Look, I might be “The Unprepared Traveller”, but I bloody love coming up with ideas about places before I go. I chat with people who have been there already, gather tips and come up with a bunch of stuff I decided I want to avoid. Based on the conversations I had with people who have already visited Vietnam, and some of the photos and other blogs I had glanced at, I both consciously and subconsciously came up with a list of things that I absolutely wouldn’t do while in Vietnam. Ha. Good on me.
Buy a SIM card
I lasted about 43 hours with this one (so close to two full days!) before the words of a girl I had met fully set in. Scottish Lucy called me out on being an idiot and not having access to maps whenever I needed them. She had a point. The premise for this one was that I didn’t want to be too distracted by my phone while I’m here. I don’t want to spend my time on Instagram and Facebook showing everyone else what I’m experiencing rather than just experiencing it.
So you know what I did? Exercised a little bit of self control. I got myself the damn SIM. And boy did my travelling life get a lot easier. I could contact new friends I had made. I could work out where I was. I could find more cool places. I could do my damn uni exam without worrying about wifi dropping out. Life was so much easier.
Wear crop tops and weird pants
I’m not really one to get my stomach out. I am comfortable when that white as hell bit of skin is covered, secure, and being nurtured by a caring shirt. But it can get really hot in Vietnam. And they have really cool pants. And when you put the two together, you end up with me in a crop top and some high-waisted, flowing pants. Everyone else was doing it, and they looked great. Not sorry. Still showing my belly in Australia.
Meet people and stick with them for the whole trip
Solo travel is not for the faint-hearted. I’ve known this for a while, which is one of the reasons it has taken me so long to do it. But more on that in another post.
I promised myself that I would experience the most that I could while travelling. In the moment of that promise I meant as many places in Vietnam as I could. But, this being my first time travelling solo, I didn’t realise that one of the best things you can do is form friendships and pursue those connections. I went to meet two British boys – Aston and TJ – in Da Lat soon after spending time with them in Saigon. I was only meant to spend one or two nights with them, but ended up spending more than a week in their company. As we finally parted ways, I reflected on the time I had spent with them: at times it was intense and frustrating, but overall I have absolutely no regrets having spent so much time with my boys. When things went horribly wrong, they were there with unconditional support and love. We went places that I never would have seen on my own, and they pushed me out of my comfort zone several times over.
The concept of “collecting countries” isn’t something into which I buy. I’ve never wanted to go to a country simply to spend time in the places or just to say that I’ve been there. I go to have experiences. And the best experiences I’ve had have been the result of tagging along with two boys I never thought I would follow around the South of Vietnam. I want experiences, not just places. And being with them gave me that.
Get on the back of a scooter
Riding on the back of scooters is actually one of my highlights. The whole idea of it scared the shit out of me but as soon as I did it I realised that it was by far one of the least dangerous ways to get around in cities and for trips in the country. My first experience was with Mr Tong, and he took me on footpaths, the wrong side of the road, into the path of oncoming buses, and weaving in and out of traffic. My second experience was with the boys where we road through the Vietnamese countryside outside of Da Lat. The views were spectacular, the destination was wondrous, and the company was alright too.
Get super drunk and do shots
I don’t drink to excess very often (think one or two times a year). I have terrible hangovers that last for days. The feelings of shame and just downright physical pain are horrible and never worth it. I don’t do shots and have never enjoyed them. But dang it. Haaaaaave you met Vietnam? Best thing that’s happened? No feelings of shame. At all.
A few weeks before travelling, I decided to take the plunge and stop eating meat. My pets became my rocks after the breakup, and after spending so much more time with Mikey and having a few conversations around vegetarianism, I decided that farm animals aren’t any different to my companion animals, so why would I think it is okay for them to suffer? I haven’t been eating pigs all year because of a story Ross told me about a pig at a vegan farm sanctuary so it was natural to extend it to all animals. There have been two occasions on this trip where I’ve eaten meat, and it was as minimal as possible. One was because there wasn’t any other option, and the other was purely to try a specialty dish. Both times I had the tiniest amount. I’m pretty proud of myself. There are so many vegetarian options here as well, and a good cheese banh mi doesn’t ever go astray.
Have clothes made in Hoi An
I lost count of how many times people told me that Hoi An was the best place to get clothes made and I should definitely do it while I’m there. I had no plans at all to get any clothes made. I have been trying desperately to get rid of all the clothes I have at home, so why on earth would I add to that collection?
But then a lady sidled up to me in the market and complimented the dress I was wearing. Oops. She took me to her tailor shop and I chose three styles I liked. Double oops. I got measured up, paid (a pretty damn decent price), and was ordered to go back for a fitting the next day. Triple oops. An oops for each perfectly-fitting outfit. Don’t even talk to me about the shoes.
Stay in hotels
Let’s just say the game changed when I got the runs and it was hard to go back.
Use the butt-hose
Feel safe crossing busy roads
It’s actually not as hard as it seems. Just don’t walk directly in front (within 3m) of an approaching scooter or car (leave about 5m for a car). Keep an eye on your surroundings and just get to the other side. Don’t be afraid to stop if you know you need to. And take as much time as you need. But the easiest thing to do is just throw yourself in there.
So much has happened in two weeks. I didn’t know how much of myself was missing; the hidden depths and reserves of strength I have. Someone asked me if I was going on a “get over you” holiday, but that really hasn’t been my intention at all. I don’t think it’s my style – especially when I had such an in-depth relationship. But I have found inner reserves of confidence, strength, and laughter that I hadn’t seen before. I sat in a park in the middle of Saigon in my second last day in Vietnam, and a middle-aged Thai woman asked if she could share my bench. We had a long conversation about life, love, strength, and the future. She told me that she knew I would be okay; that I was “blooming”. I think she’s right.
Thank you, Vietnam.