During our Asia trip we spent the most time in Vietnam. We ended up spending an entire month there and purchased a motorbike along the way. We were also fortunate to experience the Chinese New Year during our travels. Vietnam was one of our favourites and as you continue to read you’ll see what made it such a memorable place for us.
Welcome to our Journey…
★★★ Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)- Chinese New Year, We Bought James!
This was the first place that Landon and I arrived to in Vietnam. We had no idea how to speak the language or how the currency even worked, but we slowly figured it out and managed just fine. The city was very busy and the motorbike traffic was the most intense we had seen in any of Asia so far… we thought Cambodia was crazy. We actually ended up in Ho Chi Minh during the Chinese New Years celebration. There were festivals and events filling the city and bright yellow flowers lined up down the streets. During Chinese New Year the entire city is essentially shut down. The holiday stretches over two weeks which made it difficult for us to buy a motorbike to continue our journey to Northern Vietnam. We ended up staying in Ho Chi Minh longer than we had actually anticipated however we were fortunate to experience the Bitexco tower, New Year’s fireworks & the amazing Vietnamese food strewn across the city.
★★★ Phan Thiet- Ostrich Rides, Ferry Stream, Red & White Sand Dunes
Phan Thiet was a desert/ocean like location and was our first stop on our motorbike. While we were there we experienced the Ferry Stream- a warm stream that winds through the red sand dunes that you walk up barefoot. Mui Ne is also where I paid for an ostrich ride experience (which I will never do again). Landon and I were both a little appalled with the treatment of the animals used for attractions in general along the Ferry Stream. We immediately regretted paying to ride the ostrich at the location that we did. It was a funny experience nonetheless but after it was over, I felt pretty awful about what I had just condoned.
The white sand dunes were quite amazing but our rentals were not… our quad had a top speed of about 10km/h and our carpets for sliding down the dunes was not waxed and so we didn’t get very far with those either. In general however, Phan Thiet had a really nice vibe with the ocean near by and we enjoyed the spectacular landscapes and guest houses while we were there.
★★★ Dalat- Canyoning, Submarine Sandwiches, Raw Sparrows
Dalat was our next stop on route. This city emerged after a mountainous trek on the motorbike, situated on hills. While we were in Dalat we did a canyoning tour with Dalat Passion Tours and had a great experience. We spent the day sliding down rapids, repelling down waterfalls and cliff jumping. I specifically remember the bakery there and the yummy Vietnamese sandwiches they sold. In Dalat we also experienced a Korean BBQ where the food is served raw and you cook it yourself on a a mini BBQ at your table. We weren’t so good at it and our server did most of our cooking for us… were your typical white people that didn’t know how to cook dead baby birds properly.
★★ Nha Trang- Beaches, Coffee & The Night Train
Once we had arrived in Nha Trang we had realized we were running out of time for our Visa’s. We had been held up in Ho Chi Minh with the New Year and had also been put behind schedule with Landon having food poisoning in Phan Thiet. After spending the day on the beach we decided to take a night train with our motorbike up the coast to save us some time. This turned out to be a very cold, wet, long train ride. We had chosen to sit in the “3rd class” cabs and so we had wooden benches and no windows… for 15 hours.
I did have the opportunity to try some Vietnamese coffee before I left Nha Trang and it was delicious! They use sweetened condensed milk in the coffee and I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome.
★ Hue- Goodbye James!
When we arrived in Hue after our train ride we were greeted with more rain. It became apparent that we were not going to make it all the way to Hanoi on the motorbike. We booked a guest house for the evening and the next day we sold James for $75. Then off we went on a night bus to Hanoi.
★ Hanoi City- Water Puppet Shows
When we arrived in Hanoi at 4am our bus driver woke us up with disco lights and disco music…it was quite the funny way to start our day. While we were in Hanoi we spent a lot of time walking around and exploring the shops. We attended a water puppet show which was unique to Vietnam. Basically its a little play they use sticks to put puppets in the water. Not really something that can be explained.. just one to be experienced for yourself. Our show was actually very well done and I would recommend seeing at least one while in Vietnam.
★★★ Ha Long Bay- Limestone Islets, Boat Cruises and Private Charters
We took an overnight boat cruise on Ha Long Bay. The bay was beautiful and I enjoyed sleeping over on the bay. The tour itself was kind of a bust but the sea kayaking in the morning was a pleasant experience. Landon and I stayed an extra night in Cat Ba and actually chartered our own mini boat from a local to go out and explore the bay. We got a much more personal, up close experience this way and it was cheap cheap.
★★★ Cat Ba Island- Happy Gas
Cat Ba was a mountainous island that we stayed on during our tour to Ha Long Bay. I really liked the island. The roads were very open and it had a really chill, green vibe to it. It was here that I experienced a laughing gas balloon. They sell the balloons in bars… and get you really really high for like 30 seconds. Cat Ba was all about the nitrous oxide and I was too that day.
★★ Sapa- Mountains and Rice Field Mountain Women
Sapa was beautiful. At the time we went, we had missed the lush green rice paddies, but the architecture behind it was still quite visible… astounding. We could just imagine how mesmerising the landscape would have been if we were in the green season. I liked the people of Sapa… I didn’t like the cultural morph-ism for tourism. You could tell the woman were putting on a bit of a show to guide you into their village but it wasn’t truly how they lived. Nonetheless Sapa is a must see when in Vietnam. It is cool and damp but the geographical attributes are breathtaking. Dress warm!
Highlights of Vietnam
My three favourite things about Vietnam were the motorbike travels, guest houses and the FOOD!
Although purchasing a motorbike and travelling with it in Vietnam is very mainstream now for backpackers in Vietnam, it is well worth the money and time. You have so much more freedom and you get to experience the landscapes of Vietnam on your own terms. Some of the mountain passes we travelled through were absolutely breathtaking and made every second of our sore bums worth it.
The FOOD… it was cheap and the pork with vermicelli or pork with rice dishes were the most delicious $1 meals I have ever had. Usually cooked up with a fried egg by some old woman on the street. I still miss fresh Vietnamese food, no Pho place in Canada will ever do justice.
Lastly, one of the neat things we encountered in Vietnam was all of the guest houses we stayed in. Instead of hostels we stayed in little motels that were owned by locals that were connected to their homes. This was a great way to experience the locals of Vietnam. We didn’t have any problems unless they thought we were American and we saved a lot of money staying in these places. One of our favourites was a guest house in Phan Thiet which we called “Dad’s”. We got to hang out with their dog Lou and had the opportunity to sit and drink tea while talking in broken English with the owner. It was a special experience that we were lucky to find and probably wouldn’t have had without our motorbike to get us there.
Vietnam was an awesome country to backpack and we both had a great experience there. Between beaches, dynamic landscapes and delicious native food, Vietnam has plenty to offer to all that choose to slide their backpacks over their shoulders.
Thanks for stopping in and until next time,