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Vietnam: First Impressions and expressions

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?

Heart IconHave you ever had a bumpy start when you visited a new country? What made you decide to stay after an initial negative perception? I would love to hear your comments in the section below.

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2 Comments

  • RunawayBrit

    01.07.2015 at 18:42 Reply

    I’m so sorry to hear that Saigon did not work for you. You were there during TET, which is part of the problem – Saigon is very busy at this time of year and everybody is in holiday mood (it’s the only holiday that most Vietnamese workers get), so the traffic and the honking is magnified!

    I will try to explain the appeal of Saigon to expats for you – I lived in Saigon for 3 years and it was the most wonderful experience of my life – I would move back in a heartbeat as I simply have not yet found anywhere else that ticks all the boxes like Saigon did. Firstly, very few expats live in the district that most backpackers visit (some of the TEFL teachers do if they are only staying a few months, but most live elsewhere in Districts 1, 3 or 7). The area I lived in is called Bin Thanh and my house overlooked a beautiful park with a lake and an outdoor swimming pool. My house had 5 floors, 5, ensuite bedrooms, and 2 rooftop terraces. I went to fancy restaurants on the banks of the river and ate amazing cuisine while watching the boats passing by, all for less than $10. I had a massage twice a week and got my nails done – hell, I even paid somebody just to wash my hair sometimes because it only cost $2. I spent weekends on the beach in Mui Ne, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Phnom Penh – I even flew to Bali for $50 return once! Nightlife was never a problem: I could hang out with locals at a bia hoi and pay 20 cents for fresh beer, I could head to the backpacker district to meet new people when I needed something more familiar. I could hang out with the funky local crowd and expats on the club scene around town (usually finding a place celebrating with free food and drink), or I could dress up and attend the fancy Embassy events. I was never bored. Not once in 3 years.

    I hope you found something to like about Saigon before you left, it really is the most wonderful city if you know where to look!

    • Serendipity Tess

      02.07.2015 at 21:50 Reply

      Hey 🙂 Thank you so much for leaving such a long and lovely comment on this post. You are not the first one to tell me how lovely HCMC is 🙂 I felt really bad that I wasn’t getting the same vibe as you guys. Especially when I tucked into my first Pho which was beyond disappointing (and it had been recommended to me by another blogger). Somehow Hanoi and I clicked right away- but that was when I had almost travelled within Vietnam for two weeks. I had fallen head over heels for Hoi An – even wrote a love letter to the town. I think the reason why I didn’t like Saigon overly was because of a number of reasons. I wrote in this post in more detail what happened when I started my travels in Vietnam: http://www.alifefullofserendipity.com/welcome-to-the-world-of-solo-travel/ It was a bumpy start to solo travel. I felt completely overwhelmed and I don’t think it mattered where I had been at that point. I think I would have felt quite lost anywhere. Plus I’m a hypersensitive person and I just dislike traffic noise with a passion. Having said that, I didn’t feel this way about Bangkok at all. In fact, I adore Bangkok and could easily see myself living there. The motorcycles just got to me. And they are there throughout the whole year. There are 6 million bikes in Saigon…i really don’t like this at all. Not sure if visiting outside of TET would make such a big difference but I really think I should give HCMC another go. Thank you for giving me great recommendations. Saigon and I are not finished yet. I will return – just not sure when. You seem to have had the time of your life there. It sounds lovely! 🙂

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