My Vietnam Trip at a Glance
I am very well aware of the average length of my articles… Let’s be honest. They are too long. It seems like I am writing everything down that happened, every thought I had about something. I can totally understand that it is hard to read the whole article, which is why I would like to try something new and sum up my highlights of my month in Vietnam. This is what I did, this is what my stay was mainly about…
…many, many activities for mind, body and soul:
- Yoga and Meditation
- Soothing Hot Stone Massages
- Mud Baths
- Diving and Snorkeling
- Hiking and Trekking (yes, there is an actual difference!)
- Testing delicious vegetarian and vegan food
- Showing my heart for animals (I saved a puppy and I was feeding and petting an elephant 🙂 )
I was very excited to explore Vietnam. So far, I had only heard well about the country. And after the tourist overrun in Thailand, it must be more quiet and relaxed there. Of course, I applied early in advance for my visa and I received my letter of approval shortly after. All I had to do was to pay for it and then I could enter the country and travel around for the next 30 days. 25 USD or 560.000 VND. Neither did I have any Dollars nor any Dong with me. If everybody needs to pay for his visa after his arrival, I was thinking, there should certainly be an ATM in the entrance hall. Well, there was not. They seriously only accepted cash. How is that possible? They want money to enter the country and at the same time, they do not accept credit cards nor do they put an ATM close by. The closest one was outside in the arrival hall of the airport. Are they kidding me? How should I get there without my visa? Lucky me, there was a very kind stranger who lent me the money. Otherwise, I could not have entered the country. What a start! Thank you dear stranger! You totally saved my trip! I will never forget that!
Coordinates: 21°01′28″ N 105°50′28″ E
After traveling for such a long time, I am sort of fed up with cities. I am not really interested in exploring them anymore. Instead, I like to look out for cozy little, delightful cafés where they serve delicious coffee, or hidden vegetarian places where I can enjoy a variety of food and relax and hang out at the same time. Hanoi was the perfect spot for doing so! First, it is paradise for all coffee lovers out there. Weasel and Kopi Lowak coffee all over the city. Vietnamese and Indonesian coffee have certainly an unforgettable and unique taste that just needs to be enjoyed as often as possible. Yummy, yummy! Second, there are quite some vegetarian and even vegan places. My two favorite ones were ‘Jalus Vegan Kitchen and Café’ and ‘Zenith II Yoga and Café’ where I even attended a yoga class. Up to then, I had not realized how much I actually missed doing yoga. It had been too long… Yoga is such a pleasant activity for mind, body and soul. In Vietnam, I have to do it as often as possible.
Cat Ba Town – Halong Bay
Coordinates: 20°48′00″N 106°59′59″E
As I mentioned before in some of my other blog articles, most of the times I do not really inform myself about the country or let alone the monsoon season before I go there. Unsurprisingly, I had no clue North Vietnam had an actual winter. I thought it was hot or at least mild all year long. Well, I was wrong. When I got from Bangkok to Hanoi, I could already feel a temperature difference. Honestly, the mild temperature in Hanoi was very pleasant. Finally, I was not sweating all day long anymore. Unfortunately, one day later the temperature dropped a couple of degrees… All the sudden, I had to put on jeans, wear socks and even my rain jacket. What was going on? Good thing I still had those clothes with them. I had been thinking for a while to send everything back to Germany since I was not using it at all. Until I got to Hanoi.
It was even more chilly in Cat Ba Town close to Halong Bay. During the couple of days I spend there, I put on at least five layers and I was still cold. The location close to the sea and the rain were not helpful at all… Under such circumstances, can you imagine how hard it is to take a cold shower…? My brain was freezing; I was cold all day, all night long…
Nevertheless, Cat Ba and especially Halong Bay was beautiful. I went on a boat trip where we crossed fishing villages, enjoyed the breathtaking scenery of limestone cliffs, kayaked through tight caves and explored hidden little beaches. Even though it was too cold for snorkeling and swimming, the whole day was a delight! I had a wonderful time.
The next day, I went on a motorbike trip together with an Italian traveler that I met on the boat trip. Together we were exploring the island. We went to the Hospital Caves that are, unfortunately, a huge disappointment; to the National Park, in which we hiked*, rather climbed all way up to a beautiful, beautiful viewpoint; sneaked into a closed grotto, which turned out to be one of the prettiest hidden natural beauties I have ever seen; kept driving around in the rain just to see as much as possible. All in all, it was a great day!
*I have not been hiking in quite a while. It was tiring, but at the same time, it felt so good! I have to do it more often again 😉
Coordinates: 16° 28′ N, 107° 35′ E
Again, when I arrived in Vietnam, I had no clue how much time it would take to travel from one place to another. It was not much of a surprise if you consider how long this country is… It took me 20 hours (!!!) to travel from Cat Ba to Hué, my third stop in Vietnam. At least I spent most of the time in a sleeping bus, in which you could actually lay down and sleep. I had never traveled in such kind of a bus before. It was surprisingly comfortable.
