Lost in Vietnam and Happy About It


incenseAsk me a year ago for travel advice, and I would have said:

I have all the answers.

I know the perfect way.

What is good for me is good for everyone.

Ask me now, and I know better.

All I know is that I’ve figured out what works for me.

I was lost in Vietnam, completely alone on a rainy day, and I had arrived at the wrong bus station. Lugging around my faded blue backpack, I wandered the gray streets on this dark, damp day. I had lost my pack cover in New Zealand – it blew off in a gust of wind on a hiking trip – and I knew that my backpack was getting wet.

A few years ago, in this situation, maybe I would have been worried, but now I was ecstatic. Excited to be lost.

How would I find my way out of it? What creative solution would my intuition invent? How would the universe conspire to help me?

I sat down at a tiny stall and ordered a bowl of whatever the guy next to me was having, which turned out to be the best noodle soup of my life. Next I attempted to ask the shopkeeper for help.

street vendor

Of course, she didn’t speak English, and looked at me as if I were a space alien. I’ve gotten that look very often while traveling. Sometimes that look freaks me out, but in that moment I loved it, I lapped it up. I was special! Different! Had she ever seen anyone like me before?

She called her friends over – none of whom spoke English. Luckily I had written down the name of the bus station I was trying to find, and I showed it to the group gathering around me.


While I slurped my noodles, more and more people came over, trying to help, offering their opinions. Amongst these strangers, I felt safe.

Even if I missed my bus, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I wouldn’t die. Accepting my situation, I sat back and enjoyed the chatter of this group of Vietnamese men and women who were trying to help me.

Out of nowhere a slightly chubby man appeared, driving a beat-up old motorbike. My new friends motioned for me to get on.

Here’s where my brain started questioning. Despite my initial trust in these strangers, suddenly I thought: “What if he takes you somewhere else? What if he rips you off? What if these people are conspiring against you? …”

What complete and utter bullshit, my heart laughed, pushing away the negativity. The fleeting thoughts dissipated. “You can trust them, get on the bike!” said my heart.

So I did.

I thanked all the people – one of two phrases I could say in Vietnamese – and climbed on the bike. They even found me a big plastic bag to put over my drenched backpack.

I close my eyes now, sitting at my desk in California, and I can transport myself back to the time when I was holding on to this chubby man’s love handles, the wind and gentle rain pecking my face, the gray streets and sky all around me.

I paid him 100,000 Vietnamese dong, about 5 USD. Based on his reaction I think this was more than enough, and I was happy to make his day!

Trust. It’s a key word for me during travel, and life. Trust. During these situations, I remind myself: Accept your situation. Be in the moment. It won’t last forever.

Trust that it will all work out, and it will.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Amber Young

Amberly Rose Young is a graduate from UC Santa Cruz in Creative Writing. After graduation, she booked a one way ticket to New Zealand, where she fulfilled childhood dreams such as milking a goat by hand and chopping firewood. With her 1 year working holiday visa she proudly completed several demanding multi-day hikes, worked in a kiwifruit packhouse but lasted less than a week, and volunteered on farms with hippies who taught her light therapy and how to cleanse in the moonlight. Next was 6 months in Southeast Asia, where she toured the hills of northern Vietnam by wimpy motorscooter, stopping to embarrass herself by attempting to pick rice with the locals. After a month teaching English to teenagers in Northern Bali, Amber headed to Australia for another working holiday visa. She timed it perfectly to be picking strawberries in the hail and playing ultimate frisbee in below freezing weather. A few trains, hitchhikes, and couchsurfs later, she flew from Brisbane to Kuala Lumpur for a month around Malaysia eating too much. Finally she landed at Bahay Kalipay to cleanse. She lost her insecurities along the way, and now she is free to do yoga on airplanes or in supermarkets! To give or receive any advice, feedback, or ideas, please contact her through her website whereisamber.com

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