Hello, hello! So it’s been a while since my last blog, and that’s because I’ve been pretty busy with exams, travel plans and farewells. I have also, however, just got back from a trip to Vietnam. It was literally such an amazing experience, so I thought I would share my itinerary with you guys while it’s still fresh in my memory (and so I can dwell on it for just a liiitle bit longer).
Day 1-3: Ho Chi Minh
We began our journey in Ho Chi Minh, a crazy bustling city with lots to see and do! During this time, we visited the food market, the post office (not as random as it sounds- it’s a really nice building), the art museum and the war museum. Our biggest regret was definitely not staying in HCM for a longer amount of time.
Day 4: Da Nang
Next up was Da Nang. We got the overnight train from Ho Chi Minh, and also were offered to upgrade our standard soft seats to a sleeper cabin with beds, although this cost a little extra it was well worth it to sleep through the entire journey. Da Nang itself was quite disappointing, it was a small town and the main highlight was some funky looking bridges. We waited in the evening for the dragon bridge, which is supposedly meant to breathe fire, for a good half an hour before giving up and decided to spend the evening with some people from our hostel.
Day 5-6: Hoi An
We figured the best thing to do in Da Nang was leave, so we jumped on the local bus out to Hoi An, an adorable tourist town just an hour away. Hoi An was another highlight for me. Although the weather was pretty bad (a street by the river was totally flooded), there were so many cute shops, good food and a nice night market, that we barely noticed.
The next morning, we decided to wake up early for a food tour and cooking class. A guide showed us around the food market, before we jumped on small round wooden boats for a trip down the river, and then jumped out and led to a house where we learned to cook spring rolls, Vietnamese pancake and a delicious salad. And we got to eat the results, of course!
Day 7-8: Hanoi
Another night train (this time with no upgrade) led us into Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital. Hanoi was quite different from Ho Chi Minh, it was a lot calmer and there was a little less to do. We decided to spend our day museum hopping, and in the evening we headed to a water puppet show, where puppets danced and swam through a stage full of water.
Day 9-11: Cat Ba Island / Ha Long Bay
Next we grabbed a bus (and a boat) to Cat Ba Island, where we then proceeded to grab (another) boat to Lan Ha and Ha Long Bay! The weather was, thankfully, amazing and we cruised through the water to take in the sights. As well as swimming, kayaking and eating some fresh shrimp and crab, we also stopped off on island which was rather self-explanatorily called “monkey island”.
Day 12-14: Sa Pa
From Cat Ba, we planned to head straight to Sa Pa to spend some time in the mountains among the rice fields. We bought a bus ticket from our hostel for another overnight journey, which ended up being the most disorientating trip yet. Instead of one or two buses, we actually ended up transferring about five times, not including the two boats to take us off the island. It was only about half three in the morning when we arrived to (very very) cold weather, and a group of Vietnamese people trying to convince us to stay at their hostel or homestay. Being cold and tired, we made a pretty rash decision to stay at a homestay and were led there through the dark by a boy with a torch, and then climbed a ladder in the thin wooden house to sleep on some thin mattresses on the floor, beneath two heavy blankets.
Sa Pa also turned out to be a huge highlight for me, because it was a real chance to get to know local people and our homestay family were incredibly nice! They made us breakfast, dinner, and took us on treks around the rice fields. We were also lucky (??) enough to be invited to a “party”, which was erm… the slaughtering of a bull. While we missed the slaughter itself, we did see them cutting up and cooking the remains, but I’ll spare you the gruesome details.
Day 15-16: Hanoi
The end of our trip saw us back in Hanoi for a couple of days to unwind, hit the spas, wonder around and reminisce on our trip before sadly saying good bye.
Some Final Tips!
You’ll get so many opportunities to travel wherever you go abroad, and there are some important things to bear in mind.
First, check if you need a visa! I was under the impression that holding a British passport means you don’t need a visa for Vietnam, and I was right, except this exemption is only if your trip is for 15 days. Luckily, I double checked a couple of days before, and since I was there for 16 days I had to buy the visa.
Secondly, be safe! After two days in Vietnam, a guy from my hostel told me he’d had his wallet stolen. Keep your belongings close and secure, much of SE Asia isn’t as crime free as Singapore.
Third, no plan is the best plan! Ok, this may be personal preference, but before we left for Vietnam we had no hostels booked, just a flight in and out and two train journeys. As time went on, we got more and more relaxed about finding places to stay, usually just showing up at hostels on the day and asking if they had room. This allowed us to be super flexible with our plans, and we definitely had the best time as a result.
So, I hope this blog has given you some idea of what it’s like to travel some of Asia. Christmas break here is 5 weeks long, which means you have plenty of time to jet around (and visit home!) if you want to.