That just reminds me of a Canadian couple I met in Cat Ba and how they were saying ‘You have to be young to travel in Asia. You can still go to Australia or New Zealand when you are old.’ They are absolutely right! I cannot imagine people in their late sixties/ early seventies to travel 20 hours in a bus…
However. I was only staying in Hué for one day to visit the Citadel, which reminded me a lot of the Forbidden City in Beijing, just in a less good shape as you can see on the pictures.
Coordinates: 15° 53′ N, 108° 20′ E
If you like shopping, you must go to Hoi An. The UNESCO protected old town is packed with tiny little shops. You can find anything here. Most of the visitor appreciate the opportunity of handmade manufactures. People come here to get a cheap suit or cocktail dress. Everything in surprisingly high quality. You can also enjoy buying the most beautiful Vietnamese souvenirs here. For example, Hoi An’s trademark, colorful lanterns and lamps made out of bamboo and Vietnamese silk. Even though it is difficult to carry those big lamps, I could not resist and got one too… It is just too beautiful! I am sure it will fit perfectly in my future room in my non-existent apartment…
Apart from shopping and enjoying the pretty little town at night, I was biking around exploring the area and taking yoga classes again. Honestly, it was the best yoga class of my entire life! I have always enjoyed yoga, but this one class was exceptional! I truly hope I can find a similar class somewhere else in this country! It was a delight!
Not only did I have a great time doing yoga in Hoi An, but also having delicious food in the many vegetarian and vegan places around the town. Vietnam is every vegetarian’s paradise! Finally good food again 🙂
Coordinates: 12°15′N 109°11′E
Going from Hoi An to Nha Trang took quite a while. As usually, I had to take a sleeping bus to drive overnight to my new destination. Vietnam is a very long country; the distances between some places are not big, though the infrastructure is very poor. Another ride in the middle of the night. Another night without a good night sleep. This time though it was totally worth it. We arrived in the middle of the night in Nha Trang. My hostel was still closed. I decided to go to the beach and watch the sunrise. It was gorgeous! Best idea ever! So many local people hanging out there, doing morning sports, enjoying the breathtaking view of the first sunrays glimmering through the far away mountains. This was one of those moments that I will never ever forget in my life. Being at the right place at the right time. Damn, that feels good!!!
I had the best time in Nha Trang. The sun was shining every day. Blue sky, hot temperatures. The hostel was a five-minute walk from the sea. It was perfect! A white sand long beach, waves, and yet dive sites to explore. While the dive season in Hoi An had not started yet, it was all good in Nha Trang. Turquoise, calm water, good visibility, great diving with Active Vietnam. Highly recommendable! And finally I saw the beautiful lionfish!! So pretty! Besides of two days of snorkeling and diving, I was taking good care of the needs of my body with a soothing hot stone massage, a nourishing mud bath and a lot of delicious local vegan and vegetarian food. Yummylicious! I just totally loved the atmosphere of this little beach town. Even though it was quite touristy and full with Russians (apparently there is a direct flight from Moscow to Nha Trang), it was yet cozy and familiarly. Probably also because of the great hostel I was staying in that almost felt like family. All in all, the perfect place for celebrating my 28th birthday 😉
Crazy Rider Tour to Da Lat
Coordinates: 11°56’30’ N 108°26’18 E
I love the ocean, I love the sea, I love diving. I also like exploring and getting to know new cultures. The best and easiest way to do so was to go on Vietnam’s famous ‘Easy Rider’ ride. Together with Pop, we were driving on a bike from the beach town Nha Trang to Da Lat in the highlands within two days. He was a wonderful tour guide who introduced me to Vietnam’s countryside where there is less tourism and more poverty. We stopped at all different kind of traditional places. Women showed me how they make bamboo mats with their hands. We played with kids that where quite overwhelmed of meeting a foreigner. We enjoyed the beautiful ride through rice fields, pepper and coffee plantations. We explored the Elephant waterfall. Pop brought me to a silk factory and to Vietnam’s famous Weasel coffee plantation. Overnight we stayed in the country’s only place where they still have elephants. While I was walking around taking pictures of this little village, I got distracted from a crying noise. I looked around and found a lost puppy. The little guy was maybe four weeks old. So tiny, so thin. He could barely open his eyes. While I pet him, he was trying to suck at my finger. He was starving! It was heart breaking! I was checking if there was a mama dog or a family where he might belong to. Nothing. No one. Immediately I took Milo (yes, I gave him instantly a name!) with me and found him a new home. While I was carrying him back to the hotel, I was already thinking how I could take him with me back home to Germany. (Un)Fortunately, one of the hotel workers took him in. I miss Milo already! Such a cutie! I hope he has a good life now… I really hope someone is taking good care of him…
