First International Solo Trip? Vietnam!

27th Nov 2019
Photo of First International Solo Trip? Vietnam! by Atreya Mukerjee

Being raised by parents who’re avid travelers, I grew up visiting different countries- the quintessential yearly family holiday- since the age of 10. By the time I was roughly about 15, I realized how deep I feel about exploring, because travelling for me had become more than just crossing places off my bucket list; it was experiencing and learning new cultures, art, interacting with their people and I was sure this is what I want my life to be.

After graduating, as destiny would have it, I found myself a job in a budding travel company. With the first hand experience I had of having visited 20+ countries, I enjoyed my time crafting international holidays for millennial travelers, but hey, having listened to tales of my father’s solo adventures from 40 years ago- the kind where you land up in a foreign land with no bookings not knowing where to go, I was highly inspired and in a dire wish to add a solo holiday to my postcard collection & do something for myself.

That’s when I decided to take upon my first solo trip before I turned 22 and which country would be better than the backpacker paradise- Vietnaaam! :)

I managed to scoop in a 5-day leave and booked my return tickets for the day I turned 22, with a 6 hour layover at the Kolkata airport where I’d ring in my birthday. Couldn't believe this was happening!

Day 2

But tell me, what’s life without some cliche filmy drama? No, my lover didn’t fight security and chase me all the way to the boarding gate. Much worse, my first flight(Del-Kol) got delayed, thanks to the airline itself because of which I had to miss the second flight(Kol-Hanoi). My parents were freaking out, honestly, so was I because- who wouldn’t.

With no flights from Kolkata-Hanoi on the same day, my friends helped me book a Kol- Da Nang flight which departed at midnight. I was to anyway reach Da Nang that morning from Hanoi so it made sense to do so. The fact that my evening plans in Hanoi wouldn’t happen and with non-refundable bookings(hostel+ local flight) going waste, I found myself an entire afternoon in the City Of Joy and wanted to make the most of it. I hogged on phuchkas to my heart’s desire and man, momos in Kolkata are to die for!

With a happy tummy I boarded my flight and couldn’t be more excited for what way to come my way! With a layover in Bangkok, I reached Da Nang right on schedule. I don’t think I’ll be able to describe how I felt, I mean it felt surreal! Right upon arrival I made several calls to my boyfriend back home because I didn’t understand the conversion- don’t blame me, it was the first time I was handling a currency weaker than my homelands’ and not everybody is good at Math; some people really do suck. I figured in those first instances that the cash I was carrying would fall short and made a mental note- dekh lenge. [Tip- never underestimate!]

Unable to find a bus stand nearby, I couldn't help but curse the net results that had made me believe it’ll be super convenient to get to Hoi An from the Da Nang airport. I stood on the main road with my luggage and it started drizzling. Okay KJo, where are you hiding? I always did want to be in movies but at least make me look glamorous?

Finally, a young man riding a scooter stopped by, tried to figure out my hostel location, I hopped on and was on my way! Please don’t let my parents know this, ever!

Hoi An was about a 50 min ride away and I fell in love with this small historic town. I knew my two days here would be awesome. While I waited for my dorm to get ready, I kept wondering if I made the right decision of booking a hostel, my social anxiety was killing me. I was sharing the dorm with three other girls(2 of them from Australia, 1 from Germany), decided to break the ice and indulged in conversations. Who knew we’d hit off instantly? We made a plan to explore the night market together in the evening. I got ready and was out and about. Hoi An was stunning and so captivating! Nothing like any country I’d visited before. It was small, rustic, traditional and beautiful! A river running by and pretty lanterns decorating the streets, I strolled through the Old Town, saw the stunning Japanese Covered Bridge amongst other sites, enjoyed local delicacies and lots of street food; Bahn Mi & Pho in particular. With rains on and off, I was much rather having a great time. Language can get a bit of an issue, sometimes the locals really do get annoyed with you but that’s alright and quite understandable. Having read about the history of Vietnam in college I felt grateful to be actually seeing everything for real. I kept sharing pictures back home and my mother was finally okay after the whole flight ramshackle.

In the evening, I grabbed a beer( dirt cheap) at the night market and joined my roomies. It was fun walking, chattering and going about in the market together. Once we returned to our hostel, we joined other hostellers in the common area and played several rounds of Flip The Cup- a typical American drinking game. That was me, someone who was so averse to the idea of a hostel. I had a fabulous time, and it was just Day 1!

Day 2 started with an early morning walk with my roomie from Germany, discussing everything from culture, politics, travel and all of that. We got along really well and since she was leaving in a few hours we exchanged numbers and promised to stay in touch. Oh did I mention, the breakfast in my hostel(Tribee Bana Hostel) was super sumptuous! Very simple but so tasty! Loved the small cute little pancakes with fried banana and peanut butter drizzle.

