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4 WEEKS IN VIETNAM

4 WEEKS IN VIETNAM

4 WEEKS IN VIETNAM

Welcome to Vietnam! You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see women carrying yokes (a stick with baskets balancing on each end), and donning their traditional cone hats.
Effects of the Vietnam War are still seen throughout the country. From attractions such as the Ho Chi Minh Trail to the underground tunnels, you can tell that the struggle was harsh. People effected by Agent Orange are still heavily impacted, and it’s a terrible site to witness.
Vinh Moc tunnels show an important piece of Vietnam's history

Vinh Moc tunnels show an important piece of Vietnam’s history

Despite all the hardships Vietnam has faced throughout the years, the North and South are now quite ambicable with each other. You can still see evidence of the divide as you travel the land, though no blatantly obvious grudges are held.
Vietnamese will always offer a smile, a “Xin Chao” (Hello), and a warm welcome. From beaches to mountains, to incredible scenery along the way, Vietnam has something to offer for everyone. It’s a beautiful country that will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Life on the Mekong

Life on the Mekong

EVEN IF YOU’RE ON THE RIGHT TRACK, YOU’LL GET RUN OVER IF YOU JUST SIT THERE. -WILL ROGERS
This couldn’t be truer than trying to cross the street in Vietnam. With motorbikes buzzing everywhere, cars racing past and horns blaring from all directions, your best bet is put your head down, say a quick prayer, and go for it.

VIETNAM VISA

Visa’s for Vietnam must be arranged ahead of time. Online applications only work when entering the country via international airports.

We opted to get our Vietnam visa in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where there were a number of travel agents willing to complete the job. We opted to use Lucky Lucky motorcycles shop, after reading a number of positive reviews online. The process took two days to complete at a cost of $40USD per person. I would suggest speaking to your hotel/hostel as you will often find that they can complete the visa application for the same cost without the running around.

There are also a number of online sites offering visa services that may be worth checking out depending on your situation.

PS. If coming from Cambodia, avoid getting your visa in Battambang, where it’s $20 more expensive

VIETNAM WEATHER

While there’s really no bad time to visit Vietnam, most would consider March – April and September – October as the best times to venture around the country.

Rob taking it all in at the sand dunes in Mui Ne

Rob taking it all in at the sand dunes in Mui Ne

If you’re heading to a specific part, it’s important to note the weather patterns of each region. Please note, these are only guidelines as different cities within these regions have their own weather systems.

Northern

  • Cool & Dry: November – March
    • November, December & January driest months
  • Hot & Wet: April – October
    • July & August wettest months

Central

  • Moderate: January – August
  • Rainy: September – December

Southern

  • Hot & Dry: October – March
  • Hot & Wet: April – September
    • June & July wettest months
This guy enjoys life every day

This guy enjoys life every day

SEE VIETNAM

Check out overviews of the places we visited:

Canyoning fun in Dalat

Canyoning fun in Dalat

Lanterns light up the streets of Hoi An

Lanterns light up the streets of Hoi An

Bai Tu Long Bay - The limestone karsts go on for days

Bai Tu Long Bay – The limestone karsts go on for days

  • Sapa: trek your way through the beautiful mountains & get to know the local hill tribes
Scenic Sapa - It doesn't get much better than this

Scenic Sapa – It doesn’t get much better than this

EATING & DRINKING IN VIETNAM

Where do I begin? There are so many local dishes, and a number specific to particular regions. If Vietnam had a national food, it would have to be “Pho,” a delicious noodle soup. Choose from chicken (ga) or beef (bo) for a yummy taste of Vietnam.

Kim & Rob random Hanoi eatery - Say Cheese

Kim & Rob at a random Hanoi eatery – Say “Cheese!”

You’ll also see “Bahn Mi” everywhere you go. Be it from a fancy cafe or a street side vendor, it’s hard to go wrong with this baguette filled with a tasty selection of tofu, pate, sliced pork, coriander, cucumber, and chili sauce.

Hoi An has a specialty called “Cao Lau”. Cao Lau consists of pork and noodles, and is often topped with pork rinds and  local greens.

"Spring Roll" teaching us how to cook

“Spring Roll” teaching us how to cook

Another Central Vietnam favourite is “Banh Xeo.” This dish is made of egg and shredded pork wrapped in rice paper and served with bean sprouts and a peanut dipping sauce. Delightful from street vendors and restaurants alike.

Northern Vietnam is well known for “Bun Cha”. Bun Cha is served with noodles, fresh herbs, mini, fried pork burgers, and a scrumptious dipping sauce. Mmmm, one of my personal favourites!

And this is only scratching the surface! If you really want to experience the variety of food Vietnam has to offer, take up a food tour in one of the cities you visit on your journey. We especially recommend Hanoikids in the capital city!

Our Hanoikids tour guides, Tung & Giang, introducing us to some yumminess

Our Hanoikids tour guides, Tung & Giang, introducing us to some yumminess

With drinks, you can see the divide in the North and South simply from the selection of beers. The South primarily boasts Saigon beer, whilst the Northern selection varies from Hanoi to Halong Bay.

