STA Travel Education spoke to Isabelle Rayner from The National Student about her experience in Vietnam. From northern mountain treks, to boat trips along the Mekong River to sand dune surfing, travelling Vietnam promises to be an unforgettable and unique experience.
I travelled to Vietnam as part of a five-month trip to South East Asia. I began in Hanoi, a bustling city in the north of the country, and finished in Ho Chi Minh City in the south. It was a whirlwind adventure and it changed me a lot as a person, despite how cliché and “gap yah” this may sound. I met people here who remain some of my closest friends even to this day, I stayed in hostels for the first time, tried some very bizarre food, had some insane nights out and fell in love with Vietnam.
So, thinking back to what advice I would give myself before going to Vietnam, here are a few top tips!
Eat your way through the country!
Vietnam has been heavily influenced by French colonialism so the food scene is very diverse. From Pho (a traditional noodle soup) to Banh Mi (French baguette stuffed with everything you can imagine) – there is so much to try!
Talk to everyone you can
I have never met anyone in a hostel unwilling to share their travel adventures and mishaps. Hostels are concentrated hubs of eager travellers, some fresh out of school, others with a whole history of travel escapades – get to know these incredible people! Also, the friends you make from across the world will probably be more than willing to host you if you happen to visit their home country on future travels – free accommodation!
Take advantage of free walking tours
This may sound trivial but the cities in Vietnam can be a little overwhelming at first. For instance, almost every street in the Old Quarter of Hanoi is bursting with colour; from the lanterns, spices and propaganda posters being sold from shops lining the streets, to the countless motorbikes rushing by. This is absolutely thrilling but sometimes a little intimidating, particularly to young, jet-lagged travellers! I stayed in Hanoi Backpackers Hostel on Ma May and their free walking tour helped me get my bearings and meet some people as well. Get into the student mind-set and take advantage of the free activities!
Do not worry about making mistakes
When I connected in Bangkok to get to Hanoi, I faced my first major travel disaster; somehow I hadn’t technically checked in when I connected. I stood at the desk, staring longingly at the plane outside which was bound for Hanoi, begging the man at the desk to let me board. I will forever be indebted to this man who let me on the plane despite regulations. As scary as this experience was, it became an anecdote to share at hostels; every travel disaster quickly becomes a good story. If this whole experience had been easy, I would not have the stories I have today.
Take some time to yourself
Within five minutes of unpacking my bag in my first hostel, I was talking to a group of girls in my room and, in the week that followed, I did not have a moment to myself – this is the hostel life. This was everything I could have hoped for but I was craving a bit of alone time. I felt very guilty about this; I was supposed to be living every moment to the fullest! I decided to take a day to myself and get a little lost around the city – I took my time, daydreaming as I wandered around, sitting for hours in a park to read. Many of my friends who have travelled will admit to whole days in hostels watching Netflix and recovering from the night before! It is okay to take some time to recharge sometimes. Go crazy, take it easy – enjoy the freedom which travelling provides before you have to face the realities of hard work again!