I remember vividly how my first visit to Vietnam in 2013 was like. I first visited Ho Chi Minh City. For the first time I was afraid to cross the road. Never in my life had I ever seen so many motorbikes moving around me!
I returned to Vietnam for the second time 3 years later. I took a bus from Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City and stayed there for a while. My American friend who was living in the city hosted me for a week. I also stayed with Amy, a Vietnamese girl I met on Couchsurfing. She was supposed to stay with me in Malaysia during her business trip to the country, but we couldn’t meet due to unforeseen circumstances. She ended up hosting me first instead!
My second trip to Vietnam was better than the first. I’m a lot calmer than I was before, and I think I’m a better traveller now. I thought I was going to stay in Vietnam for a short while, but I ended up travelling from the south – and all the way to the north of Vietnam. My one-month trip across the country made me realised 3 things about myself.
1. I don’t mind travelling alone
In 2013, I wanted something different in my life. I wanted to do something that would push me out of my comfort zone, so I did my first solo trip that year. It wasn’t so bad.
Some things happened: I got scammed endlessly, I was too scared to cross the road, I spent most of my time eating alone, I was too shy to meet and hangout with other backpackers, I stayed too far from the city centre, I took a taxi back and forth (which was an expensive choice), and I had chips and beers instead of local food. That being said, it was clear to me that I didn’t really get out of my comfort zone.
I had no idea what I was doing to say the least. I wasn’t sure where to go, what to see, or if I was going to move to a different area other than Ho Chi Minh City.
Okay, I did meet a Singaporean guy named Chris through TravBuddy. He was very nice and hospitable. I also met a Vietnamese guy who voluntarily wanted to show me the city. That was nice of him.
When Chris and I went to Chill Skybar, we partied with a Vietnamese girl and her friends from Cambodia and Korea.
At least I did meet new people. Maybe I wasn’t that shy after all, or maybe I was just in the mood to hangout with other people that night.
I went back to Malaysia a week later. I thought my first solo trip was good, but I realised that I didn’t find what I was looking for. I wanted adventures. I wanted to feel like I was really out of my comfort zone. I felt like I did not achieve that from my first solo trip. I also felt disappointed with myself for spending my money recklessly.
In January 2016, I returned to Vietnam with a different attitude. I did not spend money recklessly, I did my research properly, I went out and hangout with the locals, I explored places without relying too much on travel guides, and I tried not to let anything (including my fear) stop me from experiencing new things. I was also more open-minded.
Some things remained unchanged, though. I was always on my own and I still preferred to stay outside of the city centre. At least I was happy.
Some people think travelling alone is pointless, but it’s not. When we travel alone, we tend to meet new people, and we also tend to make cool plans at the very last minute.
I hung out with a Canadian traveller named Michael in Ho Chi Minh City. We were also joined by Vyna, a Vietnamese girl I met in Kuala Lumpur. I also met Michael’s Couchsurfing host, Doan. He’s such a sweetheart.
When I told Michael I was going to spend the night in Mcdonald’s, he asked Doan if he could host me, too. Doan agreed to let me stay for a couple of hours before I took my flight back to Malaysia.
I had some good memories in Ho Chi Minh City with Vyna, Michael, Doan and his friends. That night, we had Bánh Tráng Nướng together outside the Notre Dame cathedral. It was so delicious! Then we drank at a local bar until midnight. After that, we had our late dinner at a local noodle stall not very far from Doan’s place.
It was a memorable night for everyone indeed. We got home at about 2 a.m. Despite being tired from the late night activities, Michael and I continued talking to each other before we both fell asleep. Then at about 5 a.m., he woke me up and invited me to the balcony to watch the stars. It was the day we witnessed the alignment of 5 planets, an event that occurred for the first time after 11 years. Que bonita! That’s what I call romantic.
2. I love having a travel buddy
As much as I enjoy solo travelling, I also think it’s nice to travel with someone else. Why not? To be honest, I’m very particular about who I travel with, especially when we’re both going on a long-term travel journey together.
So far I’ve had very good experience with Alex, my french travel buddy whom I met in Hanoi. He has been wonderful! Alex is adventurous, intelligent, responsible, understanding and optimistic. We gelled well together. At the end of our trip, he told me that he’d love to travel with me again. I’d love that, too.
Travelling with Alex was pleasantly challenging. Although we had many tough days on the road together, we were still very happy. In fact, we made a good team. Travelling with someone is almost like being in a relationship with that person. You need to be able to work as a team, respect and understand each other, and have fun together.
It’s perfectly okay to be picky about with whom you’re going to travel. The right person will make your trip worthwhile. If you ask me, I don’t wish to travel with someone who is very jealous, loves to complain and very possessive. You know, the kind of person who is overly dependent on you.
While it’s not always easy to identify the right person with whom you should travel (before you both actually start travelling together), you can learn about each other first before deciding whether or not you both should (or can) travel together. Try find your common ground.
From figuring out each other’s personal interests to learning about each other’s eating habits (Trust me, it matters a lot to some people), there are many ways to learn about your potential travel partner. I think it’s important to see how someone treats other people, even animals, and how he/she behaves during difficult times. Since Alex and I share many things in common, we are quite compatible.
Of course, nothing in life is always perfect. Sometimes we should expect the unexpected. Alex and I may be both curious and adventurous, but his sense of adventure is definitely a level higher than mine. When Alex and I were travelling together in Vietnam, we wanted to go separate ways simply because we realised that we weren’t always in everything together.
In spite of the decision we made, we ended up changing our minds and continued to stick together until the end of our trip. We realised that we still wanted to travel together! When travelling with another person, it’s always important to acknowledge each other’s concerns, feelings and ideas. Remember, you are a team.
3. I don’t miss Pho, but I miss Che
If you’ve been to Vietnam, I’m sure you’ve tried ‘Pho’. Pho is a delicious Vietnamese noodle soup that consists of broth, rice noodles, herbs and meat. It’s typically served on the streets of Vietnam. I had tried some very good ones. I am not a big fan, though.
I may not be in love with Pho, but I’m a big fan of ‘Che’. Che is a local dessert that’s either made of mung or kidney beans, jelly, fruits, coconut cream and so on. No matter where I was in Vietnam, I was always on the hunt for Che.
When I was staying with my American friend in Ho Chi Minh City, he took me to his favourite Che stall. He’s also a big fan of the sweet dessert, and he eats it on a regular basis. Not only is Che good for your health, it’s also a cheap and delicious treat! If you’re going to Vietnam soon, I highly recommend you to give it a try while you’re there.
Here’s a video of the good moments I had in Vietnam.