Vietnam, Philippines · 31 Days · 39 Moments · June 2017

The Travelling two's in south Vietnam

27 July 2017

Then we got a taxi to airport. The dummy forgot to turn his meter off before trying to rip off us whities like usual. I paid him what was fair and told him to do one and we flew with no hassles at all. And we got our Burger King in the end too because there was one in the terminal! Great success. Oh and there was some little fluffy dog that no self respecting man would be seen walking, the type that I'm sure was bred to fit in a handbag, which Laura also delighted over. Cockapoo it was called, shameful.
We woke up early evening, and were starving. After the previous day's ordeals we wanted to treat ourselves so tried to order take out Burger King but that failed miserably. In the end we went out to find food. Bear in mind we're essentially staying next to the airport in one of a few budget hotels, the restaurant scene was not great! But, again, we found ourselves in luck and had some really nice (and cheap) noodle soup. They spoke no English so to show us what they had, the literally showed us what they had. We were shown their noodles and their stock to make the soup and Laura's little face lit up in delight as the woman pulled a whole chicken, head, feet and all, out of the fridge and dunked it down into the broth. They even insisted we sit with them after the meal to share a tea. Lovely people, God knows what they said - they certainly didn't understand anything that came out of our mouths!
We then got our overnight coach. It was busier than others we'd had and generally less pleasant, plus wifi didn't work (starting to realise it never does, we just got lucky once) so it was a crap 12 hours. Then we needed to get to our hotel near the airport. It was a good 30 minutes out of town so knew it would cost a bit, but we were pissed of to find it costing nearly 40 dollars. Scamming little bastard clearly ripped us off and couldn't even find our hostel so we just got out and found it ourselves. That had pissed us off, so it was lucky that the hotel and its staff were really good. A hell of a lot of travelling and having to wait an hour for the room (it was 7am to be fair and check in isn't usually until 2pm) wasn't ideal but we soldiered out for a spot of breakie and finally got set up in the room to sleep. The shower was great too, always a bonus when my average time in there is at least 20 mins 👌.
Something to remember is the way that horns are used by vehicles here - as a warning that someone behind you is approaching. This means that they're used very regularly compared to what we're used to in England. When 80% of the vehicles passing you are HGVs or massive coaches, both of which possess boat-like foghorns, it gets scary. But we persevered and soon reached the outskirts of the city. Traffic quickly turned into mayhem, which I thought would have sent Laura barmy but she was really good and stayed calm. We needed to find wifi in order to find out where we were meeting the woman I'd been whatsapping to give her back the bike and get our bags, and when we reached the city centre we were running worryingly short on time. Luckily when we pulled in to grab a milkshake and get on the wifi, we found that we were just a few hundred metres away from the bus pick up point, and our mate with our bags offered to bring them and meet us there. Job well done!
We only overshot it by a few kms and we were dirty from the road, and there was rain ahead, so we turned back and were quickly where we had initially aimed. It was called Elephant Falls and is basically a series of natural spring pools down a stream. These pools had been slightly manufactured to bring in the tourists, locals had gone for the beaver approach and dammed off sections so pools would form. Not 100% percent natural but still superlush. The water was cool and crystal clear, we loved it. However we were beginning to get a sense of urgency as our bus to catch was expensive and not an option to miss it, so after half an hour or so in the water, we moved on. Next stop was Hue city, our destination. It was probably only 20km or so and direct on the road by the falls so we got there without mucking about. It was however, another stretch on the scary motorway-type road...
Even the descent that was more inland had some great vistas. And still provided much enjoyment as there were lots of goat families with young kids frolicking and being all cute. Plus I took the time to stop in the exact spot that Jeremy Clarkson gave his Vietnam soliloquy. I had my pop culture moment, as Laura had hers when we visited Leonardo's beach in Thailand. I'd pencilled in a stop to a beach that came half-recommended to break up the ride as I wasn't sure how Laura would react to being on a scooter again. Turns out she loved it and the beach was naff anyway so we moved straight on. What followed was the longest and least enjoyable part of the ride. A boring stretch of busy highway with huge trucks and coaches that scared us on our little scooter. Because of this clinging on for dear life approach to the proceeding kilometre we missed our turn off for some natural springs that we were both really excited to visit...
The best thing we saw there was the Dragon Bridge. Exactly as you might imagine, a massive bridge with a big dragon design each side. Sounds tacky, I know, but it was cool - plus on the gorgeous sunny day we had, the views up and down the river were great! As we didn't have time to see Lady Buddha (mountainous peninsula of Da Nang) we left the city and headed north to one of my highlights of the whole trip so far: the Hai Van Pass. Made famous by Top Gear's Vietnam special a few years ago, this amazing road cuts through mountains that fall directly into the ocean and provide breath-taking views along its entire length. I was apprehensive about this section when booking our bike, as it was only a 135cc scooter, but our beast rode well and we didn't struggle up any of the climbs. I could have ridden that stretch of maybe just 20km all day long and not got bored. Every corner provided a perfect photo opportunity and each time I took my eyes off the road to take in some views I was amazed

