Continuation of Smiling Cambodia
Ho Chi Minh and Mekong Delta
When I was younger I always wanted to go to Vietnam and it was actually the main reason why I chose to do this South-East Asia trip. From Sihanoukville in Cambodia, I took the bus to Vietnam’s biggest city in the south, Ho Chi Minh. First Impression: Wow, are all the motorbikes in the world born here in this city? It looks impossible to cross the street because there’s motorbikes all the time but there is a secret to manage, just walk and they will avoid you. A bit unnatural in the beginning though.
But Ho Chi Minh is pretty western compared to the rest and it’s a good base to see the famous Cu Chi tunnels from the Vietnamese war and to plan a tour through the Mekong delta where the river flows in the ocean. Both are these things you don’t want to miss but are not spectacular. Although, I’ve had some fun with some fellow backpackers during the Mekong delta tour because you’re stuck with each other for a few days.
Dalat and motorbike tour
After this I decided to go to Dalat in the mountains to get some fresh air in the cool mountains. The bus ride to Dalat is very nice and you see a lot of coffee and tea plantations. The vibe in Dalat is a bit weird. It’s very quiet, there’s different vegetation and it’s much cooler but it feels weird in a good way. This is also the place from where most ‘Easy Riders’ operate. Easy Riders are men with a big motorbike and offer to take you on a tour at the back of their motorbikes on Vietnam’s less travelled roads. A guy came to me in Dalat, asked me if I wanted to do this and I said yes. It feels a bit odd in the beginning to take off with a Vietnamese guy who you don’t know at all but in the end it’s just a matter of trust. I did it and I’m very happy I did.
I did a tree day tour from Dalat to Nha Trang at the beach and saw some great things. The guy took me to temples, to farms, through mountains and rice paddies. I slept in a longhouse in a small village at a beautiful lake while pigs and chickens were scavenging beneath the floor. I helped cutting the rice for a bit, drank tea from leaves we picked ourselves and swam in a place in the jungle that looked like paradise. It is a bit expensive compared to the rest of the prices in Vietnam but I think it’s worth it.
I was a bit disappointed about Nha Trang. It’s a place at the beach but I thought it was a bit boring. The weather wasn’t very nice as well so maybe it had something to do with it. The best thing was the big white Buddha on top of a mountain. The beaches are quite nice though so i can imagine when the sun is shining you can have a pretty good time. The last day I was in Nha Trang, the weather was a bit more sunny so I went on a boot tour. I just felt I had to do something. It is quite relaxed and it includes lunch and snorkeling.
The next stop was Hoi An and I loved Hoi An. It’s an old Trading port and it’s very well preserved. The houses and shops are all very low and there’s a fruit and vegetable market. Walking around in this place is so magical. At night, it’s very romantic with all the lights and the atmosphere is so incredibly nice. It’s by far my favorite place in Vietnam and it has some excellent food as well. If you’re ever there, you must try the Cao Lau which is a sort of a soup with noodles but different. Da Nang is also a place nearby with a nice beach but because I liked Hoi An so much I didn’t want to stay there. I just took the motorbike to check it out and visited the Marble Mountains on the way.
The next town was Hue and I can’t actually write a lot about this town. It has nothing special and I could have easily skipped it. There are supposed to be ruins from the old royal palace but all you see is some grass with a sign: here used to be the palace. Money not well spend but it happens too sometimes. Up north I arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capitol city.
I think it was a good base for going to Halong Bay and Sapa but the city itself is not that special. Sure, it’s fun to eat a nice bowl of noodle soup on small plastic chairs on the street but the people weren’t very nice. Even a bit aggressive. Halong Bay on the other hand is something you definitely want to see. It’s a place in the ocean with beautiful rock formations. To see it, you can book a boat tour that includes food and accommodation and sometimes karaoke in the evening. I was very amazed and overwhelmed by this wondrous place. Some of the small Islands have cave’s inside as well which you will visit during the tour and they also let you canoe for a while so you can explore things by yourself for a bit.
Sapa was the last thing I wanted to see in Vietnam so I took the sleeper train from Hanoi to get there. It’s a place high in the mountains and I heard a lot of great stories about it. Well, the people didn’t lie. Wow, what a nice place and it’s so different from the rest I’ve seen in Vietnam. It’s just the whole atmosphere. There is a cozy smell of burned wood in the air, you’ll find bakeries with fresh bread and pies, colorful dressed hill tribe women are walking on the streets or selling their stuff on the market and everything feels so calm and peaceful.
You’re surrounded by mountains covered with layers of rice paddies and in the morning you could see a blanket of clouds drifting in the valley while the sun is rising. When I was there, trees were blossoming and together with the fresh mountain air it felt like spring. The first day, I did a walk through the mountains. On my way I watched the simple life in the small villages and I enjoyed the nature. The views were breathtaking.
Another thing I wanted to do was climbing Fansipan. With 3143 meters, it’s the highest mountain in Indochina and they call it the roof of Vietnam. We left early in the morning with a guide and a guy who carried the food. It was a perfect day. The sun was shining, the temperature was very nice and the higher we came, the better the views. The guy who carried the food also prepared some tasty meals along the way on a small fire and at the end of the day we had concurred the mountain.
Standing on top of a mountain always feels very special for me and reaching the top was the crown on my travel. Being above the clouds and watching the world from there always makes me feel humble and free. In the evening when we were back in the camp, we had a good meal and shared rice wine which was almost necessary because it was so cold. I think no one was able to sleep that night because of the freezing wind so when the first light arrived on the horizon we all prepared for our way down. The way down was an easy walk and with the sun on my face I felt happy and satisfied.
I have seen wonderful things in Vietnam and the food was fantastic. The noodle soup they serve everywhere (Pho) is truly delicious and so are the fresh spring rolls. I’ve experienced many great things but I’ve mixed feelings about this country and after a month, I was eager to leave. I think it’s the people who made me feel like this. They are friendlier in the south but you have to be aware of everything all the time. They only see you as a big dollar sign and they constantly try to rip you off which gets exhausting after a while. I’ve heard stories that they even get physical with tourist sometimes and it’s the only country where I got robbed. I certainly recommend to visit this country but keep this in mind.
The story continues on Thailand: The End