By Emma Pryke.
In an ideal world when itchy feet occurs we would just be able to pack our bags and jet off to faraway lands. However for the average 9-5 worker this is but a mere fantasy. So how can you emulate the feeling of independent footloose travel without taking a gap year or sabbatical? I was lucky enough to take a holiday earlier in the year where I experienced Vietnam and caught a glimpse of the ‘real’ culture and atmosphere of this wonderful country in just two weeks. I travelled independently (with a companion) but had all transfers and accommodation pre-arranged, whilst having plenty of time to explore the local cities and countryside without the constraints of being within a group.
Having previously backpacked through the US and South Africa, I have always enjoyed the freedom of rocking up to a destination with just a lonely planet and sense of adventure. However, I wanted to see as much as possible within two weeks, so this type of travel really wasn’t going to be possible. I didn’t have the time to leaf through pages and pages of hostel/hotel reviews, and work out the local transport, and to be honest I just wanted to leave it in the hands of someone who had been there, done that, and bought the proverbial Vietnam T-Shirt. So that’s what I did.
I asked the travel experts at Vietnam Travel Plan to put together a trip that would take me from Hoi An, down to the central highlands and then eventually towards the South Coast, with a stay at the beautiful Palm Island, off the shores of Nha Trang. All this was arranged with a mixture of transport (private car/ shared mini-van and internal flights), which allowed me to get from a to b efficiently. Next time I would love to try a sleeper train, but as time was tight I decided to fly a couple of times, which turned out to be low-cost, easy and saved a couple of days travel time.
At times we were in a small group for excursions such as Ha Long Bay, and smaller sight-seeing opportunities. This was nice as it gave us a chance to be more sociable with other travellers (one thing I missed a little from the backpacking trail). The accommodation that we stayed in was mostly small guesthouses, locally run and very authentic. The beach bungalows on Palm Island had rustic charm, and opening my door to the sight of palm trees and the coral reefs each morning was a feeling I won’t forget in a hurry.
So has this encouraged me to store away my backpack and head torch in favour of organised travel? I’d have to say it’s a case of evaluating your wants and needs for a holiday. I’m hoping to visit Thailand next, and will split my trip so that I have half the time to explore the North and work with a charity project, but then arrange the second half with Thailand Travel Plan. This way I know that the only thing I need to worry about on the last part of my Thailand travels is where I’ll be having my daily fix of Pad Thai, and whether to order a Pina Colada or a Margarita. Bliss.