The following interview about traveling alone in Vietnam was submitted by Jonai. Read more about solo female travel here.
Jonai Republica here! I’m a hiking enthusiast, a travel blogger, and an expat teacher in Vietnam from The Philippines. I have traveled the chart-topping spots in my country like Palawan, Cebu and Boracay to name a few; some of its neighboring countries like Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and a couple outside South East Asia – Mongolia and Israel.
Recently I have made it out alive (not without wounds and bruises, though) after a 10-day lone journey to the popular motorbike loops of the North Vietnam provinces. The 15000 kilometer drive started from Sapa to Ha Giang to Cao Bang to Bac Kan, and ended in Hanoi.
Why did you decide to travel to Vietnam by yourself?
It’s just simply hard to find an equally-adventurous soul with the same available dates! (Single lady problems! haha) Although I was actually hoping that my planned schedule would perfectly coincide with another backpacker’s, I knew it was a long shot.
I posted in Couchsurfing and Facebook groups to find a travel buddy (which usually worked in the past) yet, didn’t found one. But making this North Vietnam trip was a non-negotiable for me so I excitedly pursued it by myself. I realized that it couldn’t have been any better!
Did you have any trouble traveling solo in northern Vietnam?
Probably the only trouble I faced traveling solo in Vietnam is the language barrier. Learning how to ask for prices, directions and to count in Vietnamese helped me a lot, though, and google translate!
Did you ever feel unsafe?
Not at all! Prior to this solo backpacking trip, I have already been living and traveling in the South of Vietnam for 7 months which led me to conclude that even if I go solo for 10 days, human danger is not a big threat.
First, the Vietnamese and ethnic minorities in the North are either friendly or too shy! Second, they don’t tend to take advantage! A couple of times I just left my big backpack unattended in my parked motorbike (not a best practice, I know!) because I didn’t want to carry heavy stuff as I explored the spots; behold, it was still there when I got back!
I had a couple of accidents, though! One time in Lao Cai, my motorbike wobbled running on 40kph (my fault!) in the highway but thank God a Vietnamese couple who couldn’t even speak English stopped to help and brought me to the clinic to get my wounds bound. On another time at the border belt of China, I was driving too slow off road to a rocky path so my motorbike fell on one side and no one was there to help me push the motorbike back up!
These were all part of the journey and they didn’t make me regret a bit! I am driving more carefully now!
>>Here’s our advice for first time solo female travelers.
Tell us about one of your favorite experiences from traveling solo in Vietnam.
My itinerary was so jam-packed because I only had 10 days to visit 4 provinces. But despite that, I love how driving alone in the midst of nature gave me so much peace and serenity, leading me to reflect and meditate while traveling. That’s the best part of this journey. Although the extreme experiences are also worth mentioning, such as driving through dangerous switchback roads with the best breathtaking scenes, the freedom of sleeping under the stars while camping on top of a hill, and the relief of reaching the next town where I would spend the night.
Were there any special precautions you took to feel safer while traveling solo?
Unlike traveling in the city where it’s alright to stay out late because people are always present anyway, province towns shut down early. So, I made it a point to settle in a homestay by sundown. Besides, it’s dangerous to drive on switchback roads in the dark. I broke this rule a couple of times, though, which led me to driving in the middle of nowhere with only the stars above and my bike’s headlight to guide me.
Did you meet any other solo female travelers while you were in northern Vietnam?
It’s strange that I didn’t meet other solo female travelers in any of the spots I’ve visited in North Vietnam. Ladies I’ve met were with partners, friends or family.
What luggage did you bring with you to northern Vietnam?
I had my big backpack (Berghaus Torridon 65 Rucksack) tied to my bike during travel time, a small The North Face bag as daypack, and a small Salomon belt bag for easy access to phone, passport and money.
>>Read reviews of the best travel backpacks for women.
Were there any items you were glad you brought with you or that you wished you had brought?
My favorite companions for this trip were: my rented motorbike which made me so flexible, my downloaded spotify playlists which gave an amazing soundtrack on my long rides, and my bulky sleeping bag and tent which allowed me to camp once I had the perfect opportunity! I was also happy to have brought candies to give away to the ethnic minority kids that I pass by while driving! The smiles on their faces were so fulfilling!
What’s your number 1 tip for females traveling solo to Vietnam?
Take risks! Learn to drive the motorbike so you would not be dependent on public transportation and expensive tour providers. Pick a good one to rent, too, and drive safely! I really am so glad that I chose to drive on my own, despite the accidents which were totally avoidable, instead of riding buses and expensive motorbike taxis! I had complete mobility and freedom to go wherever I wanted!
About the author: Jonai Republica is the co-founder of international travel and hiking group The Wanderwalkers. She resigned from her IT job in January 2016 and headed to Vietnam to teach kids on weekdays, explore on weekends, and write blogs on her spare time. For more tips and itineraries when traveling Vietnam and Philippines, or if you have questions, check out her website and social media accounts: Facebook and Instagram.