Vietnam coffee is delicious! Iced coconut coffees are a great way to help stave off the heat. And for coffee with a difference, try the infamous “Egg Coffee.”

Rob sipping on an egg coffee

Rob sipping on an egg coffee

VIETNAM BUDGET

We budgeted for $50.59 USD/day (for 2 people). Actual was $53.24/day x 30 days = $1,564 total.

Breakdown below:

  • Accommodation – $396
  • Beverages – $131
  • Food – $327
  • Transport – $316 *
  • Entertainment – $350 **
  • Miscellaneous – $48 ***

*includes bus from Sihanoukville, Cambodia to Vinh Long, Vietnam – excludes flight from Hanoi, Vietnam to Hong Kong

**includes Vietnam visa (US $40 pp), excludes tailor made clothes ($216), doctor visits ($136), Bai Tu Long luxury cruise ($450), tour tips ($60) – we include these types of expenses in an excursions budget, separate to our daily one 

***includes medicine, bag rain covers, laundry & ATM fees

OUR VIETNAM HIGHLIGHTS

Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh

  • Traversing through the Mekong Delta
  • Helping students practice their English skills in a Saigon park
  • Experiencing a traditional water puppet show in Ho Chi Minh City
  • Understanding the history of the Vietnam War at the War Remnants Museum
  • Sandboarding in Mui Ne
  • Canyoning, Cliff Jumping & Ziplining in Dalat
  • Buying a motorbike (Honda Win 110) and naming it “Tropic Thunder”
  • Riding “Tropic Thunder” from Dalat to Phong Nha (1,000 km’s)
  • Riding on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
  • Getting tailor made clothes in Hoi An
  • Riding through the Vai Han Pass
  • Exploring the Vinh Moc Tunnels from the Vietnam War era
  • Visiting Paradise Cave in Phong Nha
  • Cruising Bai Tu Long Bay on a 3D/2N luxury cruise
  • Eating a 5-star dinner in Thien Canh Son Cave
  • Trekking 20km in Sapa and enjoying an authentic homestay experience
  • Doing a Hanoi food tour with local University students

VIETNAM TIPS

  • Always enter and exit vehicles from the right
  • ATM’s vary in the amount they will disperse and charge you for a withdrawal – it may be worthwhile to shop around
  • The definition of a “homestay” varies across the country – we experienced several types, check them out for yourself!
    • In some places, it’s more like a guesthouse experience where you’re staying with other guests in a multi-room setup and you gather in a common area for meals prepared by the host (we experienced this in the Mekong Delta)
    • Sometimes you’re able to stay in a traditional house, but you’re separate from the family, and food may or may not be included (we found this in Central Vietnam)
Homestay - Traditional stilt house

Homestay – Traditional stilt house

  • The most authentic experience we had is staying with a family in their house, where they also cooked all the food – highly recommended! (we found this unique to the Sapa area)
Meet Mama, our amazing host in Sapa

Meet Mama, our amazing host in Sapa

  • Walk or ride a bicycle around the towns for great fun!
  • Custom made clothing is a popular choice in Vietnam, but it’s important to note that tailors are not made equal – low price does not always equate to quality, so make sure you do your homework ahead of time
  • If you want to visit the worlds largest cave, Hang Son Doong, you’ll need to pay $3,000 and book a year in advance
  • Vietnam has a lot of outdoor activities, so ensure you pack for adventure!

TIPS FOR ANYONE PLANNING TO RIDE/BUY A MOTORBIKE

Meet the newest addition, "Tropic Thunder"

Meet the newest addition, “Tropic Thunder”

  • Buying bikes outside of Saigon or Hanoi will be a bit more expensive
  • If you buy a motorbike, anticipate a minor tune up before you start your ride
  • Don’t load too much weight on your bike – inexpensive bag shipping services are offered throughout the country
  • Plan to only ride during daylight hours – visibility at night is poor and trucks/buses zoom past
  • Wear long shirts & pants whilst riding. It’s warm in the sun but not so bad whilst moving, & it’s better than bad sunburn!
  • Be sure to give yourself a break from the bike after long rides – you may even want to pack yourself and the bike on a sleeper bus for a long haul trip and get some R&R
See you again Vietnam

See you again Vietnam

Trekking Sapa

11 WAYS TO HAVE AN EPIC TREKKING EXPERIENCE IN SAPA

11 WAYS TO HAVE AN EPIC TREKKING EXPERIENCE IN SAPA

Sapa is a well-trodden destination on the tourist trail in Vietnam. However, we definitely still recommend visiting this wonderful place. After cruising around Bai Tu Long Bay for a couple of days, it was nice to get back on our feet again.

TRAVELING IS STAYING ONE STEP AHEAD OF REALITY. – BRITTANI LIBRING

  1. Don’t book a tour in advance. If you’re into Trip Advisor, Sapa Sisters & Ethos Tours will come up as top choices. While I have no doubt these are great prearranged tours, there are a couple of reasons I’d recommend holding off on booking. For one, you don’t get to interact with the guides until after you’ve booked (this becomes important in tip #2). Secondly, these tours are normally more expensive. If you’re looking for a first class experience, perhaps these are right for you. If you’re looking to see the real Sapa, its’ villages, and people, keep reading.
    The views are amazing

    The views are simply amazing!

