When I went to Pattaya, Thailand last year for my 25th birthday solo travel, I met Vietnam-based Australian teacher Warren Cowley (who graciously paid for our tuktuk ride!) and told him how I managed to solo travel Thailand on a dirt-cheap budget. He told me: “If you think Bangkok is cheap, Vietnam will make it look expensive.” And the rest, as they say, is history. When I returned home, I was itching to book my next solo travel adventure and by February 2016, ta-dahhh.. I finally booked that Manila-Hanoi plane ticket! 🙂
For the uninitiated and untrained eyes, Hanoi can be pretty daunting and intimidating. The solo backpacker that I am, I rode a public bus from Noi Bai International Airport to the Old Quarter in downtown Hanoi. and boy was I in for one hell of a motorbike experience! As mentioned in my previous “Why I ‘solo traveled’ Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand“, this is all part of why I did this trip, to go out of my comfort zone and challenge myself to know how far I can go.
Vietnam roads are heavily populated by motorbikes, it’s the country’s main mode of public transportation. I had a hard time crossing the streets in the fear of getting bumped by motorbikes which come out everywhere (yes, from all sides of the streets!). I couldn’t even properly cross the streets and thought “What was I getting myself into?” Hanoi traffic looks very chaotic, much worse than Manila. But after a few hours of roaming around the Old Quarter, Hanoi looked to me as if everything’s synchronized, something that non-local people and visitors would find hard to appreciate.
The Old Quarter, as the name suggests, springs you back to the old Vietnam. Even though we’re already on the 21st century, the Old Quarter seemed to have retained its charm that will take you decades ago, which makes it very fascinating. And in this post, I will let you have a glimpse of lovely Hanoi from my own personal experience. When I research about a new travel destination, I usually break the budget and other details down to the following: accommodation, food and beverage, transportation, tours and shopping. Continue Reading →
They say that once the travel bug catches you, it never really goes away. Days after I came home from my eight-day solo travel to Phuket, Bangkok and Pattaya in Thailand last year, I have been itching to explore more destinations. I guess Michael Palin was right all along when he said “Once the travel bug bites, there is no known antidote and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life.” Let me present to you: #RoadToIndochina: A Filipino Solo Backpacking Travel Series.
No, this isn’t my backpack. I just borrowed it from fellow Filipino solo traveler Arenn cos it’s really lovely!
A week after being back in the country from my tri-country, five-city and twelve-day solo travel escapade across Hanoi, Halong, Saigon, Phnom Penh and Bangkok, my Facebook inbox is still bombarded with lotssss of questions regarding my trip. From the usual “How did you do it?”, “How much did you spend?”, “What places did you visit?” to “Were you soul-searching.. healing a broken heart.. finding love in a hopeless place? “. I will try to answer each of these questions in a separate post. For today, I would like to address the most asked question so far: “Why did you do it.. why did you travel solo on your birthday?” and my answer has always been : “Because.. why not!”
Last year, in my “#PatrikAt25: Lessons from eight-day solo travel birthday escapade in Thailand” blog post, I highlighted several lessons I learned from that trip: solo traveling is liberating because it allows you to do anything that you want to do, you are the complete master of your trip, it makes us realize that there is so much to see in the world, it makes us pause and contemplate about our life (yes, life!) 🙂
So why did I do it? Why did I solo travel Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand? There’s so much to experience in this world and I couldn’t emphasis this any better today. There are so many awesome people to meet, so many delicious local food to taste, so many amazing majestic temples and museums to visit, so many inspiring stories to hear, so many places to discover and explore, so many foreign languages to learn and speak, so many cultures to immerse yourself into.. the list could go on and on. And as a young professional in his mid-twenties (I feel awful saying that!), I see this time of my life as one of the most critical point for growth, learning and personal development.
