I’m going to start off by saying that I already know that I need to come back to Vietnam. As our trip was so rushed we only got 12 days here and you need (at least) month, maybe even 6 weeks to do everything properly. We only went to Ho Chi Minh, Hoi An, Hanoi and, we spent about 4 hours in Hue – we missed out the mountains and waterfalls in Dalat, we missed the beaches in Nha Trang and we missed trekking in Sapa just to name a few – so don’t worry Vietnam, I will be back! Saying that this is a long post so make yourself a cuppa and get comfortable.
Ho Chi Minh
Our first day in Ho Chi Minh was pretty chilled. We were so tired from the journey that when we got to the hostel and we couldn’t check in till 1, we went up to their chill-out room which consisted of a couple sofas and bean bags and we found about 5 people KO-ed in the room. We quickly joined them and slept until we could check in. For dinner we got our first authentic Pho in Vietnam – this one was actually the best one we had the whole trip. The hostel’s rooftop bar had free beers from 7 till 8 so we went up to check it out. The vibe was quite weird and I’m not really sure how to explain it, It seemed like everyone in this hostel had just been traveling for a bit too long. We did meet some alright people at the end and at 10 they moved everyone to the downstairs bar which had more of a club-like atmosphere and that we a lot better. We didn’t go out though, we were in bed by 12.
Even though we didn’t go out, I was hanging’ out of my arse in the morning. Nia had been up all night being sick and pick up for our Mekong Delta tour at 7:45am – we very nearly bailed on it. If I’m honest, we didn’t really have any idea what this tour entailed and when we got on the bus and were told it was a 2-hour bus to the boat, we were quite shocked. We had no headphones, food, or anything really. Luckily we were so knackered we passed out for the whole journey, me obviously with my mouth wide open catching flies left, right and center.
We had one stop on the way to the Mekong river to see some huge buddhas, a laughing one, a sleeping one and a standing one. It was actually bloody roasting and after taking a few pics of the buddhas we resided on a bench in the shade with a sprite.
We met two people from our hostel on the tour, a boy called Avid from Germany and Cathrine from the US, they were both pretty nice and the 4 of us stayed together for what became a very peculiar day.
So the Mekong river is the longest river in Asia and runs all the way from China through Laos, Thailand and ends in Vietnam. It’s so wide that it had islands in it and our tour was to go visit 3 of these islands. We could never figure out if our tour guide was joking or not because he said things like the Dragon island was full of hot women for the single men, Unicorn island was full of hot men for the single woman, and we think the third one was called coconut island?? Honestly, we were so confused, I don’t know if these were their actual names or if he made them up.
The first stop was to we think coconut island where they make this coconut candy. I’m normally a fan of coconut but I was not fond of this stuff. It tasted like toffee in the beginning and then just straight coconut, but the locals love it apparently.
The second stop was to this obvious tourist trap, we had lunch on this island but
it was one of the strangest places I’ve ever been. There was some kind of games tournament going on with different teams trying to catch fish in baskets in the river, then there was a competition of who could ride a bike along this wooden plank in a lake for the longest and all this kind of stuff. On this island, there was also a crocodile farm and a bamboo bridge across the river. This bridge was no bigger than foot-width so you did not want to lose concentration at any point or you were going in!
After this was a stop at an island which hosted a bee farm, we got to try some local Vietnamese tea with honey and seeds. The tea itself was nice but I was sat next to the beehive and it took all of my energy and self-control to just not duck and cover – they were everywhere. Then randomly after the tea the guide just whipped out this huge python for people to take pictures. After the snake, they took to this restaurant for some fruit and then we had some Vietnamese singers!!?? Obviously, we had no idea what they were saying when they were singing their traditional Vietnamese songs. Their final song was a rendition of ‘if you’re happy and you know it’ which was weird in itself but although they started with the conventional clap your hands and stomp your feet, the final one was (we think) swing your eyes!? How on earth do you swing your eyes!?
Bee farm and me looking pretty terrified at this snake. Excuse the nappy-style shorts, they were the only clean ones I had left!
Following that whole ordeal, we were taken on traditional Vietnamese boats through a mini river on that an through the island, it was probably the nicest part of the trip, very relaxing with good scenery, plus the skill these people had to be able to weave in and out of boats in this tiny river was pretty impressive.
That evening it was ‘neon’ night and the pub crawl at the hostel, so me being me, I went all out and bought a very ugly neon orange Saigon vest to then discover that I was the only one with one on apart from staff. Fabulous.
