The first time I ever left Australia was when I was 18. I had been itching to head to Vietnam after studying it’s history in School. My travelling companion said “can’t we just go to New Zealand?” but I was determined to try something a bit riskier. Well…
1. Never watch Bangkok Hilton before backpacking through Asia
Thanks Mum for the terror it instilled, which led me to using five different kinds of padlocks PLUS those zip tags with the codes on them… then going through my stuff at the carousel to make sure there was nothing in my bags I needed to flush.
2. Forget your personal boundaries
I walked into Bến Thành markets in Ho Chi Minh City, backpack still on, fresh off the plane, just killing time waiting to be able to check into my hotel. At the first t-shirt stall I looked at, a lady came up to me and grabbed my boobs while crying “WHY SO BIG?!” I thought it was a one-off, but no. It happened pretty much every day. By the end, I have to say I was flattered.
3. Vietnam has weather, too
Just because the picture in the brochure shows Halong Bay as a sunny place with girls in bikinis jumping off the top of the junk boat into beautiful emerald-green water doesn’t mean that when you get there it won’t be 8 degrees with pea-soup fog. It’s called winter. It’s a thing that hapens sometimes.
4. Just close your eyes and GO!
If you wait for a break in the traffic, you’ll never get across the road. If you change pace as you walk, or try to dodge someone on a scooter, you will hit someone. Guaranteed. So just close your eyes, say your ‘hail mary’s, and walk.
5. If you’re a clean freak, don’t travel during Tet
All the rooms were dirty, because you don’t want to sweep out all the good luck when you sweep out the dirt. So cleaning takes a back seat in the lead up to the Vietnamese New Year. BYO thongs/jandals/flip-flops.
6. Look up and live
We have this saying in Australia, which basically means watch out for power lines, but never has this been more appropriate than on the streets of Hanoi. I have a nasty habit of watching my feet as I walk (probably because I trip so often!) and nearly walked in to several live power lines which were dangling at neck height. I’m 5’1 so… yeah, they were hanging pretty low.
7. Just because a red sign says KFC, doesn’t mean it’s anything like back home.
Walks like a chicken, looks like a chicken… or not. Probably goes “woof”. And on that note…
8. For the un-initiated, eating dog can make you sick.
And not just because the idea of it turns my stomach. Even when you think you’ve eaten beef (like me) you’ll still probably get sick.
9. Rice wine isn’t for everyone…
But it is for me! Party up, Vietnam style… Just don’t eat the scorpion at the bottom.
10. There’s no place like home
After two weeks, I was ready to come home. I was exhausted and overwhelmed. Back in my own bed, I slept better than I ever had before. But after a few days, I regretted feeling that way and was dying to go back. I put my rose-coloured-glasses on, declared it the best place ever, and booked for the next journey.
Streets of Saigon, Vietnam 2008