Post the yummies, I jetted off to the beach and the beach bum in me was happy. I visited Ang Bang Beach, about 4 kms from the Old Town. It was quite a breezy day and the winds were rather strong. After spending some time on sand, I grabbed some lunch at one of the beach shacks; a lovely Pina Colada along with with local fried rice and crab rolls. I got back to the Old Town by early evening and did some souvenir shopping along with just strolling, speaking to locals, taking pictures.

Being a solo traveler, it is not easy getting pictures of yourself but I really enjoyed making conversation with random people from different parts of the world, clicking photos for them and asking them to click me, I even helped a young Brazilian couple figure out the perfect aesthetic poses. The tradition of man-driven tuks-tuks still exist in Hoi An, and they use it mostly for tourists now. Watch out, the streets are full of that post sundown!

I retired early since I had an early morning flight to catch to Hanoi.

Upon waking up I realized the breeze at the beach hadn’t done me good; a blocked nose and running fever. I wasn't going to let that stop me from enjoying the little time I had in this beautiful country. Da Nang airport was about 45 mins away and this time I decided to book myself the shuttle service from my hostel rather than using a Grab Bike Taxi. While Hoi An is a quaint pretty town, Da Nang is more of a metro city with tall glass skyscrapers(beautiful beaches too) and that was one of the main reasons I didn’t want to spend time there. The Dragon Bridge which you can easily spot on your way to the airport is very impressive- remember to keep your camera ready :)

Day 4

The flight took off and I immediately dozed off, I needed this time to recoup. Similar to Hoi An, I hadn’t booked any shuttle service earlier and boarded a bus which I’d read about on the net. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out if I was on the correct one to reach Hanoi Old Town where my hostel was. These are times when I wished language wouldn’t be such a barrier because even though a lot of people tried to help understand, they couldn’t, and I don’t blame them. After a while, I let all of that go. I was in a public bus passing through different villages of Hanoi, locals from different walks of life hopping on and off, could life be any better than this? It turned out, I was on the current bus, just a one which took a longer route but I managed to reach the Old Town and walked my way to the hostel. It’s quite charming in it’s own way; compact with old rustic houses, wires hanging from the corners, people having a fast-paced life. Oh one thing which needs a definite mention- there are lots and lots of two wheelers! Like, lots! Hahaha.

I checked into the hostel, dumped my stuff, got ready and left. Didn’t want to waste more time since half of my day was already gone and time was ticking by. I still wasn’t feeling the best so I decided to visit the iconic Notes Cafe which is located beautifully next to Hoan Kiem Lake. It's a cozy three storey cafe which has notes written by travelers from around the world. I ordered the popular 'Egg Hot Chocolate' along with a vegetarian Bahn Mi and spent some time reading through and writing my own notes to be left there.

My evening(last in the country) involved having and relishing more street food, seeing the Jade Temple, the stunning Temple of Literature, exploring the old town out and about which is so lively once the sun goes down. From street performers, live bands, people chilling in groups on the floor, I hadn't quite come across something as such on this big a scale. Also, being a Sunday the streets are barred for cars and only allow pedestrians to hover. Being ill, I barely could think of anything else apart from the fact that I return to homeland tomorrow and I just didn't want to go back. I knew Vietnam has taken over a piece of my heart and I have to get back to explore more of this amazing country. Places such as Phu Quoc, Nha Trang, Phan Thiet; so much more!

I strolled the old town till about 10 p.m. and got back to my hostel(Little Charm Hostel) to call it a day.

My last morning included picking up some souvenirs from shops around the hostel, I was off to the airport by noon. Nahh, was sensible enough to take an airport shuttle from the bus stand and this time I covered the same distance in just 45 mins. My short and sweet, or rather an extended weekend getaway was over and how. I found myself a window seat at the airport food court while devouring some curry rice , I couldn't help reminiscing everything I'd experienced in this short span of time, and I was so grateful for it!

Day 5

With the flight hassle and skipping out on a day, taking random transportation to commute with luggage, learning and getting a hang of the conversion- by the end I'd aced it! Falling sick, making friends from different parts of the world, and doing everything on my own, I couldn't be happier with the memories of my first solo trip and rightly done before I turned 22 the next day.

This isn't another travel blog with information about the 'Top Places to Visit in xyz Place', the 'Best Places to Eat' or anything even close to it. It's a journey of another soul who's in love with a bairagan life, trying to adult and sometimes failing at it so bad. That doesn't stop me, and I hope it inspires and pushes you to take upon any new challenge that you're wanting- just go for it!