I was expecting my post about Vietnam to be similar to other posts about places I’ve been but unfortunately I find myself writing about the anxiety I faced during my one month there.
When researching Vietnam I was presented with mixed opinions…some people loved it, others hated it and vowed never to return. The negativity some people experienced included how they were mistreated by locals, being blatantly ripped off (sometimes whilst being laughed at), unfriendly locals, being harassed and scammed. Other people, however, seemed to contradict this. The only way to truly find out was going there.
I flew into Hanoi and knew the city would be chaotic and busy, so I wasn’t surprised that I only lasted 3 days in the city. To cross a road it was the norm to just walk and pray that the drivers would avoid you, to be fair that approach seemed to work.
During my month in Vietnam I was acutely aware that my stress and anxiety levels were increasing to a point where I needed a strategy to handle it. Vietnam in most places is LOUD, the only places I felt some sort of peace was in Ninh Binh and Phong Nha.
The noise pollution comes from shit loads of traffic along with the incessant horn beeping, which at most times was unnecessary and nothing more than a “who can be the loudest”. Many shops also play loud music in an attempt to entice customers through the door. Um…no, nothing is going to make me turn in the opposite direction more than blaring music.
After a few days of being in Vietnam I became more sensitive to the noise to the point where everything irritated the fuck out of me. I couldn’t relax and I felt I couldn’t go anywhere to enjoy some peace and quiet. I stayed in a lovely guesthouse in Nha Trang where the owner couldn’t do enough for me. I had decided to stay there away from the town and because of the amazing reviews. Unfortunately, no-one mentioned the street barber next to the property and his loud radio from 7.30am! There went my fucking lie-in after yet another night of broken sleep!
In the same guesthouse my irritation was further accelerated when I was sitting outside having breakfast. Someone pulled up outside on their motorbike and started revving the engine. The inconsiderate cunt! I just love noise and fumes when eating my breakfast, safe to say I let my feelings be known to the owner.
Even enjoying something simple as a coffee was met with bombardment of noise whether from the traffic or some prick on their phone blasting some shit from Youtube. For the love of God and your life get earphones and keep that shit to yourself. One traveller told me she was on a night bus where a local was playing, full blast, Lord of the Rings. Great movie at least but really on a NIGHT bus, nah nobody’s trying to sleep!
So did I like Vietnam? Surprisingly, yes I did. The natural beauty is incredible and in some places I was able to steal some precious peaceful moments. On the contrary to some of the negative experiences others faced I actually found the local people to be very warm, friendly and accommodating. I enjoyed some good hospitality wherever I stayed and was always able to organise trips and onward travel with my guesthouse. I was able to use taxis and paid a fair price with an unrigged meter. The buses were comfortable and there was only one occasion where a bus from Hue to Hoi An was overbooked, luckily I found a seat by the driver.
Regrettably, I was just unable to shake off my daily irritation and anxiety of the noise invading me. Traffic was a huge problem, it’s shit…I mean really shit! Crossing the road, particularly in Hanoi and Saigon, was like walking to my death. There is no proper traffic light system and even when there was, it’s largely ignored. It’s a dog-eat-dog world!
If I wasn’t trying to safely cross the road I was avoiding the motorbikes on the pavement (impatient bunch of people). Oh, that’s if there is a pavement to walk on that isn’t overtaken by parked motorbikes thus giving no choice but to walk in the road. I found my anxiety heightened when trying to walk around and explore a place. I was on constant alert so I could only manage a couple of hours at a time exploring before I felt the familiar tightness in my chest, I just had to retreat to my hotel.
I can handle big and busy cities and I do enjoy the buzz, but when I had to have eyes in the back of my head it took away any enjoyment. I was exploring the market in Da Nang but I couldn’t stop properly to browse because of the motorbikes roaring past, I felt unsafe so I gave up and left.
I spent a month travelling down the country from Hanoi to Saigon spending 2-3 nights in each place. In hindsight, I should have travelled at a slower pace which I had wanted to do. Unfortunately, I underestimated the travel distances and I also didn’t predict that my anxiety would come creeping up on me. I think it would have suited me better to spend 1 month in north Vietnam and travelled slower.
These are the lessons of travel and I’m discovering how I like to travel. I am now taking my own advice and taking my time to travel in Cambodia, actually I’m taking a holiday from my travels!
Would I return to Vietnam? Yes, definitely because of its beautiful nature and stunning scenery. I would just choose a quieter and more serene place to stay for an extended length of time. I’m at a point now where I don’t feel the need or pressure to tick off places and I’m more content with taking it easy.