Whoa. I don’t even know where to begin. I kept so busy in Vietnam that I couldn’t find a single free moment to sit down and write about it all. Right now I’m on a layover in Malaysia on my way to Bali, so I want to try to get a post in before the mayhem continues!
Vietnam was absolutely amazing. I’ll start from the beginning.
I didn’t do a whole lot of research before going to Vietnam. I booked my flight into Ho Chi Minh City in the south, and out of Hanoi in the north, so I had ten days to make it all the way up the coast. While I was traveling, I felt ridiculous for making that kind of itinerary for myself, but now that it’s said and done, I’m glad that I did.
I landed in HCMC in the afternoon and it took me over an hour to get through customs. There weren’t a lot of people, but the visa process in Vietnam isn’t as streamlined for tourists as it is in Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia. Before going to Vietnam, I had to get a letter granting permission to enter. There are tons of companies online to secure the letter, I just went with the cheapest one with good reviews. It cost $20. I had to print the letter and an entry form to show at the airport in Bangkok before I was able to get my boarding pass. It’s unnecessarily complicated. Anyhow, upon arrival, I gave my passport and approval letter for them to process my visa. It cost another $20, and I was waiting for them to do it for about 45 minutes. For an extra $20, they could do it in 5, but I wasn’t in a rush.
I exchanged my currency right in the airport. I was shocked to see that their exchange rate was higher than when I searched on Google, and there wasn’t a fee to exchange it. I was happy about that.
The taxi to my first hostel cost about $15 for an hour or so ride, which is expensive by backpackers standards but pretty cheap compared to the United States. Within the first minute of leaving the airport, the mayhem that is HCMC traffic became a reality. Lines on the road are not observed, and I think it’s safe to say it was crazier than Thailand. It was organized chaos, though. Everyone was honking their horn the entire time, which is the complete opposite from Thailand.
When I got to my hostel I was really scared to cross the street. There was an intersection nearby without a stoplight where cars and motorbikes just had a free for all, and it somehow all worked out. I watched an elderly woman cross the street and noticed if you’re walking, you just have to trust that the cars and motorbikes will go around you. I met a few people from the hostel that showed me how to walk right into moving traffic and not get hit. It’s completely against all human instincts, but it’s absolutely nuts. The only option for crossing the street there was to walk confidently across and to not pause. The most accidents happen when someone doesn’t continue their pace, I guess. I found it pretty interesting.
My first meal in Vietnam was Pho, a traditional Vietnamese soup. I’ve had it before in Seattle, but trying the real thing was out of this world. The broth tasted about the same, but the noodles were incredible. They served it with a huge variety of condiments, and everything was delicious.
I only stayed in HCMC for 2 nights, as I was in a rush to make it up to Hanoi. I got a chance to visit the War Remnants Museum, which was so fascinating and depressing. It was all about the American War (what we call the War in Vietnam). The majority of the displays were photographs, but they had really detailed captions with lots of interesting information. There was a whole exhibit on how the war was protested all over the world. The most interesting exhibit to me was the Agent Orange Exhibit, because it was the most information I’ve ever learned about Agent Orange. I remember learning about it in high school, where they basically told us, “yeah, we used chemical warfare and it was bad…” but seeing the actual impacts of the chemical (that is still affecting Vietnamese people today) was pretty intense.
They had deformed fetuses preserved in formaldehyde, and that was probably the worst part for me. After spending a good amount of time there, I was pretty depressed but I’m glad I went.
My friend told me that I had to check out a city called “Dalat” on my way up north, so that was my first stop after HCMC. When I was planning the trip I made a note that tickets can be purchased online for the bus website, but because I didn’t actually buy the ticket I didn’t realize that they don’t accept foreign credit cards. I spent a good hour in the hostel trying to figure out why my card wouldn’t process, and I was frustrated once I found out why.
HCMC is pretty touristy, and they have a lot of little shops around the area I was staying in that offered bus tickets. The guy at the first shop that I went into wanted to charge me 2x the price that was listed on the website. When I told him about my dilemma with the credit card, he was nice and honest with me and told me that the bus company’s office was right around the corner. It took a total of 5 minutes, and I had my ticket booked and paid for with cash.
