by Trung Hieu
Phan Hai Anh, 24, carefully checks his sleeping bags, medicine kit and backpack once more in preparation for a weekend journey to the northernmost province of Ha Giang with some friends.
Anh also ensures his motorbike, which he has used for a dozen previous journeys, is maintained and tuned-up. He puts his bike tools in a box, ready for a journey that has become increasingly familiar for this young man.
One reason so many young people now choose to travel as a backpacker (phuot) – a low-cost way of travelling – is because it's their passion. For them, the colours of life can be gradually explored, unconstrained from the limits imposed by travel agency tours.
No tour, no guide, no hotel and no car, they would say. This is tourism, but not in its conventional sense, as each traveller has their own space to explore at their leisure, following the path that most appeals.
If you register for a tour with a travel company, you simply have to pay your money and wait for the departure date. It seems so easy, but many young people choose to eschew this convention and travel on the principle of their aforementioned four "nos."
Nguyen Ngoc Le, a young sales manager, chose to buy an air ticket to the Philippines without any help from a travel company.
She sought information from the internet and asked friends who had been before about the services and entertainment hotspots suitable for her trip.
Young people who love this form of travel say they are attracted by the independence and unpredictability.
Their destinations are often landscapes they know only from the internet and friends' tales.
They often use motorbikes, allowing the freedom to stop whenever they find a place that interest them.
One of the best things about the phuot mode of travel is undoubtedly its cheapness, making travelling more accessible and enabling backpackers to visit more places than they could on a conventional tour. If they can spare the time, some people will go travelling for an entire month or even longer.
For a young woman who is always consumed by her busy job at a foreign invested company, the chance to spend any free time as a backpacker is highly appealing for Nguyen Hong Vy.
"Phuot is considered an escape from the tension of modern life. New lands can be explored however you want to," she said. "These trips help me to slow down my high-speed life."
The online forum Trai Tim Viet Nam (Viet Nam Heart) has become a popular place for like-minded travellers to share ideas.
Whenever someone makes a suggestion, such as to visit remote and isolated areas in the mountains or islands, hundreds members instantly register to join, particularly those with a healthy income.
One member, Quang Lam, said he often travelled by motorcycle, taking his professional camera on many trips across the Central provinces.
"I have travelled by bus with the travel agencies many times, but the feelings of siting in a car and on a motorbike are very different. You can hardly have the freedom to travel under the summer sun, enjoy the sea winds blasting over your face and hear the waves if you travel by car, train or plane."
Lam said his journeys could often be interrupted by heavy rains and landslides, as well as extreme cold.
"But despite this, we still feel happy, because we can enjoy and admire the beauty of nature, savouring the feeling of freedom and enjoying life.
"Such a trip by motorbike provides many things, a reprieve from stresses of life and work and the chance to increase our knowledge. During a recent trip, I learned many fascinating facts about the Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) culture," he said.
Thanks to these trips, Lam has amassed a "treasure trove" featuring thousands of beautiful pictures capturing nature and the lives of people all over the country.
To see the world your own way, while truly experiencing nature is clearly one of the things that makes backpacking so attractive.
My Van, a young woman who earns a decent income, has travelled as a backpacker from Thailand to Laos, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar and India.
"As I travel alone, I can plan my trip, sample local culture and meet real people – no need to base my trip on the tour guides. So many people have money but they still love travelling as backpackers because they get the chance to see the world their way, unaffected by anyone else."
She added: "I'm afraid of false impressions given off by tour guides before you've been to Sa Pa and met the Mong ethnic people in the love market, or before you've visited Japan and seen the beauty of the cherry blossom in April. These false impression impact on your emotions and prevent you from truly enjoying these unique experiences."
That's why many people have money but still choose to travel as backpackers – because their views and feelings of the world can be completely their own, beautifully untarnished by the impressions of others. — VNS