Before leaving Vietnam, I had twenty days to see and do as much as possible! Now twenty days is nothing when there’s a gazillion places on the list, but this is all the more reason to go back…
I bought an open bus ticket from The Sinh Tourist in Ho Chi Minh for an absolute bargain of 895,000VND (approx £33) and that took me all the way up to Hanoi stopping in Dalat, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi. From these places you can catch other buses, which is what I did to get to Halong Bay and Sapa, or you can rent a bike (highly recommended to drive the Hai Van Pass!) The local buses are super cheap and for a bit of extra effort and sweat to get to the main bus stations, you can save loadsa dong.
My favourite place? It’s very difficult to say as everywhere you visit is so different! Dalat was cold and wet but you can abseil down waterfalls and zip wire over lagoons. Hoi An is lit up with hundreds of lanterns and you can ride around the beautiful ancient town on bicycles. Halong Bay is just pretty damn amazing like something in Pirates of the Caribbean and well, yeh, I can’t really choose!
We only spent two days in Dalat and I’d say that’s long enough. The highlight was canyoning with the brilliant guys at Adventure Dalat. They do throw you in at the deep end though but it’s all fun and games (luckily no one got badly hurt!) There’s one waterfall called the ‘washing machine’ and it does what it says on the tin really! We also hired scooters, got quite lost in some villages and finally found Elephant Falls. Pongour Falls was also on the list but we got too lost and ran out of time! Dalat market is nice enough to walk through but there’s not much to do in the town itself. One place not to miss is 1000 Rooftops Bar. It’s done out like a maze so you can drink and play hide and seek – every big kid’s dream!
We were only in Nha Trang for six hours while we waited for the night bus to Hoi An. We went to Po Nagar Cham Towers and then stumbled across a free pool party with cheap cocktails. Time spent wisely I reckon!
Hoi An & The Hai Van Pass
Oh Hoi An. The Ancient Town, lanterns, bicycles, rice paddies, lovely homestays, millions of tailors – just a few reasons why this little city is such a charmer. You can just cycle round all day and go exploring. It’s very difficult not to spend millions (of dong) getting suited and booted though, so be warned before you get lost in the fabrics at the tailors!
Driving the Hai Van Pass is a must, must must! It’s the nicest drive I’ve ever done. Cruising up and down the winding roads with those views is such a liberating feeling. There’s a few stop off points too, including an old war bunker, where you can have a ganders.
Some people think Halong Bay is too touristy, which I can understand, but it’s sooo beautiful! You can only enter the bay via a tour and obviously the tour depends on your budget, but even on a cheap one we had lots of fun. It took us through the bay to a floating village where you can kayak and then to Dung Gao Cave. We skipped lunch, which was a huge banquet served on the boat, but then scraped the leftovers (basically a full meal) from the guys we met on the tour. #travellingonabudget #wastenotwantnot #noshame. The beach is overcrowded but it’s always good to take a dunk nonetheless.
We also spent two days on Cat Ba Island. The weather was pretty poo so we couldn’t do another boat tour and snorkelling (gutted!) but we did go to the national park and climbed the peak. Incredible views! We also nearly got eaten alive by a pack of wild dogs as we got sent the wrong way to exit. Oh, and then we got hammered by the rain driving home in a thunderstorm! What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and all that jazz, right? There’s also a cave which the Vietnamese used as a hospital in the war. It’s crazy to think how they managed to build a functioning hospital in a cave.
I also visited Bai Tho Mountain, which is strangely accessed via someone’s backyard in the town. The view from the top is amazing and well worth all those steps and sweat!
I loved Hanoi. The vibe there definitely makes it feel like the capital city: people, bikes, noises, smells, shops everywhere! The old quarter and the myriad of little side streets are really charming and it’s just nice to sit down with a coffee or beer and people watch. There’s also an amazing thing called Bia Hoi. From 12noon onwards in a very lively area in the old quarter, loads of tiny street bars sell locally-brewed beer for 5,000 dong – yes, you read that correctly. Dirt cheap beer on plastic stools in the hub of the capital makes for a very jolly afternoon!
Sights wise, I walked around the lake, went to the Women’s Museum and checked out the market. To be honest I was quite happy just wandering, drinking beer and people watching in Hanoi!
Lao Cai & Sapa
I wrote a separate blog post about my time in Lao Cai and Sapa as it was so deserving of one.
Thank you, Vietnam! You really are wonderful.