  2. Go with one of the local H’mong women. Upon arriving in Sapa, you’ll be greeted by a number of women trying to sell you their handmade keepsakes. Many will also ask you to go trekking with them, and even suggest a homestay. Once you find someone who’s personality meshes well with yours, with a trip and price that sounds attractive, go for it! This is where the real fun begins 🙂
    Trekking with 3 generations

    Trekking with 3 generations

  3. Stick to your guns. You will fall in love with the people. But make sure you don’t sign up with the first person you meet. Do some speed dating, informal interviews, shopping around – call it what you will – but as you’re going to be spending a fair amount of time with this person, make sure it’s someone you connect with from the beginning. We were torn between an elderly lady named Susu, a girl of the same age as us, and the one we ended up going with – Mama, who had her two-month-old baby, Cici, in tow. Tough decision, but in the end we followed our intuition and felt confident we made the right decision!
    Meet Mama, our tour guide

    Meet Mama, our tour guide

  4. Pack for all weather conditions. You’re in the mountains, so regardless of the season, it can rain, shine, sleet or snow (yes, it actually does snow in Vietnam). Ensure you pack a small day bag with the essentials, including sunscreen, sunglasses, hat and rain jacket. If you have a small, warm vest, it may also come in handy. As the weather patterns are sometimes unpredictable, layers are your best friend.
    Map of Sapa

    Our trek route: Sapa – Y Linh Ho – Lao Chai – Ta Van – Giang Ta Chat before ridling back to Sapa

  5. Be prepared for a decent hike. Sturdy walking shoes are non-negotiable. That being said, you don’t need hiking boots. Depending on recent weather conditions, paths will be slippery regardless of what you have on your feet. If required, shoe hire is available in the Sapa area. Choose a hike and difficulty level that suit your personal fitness and adventure levels. Our trek was comprised of 14km on the first day on uneven terrain and 6km on wide roads on the second day. Luckily, we were handsomely rewarded with a motorbike ride back to town, which I think most of the tours offer. Thank goodness there are plenty of cheap massages on offer back in Sapa too!
    Zu making us bamboo hiking sticks

    Zu making us bamboo hiking sticks

  6. Don’t expect to shower. Sure you walk for 5 hours. And of course, you get hot & sweaty. But don’t expect a hot shower waiting for you. Some tours will offer these facilities. The local H’mong women will invite you into their homes, offer you everything they have and make you feel extremely welcomed, but many do not have a shower in their house. If you’re worried about feeling dirty, bring along some wet wipes to give yourself a quick clean. Otherwise, my guess is you’ll be too tired to care, and sleep like a baby regardless. And trust me, it makes you appreciate your shower the next day even more!
    The boys, taking in the view

    The boys, taking in the view

  7. Have fun with the kids. These villages have so many little munchkins running around. And boy, they are cuuuute! We had about 6 congregated around us at all times, laughing, being kids. As they started to hop around the house on one-leg, Rob decided to join in. Talk about a standing ovation – these kids were tickled pink! We asked Mama if we could give them some snacks we had brought along and when she gave the nod, we handed them around. One of our favourite kids, Willy, ran outside and yelled out to the other kids, “this man just gave me candy,” (as per Mama’s translation). Soon after, 5 more kids came running in and cleared out our stash! We taught Mama’s son, Phem, how to show us his age (four) with his fingers and we’ve never seen anyone so excited about learning how to high-five. Such great fun!
    Willy & Phem learning how to take a selfie - priceless

    Willy & Phem learning how to take a selfie – priceless!

  8. Try the rice wine. A traditional drink in H’mong villages, also referred to as “happy water.” Shoot it or sip it, either way it should help ease your pains from the days trek. When toasting, impress them by saying “Zoo siab,” (H’mong for “Cheers”) pronounced jew sab.
    It's not rice wine, but "zoo siab" to you anyway

    It’s not rice wine, but “Zoo siab” (Cheers) to you anyway

  9. Do the overnight experience. You can opt for a day trek, and I’m sure you’d love it. But staying with a H’mong family, in their village, in their home, is incredible. See how they live day to day, meet additional family members and feel like part of the village.
    Mama, husband Shaun, Zuzu and Phem (baby Cici was sleeping)

    Mama, husband Shaun, Zuzu and Phem (baby Cici was sleeping)

  10. Expect to eat, a lot, of delicious local food. Anticipate a feas! If you are vegetarian, do inform them ahead of time. We were spoiled with a variety of food including spring rolls, pork stir fry, boiled beans, garlic fries & plenty of locally grown rice.
    Home cooking - Sapa style!

    Home cooking – Sapa style!

  11. Learn some basic H’mong language. In addition to “Zoo siab” (Cheers), here are a few other phrases (and pronunciations) that are handy to add to your vocabulary:
    Hello – “Nyob zoo” (Nyaw zhong)
    Thank you – “Ua tsaug” (Oua jow)
    No problem/You’re welcome – “Tsis ua li cas” (Jee oua lee cha)
    Please – “Thov” (Thaw)
    Don’t want to buy – though I can’t confirm the spelling, here’s the phonetic pronunciation: Goo chi yo (especially useful on the streets in Sapa)

PS. If you enjoy trekking around the globe, be sure to check out a guide to the Luzon Mountains in the Philippines too!

