Last week when I blogged about surreal experiences in Hong Kong, it got me thinking about other out-of-the-ordinary travel tales. Vietnam was the first place to come to mind. Maybe surreal wasn’t the word, but rather random. Very random.
It started at the Kim Do Hotel, where I stayed thanks to a very accurate description in Lonely Planet’s South-East Asia on a Shoestring.
The day after I checked into the Kim Do, two medical students from Hanoi followed me up to my room and claimed they wanted to practice English. But they already spoke fluent English. They seemed interested in learning about the Vietnamese guy I was with earlier that day (a guy I’d met on the plane from KL to Saigon).
I was certain they were secret police. When they asked to come into my hotel room, I said no and slammed it in their faces.
But what really sticks out in my mind, apart from watching Full Metal Jacket in a Danang hotel lobby with a couple dozen Vietnamese men, is that I kept running into the same Australian redhead in every Vietnamese city I visited that summer.
Karen was in her mid-to-late 20s, which seemed so much older than my 20 years. She was an independent traveler and therefore on her own. I thought I was going to do the same, but as luck would have it, a government official met me at the Danang airport and forced me to hire him as my guide and his friend as my driver or else I’d be on the next flight back to Saigon and wouldn’t get to see the rest of the country. (Hanoi was closed off to foreigners that month for a congress meeting.)
I met Karen at the Kim Do in Saigon (we went to the Cu Chi Tunnels together) and recognized her when I ran into her in Danang. I probably should have invited her to that Full Metal Jacket screening. As I remember, it was a pretty last minute thing and since we weren’t staying at the same hotel, I had no way of contacting her.
And when I got to Hue, I ran into her on the street, too. I stayed at this hotel months after the Indochine cast and crew descended upon this historic Vietnamese city.
Although we never meant for our itineraries to match up, Karen and I ended up back in Saigon after Hue and even left the city–and the country–on the same day.
Granted there were relatively few foreigners (and even fewer single female travelers) in Vietnam at that time, but what were the chances I would run into the same person in three cities?
This was long before the beginning of e-mail, cell phones, and texting. I lost touch with Karen as soon as we left Saigon.