The next few days in Hoi An pass by in a slow daze. I ride Elektra into the city and wander through the old town. I eat banh mi every day. I spend sunsets admiring the rice fields and water buffaloes lounging in the water. I wander along the beach. I meet my new Vietnamese friend at her barbecue stand at the night market, I watch the many candles floating by in the river. I write, paint, watch movies. I splurge on wine (a real bottle of wine!) and sit on my balcony, watching the stars.
I ponder my next steps. The TET holiday is coming up and I would like to spend it in Hoi An, but I am also beginning to feel ready to get moving again. It’s been a full week already, it’s time to get back on my bike and move on. I finally decide to leave on February 1st.
By this time, the guys and I have made a Whatsapp group. A place to share stories from the road, but mainly a place to share our locations in case of accidents or other mishaps. Particularly now that everyone is riding solo. At this point Clay is in Dalat, Paul is in Nha Trang and Michael has made his way back to Vietnam from Laos and is headed south as well. It turns out that he is due to arrive in Hoi An in two days. It also turns out that I am easy to convince, when I agree to wait for him.
If there is one thing I’ve learned while backpacking, it is that the only certainty in your travel plans is how constantly they will change.
I spend one more night in my room and then go in search of a new place to stay. I’ve been paying $15 a night for a private room – treat yourself, girl – but if I am going to be staying longer, I need to go back to a $5 bunk bed in a hostel. The only problem with this plan is that everything is fully booked due to the holiday. I decide that the best option is just to go to each hostel and ask. I want to stay close to the ocean, so I go door to door, looking for somewhere that will have two available beds for Michael and I.
That’s how I end up at The Seaside Bungalow.
By the time I arrive there I am tired, hungry and overheated. The sun has been beating down on me and I am, quite frankly, in a bad mood. That is why meeting Vy, the owner of Seaside Bungalow, is so refreshing. She is kind and welcoming and the best news is: she has a free bed for tonight and expects that she will have another one when Michael arrives.
I set my things down and settle into the common area. I meet a traveler named Phyllis, and I don’t know it yet, but she is about to chance my experience of Vietnam entirely. I don’t know it yet, but she is about to become a dear friend.
Michael is due to arrive the next day, and he sends me updates. One of them is that he has had an accident. We share a short phone call and a few messages. Just enough for him to say that Jackie’s engine still starts, but he might not make it to Hoi An today. Then his phone cuts out and I do not hear from him anymore. Oh, no big deal, I’m not freaking out or anything. I decide not to tell the others. At least for now.
I spend the next day playing with Vy’s many dogs. I eat her delicious noodles and I chat with Phyllis. My heart is in my throat the entire day, wondering where Michael is. We sit in the common room and I watch the road. I receive a message from Paul, asking me whether I’ve heard from Michael. “He’s been quiet, I’m a little worried.” Shit, cat’s out of the bag. I tell Paul about the accident and promise to keep him up to date.
Finally, at around 3 pm, I receive a message from Michael. He still isn’t sure he will make it, but he’s got 110 km to go and he is going to try. The day turns to dusk as I continue to chat and then it finally happens. I hear the rumble of a motorbike nearby and I look up to see Michael cruise past on Jackie.
To say I am relieved is an understatement. I fly outside and as he parks we are a flurry of excitement and updates. Michael tells me about his day whilst I tell him about the hostel. I ask if he’s okay, whilst he asks about Paul and I ask about his trip to Laos. It’s funny to realize now that as far as human relationships go, at the time we actually barely knew each other. All we had was one day of riding in Hanoi – certainly a memorable one – and a few evenings of chatting over beers. But with friendships moving in hyper speed out here, this really felt like a reunion between long time friends.
We send the guys a message to let them know that Michael is in fact alive, and settle into what is by now a familiar routine. Food, a beer, and cheers: “you did not die today.”
And so our time at The Seaside Bungalow begins.