I challenge anyone to visit Vietnam, or even just hear the country’s name, without thinking of the war America waged there mere decades ago. Coming from a western country, much of what I knew about the Vietnam War before visiting Asia was derived from popular media and what I was taught in history classes at school, which turned out to be very little. What I learnt from our month in Vietnam was that the truth about the war – if there even is such a thing - is far more complex than I ever imagined.
It’s too late to run or hide, all I can do is gasp as yet another pail of icy water slaps my body.  I hear some accompanying whoops and look up to see my Thai attackers perched on a truck that’s now speeding away down the road. I can just make out the neon water pistols they’re armed with and the barrel of water laced with ice that they’re scooping from with buckets. It’s Songkran 2014 in Chiang Mai, Thailand and nowhere is safe.
There’s no doubt about it, I’m a born city rat. I love feeling lost and anonymous amongst teeming crowds, while at the same time feeling like a tiny cog in a complicated, ever-changing machine. Back in London I used to relish strolling along the riverfront and through the city squares, or sitting on packed trains watching millions of lives unfold all around me. The bigger and more hectic the city, the better, I used to think. That was until I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - the craziest place I’ve ever been.
We first met some Easy Riders while waiting at a bus stop in Danang. Two men with faces as worn as the black, insignia-inscribed leather jackets they wore roared over to us, pulling their shiny, black machines to a stop: “We are Easy Riders – wherever you are going, we’ll take you,” they said, flashing confident, tobacco-stained smiles in our direction.
The five-hour bus journey up to Dalat was pretty standard for Asia; uncomfortable, overloaded and bumpy. The air visibly cooled as we climbed higher into the central highlands and the scenery morphed from seashores and sand dunes to hills and forests. It was the week before Christmas but it certainly hadn’t felt like it as we’d sweated in the fierce heat of Mũi Né and strolled along the beach-front. So, I was feeling much more festive when we arrived in Dalat, zipping our jumpers against the nippy evening air and inhaling the scent of pine trees on the breeze.
When planning our Vietnam itinerary we never thought of stopping off at a beachy place. Vietnam and beaches never really seemed to go together in our minds but it turns out the country has it all: over 3,000 Kilometres of coastline, highlands with mountains that saw snow this last winter, beautiful countryside and scorching, bustling cities. So, we left Hoi An on a Vietnamese 'VIP' sleeper bus to explore the beaches of Mũi Né.
Travelling, by its very nature, can be extremely disorientating and leave you longing for the familiarity of home. I’ve been the first to admit that living our lives in a constant stream of new places this past year has resulted in some powerful bouts of homesickness. However, what I haven’t mentioned yet is that somehow we’ve unexpectedly managed to carve a sort of home-on-the-road for ourselves here in Thailand.
Hoi An is a beautiful place, full of old yellow buildings with wooden shutters, elaborate red-gold temples and decorative assembly halls filled with statues of dragons and birds. The ancient colonial port is preserved as a UNESCO world heritage site and has plenty of rustic buildings to explore. Trees line its wide streets, which feel curiously empty in the daytime due to a motor vehicle ban; all you have to worry about is dodging bicycles and rickshaws as you wander through the city centre. In the evenings the roads and riverside restaurants are lit up with colourful lanterns strung between lampposts and Vietnamese women sell candles to float down the river past the ancient Japanese bridge and creaky cargo boats which sit atop the black water.
Stepping off the overnight train at Hué station, we weaved our way through the crowds of persistent taxi drivers to find our free hotel pick-up. The sky was colourless and leaden but at least it wasn’t raining, which is apparently a common occurrence in this ancient city. Sore-eyed and groggy from the long journey we gazed half-heartedly out of the car window at the grey river running alongside us, its surface merging with the flat, dull sky above. I sighed. From the looks of things, Hué was definitely no match for the glitz and bustle of Hanoi, the city we’d loved and left behind.

The entire morning of my birthday was spent on a coach battling through choked roads to Halong Bay.  One thing’s for sure, I never expected to be living this kind of uncertain, transient, exhilarating lifestyle when I turned 30. Like most people, I thought I’d have submitted to societal norms and gotten myself weighed down in responsibility with a mortgage and a steady job by this point. Instead, Andrew and I have only each other and the possessions we carry on our backs and our once plump savings account is now starting to look pretty lean.