Our last stop in Vietnam was all about getting away from the city of Hanoi and resetting ourselves ready for the chaos we imagined super industrialised Korea would bring! Emily and I headed to the mountains and a homestay 8km outside of Sa Pa for fresh air, trekking, altitude and a much slower pace of life for 3 nights.
Planning out trekking routes with a mountain doggo
Our first day in Hanoi we hit the ground running. The bus dropped us off near our hostel around midday and after checking in we headed out to discover the old quarter! Liam took over navigating duties for this busy city after I almost had a bit of a panic attack trying to get us around Saigon, and I’m so glad he did because we were both able to enjoy the city so much more. Train Street is a famous stop amongst those who travel to this city. In the alleys lining the train tracks are various cafes and shops tourists can wander around until a train comes by. Shop owners fold up tables and chairs while tourists line against the wall to feel the rush of the train whizz by. Pretty exciting stuff! So when we arrived and found railings and guards informing us that it was closed we were pretty bummed. We still managed to get one picture at this famed spot before moving on.
Without the cafes it could just be any old train street
No trip to Vietnam is complete without a trip to the iconic Ha Long Bay, the descending dragon. But the more we researched boat trips the more it became clear to us that as a destination it can be very hit and miss. Depending on the cruise you end up on, your tour, and even your safety, can be compromised. And for a premium price, particularly in South East Asia, it is not something we wanted to gamble on. Throw in the fact that Ha Long City has become one of the most crowded tourist spots in the country, we decided to look into alternatives.
Successs! When we went there was not a single other boat in sight
It was the dead of the morning when Liam and I arrived in Ninh Binh. Our bus driver absolutely gunned it down the road from Hue and our 11 hour journey was over in 9, leaving us on the side of a road at 3:30 am with one fellow traveller. We decided to split a taxi fare with him since we were heading the same direction, the taxi driver took half the fare from him and when we arrived at our homestay he demanded the full fare from us. Nothing like finding your way out of a scam to wake you right up. Luckily our luck changed from there on out. Our homestay hosts graciously let us in at a time where no one wants to be awake, and let us sleep in the dorm room until we woke up for the day at no extra cost. Heroes!
Ninh Binh is such a peaceful and beautiful place at any hour
Taking the train from Da Nang to Hue through the Hai Van Pass is something Emily and I can definitely recommend doing if, like us, you don’t fancy the 5 hour ride in the mud and rain, but still want to enjoy the views. We first came across this stretch of beautiful landscape reading Paul Theroux’s Great Railway Bazaar, one of the greatest travel books ever written. Our sentiments echo his and his observations are still true today: “I had been unprepared for this beauty; it surprised and humbled me in the same degree the emptiness had in India. Who has mentioned the simple fact that the heights of Vietnam are places of unimaginable grandeur?”
The start of our journey was still a little gloomy like the end of our time in Da Nang
I woke up at seven in the morning and saw Liam sitting up in the sleeper seat across the aisle “I think we’re here” he said. We actually slept semi decently on our first night bus in Vietnam. Plus it got to where we were going three hours earlier than anticipated, total bonus! A quick walk and we made it to our hotel. We were too early for check in but the amazingly kind receptionist showed us a nearby street where we had an amazing street food breakfast in a families drive way. Curried noodle soup, and a over easy egg with pork strips and meatballs served on a cow shaped skillet with herbs and baguettes to complete the meal. Simple and sublime!
We managed to eat the egg with chopsticks as well, we’re becoming total pros!
After a long and bumpy bus ride Emily and I arrived at Dalat, leaving the coast for mountains. Mountains in Vietnam nearly always mean coffee. So, while getting to grips with the city, our first afternoon was spent in a coffee shop enjoying the local brews and planning the days ahead.
Emily’s former life as a barista hasn’t gone to waste in Vietnam!
Our first bus journey in Vietnam took us from Saigon to Mui Ne. A five hour journey on a bus filled with sleeper seats. Liam and I spent the journey laying down at the back of the bus eating mini pancakes and watching Bob’s Burgers. Needless to say, the journey flew by! Mui Ne is a town known for its vast stretch of beach, relaxing environment, and sand dunes. Something we didn’t really expect to come across in Southeast Asia!
Ah, Saigon. Ho Chi Minh City officially. But does anybody really call it that? The local businesses don’t, that’s for sure. Plus Ho Chi Minh City is a bit of a mouthful isn’t it? Whereas mention Saigon and it evokes images of the far orient. Or memories of the Vietnam War and the cultural grip it had in the 50s, through the 60s and into the 70s. Yes, Saigon. Even on our first night wandering through district one only to end up in the skybar of the Bitexco Financial Tower, sipping a drink and watching the lights and mayhem of the labyrinthine city below, I knew Emily and I would fall in love with this city.