Travelling far afield doesn’t have to come with the burden of an empty wallet – even the price-tag on your flight can be shaved down with enough research and a stop-over on the way, writes Fiona Paterson.
Third year politics students at the University of Reading, Will Holford and Daniel Burke, jetted off to discover Vietnam in the summer of 2017. I spent a morning with them to find out their retrospective words of wisdom and handy tips for travelling in South East Asia, especially if you’re on a tight budget.
What are the essentials to pack for travelling in Vietnam?
Will: A waterproof – it doesn’t even have to be a quality one, just a pac-a-mac will do, but a good waterproof will keep you warmer. We were unlucky with the weather sometimes and got absolutely soaked.
Dan: Flip flops/Sliders and hand sanitiser is a must! Take 10 with you because they don’t sell it over there. A bumbag is a must and wear it on your front underneath your t-shirt.
Our tip: Use this foreign travel checklist to make sure you have everything you need before you head off on your travels.
What sort of things did you take with you and what did you wish you had?
Will: I packed so light: a few t-shirts, a couple of pairs of shorts. But I do wish I had packed a second pair of trainers to have a wet pair and a dry pair.
Dan: You’ll buy so much over there, for less money than at home, so don’t pack too much. You could wash everything at the hostels. It was a dollar per kilo for them to wash your clothes for you.
Any helpful tips for getting around and staying in Vietnam?
Will: We were going to get a cab from the airport [in Saigon] but they wanted £10, so we ordered an Uber instead for £1.80 and they dropped us straight off at the hostel, no fuss.
Definitely use hostels! The difference between a £5/night hostel and a £4/night hostel was mad – just pay the extra pound, it’s much more sociable with better food and facilities.
Dan: There are more cultural ways to travel but use Uber to get from A to B where you can as it will save you a lot of money – we were knackered from the flight after travelling for 20 hours or so. If you can, eat outside of the hostel as they’re often a little more expensive.
What sort of food is common there and how cheap is it?
Will: Um, Vietnamese? I was a classic beef noodle soup kind of guy. You could get a big bowl for the equivalent of £1 so it’s very cheap. But because we’re from the West, we’re not adjusted to having an Asian diet every day, so we did pig out on a Western meal every now and then which was a bit more expensive.
Dan: You can eat anything – there’s plenty of Western food on offer too. Do watch in terms of hygiene as they wash salad with tap water, which isn’t safe to drink. If you want a solid meal, definitely go for egg fried rice. More than anything, make sure that you drink loads of water and stay hydrated. I’d even recommend buying re-hydration sachets and drinking a litre before you go out in the morning.
Did you have any issues while you were away?
Will: It was a bit mad to start because Dan’s bag didn’t come through when we got off the plane, but it’s hard to avoid that.
Dan: To be fair to them they rectified the situation within 24 hours and were very apologetic. You’d expect there to be a language barrier [in a foreign airport], but they spoke English so it was helpful on that front. It wasn’t actually that bad and I had travel insurance as well.
Will: We also heard about some travellers getting pickpocketed after a night out if they got on the back of a moped with a local, but that was just them being reckless. I never felt unsafe.
Dan: Don’t worry about the horror stories you hear in the news – they only report the really bad things and most visits amongst students are trouble free if you use your head.
Any final words of wisdom?
Will: Get mopeds a lot and explore the North properly. Above Hanoi there’s this beautiful northern region that most people miss. Also, download Netflix before you go to watch offline, or bring a book, for those 20-hour bus journeys.
Dan: You have to do some travel by bus, but where you can, for shorter journeys (120-150km) get a moped. In the North you’ll see a cultural change; you’re 5km from the Chinese border so it’s an entirely different culture to experience in the same country.
What are you waiting for? With stunning scenes and a host of cultures, all for a little less than you might have thought, make South East Asia your next destination.
For more information, advice, insurance and passport guidance, see the FCO Travel Aware Website for all your travels needs.
Written By Fiona Paterson