I had a few big goals back in 2018, and one of them was to travel somewhere I’ve never gone to before. And like any typical unemployed new grad, I couldn’t really afford backpacking through Europe — that goal has to wait until my bank account tells me it’s realistic enough.
So where does one penny-pinching millennial go for a three-week adventure?
It all started in January of 2018, when I reconnected with an old friend who lives in Manila. Like always, we talked about current life and goals and basic friendly catching up, then she asked if I’m going to visit the Philippines any time soon. I immediately said no, but I knew I wanted to treat myself to a solo trip after my graduation, so I told her about how I’m planning on going to Switzerland, the U.K., South Korea, or Thailand for that special solo trip.
But realistically speaking, as a new grad who serves tables part-time, Thailand was the country that could fit my budget, and I told her it would be a lot less scary if I had company. We haven’t seen each other for four years, so we figured we could turn it into a friendship trip.
It’s the perfect 2-for-1 deal.
A few months passed by and nothing was fully set in stone. That’s the problem when you’re 13,000 km apart and live in opposite time zones. But we’d occasionally give each other a nudge, which began with setting up an idea board on Pinterest, then building Google Docs for itineraries.
We were very ambitious. She only had two weeks to spare, and I could potentially do three. It’s our first trip and we wanted to make the most out of it. So we planned on hitting up cities in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. We read through travel blogs and thought travelling by land through those countries would be the best way to immerse ourselves in the culture. One of my coworkers even suggested travelling through Northern Thailand on a scooter to get a better experience.
Eventually (about two months before our actual trip) we realized how naive we were and decided to fly between cities instead. If we had a month, we could have travelled by land, but not this time. I realized that although I took three weeks off my part-time job, with the long flight to and from Asia, the time difference, and the jet lag, I pretty much only had about 17-18 days for the actual trip.
Six cities in two countries within seventeen days.
It didn’t really feel real until I bought my one-way ticket to Ho Chi Minh City. Since she had to work the rest of the week, I had a day by myself. So there was still some solo travel during my trip.
After about 26 hours of travel between Toronto and Ho Chi Minh City, I only had about four hours of sleep because I was thrilled for the trip and I was also still battling a chest infection at the time – so I kept waking up to coughing fits every few hours in the plane. My body felt so exhausted, but my mind was incredibly excited.
I laid in bed for a couple hours before I decided I’ll wing it and just walk around the city. I packed everything I needed in my little Kanken – a bottle of mineral water, some cash, my hotel room key, throat lozenges, a small pack of Kleenex, a piece of I.D. in case something happens, and plenty of courage because after all, I am a woman in her mid 20’s, walking alone in a city where she does not speak the language.
I turned off my data so I was really winging it. I found myself in Ben Thanh Market, and it was around the time that the actual market was closing and the street night market was opening up, so I was greeted by the commotion of kiosks and scooters on the street.
After having pho for dinner, which was extremely delicious and soothing to my throat, I walked around even more until I ended up in front of the building pictured above. I had no idea what it was, so I asked a blond couple close by who were taking photos of the building. “I don’t know, but it looks important,” is what they said.