I recently went on my first solo trip to Vietnam and managed to come back with all ten fingers and toes intact. I had a lot of expectations from this trip: What I would see, observe and learn about the people around me and myself. However little did I except to confront an all consuming fear of having free time on a semi-short trip and having nothing planned. I (fondly) refer to this part of my trip as “My Antsy Episode.”
I landed in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon with 4 days of travelling left. Considering all that I had read about Saigon I had assumed that 2-3 days would be just enough time to catch all the sights. I soon discovered though that most sights were within a 10-20 minute walk from each other and what I had planned for day 2 or day 3 ended up getting covered in day 1 or latest day 2! 2 days and I had finished everything I had wanted to see in Saigon and I had two more days and nothing left to do! To add to my chagrin, I was the only person in a 12 bed hostel dorm and the thought of spending another night in a room with 11 empty beds unnerved me. I had been meeting people constantly throughout my trip and suddenly I was not and this was a little unsettling.
So in short, the chaos of Saigon + the heat + all sights covered + 11 empty beds = I want to leave Vietnam ASAP and fly back to Singapore or my Antsy Episode.
I spent my second evening in Saigon frantically calling the airlines to see if I could fly out a day earlier, running next door to recharge my phone every 2 hours and scouring through all websites for cheap flight tickets out of Ho chi. I wanted to get out and I wanted to get out that instant. I did manage to figure out what to do on day 3 but the prospect of 1 free day to just sit still seemed extremely unappealing.
Wisdom came from a friend who laughed at the episode I was having. To quote: “Aps, you are in a vibrant new city with nothing to do. You could sit in a café, people watch, get some heavy thinking done or just watch the world go by. It’s my idea of heaven. Il dolce far niente.”
Am, I am glad I listened. Though the antsy feeling persisted through the next day, I forced myself to stay put and finish my trip. By the time the dreaded day was over, I had discovered a fantastic café which the locals visited where I got some heavy thinking done and some people watching too. I then walked across to a park I had spotted during the sight-seeing leg of my trip and sat there for some time to avoid the blistering heat. Here I met some college students who worked for an NGO (I ran into them later and of course, a photo session followed.) I watched the traffic rush by, tourists with their noses buried in their maps/phones, children lighting fireworks or playing, others like me who were just sitting there. God, there was so much to see and ironically all this just by sitting still. To add to it, by the end of day 3, 11 empty beds became 1!
No television, no phone, no plan or list. It was an experience so alien to me but still so refreshing and nice that I am going to make it a point to switch everything off and log-off from my regular life once in a while to just enjoy sitting still. The Italians really are onto something here because there truly is a sweetness in doing nothing.