Hotel California

3rd MARCH 2019

It’s 6.00am when I wake, my head feeling alright after the whisky and, so far, my stomach feeling alright after the shits. I open my room door, step out onto the passageway that rings the hotel’s first floor and sit down to watch sunrise. I’m moving away from the East coast of Vietnam now, so there won’t be many more chances to tick that box and see a sunrise over the South China Sea. It’s all a bit of an anticlimax though, a fairly average sunrise being obscured by a long band of cloud just above the horizon. Back to bed.

When I surface a second time I’m pleased, if slightly surprised, when I check my phone. My Cambodian e-visa that I applied for two days ago has come through already ! Even though I was always confident it would arrive before my Vietnamese visa ran out, it’s still a relief to have it finalised with eight days to spare.

Due to yesterday’s toilet ‘inconveniences’ I’m a little wary about going for a poo this morning. Instead, I bypass the unpredictability of a toilet visit and head downstairs for breakfast, asking for a bowl of yoghurt, fruit and cereal. Hien puts a dampener on that plan by saying they have ‘no froosh,’ so I have to make do with plain old yoghurt and cereal. Mind you, this might be a good thing given the state of my guts. My drinking buddies from last night are nowhere to be seen, with Hien telling me that they don’t usually get up ’till late.’ It appears that they live here in a sort of semi-comatose Hotel California existence, sleeping most of the day and just getting drunk each night. I can see this lifestyle being OK for a few days, but to drift through a whole year that way would be mind-numbing.

Back upstairs I get the feeling that I can’t put off a bathroom visit for much longer. I sit down apprehensively for a poo, slightly nervous about what might happen next. My fears are realised when a gruesome stream of liquid comes gushing out of my backside once again. I’m still not right, so a day of relaxation and sun avoidance is very much in order. For lunch I’m downstairs once again and pestering Hien for some Yang Chow Fried Rice. It’s basically Special Fried Rice, which is bland, filling and won’t cause too many issues for my stomach. I’m still trying to plug myself up with rice and hopefully make the contents of my bowels a little more solid. I’ve been a tad reckless with my diet so far, essentially adopting an ‘eat anything’ mantra. I figure if my body gets used to weird meals and hot spices, then nothing will be able to knock me down in terms of food. This approach has actually served me pretty well for the past six weeks and I’ll continue eating this way when I start to feel better. Ironically, I’m now convinced that my current predicament was caused by dodgy water, rather than dodgy food.

With little energy or enthusiasm for movement I have a lazy, listless afternoon. Walking around still makes me feel woozy, so the greatest distance I travel is from my room to a shaded beachside hammock. I spend the next couple of hours drifting in and out of sleep, whilst listening to the sound of small waves reaching the shore ahead of me. By early evening I find the three old mates from Koh Samui have taken up their familiar positions for the night. Aussie couple Mark and Jo, along with Norwegian nurse Nina are downstairs eating scallops and drinking white wine. I join them for a chat, only to end up helping them with their scallops as they’ve cooked far, far too many for three people. Mark pours me a glass of white wine too, which is very civilised of him, and then offers up what is a rare delicacy in Vietnam; cheese. It’s funny how an everyday foodstuff can become such a welcome treat when you haven’t had it for a while. In fact, thinking about it, I don’t think I’ve had any dairy products whatsoever during my six weeks in Vietnam ! 

Later in the evening German Sam rides back on his motorbike to say that one of his friends dogs has been dog-napped. He has heard of a nearby restaurant that serves dog meat, so is going to ride round there and offer them more money than the dog is worth as meat in an attempt to get it back. Aussie Mark, half-pissed again, wants to go with him and start a fight, but Sam sensibly talks him out of it. The dog has apparently been missing for two days now, so if it has been taken by the restaurant then it’s probably met a sad demise already. Mark then tells me that one of his mates managed to buy his own dog back from a restaurant in Hanoi through ‘friend of a friend’ contacts before it ended up on the dinner table. I’m quite shocked that this kind of thing still happens in 2019, but Pa (the old father of the house) says only in Hanoi. Sam rides off to the restaurant in question, but is back within fifteen minutes as it’s closed. As a rather unsatisfactory conclusion, I never did get to find out the end result of this episode.

The gang head upstairs about 9.00pm, clearly still feeling the effects of last night’s shenanigans and, with nothing better to do, I follow suit. I’ve also decided that tomorrow will be an extra Rest Day in an effort to calm this unsettled stomach of mine. This means that, slightly worryingly, I’ll already have stayed past my intended check out day in this bizarre Hotel California.

The following morning I’m downstairs again for my breakfast of yoghurt, fruit and cereal. Today’s bonus is that they do have ‘froosh’ in the form of mango, water melon, dragon fruit and mini bananas. I also have a ginger tea, with real slices of ginger floating round the bottom of my cup. I don’t particularly enjoy the taste, but persevere as ginger is meant to soothe a dodgy stomach. Back upstairs and my first crap of the day is ninety percent liquid again, although it’s slightly more solid and promising than the last two days.

Most of the morning is spent lounging around, before I head across the road to the reputedly cheaper Madame Trinh’s restaurant for lunch. I have prawns in a spicy-sweet vegetable sauce of tomato, onion, cucumber and pineapple, along with yet more boiled rice to plug up my bowels. Then I give in to temptation and ruin all my good work by having an iced coffee to go along with it. The whole meal, plus coffee comes to £1.30, which is indeed a lot cheaper than the food at my hotel.

After lunch I return to my hammock for a sleepy siesta, before getting into the sea to cool off. As I wade further into the water, I keep catching the glint of things moving on the seabed and have a couple of momentary ‘what’s that?’ panics. In fact, it turns out most of these apparitions are plastic bags, which is such a shame. I lie in the sun when I get out, attempting to even up my absurd cycling tan-lines, and find I’ve got a 2km stretch of beach all to myself.

Our restaurant isn’t cooking tonight as Ma and Pa are out somewhere, which gives me the perfect excuse to pop over the road to Madame Trinh’s again. In essence I have the same meal as this afternoon, only this time with fish. Strangely, there’s no one about tonight when I return, even Mark and Jo are having a quiet one. I go and sit beachside in the dark for a while before retiring upstairs. I’m feeling so much better this evening, with my returning appetite a sure sign of my recovery. I certainly feel like I’ll be able to continue cycling tomorrow, although I only pencil in a short 30km day to break myself back in gently. I’ve already spent two days convalescing in the surreal, twilight zone that is the Song Hien Hotel. This place seems to lull you into booking extra days, with Aussie Mark not helping matters by saying ‘Just stay mate.’ I think now is probably a good time to move on, before I become another permanent resident like the rest of them.

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