The day after that we went to the Chu Chi tunnels. I had vague memories of going there as a kid but obviously, I appreciated it much more this time around. These tunnels are what the Vietnamese guerrillas used to fight the Americans in the Vietnam war – these things run on 3 levels and are absolutely tiny. The also showed us all the bamboo traps they used to injure the Americans – it was some pretty nasty stuff.
Vietnamese guerrilla models and the bamboo traps they used to injure (not kill) the US soldiers
They have one tunnel 120m long that you can crawl through, and saying crawl is no exaggeration. Nia is a little bit claustrophobic and so got out at the first exit. Even I was starting to not feel 100% so got out before the end, which was annoying because it was 10m before the final exit of the whole tunnel! I also lost my fan in the tunnel so if anyone reading this is heading there, keep an eye out for a blue fan, please. At the end of the tour, they showed us a video, never seen propaganda quite like it! They just mentioned all of the ‘heros’ of the war because of how many Americans they killed and things like that. What struck me the most was actually how so many of these ‘heroes’ were women, some even school girls. I doubt many American women were sent over there to fight, but then again maybe it would have been different if it was on their own home ground. Saying that it’s not just in the war that I noticed that women are really valued, you see them in all the positions of authority – border control, police etc. and our tour guide did once say that: women number 1, men number 10).
Entrance to a now collapsed tunnel and the air vents to these tunnels – they often tried to mask the air vents by hiding them in termite nests and against trees and the Americans, if they found them, would drown out the Vietnamese by pumping water into them.
By the time we got back from the tunnels we were pretty tired, we went straight to the central market for food – it was amazing! Would definitely recommend going, so many aromas and the food was fantastic. We finished off our meal with that roll up ice cream you see in videos on Facebook – you can choose whatever you want in it, mango, chocolate, Oreos, strawberry etc. and they just mash it up on this flat cool plate with milk and then flatten it down, spread it out and roll it up. I had the chocolate one and honestly, it was actually too chocolatey for me! Wish now I’d tried one of the fruit flavors.
After the market we just went to bed, we had an early start for our flight to Hoi An the next morning.
Hostel: Hideout – good party hostel, rooms are basic but okay. The vibe was quite weird although they had a rooftop bar and another one on the ground floor which was more like a club. The staff were helpful enough and it was in a good location in District 1. If I was to go to Ho Chi Minh again I’d probably try out Flipside. They also give you a free breakfast, either eggs and bread or a fruit plate which is a winner
Firstly, I just want to say that we loved Hoi An – although it can be a bit sketchy at night, the old town is just beautiful and the place is just so much nicer than the manic and constant beeping of Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, we even extended our time here and cut out Hue we loved it so much.
We arrived in Da Nang around lunch time and shared a cab to Hoi An with this American guy, it was pretty lucky he approached us because if he hadn’t, we’d of have to get a taxi to the bus station, a bus and then another taxi from the bus station in Hoi An, this guy saved us about 2 hours.
We checked into our hostel and then went for a wander around the old town and along the river. We hadn’t meant to have walked so far, but by the time we were nearly at the hostel we were dying from the heat and sweat. We decided it was time to treat ourselves. i’d been living with some seriously ratchet nail polish for 2 weeks now and was in desperate need of a wax – so we went to the spa for the afternoon.
Once back in the hostel we went to the bar, it was already pretty rowdy and we were clearly very behind everyone else. At this bar, you can pay about £2.50 for unlimited drinks between 8-10pm and we had arrived about 9pm so there was no way we were catching up.
Eventually, a northerner called Conor came an sat next to us, mostly because he was avoiding his friends, one of which was so plastered he could even stand. This lad was throwing chairs, ashtrays, spilled 2 drinks on me and threw my drink across the table – a complete twat if I’m honest. We weren’t really feeling it after that so never made it out.
The next day, Nia and I hired some bikes and got coerced by some woman to go to her shop and get some things tailored. We did want to get something made while we were there as its one the main things to do, so I guess she took the job of picking a tailor for us. You can basically choose any style, I went for a playsuit, a jumpsuit and then a matching crop top and skirt, and then you choose any fabric. They then just measure you up and you go back the next day to get it, I paid about £100 for all 3 and I’m pretty chuffed with the result! I can never get jumpsuits to fit me properly.
