Travelling to Vietnam and Cambodia was a massive eye-opener. I was there in late November/early December 2015. I travelled with a G Adventures tour group. This trip was a good way to end the year, as I entered 2016 with a new perspective.
It was a bit of a spontaneous decision to book a tour in Vietnam and Cambodia (I also had one day in Bangkok, Thailand). I arrived home from Japan in October and I wasn’t ready to re-enter the workforce (did I mention I quit my previous job to travel? I’ll talk about that in another post). I assessed my financial situation and concluded that I had enough money in my savings account to go on one more adventure but it would be on a tight budget. I had always been curious about Vietnam and Cambodia. Many of my friends have Vietnamese heritage and a lot of my other friends had already visited Vietnam, Cambodia or both. Further to that, it was like luck was on my side because the price of the tour was discounted. So I did not hesitate. Within 24 hours, I booked the G Adventures tour, flights, travel insurance and organised my travel visas. But I still had 6 weeks to kill…
The 6 weeks at home between Japan and Vietnam/Cambodia were a little tough. I tried looking for work but no one was going to hire someone who had travel plans in a few weeks. So it was actually during this time that the inception of Tripping Over Travel occurred, with the extraordinary support of my siblings and fellow blogger friend Danny, creator of The Sleepy Guru. I spent this gap period creating a name, domain, and Instagram account, invested in a new camera (Olympus OMD E-M10 Mark I… I love it!) and started training myself in photography. It kept me surprisingly busy and before I knew it, it was time to pack my bags and fly away.
I started in the bustling capital city of Hanoi. The traffic is absolute manic in Hanoi but it somehow still works. As most people would say, it was organised chaos. I managed to find the courage to jump on the back of a motorcycle and tour the city this way. For 2 hours we zoomed in and around Hanoi. We passed through each quarter, went over Long Bien Bridge and the Red River and simply observed the way of life for the people in Hanoi. I never thought I would ride a motorcycle, even as a passenger. At home I would be terrified of having an accident. There is something special about travel that puts you in a YOLO state of mind. I understand why the locals where masks though, the pollution from the motorbike exhaust is heavy.
Hanoi is a good spot to base yourself if you want to visit Halong Bay, which I did. It is approximately a 4 hour drive. I spent one night on a boat among the brilliant rock formations. It’s so peaceful and it’s the ideal place to escape to if you want to avoid the noise and traffic of Hanoi. I also visited the Sung Sot Cave (pictured), which was my personal highlight of Halong Bay as I have never seen a cave quite like this one, climbed Ti Top Mountain (it has 420 steps, according to our local guide) and swam in the man-made Ti Top Beach. That night, I sang to Vietnamese karaoke. It was fun and a really good way to learn the language, or at least the pronunciation of Vietnamese words. I was just reading the lyrics off the screen so I had no idea what I was singing about!
From Hanoi, we caught an overnight train with bunk beds to Hue – another first for me! I like to embrace new experiences but as this train also included communal bathrooms, it cemented my paranoia with public toilets. I had a very educational experience in Hue. It included visits to the Royal Tombs, the Citadel/Imperial City and Thien Mu Temple (Pagoda De La Dame Celeste). But what really stuck with me was the story of a restaurant owner who is deaf and mute. He is married with a family and runs a very successful family restaurant called Lac Thanh, where I had dinner one night. He has his own home-made bottle opener and demonstrated how to use it. It involved a karate chop! He kindly gave the group a bottle opener each. The aim is for us to take a photo with the tool at our respective home cities, which I’ve done. I hope it makes him smile. He is a lovely man.
Next up was Hoi An. I had a lot of fun in Hoi An. It is a small town so we hired bicycles from the hotel to get around. We rode through the country side and rice fields and had the pleasure of speaking to the locals who work on rice farms. Being a city girl to the core it was an enlightening experience observing the operations of the farms. We stumbled across cute paddocks with lotus leaves and flowers and even spotted water buffalos. I have noticed that wherever you go in the world, people know the music of Bob Marley. Farmers could be heard singing ‘Buffalo Soldier.’ It was delightful! We also rode to Cua Dai Beach and I cannot get over how warm the water was. I can officially say I have swam (or more like dog paddled) in the South China Sea!
By night, the town is mostly lit up by colourful lanterns. You could probably walk around and see everything in 1-2 hours. The town is quite small filled with shops, dressmakers, suit-makers, restaurants and bars. You have to pay a small ticket fee to actually enter the town and the money goes towards restoration of the town. When you pay you usually receive discounted or free passes to specific attractions, such as temples. It is a gorgeous little town but very crowded. Hoi An attracts a lot of tourists.
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is a lot more modern in comparison to the previous cities I visited. I remember feeling slightly overwhelmed because we had just come from Hoi An, which is very relaxing, and then the pace suddenly changed. My goal was to eat pho, as I was told it was the best in Ho Chi Minh City so I was hanging out for it. It did not disappoint! I heart pho! A 90 minute drive away from the city is the Cu Chi tunnels. We had a war veteran as our tour guide. He worked as a translator and a soldier during the Vietnam War. His knowledge and personal experience was immense. Ho Chi Minh City was also the base for our trip to Mekong Delta. It was a very interesting experience; everything was so different to the life I am used to. The people who live on Mekong Delta (the Vietnam side) live peaceful lives, away from the city. They have plenty of resources to maintain a modest quality of life #islandlife
From Ho Chi Minh City we crossed the border to Cambodia, which I will share in a future post!
There is one more thing I should mention…. THE FOOD! I pretty much ate my way through Vietnam, their dishes are delicious!
Quick hotel reference guide:
|Hanoi||Maison D’Hanoi Boutique Hotel|
|Hoi An||Hoi An Green Field Hotel & Villas|
|Ho Chi Minh City||Golden Rose Hotel|