Women are travelling alone more than ever, as a result of more flexible working patterns, greater spending power and an increasingly accessible world out there to explore. There is plenty of inspiration for the intrepid female traveller, from iconic films such as Eat, Pray, Love and Wild, to the thousands of images flooding Instagram of women taking on the world’s most epic travel destinations, often alone.
Globally, solo travel is on the rise, with tour companies and hotels reporting increasing numbers of solo bookings year on year, and Vietnam is no exception. In 2017, Airbnb reported that bookings for single guests in Ho Chi Minh City jumped by 146 percent from the previous year. There are also numerous tours designed with solo women in mind, from wellness retreats to adventure tours. Wild Woman Expeditions and Adventure Woman operate tours exclusively for women, run by women. This can be a great way to experience Vietnam and meet some like-minded travellers, within the security of an organised group.
Wild Women Expeditions has been offering women-only adventures around the world for almost three decades, before female solo travel became trendy. The company offers a northern Vietnam hiking adventure, which is one of its most popular tours according to the company’s founder, Jennifer Haddow. She said, “We saw the need for women to create community around shared travel experiences and an empowering space for women to try on new roles in group travel, where they could feel totally free to be themselves and to stretch out onto their edge. For many women, it can be liberating to be in a group of all women, to bond and support each other in outdoor adventure challenges.”
What are the Risks?
As in many Southeast Asian countries, there is petty crime in Vietnam—particularly in the main cities—but violent crime towards foreigners remains relatively rare. However, females travelling alone can face additional challenges, mostly around physical safety, including the threat of sexual aggression and the potential for cultural misunderstandings around gender and sexuality. Dealing with unwanted attention is a nuisance, but the most significant concern for most solo female travellers is situations that could lead to rape. Luckily, violent crime rates are relatively low in Vietnam, as are reports of sexual assaults, although they do happen. Female travellers should take the usual precautions around walking alone late at night and when travelling on overnight trains or buses. The website SafeAround particularly advises caution on the overnight train to/from Lao Cai.
Despite this, there is no reason why women should live in fear of solo travel, especially with an increasingly accommodating travel industry and a shift in attitude globally. Women should take risks and travel alone, but travellers have to accept that they may come across different, culturally-specific attitudes towards females and that they will probably need to adapt accordingly. In Vietnam, this means adhering to a more respectful dress code in temples or in rural areas.
Otherwise, attitudes towards women feel relatively modern. Vietnam is a long way off having a feminist movement on the scale of what is happening in America and Europe, but a fledgling #metoo debate surfaced in April after rape allegations at Tuoi Tre News came to light. As in many Asian countries, Vietnamese culture is rooted in Confucianism, which advocates patriarchy and tends to support gender inequality. Furthermore, an ActionAid survey in 2016 revealed that there was a lack of understanding in Vietnam about what constitutes sexual harassment.
What’s Out There for Solo Female Travellers?
In Vietnam, there are lots of options for lone female travellers, whether it’s soaking up the sun on the beach or being immersed in Vietnam’s history and heritage. Vietnam has a solid and well-trodden tourist trail and solo travel is not uncommon—travellers who stick to the main destinations are likely to meet lots of other tourists
For travellers who veer off the tourist trail into more rural areas, people are likely to be curious and may stare or try to strike up conversation. For women, this can feel uncomfortable, particularly if they are alone and the attention feels sexually motivated, but in Vietnam it tends to be simply curiosity. Most Vietnamese people are friendly and helpful; it pays to be cautious of scams but on most occasions it is possible to be polite and understanding despite potential cultural or language barriers.
In addition to adventure tours, there are a number of companies offering female wellness retreats, including Chicks Club, which organises customised weekend getaways and female-only retreats within Vietnam and across Southeast Asia, mostly focused on yoga, meditation and being active. There are also plenty of hotels across the country offering spa and yoga packages, including the Six Senses resort on the beautiful island of Con Dao.
Volunteering while in Vietnam can provide female travellers with a focal point during their trip, offering a more structured environment with opportunities to meet other travellers and to give something back to the community.Giving Way lists a wide range of year-round volunteer opportunities with social enterprises and non-profits such as Coins for Change, which is run by women for the purpose of promoting equal rights and social justice for women and children in Vietnam.
For backpackers, it’s usually easy to find female-only dormitories in hostels across the key tourist spots, such as Memory Hostel in Danang or Vintage Hostel in Ho Chi Minh City. There are also smaller-scale tours that are perfect for the solo female traveller, such as XO Tours, which offers tourists all-female guided motorbike tours in Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City.
Why Travel Alone as a Woman?
Despite the potential pitfalls, solo female travel can be incredibly rewarding. Many people fall in love with the spiritual experience of solitude, the absolute freedom of making plans on a whim and the sense of triumph at conquering the challenges as a woman on her own. This type of travel can open doors to a deeper engagement with a country and offer more opportunities for interaction with locals and other travellers.
There are a multitude of ways to approach solo travel in Vietnam and there are very few barriers-to-entry for women. Kristen, the author of The Blonde Abroad, a female-centred travel and lifestyle blog, summarised, “Vietnam is a wonderful country for solo female travelers as there are plenty of areas where women can explore, indulge and relax throughout the region.” With the steady rise in solo female travel globally, as well as the number of companies now catering to this market, it’s a great time to explore this multifaceted country.
By Lucie Sherwood