Overall Vietnam by far has been my favourite country visited. The people, the culture and the beauty is phenomenal…..
My route South to North in a nutshell:
*Ho Chi Minh – buy an on/off coach ticket, no restrictions, all stops for $34usd!
*Ho Long Bay
I headed to the country on a whim actually! Originally, I’de decided I was going to skip it all together and spend extra time else where. Thank god I didn’t!
I travelled South to North and I would advise anyone to do the same. Each town or city I reached impressed me even more than the last.
Ho Chi Minh City
My Must Do’s:
*Saigon Central Post Office
*Ho Chi Minh City Museum – Learn about the pre and post war!
*Ben Thanh Market – Haggle for your bargains!
*Cu Chi Tunnels
*Try Vietnamese coffee shops – it’s the best!
*Try Karaoke – They love it!
*Try street food – It’s delicious!
Ho Chi Minh was my starting point. As always with Southeast Asia, I was dropped off in a carpark nowhere near where I needed to be. Something that at first was a bloody nightmare, but by this stage in my trip, didn’t faze me in the slightest. The MapsMe App on my iPhone is now an everyday tool I can’t do without – The fact it works solely on GPS is a god send to get you out of a sticky spot with no wifi.
I found myself on a street called Bui Vien. The street was alive with bars, clubs, drunken westerners, you name it- This street had it! A very similar street to KhoaSan Road in Bangkok. It wasn’t what I was looking for, but it was where I had booked my hostel. It seemed convenient enough though, to be able to mix with other travellers, get talking over a few beers and make new friends. I found my way to K2 Hostel and I was all settled in.
Ho Chi Minh City by day is just as vibrant as it is in the evening. Scooters are rife, there is a busy buzz sound in the air and the smell of the street food fills the air. Street sellers are walking around with big square boards with an array of “genuine fake” Ray Ban sun glasses, all the cigarette brands you could ask for and “genuine fake” Zipper lighters flying out all over the place! It was a mad but lively set up!
I found myself caught with a motorbike taxi man (who for many hours and days after, heckled me from all parts of the City, “Hey ‘English’, you want ride, it’s tomorrow, today”) He had a delightful little book of recommendations and reviews from people he had given tours to. These reviews were from all corners of the globe and I found it hard not to read a few with him out of politeness… This ended up the wrong way to deal with the little old man, in a bright red helmet and blue shirt. But he was a funny guy, I joked and laughed with him that in England, tomorrow rarely comes! This guy was my first impression of Vietnam and although a bit of a handful, he was a pleasant representation of all the kind hearted people I was going to meet over my month in their country.
Going from City to City was hard going. Normally in my travels I like to pop into a City for a few days and then head back to an island for my beach life. Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh was jumping from the frying pan into the fire – that being said I’m glad I did it. I managed to catch up with Crunch a lovely lady from Singapore, I had met in Cambodia, for an afternoon of shopping in the markets, some lunch and a few evening drinks. I also met a nice guy called Moritz from Hamburg, Germany, who I spent 2/3 evenings having a beer and food with. He was a cool guy.
My Must Do’s:
*Fairy Stream – wander through a Stream to find the waterfall at the end
*White Sand Dunes – go quad biking!
*Red Sand Dunes – great sunset photo!
*Early morning fish market – See the real locals at work!
My second stop in Vietnam was Mui Ne. Mui Ne is a fishing village at the end of a very touristy strip of hotels and hostels. It is very Russian based and reminded me more of a holiday resort in Spain than the Vietnam I was looking for. I stayed for 2 nights. There’s a few things to do in Mui Ne, most of the tourists that come here are looking to venture into the White Sand Dunes and The Red sand Dunes. I also had a little adventure all of my own walking down a stream of water with red sand dunes cascading high either side resembling cliffs and mountains…. The aim was to find the pot of gold at the end, which was the waterfall. The waterfall was a little unimpressive, but I really enjoyed wandering along a stream, ankle deep in water and taking in the uniqueness of the experience. This place was called The Fairy Stream.