Bai Tu Long Bay

WHY I’D NEVER GO ON A HALONG BAY CRUISE

WHY I’D NEVER GO ON A HALONG BAY CRUISE

Why not you ask? Look at it this way – Halong Bay offers tours run by 178 companies. At any one time, there can be up to 500 boats in this part of the bay. Go next door, to a different section of the bay and you open up a whole new world. Ahhh, welcome to Bai Tu Long Bay! In comparison, only 3 tour operators are licensed to run in this area, and you’ll only encounter a maximum of 20 boats. And what a difference it makes!

CAUSE I’M FREE AS A BIRD NOW AND THIS BIRD YOU CANNOT CHANGE. – LYNYRD SKYNYRD

Rob & Kim enjoying Bai Tu Long - you don't get this in Halong Bay

Rob & Kim enjoying Bai Tu Long – you don’t get this in Halong Bay

Halong and Bai Tu Long Bay tours both depart from the same docks in Halong Bay City. Therefore, Hon Gai International harbour is constantly buzzing with boats. Be prepared to pay a bit more for tours in Bai Tu Long Bay, though the added serenity makes it well worth the price!

You can choose from a day trip, one, or two nights on the bay. Since relaxing on the waters, amongst the limestone karsts sounded like heaven to us, we opted for the 3 day/2 night adventure. And we’re glad we did! SIncentive it’s rated #1 on Trip Advisor, we booked with Indochina Junk (don’t worry, “junk” is just another name for a boat) and were completely satisfied.

Dragon's Pearl - Indochina Junk

Dragon’s Pearl – Indochina Junk

We were picked up by Indochina Junk from our hotel lobby at 7:45am and ushered into a luxury van. Here, we met two other couples on the same adventure as us. We had a good opportunity to get to know each other over the next 3 hours as we were transferred to Halong Bay City. An hour from the city, we stopped at Yen Duc Village. In addition to serving a beautiful 9-course lunch, they also entertained us with a traditional water puppet show. Whilst not as polished as the show we saw in Saigon, we still thoroughly enjoyed it. Afterwards, we piled back into the van, and were on the home stretch!

Traditional Water Puppet Show

Traditional Water Puppet Show

When you reach the bay, you don’t immediately get a sense of the sheer beauty you’re about to witness. After all, it’s a harbour, so there is a lot happening and a plethora of boats. But once you set sail, it’s not long before you start to get a feel for just how lucky you are. Collectively, the bay has nearly 2,000 islands (1,969 to be exact). At the first site of the limestone karsts, we were in complete awe. And of course, we’d already seen plenty of these on our motorbike trip around Central Vietnam, but something about how they reflected off the water, and knowing it was just us and them for the next three days, made it all the more surreal.

Over the next couple of days, we cruised around the islands, anchoring at points for various activities. First of all, we went on a couple of kayaking trips, which was a great experience! Weaving your way around the karsts, paddling through tunnels, and taking it all in, was simply amazing. Afterwards, we’d jump in for a refreshing swim, dodging the jellyfish we saw during our kayaking trips circling the islands.

Kayaking around Bai Tu Long Bay

Kayaking around Bai Tu Long Bay

We also had a chance to visit Vung Vieng, a local fishing village. Home to a local pearl farm, it was interesting to learn how they cultivate and cure the pearls. A solid 45 minutes around the village, we wondered how the woman rowing our boat was able to keep it up for so long – it must be a great workout!

Local fishing village - Bai Tu Long Bay

Local fishing vill age, Vung Vieng, in Bai Tu Long Bay

As the evening approached, we watched from the top deck of the boat as lights began to flicker on a nearby karst. Then, we transferred to the small boat, and sailed across the ocean. As we exited the boat and commenced our climb to the cave, we anxiously awaited what we were about to embark upon. Welcome to the Thien Canh Son cave! We walked in to see a table set for a King, candles lit and staff welcoming us with a warm applause. Our chef, affectionately known as “Spring-Roll,” had outdone himself, preparing a nine-course meal with amazing food sculptures. We enjoyed an evening filled with stories, laughter, exquisitely prepared food and refreshing drinks. It was truly a night to remember and a highlight of our Vietnam visit!

Magical Dinner in Thien Canh Son cave

Magical Dinner in Thien Canh Son cave *

As the cruise came to an end, we knew it was time to settle back into reality. Though the luxury van transfer back to Hanoi with new friends was a pleasant journey, we could have easily extended our stay on the boat!

STAY: Indochina Junk – Dragon’s Pearl

PLAY: Relax, Kayak, Visit a local Fishing Village

EAT: You will not go hungry! Anticipate 7-9 courses for lunch and dinner, with absolutely amazing food. Most noteworthy was the Dinner in the Cave!

