Behind the Postcards with Nhung Trân / by Chris Tyre

Passport Please...
Name: Tran Thi Hong Nhung
Nationality: Vietnam
Current Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
Next Destination: South Korea (3x in 9 months!)

This my first travel interview in a new series of posts I'm doing called Behind The Postcards with nomadic souls from around the world. Now I’m happy to introduce female solo traveler, Nhung Tran…

N+C: What’s up Nhung!? Thanks for doing this interview. Can you share with readers who you are?

NT: Greetings to all Nomad + Camera readers! I’m Nhung, 25 years old (actually 27 years old in my country). I’m Libra, B-blood type, currently working in a Korean company in Hanoi. I’m on a break from traveling right now. I need to save up money before other trip. I also have my personal blog, but it’s written in Korean, mostly about my daily life, so it might be boring. Anyway, I’m very honored to have this interview.

N+C: What was your first solo trip abroad and what inspired you to go solo?

NT: My first solo trip abroad is almost 10 years ago, when I was age 18 and a freshman in university. I know it sounds stupid, but I went on my first trip just to buy cheap clothes. At that time I heard that clothes in Guangzhou, China were much cheaper than in Hanoi. So I determined that one day I would go there and buy enough clothes to wear for a year and come back. I just brought a small backpack and a Chinese communication book with me, which I thought would be enough. I knew that there was lots of kidnapping going on at that time in China, but I took the leap without any hesitation dreaming about cheap and beautiful dresses!

It took me 24 hours and 3 different buses to reach Guangzhou. I still remember my first impression when I saw this big city. How can Chinese girls be so beautiful and white? Because of demagogic media, I always believed that Vietnamese girls are the most beautiful girls in the world until then. Also, it was the first time I experienced really cold weather that went down to 2 degrees Celsius. I tried taking taxis and buses to find hotels with a few Chinese words that I studied in university, and from the book that I carried on. It was also the first time that I cried. I got lost and felt powerless and didn’t know how to ask others for help. (I actually lost my way many times later on my trips, but never cry again). It sounds bad, but it was the first time too I realized that Chinese people could be good people (the bad media in Vietnam says different things). For the first time I felt big and grateful and despite all of these things, I was safe.

It was this point that I realized how different the world was beyond Vietnam. That was the time I found my dream deep down on me. I found out that it wasn’t enough; it would never be enough. I need more. I want to discover more. And that’s the beginning of my endless trip!

Waterfall in Cebu, Philippines

Waterfall in Cebu, Philippines

N+C: Where else have you traveled?

NT: I’ve been to 11 countries, but only in Asia – Pacific Region: Vietnam (of course), China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippine, Singapore, Australia, India, Vanuatu, and Korea.

N+C: How have you been able to fund your travels?

NT: Most of my travels expense come from my own savings. I was (and hopefully still am) a very hard working person. I always worked during my school years while my friends were busy studying or going out. Also I joined some contests and won a couple of them. Even though those weren’t very big ones, I earned some extra money as a prize. Other people may think that I spend lots of money on my trips, but I don’t. Except for plane tickets, what I spend per day traveling is as much as I would spend if I were in Vietnam. (I also always look for promotion tickets.)

Additionally, I often chose to stay in very cheap hotels and/or couchsurf. I also try to find people from where I am going to visit before I arrive there so they can help me out. That’s a very good way cut your expenses. Most of these people are total strangers to me but fortunately, I’ve never met bad people (so far) and that’s why I’m still here doing this interview.

N+C: What’s the biggest mistake that you’ve made while traveling that you wish you could go back in time and tell a younger you DON’T DO THIS?

NT: Without any second thought, it would be DON’T BE GLUED TO YOUR PHONE. It’s the biggest mistake that I’ve made on the way. When I traveled to India, my boyfriend was living in Korea – 3.5 hour time difference. And I was insane trying to connect with him in every hour. I badly wanted to tell him how good my day was, how beautiful the scenes were, how amazing these people are that I had met, how delicious (or terrible) the food was that I just ate… I also wanted to take photos all the time of whatever was before my eyes. I was worried that if I don’t take photos, I will forget these precious moments, so I tried to savor it up.

I forgot to SMELL the local smell that I may never be able to smell it again. To FEEL their lifestyle, their rhythm, to CAPTURE these beautiful views in my eyes. I just forgot to do it. I didn’t know how precious these moments were.

Wandering Jeju Island, South Korea

Wandering Jeju Island, South Korea

N+C: Do you have any packing tips for female travelers that feel like 2 suitcases aren’t enough?

NT: COME ON, GIRL. 2 suitcases are more than enough. I traveled for 2 months with 3 t-shirts, 1 pair of jeans, 1 shorts, 1 skirt, and 2 dresses, and even you wrote me a comment asking me “how many pieces of clothes did you bring?!” If you know how to mix clothes well, then you will have a different outfit that will suit you well for any occasion.

But, never forget to bring your foam cleanser for you face and sunblock. Having enough protection to your skin is very important. Oh, and a camera, phone, and a visa card that you can use everywhere. That’s enough, at least for me. I used to bring lots of stuff, but I would end up leaving it somewhere, and only going back to for it before I would leave the country.

