Vietnam was my first experience of Asia and what a great country to start with. I missed out Asia on my big round the world trip, but I’ve been desperate to go and explore as I would have as a backpacker.
With 3 weeks’ holiday and flights booked into Ho Chi Minh and out of Hanoi, off we went. Our route through Vietnam was to travel south to north: Ho Chi Minh – Mui Ne – Nha Trang – Hoi An – Hue – Hanoi.
For me, several things about Vietnam stood out immediately. Firstly the food; it is delicious and I ate so much of it! Secondly was Vietnam’s rich history; the country has been fought over countless times by a number of powers, but through it all, the country has emerged with a strong sense of its own culture. Lastly, I was moved by its diverse landscape and beautiful architecture; a stunning blend of influences from so many cultures.
Ho Chi Minh City
Arriving into Ho Chi Minh is like entering a different world. The bus journey from the airport on a public bus is a crash course introduction; hot, busy, cramped and surrounded by hundreds of buzzing scooters. Once I got over the initial shock of just how many scooters there are and how difficult it seems to cross the road, we found our way to the hostel.
With only a couple of days in Ho Chi Minh we needed to make the most of it. It is so easy to get around the city on foot and plenty of walking routes to ensure you visit everything. We had no tours booked before we arrived but it’s very easy to book tours for the Cu Chi Tunnels, Mekong Delta and cycling tours through hostels and local travel agents (or Travel Nation can pre-book some for you if you prefer).
Mui Ne and the beaches
From Ho Chi Minh City we travelled up to Mui Ne, a popular beach resort about 5 hours to the North. Famous for its year-round water sports including kite surfing and wind surfing, this is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle. With Mui Ne as a base, you could learn to kite surf, relax on the beach or hire a scooter for the day and head up to the sand dunes!
I’m in my 30’s now and as much as love I to backpack, I also want a taste of luxury(!) So far, we’d stayed in inexpensive hotels and hostels (about £13 per night), but we headed further North to Nha Trang where we booked in for some luxury at the Mia Resort. Rooms here start at £140 per night, and include a breakfast to die for and the most wonderful beach and infinity pool!
The overnight train to from Mui Ne to Danang
Next stop up the coast, we stopped at Hoi An. To get to Hoi An from Nha Trang you can either take an overnight train or bus. We took a sleeper train and leaving at 8pm meant we arrived in Danang at 8am the next morning.
Danang is the closest train station to Hoi An and our accommodation organised a driver to meet us in Danang and take us to Hoi An. Even with the cheaper hotels will still make arrangements like this for you, always worth calling them to ask.
Hoi An was my favourite place in Vietnam and I would highly recommend a visit. It was once a major port until the 19 century when the river silted up, forcing the port trade to move out to Danang.
What remains is a traditional Vietnamese town that has maintained all its character and architecture from a time gone by. Famous for its tailors and handmade clothes and shoes, you’ll need at least 3 days here if you plan on getting anything made, but there is plenty to do.
You could spend time exploring the town and its many alleyways of cute shops, cafes and extensive food market or maybe hire a scooter and head out to the gorgeous local beaches. My highlight was a visit to Marble Mountain – 30 minutes from Hoi An by scooter. From the bottom you don’t see much, but once you reach the top, there are tunnels and caves that reveal the most amazing sculptures.