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Published: December 12th 2017
My first South East Asian country to explore!
I headed to Ho Chi Minh on 6th November with my friend Jenny and straight away headed out for some street food. My first experience of proper street food in Asia. I loved the atmosphere. We walked around for an hour or so and settled on a corner restaurant.
It’s funny because all of the seats face the road, not like a typical restaurant. We ordered food and people watched. We watched other backpackers walking down the street with beers in their hands, street sellers trying to coax people into their restaurants on the side of the road. We were approached by a few people shoving GoPros in our faces asking if we could help them with their English skills. They were Vietnamese and students. They needed to have footage of them having a conversation with a native English speaker. It was interesting and our food came so we pretty much told them to go away whilst we ate.
They kept watching us eat and as soon as the last mouthful was put away, they were like magpies to something shiny. We told them we had to go, we
had had enough.
After our food, we headed to a backpacker bar for a cider and met my friend Elise from home and a guy named Dong who was someone from the Asia group on Facebook. It was so good to catch up with Elise in another country! Afterwards, we went to sleep in our capsule beds!
The next day, we had booked onto a day tour around the Cu Chi Tunnels. These tunnels were used in the Vietnam War, they showed us how they coaxed Americans into the tunnels to kill them, they showed us their traps they used – which were absolutely brutal I can’t even explain. They showed us their way of life, making the bombs and how they worked. We had the chance of creeping through the tunnels underground. The men in the war must’ve been tiny to fit in the tunnels comfortably. I felt a bit claustrophobic so as I walked through I tried a bit of quick meditation and then I was fine and much more relaxed. It was extremely hot though!
I shot an AK47 here too, 10 rounds. The power the gun has is terrifying. I thought my arm
was going to fall off.
Once we returned back to the hostel, we decided to go to the War Remnants Museum. I didn’t realise that they wouldn’t hold back on anything, information and photos. The photos they showed were very distressing, I felt a bit emotional. They showed pictures of the Vietnamese with American soldiers heads in their hands like a trophy, for example. They showed soldiers with their bodies blown to bits. They showed real bombs behind glass. As I say, very informative.
Afterwards, we wandered around and found a place called the Asiana food town. It was inside but it was still street food. We ordered food, I had pad Thai and a fruit smoothie, and headed back to the hostel.
The next day we had booked onto a tour along the Mekong River. This tour took us to a humongous big white Buddha, visited a temple, we went to honey farm and saw huge beehives. We drank honey tea, we watched a weird singing show and ate new fruits. We were then on the Mekong River cruising along with our cone straw hats which made for great photos. Then we came across a little
village and I saw some snake wine on show. They told me I could try it. It was foul. They basically make this wine by fermenting dead snakes inside. They do other ‘flavoured’ wines which include cockroaches, millipedes, worms... Anything you can think of – gross.
We headed to the night market and found somewhere for food, chicken rice and veg again – my favourite. I met up with my friend Liam whom I met in Halls Creek when I was working at the Kimberley Hotel. Jenny and I then caught the sleeper bus to Da Lat which was okay... A bit uncomfortable and the driver kept turning the lights on and off. The journey was 11 hours long and we arrived at our hostel at 6am. No one was awake so we had to wake up the owner to leave our bags. Eventually we checked in and headed to bed to lay down for a bit.
We wanted to get up and do something fairly early so we booked onto a motorbike tour around Da Lat. We were on a tour with a guy called Paolo and a girl, Stein.
It was a fun day, we
walked to a high viewpoint which overlooked Da Lat. We went to a rose and strawberry farm, we went to the Elephant Falls. It was named this because before it was inhabited, poachers saw elephants and they followed them for so long that the elephants fell off the waterfall and fell to their death. Hence the name... Elephant Falls.
