VIETNAM - backpacking
Twelve days traveling in Vietnam during a backpacking trip around South-East Asia where I also visited Cambodia and Bangkok. These are the places we visited in Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), Da Nang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi, and Ha Long Bay - Cat Ba Island.
Important note before starting to read this, if you are considering to travel to Asia, make sure that you have:
- The right vaccines (check your government website)
- Mosquito repellent (I recommend Relec)
- A good backpack bag
- Passport updated and visas (check local government websites)
- Medicines for emergencies (talk to your doctor before traveling)
- Currency: The currency in Vietnam is the Dong: 1 $ is equal to 23,400 Dongs (aprox). Change money as soon as you can in a local place, and keep a calculator close to you, because the conversion is not easy.
HO CHI MINH CITY
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh after 12 hours by bus from Kampot (Cambodia).
That day was entirely spent in transportation. Just to make you aware about how it can be: it took us 9 hours for 300 km. The roads were very bad, and full of motorcycles, so it was very hard to go fast, and the driver was horning all the time (which eventually was a bit annoying, because the noise it is not very nice). But the bus was the only option we had, and the bus itself was quite comfy.
The next day, after a good night of sleep, we were ready to #discover Ho Chi Minh. The city was a big surprise for me, I didn't expected to be that big and "Western style".
It is a very nice city, full of cafés everywhere, really cozy ones that you feel like going in all of them. It has big and modern buildings and a river that crosses it (Song Sai Gon River). We had breakfast in the Café Apartment Building, that is very cool and interesting to see, mainly from outside. It is a 9-storey former apartment building into a collection of restaurants, coffee shops, beauty and fashion boutiques,...
We visited all the important areas and buildings such as the Notre-Dame Basilic of Saigon, the opera building, the city hall building, the Backpacker street, Bui Vien Street, some pagodas, Ho Chi Minh City Museum, War Museum,...
Also, we visited some markets like Ben Thanh or the Russian Market (and spent more time there than what we should). But highly recommended.
At sunset time, we went up in the Bitexco Tower from which you can see the city from top and the view is very nice. You can go to the Observation Deck, which it is around 20€. Or, you can go to the restaurant, which is free, and order something to drink there that will be cheaper than the Observation Deck. The restaurant, it is only 2 floors below the observation deck, so there is no difference. It is up to you, but we went to the restaurant and enjoyed the free view with a beer.
Ho Chi Minh cityscape from BitexCo Tower, Vietnam
We arrived in Da Nang around 7 pm, coming from Ho Chi Minh by plane. We stayed in a very nice hotel called Rich Hotel for 6$ each per night. The hotel was in front of the beach, modern and clean: really recommended.
We visited the Marble Mountains and it was a very nice surprise, we didn't expected them to be that nice. We got to see temples, pagodas and nature together. One of the temples was inside a big cave, and the light would come in trough a whole in the roof in a very natural way. I was so lucky that there were 4 professional photographers from National Geographic doing a photo session with young monks. I got to take some pictures with them as well.
Non Nuoc Pagoda and kid monks in the Llinh Nham Cave in Marble Mountains, Da Nang, Vietnam Also, we went to the beach to relax a little bit, we went to the central market, and we walked around the city. Da Nang is nice, way bigger than what I expected. It is very colorful in terms of lights and modern buildings. There is a bridge with a dragon, that is called the Dragon Bridge, and at night time there is a show with fire and water, but nothing special, although interesting to see.
Hoi An is a very beautiful city close to Da Nang. It's a small town very colorful and decorated with beautiful lights everywhere. Walking around its streets is the best thing. It has also many many shops and markets to buy things. For us, Hoi An was the shopping day. I even made a dress, because is very cheap and they make it for you with your measures, it cost me only 19€, amazing! Apart from shopping, we also saw the main buildings of the town, which has much Chinese and Japanese influence in the architecture. At night time, we went to see the lights in the river, that is something very nice and very recommended to see.
Lights in the night market of Hoi An, Vietnam
In my opinion, Hue was not worth to go. The city has not much to do/see, we could have skipped it and invest more time in other places. We saw the old city and the monuments of the city that were supposed to be amazing: The Imperial City, the Museum of Royal Antiquities, Phu Van Lau, the different bridges that cross the river,... It was nice, with a lot of Chinese influence, but also they weren't as old as we thought and nor as impressive. After that we walked around the city, and went to see the Dong Ba Market, which apparently was very good from what we read, but we didn't like it much. When the sun was going down, we went up to the Imperial Hotel rooftop to have a drink and see the sunset with the view of the city, that was a really nice way to end the day.
HA LONG - CAT BA
When we finally made it to the north of the country, we did a quick stop in Hanoi, and then went directly to Cat Ba Island. We got everything sorted out in Hanoi, so we organised the trip for two days with a kind of agency that took us there by bus, and also included the boat trip in Halong Bay.
Why Cat Ba and not Halong?
We decided to stay in Cat Ba instead of in Halong city because it was easier and quicker to get there, and also cheaper. As Halong Bay is a very touristic place, the prices are high compare to the country standards, so we got got know about Cat Ba thanks to other traveler we found on the way, and it is was a great decision.
Halong Bay, Vietnam
Cat Ba is located within Halong Bay, so you see exactly the same things as if you were in Halong, but with less tourists and in a cheaper way. We were there for two days.
The first day we walked around the island of Cat Ba, went to the beach there, and did a small hike to a view point to see the bay from top.
The second day, we went on a boat tour (something very common to do there) to explore the Halong Bay and see it around. We stopped in the Monkey Island, and did a hike there to the top as well. Also, we did kayaking and saw some caves, and inner lakes within the big rocks that you are not able to access by boat. Finally, we did some jumping as well from the boat, and it was a great experience.
Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island, Vietnam
I recommend 100% to go to Halong Bay, it is an amazing place and I wish I could have stayed a bit longer to explore more and get better weather, as when I was there it was very cloudy, but still, breathtaking location!
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, so it is a big city with a big population. I did not have much time to visit the city properly, as it was my last stop before going back home and did not have even a full day to visit. So, I cannot give much feedback about sightseeing.
However, I think I can summarize Hanoi with these two words: "Beautiful mess".
During the less than 24 hours that I was there, we visited some pagodas and lakes that are in the city like Hoàn Kiếm and Ho Tay. We walked around its streets and went to some markets, and I got amazed by it. You can find many random things in the streets of the city that make it beautiful, and that is what I take from it.
Beautiful mess in the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam
Also, I will never forget the hostel where we stayed, High Five Hostel. Super kind people, very new, very clean, and great service. Our room was the Hello Kitty one, very pinky but great!. It was also recommended from the same girl that told us about Cat Ba Island.
And... after eleven amazing days in Vietnam, it was time to go back home... I was traveling in Asia for one month only, and definitely, it was not enough!
Thanks for reading. Do not hesitate to ask anything you want :)