Female solo traveler Hannah Smith talks the ins and outs of traveling alone in Vietnam, from avoiding taxi scams in Ho Chi Minh City to the best way to visit the famous My Son ruins in this week’s Women Who Travel Solo.
How did you get started traveling?
I went to high school in a town of 10,000 and lived in a town with an even smaller population, so I felt very confined and plotted to escape as soon as I could. The first thing I did when I got to college was look into study abroad programs. I originally wanted to go to Italy because that is where my ancestors come from (and who doesn’t love Italy?!), but I was advised to go to Sweden, as it fit better with my Communications program. I decided to do a backpacking trip through Italy and Greece before moving to Sweden and that’s how my love for Europe and traveling began. I haven’t stopped since.
Why did you decide to travel to embark on a solo trip to Vietnam?
I teach abroad in Taiwan, so most of my friends were traveling back to the States for their summer vacation. I’d recently broken up with my boyfriend, as well, and it seemed like the perfect time to plan a solo trip to Vietnam to re-visit places I’d seen on a previous solo trip in 2013 and to decide if it was somewhere I would like to live and teach.
Tell us about your experience with solo travel in Vietnam.
Vietnam can be overwhelming when you first arrive. It’s a country full of motorbikes and everything seems to be rushing by you. Even though I had traveled there before, I was pretty stressed out my first evening in Ho Chi Minh City. Taxi drivers at the airport are practically thieves and I had a driver reaching into my purse, then throwing me out into another taxi. Once I made it to my friend’s house I was staying at I was not surprised to find that I’d been extremely overcharged, even though I’d had the airport staff help book me a taxi and price. Being a solo female, you will get overloaded with scams or people bothering you to sell you things, but if you are firm with saying no and don’t waver, you’ll be left alone.
Otherwise, people were very kind to me and I loved getting up in the morning, heading straight for the chicken bahn mi cart, gorging on it while motorbikes zipped by, and then heading for a Vietnamese coffee and complimentary tea in a non-descript café, where I could sit outside and watch the scene around me.
What recommendations do you have for solo travelers in Vietnam?
Hoi An is my favorite city in Vietnam. It’s become very popular and crowded, but it’s charming at night with lanterns hanging over and the bridge that crosses the river and in all the same streets. I recommend at least 2-3 days there. It’s also a great city for foodies with reputable cooking schools, like Ms. Vy’s, and trendy restaurants, like Cargo Club.
No matter where you go in Vietnam, you must try the Vietnamese-style coffee (it’s sweet, but you must try it), bahn mi, bun cha, and, of course, pho. Try and get these dishes from street stalls. Even if they look dirty, they keep things pretty clean, and the food will blow you away with the intense flavors and yet, perfect simplicity.
What was the best part of your solo trip to Vietnam?
Instead of going with a tour group, I decided to pay a driver to take me out to the My Son ruins (near Hoi An) on a scooter. It was almost an hour, my thighs and butt were killing me, but the views, wind in my hair, and chatting with the driver was wonderful. I got there before any groups had arrived, so I had everything to myself. It was so quiet and peaceful and the ruins were impressive. Later, I rode a bicycle to the beach and spent time sun-tanning and drinking coconut smoothies by the ocean. It was a perfect day.
What was the worst part of the trip?
In Ho Chi Minh City, I was staying with friends, so I had lots of people to hang out with, but in Hoi An, I found it hard to meet people, due to the hostel I picked, which didn’t have a great hang-out area and wasn’t exactly where all the other backpackers were staying. It was a bit lonely, but I made due and ended up drinking beers with the Vietnamese staff. You have to expect there to be some lonely times while traveling solo, but if you embrace it, or put yourself out there to meet others, it’s completely worth it.
What safety recommendations do you have for women traveling alone to Vietnam?
Vietnam doesn’t really do sidewalks, so you’ll be walking in the midst of traffic at most times. I’ve heard of scooter drivers grabbing girls’ purses off their shoulders and even dragging the girl along with them, just so they can get the purse. So, keep your purse around your body and to the side opposite of the road.
Also, it’s an obvious one, but be careful drinking while traveling solo. There have been reports of girls being roofied in Hoi An. No matter where you are, watch your drink, and don’t get so drunk that you aren’t able to be aware of your surroundings. It sucks, because you want to have fun and let loose, but when you don’t have friends around to watch out for you, you have to watch out for yourself even more.
What advice do you have for women who are traveling alone?
Relish it. It can be terrifying and lonely to realize that you are in an unknown country alone and have only yourself to rely on, but once you get comfortable with that, it can be so relaxing to do whatever you want to do and you get to grow by facing exciting challenges. Also, don’t feel like you have to be alone the whole time. Be brave and talk to other travelers. Most of the time, they’ll be happy to talk to you and hang out.
Do you have anything else to add to inspire women solo travelers?
You may be a solo traveler, but you are not alone! There are so many blogs (like this one!) and resources with advice and stories to inspire you. You’ll also meet other solo women travelers along the way and it’s definitely a special group. There are many communities out there to help you, so don’t be shy and say hello. Happy travels!
About Hannah Smith
Hannah Smith has been traveling and blogging since 2007 and isn’t planning on stopping anytime soon. She has lived in Sweden, Australia, South Korea, Spain, and Taiwan, but home will always be California. Follow her blog, at Fresh Off The Plane, for some travel inspiration or to leave a comment about your own experiences.
Women Who Travel Solo
Women Who Travel Solo is a weekly column that shares the stories of women’s solo travel adventures in hopes of spreading the message that traveling alone is not only safe, but wildly rewarding. Inspire other women to travel solo by sharing your story with Something In Her Ramblings. Email Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where to Stay in Vietnam
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