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Interview: How to Travel Alone as a Woman in Southeast Asia

Interview: How to Travel Alone as a Woman in Southeast Asia
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This is an interview with a very interesting person I met in Vietnam. She is an experienced lone traveler from Denmark and was kind enough to share with me some travel knowledge.

Whole interview:

Vasek: I am here with Miina at Phu Quoc island in Vietnam. It’s a bit chilly right now but during the day it was 29°C. It’s pretty nice island. We are right now in the hostel. It is a pretty nice place I would say. Miina here is a traveler, she travels the whole life and travels alone which could be a little bit out of the box because Miina travel alone and is not some young teenager. Can we say your age?

Miina: Yeah, I am 43.

Vasek: Most of the people would stay in the hotels.

Miina: Yes in some resort, nice place, more expensive probably and spend more money on that.

Vasek: They wouldn’t make that many friends with other people.

Miina: With teenagers (laugh). Actually I am the oldest when I stay at this types of places. Sometimes there are other travelers that are also the same age or even older.

One of my scooters in Vietnam
One of my scooters in Vietnam

Vasek: Have you met some woman of your age?

Miina: Probably not. Usually, it’s about 30, maybe 35 maximum that’s a time when women don’t travel like that anymore. Not this way. Or they travel like this when they are older. Maybe like 55 to 60 or even older. The age group in between seems like it disappeared. They are with the family or working.

I think we people have some many aspects in our lives and so many faucets we need to explore.

Vasek: So what do you do by the way?

Miina: I am a health strategist or yoga teacher or radiographer (someone who takes X-ray pictures). Depends on the job.

Vasek: It is great that you don’t fit yourself in some occupation box.

Miina: I think we people have som many aspects in our lives and so many faucets we need to explore. We are not just our job or our family or our status. I am a mother, a girlfriend and also just ME and I think that’s much more important.

Vasek: People should more look after about themselves than others, right?

Miina: Yeah and also not to be so dependent on what other people would say you are. Actually also in the travel world I find that people want to say, “Oh, you are a real traveler.” And they are tourists. Actually, every time I travel, I am a tourist. The whole idea of being a traveler – yeah of course I am a traveler too but I am definitely also a tourist because I don’t belong to this country. I am a visitor.

Vasek: You find it as a positive thing to be a tourist?

Miina: People always think it’s negative and I am trying to let it bee without judgment. I don’t really care. Not anymore. When I was younger I wanted to be a traveler. Like a real traveler. But it doesn’t matter. Even if my luggage is small and I have a backpack which doesn’t weight anything and I feel like a traveler, I am still a tourist.

Vasek: You are from Denmark and are there people like you in Denmark? Do you know some?

To be quite honest, it’s okay when people don’t travel so much because then there’s more room for me to travel, right?

Miina: I don’t know many like me, no. It’s very difficult to find people which have the same kind of interest in Denmark. Mostly I find people with same interest and the same way of traveling and thinking outside of Denmark when I am traveling.

Vasek: What would you say to the women which feel they want to travel but don’t know how to start?

Miina: If you have an urge to travel, you end up traveling I think. To be quite honest, it’s okay when people don’t travel so much because then there’s more room for me to travel, right? Do you know what I mean?

But if it would be something to encourage people to travel, is that it is so much easier to travel than stay at home.

Vasek: How is that possible? Is it cheaper?

Miina: Well it’s not really the price. It’s the way of living. You finally get time to think enough. When you are at home, you have so many different things you have to take care of usually that you don’t think, you don’t liberate your mind. And I think liberating your mind is the best thing you can do for yourself.

Vasek: But there is always something on the background like when I come back, I have to do this and that.

Miina: It depends, but even having a break from your mind from your daily life will expand your way of thinking and by expanding your way of thinking cannot be a negative thing I think.

Vasek: How it works for you? You stay in Denmark for half of a year and the other half you travel.

Miina: yeah, maybe five months of travel and seven months in Denmark.

Phu Quoc island in Vietnam
Phu Quoc island in Vietnam

Vasek: It is important to have some home, right?

Miina: I think it’s nice to have a home. I think it’s nice to have some things I can’t do when I travel like making handcraft, sewing clothes, things I like to do with my hands. Growing vegetables.

Vasek: You can’t do that when you travel?

Miina: I think it’s definitely more difficult. And playing piano is very difficult. Thinks like this. I have a garden back home and I like to do my gardening.

Vasek: It’s great you have some base.

Miina: Base is not necessary, you might not need it, but sometimes you want something more than having a little backpack (laugh). Some people don’t, but I personally like to have something.

Vasek: So you backpack is like a small normal backpack from a sports store? Does it fit into the airplane cabin storage?

Palm tree in Phu Quoc island - Vietnam

Miina: Yes, it has maybe 10 Kilos. When I was younger I used to travel with very small one with only 5 Kilos and there was everything.

Vasek: What about the women needs you know?

Miina: Well I did bring a hairdryer (laugh) and I do have some makeup which I don’t use a lot. I think a lot of women buy and throw it away when traveling.

Vasek: Maybe women think they need this kind of stuff. But do they really need it?

