Monday, 28 March 2016 / Vietnam

VIETNAM - PART 1

    HO CHI MINH  - MEKONG DELTA - DA LAT - NHA TRANG       
       
So last summer me and two other friends decided that once uni had finished we would go backpacking somewhere in SE Asia. We debated where to go for a good few hours as Thailand was the obvious choice but after speaking to several different people who have been out there, they pretty much advised us to hit up Vietnam as Thailand has almost been destroyed by tourism and that a three week itinerary wouldn't be enough to explore the country in one trip.


 Our route to travel Vietnam was from the South to the North: 
HO CHI - DALAT - NHA TRANG - HOI AN - HUE - HANOI - SAPA - HA LONG BAY.

Originally I was sceptical, I didn't know much about the country at all and considering I have never been to Asia before it was inevitable I was going to be nervous. But my goodness what a great country to start with.  

Several things about Vietnam resonate with me still to this day. Firstly the food; it is absolutely incredible (although I'm still not sure wether I can stomach any more Pho Noodle Soup - partly because we ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the entire three weeks but nevertheless it still was scrumptious). Secondly the breathtaking views that the country has to offer along with the diverse architecture which noticeably is influenced by several different cultures is like no other. And lastly the kindness and generosity of those who don't necessarily have the most luxurious lifestyles, and yet they are probably some of the most genuinely nice people I have ever come across. 



HO CHI MINH (SAIGON)

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) and as soon as we got out the airport we were extremely overwhelmed with everything, in awe by our surroundings and very sleep deprived. The amount of mopeds that are in this city is ridiculous, imagine 4 MILLION scooters all whizzing around at the same time on roads where there aren't really any rules to abide by...
Although only a few, it was nice to see old fashioned craftsman's creating beautiful artwork like the one pictured above using eggshells to create marble-esque creations.
The weather in Ho Chi Minh wasn't particularly amazing, it was pretty much heavy rainfall all three days we were there (June). The city is walkable, and quite easy to navigate although you will need to take a taxi to places like the Cu Chi Tunnels and Me Kong Delta.

Top things to do in HO CHI MINH CITY:
  • Ben Thanh Market - an insight into what a real Vietnamese market is like, although food here isn't too great and the market itself smells quite bad so note for the faint hearted. 
  • War Remnants Museum - Interesting exhibits relating to the Vietnamese War.
  • Chill Sky Bar - With a wicked view of downtown Ho Chi Minh, this sky bar is a fairly popular hotspot at night. Note if on a backpacker budget the drinks can be relatively costly and their is a dress code of no flip flops!!
  • Day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels - Allows you to see first hand what life was like during the Vietnam War and seeing the legendary tunnel system which ran for 40 miles 15 feet underground. 

HOSTELS:

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MEKONG DELTA

From Ho Chi Minh we took a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, which is a huge tunnel system that was used in the Vietnamese War against America to keep cover and to network around without being visible on land. The experience itself is really interesting as you get to go down the tunnels and see what life was really like back then – don’t worry they have been made safe for tourists, although probably not the best thing to do if you’re claustrophobic!

We then took a day trip to the Mekong Delta, which is a river surrounded by huge overgrown rice paddies, and took a boat tour through the river, which leads to several swamps/islands and floating markets.  The region is home to small businesses and those of whom live a relaxed simple life.
The journey to the delta started down the coast of the sea then heading into the swamp like forestry, which is when we passed a good handful of shacks like the one above home to some of the less financially stable locals.


We took a few stops at several different islands to learn about the local culture and the forms of making money around the delta. We were shown the mass production of coconuts and shown all the different uses of the outer shell,  as well as tasting some coconut candy which didn’t quite satisfy my taste buds I must admit! We then saw how bricks were handmade and the lengthy process it took to create just one brick alone. We then hired out bikes and rode them through the rice paddies in the pouring rain but with the views surrounding us there was no need to complain.
We even got to see a pet snake the same size as a car…
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DA LAT

We took a night bus from Ho Chi Minh at around 1am in the morning, but prior to this we decided to go out for food and enjoy our last evening in the city by going to a bar for a few hours. A couple of drinks then became several more drinks, which then left us feeling rather tipsy as we get on the bus – which if I’m honest was the best thing we could of ever done considering an hour in we were absolute knockout.

We arrived in Da Lat in the early hours of the morning after 8 hours on the night bus. The night buses in Vietnam are interesting to say the least… there are usually three different isles and each seat is also a bed – well sort off. And if like me you are pretty much average height (5ft 10) then you will be extremely squashed in these seats. And since the average height of someone from Vietnam is a lot smaller than those from the western side of the world this explains why.  

I don’t think I have ever experienced torrential rain like I did as soon as I walked out of that bus station. This rain was something else, pardon the pun but it genuinely dampened the mood so much so we were only in Da Lat for half a day. Our plan was to go trekking and find some waterfalls but we saw that becoming a recipe for disaster considering the weather so ended up in a coffee shop trying to figure out what to do – and rinsing their wifi too.

After walking around for a few hours we started to realise we were getting a good few dodgy looks whilst rocking our fresh garms.... Which is when we decided to take the photo opportunity to channel our inner Naomi and Kate.
      
We took a trip up to Lang Bian Mountain on a cable car and explored some of the gardens and saw the most amazing views looking back on Da Lat.  The city literally looked as if someone had photoshopped a tilt-shift effect across it.

Top things to do in DA LAT:

  • Lang Bian Mountain - has several volcanic peaks ranging in altitudes from 2100m to 2400m with incredible views looking down on central Da Lat through the forestry.
  • Canyoning, Abseiling and Hikingwe were recommended this day trip several times by other backpackers as it’s Da Lat’s main attraction however due to the weather being horrific we weren’t actually able to do it. Only heard amazing reviews of this so definitely worth checking out and the official Da Lat Canyoning Tours are from what I’ve heard one of the safest and most reliable companies to do the tour with.

HOSTELS



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NHA TRANG
Finally after a long day in torrential rain we arrived in what felt like the Vietnamese version of Miami.  Considering this was the first bit of good weather we experienced on our trip it made traveling all the way to Asia worth its while. We woke up early and took a trip to the beach to have a little swim and to have some chill time as we were a little hungover from seeing what Nha Trang's local bars had to offer the previous evening. 

There are plenty of fruit stalls offering a wide selection of fruits to make your own smoothies for the beaut price of 50p which helped with the hangover I must admit..
 
The city skyline was pretty much beachfront which is what reminded me of a miami-esque vibe. We were warned by other backpackers to watch out for pick-pocketers and in particular to be weary of Russian men as Nha Trang is a popular destination for Russians to vacate over summer and although I'm sure the majority of them are fine there have been several cases of theft so keep your belongings safe and close so that nobody can steal them!
After we finally gathered the strength to get on with our day we took a trip to Thap Ba Hotspring's where we checked out Nha Trang's infamous mud baths. The mud baths at Thap Ba are actually artificial and the Spa is more of a tourist attraction than a spa as they offer several swimming pools and fake waterfalls to hang around in. The mud is mineral mud and is great for the skin as it removes all dead cells, makes it smoother and even relieves stress. If you are staying in central Nha Trang like we did you will need to take a taxi to get there but it was roughly £5 for the taxi journey each way.


Top things to do in NHA TRANG:

  • Thap Ba Hotsprings - relaxing mud baths and heated pools.
  • Nha Trang Beach - tourist hotspot for its sandy beaches and bright blue sea.
  • Waves Watersports - available at Nha Trang Beach an opportunity to bring out your inner adrenaline junkie. 



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