A little account of my 30 days in Vietnam
Vietnam was, no is as of writing this, my favourite place in South East Asia. The people were welcoming, the places I visited were incredible and I had such an amazing 30 days that I’ll never forget. Also, unlike Thailand, Vietnam felt like it was still yet to fully exploit tourism and let it affect the country too much.
If you’re looking for particular places to visit in Vietnam, please read on as I will recommend places to and not to visit. [CTRL + F to find a specific place.]
So I flew to Vietnam via Hanoi airport from Bangkok on 11/10/16. Got my 15 days free Visa and was ready to explore Vietnam!
A short bus ride, 2 hours approx, took us from the airport to the centre of Hanoi, the closer I got to Hanoi the more and more Karaoke bars I saw! Hundreds of them, all lit up looking like a big night club! Eventually we were dropped in the heart of Hanoi and about 20 minute walk from our hostel. At this stage it was late, so after 10 minutes of walking we caught a taxi. We just wanted to be there and be rid of our bags!
Shut off from the outside world until the 1990’s, capital Hanoi is one of the oldest cities in Vietnam. The first things you will notice here at the old style buildings, thousands upon thousands of bikes and scooters and the constant sound of horns blaring! Don’t let this put you off, it’s rather charming in its own way. Vietnam is famous, infamous?, for its amount of scooters.
If you are looking for something to do while you’re here then there is the old prison, called Hao Lo, which was used by French Colonists during the Vietnam War to house political prisoners. Even though the prison was demolished in 1990, the gatehouse still remains. The entry for the prison is 30,000 VND, a little over £1 as of writing this. The prison has a lot of interesting items to look at and read about, as well as exploring some cells that are still there to check out.
The Vietnamese National Museum of History is worth a visit too. At 40,000 VND entry fee, it’s still worth your money for the vast amount of exhibits. There is an additional fee that I succumbed to and that is the “Photo AND Video” ticket. I purchased the photography ticket which allowed me to take photographs inside, however, I was never asked for this once I was inside and taking photos. So don’t buy one, and if anyone says you cant take photos, plead ignorance. It is possible that during high season, staff might be more alert and on the look out for people taking photo’s. But at the end of the day, individually checking to see if a person has a ticket to take photographs in a museum is nigh impossible.
The museum houses historical artifacts from Vietnam’s thousands of years of history. Carved stones and wood depicting gods, figures, people and animals are by the hundreds along with hand crafted tools, weapons and clothes.
Hanoi Photo Album:
We booked this ‘tour’ through Downtown Backpackers in Hanoi and while I tried to avoid tours this one was an exception. Obviously transport, accommodation, food, and equipment were included in the price. But it meant everything was sorted for us (nothing I couldn’t plan/do myself mind). We were recommended this place over the Sapa tour as we were told it was very touristic and this had ruined Sapa. Mai Chau on the other hand was just recently setup as a tour with Downtown so was still new enough that there weren’t any tourist traps and people harassing you to buy whatever they were selling. This appealed to me greatly.
The bus took a little over 4 hours to get there and it was a relatively safe drive but there were moments where I thought ‘this is it’. It appears Vietnamese drivers, just like Thai drivers, drive recklessly.
We stayed in a homestay called Miss Tan’s Homestay, which was organised through the hostel so you are more than capable of finding somewhere else that isn’t linked with a hostel and a business deal.
As part of the tour we had a 3 day you will;
- Embark on bike rides around the village
- Motorbike rides to waterfalls, villages and nature reserves
- Visit caves and lakes
- See lots of locals
- Visit to a chop stick factory
- Eat lots of local food
- Chill, drink cheap beer and enjoy the company
Our experience was a little different due to the weather. Cycling around Mai Chau village on bikes when it was raining was a little disappointing and the next day it continued so we instead we were taken by car to visit the various sights. Despite this it was still amazing to be somewhere where there were very little tourists and a place that was still true to Vietnamese rural life.
Mai Chau Photo Album:
Halong Bay is one of those ‘must do/see’ places not just in Vietnam, but in the world. I was so incredibly excited for this place. We booked through Central Backpackers in Hanoi and paid $135 for the 2 night/3 days package. Everything was included in this price except for drinks, so the usual deal.
