Last year, after a long northern winter, I was in desperate need of some sun! I needed a carefree adventure with me wearing just a single layer of clothing; I had finally had it with waddling around looking like an Oompa Loompa. So, this meant a trip to South East Asia, namely, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Indonesia…alone. So, with 7 flights, 2 long distances buses booked and zero plans, I was set!
I normally have a notebook with me when I travel so I can write about my experiences in real-time. My memory is a little shoddy so as much as it looks a little nerdy and cliche tourist-like, it is helpful. Unfortunately, this entire trip was not well-documented. My memory card needed a reformat therefore lost all of the footage.
I started in Hanoi, a sweltering 46 degrees Celsius on the first day. I dropped off my large rucksack at the hostel (and freshened up) then set off on a wander. I stayed in the Old Quarter which is a maze of alleyways. With all the scooters around, Hanoi is loud. But, Saigon is even louder. My first meal was a banh mi. Good start. Halfway through the walk, I realized that my clothes were wet so I had to buy a new pair of shorts and changed there and then! I was dripping with sweat and I loved it!
Here are my Vietnam highlights:
- The Vietnamese are super friendly! Everyone calls you “my friend” and always keen to have a chat. Also, have that egg coffee! Do it! Everyone will recommend it anyway.
- When you’re in Hanoi, you have to visit Ha Long Bay! I booked a tour with the hostel and you can use USD to pay. From the hostel pick up after the free breakfast to the return, everything was smooth sailing. It is best to pick a tour that includes lunch and the cave tour. Ha Long Bay is breathtaking! It is not teeming with tourists which is a plus!
3. There are loads of bars in the Old Quarter. Gather some people from your hostel and enjoy a cold brew! I am not even a beer-lover but a cold beer when it’s 35 degrees at 22:00, it is advised!
4. Eat! Eat and drink everything. From the Banh mi to the pho, to the freshly squeezed sugar cane juice. You will find pho places in every corner. For some odd reason, the hot brothy noodle soup and deep fried rolls were quite refreshing in the heat! In Ho Chi Minh, I found fresh rice paper rolls! Delicious!
5. There are a number of street markets in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) with delightful street food. I stayed in the city centre so it would be easy for me to take the bus to Cambodia. Anyway, the street markets are a great place to haggle. Personally, I hate haggling but some of the prices are grossly inflated for tourists.
6. If history interests you, the Cu Chi Tunnels are a must see. Again, my hostel organised the tour and it cost under 10 USD (no meals included). It is quite a drive from the city but it’s worth it! It was an informative tour and you get a chance to explore the tunnels. Uhm…I only made it to the 20m exit! Dark, all fours, no way to turn back, deep underground – NO!
I would totally recommend a trip to Vietnam; it is safe, affordable, friendly and a treat! All of my senses were stimulated and I knew that the rest of the trip would be splendid! From the food to the people and to gatecrashing a barhopping tour then dropping my cell phone from the second floor, it was a great first stop! I must add, the last place to get hit on by men (trust me, that’s a good thing). Seriously? From then on, I was surrounded by backpacking yogis, meatheads or guys in search of ladyboys. Hostels, smh.
Where to stay: In Hanoi, I would highly recommend the Old Quarter View Hostel. Affordable, clean and each room has a powerful AC! Bonus, you get a free breakfast! In Saigon, I would recommend the Himalaya Phoenix Saigon Hostel. Cheap, central and quiet.
Tip: Go with the flow.