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Experienced Vietnam
Travel & Leisure: Asia

Why were you inspired to do this?

I am a passionate traveller and plan on going everywhere (and I mean everywhere!) some day. Vietnam seemed like a good place to start putting these plans into action. As a destination, it ticked all the boxes: mouth-watering food, low prices, intriguing modern history, and the perfect balance of intrepidness and Westernisation. Living on Australia’s East Coast, there was the added incentive of ridiculously cheap budget flights. Vietnam felt like the perfect introduction to my international experience.

What were 3 things you did to make this happen?

Two summer trips to Southeast Asia. In early 2009, we spent two weeks exploring Southern Vietnam and the Mekong Delta. We returned in December, flying into Saigon and taking an entire month to work our way slowly to the North.

The stomach to face Vietnam a second time, after my first somewhat unpleasant experience. It took mental strength to overcome my negative feelings and give the country a second chance.

Much scrimping and saving!

How did you feel once you had accomplished this?

I feel thoroughly enriched by conquering the challenge of (and eventually loving) Vietnam. My first trip was somewhat tainted by external factors: my malaria meds caused some bad side effects, which combined with regular bouts of gastroenteritis and a severe case of culture shock put me in a very low mood. I hated the dirt, blistering heat, constant hassling and widespread poverty, and longed to return to my clean privileged world! By round two, I had switched medication and undergone an attitude makeover, and was ready for anything. It turned out to be one of the best months of my life, and one I will certainly never forget. We threw ourselves headlong into the experience, covering the usual tourist hotspots as well as travelling off the beaten path to get a taste of true Vietnamese life and culture. We sipped coffee and ate chocolate pie in Europesque Dalat, slept amongst rats and visited orphanages in the remote Central Highlands, drove the Ho Chi Minh Trail, had suits tailored in Hoi An, spent Christmas on a private junk amongst the limestone karsts of Halong Bay, and saw in the New Year drinking home-brewed beer with the locals in a remote border name but a few adventures. In addition to all these memories, Vietnam opened my eyes to the reality of the developing world, taught me how to abandon creature comforts, and introduced me to the amazing (if sometimes uncomfortable) experiences this world has to offer.

Additional notes and tips:

  • The trip will be as fun as you make it. Expect to be hassled, ripped off and gawked at and any other kind of treatment will come as a pleasant surprise! Respond to difficult situations with humour and grace. Be assertive, but never lose your temper - this is seriously socially gauche and will cost you the people's respect.
  • In general, booking hotels in advance is costly and unnecessary. Cheap and quality accommodation is available in abundance and can usually be found by merely showing up at the local bus station.
  • Doxycycline is usually recommended as the malaria medication of choice, however for me it produced horrible hormonal side effects and almost ruined by first trip. For round two, I decided to try Lariam - the drug used during the Vietnam War. Lariam usually gets an extremely bad rap and is infamous for its dangerous side effects, so I was apprehensive about this choice. Luckily, it suited me perfectly and I will never go back. The worst that happened was a sleepless night or two and some epic and bizarre (but not unpleasant) dreams. Obviously this will vary between individuals but if you are struggling with Doxy don't entirely rule out the alternative.

7/30/2011 1:42:47 AM

You certainly do plan to go everywhere - I've not seen a longer list on here yet.  Love that and look forward to reading all your stories about each destination too - you've written about your experience so beautifully.  Must commend your persistence.  I don't think I would have had the fortitude to return after the first experience you described.  Thank you for sharing your story, the gorgeous picture and the tips on the Malaria pills too.  Very much appreciated.  Will you return to Vietnam for a third trip, or are you off on another adventure?  

1/9/2011 8:44:24 AM

Congratulations, we have linked your story on the My Life List 90 (#79) to inspire others. Thank you so much for sharing this great story.

11/30/2010 11:41:32 AM

Vietnam is on my list for sure, too! Can you tell me some of the dishes you liked best to eat and maybe your favorite spot that you visited? I think I need to start exploring the culture a bit before I set off so I'll be more prepared and less shocked. I really want to go but can't imagine I'd respond any differently to leaving the comfort of the developed world! Thanks for any additional insight.

11/29/2010 7:02:41 AM

Awesome story! Viet Nam is so on my list. Great stuff sharing the Malaria Pill advice, I was on Lariam for a trip I took to Africa and it had no ill effects on me. As you point out getting it right makes all the difference to the success of your Journey. Must say after this trip all other adventures will seem easy:)

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