We have begun our fourth and -maybe- final month in Vietnam and if you’ve been intently keeping track of this blog you’re correct in assuming we extended our visas for one month. We did this for several reasons:
1. We haven’t actually made it up to Hanoi yet.
2. It’s so cheap here and our bank accounts have been happy about that.
3. Vietnam is really awesome.
Our initial plan was to continue all the way up north until we reached Sapa, then hop over to Laos once March hit. In the last entry I was complaining how cold I was at 18 degrees. This didn’t change as we moved further north as the weather steadily declined. Our literal turning point was after a two-hour motorbike ride to Paradise Cave up by Dong Hoi. We got off the bike and I was chilled, my feet were numb and I couldn’t stop shivering. I had bundled up in all my warm clothes and doubled up my socks and I was still so cold. As we waited for hot coffees the words “it’s only going to get colder from here” were spoken by one of us. From there we almost instantly agreed that we would head back south and explore the towns that we missed on the way up, all the while being in way more comfortable climates. As Canadians we have faced being way colder, but a big part of this trip was to avoid the miserable Canadian winter and having the ability to just say No to being cold is something I’ve never been able to choose before. How liberating!
I’ll rewind a bit and fill in any details I missed leading up to this turnaround. After Danang we took a very scenic train ride through the rocky coastline that brought us to Hue. I had read that it was a cool place and worth checking out but it really wasn’t anything special. It was incredibly touristy and over priced for reasons I’m unaware of. I think it’s possible the tourists are history nerds because there is a popular citadel, and the area is known for a gruesome battle that took place during the War and Hue marks the division between north and south Vietnam. Other than that, it was ok? We rented bikes one day to check out some tombs but admission fees were overpriced for what we saw from pictures online. We did bike further out of the city where we explored some serene temples with no one around, surrounded by quiet ponds and interesting structures. I’m more into that type of exploring.
During our time in Hue there was a semi-final soccer game on that was causing a lot of noise in the streets. We went to a bar, packed with about 200 people I think, all watching one 32” tv way at the back. Every single good play by Vietnam caused the entire place to erupt in cheers and screaming, sometimes singing and a lot of drinking. We happily joined in and learned from a local that this was the first time Vietnam got this far in the U23 championship. It was so entertaining to see the amount of pride exploding out of that bar and also seeing history in the making. Vietnam won the game, people lost their minds. Flags were everywhere, a man stood on top of a truck and triggered a national anthem chorus and we promptly followed them parading around the streets. Someone put a red Vietnam headband on me and Dustin and I basically accepted the duty to spread the national pride around and wandered the streets screaming VIETNAM to everyone and we received so much love and excitement. The streets were filled with massive flags ripping around on motorbikes, honking and yelling and singing everywhere. It was complete chaos. We stopped at some electronic store where there were girls on the corner with flags and banners shouting at passerby’s like we were doing. We joined in, Dustin acquired a massive flag, then we saw a large jeep with no doors driving around and we decided to jump in. They drove us around town for a while as we all paraded flags and cheered on other drivers doing the same thing. Luckily the driver just made a full circle and we hopped off and returned the giant flag. Across the street was a massive group of friends on the street drinking beer and they hailed us over. Drank some more beers, had some food, and celebrated the Vietnam victory with proud, cheerful locals.
After all that excitement we went up to Dong Hoi, a much smaller town. We spent a couple days riding around on bikes that the guesthouse let us borrow for free, and checked out some large sand dunes. This town had some of the tastiest Pho, which we had a lot of as we were getting pretty cold at this point. We were stopped one day by a girl who asked us if she could practice her English with us (this has happened a few times). A friend of hers came by as well and we chatted with them for a while, and they decided they wanted to take us out for dinner. We hopped on the back of their motorbikes and they brought us to a cheap local spot with the tastiest bun thit nuong. They paid for us as well! And they were students! We’ve honestly been treated by locals so many times here, even if we make an offer to pay, they always reject. It’s something that has boggled my mind a bit because they know we have money, we are pretty privileged and I really don’t think that’s uncommon knowledge just by the fact that we are travelling. When we watched the following soccer game (Vietnam lost, sadly) a few men we were hanging out with paid for all of our beers that evening which was probably about a dozen, I’m not sure. I’ve come to realize it’s not just a few outliers that are super nice to us and pay for our things, it’s a cultural thing, and everyone is so goddamn gracious and welcoming to foreigners that I’m hoping to have the ability to offer that amount of hospitality to anyone (even strangers) when I return to Canada. I can’t think of one rude interaction with a local I’ve had while here, and that says a lot because we have been to a lot of places. They also have a completely different work schedule than us, instead of 9-5 they start early at 6 or 7am, go until 12pm, have a 2 hour break where everyone goes home (even kids in school) and they all take a nap or do whatever they want, then go back at 2pm, and finish the day. I wonder if having that extra couple hours, whether it be for sleep, prep dinner, or extra time with your family that could be a big factor in why everyone is so easy going and cheerful here. Not many people can operate at 100% for 8 hours straight (or 10, or 12..), I can see splitting up the work day being crazy beneficial. I dunno, I’m not a scientist.
