Disclaimer: In this post, I have tried to write extensively about my first-ever experience of solo travel in Vietnam. This post is completely based on my experience and it is a combination of positives and negatives because I like to be completely and unabashedly honest with you all. None of my statements are meant to disrespect any country, nationality, or belief. I am absolutely in love with Vietnam and every other country I have ever traveled to. But, when I write these posts, my sole aim is to educate and enlighten you of what you may expect when traveling to a new country for the first time.
I first started travelling solo in 2013; it has been an epic journey so far. I have been to and lived in a handful countries, experienced a lot of once-in-a-lifetime episodes, tasted some mouth-watering delicacies (and some I will never go near again) and met a lot of amazing people. While I always vouch for solo travel and I have had the opportunity to do it myself all these years, solo travel in Vietnam was extremely different at many levels. Of course, it had all the ingredients of a typical SE Asian country – the chaos, the food, the markets, the people, and obviously, the inexpensive food and beer. But, amidst all this, there was this inexplicable vibe that I have never felt before.
I arrived in Da Nang in August 2019 on a volunteer visa. Though my initial visa was only for three months, I knew that I would at least give half a year to the country. After spending the first couple of days exploring the charming little UNESCO town of Hoi An and wandering amidst the tiny, vibrant alleyways of this stunning place, I took a train ride to the capital city. The school I was to volunteer with was around 100 kilometers from Hanoi.
Solo travel in Vietnam in Trains
My first local transportation in Vietnam was the train. And, I wish I was over the moon about it, but I have quite a few mixed feelings. I have been on several trains – I am from India, you see. Trains are one of the most convenient and popular mode of transportations back home, and I have seen the usual sleeper class version of it as well as the posh First AC with private butlers and all that jazz. During my first ever solo travel in Vietnam trains, I noticed that the train services in Vietnam are what you call – same same but different.
I feel it is my obligation as a traveler to mention that I was taking the Reunification line for my train travel between Da Nang and Hanoi.
The trains here have compartments within each coach and each compartment or unit has 4 to 6 beds, depending upon which class you choose. They seem really luxurious with linens, reading lights, temperature control, and dustbins for garbage disposal. What’s more, every coach also has a massive water dispenser at one end and a spacious corner with washbasins and mirrors (for brushing your teeth, washing your face, etc.). Oh! And, they spray the units regularly with repellents and fresheners to keep away bugs and bad odor.
Also, the views from the train is just brilliant – lush green rice fields, swaying palms, water buffalos doing their thing, and the many unassuming yet picturesque towns and villages of Vietnam. The way you can connect to the life in this country during train travel, both urban and rural, is not something you can experience at 35,000 feet.
A train journey from Da Nang to Hanoi took almost 16 hours, which is extremely normal as per Indian standards but as per western standards – maybe not so much. Which is why, you may easily feel inclined to book a low-cost airline like VietJet which would cost you almost the same and get you to your destination within a couple of hours. BUT! The flight won’t allow you to appreciate the unspoiled nature that Vietnam is so famous for. Also, when you take the overnight train, you also save on a night’s hotel accommodation. Plus, where else would you get to make some new Vietnamese friends?
While on the train, I realized that despite the repellents, there were quite a few bugs in the cabin. Honestly, it didn’t make much difference to me, but a couple of fellow travelers were really annoyed at it. So, I thought I should mention that this could happen to you as well and that you should be prepared.
The thing that did irked me however was to notice that the linens we slept on weren’t actually fresh. I noticed that the staff used the same linen to make the bed as soon as someone vacated their seat. I understand that they may be using one set of linen per seat each day. But, even then, I don’t think it is acceptable at all according to hygiene standards.
For me, it was already too late but if you are particular about factors like this, it is best that you carry your own linen or at least a sleeping bag.
The “Tourist Trail” of Vietnam
Solo travel in Vietnam may seem overwhelming at first, especially if you compare it with popular Asian countries on the tourist circuit like Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and India. Also, most of Vietnam is still unexplored and the tourism scenario in Vietnam is still at a toddler stage as compared to others. But, this is exactly what makes Nam so enchanting – it is unfamiliar, raw, and yet to unfold itself completely.
Vietnam has a very defined tourist trail which makes traveling solo in the country a piece of cake. Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City, and the Mekong Delta are the top places in the circuit while Hue, the Sapa highlands, and the beach towns of Nha Trang and Mui Ne are also equally worth making a stop.
