Until this year, I have only left the country a handful of times, and when I did it was on someone else's dime. A man's dime. My dad took us to Europe a couple of times when I was a kid, and he took me to France nine years ago. The Reptile took me to Portugal in 2010.
So I wanted to go somewhere on my own dime, and I wanted to go somewhere other than Europe. So, semi-arbitrarily, I settled on Vietnam. It was supposed to be beautiful, it was supposed to be cheap, Anthony Bourdain loves it and I love Vietnamese food.
But I was intimidated by facing Asia on my first solo trip abroad, so I went with a tour. In a way, this was a good decision, because I think trying to figure out everything on my own would have overwhelmed the stress to pleasure equation on the stress side. And I had a good time, because it turns out that Vietnam is beautiful and cheap and people are generally lovely although the language barrier seemed huge to me. And there were some opportunities to get off the tourist track. I didn't much hit it off with my group though, who were mostly younger and bigger drinkers, and not all that interested in street food or local culture.
The highlights were--
A street food tour in Hanoi, just me and a local guy and later an Egyptian surgeon who was there for a conference, and who I didn't tell he was eating pork. We ate a long thin sandwich with a pate and pickled vegetables, the little pistolette was some of the best bread I've ever eaten. A sort of rice crepe with pork, a sweet potato fritter, seafoods grilled on our little child's table on the sidewalk, fruit in ice and sweet cream, and the best coffee I'd had to that point in the back and upstairs from a silk shop, with a beautiful view of the lake.
The coffee in the morning on the otherwise revolting Reunification Express.
A bike ride through the countryside outside Hoi An that ended with a swim in the sea.
Rowing through the Mekong Delta.
The Cu Chi tunnels, sort of.
More coffee on the streets of Saigon, and being on my own to wander around in the steam on the last day.
Managing all of this sorta/mostly on my own and becoming a little bit more of a woman of the world.