Chicken, Kim, Springroll & Rob

“Chicken”, Kim, “”Spring-Roll” & Rob

TIPS

  • Pay the money for a smaller, more luxurious experience in Bai Tu Long Bay – you won’t be disappointed
  • Drinks on board are a bit pricey – find a bottle of wine or spirits you like and bring it on board for a $10-15 corkage fee
  • They are constantly evolving the experience – in the coming months, the highway to Halong Bay City will be finished, and the 4-hour transfer will be reduced to 2 hours. Additionally, they are constructing a cable car, which will allow you to fly into the harbour from above.

* Courtesy of Ian Meergast, film student at NYU, who shared in the Bai Tu Long Bay trip with us

Motorbike Vietnam

Motorbike Vietnam: Adventure of a Lifetime?

Motorbike Vietnam: Adventure of a Lifetime?

Explore. Discover. Get Lost. Wander. These are all things easier done from the freedom of the road instead of the back seat of a bus. So, do it! Buy a bike (of course you can sell it later) and cruise around the glorious countryside. Stop when and where you want. Turn down that intriguing side road. Utilise a map. And most importantly, enjoy the ride through central Vietnam.

THE ROAD IS ETERNAL. THE WIND IS CONSTANT. WHAT ELSE COMES WITH A GUARANTEE LIKE THAT? – UNKNOWN

TOTAL TRANSPORT COST

  • Bike – $280 (more expensive in Dalat, so we suggest buying in Saigon or Hanoi if possible – we should be able to sell it for $150)
  • Helmets – $31 (the roads are crazy, so invest in quality)
  • Repairs – $20 (minor tweaks to clutch, horn & lights)
  • Petrol – $36 (yep, you’ve got to fuel the beast!)
  • Bag Shipping – $11 (made sense to consolidate and only bring one bag on the trip, so we’d always have one bag shipped to the next major city – ie. Dalat to Hoi An & Hoi An to Hanoi – great service!)
  • Bike Transport – $18 (for the leg from Phong Nha to Hanoi, we popped “Tropic Thunder” on the night bus with us)
  • Total – $246
  • AdventurePriceless!

We could have done the same route via public transport for under $100, but it would have only saved a marginal amount and wouldn’t have been half of the experience!

Alternatively, if you like the sound of the motorbike Vietnam experience but can’t imagine driving yourself, considering riding along with one of the guides with the Easy Rider tours for a great experience (from what we’ve heard).

Below is a summary of our 8 day adventure! In total, we rode over 1,000 kms for more than 30 hours. It was an incredible journey! Hope you enjoy the ride as much as we did!

Rob & Kim - The adventure begins

Rob, Kim & “Tropic Thunder” – the adventure begins

DAY 1: DALAT => LAK LAKE

160 kms. 5 hrs (if you don’t include the 1 hr we drove around in circles trying to escape from Dalat). Once on the right track out of town, the ride was incredible! Up and down, round and round. Wow! The reality of the epic adventure we were on just set in.

One minute it’s boiling hot – the next, freezing cold. On a road trip, you’ve got to be prepared for anything. Make sure you pack for four seasons, and keep layers within easy access to make the on-again, off-again process a bit easier.

We stopped half way for lunch. No menu, like a number of restaurants in the area, so we went with the traditional Pho. We knew we must be at a good place when one of the Free Rider tours stopped there too. And we were right – it was delicious!

The rest of the trip was a blur, with me struggling to stay awake on the back of the bike. The pains from the previous day’s adventures in Dalat, started to kick in, and I felt like I had been run over by a train. I’m sure the plethora of beers and party smokes the night before didn’t help either, but hey, that’s all part of the fun.

Majestic sunset over rice patties

Majestic sunset over rice patties

We continued our journey on some questionable roads. The one leading to Lak Lake was overgrown and we wondered if we were going the right way. It ends up that we did take a slight detour, but the views were amazing and we got an insight into local life, passing farmers tending to fields and children running in the streets, so it was well worth it.

Upon leaving Lak Lake, the man on the corner was trying to give Rob a hint when he tried to sell him a razor. Rob was hesitant now that he is a “real” biker…haha, time for the beard to go Robbo 😉

A local rice farmer

A local rice farmer

STAY: Co Ma Ko Cho Sai Thi Pha Hotel (Yes, that is the name!) – $5 gets you a tidy private room and ensuite (nothing flash and a bit dated, but gets the job done) – only one towel per room which we found amusing; you can also opt to stay in a traditional longhouse on stilts, which are simple and meant to give you some insight into the local way of living

PLAY: Check out the roaming elephants in the field near the lake – buy local fruit to feed the gentle giants

EAT: Visit local street vendors – we had Banh Xeo, which is fried egg with shredded pork, rolled in rice papers with greens and a delicious peanut dipping sauce

TIPS: 

  • We felt the homestay lacked the welcome family feel – it felt isolated and basic (and was not actually staying with the family) – consider opting for a hotel for the same price

DAY 2: LAK LAKE => BUON MA THOUT

40 kms. 1 hr. In comparison to the hills we climbed yesterday, this stretch was relatively flat. Seemingly endless rice fields lined both sides of the road. Local farmers would occasionally look up and share in a smile and a wave.

The scenery on the road

The scenery on the road

While some may say it’s a city without much character, we found our own little pocket of happiness in Buon Ma Thout (BMT). Within a few short blocks, we had everything we needed.