After the tailors, we just had a cycle around the old town, stopped for a milkshake and some pho before going back to the hostel. Luckily for us, we bumped into the boys in our room and we ended up going out for dinner with them and 2 of their friends. This was their 8th and final night in Hoi An and they took us to this amazing burger place, I’m not going to lie it was probably one of the best burgers I’d had in a long time!
We then all just then went back to the hostel and had some beers, in the actual bar was pretty hectic so we grabbed some tables outside by the pool (also a lot cooler than being in that tin can), played our own music and just chilled. These boys were doing the Hai Van pass the next morning so weren’t looking for a big one and that suited us just fine.
We got up early the next day and had the free breakfast at the hostel before going on our tour of My Son Sanctuary – a UNESCO world heritage site. The breakfast was amazing for a hostel! They had an egg station, pancakes, fruit, noodles, toast, juice, and coffee.
The Myson tour was pretty awful. The Americans had bombed the temples so badly during the war to the point there was just basically piles of rubble next to bomb craters. It was probably amazing back in the day, but now there isn’t much to see.
We got a boat back to Hoi An, which was also pretty boring, no great views or anything, just a slow-moving boat along a muddy river. If you’re ever in Hoi An, I wouldn’t bother going and for me, it was a waste of money, but at least we can say we did one cultural thing while being there!
That evening we met Zoe and Miranda who had just arrived. We had a few drinks in the bar and went out for dinner with the next set of boys in our room. Our plan was to take them to the burger place but after dragging them along for a good 15-minute walk in the heat, we realized that the place was shut on Wednesdays and then just had a very below average Vietnamese dinner, not even the Pho was good.
We had planned to have a big night with the girls that night but for some reason, we just weren’t getting drunk. They went to bed about 12 and I had planned to go to bed soon after but once I got to the room I found 2 people shagging and the room just stank. So although I’d taken off all my make up, moisturized and brushed my teeth, I went back downstairs to find Nia.
I ended up talking to these Irish blokes and somehow ended up in a taxi to the club with a load of people I hadn’t met. Entry to Tiger-Tiger and a double was 200,000 Dong, just to put it into perspective a beer is usually 20,000 and a gin and tonic 25,000 – there was no way I was going in there.
Hoi An isn’t the safest at night, one of the guys had a gun pulled on him and robbed and when you’re drunk/ out of it people will just steal your money straight from your bumbag or offer you a lift home on their motorbikes, which I think everyone can agree is just a terrible idea – so I didn’t want to go home on my own at all, even in a taxi. Luckily the boys I had gone with weren’t keen on spending that much money either so we walked along until we found a bar that was open – it was called why not (classic).
There was no one else in this club apart from us, the music was just being played through a laptop connected to speakers and so these boys just going for it playing this awful chav Irish music and dancing like lunatics – I was nowhere near drunk enough for that! As I couldn’t go home on my own I just had to wait (nearly 2 hours!) for them to be ready to head back. Thankfully by the time I got back the pair had stopped shagging and were asleep – poor Nia was underneath them and feeling a bit seasick I’d imagine!
On our final day in Hoi An, Zoe, Miranda and I cycled to the beach while Nia stayed firmly bed! The beach was a 15-minute cycle away and although the roads are pretty hectic (pretty much anything goes) I really enjoyed the cycle and it was a good way to see more than just the center of town.
The beach and Miranda and Zoe looking very cute in their rice hats!
That night us girls cycled into the old town where all the lanterns are lit up at night – it was very picturesque and there so much going on there at night. After dinner, we just had 1 beer at the hostel but we were all so tired we just headed to bed. Nia and I were getting picked up to go along the Hai Van Pass at 8 and the girls had a tour at 8:30 so none of us were in the mood to get smashed – I was fast asleep by 11:30.
Hostel: Sunflower hotel – this is a party hostel for sure. The rooms are basic but there is a bar, restaurant and pool and it’s super easy to meet people. If you want a relaxing time don’t stay here, but if not, this is probably a really good option for you. It’s also only a 10 min cycle into the old town and a 15 min cycle to the beach. Only thing is you have to be super wary of the men that stand outside and sell balloons, they’re pretty nasty people so just don’t interact with them on your own.
Hai Van Pass
So, normally what people do is hire motorbikes to do the Hai Van pass, which is the coastal/mountain road that runs between Hoi An and Hue – made famous by Top Gear. Since the tunnel through the mountain was built in 2005, most of the traffic goes through there leaving the pass quite empty apart from bikes, tourists and oil tankers (they aren’t allowed through the tunnel).
