I killed two birds with a stone because I continue ‘my tradition’ which I uphold for the past 3 years of celebrating New Year abroad and to travel solo at least once a year, I made it right at the tail end of the year!
To stir up my interest in the country, I watched Youtube videos on Vietnam war to get some background history of the country but somehow I was more interesting in its neighbouring countries. If that is the case, why have I decided to travel to Vietnam instead?
My idea was to strike the country off my travel list. Looking at the map, it seems more do-able to travel up from Singapore to Malaysia, then get into Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Vietnam seems a little out of the way so I decided to ‘get-rid’ of the country first. Furthermore, I received mixed reviews about Vietnam, some love it while some loathe it. It was time to find out which side am I on. Although I reminded myself to go with an open mind, I was half prepared not to enjoy the trip and I should not feel sorry for myself. Now that I came home, I am please that I gave Vietnam a chance to surprise me, making me fall in love with its charm. I guess sometimes when you least expect something, life rewards you with so much more.
My initial plan was to travel for 13 days by taking a plane to Saigon, make my way up north visiting ancient town of Hoi An, Halong Bay and capital in Hanoi before flying back home. To my dismay, my itinerary fell through as my leaves were not approved.
Instead of sulking and feeling injustice about the decision, a new plan was devised quickly to explore Saigon and spend some time in Mekong Delta which is also known as the ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam as it is responsible for more than one third of the country’s annual food supplies. With that, I had to forgo two air tickets and bear an accommodation cancellation fee. I guess these are part and parcel of a traveller’s life and nothing will deter me from discovering the world.
If any consolation, at least I was able to change my itinerary without being apologetic or feel guilty for ruining someone else’s travel plans.
Travel Period: 30th December 2014 – 5th January 2015
Total leaves taken: 3 days
Cities/ Provinces/ Islands: Saigon, An Binh Island (Vinh Long) and Can Tho
Distrance Travelled: approximately 2446km
Singapore >> Saigon >> An Binh Island >> Can Tho >> Saigon >> Singapore
Total number of photos/ videos taken: 1,522
Expenses in SGD and Dong
Transportation: $259.75 (Air: $231; Land transport: $28.75) ~ 4,156,000 Dong
Accommodation: $82.13 ~ 1,301,520 Dong
Food: $52.76 ~ 844,200 Dong
Sightseeing/ Admission fee: $52.81 ~ 845,000 Dong
Communication: $7.50 ~ 120,000 Dong
Entertainment: $63.98 ~ 1,000,000 Dong
Travel Insurance: $35.25 ~564,000 Dong
Personal: $58 ~ 928,000 Dong
Shopping: $18.75 ~ 300,000 Dong
Miscellaneous: $3.25 ~ 52,000
Sunk Cost: $124.42 (2 Air tickets and 1 accommodation cancellation) ~ 1,989,200 Dong
Total Expenditure: $758.60 ~ 11,171,920 Dong
Most eye-opening moment
The last time I visited a wet market in Singapore was when I accompanied my mum to the market when I was really young. The ones we have in Singapore are cleaner and less character as compared the one I visited in Vietnam. I watched live ducks being tied together ready to be sold, pre-preparation of how ducks were being killed, de-feathered and live frogs having their guts dug out and skinned in a flash. I was not sure if the stronger ones were doing their final leaps as if they were fighting for their last hope of survival or it was just a natural muscle reflex.
Being a city girl, it was refreshing waking up to the sound of nature with crickets chirping, lizards calling, roosters crowing and faint barking from some dogs. It was one of the best feeling ever.
Possibly the worst moment
I had difficult locating my hostel on the evening I touched down. Took a local bus from the airport and was dropped off at Ben Thanh bus station and it was suppose to be an easy 15 minutes walk to my hostel (according to Google map). However for some strange reason (actually it is not exactly a strange reason coming from a directionally challenged person like me), despite following the map, I successfully got lost somewhere along the street. The weight from my bags after the long distance of walking as well as the hunger were not helping. I think I got lost for a good half hour.
At least I was somewhat on the right street. Walked into two convenient stores to ask for directions but they gave me wrong directions. Thankfully I realise that if I keep my eyes on road signs at intersections and just look at the unit numbers along the way, it was not that difficult to find after all.
I actually walked past my hostel without realising it and walked further down the street, turning into some streets. There was a great sense of relieve when I finally checked into my hostel because I could finally get the heavy loads off my shoulder and have my dinner!
Third solo trip abroad and this time, I up my challenge and travel to a developing country where there is a certain level of language barrier as English is not widely use. Once again, it proves that a directionally-challenged person is able to travel solo and make it back home in a piece!
Being an Asian, I can pass off as someone who belong to many nationalities if I keep my mouth shut. I have been mistaken for being a Malaysian, Indonesian, Taiwanese, Thai and now, I can add Vietnamese into the list because even the locals mistook me as one of them.
I travelled Vietnam as locally as possible, taking public transports, avoiding the easy way of booking tours for convenience sake, observing the daily lives of Vietnamese and of course the people I meet, locals and travellers on the road enhanced my experience.
Locals were friendly and helpful even though some of us do not speak a common language. There bound to be someone who speaks English helping me out somewhere along the way, something I am really grateful for. Although I read many scams where they tend to charge foreigners a higher price than locals but through my experience, it was not the case. The prices I paid were fair.
I noticed one of the favourite past-time of Vietnamese is people-watching. There are plenty of small tables and chairs setup in front of eateries where customers get to sit facing the pavement watching all the happenings on the street as the world goes by. I am please to announce that my stomach agree to the local street food that I have adventurously eaten too!
During this trip, I added in a little spontaneity by not booking everything in advance so that it gave me a leeway to make last minute minor change of plan which I did. I am glad I made the decision to spend more time in Mekong Delta despite some people telling me there was nothing fantastic, rivers are murky and full of mosquitos. I do not expect Mekong Delta to be a picturesque place, I know what I was in for because all I wanted to do is to learn more about the region.
Seeing is believing, I finally get to experience the chaotic traffic in the heart of Saigon. It was terrifying at first but soon I view it as a little charm. That is the beauty of the city, everyone weave in and out in a systematic chaos. The honks were not unfriendly or not out of frustrations but it serve as its true purpose of a friendly warning that I am right behind you. Speaking of horrendous traffic, the air is so polluted that I had to clean my nose every night and trust me, the dried nasal mucus a.k.a nose shit were black! Isn’t it amazing how the nose does wonder by filtering all the dirt from entering the body?
I was struck by this charming place that I am willing to return. After all, I only explored a portion of this country and I would love to discover more. Having said that, I will be returning to Saigon in mid-May for a company team-building trip. I am so afraid it will ruin my wonderful first experience because YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I DISLIKE PACKAGED TOUR plus I have been to most attraction sites and I will not be able to wander off on my own.
On a brighter side, I am missing delicious pho and bahn mi now so I cannot wait to return for more!
P/S: I must remember to bring my mask when I return in May, to combat the air pollution and er… to hopefully to pass off as a local once again! 😛