The bus ride to Dalat was really nice! The sleeper busses have two levels of reclining “beds,” and they weren’t too shabby!
Because I’d only been in Vietnam for 1 full day, I was pretty excited to get to relax and enjoy the scenery. The bus attendant was incredibly friendly. The bus was really cold, so he gave me a blanket, then he tucked me in like a burrito! He was really sweet and accommodating throughout the trip, and in hindsight I know now that a lot of Vietnamese people are like that.
Dalat was my favorite part of Vietnam, and I’m pretty sure it’s because of the climate and the hostel that I stayed in. The altitude of Dalat is about the same as Fort Collins, so it was a lot cooler. It’s the coldest I’ve felt since I left Colorado in September. When I say cold, I mean it was like 75 degrees, but it still felt incredible.
The hostel that I stayed in was called “Mr. Peace Backpackers Hostel,” and I picked it because of the incredible reviews online. I was greeted at the door by a Vietnamese guy about my age (“Mr. Peace”) who ran up and gave me a big hug and a cold water. As I got to know him more, he opened up into a pretty outrageous personality, and quite possibly one of the best hostel owners I’ve ever stayed with.
He convinced me to take the “Mr Peace Secret Tour” and I am so glad that I did. It started at 8am and didn’t end until 6:30pm. We went to see everything that is an absolute “must” in Dalat, which included: a silk spinning factory, an incense factory, a broom factory, a rice wine distillery, two waterfalls, a rural town, a gerber daisy farm, a rose farm, and a coffee plantation. The whole tour was done by motorbike, so I was on the back of one of the guides’ bikes. He had a real motorcycle, so it was nice and comfortable compared to the standard motorbike. They also gave me a legitimate helmet, and not the garbage cheap ones that usually come with motorbike rentals.
There were only 4 of us who signed up for the tour, so we had 4 bikes with 8 people. The cost of the tour was $40, but it was absolutely worth every penny.
We drove past a dog butcher, but Mr. Peace was gagging so much that he could hardly tell us about it. He basically muttered that people in Vietnam eat dogs. It was really sad and disturbing to see, so I’m not going to go into the details.
Aside from the tour being amazing, I found that I got along very well with everyone else that was staying at the hostel. I made friends with people from Mexico, Germany, Canada, and Switzerland, and we had the best time getting to know each other. I feel like I’ve known them for much longer than the short 3 days.
I ended up having such a great time in Dalat that I got distracted and didn’t get my bus/train combo ticket booked in time for the following day. I was planning on going up to Hoi An, which is about 18 hours to the north. I had booked a homestay for the following night (and had already paid for it) so I was upset with myself for not handling it before the offices had closed. Mr. Peace helped me book a combo bus ticket that left at noon that would get me to Hoi An at 6am the following morning at 6am. I was bummed that I had already paid for the homestay and was going to miss a night, but I couldn’t do much about it.
The bus ride up was pretty miserable, I’m not going to lie. The beds weren’t as spacious as the bus I had taken before. My backpack goes absolutely everywhere that I go because it has my laptop in it, so I was sharing the tiny bed with my backpack. Every two hours or so they would pull over to let everyone out to go to the bathroom, and it was impossible to get a solid sleep because they would turn all of the lights on and yell at everyone to go to the bathroom. I arrived at my homestay at 6am and I was exhausted.
The homestay is the only homestay I’ve booked since I’ve been traveling around. They had great reviews online and I thought it would be nice to have a room to myself after weeks of shared dorm rooms. It was really rejuvenating to be able to rest up, and they gave me a pedal bike to ride around Hoi An.
