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Sleepless in Saigon: Here’s how I embraced my first solo trip (eventually) - Natasha



When a friend cancelled her trip 3 days before our flight to Vietnam, my first reaction was ‘no way I can go alone’. That initial panic is what stops most of us from taking the solo trip plunge, but let me tell you, had I not gone, I would have missed out on a vacation that turned out to be my best…so far.


Now mind you, it's not that I don’t enjoy my own company, rather I’ve been a big fan of solitude being a single child - the idea of being with myself on long walks in new countries or sitting down with a book on a beach has always been fascinating. But…and there are a lot of ‘buts’ - What if I’m stranded? What if I’m robbed? What if I’m robbed AND stranded? The questions didn’t stop.


So the first thing I did - took out my trustworthy pen and paper - wrote down all emergency contacts in multiple post-its and kept them in different places. Next, I downloaded offline maps for everywhere I was going, googled everything there was to know about Vietnam - things to avoid, how to get from airport to hotel, which sim card is best, where to get vegetarian food, what to wear, how’s the weather…and so on.


As you can probably tell, the sleepless nights came way before I even landed in Saigon.


SAIGON

Having read one too many solo travel blogs and still reluctant, I arrived in Saigon and booked a cab for my AirBnB stay - the first obstacle, the driver didn’t speak English - which most locals don’t in Vietnam, once again trusty Google translate came to the rescue. Once into my room, I took a deep breath and made calls to say I’m alive before setting out to explore. The city was a whirlwind of motorbikes, skyscrapers, and street food. I treaded carefully with my sling bag closely clutched, following Google maps for every turn as I saw my pho restaurant across the street. As I waited for the traffic to pause, a woman gently held my hand and helped me cross the road without a word, I quickly realised that Vietnamese were incredibly welcoming and warm.


On day 2, my guide from AirBnB experience picked me up and I met two fellow travellers - a British boy and an Australian woman in her 60s, who was later collectively called ‘mom’. We headed to the Mekong Delta for a full day boat & bike tour, where we shared lunch with the locals and learned about brick making - it was already the best day I've had on a vacation. Sharing life stories, political views and laughter, we forged new friendships that would last beyond the trip. Goodbyes were said, numbers were exchanged as we all went our separate ways - by now I was no more sleepless, rather, excited for what’s next - and I’ll have you know, I didn’t think it could get any better, but it did.


Lesson 1: Trust yourself, you are more capable than you think.

DA NANG AND HOI AN


Next up was a flight to Da Nang - I was welcomed with hibiscus tea and a wet towel to my beach resort and was shown to the room on the 12th floor with a view of the city on one side, and the stunning coastline on the other - a great start. Taking a leaf out of my Saigon experience, I headed down to the reception to ask if they had any group tours that I can join - while there I overheard two girls asking the same question, I approached them and said I’d love to go together if they would like, and luckily, they were elated! We planned our 2 day itinerary together and booked our commute - more friends, this time from Singapore!


Here we saw a dragon breathing fire on a bridge, a town full of lanterns that hardly felt real, European villages recreated on top of a hill, world’s biggest Lady Buddha, a mountain made out of marble with exquisite caves and of course the viral golden hands bridge. We attended a boat party with karaoke on the river, rode roller-coasters, filled our phone storage with many many photographs and made promises to meet again.


Lesson 2: Talk to people, ask, listen - it may or may not work in your favour but at least you will have tried.


HANOI

On the last leg of my trip, I landed in Hanoi with a spring in my step, feeling much more confident in myself and the surroundings. There was a lot to do - Overnight cruise to Ha Long Bay, hike to Mua caves, boating in Tam Coc and exploring Ninh Binh - and I couldn’t wait to start.

First day began with exploring the charming streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter - I wandered through narrow alleys, around lakes, ate banh mi and drank coconut coffee. I visited the Temple of Literature and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum - learned about Vietnam's history and culture. While on my city stroll, I made another British friend and we hopped on an open-air tourist bus that got everything wrong - we laughed about it later at a restaurant’s balcony over beers.


Then came - cruise day, probably the only unsuitable thing for a solo traveller I thought, as I was among many honeymooning couples. But sailing through the emerald waters of the Ha Long Bay, surrounded by limestone karsts, felt like stepping into a dream and I could happily stare at the changing scenery for hours. We kayaked through hidden caves, met the locals at fishing villages, witnessed breathtaking sunsets over cocktails in our jacuzzi for two days.


Back on land, I strolled around my hotel in search of dinner, and I met a Russian boy who drove me around on his bike, took me to the other part of town where we sat down by the lake, sharing views on the war in Ukraine and music. It was so fascinating, how worlds came together in this beautiful country!


Then came the last day and I made sure to pack it with as much as I could - a full day tour to Ninh Binh, often referred to as the ‘Halong Bay on land’. We offered prayers at a Buddhist temple, then embarked on a surreal boat ride through Tam Coc, flanked by towering limestone cliffs and lush green rice fields. I made friends with an Irish couple, we shared lunch and later on was embarrassingly left behind as we raced to climb up 500 steps to Mua caves. Thankfully, I had a spa appointment waiting for me back in Hanoi.

And just like that, it was over. My first solo trip in a new country - and if I’m honest with you, I’ve never felt better. Landing at Mumbai airport, I had this sense of achievement, it’s not really big if you think about it to go somewhere alone - but for me it was. Now I knew I could do this, and because I could do this, I could do so much more that I didn’t think I could. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, tested my independence, and instilled a newfound confidence in myself. I realised that I was capable of navigating foreign lands, overcoming challenges, and embracing the unknown.


Throughout my journey, I met numerous kind strangers who became companions on my adventures. From sharing meals at street food stalls to exploring hidden gems off the beaten path, these chance encounters enriched my experience, made me aware of the world beyond mine and comforted me.


So, if you find yourself hesitant to embark on a solo trip like me, I encourage you to take that leap of faith. Embrace the initial jitters, prepare yourself with necessary precautions, and allow yourself to be amazed by the world that awaits. You might just discover a sense of freedom, self-discovery, and empowerment that will stay with you long after the trip ends.


Final lesson: Just go!


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