The first day we arrived, had some lunch and was introduced to the tour. What we would be doing, seeing, eating etc. After some lunch and checking into our rooms we were back on a boat and heading to the bay where you could cliff jump, swim in the sea and go kayaking around the bay. The cliff jump was a ‘only one way down’ type of jump. You made your way to the top by climbing up jagged rocks; there was no official path. So once you were up there the only way back down was to jump. Then everyone had a little swim in the water. After this we went to a floating home where they kept the kayaks and we paired up and headed around the bay following the tour guide. This was hard work. Especially after a few beers!
We headed back just before sunset so the ride back we got to see the sun set (to a certain point as it went behind the rocky islands) but the change in the colour of the sky was amazing. From a light blue, to a very light pink and then a heavy red sky mixed with purple. The view was incredible.
When we arrived back at Monkey Island we had a buffet dinner. The best part was the fresh BBQ oysters! They were delicious!! Then after everyone was full, the drinking commenced. The part of the island we were staying in had its own bar and ‘club’ under the dorms. We were separated from the rest of the island as to not disturb the other holidaymakers who weren’t apart of the tour.
The next morning we were awoken to an evacuation. Typhoon Sarika was making her way into the bay. It would be too dangerous to wait it out on the island so at 9am we left the island. Gutted. On the way back we witnessed the people that lived here moving their homes and relocating further in the bay and tying themselves to other homes to help protect themselves from the effects of the typhoon.
When we arrived back in Hanoi we were given a refund of the trip. The difference between one night, two day trip and the two night, three day trip which equated to $50.
So exploring this amazing place for one day and one night, it was still an incredible experience that I would wholly recommend to anyone who finds themselves in Hanoi any time in the future. Make sure to shop around as I have heard, read and been warned from various sources about certain tour companies really not coming through with an enjoyable experience.
Halong Bay Photo Album:
We were actually unsure whether Phong Nha would be accepting any guests in the hostels there. Typhoon Sarika had recently unleashed her power here and the place was flooded. A quick email to Easy Tiger soon confirmed that they were reopen for business.
Phong Nha is a small place to visit; one strip has all the hostels and business’. People visit Phong Nha for the caves and National Park, which are worth the visit!
Phong Nha felt like a place that was cursed for me, however. When we first arrived, we were alerted to a huge mistake we had made in Hanoi. When we sent off for our Visa extension we had failed to secure a photocopy of the visa stamp in our passports. Without this the Hostel wasn’t allowed to check us in. After a few moments and some brief discussions, the managers turned up and sorted the situation. They allowed us to stay as visa extension in Hanoi is really common and people don’t get or receive a photocopy of their passport, and so Easy Tiger have to deal with the problem.
The next day we rented scooters and visited Paradise Cave. There were two girls with us who’ve never ridden scooters before so were completely new to this. They had a little practise and then changed their mind, a few minutes later they came back; “sod it, lets get scooters”. That soon became a fateful decision. The trip up to the cave was… ok. They made it there but one was rather slow and lacked confidence. But it was on the way back this lack of confidence combined with a semi-flat tyre, caused her to crash. The scooter was pretty fucked – cosmetically, it still started, but will be left where it crashed. She gets on the back of my scooter and we carry on. At this point it’s getting dark, fast. Slowly and cautiously we make our way back but the winding and steep roads are made even more difficult by the lack of light and lots of uneven and treacherous road surface.
We get to a certain point where we all feel like we’re close and so I check maps.me to see how far away we are from the hostel, turns out were only 4 minutes away! So, with the prospect of finally getting back we take off, and the other girl see’s someone put their brake on and she panics. Squeezing her front brake of course the front wheel locked up and so skidded on the gravel, the bike slipped from underneath here. She landed on her elbow and cut a big gash into her arm from the rocks. She was in no fit state to ride back. So on the back of another scooter she hopped and we finally made it back. They went to the hospital and we returned the bikes.
