I recently spoke to someone about that sinking feeling you get when you dedicate yourself to a decision you're not 100% certain of. That is the feeling that occurred while standing in the blistering heat, sick as dogs and exhausted, after landing in Vietnam.
“What in hell have we got ourselves into? We are not cut out for this with all the horror stories of 'dog-eating' and undiscovered landmines!" and this feeling only got worse as we drove towards Hanoi Old Quarter. "Did I book in the right hotel?" "What if we are the only foreigners in the area?" "Where will we eat? I cant get food poisoning, the bathroom doors have windows in them..." and on and on your mind goes because let's be honest, traveling alone for the first time can be seriously daunting, let alone to a country that many 'westerners' find 'grubby and scary' (according to all the articles I read) but what I learnt is that people just love to complain and that Vietnam is a thousand positive things before it is one bad thing.
Now our adventure didn't start off that well with a trip to Ha Long Bay that was no more than a herded cattle tour through the "worlds wonder," but we learnt quickly that Vietnam is very much about exploring yourself and what appeals to you, rather than following the crowds to the 'tourist-taxed' "must-see" sights.
Even more, when arriving back in Hanoi, it was no longer daunting but full of life and mayhem of adventure. We took true advantage of our new found confidence and thoroughly explored the bustling city, our experience only got better from there.
Bike bought, bags packed, off we went and there are no words to describe the immense gratitude I have for our decision to travel Vietnam this way. We did 12 towns in 32 days starting with Hanoi then Ninh Binh, Vinh, Phong Nah, Hue, Hoi An, Da Naag, Quy Nhon, Nha Trang, Da Lat, Mui Ne and finally, the huge, Ho Chi Minh City.
Being on the back if the bike 90% of the time meant that I had hours to observe the ever-changing, diversified surroundings, bountiful with culture and beauty. Unlike in a bus, you feel like you are part of the view, you can submerge yourself in the atmosphere of every little town.
There was an air of purity in the north that changed as we moved south. In the north we passed many small villages all built of wood and ropes - many exclaiming with excitement, including the adults working the rice fields by hand. There was such peace and beauty in those towns, something that would be missed any other way.
With Ninh Binh and Vinh being pit stop towns for us, Phong Nah was our next big adventure. This strip town is so so much more than just "Hang Sơn Đoòng - THE LARGEST CAVE IN THE WORLD" which the locals push tours for hugely (a whopping $3000± 3 day walk). As much as this monstrosity tickled my interest, we did not have the time (or money) for the adventure but rather took to the street (singular) for our own adventure. Every natural attraction in Phong Nah feels like it breathes life around you, from the silent paradise caves, viewed only on paddled longboat's, to the buzzing symphony of the botanical gardens, littered with river-pools and waterfalls.
Moving to Hue, the city of lifestyle, with its local brewed beer, Huda, severed in every restaurant, cheap as coppers, to the bustling streets where restaurants and pubs spill off the pavement, "buy 2 for 3," always happy hour. Being the old national capital you get to visit the Nguyen Dynasty emperors’ resting place and glory in the self-loving tomb of Khải Định, whose rooms are lined with an exuberant mosaic masterpiece.
And forward we went, from city to city, revelling in all the culture they had to offer. From Hoi An's beautiful beaches, backed by a town of lanterns and yellow buildings causing the city to have a feel of fairytale endings; to our “pit-stop” city of Da Naag, large and far too overwhelming for our one quick night; then Nah Trang, a rush city of beautiful beach, days filled with sunshine and sea, and nights filled with magnificent cuisine and many flashing lights.
Out of many the cities, there is one that caught both mine and Matts attention and this is the artistic mural of Da Lat. The city is just flooded with art and culture. Not only are the buildings a weird twist of surrealism and fantastical, but as are the interiors. Our favourite being a bar called Café Tram Mai, apparently designed by a student of the famous Crazy House (another architectural delight). The café/bar is a collection of tunnels, rooms and staircases that create a crazy, exciting and (in some cases) overwhelming experience. Furthermore, the street markets created an exciting atmosphere where one can feast on local food and snacks for nothing more than a few dong.
Winding down our trip we found ourselves in the small, beachside town of Mui Ne, which holds some of the most unique tourist sights so far. After two days beaching, it was decided that we needed a full day of exploring and off we went, excitedly not disappointed. From the rolling dunes, rich with red sand, to the shallow Fairy Stream, where you sink your feet in and stroll downstream (making friends with the occasional cow), finally ending with a market of around the world cuisine, we were two happy chappies.
And then the heartbreaking moment, the separation of us and our stallion (I’m talking about the motorbike). After riding through the whole of Vietnam we felt a kind of confusion entering Ho Chi Minh and losing our valiant Stead, but never disappointing, the city picked us up and swept us through it with an exhilarating rush of diversified culture.
As all I can say is that this review is only the tip of the iceberg of what Vietnam has to offer.
CHECK OUT OUR VIDEO BELOW!
Vietnam in 32 Days:
Presented by The Stand-Up Lillies
Video | Music: Matthew Ellis
Video | Edit : Nicita Amy Botha
All Rights Reserved.