If you enjoy going off the beaten bath, Phu Quoc islands, Ha Giang, or Bai Tu Long (a lesser-known alternative to Ha Long Bay) have a lot of surprising elements.
No matter where you go in Vietnam, the country is filled with things to do and experience. Whether you want to get a custom-made suit tailored in Hue, kayak the breathtakingly beautiful waters of Ha Long bay, dress up in the local costume and wander around the Highlands, go back in time and explore the history of Vietnam, or simple soak up some sun while enjoying a cold Bia Hoi at a beach, the country has it all!
An enticing activity to indulge in is to take a bike tour to the more rural parts of the country. A lot of travelers also like arriving in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh and bike from one end of the country to the other, while making several stops at important towns and cities and exploring the true countryside of Vietnam. And, the best part about voyaging this trail is that you get to meet a number of like-minded travelers from all around the world.
The People of Vietnam
I will be blatantly honest when I say this – at first, I thought of the Vietnamese as very aggressive people and sort of unwelcoming. Obviously, I was comparing them to the soft spoken, ever-smiling Thais. But, after having spent a few weeks, I realized that I couldn’t be farther from the truth.
It is true that the Vietnamese people are loud but so are us Indians. I reckoned that it is common for the locals of Vietnam to have a louder pitch of voice but that’s not because they are unwelcoming or harsh; it is just the way they talk, even to one another. Irrespective of how loud they may first seem, you have to believe when I say that Vietnamese people are some of the friendliest, kindest, and exceptionally helpful people I have ever met during my travels.
Whether it is inviting you to random birthdays and weddings, making space for you at their table and enjoy free drinks as everybody cheered the national team during a football game, offering a ride at the back of their scooter to take you to the clandestine thrift stores, or opening the doors of their home to invite you for an amazing dinner with their families, the Vietnamese do it all and then some.
The Affordable AF Lifestyle
Being an Indian, there aren’t enough countries I could point on the world map where my currency would hold much value. However, Vietnam is one country where I truly lived and spent like a queen! Its affordability is what makes the country one of the best budget destinations in the world. And, rightly so.
You can enjoy a hearty bowl of Pho for VND 30,000 (around USD 1.30|INR 96), a can of Bia Hoi beer for VND 10,000 (around USD 0.43|INR 32), travel from one place to another by bus, train, and air for as low as VND 7,00,000 (around USD 30|INR 2300), enjoy a spa with hot tub, jacuzzi, steam, and massage for VND 2,00,000 (around USD 8|INR 650), and stay at a wonderful hostel in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter for as low as VND 80,000 (around USD 3.45|INR 250).
If you are willing to spend slightly more on hostel accommodation, you may check out Little Charm Hanoi Hostel. I stayed here during one of my weekend getaways to Hanoi. They have 6 as well as 8 bed dorms and also women-only dorms, if that’s what you would prefer. I personally loved their interiors, and the beds were so comfortable. Also, they have an indoor swimming pool and an Italian-style restaurant. Plus, they are smack in the middle of the popular Old Quarter which makes traversing through the rest of the city’s famous joints extremely easy.
The Safety in Vietnam
Whether you are thinking of solo travel in Vietnam or anywhere else in the world, your safety is and must be your utmost priority. Luckily, I have never been in a situation that threatened my safety or my life, but even so, I take extreme precautions when I am traveling – for myself and my belongings. That being said, Vietnam is undeniably a safe country for everyone, whether you travel solo or in a group.
I won’t deny that you could encounter petty crimes like pickpocketing and currency scams, much like any other country in the world. But, it would never be anything as serious as endangering your life. Also, despite the maddening traffic, you would notice that it’s all organized chaos with people walking by, scooters and bikers making their way around the pedestrians, and cars pausing to let you cross the roads.
Like any other place in the world, keep your helmet on if you are riding a motorbike or a scooter and don’t speed up. Keep your valuables in a locker or a locked bag instead of carrying them around with you. Do not indulge in drugs. Drink only as much as you can take. And, above all, be respectful and warm towards everybody.
Vietnamese, in general, are a very friendly group of people. They love their beers, and they love meeting travelers from around the globe. They would even offer to buy you a drink or a cup of coffee to get a chance of practicing English with you. In my 6 months, I never felt threatened, scared, or even remotely uncomfortable. All you have to do is follow the rules, respect the country and its culture, and have a good time.
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