We had great tips from the staff at our guesthouse, including recommendations for delicious food during our stay. BMT is perfect for a day or so, but you probably wouldn’t need to stay for any longer.

Nam completing some minor tweaks

Nam completing some minor tweaks

STAY: Ngoc Mai Guesthouse – $8 is a bargain for this clean, central hotel with super friendly & knowledgable staff

PLAY: Head to Trang Spa for one of the best massages I’ve ever had – $6.50 gets you an hour of pure bliss!

EAT:

  • Dubai Coffee – great place for breakfast
  • Roma Takeaway Coffee – delicious selection of coffees
  • Thaideli Restaurant – get your Thai food fix

TIPS:

  • If you need any motorbike repairs whilst visiting BMT, we’d highly recommend seeing Nam located at 47 Phan Boi Chau – he is a lovely, genuine man, with an incredible work ethic that will give you a fair deal and plenty of tea. Expect to use a translator app (ie. Google Translate) for conversation.

DAY 3: BUON MA THOUT => KON TUM

230 kms. 6 hrs. We just had the motorbike tweaked which included adjusting the clutch and some electrical work. We were off, with the confidence of a galloping horse…until we stalled and couldn’t start the bike again. Friendly Vietnamese people approached us to offer aid and we were able to roll start the bike. Looks like we will need to kick start the bike until the battery charges again.

Locals always willing to help

Locals always willing to help

100’s of butterflies circled us as we drove through the uninspiring roads out of town. Though not setting our senses alight, the roads were beautifully paved, making for a smooth trip. About 30 kms out of town, we passed through a toll, which are free for motorbikes, so we just sped through. The highway leads you through town after town (no villages here). Each town is filled with shops ready to sell you something you probably don’t need.

A hour into the trip we’re finally able to take in some of the scenic views of the Central Highlands. The temperature drops and we’re able to breathe in some of that fresh mountain air. *Cough, Cough* Until that big truck came roaring past, black smoke bellowing out the back. Well, the serenity didn’t last long but hey! we’ll take what we can get.

Climbing another mountain, on-comers approached in ponchos. The roads were wet, so we were expecting the worst, though much to our surprise, we stayed dry. For now anyways. As the winds picked up, we saw a mini kite festival – kids running excitedly in the street, kites flying high in the sky. Ahead we could see lightning. Luckily enough, it seemed we followed the weather patterns the whole day so just missed where the storms hit. Lucky us 🙂

We continued passing through towns, with not much excitement until we got to Chu Se. We took a slight detour, recommended by our friends at Travelfish, to check out Phu Cuong Waterfall, a local delight. Only 10km off the main road, take an easy hike down some stairs and over some rocks to witness some of natures finest work. It’s not a well known tourist attraction, though don’t be surprised to see some locals checking it out.

Phu Cuong Waterfall

Phu Cuong Waterfall

As we cruised through Pleiku, we were stoked we had less than an hour until we could throw our things down, shower and relax in Kon Tum.

STAY: Green Hotel – $9 affords you a great nights sleep in a giant private room with a log cabin feel. This rustic retreat also comes with free cable TV which is a nice way to unwind after a long ride on the bike

PLAY: The riverside had a great feel and outlook with plenty of entertainment, food and drinks

EAT: Breakfast at Konklor Hotel, directly across from Green Hotel – the serving sizes are huge with standard pricing

TIPS:

  • Plan to only ride during daylight hours – visibility at night is poor and trucks/buses zoom past

DAY 4: KON TUM => HOI AN

200 kms. 8 hrs. We woke up still not knowing which direction we were headed – the Ho Chi Minh Trail or the scenic, coastal trip? After much debate over breakfast, we decided to head the tourist route. After all, you don’t get many chances to say you’ve been on the Ho Chi Minh Trail (albeit a highway these days).

On the way out of town, we stopped at the Wooden Church. It was the only church in the area to survive the Vietnam War and parishioners still sing hymns from here during mass every week.

An old wooden church

An old wooden church

There’s plenty of stops along the way to pull over for a quick stretch break while taking in the sites. A number of pagodas and Vietnam War memorials make great stops, though it’s unfortunate to see a number of the sites overgrown and not well maintained. Luckily they’re free for the viewing, but some may be a bit anticlimactic.

The actual road is paved which makes for an easier ride. It’s hard to imagine how treacherous this journey must have been back in the war days. To be honest, whilst the scenery is relatively nice, with some pleasant surprises around the bends, it’s knowing the history of this area is what makes this part of the trip so spectacular! Travelling this infamous stretch of land on 2-wheels makes me realise just how lucky I am to come from a country that gives me the freedom to do this.

From a back seater’s point of view, at times, I would have been just as happy to be on a bus. But that wouldn’t be half the adventure now would it!?

Life on two wheels

Life on two wheels

DAY 5 & 6: HOI AN

Take a break and enjoy Hoi An for a few days. We spent a couple of days here and enjoyed every minute!

