The 15 day visa-free stay in Vietnam is coming to an end and I will have to board a plane going to Bangkok later today. Let’s see what happened in the last two weeks. So basic plan was to arrive in Hanoi and make my way down south to Ho Chi Minh City and that’s what I did...well mostly.
But let’s start in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam and simply said pure chaos. On my arrival I was literally just scared of all those scooters and cars and people who down seem to follow any observable rules. Well I quickly found out that there really are no rules and everyone just has to look out for oneself. You’ll learn pretty quickly how the traffic here works (basically you just go and hope that no one hits you), you have to if you want to avoid any major injuries. So I spend my day just walking along old-town and trying to get a feel for the place. It was fun but I noticed I needed to go on a tighter schedule if I want to see most of the important places of Vietnam.
So directly the next day I started on a tour going to Halong Bay. And let me tell you it’s just so incredibly beautiful there. I spend all day cruising along little islands on a boat in the sun. You can go kayaking into little caves or just jump from the boat into the warm water for a nice swim. Of course the bay really really touristy so I recommend going with a tour company that leaves earlier than the rest (I went with Ocean Tours and they started at 7am whereas the most only start at 9am). And I guess you really do need some kind of organized tour because where else are you gonna get a boat from?
After the bay I went further north for two days which wasn’t really what I planned at first but if you are in Vietnam you have to see the rice-fields and mountains in the Sapa-Region. And it’s just a 11-hour bus ride from Hanoi...yeah that’s also when I learned that the Vietnamese are no fun but well they get you there in the end. Once you are in Sapa it’s just truly incredible. You have the highest mountains of Vietnam there and almost all of them lined with rice fields. Basically how you imagine Vietnamese landscape. I did a small trekking tour there with some local guides which was great fun and offered some very interesting and different views of the landscape you wouldn’t see from the road. It’s very cool to see how many locals still wear the traditional clothes, makes for great photos. Well of course everyone tries to sell you some handmade stuff but that’s how they make a living and while I don’t care for such things someone else might.
Now it was finally time to head south. First stop: Phang Nha. Just a really small village famous for its adjoining national park of caves. The two main caves for visitors are the Paradise Cave and the Dark Cave. Paradise Cave is a mostly dry cave full of gigantic stalactites and I really mean gigantic. The cave is huge. While it’s very great to look at and photograph, Dark Cave is the more fun one. You start of by a long zipline towards the cave, drop into the water to swim the last meters. Inside the cave you go hiking through the darkness to a giant mud pool. Yes it’s as great as it sounds like, a giant mud pool, just so much fun. In the end you take the kayak out again and can go swimming some more in the river. It’s a must-do stop in Vietnam.
Adventure was on the schedule the next day. I took a bus to Hue where I rented a scooter to go to Hoi An. Yes that was the first time I ever was in a scooter and actually it wasn’t even my idea. But it was great fun. I started in Hue and drove all the way to Hoi An and live to tell it. Actually I thought it's pretty easy once you got the hang of it. Oh and I practiced almost every Environment that's possible. I started in the blazing sun in the Vietnamese city-center-traffic. After I left the city there was less traffic but the road-conditions were way worse. In the few hours of driving there I had countless cars honking (that's actually just the way they let you know they see you but want to go exactly where you are at the moment) but then I finally got into the mountains. The small 50ccm Yamaha was struggling a bit to get up there but I was still a lot faster than the trucks. The road I took was called the "Hai Van Pass" and it truly is one of the most beautiful roads in the world and so much fun to drive even for a bloody beginner. They way the road goes up the tree-covered mountain while still offering great views of the ocean in every turn just can't be described. I think everyone has to drive this road at least once in ones live.
Oh right I talked about every environment. Well once I reach Dang An (actually pretty hard to do since the supplied map was absolute shit and the Vietnamese don't like road-signs, it wouldn't be a challenge without them) it started pouring like crazy with still about 45min to go. And if it rains in Vietnam, it rains a lot. I was drenched after a few minutes and even to cheap poncho I bought for 5000 Dong did only help so much since it was design with a bit smaller people in mind. When I did eventually reach Hoi An, it wasn't just raining like crazy but also getting dark and rush-hour traffic started. But I survived everything and got safe and wet to my Hostel. I now definitely know that I need to get a motorcycle-license once I'm back in Germany.
The last couple of days in Vietnam were mostly spent relaxing. I didn’t plan so at first but I was kind of sick. I don’t know if it was because I was completely drenched after the scooter ride or because my body couldn't cope with all the constant stress of travelling any longer of maybe a combination of both. Anyways I spent a few days in Hoi An. Really pretty old-town and of course great beach. Oh if you want to get any tailor made clothes, here’s the place to go. To get from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City I decided to not go the backpacker route and just take a 1 hour flight instead of a 17 hour bus-ride. Yes I don’t regret it one bit.
Ho Chi Minh was still unfortunately mostly spent in the Hostel. Ok I did explore the market hall (That’s where you can buy everything you need or don’t need), went to the war museum (very interesting although quite one sided of course) and on top of the Bitexco-Tower. So yeah I still managed to see at least some of the city. Oh and I still didn’t really manage to catch much sleep with midnight construction sides outside and some of the loudest snorers ever inside the room. I definitely need to spend some nights in a hotel in Thailand.
Well this is it, my adventures in Vietnam. A crazy and full and chaotic country definitely worth a visit. Sure the traffic is exhausting and all the sellers on the street get annoying but that’s part of the charme. While it’s nice to visit for 15 days visa-free, it’s way too short if you want to see all of the country and I would have wished to stayed a lot longer. Just make sure to spend some time off from the chaotic cities from time to time.