When we were planning the trip (without really planning it), we had no clue when (or if) we’d get to Vietnam, but as it was high on our list and required procuring a visa before leaving the US, we opted for a three month, multiple-entry visa that started on January 1. We flew from Iloilo City to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) via Manila on January 26th. Bullseye. We had over two months remaining on our visa.
The flight was short and uneventful. Unless you’re looking at a map, you might not realize that HCMC is only 2 hours and 15 minutes from Manila by air.
We’d booked a hotel for a week, but had no plans after that. We needed some time to recover from our whirlwind three weeks in the Philippines, from the fact that we’d been traveling for five straight months, and from a series of unanticipated ailments that would befall us that week. Without getting into too many details, we both developed annoying fungal infections, due in part to the regimen of antibiotics we’d started as prophylaxis against malaria (and possibly due to sub-par personal hygiene…?), and I managed to eat something wrong on our first full day in Vietnam and tossed my cookies that night. Suffice it to say, we slowed down and were slowed down.
We also ran up against the persistent “where next” problem. This is a topic I’ve wanted to write about on multiple occasions, but have been so swamped just trying to keep up with what we’re doing that I never have the mental space to write about how we’re doing. Maybe I won’t fully until after the trip is over, and its lingering effects begin to be felt. This will have to do for now.
As much fun as it is to dream about traveling the world, one of the things I’ve come to realize now that we’re actually doing it is how exhausting it is to constantly ask ourselves: what are we doing today, what are we doing tomorrow, what are we doing next week, where are we going next, where are we going to sleep, where are we going to eat, what do I want to do, what do you want to do, what do we want to do…?
Even if we answer some of the big questions, for a week, or a month even, and put them aside, eventually time catches up with us. And unlike normal life, we can’t just put if off or ignore it. We must know where we are sleeping tonight. If we don’t know, all else fades into the background until we do know. And if we don’t know where we’re sleeping tomorrow night, it makes it really hard to enjoy today. If we’re preoccupied thinking about the future, then we’re not able to enjoy the present.
I envision this as a sort of “Traveler’s Hierarchy of Needs” (after Maslow):
When we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, we’d reached the end of a series of plans (plane flights, really) that we’d put together in early December, and those niggling questions finally caught back up with us. Even though we had a hotel for a week, we didn’t have any clue as to what or where next. This unknown filled us with a sort of dread. Either we were going to stop traveling altogether (a rather draconian way to avoid the questions), or we had to come up with an itinerary again for the next few months.
So that’s what we did in HCMC. Between meals, blogging about the Philippines, and applications of anti-fungal ointment, while the Tết Festival (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) celebrations swirled around us, we bunkered down in our hotel room and researched. It felt like a vacation from traveling. We watched TV! It took us nearly two weeks, but by the end, we’d sketched out a week-by-week plan for the rest of trip.
Of course what we actually choose to do or not do within those weeks can be decided on the ground, and where we stay doesn’t have to be determined more than a week or so in advance, but at least we don’t have to constantly ask, “ok, where next?” and have THE WHOLE WORLD as a solution set. To a certain degree it does mean we’re locking ourselves into a plan, at least as far as the plane tickets we’ve already purchased (though everything is flexible—at a price), but I’m starting to see this as a healthy form of embracing constraints.
For now I’ll share our route through continental Southeast Asia, which should carry us through the end of March. After that things get a bit fuzzier. Here’s how it looks: Ho Chi Minh City > Mekong Delta > Phnom Penh > Siem Reap > Đà Nẵng/Huế/Hội An > Hanoi/Hạ Long Bay > Luang Prabang > Chiang Mai > Ko Pha Ngan (just Stephanie—more on that later). We’re currently in Châu Đốc, Vietnam, in the Mekong Delta right across the border from Cambodia. Tomorrow we take a boat to Phnom Penh. More on HCMC/Saigon up next.