We decided to get a car instead, it was only £20 each and I think my mum would have killed me if I’d hoped on a bike for the first time in Vietnam. We also chose to wear our beautiful shit shirts (kind of a right of passage in (Hoi An/ Vietnam) on the trip just so the pictures could be even more gorgeous.
We stopped a couple of times along the way, first at a place called marble mountain. These are a cluster of limestone and marble hills with a load of tunnels, caves and temples build into and on them. It was a really pretty place with good viewpoints and gardens and if you don’t want to walk up the steps there is a lift… we may have got the lift.
One of the temples and Nia in one of the caves in Marble Mountain
Just as I was losing the battle to sleep – every time I sit down for more than 5 minutes I’m out like a light these days – we drove onto the pass. It really was stunning and we stopped twice along the pass to get photos. At the main stop at the top of the mountain, you could see Da Nang to your left and Hue to your right. We had some Vietnamese coffee at this top – it was surprisingly good! I’m guessing it was full of condensed milk and sugar because normally I can’t stand coffee!
View from the top of the pass, you can see Hue in the distance. Me and Nia in our shit shirts.
While in the car we decided that we weren’t going to spend the night in Hue as everyone we’d met said there was literally nothing to do there apart from seeing a couple of temples and the town was pretty quiet – we were so templed out, I honestly couldn’t bear to see another one! We managed to call the bus company, and with the help of our driver for translating, managed to change our bus to Hanoi to that evening instead of the next day.
Our hostel in Hue was so understanding and also called them to confirm they were picking us fro here – they even gave us a discount as we weren’t staying the night anymore! We had booked a private room and when we got there the fact we were going to be on a 13 hour bus instead of this cute, air coned, private room with 2 double beds and a TV did make us question our choice for a second, but we knew that just chilling in the room for the night and then walking around temples we didn’t want to see the next day would have been a waste of time.
We had a bit of a wander around the town in search of food, and an hour before our bus was supposed to leave nipped out for a quick crepe. We came into the hotel 40 minutes before the scheduled departure and the woman at the desk was like “the bus come in 5 minutes!!”
We then had to run up the 3 flights of stairs to our room, quickly change and pack and then get back down them. Then these 2 guys arrived and we had to get on the back of their motorbikes with our huge rucksacks on! We thought they were taking us to the bus, but in fact they were just taking us to the tourist office which was probably about a 5 minute walk away… it was safe to say we were very confused. Eventually we got to the bus and apart form Nia losing her neck pillow (she was pretty attached to that thing), changing the bus was a pretty painless process.
The bus from Hue to Hanoi is 13 hours and this sleeper bus was no where near as comfortable as the one we took in Cambodia! Instead of having flat beds it just has really reclined seats and had no plug sockets. However, it was comfortable enough – still better than an economy class plane ticket!
Hostel: Thanh An Hostel – Really nice place. Although we didn’t actually spend the night the room was really clean and cool and the staff were lovely. It’s a quiet hostel but the whole of Hue is quiet so would definitely recommend staying there. There are also loads of bars and restaurants in walking distance and its only a short cycle to most of the main attractions.
Arrived in Hanoi about 6am, had some of the free breakfast and then just napped – I didn’t even think I was tired so tried to watch some netflix but passed after about 20 minutes. Around lunch time we got up and went for a wonder around the lake. We stopped for Vietnamese coffee, which is basically black coffee with condensed milk – it’s honestly so great!
Us both loving the vietnamese coffee – condensed milk for life!
Nia and I then went to the market for a very successful shopping expedition, I needed to get a bag and a wash-bag, while Nia needed a towel and a neck pillow – our bartering skills have improved exponentially. We also had a wonder around the lake – a moment of peace in the madness that is Hanoi. There is a temple in the middle of it, and I’m not 100% sure of the story but I’m pretty sure it was something to do with a turtle being blessed and getting a sword or something? You can look it up if you’re that interested.
That night we went up to the rooftop bar of the hostel and met the weirdest group of people… people of all ages and backgrounds. They were really nice people but we made the executive decision that food was more important. While we were eating we bumped into those knob-head boys we’d met in Hoi An and they showed us that they had just got tattoos (we did actually make up with in the end they ended up being quite good company). Just so we are clear, I have been wanting a tattoo for about 5 years now and I’ve known i’ve wanted an elephant on my ribs for at least 4 of those years, it just took me a little dutch courage to finally get it done! So yes, I got my first tattoo in Vietnam – how cliche. Thankfully, I absolutely love it.
