Over and Joy to the World at the end of each lesson (before they cancelled them all), and once the English classes had been cancelled, all I could hear most of the day was the kids singing in the hall. I knew the song for each performance, though only knew a couple of the performances to match the songs from popping my head in the hall on the way past for lunch or dinner.
Christmas Eve came, and we didn’t have any commitments really until later on. Dinner was at 5.30 (so didn’t start for at least another 30 minutes). School had invited special guests, such as old teachers who used to work at the school and other people who work in education in the city/ province. Dinner was really nice, lots of veg and some really good meat. The kitchen had done really well. We even had some wine!
I went and changed a little bit – to look slightly more acceptable in the millions of photos I was likely to be in with the kids. I headed downstairs and chatted to the kids and got some super cute pics of my age 3 class dressed as santas! I headed through to outside of the hall where I was beckoned in by the principal and placed next to her, at the very front – perfect for some pictures – no parents standing in front of me to take pictures of their little ones!