The final cursed day was when we were visiting the Dark Cave. Here you could take a zip line, swim into a cave, experience a mud bath and a final zip line into a river. It was on this final zip line were fate had a nasty surprise in store for me. I queued for my turn, set my GoPro right on my wrist strap and set off! I tried to do a backflip into the way after the zip line hits its stopper but I failed the full rotation. Consequently, I landed on my head and therefore my arms and wrist slapped the water surface with enough impact that the GoPro wrist mount snapped and the GoPro sunk to the bottom of a 7-8 metre deep river. Pissed, I was so pissed.
So, Phong Nha felt like a place that was cursed, and I was beginning to believe in this superstition. I couldn’t wait to leave!
Having said all that, it was a great place and you should definitely visit on your Vietnam travels!
The paradise cave is a huge and amazing cave that you must trek up to the top of in order to get in. The inside is lit up with an array of different coloured lights, all highlighting the true magnitude of the places incredible size.
The dark cave is where you will experience activities. We experienced zip lining, swimming into the cave, floating in a mud bath, canoeing and a final zip line. A lot different to simply walking around a cave!
Phong Nah Photo Album:
Hue is treated as a start point for the Hai Van Pass. So a lot of people will typically spend no more than 1 night here. The idea is they have a night rest before embarking on the Hai Van Pass.
There isn’t a lot to do in Hue, but if you find yourself there then I highly recommended a visit to the abandoned water park. At the moment, it doesn’t cost to go and visit this, apart from the cost to hire a scooter in order to get there. But the popularity of this place is currently at a perfect level where you can visit and there will be very few other people around. But as time goes on and more people here about this place and recommend it, the busier it will get.
Abandoned Water Park Photo Album:
Verdict: 1 night only
Not much to write here other than we used this place to stop over night before doing the actual Hai Van Pass the next day. We stayed in a hotel (first one of my trip!) for 200,000 VND. It was a welcomed change. The ride from Hue to the start of the Hai Van Pass took longer than expected and the sun was setting fast. So we called it a day in order to ride the HVP the next day with the full day of sunlight.
Verdict: Pass unless you use it as a stop over before HVP
Hai Van Pass
I have to say this is one of the best experiences I had in Vietnam. This amazing road connecting Hue to Da Nang is 21km long and winds up and down the side of the mountain. The higher you climb, the more incredible the views become.
We rented scooters from Hue and returned them in Da Nang. Our backpacks were taken for us on a bus so we didn’t have to worry about carrying the huge backpacks. The cost was $22 for a 125cc scooter (petrol not included). Other travellers will be doing the Hai Van Pass on the bike they purchased either in the North or South of Vietnam. A lot of travellers will purchase a bike, typically a Honda Win, and ride the length of the country.
I would have some amazing footage of the HVP providing I didn’t lose my GoPro only days before!!
Check out my photos from the Hai Van Pass here:
Verdict: DO IT! 110%
Danang was just a pit stop after doing the Hai Van Pass. It is a fairly big city in which there are lots of business’, cafes, restaurants and other shops. Here is where I would replace my lost GoPro as I was recommended a particular shop. There is a sea front with a beach, lots of restaurants and hotels. The place is worth stopping in after you have done the Hai Van Pass, but it feels like any other beach front that you can find in Spain or Ibiza.
Danang centre is a mass of scooters. Riding here was challenging; a strong contender to rival Hanoi’s traffic. However, Dragon Bridge is a beautiful bridge to ride over. At night the bridge is lit up in dozens of different colours creating an even more spectacular sight.
There are some sight seeing opportunities in Danang; there is marble mountain which, as the name suggests, is made out of marble (and limestone but that doesn’t sound as cool, limestone mountain). Visiting Marble Mountain you will see many caves, pagodas, temples, tunnels and statues dotted about making it a nice place to explore.
One cave in particular will allow you to climb up through it, which is actually quite a challenge as you will encounter some situations where it is narrow, steep and hard to maneuver. Once you scramble your way up however, you will be rewarded by a spectacular sight; panoramic view of the city below. Marble Mountain is rated No.2 ‘Thing To Do’ on TripAdvisor!