The next day we had planned to go see Ho Chi Minh’s (the man himself) embalmed body – weird right, but you can only do it from 8am-11am so we obviously missed it… wore long trousers in 80% humidity for no bloody reason. Instead, we went to the woman’s museum – it was actually really good! A lot of the minority societies and tribes in Vietnam are matriarchal and the women are valued much more than the men – my type of place to be honest. One of the weirdest rituals we learnt about was this one community where they have a ‘courting month’. In this month the women can propose to the men, and if they decline they have to wait a week before they can proposed to someone else.. how bizarre!
We also learnt about the huge role the women have played in the numerous wars – for example they would pretend to be carrying crops on their carrying pole (those beams they carry on their shoulders with baskets on either end), and when they got close to the enemy they’d drop the crops and start beating people with the beams… There was a saying in Vietnam as the time – carry a weapon in one hand and a plough in the other – it was the only way they could ensure there was enough food to support the country during war time.
After the museum we’d felt like we’d done enough cultural stuff for one day so just headed back to hostel to have a shower – i’ve never been sweatier than I have been in Vietnam, although its only just over 30 degrees, the humidity is so high it feels like over 40 everyday, its pretty unbearable.
We went out for dinner – a very disappointing Mexican, couldn’t hack vietnamese food. We then just had a couple beers on beer street and bumped into a different set of boys we’d met in Hoi An. We then headed back to their hostel, theirs is the main party hostel in Hanoi and we’d wished we stayed there so badly – we did move after our trip to Ha Long Bay. We were supposed to have a quiet night because we were getting picked up at 6:30 the next morning for our castaway trip – it was defintiely not a quiet night.
Ha Long Bay – Castaways
So the Vietnam backpackers hostel (VBH) runs this trip called Castaways. It’s not a cheap trip, much more than any backpackers could afford but every person we’d spoken too said it was so worth the money. Despite this, we still only did 1 night although you should do the full 2 – we regretted it so much but we had to get back for our flight to Laos! What the tour consists of is them taking you private island in Ha Long Bay, which is obviously beautiful, they have loads of activities you can do (all included in the price) – tubing, rock climbing and kayaking, all meals are included and then they just get you absolutely wasted. First beers are brought out at 11am on the boat over. It was a really fun trip and we had to miss the booze cruise on the second which is apparently the best bit, but never mind! Next time. We went tubing which was great fun although I really shouldn’t have been in the water with my tattoo… the water wasn’t exactly the cleanest, I cleaned it once I got out though and it seems to be okay. The rest of the night was just spent drinking and dancing – everyone had a really good time and just as people told me, it’s 100% worth the money.
The journey back to Hanoi was long, everyone on that trip was so broken and we slept the whole way. By the time we got back it was already 5pm and we were starving. To celebrate our last night in Vietnam we treated ourselves to a really good pizza that one of the staff recommend, a place called 4P’s – definitely worth a visit!
We then headed to the hostel bar – we’d checked into VBH and started talking to some Irish blokes we’d met on the castaway and went on the pub crawl with them.
Because everything has to shut around 12am, anywhere that is open after that either has some secret knock to get into or has extortionate drink prices as they are paying off the police at the same time. We ended up at this illegal rave in I guess it could’ve been a warehouse? Not too sure if i’m honest, It was so much fun though (and when I say expensive drinks I mean a beer would be £2 instead of £1).
On our final day in Hanoi we spent the entire time moving from fan to fan, it was unbearably hot. First we went for a vietnamese coffee and had a look on spare room for somewhere to live in London. Then we went for food – I got a pho and Nia a Banh Mi, thats when Conor ands mate Dan joined us. Honestly these guys are so funny, they had me in absolute stitches. They hadn’t actually managed to see any of Hanoi past the hostel and bar street, so we took them on a bit of a tour to the lake and did a bit of shopping.
Walking around for even an hour or so was too much, it got to the point where you didn’t want any part of your body to touch another part of your body, so we went back to the hostel, found in the biggest fan and just sat next to it until it was time to go to the airport.
Even though we got to the airport 2 hours before our flight, we still managed to be the last people on it as we ended up waiting at burger king for chips to spend our last Dong on – bloody typical, us running through the airport once again.
So goodbye Vietnam, I will be seeing you again soon!