Ho Chi Minh, Hoi An, Hanoi & Halong Bay – Vietnam

 

Day 1-3: Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) – Not The Capital City

The Huey, known as the workhorse in the Vietnam war.
The Huey, known as the workhorse in the Vietnam war.

After a long and sweaty bus ride from Phnom Penh, Cambodia we finally arrived in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Out of sheer luck, the bus dropped us off near our hostel. It would be a short (but confusing) walk to Yen’s Hotel, where we had a private room booked for $28 CAD/night (with AC and private bathroom). Unfortunately, our room was located on the 6th floor with no elevator. It made for a good calf workout.

The next morning, we went to the War Remnants Museum (less than $1 CAD/person). Before entering the museum, US armoured vehicles, artillery, bombs and infantry weapons are on display. Once you go inside, there’s information on the history of Vietnam starting with the colonial rule of France. It then goes into a really detailed explanation of the Vietnam War, including the horrible affects of Agent Orange, which can still be seen today. It was sometimes too much to take. How can humans inflict this much pain on each other and also endure so much?

The next day, we took a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels. We paid $7 CAD/person, and this cost covers your transportation to the tunnels (they’re about 1.5 hours away from the city) and a guide. This does not include your $6 CAD entry fee which you will have to pay at the gate. The Cu Chi district served as the base of operations for the guerrilla troops known as the Viet Cong. Here, a network of tunnels (some 250 km) were built to use as protection from U.S. B-52 bombings, transport communications and supplies, lay booby traps, and mount surprise attacks. It was an incredibly effective tactic in the resistance of American advancements. We were able to enter a section of tunnels which had to be expanded by 30% and reinforced by concrete to accommodate for tourists. At one point, you can squeeze into the entrance of an original tunnel, it was unbelievably tight!

Day 4: Da Nang – A Fire Breathing Dragon

Would've been cool to see the Dragon Bridge spit fire.
Would’ve been cool to see the Dragon Bridge spit fire.

Vietnam is really long and narrow, which makes it a bit more difficult to travel overland. Many people we’ve met along the way really recommended we buy a scooter to travel from the South to the North. We considered it, but EVERYDAY we met (and continue to meet) someone who had been in an accident. So, to the relief of our mothers, we most often flew. Personally, we liked the budget airline JetStar. There’s also the option of the train, but quite often it was more expensive and longer travel time than a flight.

We flew from Ho Chi Minh to the city of Da Nang for $78 CAD for the both of us. Most tourists arriving here by air travel will hop on a shuttle bus to go straight to Hoi An, which is located only 45 minutes away. We decided to stay the night in Da Nang and explore a few sites that make this city special. From the airport, we made the mistake of jumping into a cab without looking at other options. We arrived at our hostel and the meter read 63,000 Dong ($3.65 CAD) but the driver refused to take less than 80,000 Dong ($4.62 CAD), which we did end up paying. This happens all the time in SE Asia! Before you get in a cab make sure they either turn on the meter or settle on a fair price. This is why we generally take shuttles or public transportation. Pro-tip: Try and pay with exact change. This guy also refused to give Kik back his change!

We arrived at our hostel Funtastic ($24 CAD for a private room with AC), and as per usual, didn’t live up to its name so we dropped off our bags and headed for the river. This is the place to be in Da Nang! The biggest attraction is the Dragon Bridge. It’s a massive golden dragon that runs the length of a bridge. At night, it lights up and changes colour. It even spits fire and water every Saturday and Sunday at 9 PM. We grabbed a few drinks (Clair: One.) and food and headed back out to our place for the night.

Day 5-8: Hoi An – Women Go Crazy For A Sharp Dressed Man

One of the best sandwiches we've ever had (Banh Mi) at Phuong's. Just follow the crowd.
One of the best sandwiches we’ve ever had (Banh Mi) at Phuong’s. Just follow the crowd.

The next morning, we hopped on a free shuttle to Hoi An, which was offered by our hostel. Hoi An’s Old Town is a UNESCO world heritage site and is definitely worth a visit. It’s also known for it’s tailoring shops which you will not be able to miss. We LOVED this city. You can get great accommodations, food and even custom-made clothing for really reasonable prices. We figured it was time to enjoy a little luxury. We stayed four nights at the TNT Villa ($40 CAD/night), a beautiful hotel with a pool and an amazing free breakfast. It was a great location just walking distance to the very busy Old Town but yet far enough from the area to enjoy fantastic local restaurants at cheaper prices. The restaurant cuisine and street food here was by far the best we’ve encountered on our trip so far. Here’s a list of all the dishes we tried and would recommend in a heart beat:

  • White Rose
  • Banh Xeo (our favourite)
  • Banh Mi
  • Mango Cake
  • Banh Bao
  • Banana pancake
  • Bun Cha (Hanoi specialty)

And like many people, we couldn’t leave here without some tailor-made outfits! Clair picked up a jacket, blazer and dress, while Kik got a new suit with two shirts. Once again, it pays off to do some research before-hand.