Hoi An, Old Quarter - Japanese Bridge

Hoi An, Old Quarter – Japanese Bridge

STAY: Mango Garden Homestay – $15 ensures you’ll be sleeping in a comfortable private room with all the amenities. With breakfast included and a location within a 15 minute walk of the Old City, you can’t go wrong

PLAY: Plenty to do! Get something tailor made! Check out the Ancient City, illuminated with lanterns at night; Ride a bicycle around town; Enjoy a beachside lunch

EAT:

  • Dac San Hoi An – good selection of set menus, allowing you to sample multiple foods at once
  • 3 Dragons – great pizza & burgers set on the river for a Western break
  • Vi Cafe – some of the best food we found in town with prices to match (think $0.20 beer and $2 Cau Lau)

TIPS:

  • Hire a bicycle and cruise around the town for great fun!
  • The Old Quarter, Old City & Ancient City all refer to the same part of town
  • All tailors are not made equal – highly recommend Nhat Vy, where quality and price are fantastic! They won’t let you leave until you are completely satisfied with your garments
Kim - Custom made dress

Kim trhino on her custom made dress

DAY 7: HOI AN => HUE

130 kms. 3 hrs. After riding for an hour on boring, highway roads, you will be handsomely rewarded as you approach the Hai Van Pass.

As you wind your way up the steep road through the mountains you are taken aback by the stunning views over the aqua blue bays and secluded beaches below. Definitely a spot to stop and take in everything Vietnam has to offer. Local vendors are more than happy to step in as photographer in exchange for a cold drink or trinket.

Hai Van pass

Hai Van Pass

The memory of the coastline will keep your enthusiasm high as you wind back through the standard highway. There’s nothing much spectacular to see until you arrive in the exciting hustle and bustle of Hue, where you’ll be keen to leave your bike behind and explore the city by foot.

STAY: Canh Tien Guesthouse – ($10) It’s amazing the difference a few extra dollars can get you for a room – we were super happy we checked this place and didn’t settle for our first two options at $8

PLAY: Explore the local tombs ($4.50) and Imperial City ($11) or check out the package deals

EAT:

  • Jalapeño – get your Mexican fix or stick to the local flavours
  • Gecko – fresh ingredients from pastas to salads

TIPS:

  • Wear long shirts and pants whilst riding. Sure, It’s warm in the sun but not so bad whilst moving, and it’s better than bad sunburn!

DAY 8: HUE => PHONG NHA

205 kms. 4.5 hrs. After riding through some off the beaten track dirt roads I was pretty sure Google maps was confused about where we were going, until of course we popped out on a main road with a sign to the Vinh Moc tunnels.

Vinh Moc Tunnels

Vinh Moc Tunnels

The Vinh Moc tunnels were a great historical attraction, without the large crowds of the Chu Chi tunnels of Saigon. We visited the video room and were stunned by the length of time (some up to 6 years) and the amount of people (300, including 17 newborns) who called these tunnels their homes.

We decided to skip a tour guide and venture through the tunnels on our own, which were well signed making it easy to navigate.

Dark and cool, the tunnels offered an escape from the heat outside. It was an eye opening experience to see where these people lived for all those years.

The tunnels were an awesome site and we recommend everyone visiting Vietnam to check them out for themselves.

Phong Nha Province

Phong Nha Province

As you approach Phong Nha, you’ll be in awe of the limestone karsts surrounding you. If you booked a year ahead of time and forked out $3,000, you can enjoy the 6 day trek through Hong Son Doong Cave, the largest cave in the world! But, if you’re winging it, opt for something you can arrange upon arrival. Catch a boat to Phong Nha Cave, ride the 400 meter zip line into the Dark Cave before trampling through the mud, or explore Paradise Cave, said to be the most beautiful in the world, either via the 1km or 7km trek through the cave.

STAY: Thien Phu Hotel – $12 will allow you to sleep comfortably in a private room with en suite in the heart of town – arrange your bus tickets or tours here for extra convenience

PLAY:

  • Stop in Vinh Moc to tour the tunnels from the Vietnam War era – $2/person
  • In Phong Nha, choose from a variety of caves, including: Phong Nha ($6), Paradise ($11) & Dark ($16) to name a few

EAT:

TIPS:

  • Be sure to give yourself a break from the bike after this monstrous effort – pack yourself and the bike on the bus and head 10 hours north to Hanoi.

 

FINAL WORDS OF ADVICE

While you’re at it, check out our “Top 10 Tips for Surviving a Motorbike Trip in Asia.” The roads are CRAZY and we want you to stay safe!

If you’re still undecided about what route to take, have a gander at 5 suggested motorbike routes to get you from Ho Chi Minh City to Hoi An (or vice versa).

Yes, it is an adventure of a lifetime, so enjoy every moment!

 

Don't Visit Dalat Without Trying This

DON’T VISIT DALAT WITHOUT TRYING THIS

DON’T VISIT DALAT WITHOUT TRYING THIS

After 5 hours enduring Chinese water torture on the bus from Mui Ne (yes, the aircon was dripping on me the whole time), we finally arrived in Dalat.

WE MUST BE WILLING TO LET GO OF THE LIFE WE HAVE PLANNED, SO AS TO HAVE THE LIFE THAT IS WAITING FOR US. -JOSEPH CAMPBELL

It’s hard to beat a welcome meal with your fellow travellers! Especially when it’s home cooked and free. It was a great welcome to Dalat.

