by Thai Ha
As a low-cost, independent means of travel, many Vietnamese are choosing backpacking as a way to explore their country.
Backpacking is typically associated with young adults who generally have fewer obligations and more time to travel. They also have less money to spend on hotels or private vehicles. Intrepid travellers can experience the tranquil beauty of remote areas, or discover bustling new metropolises.
To some people, backpacking offers a great chance to experience new things, like 70-year-old Tran Van Khue from Thanh Xuan District in Ha Noi.
As a long-distance driver, Khue's life was spent behind the wheel. During his youth, he traversed the length and breadth of the country across all manner of terrain.
Having lived the majority of his life on the road, retirement came as shock to Khue, and he spent his days moping around at home.
Khue's wife was happy to have him back, but realised he was depressed. She encouraged him to join a bikers' club. To start with, Khue was drawn to classic motorbikes, but his love of speed led him to the Minsk motorbike.
Most members of the club are youngsters, and to start with they were afraid that Khue would not be able to cope with the strenuous journeys. However, after several trips, he proved his worth and was appointed their leader. The image of a grey-haired old man on a Minsk, speeding along country roads, has become the symbol and spiritual strength of the whole team.
It is these journeys across his beautiful country on his beloved ‘iron horse' that helped Khue to discover his true passion.
Returning from a backpacking trip to the northern province of Ha Giang, Khue has a smile on his face, despite his stained clothes and sweaty face.
"The sun, the wind, the dust, the people and the landscape… that's what I need. People like myself need these journeys to revive their youth and realise that we're not that old after all," Khue says.
For me, backpacking not only offers opportunities to discover the beauty of my country and the cultures of others, but also to broaden my knowledge and make friends.
I have made many friends during my travels and learnt a lot about the different cultures that exist in Viet Nam, with some funny and unforgettable experiences along the way.
One that sticks out was a trip to Xin Man, a border district in the mountainous province of Ha Giang. The landscape was beautiful, with terraced fields spread out like a masterpiece, clouds floating above mountains and murmuring streams.
We rented motorbikes and drove along the bumpy roads, littered with pot holes. Purple smoke drifted from the chimneys of local houses as ethnic people went about their simple lives, and I felt bewitched.
As dusk fell, we began to prepare dinner and watched the last rays of sunset disappear behind the mountains.
I think Ha Giang is the most beautiful province in the north.
Backpacking is more interesting than tours organised by travel companies, and it has become popular among the Vietnamese over the last 10 years. In the past, the only travelling that young people did was on behalf of their employers or on tours.
Nguyen Hoang Nam, director of the Nam Hoang Tourism Company, says: "Backpacking saves money and travellers can be more flexible with their time. It can also be full of surprises."
Despite its plus sides, there are also drawbacks if you don't prepare well.
Before you set off, you should make an itinerary detailing destination, length of stay, weather, accommodation and cost.
More information can be found online in travel forums and websites, where experienced travellers leave valuable advice.
For those who enjoy trekking and nature, the most important things to remember are the essentials, such as water, a first aid kit, raincoat, sleeping bags and a compass.
You can prepare yourself as much as possible, but the strongest driving force for any backpacker is the desire to roam the country, and eventually, the world. — VNS