Miina: I don’t even have a lot of clothes. I’ve probably worn half of it because I always tend to wear the same again and I wash them because they became my favorite.

I think in many countries in Europe it’s more dangerous to walk on the street than it is to travel alone in Southeast Asia.

Vasek: I have one shirt I bought in Siem Reap and when I stop liking it I bought a new one and now I have two. I have two t-shirts which I brought from home and I am not using them anyway. Maybe next time I take only on t-shirt.

Miina: I have far too many clothes even I have very few. It’s funny.

Vasek: What about the security and dangers? Not so many women travel because they think it’s so dangerous.

Miina: I think in many countries in Europe it’s more dangerous to walk on the street than it is to travel alone in Southeast Asia.

Vasek: I think Southeast Asia is safe.

Miina: It is very safe. I’ve been traveling here since I was very young; like 25 years and nothing… I mean I had one bad experience with an Italian guy and that’s it. Not with any Asians, never ever anything. No problem. But I do have a pepper spray.

Vasek: But how do you use it? Is It forbidden here?

Miina: I guess so. (laugh)

woman traveler with a bike

Vasek: I was driving back from a dinner on a motorbike and I had a beer and I have no idea it’s …

Miina: Actually you are not supposed to drive a bike in Vietnam if you are a foreigner.

Vasek: Really?

Miina: I just read somewhere it’s forbidden to drive a motorbike and it’s forbidden to own a motorbike.

Vasek: So if the police want to harass you, they the can do it.

Miina: Yes, if they want some money. About the security: Sometimes you feel unsafe because of your mind. You think: “Oh, this is very dark and it’s really dangerous.” But usually when you see it the next day in light and bright it looks like you can laugh at yourself just for think that. It’s hardly that dangerous as your mind makes it.

Vasek: Actually I think I am more cautious about the security and always looking behind what’s happening.

Miina: I am sometimes too but it depends.

Vasek: You said you’ve been here from a young age. How many times did you visit Southeast Asia?

Miina: I don’t know. Many many many many times. The first time I came to Southeast Asia was to Indonesia and than I traveled through Indonesia to Singapore and Malaysia, Thailand. That was my first trip and after that it was just around.

Vasek: Have you traveled somewhere else except SA Asia?

Miina: Yeah, I was in Australia and some other parts of Asia as well.

Vasek: You travel mostly in the winter time?

Miina: Yes, usually. Sometimes in the summer time also. I’ve been in most countries in Europe and some parts of Northern Africa, Middle East, some of the former Russian Republics – Uzbekistan but never North or South America.

Vasek: The South America is great.

Miina: I really wanna do that.

I talk to people and just meet many different types of people. It’s a good way t do it. It’s very easy.

Vasek: How do you book your accommodation and what types are you using?

Miina: All different kinds depending on where I go because sometimes I have a single room like in Bangkok. Single rooms there are really nice and cheap. It’s nice to have your own private space. Than I also stay in hostels and depending if I travel with my partner or not. If I travel alone I stay in hostels because I don’t care. It’s also a nice way how to meet people.

Vasek: So you are normally socializing with people. You go out with people from hostel.

Miina: Yeah, I do that. I talk to people and just meet many different types of people. It’s a good way t do it. It’s very easy. Even if I stay in my own hotel room I also meet people from the hotel because I always talk to a lot of people. Most people which travel are interested in communicating. Sometimes you have too many friends. (laugh)

Vasek: It’s hard to don’t have friends when you travel alone. So you stay in hotels, hostels, everything.

Miina: Actually I don’t do what a lot of young people do – Couchsurfing and stuff like that. I haven’t done that yet and I am not sure I want to do it. Maybe I will host some people back in Denmark but not go on by myself.

Vasek: Why? Because you would feel dependent?

Miina: Um, yeah that’s what I think. If you wanna leave or you just want to go out and that person want’s to talk to you, you feel like obligated to entertain and I want to be free and see place I want to go to.

Vasek: I think it’s just in your head. You should try it.

Miina: I should try Couchsurfing and South America. (laugh)

Vasek: What about transportation? Are you traveling fast (planes)… ?

Miina: Fast and slow. Depends on where I am going. If I have a plan. If I have something I have to reach than I go faster by planes. They are very cheap as well. Especially if you book ahead.

—–

Vietnamese cuisine
Vietnamese cuisine

Vasek: Locals actually think that we like our western food, we like our western ways. We were with my friend to see some caves and there was a pond. (It was in Cambodia) Some Cambodian guy who was swimming in the pond said to us: “Come, come, you can swim here. Foreigners do that.” If he would say that no foreigners swim here I would totally go there. But this was like foreigners swim here so you can swim here too…

Miina: Yeah, that’s funny. But I think some people like the western food. When you talk to some people, quite a few people go like: “Yo, I need my bagels.”

Vasek: I really like Asian cuisine. I am so okay with noodles and rice. I don’t miss anything. Potatoes?

Miina: I really like the food in Southeast Asia. It’s wonderful.

Vasek: It is! especially in Vietnam.

