A taste of Vietnam.

From one bordering country to another – is a world of difference. Same same and different.

Cambodia, for me was in your face poverty. A country that was so seemingly intent on unifying itself once again after the breaking of spirits through the Khmer Rouge. Now it’s fuelled by tourism and trying to keep step. Just a shit show of backpackers and travellers stomping through their land, slightly respecting it but with an overall sense of disregard.

There are segregations between backpackers. Like high school people clique off into groups – together and separate, but usually identifiable. For instance there are always the cool kids -the ones with the best stories, coolest souvenirs and most impressive travel resumes, they don’t try hard, they just are. Close to them, but easily recognizable as different are the wanna be cool kids, the ones that try too hard. These are the ones with wrists full of bracelets (which they inevitable bought from a 5 year old child) and elephant pants (which they argued with a 90 year woman over the $5 price to drop it down to $3).

Then you have the spiritual traveller who got The.  Most. Amazing. Experience. Out. Of. Everything. There’s no comparing your trip with them, they’ve just done it already, and better. Then there’s the biggest group of backpackers – the young 18-23 year olds who think to travel means to have as many beers and buckets in as many cities in as little time as possible. If they have to they’ll go to a temple and if they’re stranded they’ll eat something, but that’s about it.

Then you get into the older travellers who just don’t give a shit about the other groups any more and go on their own way. Some of them are still struggling with themselves as to validating their own trip and therefore they are more eager to compare the length of time spent travelling or the minuscule budget they’ve travelled with.

On the next level you get the higher end backpackers and flashpackers – those who indulge in what they want and when they want it. The ones who are there to experience the feel of a place, the food, culture, lifestyle and tourist attractions.

For the past 2 weeks I’ve been on the higher end of backpacking, not really watching my budget, but instead indulging. It’s very easy to do in South East Asia, as it’s not very expensive, in Western terms. Which is good an bad, it makes spending so much easier as it just seems to flow out of my wallet, with out much thought.

For instance whilst at dinner tonight on the other side of the river in Hoi An, I spotted a bag across the road that I really liked. So I wandered over to take a look, she began the bidding at 100,000 Dong ($5) but then I started to walk away because I really don’t need ANOTHER bag. My backpack is already filled to the brim and then some. So she lowered the price to 70,000D, so at $3.50 I was hooked. I bought it. I was here last customer of the night (always the best time to go shopping, they practically give it away!)

When I went to Europe for 5 months, a few years ago, my budget was $3,000. I was gifted $1,000 making my total budget 4 grand with an open ticket. I didn’t buy anything except necessities. I remember walking by cafes in Paris wanting to sit on the street and eat, like all the other people, but knowing I couldn’t because it was too expensive.

I would hurry the long walk back to the hostel to get to the communal fridge and pull out my day old baguette and round of Camembert and eat that for dinner. It was food for 3 euros a day, sometimes less. I did indulge a few times at cafes in both Paris and throughout Italy, even trading in meals for a gelato on long days. My trip was ruled by cost.

Luckily for me, this trip is a little different. Having put my 6 months in in the outback of Australia to save intently for these 3 months and now I can live the life of luxury here. It truly is a new experience not having to check the price and my bank account every 5 minutes to make sure I’m not in the red and need to retreat home.

This is an example when, for me, I can say that money has finally afforded me a freedom I haven’t really had before. This is a beautiful experience for me, waking up each day with little to no itinerary and just letting the cities guide me. It was sort of that way in Europe, except I couldn’t afford public transportation so I had to walk. Here, I just stroll.

Massages are around $10 for 60-90 minutes, we indulged in a mud bath and hot mineral springs day in Nha Trang for around $30, almost twice the price I had budgeted for the excursion but once there, surrounded by screaming kids with their inattentive parents on the last leg of their Lunar New Year holiday, we opted for the more expensive option to go up the hill to the more private baths. Totatlly worth it. We were there close to 6 hours! (I resort, Nha Trang)

Hoi An, here in the middle of the country and on the coast in a beautiful town centred around shopping. Both my travel companion Sandra and I indulged, yet again, by way of custom made dresses. Within 24 hours we had picked a design and a fabric and was fitted 3 times and finally handed a dress of our choosing. Truly incredible.

Our private rooms are ranging from 12-20 USD a night, split two ways. Our meals are about $5 per person because we often use the opportunity to eat as an opportunity to rest our aching feet and burning skin. $5 in a restaurant usually get me a main dish, a side of vegetables and a soft drink or beer. I’ve become obsessed with all of the food, the vegetables especially, always delicious and fresh.

We got open bus tickets from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi for $40 with stop offs in our 4 desired cities between the polar dominating cities. it’s a sleeper bus where you squeeze (for Westerners and people over 5′) into pods where you can stretch out your legs fully but your head may touch the ceiling or lay almost flat on your back and squish your feet into the cubby. It’s still much more comfortable than sitting up, especially on the 12 hour rides!

Tomorrow we’re off to Hue and from there we’re on to Hanoi and eventually Ha Long Bay. I have zero complaints about Vietnam. It has taken my breath away countless times already and I’m only half way through. I am so excited to continue up this country to welcome its beauty into my consciousness.



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