November: In Review

Caitlin Featured, Monthly Breakdown Leave a Comment

Well that’s it – November has come to an end, and so has my second month of travel!

For most people (Australians in particular who seem to travel for a long time – it takes so long for us to get anywhere!), that’d be the end of the trip. For me though, it’s still a little like I’m only just beginning.

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I get a lot of shocked responses nowadays when I say I’ve been at this travelling business for two months. I invariably get asked “where else have you been?” and that leads to the biggest surprise of all. When I tell these new friends of mine that I’ve only been in Vietnam, it slowly dawns on them – this girl is only halfway through a country and she’s been here for two months?! Most people spend a maximum of one month in Vietnam. A lot of people only stay here for a couple of weeks!

I’m loving the flexibility I have with my schedule though. Without fail, my plans change; often mere hours after I make them. Sometimes they change as I ride further than I’d planned. Other times they change when I fall a little bit in love with a place and can’t bring myself to leave.

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It’s the beauty of having no set plan – you’re given the opportunity to experience new things and or a new place as much or as little as you’d like.

What did I get up to?

Where I’ve been: Vietnam (Tam Coc, Phong Nha, Đông Hà, Huế, Hội An)

Compared to that first month, November has been a whirlwind of adventures.

Since Tam Coc, things have only gotten better!

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I had high expectations of Tam Coc (a lot of people rave about the place), but ultimately, the latter part of the month exceeded my wildest dreams with Vietnam pulling out all the stops in all the tourist checkboxes – beauty, history, deliciousness.

After Tam Coc, I spent a lot of time cycling south – adding around 1,000km to the total distance I’ve now travelled across Vietnam. This meant the first half of the month was largely spent on the bike with parts of me getting sore that I just wasn’t prepared for!

But then I finally hit Phong Nha and Central Vietnam, and all sorts of fun activities awaited me.

These past two weeks have been an insane rush of adventure which I’m still trying to fill you all in about. I’m literally only showering you with my Phong Nha activities now!

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To summarise though, I had an amazing week in Phong Nha exploring the caves, followed by an interesting and informative couple of days in Dong Ha near the former DMZ, a quick night in Hue followed by an epic motorbike ride across the Hai Van Pass and into Hoi An where I’ve spent the past several days enjoying what could just be my favourite place in Vietnam!

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Highlight: Phong Nha was up there with places I loved, but I’ve got to say Hoi An has it all for me. It’s been just what I’ve needed after a busy month of cycling and adventures. The city itself doesn’t have much in the way of activities to keep you occupied for several days, but it does have a lot of character and charm. Being a Melbourne girl, the vibe this place exudes is just the reminder of home I needed. I’ve happily spent a great number of days sitting in coffee shops, riding around the town and just enjoying how quant this old city is. What’s more is that I actually got to meet a few friends here that I’d made in Phong Nha! The nature of my travel means it’s unlikely I’ll meet new friends again while we’re on the road, but I was fortunate enough to spend a few more days with some when I first arrived here.

Lowlight: There’s little to be disappointed in this month. The biggest downside I’ve found with cycling however is the attention I can get as a solo, white woman riding through small towns and villages. The few unpleasant interactions with the local men I’ve had as I’ve been riding have been enough to make me question the adventure I’m on, but haven’t yet deterred me.

How did the budget go?

If you’d asked me in the first half of the month, I’d have told you I was an ace with this budget stuff. By the half-way point, I’d only spent about 35-40% of the total months budget – how good is that?

But then I got to Phong Nha, and the costs of all those activities started adding up.

Add to that the clothes I recently bought in Hoi An, and I put myself way over my budget of $1,000.

Total Spend: 22,716,500 VND ($1,449 AUD)

Biggest Splurge: New (tailored) clothes in Hoi An (4,006,000 VND)

While I went over budget, I’m still glad I did everything I could. The big ticket items were the clothes (which isn’t something I’ll be buying again once I leave Hoi An) and a few tours that I did with costs I couldn’t avoid short of just not seeing the sights at all.

While I’d like to stick to budget (I am an accountant after all), I’d much rather get the most out of this experience. Splurges like those this month are worth it. While I set myself a $1k limit, I did tell my dad before I left that I wouldn’t be fazed if my realistic budget was more like $1.5k. Perhaps I should just make that my actual budget from now on? After all, I’m expecting December to be another expensive month…

Here’s the breakdown on where my money went:

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Just like last month, the big numbers are coming from food, accommodation and tours, however this month a big chunk of the funds went to those nice new clothes I have!

Again, I could spend less on food, but when you get to a place like Hoi An and you can feast on so many amazing and delicious things, it’s hard to turn it down just because things cost a little more than usual (more about the food coming in a few days time!).

Accommodation this month actually turned out considerably higher than the previous month. I had a lot of private rooms on my cycle days, with one extra nice one costing me as much as 400,000 VND! Hostels in certain cities also haven’t been as cheap as I saw in the north.

I’m expecting numbers for tours to fall next month – I’ll be riding for the next couple of weeks and then I’m jetsetting off to a new destination over Christmas and New Years where I suspect I’ll be spending a lot of time by the beach… Then again, there could be some diving involved and that’ll bring those tour costs up for the third month in a row!

Where to now?

Tomorrow is time I bid farewell to Hoi An and continue heading south. I’m expecting a couple of solid weeks of riding now as I tackle another 500km or so to Nha Trang (amusingly, most people would make it there in just a day). Then I’ll be ditching the wheels and giving someone else the reigns as I make my way to Ho Chi Minh City so I can catch my flight to Thailand for Chrissy!

Thailand is looking to be a whirlwind of fun and beaches as I head to the islands for some good old catch-up time with a few friends from home. Then I’ll be on to another exciting new destination before I head back to Vietnam to finish the last little section of my ride.

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