An adornment OF ORGANISED CHAOS, WELCOME TO VIETNAM
Arriving in Hanoi, I was greeted by the mass chaos that came in the form of traffic. Scooters everywhere going in what seemed like every direction. My first thought was, I’m going to get run over. It turns out that if you walk across the street in a straight line with meaning then the scooters just drive around you! It sounds terrifying, but it works. My time in Hanoi also coincided with a heat wave, temperatures rising to 40 degrees, not the best weather for walking around temples where you must keep covered up! What I love about Hanoi is that the shopping streets are split into products, so one street would just sell shoes and another, ladders.
According to people I met whilst travelling no trip to Hanoi was complete without a trip to Halong Bay. Many people decide to do an overnight boat trip around the bay, I decided that due to time I would do a day trip. It was a long day but worth it. It was an interesting place. The stacks are beautiful and it’s easy to see why they are so popular, but wow has tourism hit the area hard. Tourisms charged right in at 100 miles an hour and not looked back, resulting in polluted water and many, many boats. Part of the trip was to go out on canoes, well what an experience that was and not in a positive way. Me and several others canoed into a cave, through a narrow channel of water. Getting in was fine, it was getting out that was difficult. If you didn’t canoe you could get a bamboo boat ride into the cave. Well the boat drivers were terrifying, bashing the canoes trying to get past and not giving way at all! Shouting in Vietnamese and knocking the canoes with the sticks. I thought I was going in the water, the polluted water that is. It was not a pleasant experience. It’s funny because all my other experiences with Vietnamese people were so positive. It shows how money makes people rude.
My plan was to travel from the north to the south, I just didn’t know how I was going to do so. I loved the idea of buying a motor bike and riding down the coast but seen as I had never even been on a bike I decided I would get the bus. I had heard bad things about using the bus in Vietnam but I can say it was easy, comfortable and I didn’t have any problems, even managing to get a decent amount of sleep on the over night buses. Travelling certainly helps you to learn how to sleep just about anywhere, from buses and trains to airport lounges and boats.
Heading south I stopped briefly in Hue before arriving in Hoi An, which soon became my favourite place in Vietnam and I stopped far longer than first intended. It wasn’t just the pretty lanterns strung across the streets that I loved, the people, food, culture and shopping were also so easy to enjoy. It’s a town that just keeps on giving. It was just so difficult not to spend money, I was constantly going, “oo these are nice shoes, that’s a lovely dress, maybe I will just try it on”. Not the best when you only have one back pack that’s already full! Cycling on the bikes lent out from the hotel, me and a friend went to the beach, not 100% sure of the way we passed through rice paddies and encountered a water buffalo, I am constantly in delight at the everyday wonders.
Moving from Hoi An to Nha Trag was a shock to the system, leaving the beautiful Hoi An I arrived early to Nha Trang and I was surrounded by tower block hotels and Russians. Not quite what I had expected. To top it off the hostel was horrible too and I’m sure there was a brothel upstairs, I only stayed the one night. However, I did manage to make the most of the day, going on a trip to the mud baths and pools. When I look back and think about it, it seems strange that I got into a pool of mud with strangers, ah well. It’s certainly not the strangest thing I’ve done!
Thank goodness I hit gold with Da Lat, the mountainous area inland provided a cooler climate, a welcome relief to the intense heat. Although the locals sat in jumpers while I was still sweating in a t-shirt and shorts! The little hostel I stayed in provided a welcome relief too, run by a Vietnamese family that couldn’t do enough for the people staying there. Family dinners on an evening were great and an easy way to meet fellow travellers. It was in Da Lat that I tested my ability to climb mountains by walking up Lang Bien at a height of 2167m, lets just say it was hard going! Not paying to go on a trip me and a friend decided to get the local bus to the base and walk ourselves. Speaking to a guy in our dorm who had done the walk the previous day we saw it as a challenge. We didn’t really take into account that he was super fit and we weren’t…! Another interesting thing about Da Lat was the Crazy House and 100 roofs bar, both being architectural wonders designed by Dang Viet Nga. I had a good laugh in the 100 roofs bar, becoming a child again, with so many different rooms and hidden stair cases, it was easy to get lost, bang your head and confuse yourself in general. This was all intensified after a drink or two! After successfully navigating the public bus I decided to do it again, this time heading to the Elephant Falls. Well I could see why it’s called the elephant falls, the power of the water soaked you whilst standing on the viewing platform. What I didn’t expect was the tranquil temple just further up from the falls, complete with a giant blue buddha.
Mui Ne; sand dunes, fairy streams and the sea. A chance to relax before the chaos of the city. Booking on a tour (it was the easiest way) I set off to see what the day entailed. Stopping firstly at a fish market on the beach, well there were fish amongst the plastic. Buckets of water contained fish as men sat in bucket boats on the beach surrounded by so much plastic, the beach looked like a landfill sight. It was quite shocking to see. The next stop was the fairy stream, this I was not expecting. Taking our shoes off we walked down the stream of ankle deep water past impressive rock formations, it was so peaceful and different to anything I had seen before. Reaching a waterfall at the end where local boys played and watched as we took photos of their spot. The sand dunes were the last stop. The white dunes were large and impressive, soft curves as though a giant had sculptured them with gentle hands.
Arriving in Ho Chi Minh was certainly a wake up, the peace seemingly left in Mui Ne. Scooters, people and noise surrounded you, oh hello capital city. Visiting the Cu Chi tunnels and the war remnants museum I got a better understanding of the Vietnam war, but it didn’t do much to lift the spirits. The Vietnamese receptionist at the hostel, who spoke in a very camp and enthusiastic American accent however never failed to make me laugh. I needed to change my Vietnamese dong into American dollars for Cambodia and I didn’t know where to go. He told me I needed to go to the jewellery stand near the market as they converted currency. I thought he was joking but he wasn’t. He laughed when I said I’d never even heard of doing that before. Credit to him, I got my currency changed and at a good rate too! Travelling I find is all about balance. Learning about the different cultures and history whilst enjoying good hospitality and nature. Overall, I had an amazing time in Vietnam, the country and its cuisine is something I definitely want to experience again!