The bus station was swarming with cab drivers who, impatient to lure passengers into their cars, were crowding the door and sticking their heads in, calling out “Taxi! Taxi!” in their broken English. We slid to the backseat of one of their taxis. The driver clicked the meter on and made a joke that neither of us could understand.
Vietnam had not began with a high note. We’d wasted money and time on a rain-drenched island, confined to a simple hotel room listening to the sound of a storm that the buzz of the air-conditioning unit could barely cover. My shoes were still damp from the puddles we’d gone through to board our boat and my shirt clung to my sweaty skin like a clammy washrag. We were dirty, unshaven and disgruntled. Ben let out an exasperated sigh.
“We should’ve just taken the deal he offered; look, the fare’s gonna be more than what he asked for”, he said, his gaze drilling into the meter.
“Don’t worry”, I muttered under my breath. “I’ll pay for it.”
You can be as much in love as a couple on a silver screen, but when you’re both tired and starving, any spark will ignite a bonfire.
Suddenly, the streets were laid out in front of us. The dull, grey apartment blocks gave way to neon signs and lit-up shop fronts. Motorcycles weaved their way between taxis and city jeeps at a breakneck speed; a beautiful girl with heels that could kill gazed over her shoulder briefly as her boyfriend zoomed past our slowly crawling taxi. I looked up at the buildings that dauntingly reached for the dark night sky. Over the streets hung thick bundles of electric wire that brought the colourful light to life. The neon lights seemed to draw closer to me, suck me in, embrace me and welcome me to their city.
It was not what I had expected.
Half an hour later we were seated onto the street with a plateful of grilled chicken hearts and tasty, small fish. We toasted, and for the first time in weeks I tasted a beer that I actually liked. There were people everywhere. Tall, blonde Westerners were nervously holding a hand on their belly bags. A group of Vietnamese girls passed us by, chattering and looking fashionable. An older woman stopped by the table closest to the street and offered a great, towering pile of pocket books for them to inspect.
Vietnam had not offered us a great start, but as we sat there nibbling at our barbeque sticks and sipping our beers, I felt it all slowly shift like a caleidoscope. The neon lights had mesmerised me and the crowds even more so.
I knew then that Vietnam was going to be a good time.