As I departed on my first ever trip abroad, I knew I was in for some exciting firsts and new adventures. What I didn’t know was all of the small things I would learn along that way that would help make my trip complete. My first piece of travel advice is obvious but should most definitely not be overlooked. PACK LIGHT. Regardless of how long you are traveling, you will want to bring more souvenirs home than you know what to do with. And if you overpack on your way there, it will cost you, in either luggage fees or lost clothing, on the way home. I learned that rolling the clothes in my suitcase was a great way to save space, and it allowed me to bring a fair selection of clothing for both business visits and free time!
If you have never visited the countries you are traveling to with IBS, try to erase any preconceived notions of what you think the countries will be like. I went to Asia having a notion that Thailand and Vietnam would be different, but essentially the same. But boy, was I wrong. Even though they are relatively close to each other, both Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City have unique cultures and distinct features to make each city a one of a kind experience. Bangkok was much more touristy than I imagined. Currency Exchanges lined the streets and almost everyone I encountered spoke pretty good English. Vietnam, on the other hand, was almost the opposite. Although the majority of people still spoke English, it seemed to be more on a basic level. There was also much less of a touristy feel while roaming the city.
Take the Tuk-Tuk
I imagine that our coach bus made traveling between cities a bit different than what locals would experience. As most locals traveled by motorbike, and traffic laws did not appear to exist, it was a completely different experience than in the United States. My top recommendation is no matter how cute your shoes are, make sure you’re comfortable walking at least a mile in them. One day, we tracked over 6 miles just walking around the markets! (Good thing massages are cheaper there 😊).
Although there are taxi cabs in both cities, we didn’t really utilize them unless we were going across town. In Thailand, taking a Tuk Tuk is much more efficient! The taxis in Vietnam are very cheap, but we ran into a language barrier with our driver that left us wishing we would have walked. And even then, most places we were trying to go were within a 20-minute walk. Because of the lack of traffic laws (or lack of enforcement maybe?), it became important to pay close attention to our surroundings when walking from place to place. In Vietnam, people riding on motorbikes would routinely drive up on the sidewalks to avoid the traffic and honk at you to move out of their way!
Although it is extremely difficult to pinpoint a favorite city or attraction, getting to experience Elephants World in Kanchanaburi, Thailand on our free day is something I can never forget. After spending the week exploring the wonders of Bangkok, the majority of the group boarded the coach bus and headed three hours away to Kanchanaburi. We had arranged with the hotel concierge to travel to a place called Elephants Word. It took elderly elephants who were in training camps, and forced to work, and gave them a new, relaxed life in this sanctuary. At first arrival, the majority of us were in awe. Elephants were free-roaming and walking right next to us! We were baffled by the intelligence of the elephants, and their trusting ability of humans so quickly. Something that Elephants World strives to live by is those who visit will work for the elephants as opposed to the opposite. It was mesmerizing to see the pure bliss the elephants experienced when getting rubbed with mud (to prepare them for their shower) or fed melons. It really made me reflect on how happy simple things can make me.
Do your research
One thing I am glad that I did before my trip was research, research, research. It helped me, along with others in my group, brainstorm early on about how we wanted to spend nights after business visits and especially our free day. We found our hotel concierge to be extremely useful, as they were able to book our tickets and reservations without us having to possibly work through a language barrier. My recommendation would be to let one person in the group be the coordinator if there is a large number of people interested in going. Coincidentally, the tour guide with us for the IBS visits and the hotel concierge worked for the same company, so they were able to help coordinate transportation to the farther visits, such as Elephants World.
My motto before going on the trip was to say “Yes” to anything I had time to do. This motto left me very tired, but very fulfilled as I return home and have memories to reflect on for years and years to come.