I spent two and half weeks in Vietnam traveling from North to South. We used the sleeper buses to complete the longer trips between stops and rented scooters in most of the cities we were in.
- 9 Jan - Hanoi
- 11-13 Jan - Ha Long Bay (Castaways Tour)
- 14-15 Jan - Ninh Bình
- 16-17 Jan - Phong Nha
- 18 Jan - Hué
- 19-20 Jan - Hôi An
- 21 Jan - Nha Trang
- 22-23 Jan - Dalat
- 24-25 Jan - Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)
- No Pavements, Always Beeping - Vietnamese cities are a full-on experience. Pavements rarely exist (or if they do there is a stall or something there) so most of the time you are walking in the street. This wouldn’t be a problem if the roads were quiet, but they’re not. They’re filled with scooters beeping, swerving and overtaking. It takes some getting used to and generally made me feel a bit uneasy.
- Women’s Work - It was interesting and refreshing to see so many women doing work that in other countries would be male-dominated. Anything from physical labouring on building sites, rowing boats on tours, or trade work such as keysmiths - we saw women doing all of the above.
- No Weekends - In many of the places we visited there was no concept of a weekend. Perhaps it was because we were in the touristy areas, or perhaps its what it’s like all the time. But when on a Friday we asked “will you be open tomorrow?” the owners of shops, restaurants and tour operators always responded with ‘yes’.
- Communism - You can see the marks and tint of communism throughout the country. Whether it’s in scribings on walls or a deadly quiet shop with 15 staff, there are hints of it everywhere.
- Comfort (Or Lack Of) - I noticed that Vietnamese people seemed very comfortable being uncomfortable. At restaurants, hard wooden chairs seemed to be the norm and cushions were non-existent. I frequently walked past workshops were people were walking on cement floors for hours. It made me realize that the level of comfort and accessories that I’m used to are a luxury.
- No Exercise/Gyms - It crossed by mind one day that I hadn’t spotted a gym at all in Vietnam. I’m sure they exist, they just seem far rarer.
Ha Long Bay
- Go to see the national park. This is best done by renting a scooter and taking whatever route you want.
- Duck Stop: It’s difficult to explain why this is so good, but it is. (Look at the smile on my face is the picture below for verification). Essentially, its a stop at a local farm where you play with the animals and eat a local lunch. The family who runs it are great and its a thoroughly enjoyable time.
- Caves: The most impressive cave was Paradise Cave, which you can walk into. Warning - there are a lot of steps.
Hue to Hoi An
- Do this by scooter - you can rent from Motorvina (pick up in Hue and drop off in Hoi An). It’s an amazing ride with some great views along the way and a ride over Hai Van pass (made famous by Top Gear).
- A really nice town. In the evening it’s lit up by lanterns and has a lovely vibe. The Dublin Gate is an Irish bar that has great live music most evenings.
- Canyoning is well worth doing here. A lot of fun.
- Restaurant: Primavera Italian restaurant is fantastic.
Ho Chi Minh
- Go to the War Remnants Museum. It’s pretty heavy particularly the ‘Agent Orange’ room.
Perhaps the most interesting country I visited in terms of things to see, do and experience. There is a strong history, made all the more relevant because of its recency. It can be an unsettling country to be in though, due to the constant noise and occasionally aggressive people.