Another popular sightseeing destination is the Lady Buddha. It is the tallest buddha statue in Vietnam at 67m tall. I didn’t get chance to visit the Lady Buddha but I wish I had! Voted No.1 ‘Thing To Do’ on TripAdvisor, I would suggest a visit!
Verdict: Stop off after HVP
Hoi An is the main place to stay and visit immediately after the Hai Van Pass. Here you will find lots of other backpackers, a beach, an old market and a few sights to see. There is a main strip of bars where pretty much everyone who’s staying in Hoi An will be at night. Unfortunately I spent most of my days travelling to and from Danang trying to acquire a replacement GoPro so I didn’t get to do or see much here.
I did however, spend part of one afternoon perusing the old quarter. Simply put; the same junk… sorry, souvenirs, as found anywhere else in Vietnam. I was utterly disappointed to find stalls after stalls selling the same fake bags, clothes, shoes, belts, etc and souvenirs. You couldn’t even see the ‘old quarter’ for these stalls, they covered the buildings and overcrowded small spaces. I would recommend a quick walk around – you might catch a glimpse of an old building or two, but otherwise have it done with and don’t return.
Dalat, a place where you could wear trousers and a jumper at night because it got that cold! Not something I would even have expected I would encounter in Vietnam.
Situated up in the mountains of , roughly 4,900 feet above sea level. This beautiful city, which is the capital of the Lâm Đồng Province, is a popular tourist destination. Boasting various adrenaline fuelled activities such as canyoning, motorbiking, cycling and more!
I would fully recommend staying at Dalat Family Homestay; very good atmosphere, friendly staff and the accommodation is worth the $5 a night. Here you can book the Canyoning for 800,000 VND. Everyday around 5/5:30pm they would cook dinner and serve it up to everyone who was staying en masse. Staff brought out plates upon plates of different food, meats and vegetable dishes. It gave the place a good atmosphere and a good time to meet knew people while enjoying delicious home cooked food!
Dalat Photo Album:
Verdict: Definite Visit!
This is my least favourite place in Vietnam; I didn’t feel welcome/safe – especially at night. There wasn’t much to do or visit apart from the sand dunes where you could watch the sunrise/sunset. I am gutted I never got to do this. And the beach, which really wasn’t that good of a beach. The waves were big enough that you could body board here – but I never really entertained the idea, and from what I heard from other people the waves weren’t that great.
I don’t have much to say about Mui Ne apart from I stayed in Backpacker Village which actually felt more like a hotel than a hostel. The place had a good vibe and you could meet many people, enjoy a few drinks and play some cards, or just chat. The common area sported a large screen in which they played movies and sports daily, they also had table tennis, snooker and a football table.
I didn’t take a single photo in Muine, so no photo album for here.
Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon
Saigon, as it was formerly known, or Ho Chi Minh was my favourite place to visit in Vietnam. This amazing city has culture, divergence, and personality.
Stopping at a known party hostel called Hideout I knew the place was going to breed an atmosphere of laddish behaviour and unruly drinking. However, I was surprised to find out it was relatively relaxed – maybe it was because it is low season. Hideout offers a pub crawl for $3. You get a wristband and follow the crowd to various pubs, clubs and bars!
Aside from the drinking, Saigon has a lot to offer. There is many sky bars… oh wait back to drinking. Well, you can visit the sky bars and have a couple. One in particular requires you to buy a drink for the experience. On the 52nd floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower there is a bar. Here you will be asked to buy a drink which can range from 200,000 to 90,000 VND. Think of this as the entry fee as you can go to the roof for the view only experience, the entry fee for this is 200,000 VND.
You can wander the city streets at night and see many sights. The streets are all lit up by business’ with store fronts boasting thousands of LED’s to outshine the competition. You can head over to the Ho Chi Minh hall where you will see a statue of ex Pres. Ho Chi Minh himself stood infront of the HCMC Hall. In front of the statue is a stretch of pedestrian only land that hosts gatherings, shows, and tourists enjoying the cities atmosphere.
Verdict: MUST VISIT!