Stray New Zealander Keys continues to make us all jealous as she travels on Stray’s very first Vietnam trip… The next day we had Naomi join us. She had been unable to start the tour with us in Ho Chi Minh because of a delay getting her visa but was now happily united with the Stray bus.
This is of course one of the benefits of the Stray travel concept. You can literally jump on or jump off anywhere on the route and complete other legs of the pass (or repeat them) at a later date. Naomi will do the Saigon to Qui Nonh leg on a future departure and she already knew some of the group members from previous Stray travel in South East Asia.
For that matter I haven’t talked much about this wonderfully diverse crew on our tour so here’s a bit of a run down.
Hang is our local guide and although one of the smallest members of the party, she has tremendous energy and presence. Her sense of humour, good nature, patience and animated face have commanded our respect and affection from Day One. We are the biggest group Hang has ever dealt with as she’s used to leading personalised bike tours for families or couples out of Hoi An, but she’s taken it all in her stride. I can’t imagine a better guide for our group; we’ve learnt so much from her already and it’s clear that the Vietnamese have a fantastic sense of humour and joie de vivre. Hang took part on a Stray tour in Laos with Shane to get a feel for what our company does and has taken to the role of Stray local guide like a duck to water.
As well as a local guide, Stray provides a western Tour Leader for most groups. Richard is ours. He hails from Sydney, Australia but has lived in Laos for the last 10 years and is an expert on South East Asia’s customs and quirks. He’s a really laid back guy which is, of course, typical of Australians but I think living in Luang Prabang, Laos has chilled him out even further. Nothing ruffles his feathers and he has lots of interesting info on the region to impart.
Billy and Shane are here to learn the Stray Vietnam route, seeing as this is the inaugural trip, and they are both fine examples of what a Straysia Tour Leader should be:
Billy was the first group member I met in Ho Chi Minh. He’s from West Auckland and your classic kiwi bloke. He’s got all these great stories from his travels around the world and his time as a Stray leader here in South East Asia. He already had me in stitches from the first night I met him but once Shane joined us, the dynamic duo has been in fine form keeping us entertained.
Shane is from Ireland and also works as a leader for Stray. He has a dark sense of humour, which sometimes surprises me as I’m used to the Irish being more happy-go-lucky… but one thing’s for sure most things can be resolved with a beer. He also has an encyclopaedic knowledge of pretty much everything and would be a great ally at a pub quiz.
Audrey is from France, however, she’s not stereotypically French, and we have a lot in common so she’s been a great roommate. She’s travelled extensively and worked in the Australian outback as a tour guide as well as NZ; in fact, it turned out we had met in Wellington one time. She came to Asia about 18 months ago and initially worked as a Stray tour leader but subsequently moved to Siem Reap, Cambodia to oversee Stray Operations there. She’s good fun, organized and really interesting to talk to.
Sam is quite a character and a bit of a prankster. For example, on the first day she introduced herself as Bob and I honestly thought that was her name for the first three days of the trip – it does kind of suit her. She’s a children’s nurse in England and is taking a year off to travel and enjoy life. She’s only about 4 ft 10 but what she lacks in height, she definitely makes up for in personality. Bob’s constantly causing mischief or being inappropriate which has resulted in many hilarious moments, and she’s educated us on many subjects that won’t be repeated here.
Rey is this delightful Turkish girl who grew up in Germany. She has a serenity and inner beauty that strikes you from the get-go. She has much wisdom beyond her years and I’ve had many interesting conversations with her. We have exchanged lots of info about places we’d like to travel to that one of us has already visited. Rey has been travelling through Asia with Stray and the opportunity to travel through Vietnam on the inaugural trip came at the perfect time.
Jochen is a chilled German guy who decided to join the tour after meeting Rey in a hostel in Cambodia. He’s going to be travelling around S. E. Asia for a couple of months and Vietnam is effectively his first country he’s doing in-depth. He’s always smiling and joins in with whatever fun activities are going on.
Naomi is from Nottingham, UK and is enjoying a gap year. She has travelled extensively this year and has lots of interesting experiences to share. She has done quite a lot of research about the places we are travelling to and is another great person to hang out with.