The abandoned dragon!
Driving around Phong Nha
Vietnam is a favorite place for many travelers. It's pretty cheap, the locals are friendly and there is a wide range of stuff that could keep you busy, from abseiling off waterfalls to floating in wooden boats, from trekking through the northern mountains in endless rain, to the beach with sun that can bladder off your skin. The possibilities are endless and the choice totally yours!
Further on I will tell you all about every place I've visit in the 1,5 month I was here. But for now I think it is good to start with the way to transport yourself. When you don't have a lot of time, taking plains might be the easiest and cheapest way. There are flights to the middle of the country (Da Nang) although you will of course miss a lot. Then there are night buses that are in a way great because you save a night paying a hostel and in theory, you travel while you sleep. For me the problem was, I didn't sleep. At all. I am 1.80 cm tall and I am just not made for these Vietnamese-sized seats. These are no beds where you can turn around, usually just laying down chairs. The other option is to get a motorbike.
Driving around on a Honda Win is pretty common in Vietnam. I have to admit, I probably wouldn't have bought a motorbike while I've never used manual gears before in a country I've never been if there where so many people before me who have done it. If they can do it, I can do it so... Why not?
Of course it is best if you have some experience with driving a motorbike. Or when you were a professional motorbike driver in your past life, like I think I was. You have to feel confident about your own driving because -and watch
my words- they don't care about you on the road.
So, I didn't have any experience with driving a bike. In the two months in Asia before I did drive several
scooters and I liked it. I actually really much loved and started dreaming about getting my license back home.
But I didn't like it THAT much that I wanted to kill myself and driving on the Vietnam roads is really a risky
thing. You hear here and there that people lose body parts and lives, not good things. So, after long thinking
and a friend who said "it was the best thing I did in Vietnam" I thought, fuck it, lemme get that bike.
So I got a bike and thought out loud: when the Vietnam scar / Saigon kiss (a burn on your leg from
your exhaust) is the only scar I have left on the end of this trip, I'm happy.That's not what I thought
when I burned my leg for the third time but still, I survived and the scar is now, three years later,
almost completely gone
So, where to buy your race monster (okay, I have to admint, my maximum speed was 50 k/h downhill)? Most easy is to get it from Hanoi or Ho Chi Ming. There are a lot of travelers leaving and arriving and there is always someone who wants to sell his or her bike. The price is about the same in both city's, around $200. In every hostel you'll find many offers, usually hanging on the wall with a price and a phone number. But would advise you to do the same? Nope. Go to an actual bike shop. It's maybe just a little more expensive (around $250) but at least they have done some checks on it (at least it is what you would assume). And I think it has got to do with luck anyway. Where ever you are in the world, you can buy an expensive thing and it will break next week, or something cheap and it survives forever. I just think it is a lottery and it has to do with karma.
About the roads: when you go north to south, or south to north, think about this: take the A1 road as LESS as you can. It is a very dangerous road, many trucks that don't see you or just don't want to see you. Also, you might think it is nice to drive near to the sea but in fact, you only see grey little towns and nowhere really water. The Ho Chi Ming road is a way better option. It is incredibly beautiful in the mountains and it is not that much further to drive.
I started my Vietnam journey in Hanoi. This is the capital of Vietnam and her second biggest city. I usually don't like big city's but did like Hanoi a lot and kept coming back. And no, not just for the party. It has beautiful colonial houses, huge trees growing in between houses, little streets with shops and food, crazy amount of scooters everywhere and beautiful little temples when you look good.
Go to Hanoi Rocks Hostel and book with Booking.com. Is cheaper than at the reception. 1-hour free beer at night, amazing soft beds (good break from the hard ones you'll find a lot in Asia) and an amazing buffet breakfast. No, not just good but the breakfast you dream about; pancakes, chocolate, eggs, toast...
➳ Night market
On every Friday, Saturday, Sunday. A lot to find, it is huge and it is nice to see so many locals having fun. Have street food at the small seats and tables in the hang bac street. Very cheap, good and near to live music.
FOOD: You can find food everywhere, but I really liked eating at restaurant Cari Truong. Food is cheap and very good, the staff is also super friendly
For a pub crawl, go to the rooftop of Central Backpacker Hostel or to the Vietnamese backpacker hostel in the evening, meet new friends and go with them on the pub tour.
Across the street of the Vietnamese Backpackers Hostel, when you walk out there to the left and then in about 15 meters you have nice and cheap smoothies. Have a go on the avocado smoothy, it's super yummy. Ask for no sugar and just a little milk cream (or none) if you care about healthy food. Otherwise they'll put (just like everywhere else) a shitload of this stuff and it is full of sugars. Very delicious though, it has to be said.
Halong Bay is an area with many small islands where big boats full of tourists go for a day or so. I didn't
do any research about Halong Bay and I don't think I ever heard about it before I was in Hanoi. But once
you're there, it's hard to miss. I guess it is one of Vietnams most popular places to go. And I have to say,
it's beautiful: the water is light blue and there are little and big rocks everywhere around you once you're
on a boat. But it wasn't my best experience. It was just to much made, the people who worked on
the boat were tired and in the evening we were surrounded by many other boats like ours. As a traveler
I like to discover and a place like this was unique but with that many people still around you... It didn't
make it special to me, unfortunately.