My Must Do’s:
*Canyoning – Abseil down waterfalls, who can say no to that?
*Maze Bar – Get lost in the weird and wonderful maze bar!
*Crazy House – Wander round this unique and Crazy hotel/house!
*Waterfalls – Elephant Falls, Datanla
*Family Dinner – Normally organised Hostel – Try Dalat Backpackers!
*Take in the idyllic scenery, while enjoying rest bite in the cooler temperatures.
Leaving Mui Ne, I travelled next to Dalat. Dalat was exactly what I was looking for. Dalat is where my Vietnam trip really began. The weather here is a little chilly after Cambodia, in fact it was a bloody cold 17 degrees up that mountain when I arrived. Freezing!!! “A bit chilly on the ole’ willy” I can tell you!
Dalat Backpacker is absolutely the place to be – That’s Dalat Backpackers guys, NOT ‘Dalat Backpackers Downtown’. Dalat Backpackers is an amazing place for solo backpackers. The evening of your arrival you are given a free family meal made by Mr Vu and his family. All the new arrivals sit together for free beer and free food – Friendships are made right here!!! More about my bromance later…..
The Maze Bar in Dalat is a must for anyone and everyone. In the day time the place serves the best Vietnamese coffee and by night the alcohol is flowing. I spent three very drunken nights in a row at this place. One of which I lost my iPhone7plus 256gb in the bar – but do you know what, on going back at 8am the next morning (a little worse for ware, staggering the streets) it had been handed in and was tucked safely in a draw at the main bar! If that doesn’t tell you what an awesome place it is – nothing will! The poor cleaner woman that helped me look for it didn’t know what to do when I threw my arms around her and thanked her so much!! (I was still somewhat intoxicated) The Vietnamese people are the nicest and most helpful people I have met.
The major thing to do in Dalat is Canyoning. Unfortunately, the day I booked for this, the tour was cancelled due to bad weather, I stayed to do it the next day but again the tour was cancelled due to bad weather. Although a disappointment, this just goes to show how much Mr Vu cares about his guests at Dalat Backpackers – I can’t recommend this Hostel enough!
At Dalat Backpackers, I met some awesome guys, Brody and James being amongst the best. Myself and Brody were heading in the same direction and so decided to stick together from Dalat to Hanoi with all the stops in between. (I miss that guy) The next stop being Hoi An. I had originally decided to go to Nha Trang, but after hearing how similar it was to Mui Ne, I decided to skip this town and move to the delights Hoi An had on offer.
My Must Do’s:
*Ride a bicycle through the old town – It’s worth taking your time!
Have a suit made – The town is famous for it!
*Take a boat trip – people get proposed to on these waters!
*Marvel at the Street lighting overhead after sunset
*Rent a scooter – it’s a great quiet place to learn- This is where I learnt, thanks Brody!
*Drive to Denang – on your scooter!
*Visit the Beach – Drink cheap beer from 7/11 and watch the sun go down!
*Be amazed by the locals hospitality and kindness – It’s overwhelming!
*Hai Van Pass – What a ride!
Arriving in Hoi An was as interesting as every other overnight journey. Dropped off with lots of bike taxi’s waiting to pounce! I hopped on a bike with Brody and headed to our Hostel. We had chosen Paddy’s Hostel (We were up for a bit of a party atmosphere for a couple of days) we arrived at the hostel at 5am and to our surprise the cleaners welcomed us in, set us up with some fans and instructed us to get our heads down for some shut eye! What a bunch!!!