N+C: Safety has got to be something on your mind. (And probably on the minds of your friends and family when you tell them where you are going!) What steps do you take to stay safe on the road?

NT: I kind of trust my instinct very much with people. Hindsight 20/20, using my instinct this way has worked well so far. Is it hard to believe if I say that I never prepare anything to protect myself on the way? Am I stupid or just too lucky with people? Since I was a child, I was educated that all people are good and if you are nice to them, they will be nice to you. And I still believe so until now. I’ve met people on the street, in the clubs, on the airplane, on the train… Some of them physically look really, really scary at the beginning (long hair, bushy beard, etc.). But all of them turned out to be very nice people after all.

Of course, there are people too that I even don’t wanna talk to, and for these people I keep my distance. I mean, you should be careful around people, but don’t be too afraid, because if you’re too afraid, you will never see anything, even in your own country.

N+C: Which country has the hottest men?

NT: Definitely Filipino men. They’re all very tall, have nice bodies, and I especially like their tanned skin.

Satay Celup in Malacca, Malaysia

Satay Celup in Malacca, Malaysia

N+C: Is there one dish that you’ve tried on the road that you’ll never forget? What is it and where did you have it?

NT: There is one dish that I made me want to open a restaurant that would solely sell just that food immediately after I tried it. It’s called Satay Celup, a specialty of Malacca City, one of Malaysia’s oldest cities. Before I went there, my Malaysian friend recommended that dish to me, and strongly emphasized that it’s a must to do. I really have to thank him for that!

The best satay celup in Malacca City is in Capitol restaurant, located in Lorong Bukit Cina and is easy to find... just look for a queue of hungry diners trailing out onto the street. Satay means skewered food, while celup means to dip in. Diners cook the raw food skewered on satay sticks in a boiling spicy peanut sauce, much like a Chinese steamboat. The hot, thick, and creamy peanut sauce just makes everything extra delicious! Satay celup is unique to Malacca so don't miss this local delicacy.

N+C: My mouth is watering now! That sounds delicious.

Paragliding in Manali, Northern India

Paragliding in Manali, Northern India

N+C: Is there a place that you’ve been to that was totally different than you’d thought it would be?

NT: Vanuatu and India. Before I came to Vanuatu, I didn’t know much about it nor did the people I know so I couldn’t get any reviews prior to going. All what I knew was from the internet and that it’s an island paradise perfect for diving, snorkeling and twice voted as the happiest country in the world. But it turned out to be very poor island. People are living under canvases that they called houses. Most of them don’t even have enough to buy a glass of beer. All restaurants and bars in the town are for foreigners, very few locals can go in. I must admit, it’s beautiful island, but travelers only review it about on its natural beauty and not the living conditions of its people. I could have never imagined it. In the three weeks that I was there, I with some expats who live there tried doing several things to help these people.

About India… I always pictured it being a very hot place with rape cases everywhere. I guess most Vietnamese people would think this like me if they only read the news. I don’t know why international media seems so unfair to India. I really think that it’s very big and culturally rich country that everyone should visit at least one time. People there are very friendly, honest, and they try helping you more than what you expected. Sometimes it even it made me suspicious or doubtful of their good intentions because they were too good! I really like the Indian friends that I’ve met on the way. I really want to advise all of readers out there to not judge a book before you read it.

Exploring volcanoes in Bandung, Indonesia

Exploring volcanoes in Bandung, Indonesia

N+C: What have you learned from traveling solo?

NT: Of course I’ve learned a lot about the places, cultures, and people from which I’ve visited. Also, being a solo traveler has given me lots of opportunities to make new friends. When I traveled with others, there are many limitations. For example, my friend doesn’t want to make new friends or other people feel more hesitant to talk to me first.

Also, as a solo traveler, I learned to deal with all problems that happen along the way on my own. It has increased my independence and confidence a lot. In addition, I learned to manage my budget and how to do everything I want but as frugally as possible.

N+C: Last question, what advice do you have for females that are considering traveling solo for the first time?

NT: Take it easy, grab your backpack and go. However, if it’s your first time, it’s better to travel to place with at least one person that you know. Just in case anything happened on the way. Or travel to place that you would be able to speak their language. Then everything will be piece of cake. After you have some experiences, you can try a totally new country that you don’t know anyone or even don’t know how to speak the language. It would be interesting.

N+C: Thanks for your time Nhung! For more on her adventurous life, go check out her blog! (Also, download a translator app!)

Backstory / How we met:
She asked me for a pen. She got a margarita instead. Nhung and I met really randomly on an airplane and have stayed in touch since. She had been sitting across from me on a flight Kuala Lumpur to Sydney and asked me for a pen to fill out her customs form. I didn’t think much of it. Fast forward six and we randomly ended up sitting next to each other again on a train to downtown Sydney. Now it seemed like fate that we should be friends. Or maybe that’s just how travelers think. She had a 24-hour layover until she was headed to Vanuatu and I was being nomadic and hoping to find work in Sydney. Regardless, I had been craving Mexican for months so we agreed to meet up the next day for lunch. (By the way, finding Mexican food in Sydney wasn’t as easy to find as I had thought.) Nonetheless, we became friends over Australian tacos and margaritas.

All photos courtesy of Nhung Tran.