This is when we turned around and went south to Hoi An. A small town just south of Danang. We had to catch a local bus to get there which was pretty tricky. A lot of times in order to save a few bucks we do a ton of forum searching where we find tips and tricks on how to get around. The actual bus stops are hard to find and they’re not labelled well on map apps. We were waiting at what we thought was a stop for a while, until an old lady shouted at us across the street and asked “you go Hoi An?”, we said yes and then she came over and ushered us across the street to where the actual stop was. So kind! Also super fun to have an old lady in front of you stopping traffic so us delicate foreigners can make it across the street safely.
Hoi An was very pretty. It’s known for it’s Old Town, an old Chinese and Japanese settlement from the 10th century used mainly as a trading port in the 16th and 17th centuries. Really interesting architecture and it’s decorated with thousands of lanterns over walkways, restaurants and bridges. Very touristy, naturally, but it was really fun to check out nonetheless. We rented bikes again and explored around rice fields. We found a jam bar where we played a bit of music (mostly Dustin) with locals and hung out with a few other travellers. One guy from the US was travelling around with his saxophone! The owner of the bar was crazy good at guitar and had a bit of a one man show going for a while till Dustin picked up the bass and joined in. Pretty entertaining.
After Hoi An we took a train to Da Nang again, stopped for a night, then spent a night in Nha Trang again before getting a but to Dalat. I was pretty burnt out from all the travel days so we decided we would take our time in Dalat and just take it easy. The climate is surprisingly cooler in that mountian city, it stayed around 21-25 degrees most of the time. It was just what we were looking for after our super cold drive in Dong Hoi. Dalat was so wonderful, definitely one of my favourite cities we have been in in Vietnam. There are so many waterfalls surrounding the city and it’s way less jungle-y than a lot of the parts of the country we had been before. The pine trees reminded me of BC and when the sun was out and heated up all the trees in the day the smell transported me back to when I would go camping with my family when I was young. Being away from home for so long makes those memories come back with a different intensity and there’s an interesting quality to them that I can’t quite put into words yet. We spent 3 weeks in Dalat, mainly because we needed to extend our visas (and we had to wait a few weeks before we could do it), and the Lunar New Year was coming up and we had heard that everything shuts down during that time so it made sense to just settle down and get nested. Tet (the new year) did cause a bit of frustration because hotels were overbooked and they quadrupled the prices everywhere. We were stuck one day and I mentally prepared myself to sleep in a hammock that night but we decided to spend a few extra dollars just to have the comfort of a home, and not be completely homeless. Staying on budget is important, but I think it’s more important to know when to make exceptions.
We rented a motorbike a few days and explored the area. There was so much to see, it really justified the amount of time we stayed there. Waterfalls, farmland, winding roads through the mountains, I loved it a lot. One day we were just reading and drinking beers at a little shop when an older Vietnamese man approached us and asked if he could join. We said yes, of course, and chatted with him for a while. He fought in the war and showed us his massive scars from a few gunshots on his leg. This man (named Tu) also preferred warm beer. A weird asian thing Dustin and I will never be able to get accustomed to. We paid for the beers and then he invited us to his home, where he lives with his 89 year old mother. She gave us incredibly dry bisquits and chatted to us in Vietnamese as Tu translated to English. They served us some spicy noodle soup, handed us some corn jelly candy, and we met one of Tu’s brothers and his son. The next day he took us out for 10am beers at a local drink cafe where we watched the Discovery Channel’s How It’s Made with him and he showed us his notebook of all the new English words he learns from the show.
The hostel we were at was pretty fun as well, during Tet the owner had some friends over and they gave us free beers and we met other travellers from all over the world: Germany, US, Italy, and Latvia. That night there was a fireworks show at the lake in the middle of the city. Just how we celebrate New Years at home, everyone wished each other happy new years and many festivities were taking place. On the street were many dishes of food left out as offerings and many families were out burning fake money by the 100’s to apparently send money to their ancestors (not always done so spiritually but more of just something everyone does).
It was sad when our time in Dalat had ended, but we’re still travellers so we have to move around at some point no matter how much we love a place. We went to a tiny resort town Mui Ne to get our last taste of the beach life for a while. Just a 5 hour drive from Dalat, Mui Ne was so incredibly hot our bodies had to re climatize. We only stayed for a few days, checked out the Fairy Stream and the red sand dunes at night. It was very touristy and hot, I was glad to get out. From there we stopped in Ho Chi Minh City for a night before catching a flight up to Hanoi (now that the weather has warmed up considerably). Hanoi was expensive! And packed with westerners where we were staying. We checked out the Fine Arts Museum and the Vietnamese Womens Museum. Both were incredibly good! We got an audio tour for the Women’s museum as well, very enjoyable.
We only stayed in Hanoi for three days, and now we’re in Cat Ba, and island near Ha Long Bay. We only have one month left in Vietnam and I can already see how fast it’s going. There are only a few more places to check out up north then we’ll be heading back to Thailand!