Paolo and I went in behind the waterfall at the bottom and it was like a washing machine. We got absolutely soaked, but it was so much fun! Afterwards, we had lunch near the falls where I chose tofu, rice and veg. We then took a walk up to the laughing white Buddha statue, they also had another one which was gold and we then chilled in a wooden temple on some amazing seats that were carved out of wood. Afterwards, we headed to a silk factory, this is where they showed us the process of making the silk from the larvae to the end product, I found it fascinating! So many workers and every one had a different job from the other.
After the tour, I chilled at the hostel on the rooftop and had a beer with
a few people there. It was then time to get ready for the evening.. That evening was ‘family dinner’ night. The manager of the hostel was from China, we had a beautiful spread laid out for us. It smelt amazing. I was sat between Paolo and an Irish guy, Dave who we ended up meeting up with at the same hostel in Hoi An a few days later! There were about 14 of us for dinner, all different nationalities which was so good. Dinner was a hot pot of vegetables, dumplings, fish bones which I think was in some sort of broth. They also gave us some homemade wine, which I tried a sip but thought it was foul so I just had a beer. Everyone was getting full, tipsy, drunk...
Then after dinner, everyone helped to clear up and then karaoke started... I somehow got away with it, which was great for everyone’s ears!
The next morning, Jenny and I had booked the bus for 8am to head to Nha Trang but the owner hadn’t booked it with the company, which was just as well because their card machine didn’t work and the ATM down the
road was out of money. We asked the bank to fill it up and they did so we were then able to pay for the hostel. We went to a coffee shop to chill for an hour. We booked onto the 1pm bus then and we headed up north once again!
We had one day in Nha Trang so we headed to the beach for a walk, had brunch overlooking the beach and headed to the markets. As we didn’t have long we didn’t do too much! For dinner we headed into the main street and went into a restaurant for some western food to settle my tummy. They thought we were Russian! I really don’t think I look Russian!!
Later that evening we got on the sleeper bus to Hoi An. It took about 12 hours and it was more uncomfortable than the first sleeper bus we were on which was from Ho Chi Minh to Da Lat. I was second row from the back, at the top, with smelly guys either side of me so when I lay down I had their feet either side of me. Also the lights never turned off so I literally
We arrived at 7am the following day in Hoi An. Two weeks previous there was a typhoon but to me, there was no sign of this except a bit more rubbish around than normal. Within 30 minutes, Dave and Isaac (from Oregan) turned up, they were on a different sleeper bus to us. We had booked the same hostel so we were all staying at Paddy’s hostel and bar. It felt very welcoming and they had a dog!
That day, we didn’t want to sleep when we arrived so we headed out after breakfast as a 4 to Hoi An ancient town. We met up with a guy Stephen, who was on our sleeper bus and who I had been chatting to. So the five of us walked around to old temples, looking at artefacts, messing around, eating lunch in a cute restaurant.
This is where I tried Pho Ga for the first time (soup with chicken, and you can add your own chillies and bean sprouts). It was really good and I had it a few times in Vietnam. It was extremely hot this day and I think all of us felt really lethargic,
dragging our feet. We headed back to the hostel, chilled and the four of us decided to play pool (Isaac and Jenny won, although Dave and I were extremely good at pool... Not)!!
We were drinking beers, playing Jenga, had a few more drinks... Then we decided to head out for the night (Dave, Isaac and I). We headed to the Sunflower Hotel and I have no idea how many G&Ts I sunk but I was on my way. We had heard of a great club called Tiger Tiger 2. We found our way there and we were the first ones to arrive, we actually thought it was closed. But it opened at midnight... 5 minutes to go! We bagged ourselves a free shot each and waited for people.
Next minute I turn around and it is full. The place is heaving. Music pumping and next minute we are on the dance floor dancing to great music, before I left Australia I had a salsa lesson. I thought this was the best place to put that into practice. So poor Dave was my partner for the evening and we are spinning around and having a great time for
about 3 hours, it was so much fun. Isaac was dancing with a lovely girl who I have no forgotten her name... Woops!
