When I first arrived in Vietnam, it was smack dab in the middle of Ho Chi Minh. I had just left my love bubble in Siem Reap and was riding high on Cambodia’s energy. Stepping off the bus into HCM felt like a slap in the face. I tried to keep an open mind as I wandered the streets and then, I spotted a Starbucks. I knew then HCM was not for me.
The only hostel I could find that wasn’t $8 a night was right over a block of karaoke bars and I listened to people signing off key pop songs until 4am the two nights I stayed. Ear plugs did nothing to drown out the sound. At the same hostel, I woke up at 4am to go to the bathroom and turned over to see the guy in the bunk next to mine masterbating. He proceeded to do so until about 8am. It was akward. Another fellow in the dorm, brought in a mintature owl he was keeping as a pet. The owl was terrified and without a cage so he couldn’t relax. As I lounged in my bunk at night, the owl just stared at me with his huge yellow eyes. I felt equally bad for his circumstances and creeped out by his constant staring.
I did manage to walk to a new district that I liked better on my only full day in HCM. At dinner the night before, I had began talking to another Aussie who was making his way back to Australia. He told me about two climbing gyms and urged me to try one of them out. He also kindly paid for my dinner which was just about the kindest thing a complete stranger has done for me. The next morning I headed out to find one of the gyms on foot and I arrived, almost three hours later! I got lost a bunch, went the wrong way multiple times, found a cute vegan spot I had to stop for a minute and at the end realized I would need a motorbike to get across the freeway. It was well worth it. Wandering around is and seeing the city on foot is one of my favorite things to do in a new place. One short motorbike ride later, I was at my destination. The climbing gym was small but the staff was mighty. They were incredibly helpful and belayed for me for over an hour. And they even let me practice yoga upstairs! After climbing, I wandered around district three (calling areas Districts made me feel like I was in the Hunger Games and admiteedly left me feeling uneasy much of the time) and it was MUCH more relaxed than district one. It felt like the Brooklyn of HCM. On my way back, I was going to take my chances and walk back but, it started to pour. I called an Uber motorbike which, cracked me up to use Uber for anything other than a car. And to use Uber in another country. My driver tore through the streets, slicked with rain, driving on sidewalk as when traffic got to congested and it was terrifying! I did make it in one piece back to my hostel and I was grateful. At which point, I immediately booked a open bus ticket out of there.
The open bus ticket meant I could stop at four pre determined stops and stay as long as I wanted (up to three months) in each stop and then hop on another bus to the next stop. My first stop was De Lat and a far departure from the big city.
De Lat is the highlands and known for it’s flowers and waterfalls. I didn’t make it to any waterfalls as the tours were pricey and I was more interested in simply relaxing. De Lat has cooler weather and it felt like a huge treat to wear layers every day. I spent most of my time wandering around the river, turning down random streets to see what I could discover and meeting my rice banana man at 4pm every day to get my fix of rice bananas. What are rice bananas you ask? Rice wrapped around a banana and grilled so the banana turns all caramel-y and the rice is sort of crunchy. THEY ARE DELICIOUS. It’s been my favorite treat in Cambodia and Vietnam thus far. Also, they are like fifty cents for four. One day, as I wandered around, I heard soft guitar playing. I peeked into the closed sunglass shop and saw an older Vientnemese man strumming a beautiful tune. I stopped to listen and his daughter who had the coffee shop next door brought me a chair and tea. I sat and listened to him play a classical guitar piece and was moved by the beauty of such a simple moment. We did our best to have a conversation without speaking the others language and I learned he owned the sunglass shop and his daughters coffee shop but, she ran the coffee shop on her own. He was very proud. He had been playing guitar for a long time but, didn’t practice enough. He asked if I played and I played him the one scale I knew, which made him laugh. I excused myself not long after but, left feeling the sweet feeling of sharing a moment with a stranger.
One of the most exciting moments of my De Lat stay was learning to ride a motorbike. It ended up being a hugely healing experience that I hadn’t anticipated— which sums up my travel experience thus far. I shared more on my IG (@xoamandablair), if you want to read more about that. I started out SO terrified to ride but determined to learn because my experience with my Aussie showed me motorbike is the way to see Asia. I left my lesson more confident in my ability to ride but, still needing more practice feeling comfortable on the bike. I did manage to have a huge breakthrough about the fear of learning to ride and that would serve me later in my motorbike learning experiences.
