Green in Saigon: Catching the Travel Bug

My flight was booked. I was headed to Vietnam. Now it was time to get excited, not to mention anxious. This was way back before One Way Ticket Phil had ever crossed my mind. I couldn’t even yet call myself a traveler. I was green. I’d sort of backpacked once previously, but never alone. And I’d never been to Asia. Now I was headed there for the first time, all by my lonesome. I would meet up with friends along the way, but I’d arrive by myself. Not only that, but I’d arrive late at night and without a place to stay. I hadn’t booked a room or a hostel. What was I thinking? To be honest, it probably wasn’t the smartest move and I’m actually still surprised by my boldness. Like I said, I was far from a seasoned traveler so what made me think showing up without accommodation in a random country was a good idea, I may never know. I guess I just figured things would all work out. They always did, right?

So here I was, debarking my fourteen hour flight in a country I’d never been to. Oh what a feeling. An addictive feeling. There really isn’t anything like it. But I digress. I immediately found myself waiting in line for my visa on arrival. Waiting and waiting. Now it was really getting late and I still needed to get into the city and find some sort of place to lay my head for the night. You know that moment when anxiety starts to creep in because you really have no idea how the pieces are going to fall into place? Yea, that was happening. But my only option was to keep waiting and moving along with the process.

Vietnam Roundabout

I decide to strike up a conversation with the guy in front of me wearing a Florida Gators hat. Now having attended UCLA and being an avid college basketball fan, the Gators were not my favorite team. They knocked us out of the final four tournament two years in a row while I was in college. Runner up is the toughest place to finish, hands down and it doesn’t exactly create an endearing feeling for the team that beat you. So basically I should’ve despised this guy. Instead I asked him about this whole visa on arrival thing that was about as clear as mud. Luckily, he’d gone through the process before and was more than willing to help. Once the visa was worked out, the conversation moved to college, sports and what the heck he was doing in Vietnam. Apparently he was teaching English, had been for a year now and was afraid he might be hooked. He was returning from his first visit home after almost a year. To someone who’d never been away from home more than six weeks, this sounded crazy and amazing. Stay and live in Vietnam? Vietnam of all places. A place with such an unpleasant past with the US. What an alternative life he was living that I hadn’t known was possible or even existed. The conversation continued until I finally had my passport with Visa in hand. Time to see what Saigon had to offer.

Trouble was, it was now close to midnight and there was no way of knowing if hotels or hostels would still be open. At some point during our conversation this small fact surfaced and he offered to share a cab with me toward the backpacker part of town where I could find a room. I happily agreed, but by the time we hailed a cab he had a change of heart and actually offered to let me crash at his apartment. He lived with a group of English teachers, one of which was out of town leaving an empty bed in his wake. I pondered whether this was a good idea. I didn’t even know this guy. I just met him in line for a Visa. He’s wearing a Florida Gators hat, the scoundrel. Sounds like a great plan to me! So off we went through the streets of Saigon. Everywhere I looked a new site to see. No idea where I was or where I was headed. Yea, that’s the good stuff.

Eventually we arrived and I was given the grand tour of his place. Like many Vietnamese houses, it was vertically orientated. What I mean by that is there were about five floors, each with one or two rooms and a staircase in the middle taking you further up and up. The roommates, hailing from many English speaking countries, started to trickle in and then the beer came out. Who was this new guy? They didn’t mind and in fact were eager to hear my story even if my trip would be short lived. We sat on the balcony overlooking Saigon’s skyline and talked about life, traveling, teaching English and living abroad. I was here for only three short weeks, but here I was talking to people who’d made globetrotting a lifestyle. I’d been traveling for less than a few hours and I knew, I knew I wouldn’t see enough of the world on this trip, this little stint in Vietnam. I’d need to come back at some point, back to Southeast Asia, back for much longer. Who knows, maybe I’d buy a one way ticket.