On my first day in Hanoi, I played volleyball with a group I found on Facebook. I met Kirby, Andrew, Fiammi, Marcus among others (they might hate me for forgetting the other players’ names!), I met the super friendly, hospitable and lovely people behind my hostel See You at Lily’s: Van, Trong, Duong, Duc Hoang. I had dinner and few drinks with my fellow solo traveler roommates Khaled Mohamed from Egypt and we accompanied our Spanish roommate Toto Naca in the bar cos he has been itching to dance salsa with local Vietnamese girls. I went to Halong Bay with my new found Chicago-based Filipino friend Kiana, who happens to be a Bisaya as well. During our day tour, we met another solo traveler Mickey Han from South Korea who shared a lot of fascinating stories about North Korea’s President Kim Jong Un.
On my birthday, I went to the Harry Potter-themed coffee shop, Always, with my two other French roommates. And while I was packing my stuff on my last night in Hanoi, I had a super inspiring conversation with another solo traveler Jacob, who has been traveling the world non-stop for eighteen months now and he does not intend to stop soon. After sharing all his wonderful stories, the beauty and exciting challenges of long-term solo traveling for about an hour (at three am at that!), I have never been so determined to also pursue the same path before I reach the age of 30. These are just some of the many awesome people I met on my four-day stay in Hanoi. I will expound this list on a separate blog post soon. 😀
I live curious, set goals and turn them into experiences. Echoing National Geographic Channel’s campaign to Live Curious, I did this trip for a lot of curious reasons. I traveled to Vietnam because I wanted to see for myself the majestic Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Returned Sword) in Hanoi, I wanted to taste how delicious the popular Vietnamese egg coffee is and to know why food blogger Erwan Heusaff was going gaga over Vietnam’s staple food pho and bahn mi on his “Overnight in Hanoi” Youtube video. I also wanted to know if I can cross alive the busy streets of Vietnam, known for its notorious terrible motor traffic, I wanted to cruise around UNESCO World Heritage Site Halong Bay or Bay of the Descending Dragon, I also wanted to experience for myself the Cu Chi Tunnels used by the Vietnamese during their struggle in the mid-70s against the Americans. I went to Cambodia because I heard Royal Palace is at par with Bangkok’s Grand Palace. You see, these are all goals I set last year which came to reality and finally experienced this year.. experiences, which I am very much willing to share to all my enthusiastic and curious family, friends and readers.
My heart, mind and body are unanimous in seeking out for adventure. I got sick and tired of routine and predictability. When I was on my third day in Hanoi, I opened up Facebook and Twitter and read a few rant posts. One friend went shopping for expensive stuff in Greenbelt ‘to keep her moving’ for the busy week ahead, another one was ranting that she has not taken lunch yet because she was super busy at work, a college friend of mine took the day off after doctor advised him due to chronic stress. All these were happening while I was happily roaming around the lovely Old Quarter in Hanoi. Right there and then, I know I made the right decision to travel. 🙂
I needed a break from work. I reached the point where I could no longer productively work on my Excel files for eight hours in a day. I constantly find myself switching between tabs, from Excel to Google Chrome in search for my trip’s itinerary. That’s the time I figured, I really have to go and make this two-week solo adventure happen. While others choose to spend money on food, drinks and shopping, I choose to spend it on plane tickets, booking hostels and experiencing new culture, meeting new people, and learning a foreign language. There’s a whole world out there waiting for us see and explore. And every single day and destination is an adventure in itself.
I have been wanting to get out of my comfort zone, challenge myself and know how far I can go. We are all curated differently. While some people prefer to stay at home and watch Korean or American series all day, I prefer to go out and explore. Sitting at your couch, surfing the net, watching the television make us live a very comfortable but predictable life. On the other hand, I love challenging myself by doing things outside of my comfort zone. Sure it brings us some discomfort and can be pretty daunting, but it’s rewarding because it’s only when we’re uncomfortable that we stretch ourselves, grow and learn. We have our entire lives to be comfortably sitting in the couch, surf the net and watch TV series and bask in the familiarity of it which leads to predictability and yes, for the lack of a better word, boring lives.
Solo traveling across Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand is something that I’ve always wanted to do, something that I’ve always dreamt of doing and it feels surreal that I actually realized this dream of mine. I’d like to end this post by sharing with you one of my favorite quotes from Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now, you’ll be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do, than the ones you did. Sail away from the safe harbor. Explore, dream and discover.”