It’s been about two and a half weeks that I’ve been in Vietnam and while it hasn’t worked out quite like I’d planned, it’s still been one hell of a ride.
So the original plan was for me to meet Stefano, an Italian guy I met in Cambodia, and his Belgian friend Jasper, in Ho Chi Minh City, buy motorbikes (somehow learn how to ride them), and then road-trip all the way up to Hanoi. The first part of that worked out quite week – meeting the boys. The motorbikes, not so much. Firstly, it was hard to find bikes at all in HCMC – for some reason most people were selling in Hanoi, not HCMC. Secondly, I had a go on a motorbike in HCMC and it was quite a terrifying experience because I was terrified of running pedestrians over (the guy brought us to a tiny open space outside a mall on a busy Saturday afternoon and said Okay, practice here). Thirdly, we worked out our journey / itinerary from HCMC to Hanoi, and realized there was a shit ton of stuff to see and do on the way.
Long story short, the two boys bought their bikes, and I decided to take the bus from city to city and meet up with them at various places. Between biking for 5-8 hours a day, sightseeing and having to work 2-4 hours a day, it just didn’t seem like I would have enough time to do everything at once. So this was my happy compromise. TBH, I was pretty disappointed at not being able to bike the length of Vietnam, but well, we can’t always have what we want, eh?
Anyway, so we set off from HCMC – First stop: Mui Ne, a coastal fishing town, famous for its sand dunes, me on my bus and the boys on their bikes.
It was a nice little town, and we stayed at a super nice resort for backpacker prices – Mui Ne Hills Budget Hotel. For USD 2, we had a bed in a swanky dorm, and access to not one, but two resort-level swimming pools, and an amazing view. It was a really nice place, especially for the price we paid.
We went to check out Fairy Stream, a nice little stream you can walk along, with some pretty cool rock formations to look at along the way. You arrive at a little waterfall at the end, which is a little underwhelming, but it was a refreshing stroll anyway. After that, it was off to the Red Sand Dunes, which just looked like regular sand dunes IMHO. It was a nice walk, but we didn’t rent the 4×4 (which seemed ridiculously expensive) so it was pretty meh.
Next stop after Mui Ne was Dalat. This was our first foray into the highlands of Vietnam. At an elevation of 1500m or so, the weather was meant to be much cooler, so we were looking forward to it as a respite from the blistering heat of Mui Ne and HCMC.
On the recommendation of a fellow traveller, we checked into SoLo DaLat Hostel – for 65k dong (less than 3USD), we got a bed in a dorm, free homemade dinner and breakfast! Definitely the best value we’ve had on our trip so far. Da Lat is actually a really nice city that I enjoyed tremendously. The weather was lovely, if a bit cold at night, but still fantastic for wandering around town and the surroundings at a very comfortable temperature. We decided to skip canyoning (at USD55, it seemed a bit much), but went to chase a couple of waterfalls on our own, with Toni, a Spanish guy, and a Canadian couple. The waterfalls were pretty beautiful, but off limits for swimming, so that was disappointing. Da Lat is also famous for its field of pink grass, but when we arrived, even though it was peak pink grass season, the grass was nowhere as pink as it was made out to be in pictures. The highlight of our time in Da Lat may have been an amazing fresh strawberry smoothie we had at a random strawberry farm along the way. If you’re in Da Lat, I’d also recommend checking out Maze Bar/ Cafe – it’s a labyrinth of rooms and doors and spaces and very trippy, but very fun.
The weather forecast predicted rain along the coast, so we changed our original plan from Da Lat – Nha Trang to Da Lat – Buon Ma Thuot, a city in the highlands that supposedly had some waterfalls to check out. Toni decided to tag along, so the four of us arrived in BMT, a random city where people don’t usually go. It turned out to be a fantastic time – we met a Vietnamese lady with a cafe by our hostel, who happened to teach English, and was thrilled about having foreigners for her students to practice English with.
We ended up hanging out with the students for most of our time in BMT, and they gave us a taste of Vietnamese hospitality, by accompanying us to the waterfall, and coffee museum, and generally being quite delightful.
Kon Tum was up next on the highlands road, a real Vietnamese city where hardly any tourists visited. I had my first taste of proper motorcycling (on an automatic bike, to be fair) on a 100km loop around Kon Tum, and Dak To, places where important battles were fought during the Vietnam War, and home to some ethnic minority villages. It was probably not the easiest route for my virgin motorbiking journey, but boy, the views were stunning. 10/10 would recommend!
Our next stop, Hoi An, deserves a post of its own, but I can’t be arsed, so more words and more pictures here. The road between Kon Tum and Hoi An (somewhere in between) is where Stefano crashed into a cow and bruised some ribs, so Hoi An was a lot of taking it easy, and chilling, which was easy to do in a town as lovely as Hoi An.
Truly a city of lanterns, it was quite a magical place. Lanterns everywhere, and a lot of the architecture preserved from 200 years ago. Definitely deserving of its UNESCO Heritage Site status, its charms are best enjoyed on foot or by bicycle. We were also lucky enough to be there in time for the monthly Lantern Festival, which lent a different feel to the whole place. Probably my one of my favorite places in Vietnam. My pictures are quite meh, so if you want some really gorgeous pictures, check out my photographer friend Jeff’s album.
And that brings us up to speed to Hue, from where I am currently writing this. If Hoi An is the city of lanterns, Hue should be called the city of rain. It apparently has pretty shitty weather all year round, but this lends itself perfectly to the endless consumption of Bun Bo Hue, a hearty beef noodle soup that hits all the right spots on cold, rainy days. We didn’t let the rain dampen our spirits though (okay maybe just a little) – we wandered around the Imperial Citadel on our first afternoon here, which was blissfully empty(ish) thanks to the ceaseless rain. The second day was my second time on a scooter (woohoo!) dealing with the rain, slippery roads and city traffic to visit an abandoned water park, American bunkers from the war, and various temples, tombs and pagodas scattered around the city.
It’s all been a pretty incredible adventure so far, and while it’s not really what I would have done if I’d been here on my own, I’m glad it’s worked out just the way it has so far. Special shout out to my bike buddies Stefano and Jasper – thanks for making this journey so far pretty damn awesome and for all the bowls of Bun and Pho and Banh Mi we’ve shared!
Stay tuned for the next blog post about… who knows what. Watch this space!