It was one lazy weekend when my friend, Arianne told me she was near Chinatown and asked if she can come to visit my place. It had been a while since we caught up with each other so I eagerly said “yes”.  Our conversations usually involved places we wanted to visit and our upcoming trips but we never really travelled together. So when she mentioned her trip to Ho Chi Minh with Essa, I didn’t think twice about booking that next flight. Arianne knew how much of a tourist I am when I go overseas so she said it’s about time I loosen up and try backpacking.

I made an account at Couchsurfing.org prior to the trip to get a local’s perspective on the place. I’m not much of a backpack traveller (Arianne said I am a posh traveller) but someone has to start somewhere right? To make this experence more interesting, I got the contact details of a few locals and asked for places to go and things to do. It was a pity I wasn’t able to meet any of those people, though.

Before I noticed, end of June came and it was time for Ho Chi Minh.

I found Ho Chi Minh city quite similar to Manila, except for the extreme number of motorcycles that refuse to give way when you attempt to cross the street. After getting used to the ever safe pedestrian crossings in Singapore, this surely gave me a fright.

Arianne booked us a decent backpacker hostel. Last minute, though, the owner said there was some electricity issues so our booking was transferred to their hotel instead. Just when I thought I’d finally see what it’s like to stay at a backpacker hostel. Well, maybe not this time.

Nights at Pham Ngu Lao Street (Backpacker Area)

Plastic chairs along the sidewalk, cheap beers, street food and foreigners of different nationalities was the sight that welcomed us at Ho Chi Minh’s backpacker area. So many people casually drinking along the street every night was  really an interesting sight. In the Philippines, we refer to this as inuman sa kanto. It was something I haven’t really done before. It wasn’t fancy but it was fun. I have never felt that carefree. We spent like almost every night there –  being one with the crowd and sharing travel related conversations with different people.

No need to stay at a backpacker hostel to meet people. Do it in the streets!

Backpacking Ho Chi Minh Vietnam First Time

Boat Rides at Mekong River Tour

The muddy quality of the river aside, I enjoyed the relaxing boat rides at Mekong river. I can’t remember how many times we transferred from one boat to another or the name of the places we stopped at but I do recall the woman from Texas who smiled and asked me if I practice hot yoga – Eva. Small talks turned out to spending the rest of the boat tour with her and exchanging contacts after the trip. Essa, if I’m not mistaken, even met up with her in Cambodia.

Backpacking Ho Chi Minh Vietnam First Time Mekong River

I Survived the Cu Chi Tunnels

If I were more adventurous I would have done more spelunking  after my Husgado experience in Mt. Banahaw. “Husgado” was a small cave where the opening fits exactly just one person. It was a sure test I do not have claustrophobia! So when my friends told me the Cu Chi tunnels was a must-try experience, I was totally up for it. It wasn’t a hard feat but the tunnels get smaller as you go further. Every intersection was a question of “Can I still fit in here?” or “Is it the end yet?” It was a cool experience. Who would say no to going through war tunnels?

Backpacking Ho Chi Minh Vietnam First Time Cu Chi Tunnels

The Solo Last Day

On our last day at Ho Chi Minh,  Essa, Arianne and I went our separate ways to explore the city. I finally got a taste of solo travelling.

I went to visit the Central Post Office and the Notre Dame Cathedral. I adore architecture so I enjoyed having that time to just walk around that area. I realized, however, that I enjoy travelling with another person better than spending the day alone. Maybe it was just me, but I always felt the need to share good experiences (good places) with someone.

Backpacking Ho Chi Minh Vietnam First Time City

The Backpacking Trip

“Some people look for a beautiful place, others make a place beautiful. “ – unknown

More than the unique experience of the nightlife in Ho Chi Minh and  the historically significant tours of Saigon, my first backpacking experience was truly memorable because of the people I was with and people I have met along the way.

Backpacking Ho Chi Minh Vietnam First Time Group

I am a student of the world. I am a traveller. After this trip, I realized that travel doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t always involve fancy resorts or souvenirs. It is a way to see the world, and there’s no one way to do it right. I am grateful for this one trip that opened me to a whole different side of travelling. I know there is so much more to see and I am simply excited about the possibilities.

Backpacking Ho Chi Minh Vietnam First Time Gia

Do you remember your first spontaneous backpacking trip? Where did you go? Let us know.

About the author

Gia Kristel De Guia

Gia, who currently lives in New Zealand, grew up in Manila, lived in Singapore for three years and travelled the world for nearly 2 years. From watching sunsets to hiking mountains, she loves the outdoors. She enjoys living in big cities but takes pleasure staying in quaint, small towns. An aspiring photographer and budding writer, she is the voice behind Mismatched Passports, a travel blog dedicated to the journey around the world with her New Zealander partner, Jon.

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