I was happy that I could save Milo, but at the same time, I already missed him. Lucky me, there was an elephant waiting for me to be pet the next morning. For the very first time in my life, I could feed and pet an elephant. That was such a great experience! I felt so close to this beautiful, beautiful animal! He truly cheered me up 🙂
Coordinates: 10°56’N 108°17’E
When I arrived in Da Lat in Vietnam’s highlands it was quite cold and nothing much to do. So I spent my two days doing yoga, taking care of my body and mind for one more time. It was good, but I just could not stay any longer in such a chilly place, which is why I headed straight to Mui Ne, another beach town. Well, Vietnam’s famous surfing spot. If you are into windsurfing, kitesurfing, normal surfing, or any other kind of watersports (except for diving) Mui Ne is the perfect place for you! I would have loved to try kitesurfing. It had always been a dream of me. But paying 50 Dollars per hour was definitely too much! As much fun as it might be, I do not have that kind of money. I rather spend it on diving anyway 😉
If you have been traveling for a couple of months in the same region, you might get the feeling after a while that you already know everything and there is nothing new to discover anymore. Just another beautiful beach, another stunning sunset, rice fields and so on. Well, I was wrong. In Mui Ne I rented a motorbike, cruised around and explored the most stunning nature ever. For the very first time in my life, I was strolling on sand dunes. First in the red, then in the white, and afterwards for the sunset back in the red again. It was gorgeous! It was extremely hot, because I went there in the middle of the day. Now I know how you must feel if you are walking through the desert… Not for me. But climbing around sand dunes for a day, taking tons of pictures, cruising on a four-wheeler, walking in the fairy stream. One more perfect day during my trip 🙂
Coordinates: 10°02’N 105°47’E
Could it possibly get better than Nha Trang and Mui Ne? Not really. There I found everything I needed. Breathtaking landscape, the sea, the beach. What else could you ask for? Nevertheless, I am still a traveler who wants to explore as much as possible of a country. Some other backpackers told me about the Mekong Delta and the famous floating market there. I had not read about it, but okay. If they say so, I have to check it out, of course.
I was staying in the most beautiful accommodation of my entire Vietnam trip. It was amazing! Bamboo bungalows, hammocks, the river right next to us, family friendly stuff. For three days, it was like living in a micro cosmos where time stands still and life is nothing but peaceful. If you ever plan to visit the Mekong Delta, stay in Nguyen Shak. You will not regret it! Best time guaranteed! Even though the floating market is not really worth seeing…
Phu Quoc – One huge disappointment
Coordinates: 10°16’N 104°0’E
My last stop was Phu Quoc Island. I was heading there for my last diving on this trip. Sad, sad, sad. Now the end of my trip is coming closer and closer. But I do not want to talk about that. I try to make the most out of my last couple of weeks in Southeast Asia. I knew Phu Quoc was quite far away and everything there was more expensive than in the rest of Vietnam. The urge to go diving one last time was too big to skip the island. So I took a long and chaotic bus and ferry ride there, spent a lot of money for accommodation and food. Unfortunately, a total waste of money and time. I did not take a single picture of Phu Quoc. Honestly, I would have never ever expected such an awful island. I did my research online before I decided to go there. Everybody was raving about it how beautiful it was and how this is Vietnam’s tropical pearl, the next Phuket. Which island did they go to? Because I was certainly on a different one. There last visit on this island must be at least five years ago. On Phu Quoc is nothing beautiful. NOTHING. One big construction site. Dirty beaches. Polluted waters. Unfriendly people. Bad and totally overpriced food. Nothing to do. Except for diving. Another huge disappointment. I went on two dives and both dive sites were entirely polluted. We saw more plastic than fish. How sad is that? I have never ever seen something like this before. Plastic, plastic, and even more plastic. I almost started crying under water. Why do humans have to treat nature like this? Why can we not be grateful for what we have and treat nature with respect? It was really bad. I was truly happy to leave the island as quickly as possible. That was not the end I expected for my month in Vietnam…
I do not want to end my article with my a bad experience I made at the end of my trip. So let’s talk about something I really liked about this country!
Vietnam is a paradise for every foodaholic. Travelers I met told me how they were trying dog, bugs, rats, pig brain and how good everything tasted. Luckily, Vietnam also has some dishes that vegetarians can enjoy. Every place I visited had vegetarian restaurants and cafés. It was a delight! In big cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, they even had a couple of vegan places. I enjoyed every single visit and every single bite of some quite experimental creations. Have you ever had a spinach shake to drink? Or an avocado mango salad? Definitely worth a try!