We took free bicycle rentals from the hostel and rode into town. Now, these bicycles are a little rickety, squeaky and the furthest away from a secure and stable ride as you can get… but what a fun rid it was using the bike bell to *ting ting ting* anything and everything that moves – This was a little bit of a piss-take on our part of the scooters, bikes and all motor vehicles that drove us mad with there continuous beeping of the horn- What fun! We rode through the old town shocked at its magical aura, its magnificence and outright beauty! Our hour trip before the beach turned into a full afternoon and evening in the town…. Followed by cheap 7/11 beers on the beach late evening!
The next day was Scooter rental day- I was a little nervous about this I must say, but after 10 minutes, I was speeding off like the best of them. But… there was the slight issue of turning! Turning on a scooter is not as simple as turning the handle bars, oh no!! So after nearly going arse over tit, gliding into on coming traffic on the other side of the road and generally not getting to grips with it at all… It was time for an extensive 2min practice ‘leaning and steering’ in a car park before we hit the main roads and traffic! Those 2 minutes were very intense learning not to be dismissed!
We drove to Danang, it was a 20 minute ride if that. I must be fair the only part of Danang I saw was the beach. From the beach you could see the tall buildings, hotels and malls, it reminded me of a much smaller version of the Gold Coast in Australia, but that could be over estimating things perhaps?!
With my new found scooter skills we decided to ride to some caves and temples I forget the name of for a spot of sight seeing.
The next day was a big adventure for me that I advise anyone to do… renting a scooter and driving to Hue a rough 5-6hrs north. On this journey you will drive through the famous Hai Van Pass- A spectacle not to be missed!
Hue for us was more of a stop over for the night before our adventure to Phang Nha by coach.
My Must Do’s:
*Phong Nha Caves – Paradise Cave. Dark Cave.
We arrived at our hostel- Gekko Hostel. We were just in time for the free BBQ night so we rushed out of our room, down the stairs and to the BBQ and had the scraps that were left. We still had to order food but at least we got a freebie on arrival huh! We were excited as soon as we got to Phong Nha because we had our adventure sorted for the next day…. and what an adventure it was!!
Phong Nha Cave Tour: The caves were incredible. The biggest I had ever seen with stalagmites and stalactites as big as your house! The cave goes on and on. Apparently there is an underground beach, and forrest further in but the tour and entrance we had booked only allowed us to venture a mere 1km into the cave. On our way back out of the cave we bumped into a few guys and girls we had met in our previous hostel which was great! Its funny how you bump into the same people on your travels!
The next cave, The Dark Cave, started with an adrenaline rush zipline into the waters where the entrance was waiting!
We were all given helmets with lamps on so we could find our way in the cave. We swam towards the entrance and we were in. It was true to its name- DARK! We waded through waters, swam when it got a little too deep and clambered over rock formations, sometimes having to slide down on our arses and sometimes a shuffle and a skid. We were searching for the mud baths hidden within. When we found it we squelched and crawled our way through the thickness into the more fluid central parts. It was like our own private thick chocolate milkshake heaven. We all got carried away throwing mud at each other, rubbing the thick sludge into one anothers backs and generally being a little bit too hands on with each other to talk about in any great detail hahah.
After the excitement of rubbing each other with mud we headed for a water obstacle course which was a great way to end the adventure… Well that wasn’t quite the end, we had complimentary rum and coke to drink once we had all dried off and re grouped back together- Happy days!
My Must Do’s:
*Drink cheap street beer with the locals!
Myself and Brody had been travelling with each other from Dalat knowing that Hanoi was our last stop together, so we decided on a party hostel to celebrate our little bromance! And a party hostel we indeed found: Hanoi Backpackers Old Quarter! Free all you can drink beer for an hour on the rooftop bar (no cap) Free shots every hour and a great party atmosphere to enjoy and let some steam off after our travels and adventures.
Ho Long Bay
We all know why we go here! The views. The bay. The tranquility. We all want to marvel at the thousands of islands and relax. I did just that. The weather wasn’t at its best sun wise, but this didn’t stop the spectacular views, the adventure or the amazement that is Ho Long Bay!
What a place to say a farewell to Vietnam!