February 10th, 2018
My Grandad had always talked about how Vietnam was his favourite place in the world he had visited and as I sat on the plane, after a few delays (the joys of travel!), I wondered what it was that made Vietnam top of his list?
I had heard many good things from other friends who had travelled there and after visiting Thailand the year before and getting a 'feel’ for South-east Asia, I was intrigued to find out for myself.
A good friend from Sydney was joining me on the journey, however couldn’t make it until the 24th Dec in Hanoi, so I for a few extra days leave, I decided to go a week earlier and spend some time in the sun down South on a little island called Phu Quoc (only an hour flight from Ho Chi Minh/Saigon).
Phu Quoc is where you go for the beautiful white sand beach (bai sao beach) and the Instagram-worthy sunset. I could have sat at Rory’s Beach Bar every night with my 25,000 dong beer and watched that sunset.
The locals here are super friendly and trying to hold on to their space as much as they can, however Phu Quoc I later discovered, is going to be similar to Nha Trang. High-rise resorts and fancy golf courses being built all over the place; Phu Quoc will be much the same in 5 years time. And unfortunately the beaches that they are so proud of, are lined with plastic waste which will just end up polluting the area – which is quite sad to see.
From there I left a hot 32 degrees to arrive to a fresh 16 to the North in Hanoi, but Hanoi by far, was my favourite place – especially the hustle & bustle of the Old Quarter. It wasn’t until I reached here, that I got a real feel for Vietnamese Culture.
After a wrong turn on foot, finally found my bestie and we went off to explore! Here we tried our first Pho (pronounced ‘fir’), Bun Cha (made famous by Obama) and the Traditional Egg Coffee. Ha Tien Street for the delicious, cheap food, the lovely lakefront area and the people you chat to along the way. Once you know how to navigate walking the near-gone pavements around the Scooters that drive on them through the small streets, it is a great little town. And here you can also find the Vietnam Backpackers Hostel. From the moment I walked through the door, they made me feel like family! The Staff here are the real draw-card, however they also do a free daily walking tour and organise all other tours/excursions. (If you can, do the Castaways Tour – everyone I met on my first night there said how awesome it was! I’d missed it by 2 days).
After a fun Christmas Day I won’t forget in a hurry with people from all over the world, it was then off to do a day trip to Ha Long Bay. A UNESCO World Heritage Site about 3.5 hours bus ride from Hanoi that is very famous in Vietnam. It was a slightly overcast day for us, however still well worth the trip. Beautiful scenery and a surprise look into a cave that was only discovered 25 years ago. In the summer months I would recommend doing the overnight trips on the junkboats – would be great to wake up and look out the window to that view!
Although we were sad to leave Hanoi, next up was Hoi An – which is equally as great! Here you will find the beautiful Ancient Town lined with a mix of Chinese houses, Artists, shops and Restaurants. This is THE place to go to get clothes made fitted to you and to enjoy the magical feeling at night of the lantern filled streets. Hoi An was also where we found the cheapest beer of our journey; 5,000 Dong for a glass! That is the equivalent of .30 cents in NZ currency! And the Restaurants here served equally as cheap food that was just as good as the stuff we had in Hanoi (FYI: Banh Xeo = deep fried savoury pancake. Yummm!).
Not far from there, we did a day trip to My Son Sanctuary (pronounced ‘Me Son’). Another UNESCO World Heritage site that dates back to the Champra Kingdom and the Hindu Temples. This was pretty cool to be able to see. There were a lot of tourists visiting at the same time, but it was still interesting to listen about how the temples got there, the different Countries involved in each part and the difference between the colours of the bricks.
From there we ventured to the crazy Capital – Ho Chi Minh (still also known as Saigon). As soon as you arrive from the Airport, it is an endless swarm of Taxi’s and Scooters and their horns! Despite that, we discovered it to be quite easy to navigate on foot. From the French inspired buildings of Notre Dame and the Post Office (which they still use today), to the Bitexco Tower Building (with its new Heineken Brewery Tour), to the Ben Thanh Market and having a big night out for New Years Eve – Ho Chi Minh really is a good time and very easy to fill your days and nights with things to see and do!
One thing I really enjoyed was the Vietnamese people’s passion for music. We even saw a guy singing karaoke with his own portable machine in the middle of the street in Hanoi! From the lady on the beach in Phu Quoc to the boat lady in Ha Long Bay – they love to sing!
There were bands and duos performing in Bars and Restaurants throughout the places we visited and although sometimes the lyrics to that well known song we all know weren’t quite right, the energy they put into a performance made it enjoyable (and to be honest, I’d be the same if it was me trying to sing in Vietnamese!).
Three weeks wasn’t enough; we didn’t get to fit in Sapa Valley, Hue, Dalat or Mui Ne, however from what I saw and experienced, it had to be the amazing food and the friendly people that Grandad liked. I would definitely go back and highly recommend! Cam on Vietnam :)
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