Hi beautiful souls♡
In July 2019, just after my 21st birthday and 4 months into my solo travel journey, I got to make my way over to a new country I had dreamed of travelling in for some time- Vietnam.
Earlier in the year, I suddenly felt inspired to explore this south-east asian culture, and something was calling me to visit. As I was doing some research online, a tour popped up and caught my eye, and while I hadn’t ever joined a group travel tour before, again, I felt the intuitive voice telling me to go for it. As it turned out, this was one of the best decisions I had made during my travel journey. *thank you intuition!*
The Vietnam Experience Tour I went on with Contiki was one of the most memorable parts of my year so far. During the 12 days we spent together exploring Vietnam from south to the north, we all got along so well and became like family. Really, all 30 of us. It was exactly what I needed after spending so much time alone. Aside from having an amazing itinerary, another reason why I chose Contiki is because this company provides tours for 19-35 year olds, so everyone was around the same age.
The best thing that happened to me on this trip was meeting my German roommate, who I ended up bonding so well with. It’s incredible how two people from opposite sides of the world decide to take the same tour at the same time, be grouped as roomies, and develop a sister-like relationship. Throughout the trip, we always looked out for and helped each other; she made me smile and laugh so much, and I am endlessly grateful. When we had to part ways at the end of the trip, I cried at least three times. The universe does amazing things.
I truly have everything good to say about Contiki. Everything was organised so well, the activities were so fun and enjoyable, and we still had an ample amount of free time to explore on our own. Despite it being rainy season in Vietnam, we were blessed with sunny and blue skies (though extremely hot) most of the time. Our trip manager James was amazing as well, he always made sure we were okay, enjoying ourselves, and made the trip run so smoothly. If I had to pick a downside, it would be that Contiki is known for being a ‘drinking tour’, and there was a lot of drinking involved. One of my boundaries is that I don’t drink alcohol, so it didn’t bother me at all, but I did feel a little bit of pressure to ‘fit in’. Despite that, the end of the tour was a sad moment, but we all made friends from around the world.
Vietnam is truly a country with so much to offer and is full of surprises. It absolutely blew me away, as I didn’t have any expectations and hadn’t done a lot of research beforehand about it. We travelled from Ho Chi Minh (also known as Saigon), to the Mekong Delta, flew up to the beachside city of Nha Trang, then the ancient town of Hoi An, drove up to the old city of Hue, experienced a night on a junk boat in Halong Bay, and ended the tour in the capital, Hanoi. There were so many incredibly beautiful places that took my breath away, and remain ingrained in my heart forever. The most memorable place had to be Hoi An, the ancient town I fell in love with. Saigon was quite memorable too, as never in my life had I seen so many scooters in one city before…it was pure chaos, but so interesting to witness and see how the locals get by. My favourite part about Vietnam would definitely have to be the nature; the mountains, rice paddies, lakes, beaches and islands. It was so picturesque, and I think quite underrated as I hadn’t heard much about it prior to visiting. I also learned so much about the Vietnamese history and culture, the most touching and eye opening being when we visited the War Memorial in Ho Chi Minh. Only then did I realise how much the Vietnamese War impacted this nation.
After the Contiki tour ended, I stayed in Hanoi for ten more days with the initial plan to explore more of this city, however things didn’t all go to plan. Of course, because God always has a greater plan, and that was my mantra for the entire time. The day after the tour finished, my phone was stolen at Hoan Kim Lake while I was taking a photo, but not only did this experience teach me a lot, I also can’t help but feel that it came at the perfect time. Thankfully my friend was with me at the time, and she so kindly helped me to file a police report even though she had already bought tickets to watch a puppet show, and her kindness is something that touched me deeply. The first lesson was to always put your phone inside your bag, in front of you, not in the side pocket that can easily be accessed. Pick pocketing is quite common in Vietnam, however if you are being aware, you will be fine. I also learned to always back up my phone (which mine was), and to make some fun out of the situation. It actually excited me to spend a week without a phone, as I was meaning to go on a phone detox, and it also allowed me to interact with people more such as asking for directions, or even just making real conversations rather than looking down on a screen. So, I saw this as a blessing in disguise, plus it gave me a reason to get a new phone (with the cover of travel insurance) (:
A few days later, I woke up one morning with a fever and feeling extremely nauseous, which hadn’t happened at all the entire time I was travelling. I felt so sick that even though I hadn’t been to a hospital in over 16 years, it was the only place to go. Struggling to even walk upright, the hotel staff helped me to arrange a Grab taxi, and I was taken to the Hanoi French Hospital where after some waiting and filling out forms, I got to see a GP, take some blood tests, and stayed in the Emergency Room for the afternoon. Initially the doctor thought I could have contracted dengue fever, but thankfully after the painful blood tests (which took a few tries on both arms), I was clear of that, but couldn’t be diagnosed. It seemed like a flu or viral infection, but the doctor had no answer and I was kept under watch in the hospital room. By the late evening, I was able to walk again and felt somewhat better, so I decided to go back to the hotel and continue resting. From this experience, I hope it can remind you to always have travel insurance, to use hand sanitiser and wash your hands regularly, and be immunised before travelling to South East Asia.
