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Our Month in Vietnam
Our travel through Vietnam has been a whirlwind, a blur of new sights and experiences with surprises around every corner. In our month here, we’ve witnessed so much: the functioning chaos of traffic; streets lined with food stalls and coffee shops, their little plastic tables and stools spilling out onto the sidewalk; delicious food everywhere; ceaseless honking of motorbikes, bicycles, buses and cars; golden French baguettes galore in plastic bags or piled, pyramid-like, on trays; families of four or five at ease on motorbikes zipping in and out of frenzied traffic; pushy street vendors selling their wares, urging us to buy fresh fruit, sunglasses, lighters, dusters, scrunchies, anything, everything…something!
I thought I had acclimated to the sensory overload that is SE Asia after traveling through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, but Vietnam is a jolt to the senses all on its own. A vigorous, vibrant place, it’s been my favorite so far.
We bused into Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) from Phnom Penh, Cambodia a month ago and it feels like we’ve been “go, go, go” ever since. On a 30-day visa (which we purchased for $60 USD a pop – the most expensive visa so far), we traveled from HCMC north to Hanoi, stopping along the way in the mountain city of Da Lat where I did double takes at locals bundled up in winter clothes as if we were in the Swiss Alps; in the ancient town of Hoi An lined with preserved old buildings now occupied now by souvenir merchants selling “Buddha is my om-boy” t-shirts and other tourist delights; in up-and-coming Da Nang, where we gazed up at a remarkable statue called “Lady Buddha”; in the former imperial capital of Hue, and finally up north, to bustling Hanoi, which we made home base as we did mini-breaks to breathtaking Ha Long Bay and to the stunning mountain town of Sapa and its valleys of verdant green rice terraces.
Ho Chi Minh City – Da Lat – Hoi An – Da Nang – Hue – Hanoi – Ha Long Bay – Hanoi – Sapa – Hanoi
Length of time: 30 days
Transportation: Three sleeper buses, 3 local buses, 1 overnight train, 1 boat cruise.
Tours: Two organized tours
Accommodations: Nine guesthouses, 1 dorm, 2 boat cabins
Average daily spend (includes all costs – accommodations, food, water, transportation, visas, even donations/offerings at temples): $55.61
Drinking culture in Ho Chi Minh City: sit on little plastic kiddie chairs, drink 750ml bottles of ice cold Bia Saigon, snack on street food, fend off pushy street merchants.
Boat cruise along a canal in the Mekong Delta.
Meta selfie in Ho Chi Minh City.
Bun chao gio, rice vermicellie with spring rolls.
Reunification Palace, formerly called Independence Palace, which the North Vietnam Army stormed in 1975 thereby ending the Vietnam (American) War.
Pho bo on a super hot day in HCMC.
Middle row on the disco sleeper bus from HCMC to Da Lat in the central highlands of Vietnam.
Our “honeymoon suite” at Smile Guesthouse in Da Lat. We got the whole dorm to ourselves. Six beds, private bathroom and breakfast for $10/night.
Da Lat flower garden upkeep.
“L” is for lunch lady.
For lunch: Bun ca ri ga, noodle cury rice chicken, 35,000 dong (about $1.50 USD).
Walked about an hour to find this local brewery near Da Lat University. Everyone stopped and stared as Chris and I walked in. After we sat down people started to ask to take pictures with Chris. And this guy taught us how to “cheers” in Vietnamese: Mot Hai Ba Yo!
BBQ frog for fourth of July dinner.
New real fake sunnies purchased for the low low price of $2.50!
Historic Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, preserved as an example of a traditional Asian trading port where multiple cultures had influence.
Little kids watching Chris play with their puppy.
At An Bang Beach in Hoi An. We were planning to walk the 2.5 miles to get to the beach, but hopped on a motorbike ride after about 1.5 miles.
Lady Buddha statue in Da Nang.
Kid’s got the tablet, dad’s got the bicycle, mom’s got the baby; just a family of four multi-tasking on a motorbike.
Everyone wants pictures with Chris, even this adorable kiddo in Hue! (Also this woman is the same age as me but with a 6-year old and a 1-year old.)
Bun thit nuong, fresh noodle with grilled pork and peanut sauce. A Hue specialty and quite delicious!
Sleeper train from Hue to Hanoi.
Experiencing the Bia Hoi drinking culture in Hanoi, where fresh beer started.
Three day boat cruise along remarkable Ha Long Bay.
Early morning canoeing. Notice my broken pair of real fake sunnies.
Back in Hanoi for one night before heading to Sapa. Banh cuon for dinner! Steam rice rolls stuffed with ground pork and wood ear mushroom. Topped with shallots, peanuts and garlic. Served with fish sauce.
In Sapa, we rented a motorbike one day and road up to Tram Ton pass, passing Silver Waterfall on the way.
Rain and clouds greeted us at the summit. No view of Fansipan mountain, the highest peak in Vietnam, so we enjoyed views of each other.
Gorgeous verdant rice terraces in the Sapa valley.
Bun bo nam bo back in Hanoi. Rice noodles served on a bed of lettuce and mint, topped with grilled beef, pickled veggies, fried shallots and roasted peanuts. SO delicious and refreshing.
Even now as I reflect on the past month, just when I think I’m getting used to the sensory overload that is Vietnam, I turn my head and another something curious catches my attention proving that there is always something surprising and possibly delightful – or maybe shocking – around every corner.
Our last day in Hanoi, I went exploring. After a street lined with cafes, I rounded the corner and happened across this street vendor selling grilled dog. I snapped a few shots then ran back to tell Chris. Dogs are revered in Vietnam as guardians and are believed to be good luck when you eat them. Dog meat is usually reserved for special occasions or right before the new moon for good luck.
For more Vietnam pics, check out my photo album: