Vietnam

Trip Start Sep 01, 2008
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14
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Trip End Sep 01, 2009


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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Well, looks like I'm back on the "blog writing" hook again.  So here goes.... We flew to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) from Bangkok on March 20th.  We booked a hotel to be on the safe side as we didn't really know what to expect when we got there.  The hotel was great!  Madame Cuc's if I recall.  They picked us up from the airport for $5 which is a hell of a deal as a pose to taking a cab.  The hotel price for one night ($20) also included dinner and breakfast..... Score!  We booked all our tours through the hotel as well.  They were great!  Our first day in Saigon we did the typical tourist tour.  We visited the reunification palace, the war memorial museum, and a few Buddhist pagodas.  The war memorial museum is a definite sobering but informative must see in HCMC.  The next day we booked a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels.  This was where the Viet Cong (VC) battled and held off the American army for 20 years.  They did this by digging a complex underground matrix of tunnels and "snake holes" over 200kms long.  What a resilient group of people!  There was a section of tunnel around 100 meters long that tourists where allowed to crawl through.  I don't think I would've lasted 1 day, never mind 20 years.  It was so hot and unbelievably cramped down there.  I could barely fit crawling on my hands and knees, while the VC used to run through them.  Then I tried sitting in a "snake hole" for a while.  Again, I could barely fit.  A snake hole is what the VC soldiers would sit in from sunrise to sunset.  It is an undetectable hole that had enough room for one (very small) VC soldier and his/her gun.  When they heard someone approaching they could pop up and surprise their victim.  It was very surreal walking around imagining the American troops trying to capture this area of land when there were booby traps and all sorts of surprises waiting for them around every corner.   
After Siagon we took a six hour bus ride north to Delat.  We met up with one of the local "Easy Rider" tour guides that day.  I was a little reluctant at first about the price and the idea of traveling for six days on a motorbike, but after a few Saigon Beers that night we decided that doing something so different was just what we needed to rekindle our travel zest.  After some negotiation we agreed upon a price and decided that I would drive one bike with Erin on the back and our guide, Peter, would take our luggage on the other bike.  So the next day we headed out with Peter.  We did a tour around Delat on the first day.  Peter was great!  He took us to see some amazing temples (the meditation Buddhist temple was the highlight), pagodas, waterfalls, etc.  The next day we set-out on the first leg of our journey.  It was an eight hour drive to Lak Lake.  We stopped off to see many sights along the way.  We were taken around local ethnic minority villages, silk worm farms, silk factories, waterfalls, temples, etc.  It was a great day, but by the end our butts were so sore we could barely walk.  The next day we were a little reluctant to get back on the bikes, but it didn't take long for us to settle in a get used to the long riding days.  We left from Lak Lake and drove up to Buong Mrong, then Play Cu, then to Kontum.  The highlight of the trip was driving along the Ho Chi Minh trail to get to our final destination of Hoi An.  The jungle and surrounding landscape was spectacular!  We had such a great time!  We became great friends with our guide Peter.  He was awesome!  He translated and involved us in conversations with the locals, took us to excellent local eateries, found us great accommodations and showed us the beautiful "untouched by tourism" areas of Vietnam. 
Once we reached Hoi An we decided that we needed to chill out for a while after moving constantly for the previous week.  Peter, again, found us a great hotel in Hoi An, so we set-up shop for the next five days.  Hoi An is a beautiful little town.  It has a very French colonial feel to it.  There is a tonne of things to do there, but the main tourist draw is the custom tailor and cobbler shops which occupy most of the town.  Erin was very excited to get some clothes made.  I wasn't into the idea much myself, but when we started shopping around I soon changed my tune.  The workmanship was excellent (if you find the right tailor) and the prices were ridiculously cheap!  I ended up getting a custom made suit, shirts and a jacket.  Erin took pictures from the net of all of the clothes she wanted made and now has a full wardrobe of Versace and Gucci dresses and shirts for a fraction of the cost! We then shipped all of our clothes home as one doesn't require suits and such for backpacking. 
After Hoi An we took a bus north to Hue where there was a great old Citadel (walled city).  We only spent a day looking around Hue and decided to venture further north to Ninh Binh.  We found a hotel directly in front of Tom Coc (a series of caves running along the river).  We took a boat tour up the river and through the caves, then rented bicycles one day and a motorbike the next day and toured around to see all of the temples built into the surrounding mountains.  One night around 6pm we got a knock on our hotel room door.  It was the owner's son asking us if we wanted to join the family for dinner.  When we came downstairs they had put a full spread on for all of the tourists staying in the guesthouse.  It was excellent!  All the food and drink you wanted for free!  We succumbed to peer pressure and ended up doing many shots of the local rice liquor and drinking quite a few beers.  After dinner they took us out for a big night of karaoke in town.  At this point in the trip, Erin and I are becoming pros at karaoke, or at least Erin is.  I think I somehow always end up being really drunk when karaoke is suggested, so I think I sound a lot better that I actually am.  But that night I was definitely not the worst one in the group.... Phew!  We were with a group of Frenchies (that were very nice) that were far worse than me. 
From Ninh Binh we took a bus to Haiphong, then a boat to Cat Ba Island.  What a beautiful place!  The landscape gives you the feeling of being in some kind of a Jurassic world with massive lime stone rock formations jutting out from everywhere.  We went of an overnight junk boat sailing trip through Ha Long Bay which was spectacular!  We had been advised not to do this as there were supposedly hordes of tourist boats cluttering the bay.... Bull.  We did see a few, but they only added to the beauty of the place.  The only disappointment was that we ended up on boat with an Italian couple that didn't speak English and the Vietnamese couple driving the boat didn't speak English either.  So we played charades for a couple of days.  It was well worth it though.  We did some kayaking and were dropped off to swim at some beautiful deserted beaches.  Back on land we did some rock climbing, which I had not tried since I was ten years old.  I instantly loved it.  What a rush!  It was Erin's first try and she was not too keen, but to her credit gave it all she had, but couldn't get over her fear of heights.  Another highlight of our Cat Ba stay was turning our laptop on in a wifi café and getting a skype call from our buddy Jay who was having a party at his house.  It was 11am our time and 12am there time, so they were already half in the bag.  We decided to join our Canadian posse of friends for a 'virtual' beer, which led to many beers, which led a virtual jam session and us signing off at 4am their time after laughing at how drunk they had become and we were becoming.  We spend the rest of the day walking around the town with a slight drunken haze.  Good times!
After Cat Ba we took a boat and bus to Hanoi.  We initially wanted to skip Hanoi, but found a more convenient way to cross over the land border into Laos (as a pose to a 24 hour bus ride to Vientiane) which necessitated a trip to Hanoi to catch a bus back down south.  Actually, it turned out to be a great city.  Pure chaos and madness, but very entertaining at the same time.  There was a crossroad in the old city called the Bia Hoi junction where you can get 3000 Dong (25 cent) glasses of very tasty local draught beer and hang out with some very intoxicated local and fellow backpackers.  We also went to see the infamous water puppet show which turned out to be a real laugh. We spent a couple of days getting lost through the maze of small alley ways and streets throughout the old city before catching our bus down south again to Dong Ha to cross into Laos.  We expected Dong Ha to be dump (not sure why) but were pleasantly surprised when we got there.  We hired a bike for the day and drove to a beautiful beach and had our last ocean swim and beach day chill out for the next little while.  It was great.   Vietnam was brilliant to us, just what we needed!  Such amazing people always smiling and saying "Hello" or "Sin Jow" everywhere we went.  So different from everywhere else we've been so far.  And now its on to Laos which is supposed to be "Same, same, but different".  Bring it on!
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