The Worst Things That Happened To Me In Two Years On The Road
In my honest opinion if the thought of going traveling has even entered your head – if you are even contemplating it, then you should go.
Having never traveled outside of Europe before and being quite a homebody I had numerous fears and worries before I left, but they were all unfounded.
But in the interests of being open and honest I feel I should share with you the worst things that happened to me traveling.
#1 I Was Robbed
Ben, Mary and I rocked up in Vang Vieng, Laos, found a nice little guesthouse checked in and the next morning left to go tubing. If you are not familiar with tubing, it is very popular in Vang Vieng, you basically hire a big tractor style tyre, throw it in the Nam Song River, jump in it and then float down the river getting pulled into makeshift bars set up on the riverbanks.
Back in 2009 when I did it for the first time, it had a bad reputation (there were actually lots of deaths) and it was basically just a big excuse for people to get absolutely wasted.
We’d told our Guesthouse owner the night before of our plans and he had very handily told us where the nearest cash machine was so we could get money out for our day of tubing.
So the next morning Ben, Mary and I wandered up to go tubing with nothing more than our swimming costumes, a pair of flip flops each and a waterproof bag between in which we put our cameras and a little money.
We went tubing (which to be honest was a bit of a disaster as right at the start I lost my contact lenses and spent the entire day with blurred vision) and got back to our Guesthouse to get showered and go out for dinner.
As I was getting ready Ben knocked on my door and asked if I’d had some money taken out of my wallet (which we had all left in our rooms rather than risk getting soaked as we went tubing).
Sure enough I had. Not a lot, around £15, but some had definitely gone missing.
We had all taken out the exact same amount of Kip the night before so we all knew how much money we had in our wallets.
There was no sign of forced entry, so we were all pretty certain the Guesthouse owner, who had been so helpful the previous night in giving us a map to the local ATM, had let himself in and taken some money.
He’d obviously presume we’d come back really drunk from tubing and wake up the next morning not realising what had happened. As it was we all came back pretty sober and all noticed the missing money.
So we confronted him. Nicely of course, basically saying if the money was returned we would forget all about it.
He denied it and continued to deny it. We said we’d like to report it to the local police and he took us to the local police station, where he had a laugh and joke with the Police (in Lao of course) and we reported the money missing with obviously no hope of it being returned.
It was only a tiny amount of money for us, so it was more a matter of principle, but that was the only time anything like that has every happened to me traveling.
#2 I Had The Bus Journey From Hell In The Middle Of A Typhoon
I had a 27 hour bus journey from hell when crossing from Laos to Vietnam.
It all started reasonably well with us being picked up on time from our hostel in Vientiane in Laos and then it slowly got worse and worse.
We arrived at Vientiane ‘Bus Station’ which essentially was a huge field with about 30 very old buses parked around it.
As soon as we got off the tuk-tuk we were surrounded by a gaggle of Lao people fighting to take our bags the 50 meters to the buses. After telling them we were capable of making the short journey we then told by about 8 different bus drivers that we definitely wanted to be on their bus.
We eventually we picked the bus we thought we were meant to be on (none of them had any signs saying their destinations) and prepared ourselves for the worst.
We knew this was going to be a long bus journey – 17 hours we were told – and we had no air con, no toilet on the bus and the person in front of me had already set his chair so far back I was practically breathing on him.
We left for the Vietnam border about 7pm and arrived there at 6am. Then we just had to sit and wait for four hours until the border crossing opening.
As we went through the border crossing the sniffer dogs picked up some scent on Mary’s bag and it had to be opened and fully examined, before eventually nothing was found in it and we could carry on and we got back on our bus the other side of the crossing for the last couple of hours of the first part of our journey.
And then the unthinkable happened.
We changed to another bus and this was even worse than the first bus. Much worse. We were also by now the only Westerners on the bus and getting a bit of attention from the locals.
As we drove down the coast of Vietnam it became evident that we were entering some rather unusual weather conditions. In fact we didn’t know it at the time but we were driving straight into a typhoon – Typhoon Ketsana.
As we progressed south we encountered more devastation – no people were on the streets, the bus was being buffeted by the wind and roads were flooded everywhere.
This all culminated in us (me, Ben and Mary) being thrown off the bus in the middle of nowhere, in a power cut, in flooded streets 24 hours after we started our journey.
As it was pitch black we genuinely had no idea where we were and how far from Hue, our destination, we were. The water in parts came up to our knees, and nowhere seemed open.
After about 30 minutes traipsing round, and when we were on the verge of having to sleep outside with our backpacks, we manage to convince a hotel that was shut to let us in.
After 24 hours with no food and 36 hours with no sleep, we collapsed on our beds and fell to sleep.
Thankfully when we woke up the next morning the sun was out and was burning off some of the floods and we eventually made it to our location – Hue.
When we got there, despite most of Hue still being flooded, we found a nice hotel with warm water, clean sheets and air con and washed off the dirt and grime of the past two days.
Then we found a nice bar and had a few drinks!
#3 Suicide in Auckland
Sometimes there are things in life that are very hard to comprehend. I was living in a place called Bond Street Lodge in Auckland where there were three floors and about 16 people on each floor sharing a huge (and very nice kitchen/living room) and four bathrooms.
On the evening of Friday 10 December I was in the living area chatting to a couple of friends when another chap, called Dennis, who also lived on our floor came in. I’d talked to him a couple of times before and this time he seemed a little subdued and was limping slightly but otherwise seemed fine.