Fresh fish in Vietnam
Fresh fish in Vietnam

Miina: It’s fresh. But Cambodian, yes Vietnamese is better than Cambodian.

Vasek: You can have a very nice meal in Cambodia, but Vietnamese meals are all, even the cheapest for a Dollar, very tasty.

Miina: But they are fresh. They use so many different vegetables and herbs. I really like that.

Vasek: What about Thai cuisine. Is it better than Vietnamese?

Miina: I don’t know the Vietnamese so well actually, but I know what I like. I think there is a great variety and there is a lot of thinks I probably don’t like in Vietnamese kitchen as well. They have different sausages made of Pork which are very sweet and stuff like that I don’t like.

When I was in Cambodia for the first time. It was a long time ago and I had an injury from Laos. My neck was hurt and I had that cone and I was very vulnerable and this also made it different.

Vasek: Now Cambodia… people there are even sweeter than Vietnamese people I think.

Miina: Some are but there are some really hard.

Vasek: You mean these border officers?

Vietnamese border officer
Vietnamese border officer

Miina: Those and sometimes you also see them in other places. You know, rough people. Stone face. Sometimes I feel like a little bit in danger.

Vasek: Especially police officers, border officers, these kinds of people.

Miina: Yes those kinds and also once in a while some other people. When I was in Cambodia for the first time. It was a long time ago and I had an injury from Laos. My neck was hurt and I had that cone and I was very vulnerable and this also made it different. We landed in Siem Reap, I went by plane because I couldn’t go with the bus because of the neck. When we came out of the plane there was like a hoard of people – taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers and there were like: “Whooo”, attacking us, right? It was terrible, I hate that. And we didn’t know where to go because they were so up out our faces. There was a police officer. He came with a stick and start to hit them to stop. But they were so threatening. Like, “Khollokolo&&#$”. It was so bad and I felt they would kill us if they had the chance. that was the feeling but of course they wouldn’t.

fight

Vasek: Actually my friend had some injury too. The tuk-tuk driver in Cambodia took advantage of him and wanted something like $20 for a short ride. Tuk-yuk drivers and taxi drivers are horrible people they just want to take advantage of you. If you are down, they will take your money.

Miina: Some of them but not all of them.

Vasek: Yes, not all of them. But normal people, the poor people are the best.

Miina: This is actually what I experienced because I had a few accidents here – one big accident with the neck. That was from the tuk-tuk which had no breaks and there were a truck and the tuk-tuk driver tried to pass the truck and it couldn’t because there were so many scooters coming from the other way. He went inside but then the truck turned so the tuk-tuk turned around and around and slide it into a conrete wall and that where my neck went, “Crackkk”.

Vasek: So it is really dangerous. It looks dangerous to be in a tuk-tuk. It is like rollercoaster. You just enjoy the ride and don’t think about the danger, right?

Miina: When it goes wrong, it really can go bad. But people were so sweet. I mean the hospitals in Laos they have nothing. They had nothing. And because I worked in hospital in Denmark, I had everything. I had the gloves, everything to sew with. There was a woman which was hurt really badly and they used the gloves and sewing kit for her. That was good.

Vasek: So you helped them. I think we can finish this interview. Do you have something else to say? In Czech Republic where I live the people would never travel alone. I know so few women which travel alone. It’s very small amount of people.

Miina: I must say that you don’t need to be confident to travel alone. You don’t need to be very independent even to travel alone. It’s actually just a question of if you want something good for yourself. I mean who doesn’t want to go to the paradise island and be a friend with all different kinds o people. You might be surprised and you might even get to know yourself even better. In a very surprising way. Traveling alone is not like a problem at all. Especially not in Southeast Asia. You are never alone. If you stay in a hostel, you are bound to get some friends. So easy.

Yeah, sometimes when I am checking in. Someone asks: “Are you checking in or out?” “I am checking in.” “And do you wanna share my double room?”

Vasek: You also said that you don’t need to obey some of your friends ideas.

Miina: That’s it. It’s very easy to travel alone because you don’t have to discuss which way or where you wanna eat. You can actually make your own choice by yourself.

Vasek: And you also travel faster. The only thing is that when you travel with somebody you can save more money.

Miina: But you can also share. A lot of people want to share a room with you. They are basically men asking to share a double room.

Vasek: Really? Where? In hotels?

Miina: Yeah, sometimes when I am checking in. Someone asks: “Are you checking in or out?” “I am checking in.” “And do you wanna share my double room?” and I am like, “No, thank you.” (laugh)

Vasek: Westenners?

Miina: Yes. Quite often Italian guys. Surprising but yeah, they do that. (laugh)

Vasek: Thanks a lot for this knowledge. It’s important to show people that pretty much everything is possible. You don’t need a big sum of money to travel.

Miina: No, definitely not. And I also think about the women, what do they need. Of course you don’t need all the stuff you think you need. You don’t need seven pairs of shoes for a short trip. You’re not gonna wear them anyway. A pair of flip flops and some good shoes and that’s fine.

Vasek: Thanks a lot for this. Tomorrow I am going to Ho Chi Minh City so I hope I will make it.

Miina: Oh yeah, you have to get up early. You are welcome.

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