Hello Saigon!

The best way to take in the vast beauty, food and sounds of Vietnam is by backpacking through it

5/8/2017 1:33:22 PM
written By : Sabir Brara Print

Vietnam is a smorgasbord of sights, sounds and smells that charm, sometimes provoke and often tantalise the senses. Like any South-east Asian country, there are myriad ways to travel through it, via both conventional and unconventional modes. Typically, one would arrive in Hanoi and explore picturesque destinations in northern Vietnam including Sa Pa, Halong Bay and Ninh Binh, depending on how many days are reserved for such a trip. On the other hand, the South, which is steeped in war history and French influence, is reachable by flying into Ho Chi Minh City (nee Saigon) and one can opt to take excursions to the Mekong Delta or to relax on the largest island, Phu Quoc. However, the trip would be far more fulfilling if you manage to visit the lesser-travelled gems of the country. And for that, most travellers spend between two and four weeks in the country, to get the full “off the beaten track” experience. 

I was fortunate to have been able to pull off an 18-day trip. This was my fourth backpacking trip; something that I have cherished for many tangible and intangible reasons. Drawn to Vietnam for the allures listed above, I only had a plane ticket in and out of the country, a rough itinerary penciled out, no accommodations booked and a 60-litre backpack in my possession. Europe has always been a great backpacker’s destination, starting in the early 1900’s with the birth of the first hostel in Germany. However, now South-east Asia is a sought-after destination fondly known as the “Banana Pancake Trail”. This is understandable given the relative ease and low cost of travel between countries replete with sights and experiences coupled with unmatched hospitality and delectable cuisine to ignite all senses. Vietnam is especially approachable for the solo traveller because of the country’s geographic shape. They either make their way South starting in Hanoi or make their way North starting in Ho Chi Minh City, to ease forming friendships along the way. 

Homestays are extremely popular and regardless of your age and budget, I recommend staying in one for an authentic experience of living with a local or local-based family, having an authentic home cooked meal, and most importantly, gaining perspective of a day in the life of someone different from you. In addition to being economical, I met other travelers within homestay and hostel common areas, who sometimes ended up accompanying me as we made our way from city to city. Through these interactions, I not only experienced Vietnam through their lens but also learnt about their homelands. For those that prefer more luxurious accommodation, there are known hotel chains in the larger cities as well as very inviting boutique hotels with amenities (i.e. concierge, spa, fitness center) throughout Vietnam.  

I started my trip at Ho Chi Minh City in the North. History buffs interested in the war and its aftermath should not miss the War Remnants Museum and a tour through the Cu Chi tunnels. Three hundred kilometres North-east is Da Lat, known as the honeymoon capital of Vietnam, a town which is rich with hiking trails, waterfalls, and rolling hills, where much of the nation’s coffee and wine is grown. For adrenaline junkies, a truly memorable experience is to go canoeing, water treking, water sliding, jumping off cliffs and trekking through the luscious jungle. At a friend’s recommendation, I stayed at Mama’s House, a homestay accommodating mostly young 20-year-old backpackers, run by some of the warmest and most generous people I’ve met in hospitality. 

My next stop was to experience warmer climate in the beach town of Nha Trang. Typical itineraries here include tanning, partaking in water activities, dining on seafood, and having a few drinks alongside a large influx of Russian vacationers, owing to popular direct flight options from Moscow to Nha Trang. 

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