As anyone with access to a calendar may have noticed, though I’ve been travelling for much longer than a month (as expected, it’s going by way too fast) I’ve only managed to write about my first three weeks of adventures. When I’m in an efficient writing mood, it takes me around two to three hours to pump one of these bad boys out, but can take as long as four or five if I’m distracted. I’ve therefore decided that the most productive way for me to get all caught up (without sacrificing two glorious days of travelling) is to write a compressed highlights post. Bear with me and enjoy weeks 4 through 6!
Ha Noi, continued
Visiting the Women’s Museum was a great way to spend a lazy afternoon. They have three primary exhibits; women in life (marriage and birth practices from around the country), women in history (really cool look at female soldiers) and women in fashion (AMAZING- I even learned how to style a traditional head scarf!). Lonely Planet highly recommends it, and I would definitely agree that it’s worth seeing if you’re ever in Ha Noi.
While walking home from the museum, I noticed a theatre with a movie poster for The Avengers and upon closer inspection realized that it was the opening day! Keep in mind this was on April 27th, a full week before it was slated to be released back home. For $3.50? We just couldn’t pass it up. Phenomenal movie; super witty with some truly great action sequences. Go see it!
Three hours south of Ha Noi, this town is known for its version of Halong Bay- picture the islands as they are, but replace the water with rice paddies. We went on an amazing river cruise for a couple of hours on the first day to see them and were very amused to see that all of the Vietnamese people were rowing the boats using their feet! They just leaned back and enjoyed the view like us.
We then headed to yet another hike (really just stairs… 561 of them) for an incredible view of the land. It’s true what they say, this looked exactly like Halong Bay but with rice paddies. Very cool (neat, not chilly) at the top, though we were all dying from the heat.
One last thing worth mentioning was that we rode motorbikes to get to both of these sights. It was my first time ever riding a bike (or even a scooter, for that matter), but luckily riding them is super straight forward in Vietnam. Felt really cool to zip along the roads, a great way to refresh after being in the sun all day.
Caught our first of many night buses from Ninh Binh to Hue and actually managed to get a decent nights sleep, though I can’t say the same for everyone on board. Arrived too early for check in at our hostel, so spent most of the morning lounging around. Following an afternoon nap we decided to take a boat cruise up the nearby river. Lonely Planet highly recommends it, and though it’s not phenomenal, it was a pleasant way to spend an hour.
Rented bikes the next day and scooted around to check out the Citadel, tombs and the local beach. We cheaped out and didn’t want to pay to get inside the Citadel, but it was neat to walk around the grounds outside and take a peek in the gate. Tombs were neat, but the day is kind of a haze because the thing I remember most about it is the heat. One of the hottest days I think I’ve experienced in Asia so far. The ride out to the beach was lovely (if not a little long, we were sure we were lost because we were riding so far), and it was really nice to relax for a bit in the sand and surf.
Overall, Hue was probably my least favourite place in Vietnam, but this may only be because so many of the other places we visited were amazing. If you have time, go check it out, but otherwise move along to one of my true fave spots, Hoi An.
Hoi An is supposed to be the place in Vietnam for custom made clothing, and it sure lived up to its reputation. One of the best times I’ve had so far consisted of spending a couple of hours on the computers at the hostel, looking up clothing from sites like Net-a-porter, J.Crew, Club Monaco, etc. and then taking the pictures to the nearby tailor to have it all made (we went to Kimmy’s, highly recommended). Seriously. I was like a kid in a candy shop picking out fabric, cut, style and details for my new clothes. Needless to say I ended up spending more than I had planned, but seeing as all of it is custom fit and was made exactly how I wanted it, I was happy dropping the money. Cannot wait to rock some of the pieces when I get home. Ps. We shipped all our stuff by sea (which is was cheaper than air), and takes 3-4 months.
In-between the numerous fittings at the tailor, I spent a couple of afternoons riding a bike ($1/day) to the local beach. After a lovely half hour ride you’re greeted with palm trees, white sand and clear, blue water. Utterly amazing. If you’re ever in Hoi An, rent a bike and go to the beach!
DVD’s are only a buck, so the boys and I splurged on 6 and spent a gloriously lazy day watching movies in our air conditioned hotel room. Our selection included Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Kung Fu Panda 1 and 2, Young Adult, The Town, and How to Train Your Dragon. We may or may not have turned watching the last movie on the list into a drinking game (drink every time someone says dragon!).
Don’t leave this city without trying the delightful combination of fresh beer and chicken clay pot at Kim Nungs. Though you can get it most places in Vietnam, it was the best at this little restaurant, and cheap too!
Beach capital of Vietnam! Need I say more?
Oasis, Why Not Bar and the Red Apple are lovely spots for a bit of socializing and dancing.
Sorry about the last two bullets, I’m getting fatigued and needed to save some energy for this next highlight. Vinpearl is an island just off the coast (you can see it from the main beach) that has an amusement park, water park, arcade, resort and various other forms of entertainment. For $20 a cable car will transport you over the ocean to this magical place where it’s free to partake in any of the activities I mentioned above. Roller coaster? Yes please. Surprisingly scary water slide? Yes please! Horse racing arcade game where you sit on a moving robotic horse? YES PLEASE! We spent the good part of 6 hours at various points of the park, though the highlight would have to be a waterside called Tsunami that we went on with a 3 person tube and then by ourselves backwards. A pretty vertical drop made it extra exciting, if not a little unsafe (the attendant never even batted an eye when we said we wanted to go backwards). Absolutely epic day!
Similar to our movie day in Hoi An, Derek and I decided to splurge on a private room for a day with the express intention of watching the whole first season of Game of Thrones. Don’t judge me, I’m on vacation.
Stopped in the town of Mui Ne for a day to check out their famous sand dunes. The 4 am wake up call to see the white dunes at sunrise was totally worth it, as was the following trip to the red dunes, fairy stream and fishing village. See pics below for a better understanding of how beautiful it was.
The dunes were breathtaking, but what ended up being the highlight of Mui Ne was getting the opportunity to go zorbing on them! Just as we were leaving the white dunes we met a Russian guy who explained that he was blowing up a zorb and wondered if we wanted to try it out. Our driver was dead set on continuing on the set schedule (and didn’t speak any English), so we finished the tour and then promptly rented a motorbike to come back out and give it a try. For those who are unfamiliar with zorbing, the basic concept is that you are strapped into an inflatable sphere (in some you’re standing/running) and then roll down hills in it. Sounds a little odd, and perhaps not the safest thing to do (especially with a Russian zorb in Vietnam), but it is seriously fun. Walked away perfectly fine (don’t worry, Mom) and zoomed back into town to catch a bus to Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon)
The War Remnants Museum in Saigon is not to be missed. It is slightly biased (obviously), but is also filled with photos which don’t lie. There is a section on Agent Orange and it’s lingering effects on the people in Vietnam, that while rather horrifying, is not to be missed.
I was a little under the weather with a headache (I think it was a slight case of zorbing whiplash) and although I didn’t see that much of Saigon, I did manage to make it out to the world famous Cu Chi tunnels. The tunnels are incredibly small and hot- we walked though a portion that was allegedly widened so westerners could fit, but it was tiny, sweaty, and cramped all the same. Blows my mind to think that people lived down there for months on end. Also had the opportunity to see some of the traps that the Viet Cong used in the jungles- very Saw-esque and gruesome. A very interesting and eye opening day, to say the least.
Well there you have it, Vietnam in all it’s glory. I really enjoyed my time there, it’s a truly beautiful and interesting country that I would definitely visit again. Official favourite places: Sapa, Hoi An and Nha Trang. Don’t miss ‘em!