We chose Ha Na for our tailoring. Now, we can get items shipped anytime.
We chose Ha Na for our tailoring. Now, we can get items shipped anytime.

Here’s a good website with some advice to help get you started on picking your tailor. We visited a few shops to ask questions before making our final decision with Ha Na Tailors. We suggest to have pictures with you to help guide the tailors (we just took a picture with our phones of items on the web). The minute we left the store, they had already begun the process of putting it all together. Give yourself a couple of days in Hoi An in order to get the proper adjustments. Within 72 hours our items were ready and being shipped home!

Walking around Old Town at night is very pretty. Motorized vehicles aren’t allowed in the area, making it much quieter and enjoyable. This is a great place to people watch and take some nice pictures. We’d recommend eating outside of Old Town, but there were definitely some nice places that we might try next time with a larger budget.

During our last day in Hoi An, we decided to rent some bikes and hit up the countryside. Kik read a great blog from Travel Junkies with some good suggestions on a path to follow for a nice bike ride. On our way back, we stopped at a road side barber shop for Kik to get a hair cut. The guys were so pumped to have us there and gave Kik a sharp-looking cut for $3 CAD. Such nice people! (Clair: The haircut was mediocre but they said Kik looked like David Beckham so he wants to go back.)

Day 9-10: Hanoi – Have You Met The Smoggies?

Shhh...the fish is sleeping in the green water.
Shhh…the fish is sleeping in the green water.

With a quick shuttle bus ($6 CAD/person) back to Da Nang, we hopped on our next flight to Hanoi, the capital. We paid just over $50 CAD each. Honestly, look up the budget airlines (we personally like JetStar and they fly all over SE Asia, Australia and NZ). We were staying in the Old Quarter which is a really popular neighbourhood. We opted to grab an airport shuttle for $5 CAD/person. You can hop on any shuttle bus, regardless of the airline company they’re affiliated with. This turned out to be a much longer ride than we expected, so if you’re strapped for time or don’t want the hassle then grab a cab.

The entrance to the Vietnamese Women's Museum.
The entrance to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum.

Hanoi wasn’t the most glamorous city and the air quality was very poor. It did have a number of sites of interest, mostly again related to the war. With only a few days in town, Kik made a plan to visit the Vietnamese Women’s Museum and a few restaurants highlighted by other bloggers (The Social Club, Cafe KOTO, and Cha Ca). The museum is unique and offers a different perspective by focusing on the women’s significant contributions to the nations development, culture, and society. Entry is cheap, $3.45 CAD with an audio guide (once again, we recommend getting the guide). Give yourself a couple of hours to explore all the levels.

Using an app called Agoda (it’s like the Booking.com for SE Asia), we booked a hotel room in the Old Quarter at the Hanoi Graceful Hotel for $40 CAD/night. Upon arriving, we were upgraded to the Deluxe room, free of charge! We can’t say what the standard room looks like because we were too busy being fancy.

Day 11-13: Halong Bay

No sunshine for the sun deck, but a nice view regardless.
No sunshine for the sun deck, but a nice view regardless.

The main reason we stopped in Hanoi was to explore Halong Bay, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most people opt to take a ‘cruise’ for either 2 days/1 night, 3 days/2 nights, or 4 days/ 3 nights. There are luxury boats, mid-range and party boats. The first step is figuring out what your budget is and what level of comfort you require. We were pretty lucky because we ended up with a decent mid-range boat even though we only booked the night before. We stayed on the Dragon Gold Cruise. Our room was clean and included AC and an ensuite. The meals were above average for this kind of tour which was pleasantly surprising. The only downside was that booze was quite expensive. Wah wah for us.

A monstrous network of caves, beautifully lit up with different colours.
A monstrous network of caves, beautifully lit up with different colours.

The first day consisted of a bus ride out to the bay, getting onto the boat, and cruising into the bay. It’s really quite beautiful and you can sit on the sun deck and just watch the scenery. Once we arrived in the bay we disembarked and explored some caves. That night we got to know the other guests, played Cards Against Humanity, and Kik caught a squid! The next morning we were up early and kayaking around the bay. What a way to wake up! The last “activity” was kind of weird. We went to an oyster farm…and not the kind you eat. They basically harvest oysters and breed them so they create pearls. It was weird, but now we know that an oyster has an ovary. Anyways, we would definitely recommend checking out Halong Bay. Although, it was concerning to see a World Heritage site that had so much trash in it. Hopefully, you can see it before it deteriorates or they get a handle on the garbage soon.

After hours of attempts by many people, Kik was determined and the patience paid off.
After hours of attempts by many people, Kik was determined and the patience paid off.

Full of MSG, we decided that we needed a couple more days with Calvin (Clair’s brother) in Thailand. So…off we went to Koh Tao – Thailand, where we were sure he was going to have buckets of brightly colored alcohol and muscle shirts waiting for us.

 

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