I spent 4 days chilling hard in De Lat and then decided to move on to Nha Trang. Nha Trang was another spot I was just not into. It’s a beach down but, has a seedy, icky kind of energy to it. I stayed one night and then got the heck out of dodge. Traveling is making me realize if something isn’t 100% than, move on. Time is too precious to waste on anything less. From Nha Trang, I headed to Hoi An.
Hoi An is the first time I started to feel like I might like Vietnam. I did have a good time in De Lat but, Cambodia still had my heart. Hoi An is really cute, chill and full of pretty lanterns. It’s known for it’s exert tailors who can make anything you desire fitted to your exact measurements. I’ve been here for about 4 days and while it’s a touch too touristy, I still really like it. My first day here I rented a bicycle to help me explore and get lost. As I rode, I found a pretty spot on the river to sit and look at the water. I stayed for awhile, day dreaming and making up silly songs to make myself laugh. On my way back, I was passing the rice fields when I heard a very loud mewing. It sounded like a kitten. I stopped and low and behold, I found not one but TWO tiny kittens. They were stripped and had just opened their eyes. They could walk but, were wobbly on their legs. They were mewing loudly and I waited with them for almost two hours to see if their Mama would show up. I waited not the other side of the street as not to scare her away but, I saw no signs. It was beginning to get dark and one of them kept trying to climb out into the street. I was debating on if I trust their Mama was going to come back or if I rescued them. I kept wanting someone to tell me what to do! Finally, as the sun was setting, I realized I knew what to do. I had to rescue them. It was cold, wet an muddy where they were and no sign of a Mama cat to feed them. I put them in my bicycle basket and biked back to the hostel trying to brainstorm how I could get them to hands of a rescuer. I had found a cat rescue online and considered volunteering for them while in Hoi An before I arrived and because the Universe has a sense of humor. They were my first call when I arrived back at the hostel. Luckily, the hostel manager was so sweet and helped me as much as she could. That particular rescue was full but, they gave me the name of another. I spent the next hour getting a kitten feeding bottle, making a kitten drink and feeding them, while seriously thinking I might have to stay in Hoi An to care for them if no one else would. Luckily, Paws for Compassion finally got back to me and we arranged for me to bring her the kittens. She was in the next town over so, I had to Uber over there— thank goodness for Uber— and back. The kittens are safe, being fed and loved. Rescue mission successful! The rescuer said after the storm the coast experienced last week, a lot of kittens had been abandoned and it was good I brought them to her. Whew!
I also met my first friends I hung out with for more than an hour or two! I went to summer roll/spring roll making class at the hostel next door to mine Sunday night. First off all, I love summer rolls more than a healthy amount. Also, the class meant I could eat as many summer rolls as I wanted FOR FREE. Yes please! The class was great. I learned how to make spring and summer rolls like a local and ate as many as I wanted. At the end of the class a German couple sat down and we instantly clicked. Then a Scottish gentleman joined us and we formed a little group and spent the entire next day together. I had found a tailor I loved to make a me a bespoke jumper that turned out so well and brought them to get their own goodies made. It felt so nice to make connections with people I would have never otherwise met. We got vegan lunch (they were all veggie! Score!) and played around on the beach until sunset. As the sun began to set, my Scottish friend Rossy, offered me another motorbike lesson and this time, I GOT IT. I felt so proud driving around on my motorbike feeling confident and not scared one bit. Taking the time to dig into your feelings and heal the root of it, is worth it friends. I’m taking my courage on the road and tomorrow am driving a motorbike from here to Hue with the German couple—well as long as it doesn’t rain.
From Hue, I’ll stop at the National park before making my way to the North. As I mentioned, South Vietnam hasn’t been my favorite. I am really looking forward to either buying a bike or renting one and getting off the beaten path to explore areas of the North that are more authentically Vietnam. Don’t worry, I won’t go alone. But, I’m taking all the lessons I learned from the Aussie and applying them to the way I travel now. I want more freedom, more simplicity and a lot more connection.