My trip to Vietnam was in 2007. I had just finished grad school and, as a reward, was having a vacation in South East Asia for a couple of months before moving to England for work.
My partner and I had spent the first month of the vacation together in Thailand, but I was spending the second month in Vietnam alone. And, I was moving to England alone. After living together for 6 years, we were going to be doing a long distance relationship from opposite ends of the world, and with no plan of when we were going to be together again.
Lesson learned: My feelings about a destination often have as much to do with what sort of space I’m in as the destination.
When I got to Vietnam
When I got to Vietnam, I was Skyping home from the guest house lobby for around an hour a day. It was an extremely small guest house with only around 5 rooms and this wasn’t inconveniencing anybody (Hotels in Vietnam are great value and quality, check out Vietnamese Expedia to get an idea of the standard). However, the young Vietnamese receptionist picked up that I was lonely and decided to make friends with me.
It was wonderful.
She learned I was a vegetarian and took me to her home village. We drove with me on the back of her motorbike for around an hour to get there (She was only 18 at the time and I was 26 – trusting my safety on a motorbike on a big highway to a Vietnamese teenager was a bit of a leap!).
She arranged for the local vegan family to make lunch for me and it was the best meal I had in Vietnam. I met her family. Her Mom was really proud of her ability to make friends with tourists (This is something my Mom would also be proud of about me). I also met her friend whose family had a brick making factory. The bricks were made right next to the river and were transported away from the village via the river. I love “behind the scenes” looks at anything, so getting some insight into Vietnamese commerce and village life was exciting.
Mi’s uncle was getting married and she invited me to the wedding. I hate weddings – getting invited to weddings at home makes me feel like poking myself with pins. Other than family weddings, this was the only time I’ve ever been happy to be invited to a wedding.
What felt so good about it?
This is just how my family would treat someone in New Zealand. My Mom has instilled the idea that the right thing to do when you have an international guest is to go out of your way to show them your local area – e.g., we hosted Rotary exchange students from Canada, even though none of our family ever went on an exchange.
Spending time with Miss Mi felt so much like home.
When Bethaney from Flashpacker Family went back to Vietnam for a second try after an ill-fated first trip, I connected her with Mi.
Other Lessons Learned and Highlights
– I had been advised that the South of Vietnam is much more hassle-free than the North. I hate touts. So, I only went to the South. I experienced virtually no hassle. The only time people tried to rip me off was when I went to the Mekong on the local bus. I needed transport from the local bus drop off to the ferry to Ben Tre and it took persistence to get a motorbike taxi at a reasonable price.
– In Ben Tre, I watched people making delicious caramelly, coconut milk sweets on a tiny river island. It was awesome.
– I love Vietnamese food. I researched where to get vegan food in Saigon before I went.
– Beware the Baguette. I was eating almost a whole one a day of those suckers (with french jam bought from the supermarket).
– I enjoyed taking motorbike taxis around central Saigon. It was very easy to do this. When I wanted one, it would take about a second and a half to find one.
– Crossing the street in Vietnam is an adventure. I’m a fraidy cat. Everytime I would need to cross a busy roundabout, I would just stand on the side of the road looking hopeless until a local helped me cross.
– I bought a lot of toothbrushes. Brand name toothbrushes were incredibly cheap at the supermarket. (Going to the supermarket is one of my favorite things to do on vacation! I found an excuse to go most days).
– The sea at the beaches. The only lowlight was Phu Quoc Island. I’m fussy when it comes to the beach. I like 85 deg water with no waves. The water there was grey and rough. I only swum in the hotel pool.
Lesson learned: Check flickr for realistic photos of the beach/sea in the month I’m traveling. And, only travel to beach destinations in their best season. Also, lesson learned that I have a very specific idea of what a good beach is (for swimming purposes) and other people don’t always have the same idea.
What happened to my relationship?
My partner and I are still together. We survived 18 months of long distance relationship, before I caved and moved back to New Zealand.