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Vietnam is Drowning—Week Five

The Pilgrimage of Chelsea

I’ve landed in Vietnam, the final destination of my trip. On the plane flight over here, I reflected on my travels and on my journey as a solo traveller and as a woman. My heart is filled with warm fuzzy feelings as I embark on the last leg of my journey, Vietnam, a destination I’ve really been looking forward to.

Like I said, business as usual. 

As I step out of the airport to hail a taxi, a wave of “oh shit” sweeps over me as I notice it is pouring rain. I think to myself that it must be the last bit of rain from the rainy season. In my head, Thailand and Vietnam have the same seasons because they are neighbours and practically best friends, so there was no need for me to check the weather report when I booked my flight two days earlier.

As we’re driving from the Da Nang airport to Hoi An, my Vietnamese driver tries to let me know in his best English that there is a “big storm,” and I’m like “yeah, totally, it’s raining.” Little did I know he was trying to warn me that Vietnam is currently in the middle of typhoon Damrey. A little rain never hurt anyone, am I right?

When I arrived at my hostel, dripping wet and slightly jetlagged, I finally checked the weather report on my phone and saw that it would be raining as far as the weather forecast could predict on that handheld machine of mine. Shit, shit, shit. Ok, Chelsea get it together, it’s ok that it’s raining, live a little girl, make the best of it. I was looking forward to drinking iced Vietnamese coffees under the sunshine and riding my bike to the beach, but doing that sopping wet with a semi forced smile on my face will have to do.

We went out for a few beers but I was uncomfortable the whole time, anxiously watching the water slowly rise and chain smoking Vietnamese cigarettes like those monkeys on YouTube.

I headed to the common area of my hostel, eager to make some new mates, and found everyone gathered around tables drinking beers and playing games, a sight I have seen often on this trip. I sat down next to a sweet Australian girl by the name of Casey and we talked about what else but the weather. Others listening nearby chimed in to let us know it was typhoon season and there was nothing to do but grin and bear it. Two hours later, the first ominous sign of exactly how my time in Vietnam would go occurred when the river overflowed into the streets, getting dangerously close to our hostel.

Mid evacuation with some of my hostel fam.

Our hostel parents shut down the first floor for clean up and we had no choice but to go upstairs or out into the wild. Being the dirty drifters that we are, a group of us put on some pink plastic ponchos and began walking the streets, which now looked more like an estuary. All the locals were doing it so it was fine, just water up to our knees but totally fine. We went out for a few beers but I was uncomfortable the whole time, anxiously watching the water slowly rise and chain smoking Vietnamese cigarettes like those monkeys on YouTube. I’m not a smoker. I don’t know why I put my health in jeopardy but I was already drudging through brown bacteria filled water, so what the hell.

I was alone in the middle of a natural disaster in a foreign country. Our phones told us that 50 people had died and 30 were still missing before we even left our hostel.

The next day, the streets were still flooded and it was still pouring rain but everything was business as usual. All the shops were open, the business owners sporting their latest rain poncho fashion accessories, and life carried on. Apparently, they know the drill. A new friend and I had breakfast then walked the streets of Hoi An, trying to do some sort of tourist adventuring. It amazed me how busy the streets were despite the discernible fact that the city was now a muddy water park. People, buses and scooters alike continued doing what they do best and we joined them, the water still only coming up to our knees. My only real issue was a scrape on my foot from some coral while I was snorkeling in Thailand. Nothing goes together better like an open wound and some foul water, I always say.

That is the smile of delusion people, I’m most definitely panicking on the inside.

Later that night, and with the water still slowly rising, I headed up to my room for a nap. I had grown tired of playing card games with the hostel fam and there was really nothing else to do. I put in my headphones, turned on some Moby and laid down for a little snooze. About 30 minutes later, my roommate surged into our room baffled that I was just laying there. With my headphones in, I couldn’t hear all the commotion from downstairs. He told me I had 15 minutes to pack my bag and that we were being evacuated from the city of Hoi An. I raced downstairs, but it didn’t take long for me to see what was going on.

The water had not only come into our hostel but was slowly rising up our stairs. I stepped down into knee high water and looked out into the streets—the water was waist high out there. Everyone seemed calm but there was panic in the air. I noticed a large group frantically huddled around the front desk and remembered that they held on to all our passports. Shit. I joined in, determined to get my passport and get the heck out of there; the realization then hit me that they had to somehow get 30 kids out of the hostel and to higher ground in waist-deep water.

It took another hour before a solution was organized. We would be evacuated by boat, or canoe rather, two canoes that can only hold 4 people at a time. A few friends and I managed to get on the first canoe out, and as we drifted down the water-filled streets, the thought of how unreal this whole situation is hit me like a wall of bricks. I was alone in the middle of a natural disaster in a foreign country. the news we found on our phones told us that 50 people had already died in Hoi An and 30 people were still missing before we even left our hostel. The day before, we were laughing and trying to make light of what we thought was just an unfortunate series of events. Even in the canoe, I couldn’t grasp the seriousness of it all. And in this moment, I still can’t believe it happened. You see natural disasters on TV but can never imagine living it. Even though this was a terrifying event, the fact is this natural disaster did not happen in my home and I have the opportunity to leave, to escape. 

Two hours later, everyone from our hostel was evacuated and we were on a bus to Da Nang, which was about 40 minutes away, and flood free. We arrived at our new hostel, drained, dazed but relieved. A majority of the group were on their phones or laptops, trying to figure out their next move. It would continue to rain in Da Nang and it was pretty wet up north as well. With the country being rainy for the next two weeks, I decided sadly that I would leave Vietnam after only being there for four days. Not the experience I hoped for but oh well. My first thought was to go back to Bali, but the rainy season was just starting there so that was out. I did not want to go back to Thailand and there wasn’t enough time for me to plan a new country. Should I just go home?

After some careful research, I found it was $70 cheaper for me to fly to Australia then home, then straight home from Vietnam. Wow, amazing! During these last few months of my travels I had a funny feeling I would be going to Australia soon, I just didn’t imagine I’d be going on this trip. The universe works in mysterious ways—put another shrimp on the barbie for me mates, I am coming to Straya.

More from The Pilgrimage of Chelsea:
Howling on Phi Phi—Week Four
Back to Thailand—Week Three
Never Leaving Bali—Week Two
Out into The Wild—Week One

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Photo: Territorial Studies