On a quest to find my roots on this round-the-world adventure, so far, I have only developed a homey feeling once: in Bangkok – a place that immediately made me feel like I belonged. Previously, I had only ever experienced this in London. Even in my own country – or my own hometown for that matter – I had never felt at home.
Three months into my perpetual traveler existence and these feelings never surfaced in Nepal nor in India. So, when I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon as it is still called by many locals), I was disappointed. I had read so many great things about the city – I was not blown away. It would never be a city I would consider to live in. Like ever. Yes, the street food is yummy and there are some cool streets here and there – but other than that: it is dirty and extremely noisy. There are an estimate of about 6 million scooters buzzing around in Saigon. Unsurprisingly, it is called the motorbike city. Whatever it was that attracted people to live an expat life out here…I don’t know.
I did not fall in love with Saigon and to be honest, I was happy to leave again. Perhaps, my negative feelings sprang from a negative mind-set that had developed due to a rather bumpy start of travelling solo. Saigon was the first city I visited after Ben went back to the UK. I needed time to adjust. I felt lost. I first had to find my own way and orientate myself. As someone who never possessed a sense of orientation, this was hard. Especially in such a big and busy city.
My head was spinning and I felt like burying my head in the sand.
Then there was the horrendous hostel experience in a girl’s only dorm – I had not slept for four consecutive nights. I was angry. How can people be so inconsiderate? Why am I too considerate? The day I left, I had to literally just grab my packed bag (assembled the evening before so as to not wake anyone up) and leave the room. I was out in five minutes. Why am I the only one in this room to respect other people’s sleep?
Naturally this experience did not help my already tainted mind.
Here I was on my own, also sucking at organising my onward travels: I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City during TET. I failed to research what travelling during TET meant: everything is booked out including trains and buses – unless you are prepared to pay at least three times more – which I had to do in the end, had I not wanted to stay in Saigon for the whole two weeks of my short stay in Vietnam.
Everything seemed so gray here. During the day it was cloudy. At night, the place seemed overly dark – it wasn’t very well lit. Or was it just my mind creating this huge clouded environment? And then there was the pollution lingering in the air. A foggy clouded place with a clouded mind. A recipe for a disastrous start to a country I had longed to travel to for years.
Ever since I tried my very first Pho Bo in London, I knew, I had to visit one day. Then, I walked almost an hour to find this Pho place recommended on the Internet and guess what? It tasted bland – boring – disappointing. I had prior to arriving in Vietnam, spent a month in Thailand where generous amounts of sugar is added to everything and where anything tasted so good (I once tried a noodle soup in Thailand without sugar…it was not the same). There I was: weeping silently, after having added all the herbs on the platter to my soup, because my Pho tasted bland. So I added to much chili and almost choked. Was this solo trip doomed?
Should I just book a flight and go back to Thailand? I could visit Koh Lanta or another paradisical island yet to be explored. Is Vietnam going to grow on me?