But with everything, there are choices to make. I booked one of the cheapest and got what I paid for.
Afterwards I would have paid a little bit more and get a little bit more luxury, better food, more happy
staff and an unique experience. That also means, not going to that cave on that island where you could
literally not walk through because there were way too many people in that cave. And it was lit up with
disco lights. Not that I have anything against discolights but... you know the point ;)
Anyway, back to the choices; When you to join a party boat (and not pay to much) book at Central Backpackers Hostel
Want a bit more luxury, good food and a less touristic tour? Book with Friends Travel. It's a Dutch organization and I am sure he will take really take care of you.
Another hotspot of Vietnam is Sapa. A cute village in the mountains. Where it rains a lot, as I found out myself ;)
After HalongBay I thought "fuck it, I'm going to invest in a better trip". So I booked with Friends Travel and it was raining so hard and I realized walking is not so much my thing, so I quit (pussy me) and I learned how to drive a motorbike and drove around. Later more about this.
Because the thing I would advise you to do is: first of all, book somewhere a cheap two-way ticket to Sapa. Friends travel said they had the best bus drivers and that why it was a bit more expensive, but I end up with the guys from the party hostel so that was bullshit I guess. Then, check out the weather and if it is good (enough) find a local in Sapa itself who will show you around or check trip adviser who is good. I think it is a great way to find someone that fits you and to support the locals instead of the money goes to a travel organization. I think 40 dollar (this was in 2015) is normal for 2 days and 1-night homestay. I think tours booked from Hanoi will be less unique because you walk and sleep with a lot of people, and probably won't even stay in a homestay but in a place that is built for tourists
The next stop on the motorbike was Ninh Binh. It's not a must go to but when you go around Vietnam on a motorbike but it's a nice stop. In town there are some cute clothing shops. The town is surrounded by beautiful nature and you can join the tour at a boat on the river nearby. It's kind of touristic but it was also very pretty.
To get here from Ninh Binh was a loooooong drive - 300 k - but absolutely beautiful. This is one of the reasons
to get yourself a motorbike. Around Phong Nha there are 3 caves you can visit, the Dark Cave, Paradise Cave
and Phong Nha cave. Go on your bike or rent one. Way cheaper and nicer than the tours hostels offer to visit
them. For accommodation, go to easy Tiger! A bit more expensive than the rest but it has a nice swimming
pool and it's the best place easy to meet new people. I stayed in the cheapest one and found out on the last
night they didn't change sheets with new customers. YAK.
It's a historical place, this is where the Vietnamese hide during the war. There are similar tunnels around Ho Chi Minh, I think they will be more touristic but easier if you don't ride a bike! It's an interesting place to see these huge tunnels. Not huge like big, because they are absolutely not big (think about small Vietnamese). But kilometers long.
Even though it wasn't a favor from many backpackers, and maybe even because, I really liked Hue. It wasn't so touristic but still had lots to offer! Like some nice bars to go to, it had a big market -yep still a girl writing- and more
I stayed in two hostels. The first one was the Oasis Hostel. It was quite en cute. Better to go when you travel as a couple, at least when I was there and in case you like to meet some other people. But the most important reason for me to move to an other hostel where the mosquitos that were everywhere. But that could also have been the season. This hostel is really worth checking out!
And then there is the Backpackers hostel. Good place to meet nice people and many tours to join. Not sure if they still offer it, but the motorbike tour seemed to be a really good one! They show you some hidden places, but I was good enough to find one of them myself:
➳ Abandoned waterpark
Such an awesome place to visit. Not only go to the dragon thing but look further! Should be way more,
we didn't look good and missed it. Google well for the location (or just go with the tour, they probably
take you there or ask for it)
You can find a popular Vietnamese restaurant in the Nguyen Cong Tru street. Walk to the restaurant
Risotto in that street (also good food and friendly staff! A little more expensive). When you walk out of
the restaurant, turn right and walk for about 5 minutes. It is on your right hand, probably busy and you
need to go a few stairs up. Hotpot is a national dish, usually expensive but here just like the rest cheap. Try it!
Motorbike trip from Hue to Danang
This road is so beautiful, many backpackers rent a scooter, let their heavy backpack bring to Danang and drive it themselves. When you do this, or have your own bike, you really (like really really) can't miss out on the Elephant Springs. It's a very chill out place, big stones and water to have a dip in and has a low entree as well. Try to not go on the weekend, it's very crowded with locals. It's not that easy to find but when you do some research you'll get there and believe me, it is worth it. Wear some cloth, just like the locals. It's not only respectful to them but it will also make yourself more comfortable, believe me ;)
This city is beautiful and famous because off it's old city center and lanterns during the night markets.
