“How was your holiday?” people asked when Sam and I got back from our trip, “it felt like you were away for AGES”, they’d say. And in response I pretty much always said the same thing, “it didn’t feel like long enough”, before mumbling stuff about being back in England and gushing about how BLOODY AMAZING Vietnam is. The first few who asked got a rundown of the food, I told the tale of our motorbike trip down the coast of Vietnam a few times, but to be honest I ran out of storytelling steam. I wasn’t particularly happy to be back in England after 4 weeks away (that novelty wore off after a few days), I couldn’t do the stories enough justice and I was struggling to gauge how interested people were. I was worried about getting carried away and lost in a big bowl of Pho.
So I’ve held back. I haven’t talked about how we got clothes made in Hoi An, that time we got caught in insanely heavy rain on the way to dinner in Hanoi and had to duck into the closest restaurant we could find (which ended up being amazing), or when we completely lost track of time swimming in the sea and had to catch a flight later that day.
The story I’ve probably told the most is how crazy crossing the roads in Vietnam is, which is funny because it’s almost impossible to describe. Picture hundreds of scooters and the odd car all driving at a fairly moderate speed. When you want to cross, you just walk out. They don’t stop, but they will go around you, which is awfully kind of them. It can be scary, but you just have to ensure you move at a slow and steady pace with no sudden movements. It’s also quite fun after a few beers. Sorry Mum.
Our Vietnamese itinerary
So what did we actually do? Well, quite a lot really. We spent two weeks in Vietnam and for the first nine days we didn’t stay in the same place for two consecutive nights. Which was fun, and ensured that we’re now backpack packing pros.
I actually just counted and we repacked our backpacks 13 times throughout the trip (including our next stops; Cambodia and Thailand), and that doesn’t even include packing initially in England. Wow.
Anyway, the Vietnam leg of our trip looked a little like this:
We initially arrived in Hanoi at 8.30am, having flown in from Bangkok after spending 24 hours there. (Note to self, 6.45am flights don’t sound too early, but when they require you to leave your hotel at 3.30am, after too many Chang beers the night before, they are). Why were we in Bangkok for such a short space of time? The flights were cheaper and we couldn’t risk the lure of Khao San Road.
For our first visit we had one day and one night in Hanoi, so after a quick nap (naps are a necessity of life, especially when traveling), we went to a few museums, mastered the art of crossing the road and just generally explored the amazing/crazy/beautiful city of Hanoi.
We then returned to Hanoi, not once, but twice in between various trips, seeing more museums, enjoying more amazing food and exploring more of the incredibly (but crazy) city.
We couldn’t go all the way to Vietnam and not see Halong Bay, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and named as one of natural wonders of the world. We stayed overnight on a boat, ate fantastic food and made new friends, including two American chaps who were making a radio documentary based on a show one of them hosted in Vietnam during the war.
My lovely friend Lara, who is currently living in Malaysia, flew over to join us and take a trip for a few days! So the three of us headed out to the Vietnamese countryside, to a little place called Mai Chau, which is a rural district northwest of Hanoi. There we cycled through the rice-fields, enjoying the beautiful colours against the bright blue skies, walked up A LOT of steps to see a cave and enjoyed a few well deserved beers and a BBQ.
After another day and night in Hanoi with Lara, Sam and I said our goodbyes and jumped on the night train to Hue. It was somewhat of a pit-stop before our next adventure, however we did get to see the Citadel, which was beautiful, although the humidity was insane that day.
That’s something that I haven’t mentioned yet and can’t even begin to describe, the humidity. It was between 90-99% every day we were in Vietnam and it hits you like stepping into a sauna. Heat from the sun I can do, that’s bearable, but humidity is something else. So try and ignore the sweat coating my face in pictures, let’s pretend it’s a nice-happy-holiday glow… When really it’s probably the humidity sweating out beer from the night before. Sorry about that.
Hue to Hoi An – The Hai Van Pass
My friends Lara and Emily took this trip when they were in Vietnam, and they also did it on Top Gear. This day was easily my favourite part of the entire trip. Basically, we got picked up from our hotel in Hue about 9am but two really friendly drivers (a father and son combo) and their motorbikes. They strapped our luggage on, we jumped on the back and they drove us from Hue to Hoi An, making various stops along the way.
First up was a fishing village, which was nice to stretch our legs and compare stories having been on separate bikes unable to communicate! Next up, waterfalls with no safety precautions at all, and encouragement to climb rocks and jump into mysterious water below. Spoiler alert, we survived.
We then went to lunch at a restaurant that was pretty much out at sea, serving the freshest seafood possible! After being fed up we had one last stop at the Marble Mountains in Da Nang before ending the journey in Hoi An. An incredible day, made even better by jumping in this pool at the end of it:
Hoi An was our first resting spot of sorts. We stayed in a lovely hotel that did the most incredible chocolate and banana pancakes for breakfast, had bicycles you could borrow to ride around town and was a short(ish) walk into the centre of Hoi An.
The town of Hoi An is very beautiful and boasts some incredible restaurants (friends from our trip to Thailand told us to eat in Morning Glory and it was delicious, do check it out if you go to Vietnam – thanks Rich & Kay!).
We also had some clothes and shoes made here, including a very nice suit for Sam. Just be aware that if you want clothes for the colder weather back home, it can be a nightmare trying them on in the humidity. But you can get some great things made very cheaply, especially if you know what you want.
We spent 4 days in Hoi An in total, including a day at the beach. It makes for a nice change of pace from the cities, and it’s really very pretty.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
For the final part of our Vietnam adventure we flew down to Saigon. Although not technically the capital of Vietnam (that would be Hanoi), it’s described as the commercial capital and is much cleaner and with more bright city lights. To me it didn’t have quite the same feel as the other areas I’d fallen in love with, but it was still great fun to explore.
Unlike everywhere else in Vietnam, we found ourselves faced with a whole array of fast food restaurants and a Starbucks right near our hotel, so we couldn’t resist a few frappuccinos.
Whilst in Saigon we took a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, shopped, visited museums and the Independence Palace and explored – happy to be in a place where scooters sometimes stop at red lights.
Overall our time in Vietnam can be described as nothing short of incredible. It was hot, humid and hard work at times (okay it was a holiday, but traveling can be tough when you’re packing so much in). The food was a huge highlight for me. I was pretty excited to eat Vietnamese food everyday, but I didn’t expect the delights that would come from the French influences on Vietnamese cuisine. I had the most fantastic pancakes for breakfast everyday, as-well-as baguettes for lunch, before eating ALL the Pho and pork spring rolls for dinner. Dream.
After Vietnam we popped across to Cambodia, but I’ll save that for another post…
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