We decided it was time to head back to the hostel so we found ourselves walking through the old town and grabbed a taxi with two girls we found that were also from our hostel! The taxi said he didn’t have a meter but we found it hidden under his hoody. We got back to the hostel and slept so well!
The next day, I have never felt so rough. I could hardly get out of bed but memories from the night before made it all worth it. Throughout the day, I napped, lay by the pool, swum a tiny bit, and ate some food with a guy from the hostel called Preston who was American I think. We formed a bit of a group in the hostel as we chatted about our travels and I needed to nap again before heading out for the evening.
After an hour nap, Jen and I headed to the main part of Hoi An. It is stunning at night. Hoi An is known for all of the
lanterns in the trees, across the roads, in the river. It’s hard to believe just 2 weeks earlier it was totally flooded! We came across some live music, we didn’t want to drink so we sat on the curb outside the bar and listened to the band for an hour. I love live music so it was perfect! We caught up with Dave and Isaac there but we didn’t last long out as Dave and I still felt rough!
The next day we had booked to do the Hai Van Pass. This was made famous by Top Gear and is also known as the Top Gear Route. It is the road from Hoi An to Hue. There are various stops along the way including the limestone mountains (Marble Mountains). We went inside and it was fairly cold. They use the limestone from these mountains to make buildings, make statues and jewellery. When we went inside, I wanted to climb to the top, so that’s what I did! Jenny stayed at the bottom. The climb was really steep and slippery but I made it and the view at the top was totally worth it. I was alone up there
and it was extremely peaceful. I could see other mountains surrounding and could look at the town below.
We went into a limestone statue and jewellery shop afterwards and it was amazing the skill involved to make the intricate designs displayed. They kept trying to sell us things so we left.
Another stop along the way were some war forts. I love going to old things to do with the war, I like to get a feel of a place and know that it was actually used for something. The forts included some pill boxes, a big building where I think they must have hidden, an underground house too. They were used during the Vietnamese war against the Americans.
The views along the whole of the Hai Van Pass were stunning. I’ve never seen anything like it. The beauty of the ocean reflecting the sun, with islands in the middle. The motorbike ride was starting to get uncomfortable after about 1. 5 hours. Still 2.5 hours to go! We stopped off at a beach shack for lunch. We also got caught in a downpour of rain, we were given ponchos to wear yet we were already soaked
through so it was a bit cold after that! We headed to a village that was poverty stricken. It was interesting to see how they lived. Literally one house is built for a whole family which usually consisted of over 6 people. It was sad to see, but they all looked really happy. Just goes to show, you don’t need money or a big house to be happy.
We made it to Hue and we checked into our hostel. There wasn’t much to do in Hue and we decided to fly from Hue to Hanoi instead of getting the 12 hour sleeper bus. We arrived in the morning. The hostel was so nice, we were based in the Old Quarter, the old part of the city. Our hostel was called Old Quarter Hostel funnily enough. We headed out to walk around the street shops. We went to Imperial City and Palace which I wasn’t allowed in because I always wear short shorts and singlets. Woops, we could walk around though outside. We saw a couple dressed in gold having a photoshoot so I’m guessing they may have been famous because they had a lot of people getting photos with
them and following them. In the evening, I got chatting to two guys from Germany. When Jenny came back we all headed for dinner, street food! We sat down and Jenny didn’t like the set up so she left.
The German guys and I wanted to try some new foods so we ordered three dishes. One was pigeon, one frog and one beef just to be safe. All of the food was delicious! We headed back to the hostel and found Jenny, who had had burger and chips for dinner if I remember rightly. I try not to eat Western food when I’m in Asia because that’s not what they’re used to cooking. I like to eat their local food!
The next day we were booked onto a tour which included going to a 1700’s temple where two Kings lived. The story goes that the first king married a woman and they lived in one temple, unfortunately the first king died so the widowed wife then married again and had a temple built on the same grounds. This second temple was built to face the first temple, they say it is because her heart still belonged to
the first king and she wanted to be facing him. The grounds were stunning, surrounded by mountains in a valley. We then went on to a river to get onto a long boat, three people per boat. One Vietnamese person who steered and paddled and two customers. The guy we had steered with his feet! I’m not sure how that’s possible but it looked interesting. We were taken through mountains, through caves, caves so low we had to duck our heads otherwise our heads would hit the ceiling!
