What's in the bag?
For most parts of Vietnam at this time of year (July/August) it's hot and humid and there's generally a downpour each day with the occasional thunderstorm. I knew I was also going to be travelling to some higher areas that were cooler so I had to pack accordingly. It's true that you can find pretty much everything when you get to Vietnam, but if you don't want to spend the first few days shopping then you'll need to bring the majority of it with you.
I prefer to travel with a backpack when I'm travelling this way, but I made the decision to take a medium suitcase so that I didn't have to wear clothes that were rolled in a ball! I'm also travelling with a laptop that would never fit into a backpack (plus two phones, a camera and a sack full of charges and adapters...how times have changed). At times I've certainly regretted the suitcase decision. Having a backpack makes it much easier to get on and off a train; to stow in the overhead luggage racks on a train; to walk around the streets - dragging a suitcase along the rough uneven sidewalks is no easy feat!; and to strap onto the back of a motorbike...they still managed to get the suitcase on there though!
Without listing everything in my case, this is what I recommend packing for a trip like this (this applies to both women and men).
In the Suitcase:
I prefer natural fibres for breatheability, or more technical fabrics from the outdoor brands (these don't crush as much either, but are not that fashionable).
In the Pharmacy bag:
Aside from any prescribed medications you need to take, I always pack some antihistamines, tummy tablets (both stop and go!), painkillers (you can get them here, but if you have a headache you won't feel like searching so pack a few at least and stock up later), anti-inflammatories (good for bad bus trips!), good mosquito spray/cream (with DEET), and sunscreen (although you can get that here also, but check the Use By dates). You can get most other things once you get here.
In the Toiletry bag:
Bring a few of your favourite lotions and potions but invest in small containers rather than bring your full sized products. Buy soap/body wash, shampoo, conditioner and moisturiser when you get here to save on baggage weight (most mid-range hotels also provide basic items for you to use). Get a toothbrush holder (I hate the idea of cockroaches cleaning my toothbrush for me!).
The Mighty Sarong...
I never leave home without one! It rolls easily and stuffs into a corner of your bag and has a plenty of uses. These are some of the things I can remember using this simple length of fabric for:
You can easily get them here at any beachside location...and they make a nice souvenir.
Sanitary items are available but you may prefer to bring your own, or skip altogether for convenience. Make-up isn't really necessary unless you're planning on poshing it up a little one night. The humidity will likely wash it away anyway, so you could get away with a single waterproof mascara and a lipstick!
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