Hoi An is an ancient city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main reason that I fell in love with the place is that you can get custom made clothing for CHEAP. I was immediately suckered in by a lady who started talking to me on the street. Hoi An was probably the pushiest place I’ve been to so far. The people on the street will not accept no for an answer, and they follow you. This lady helped me find an ATM, then asked if I would at least take a look in her shop. She had tons of photo albums of dress designs that she could do, and rows upon rows of different colors of fabric. I ended up picking out a dress and fabric (even though I don’t really have room for a dress…) and she made me a dress in just FOUR HOURS!!! She quoted me $20, and I was way too tired to try to bargain with her. I agreed because, let’s face it, a custom made dress for $20 is quite alright. I felt duped because I know that they would’ve taken half of that, but I’m not going to dwell on it.
She had me try it on when I went to go pick it up, and I have to say, it’s my new favorite dress! The sewing is very quality, and the material is soft. It fits me like a glove. I’d call it a “win.”
I also went to see the ancient ruins of “My Son” the Hindu temple outside of Hoi An, but honestly I’m starting to feel a little burnt out of temples. Also it was like 105 degrees.
I tried my new favorite Vietnamese food while I was in Hoi An. It’s called Bahn Xeo, and they were kind of like tacos. They take a savory pancake and fill it with bean sprouts, green onions, and pork/shrimp/tofu (depending on your preference) and then they deep fry them. To eat them, you soak a piece of egg roll wrapper in water and roll them into it with mint leaves and cucumber, and then they’re dipped in peanut sauce. They were incredible, and I’m going to have to find a recipe when I get home!
From Hoi An I had a flight to Hanoi because another 18 hours in a bus just wasn’t practical. I bought the ticket a month in advance and it cost me $30, so it seemed worth it to have more time in Hanoi and less time in a bus.
Random note: On the way to the airport I saw a dead guy. There was a motorcycle accident where the guy was dead but they just put a little piece of cardboard to cover part of his body. It was on a highway and the police were just directing traffic around him. It was intense.
I be honest about my time in Hanoi, I didn’t find anything particularly charming about it. It was chaotic and congested, and I was just passing through on my way to the airport. I was only there for one full day, but I made the best of it and did a walking tour. I met some new friends from London and Romania, and we spent the day exploring together.
It’s so unbelievable how easy it is to meet people while traveling. Now that I’m thinking about it in the 10 days I was in Vietnam, I’ve somehow acquired 15 new friends on Facebook. Traveling alone is the best way to meet a lot of new international friends. While I was exploring with my new friends in Hanoi I remembered why I travel alone. It is fun to have people to talk to and explore with, but traveling with people really slows down the whole experience. We ended up with a crew of about 6, and moving around the city took forever because it seemed like everyone needed to stop for something at different times. Even coordinating dinner took a solid 2 hours because we were waiting for everyone to finish doing what they were doing, then we waited for everyone to get ready, and then finding a restaurant we all agreed on took forever, and then finding a restaurant that we all agreed on that could accommodate 6 people was nearly impossible.
My final dinner in Vietnam was amazing, though. Between 6 of us we ordered 10 different things off of the menu and shared them all. I had the most incredible spring rolls that I’ve ever eaten! I am definitely going to miss the food in Vietnam.
Now that I’m gone, I realize how much I wish I would’ve just traveled in Vietnam for the whole five weeks of travel. Although I love moving around and seeing new things, Vietnam was so beautiful and diverse that I wish I would’ve had a lot more time to explore. Usually when I travel through countries I consider it my last time, because each time I plan a trip I want to see a country that I haven’t seen before. Vietnam was the first country that I’ve traveled to that I decided that I will definitely be going back. I absolutely loved it there!
Well, I started writing this post when I was the airport in Malaysia but I didn’t quite have enough time to finish. I’m in Bali now and I’m completely worn out. I will be moving pretty fast through Bali as well, but I’ll have 26 hours of travel on my way home to post an update about Bali.
I also wish I could’ve uploaded some pictures to go with this post, but the wifi at my current hostel in Bali is impossibly slow. I’ll be doing a mass upload when I get home!!
It doesn’t seem real that I’m going to be going home in just a short 9 days!! It’s a bittersweet mix of feelings between excitement and sadness.
Thanks for reading!