The four of us talked for a bit before we all headed our separate ways to our respective rooms just before midnight.
The next morning, around 9.30am, as I made myself some breakfast in the kitchen, I was startled by what sounded like some sort of hysterical screaming.
Dennis’s mum had come to pick him up for a doctor’s appointment and knocked on his door and walked into his room. Dennis had hung himself and his own mother had found him.
I still find it hard to get my head around the fact I was probably the last person to speak to him. There was absolutely no indication to me he was feeling in such a desperate situation.
It was just so very sad.
#4 Dodging an earthquake in Queenstown
I was in an internet cafe in Queenstown checking my emails, when, out of nowhere, the entire building (the internet cafe was on the second floor) gently shook from side-to-side for about ten seconds.
I knew I wasn’t imagining it as literally everyone in the internet cafe stopped why they were doing and looked round at each other, as if to say ‘Did I really just feel that?’
However soon it was forgotten and everyone got back on with their everyday business.
What we didn’t know at the time was that we were feeling the tremors of an earthquake just under 500km away in Christchurch that would kill almost 200 people.
A little while later I came out of the internet cafe to meet my friend Sarah and we planned to find somewhere to get a drink and something to eat. As it was we noticed that the normally packed Queenstown streets were void of people, everywhere we went, past any bar or cafe there were masses of people gathered around the TV screens standing in silence.
We went over and that is when we learnt about the tragedy that had unfolded in the South Island’s biggest city.
When I got to Christchurch four days after the quake there were people sleeping in hotel meeting rooms, in the airport, in bars and restaurants who had been left homeless by the earthquake.
My friend Matt had been in Christchurch on the day of the quake. On the spur of the moment he had decided to book a whale watching trip in Kaikoura, staying over night and coming back the next day.
He got on a train that left Christchurch just 30 minutes before the earthquake, the hostel he had left his stuff in in Christchurch (he had just taken a small daypack to Kaikoura) had been completely wiped out and he lost all of his clothes, toiletories and expensive camera equipment.
But of course his loss was minimal in comparison to that of many people.
#5 Erm where am I?
When I went back to Laos a few years after my original trip I booked a bus from Vientiane to Savannakhet.
As I anticipated it was a long and slow journey. There were a few Westerners on the bus, but gradually they got off stop-by-stop until there was just me left and a bus full of local people.
Just before 8pm, around 11 hours after I got on the bus, I knew we must be relatively near to Savannakhet based upon the distance from the last stop – Nong Bok.
The bus pulled up in a dark and dusty one street town. Nothing but a few makeshift stalls selling food and drink and then just the pitch black.
I was annoyed that we had stopped here when we must be so close to Savannakhet. But knew I’d have to put up with it.
Then a lady who seemed to be acting as a kind of coach conductor pointed at me and in broken English said ‘Savannakhet’ and pointed outside.
I repeated the words back to her, gesturing outside, and looking quizzical and she just nodded her head and smiled.
I got out and just looked up and down the street to make sure I wasn’t missing something.
Savannakhet is the third biggest city in Laos home to nearly 70,000 people and as far I can see there were about 17 people down this dusty little street.
But my friend was adamant. “Yes, yes, Savannakhet” she said and pointed to an old man across the road.
And with that the coach was gone and I was in the middle of nowhere in the pitch black and a street full of people who didn’t speak English.
I walked up and down the road with my Lonely Planet open on the Savannakhet page pointing to the word and showing it to everyone. It seemed no one recognised it.
I genuinely had no idea what to do. I started walking and got past the end of the street before I realised I literally couldn’t see anything – not even street lights from a nearby town. It was pitch black and I was walking down a busy road so I turned back and walked back to the little street to make one last attempt at finding out where I was.
As luck would have it, I walked back to the original old man the lady on the bus had pointed out to me. This time there was a young asian girl with him and she spoke reasonably good English. I told her I wanted to go to Savannahket and she told me they would take me!
I got into the back of the car and they drove me into the city – a good 40 minutes away, dropped me off right in front of my guesthouse and didn’t even ask for any money.
The kindness of strangers!
#6 Inevitably, at some point, you will stay in a horrible hostel…
No matter how much planning you do, now matter how much research you do, no matter how organised you are you will at one point or another stay in a terrible hostel
For me two stick out.
It was a bad omen when we turned up at Coffee Palace hostel in Melbourne, at 10am in the morning, to find a group of the hostel residents already drunk and sitting on the front steps of the hostel.
That was compounded when we saw our dorm rooms (disgusting) and met up back in the communal area to discuss what to do next. As we sat there two girls were sitting behind us with one of them crying and the other consoling her friend telling her not to worry as they would probably ‘never stay in a hostel this bad again’.
On a par was Purple Monkey Guesthouse in Pai.
My dorm room was basically a glorified corrugated iron shack. In fact it wasn’t even glorified. The world’s messiest backpackers all seemed to have converged on this hostel as there was literally not an inch of floor space as it was covered by clothes, towels, shoes, backpacks…
It billed it self as an ‘eco-guesthouse’ – which seemed to be an excuse not to clean anything. I woke up (well got up, I barely got any sleep) in the middle of the night to use one of the toilets, the toilet bowl was literally covered in ants, as was the shower area and shower head.
The next morning I put my backpack on, walked out of the hostel and moved somewhere else that was a lot nicer.
The bottom line is, unless you get extremely lucky, bad things will happen if you go traveling, but then again bad things would also happen if you just stayed at home for two years.
One thing is for sure, the good times outweighed the bad by about, ohhh, 100!