Dalat Backpackers Welcome Dinner

Dalat Backpackers Welcome Dinner

It was nice to see the same smiling faces at breakfast the next morning too. In listening to everyone’s plans for the day, they were all heading canyoning. Rob and I had previously discussed it and decided we would give it a miss. We were going to hike 14km to the top of Lang Bieng instead. After a baguette with egg, and coffee with copious amounts of sweetened condensed milk, we returned to our room to get ready for our hike.

Call it peer pressure, fear of missing out, or deciding to face my trepidation of it, the topic of canyoning rose again. After speaking to the front desk, they advised us that yes, we could still go that day. We quickly changed our minds and off we went.

We were driven 20 kms out of town where we were unloaded from our vans and suited up in our adventure gear, the guides joking around, though definitely focused on our safety. We commenced our first training exercise. After being instructed on how to descend down the rope, we each tried a couple times, first walking, then jumping down a training slope. Seemed simple enough!

Then it was time for the real deal. We trekked about 15 minutes, crossing a small creek, across some large boulders and up to the top of the cliff. They harnessed in the first couple and away they went. Piece of cake! “Who’s next?” they asked. Feeling confident, I said, “We’ll go.” Safety rope attached, couple picture taken, it was our time to shine!

Kim & Rob abseiling

Kim & Rob abseiling

The first few steps were good…but then you need to step off the cliff face – Rob was smashing it – and then it smashed me! After the initial shock of crashing against the rock, I regained my footing and it was time to go again. “Lean back,” I heard them say from the top. “Just like we practiced,” I thought, and went for it. Hit a slippery spot and *bam!* straight back into the cliff face! At least this time there was no farther to fall – whew! I was relieved to be at the bottom. Rob rushed over to me, along with the guides, to make sure I was ok. At this point it was all I could do to keep from crying, but once I realised I was ok and nothing was broken (thanks to a helmet, vest and knee pads), I pulled myself together and sat down to watch from the sidelines.

From this point forward, they switched to having everyone abseil down the mountain one-by-one instead of in pairs, which allowed the guides to better instruct the students. Good cal indeed, as everyone nailed it!

There were two more abseiling feats to conquer, but I decided to give them a miss. I soon became the cheerleader of the group (hey, at least I was good at something). The group descended through a waterfall, which was amazing to watch. Though nearly everyone struggled at two points – at the very top (edging over the cliff on the slippery rock) and bottom (which required you to kick off from the wall, land on a big rock and connect with the guide, all whilst being drenched by the flowing waterfall). Everyone did such a great job!

Rob - Waterfall abseiling

Rob – Waterfall abseiling

For the third abseiling challenge, they had to make their way down a gap between two cliffs. About 3 meters from the bottom, they were instructed to, “Let go!” As they conquered their fear of falling backwards, they landed in a refreshing body of water, which helped break the fall.

Rob - About to let go

Rob – About to let go

After abseiling, it was time to continue the adventure with some cliff jumping. There were three options, 6 meters (good), 9 meters (crazy) and 10 meters (f$&cking crazy – according to our guides). People started jumping from the lower levels leading up to the highest. The 10 meter drop lived up to the guides description as you needed to jump off a rock into a gap about 2.5 meters wide. Watching people jump was a sight to be seen!

Rob - 10 meter jump!

Rob – 10 meter jump!

Lunch (Bahn Mi) – Vietnamese rolls were served on top of a large rock over looking the water. The rolls were delicious after a hard morning of exercise.

For the final activity of the day, and the highlight, we went zip lining! We had a chance to run down the rock formation until we ran out of ground and floated on the zip line over the water. Ahhh, what a day!

Rob - Ziplining - Is this right?

Rob – Ziplining – Is this right?

We did it! And it was time for a celebratory beer. Guys that passed up the lukewarm beers were teased and called “ladyboys”, though it was all in good spirit.

The Abseiling Crew

The Abseiling Crew

That night, some of us met up in the lobby and headed to dinner. From there, we went to drink away our pain at 100 Roofs Cafe. As we got lost in the maze type cafe, we made it our mission to have a drink on every level! Out of 7 levels, we made it to 5, and then called it a night. We were exhausted from the days’ activities.

100 Roofs Cafe - Drinks with friends

100 Roofs Cafe – Drinks with friends

So when visiting Dalat, remember, canyoning is the one thing you must do! Enjoy 🙂

STAY: Dalat Backpackers Hostel – $12 for a big, private room inclusive of free pickup, breakfast, welcome meal & beer 6:30-7pm – one of the best places we’ve ever stayed! Thanks for having us Mr. Thu (one of the original “Easy Riders”)

PLAY: Crazy House – For a unique experience; 100 Roofs Cafe – To chill after a day of adventure

EAT: Night market; Local street vendors

TIPS:

  • Dalat has many outdoor activities, ensure you pack for adventure
  • It’s the mountains, so there is a good chance of rain – though don’t let it spoil your fun
  • If you are planning on undertaking any adventure activities be sure that you are covered, we love World Nomad’s travel insurance for our peace of mind.

 

**The World Nomad’s travel insurance link provides us with a small commission on purchase