Afterwards, we grabbed a bike each and as a group go for a tour, but our tour guide didn’t wait for a couple of us! We decided to still cycle anyway for a little while and we didn’t want to go too far because if we got lost we would be screwed!! We made it back with 15mins to spare, we weren’t impressed with our tour guide. He asked where we went and we just answered with he left us, I can’t believe he didn’t count before going!
The next day we travelled by bus from Hanoi to the ferry port on the East, then a 15 minute ferry
to Cat Ba Island. We checked into our hotel... Sea Dragon Hotel which was located behind the main strip so was a bit quieter at night. We went for a walk up to the Cannon Fort, which cost a tiny bit of money. It was a steep walk up there and at the top is a restaurant and cafe, we grabbed a drink and looked at the stunning view which overlooked Ha Long Bay. Ha Long Bay has been one of the places in the World that I’ve always wanted to visit. It was amazing and the following day we were going on a tour that goes around them!
We woke up early to go on the boat tour with Asia Outdoors and had a good group of about 12 people. We sailed around the beautiful islands, took in the views of the rocks, passed floating fishing villages and drank tea on the top deck. We jumped into kayaks and paddled around, I saw a black and white stripy sea snake which I only found out in Thailand that it’s highly dangerous! We kayaked through caves and sung out for monkeys, we didn’t see any but we saw a
water dragon instead. We had lunch on the boat which consisted of sticky rice, vegetable rolls, some kind of meat and pineapple. We stopped for a while and we were allowed to swim and jump off the boat. I’m scared of heights so I first jumped off the half way platform then got forced into jumping off the top which was about 6m high. My tummy still flips thinking about it! The water was so lovely and warm.
After our tour, our group, which consisted of English, American and Dutch decided to meet for dinner and drinks. This was the start of a messy night. We ate food, alongside our buckets of alcohol. Jenny and I ordered one to share but she wasn’t keen on it so I had all of it. Big mistake. Tipsy. Ended up staying out until fairly late. (Sorry parents for the next part, I didn’t want to worry you, but I am OK)!! I ordered a Grab (which is the Asian version of Uber). I jumped onto the back of the moped after putting my helmet on and the guy couldn’t start it up. He revved the engine whilst starting the engine. The front wheel rose in the air, I fell backwards on the road onto rocks with the bike landing half on top of me. Luckily the driver grabbed it before it completely landed on me. . I wasn’t that hurt but now my leg is scarred as I landed on a sharp rock and slid a little bit. Nothing bio oil can’t fix I hope..
The following day we had to travel back to Hanoi, so it was reverse of the bus to the ferry port and get on the boat back, then onto another bus back to Hanoi. We walked around the markets when we did get back but I was extremely ill (not from alcohol).
Our last full day in Vietnam. I needed to send a parcel home full of souvenirs so I found a post office and sent that away. Then walked around the lake which is where the Turtle Temple is in the middle. It’s a very small temple on an island in the middle of the lake, it was fairly impressive! Half way around the lake we saw it was near the Hoa Lo Prison. We detoured over there and went in. This prison was a bit hard hitting – it showed the tiny prison cells and the big cells where they lined prisoners up on concrete slabs with their ankles shackled next to each other. They showed equipment for torturing them behind glass. It showed a guillotine for beheading. It was brutal. Afterwards, we walked back to the hostel, packed to travel on the next day and went for some food.
I hate leaving a place, especially a country. It feels like a complete finish.
But Vietnam had been amazing and eye opening. I learned a lot about the history of the place which is one of my favourite things to do in a new place. I enjoy going somewhere where it has history,
I find it interesting that I can walk the same paths as these people from the past, almost like being in their shoes.
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