It's also known for making custom made cloth, so google yourself the dress or suit you've always wanted
to have, and go for it! Most of the tailor shops and the cheapest are at Le Loi street. Further on, try to be in
Hoi An at Full Moon. just like at many other places in Asia they have a big celebration around it and here
you can see beautiful lampions hanging around the whole city. So pretty!
UI stayed at the Sunflower Hostel. It's cheap and it is an easy place to meet new people. It's a little out of
the center but you'll get a swimming pool back for it. That is not a bad deal, right?
Banh My is very popular food, all in Vietnam. It is a small sandwich, with some vegetables and possibly meat, you
can buy at many street corners for very cheap, about 20.000 dong. (not even 1 euro). In Hoi An they have "proper" restaurants and two of them are really known for their great sandwiches: Phuong and Phi Banh My.
➳ My Sonh
This is a beautiful old temple complex/ruins abound 1.5 hour out of town. You can go with a tour but I think renting
a bike yourself is more fun!
This is kind of an interesting place. A town that is good to stop at in case you have your own motorbike, but it's okay
to skip in case you don't have much time or taking night buses. Why it's interesting? Because it's a Russian holiday
place. This means that in high season, there are not only many people from Russia, there are also Rissian party's
(in case you didn't know, they like drinking) and there are even big posters written in Russian. I was there in low
season and thought it was very funny to see them do standing sunbathing with their hands behind their head,
turning a few degrees's every once in a while - in their speedo's.
If you're lucky - which I was not- it's possible to surf near Na Trang, have a look at The Shank, this was when I was there the place to rent boards (www.shackvietnam.com)
In Na Trang I stayed at iHome hostel and it was actually a really nice and beautiful hostel. Very calm, chill and friendly people and staff.
I wasn't too amused by the city itself, but the surrounding and the way to get here on a motorbike is really nice. When I was traveling around I couldn't stop hearing about the Family Hostel and the tour they offered, so hey: let's go!
The Family hostel is a place with a family like you never had before. They are very energetic and happy to see you and they constantly hug and kiss you. Let's say, it is an experience on itself. "Momma" cooks for you every night and for 50.000 you can eat what you want. A few times a week they offer the Canyoing tour and usually I am not such a fan or tours because I like to do my own thing, but this was really amazing. It was in the jungle and the only thing I want to say about it: bring enough water and be sure you don't start the day with a hangover.
"The Family hostel is a place with a family like you never had before ... they constantly hug and kiss you"
I didn't know about it when I was there, but afterwards I heard there is a very cool waterfall a bit out of town. It is sort of a park with more to do then just the waterpark visit. Sounds like something that is cool to do, go for it! Ask the hostel about it or use Tripadvisor for more information and the location.
I liked this place so much! It is a really nice town to be, on the water and
It's a good place to tank some new energy with just feeling the chilled vibes of Mui Ne and chill out at the beach. The hostel I stayed in had the best swimming pool and to have a dive the first thing in the morning made this experience even better.
I stayed in backpacker Village. It is cheap and it has not only this huge swimming pool but also and a pool table and good food. If you like it a bit more fancy, head to Hotel Sea Breeze. It's a bit more expensive but looks really classy. Also a good place to head to for just a night, they have a bar and also a swimming pool!
When there is wind / waves you can do this in Mui Ne. I chilled at VCS, which is a nice bar on the beach
and very friendly people. You can also rent the equipment and take lessons there.
Go here, it is so much fun!!! It's a unique place, a beautiful desert where you can go around like crazy on a
quad bike. There are many agencies that want to bring you there. Find yourself some nice people you
think it's nice to enjoy the day with and a good agency that can give all of you a good price.
Ho Chi Minh
This is the biggest city of Vietnam and totally not like Hanoi. It's way more new with big high buildings. It's a good place to party and get wild. Also a good place to sell or buy a motorbike, just like in Hanoi!
If you can and like water and get a little bit crazy, head out to the wild water park. I heard it is very fun but check the opening hours on forehand: still didn't find the reason why it was closed but it was.
Have fun discovering Vietnam, is it beautiful!
River at sunset, near Hoi An
River at sunset, near Hoi An
Third and biggest 'Saigon kiss'
Never kissed better...
Motorbike - outfit tips
↠ Clothing: don't drive around with shorts and flipflops, like many backpackers do. Of course, going fully in leather would be best, but to cover everything is a good start ;)
↠ Helmet: also get yourself a helmet that fits. The chance that the helmet you get with the bike
- in case you buy it from another backpacker - is not exactly your size is, I think, pretty small. There are shops where you can swap your helmet for another one that fits you better and maybe only pay a little bit.
↠ Mouth mask: another, but very badass advice; get yourself one of these very super ugly Asian mouth masks. You can find them everywhere for very cheap with the funniest prints. The roads (especially the A1) are full of trucks and they have different environmental rules as you may guess.
↠ Sunglasses: last advice, probably most valuable for people who wear eye contacts like me, get yourself sunglasses that cover your eyes from all around. Because you might end up sitting on your motorbike for a few hours a day, the constant wind that will blow in your eyes can make you absolutely tired!