Honestly, I felt really scared to go through this alone in a foreign country, but with prayer and lots of rest, I made it through. A few days later, I even went on a day trip and continued to explore Hanoi. In spite of these challenges, overall I still enjoyed my time in Vietnam, and would love to keep exploring even more places, especially up north such as Sapa. It was amazing to finally experience the Vietnamese culture, as growing up I had many Vietnamese friends in school, so it always interested me.
In this post, I’ve put together the brief summary of where I stayed, what I did and where I ate, which can hopefully be a great guide for you if you also choose to visit Vietnam- a destination I highly recommend travelling to.
Sending my love,
When: 21st July – 11th August 2019
Throughout Vietnam, you can use Grab (south east asian version of Uber) to get around; it is really affordable and convenient. Other ways of getting around from city to city is via a train or plane.
Upon arriving, I exchanged some money at the airport, and throughout my trip I used cash to pay. There are many ATMs in the main cities and towns to withdraw money (just know it will have a transaction fee for international cards), and I still recommend carrying cash around as most places still use cash.
I highly recommend that no matter where you travel to, to purchase a SIM card when you arrive at the airport so you can travel with more ease, safety and convenience. I purchased a 30-day SIM card upon arriving at Ho Chi Minh airport for around $14 AUD and unlimited data 😀
When I visited in July, it was the rainy and hottest season of the year. While we didn’t experience much rain during the 12-day tour, when I stayed in Hanoi for 10 days, it rained almost every day, with a few thunderstorms too. The temperature was extremely hot every single day (around 32-35 degrees Celsius), and the humidity made it feel even warmer.
In general when travelling in Asia, a common custom is wearing clothes that cover most of the body, unless you are at the beach or in a very touristy area. Vietnam isn’t as conservative, however if you are visiting temples, you will need to cover your shoulders and knees. It’s best to wear light clothing as well due to the hear, so sarongs, cotton tops, long skirts, shorts and thin pants work well.
Out of all of the places in Asia I had travelled to so far, I wouldn’t say Vietnam is the most ‘plant-based friendly’, however you can certainly still find great vegetarian food. Due to the Buddhist religion, there are many vegetarian restaurants in main cities.
While the official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese, you will be able to get around fine with English only if you’re travelling in the more well-known areas. That being said, it’s important to not assume every local can speak English, and it would be great to learn some basics before you go too for respect and convenience.
HO CHI MINH
- Louis Hostel (day before the tour started)
- Vien Dong Hotel
Where I went:
- Ben Tanh Markets
- Chu Chi Tunnels
- Saigon Central Post Office
- Notre Dame Cathedral
- Bai They Homestay
Where I went:
- Mekong Delta Boat Trip
- Vien Dong Hotel
Where I went:
- Boat Cruise
- Sailing Club Restaurant and Bar
- Nha Trang Beach
Da nang and Hoi An
- Acacia Heritage Hotel
Where I went:
- Hoi An Old Quarter
- Japanese Bridge
- Marble Mountains
- Yaly Couture
- Minh Hien Vegetarian Restaurant
- The Asia Hotel
Where I Went:
- Hai Van Pass
- Thien Mu Pagoda
- Imperial Citadel
- Cyclo Ride
- Halong Sails Overnight Cruise
Where I went:
- Sung Sot Caves
- Kayaking in lagoons
- Thien Thai Hotel
- Splendid Hotel
Where I went:
- Temple of Literature
- Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
- Hoan Kim Lake
- Hanoi Old Quarter
- Jalus Vegan Kitchen
- Hanoi Social Club
- Day Trip to Ninh Binh
- This was an amazing one-day tour from Hanoi which took us to a beautiful place called Ninh Binh. We visited temples, rode bikes in a village, went in little boats to paradise, and visited Mua Cave.