26 July 2017

It was a very warm day. For safety reasons Laura was wearing my long, thick trousers and she was really struggling in the heat - worse than me for once! So we quickly left this attraction. It was cool to see even it was a brief stop, and it was so crowded, I really didn't mind moving on and getting back on the road. Once back on the main road, we were only a few km outside of Hoi An's nearest city, the much larger Da Nang. This was an experience to drive through! It was the biggest Vietnamese city I'd navigated by road and the first time doing it without a guide riding just in front of me. All in all, it was very successful, even Laura held her cool very well! Just north of the delta that Hoi An sits on, Da Nang seemed a cool city. With a nice enough bay and huge peninsula containing mountain temples it was probably worth a little more exploration. However we had a bus to catch and were still a good distance away with more things we wanted to see, so Da Nang was just a drive through..
We had decided that in order to get up to Hue, where we had an overnight bus to catch, we would rent a motorcycle and we would drive there ourselves. A bit of research online led me to a few options and they were clearly well established as all had online chat features so I could work out a good price without even seeing anyone in person! In the end I chose a company that I was communicating with via whatsapp. They brought the scooter early in the morning and piled up our bags that they were sending on a coach so we weren't balancing it all the way. I had a quick look at the machine, kicked the tyres a bit, tested the brakes and had it all sorted before Laura had even stirred from her slumber! Top man points. The first stop on our road trip was called Marble Mountain. It was really cool, huge cave systems in these mountains with temples and such dotted around. They weren't really mountains, but jagged formations of rock rising quite randomly from the flat surrounding terrain...
S I dont know what possessed me but I got back on and had my photo. Half fear half joy my legs were trembling for a good half an hour afterwards, we gave the guy a bit of money and were on our merry way. But...we were absolutely buzzing and thrilled with our successful adventure. A ride home was imperative to clean up. Last supper in the old town as we were leaving Hoi An the next day. So far one of our fave places
For us to shout him, we peddled quickly back around the other side and through the local village to the edge of the fields to see if we could communicate with him. Some locals had told us we had come through wrong way and pointed us further on until we were back were we began originally. But lucky for us the farmer was just sat there, we gestured to him in loud, English with hand actions that we wanted to ride his buffalo. He seemed to understand from Josh's charades what we wanted and beckoned for us to follow him through the rice paddies. Not pleasant. Basically walking through mid calf black sludge until we reached the buffalo. Josh went on first, and then I got on second. To get on the buffalo I had to stand on the Vietnamese little leg (which I thought was going to snap) whilst he held on to a very very flimsy rope around the buffalo's head. I had all visions of being impaled by its horns when it decided it didn't want me on him and threw me off. The farmer thought it was hilariou
Buffalo day! I had been desperate to see buffalo's in action since I learnt there was an agriculture tour where you could ride them, unfortunately the tour was ludicrously expensive and ridiculous considering you would be farming for the owners so I'm not sure why they were charging so much when we were doing them a favour. A couple of days previous we had spoken to a local who told us we didn't need to pay and we would easily be able to find a farmer on the fields who would let us ride his buffalo. So that's what we did headed out of Hoi An on our bicycles and rode along the paths winding through the rice paddies. We were out quite a long time had gone through herb gardens and villages etc without seeing a farmer, we thought we were beat and after hours of cycling round in the mid day sunshine we were pretty tired. We headed back through the paddies and could see in the distance a farmer riding a buffalo. We cycled around the perimeter of the field but he had already moved to far in
An evening walk to finish our day was perfect. Walking through Hoi An at night is delightful and absolutely beautiful. All along the river are lanterns lit in all brightly colours and patterns, busy with tourists and lights everywhere. Along the river bay old ladies are selling lantern candles that you can put in the river, so all throughout the river is floating candles and lights and the effect is gorgeous. Had a wonder through the old town and night markets, very magical atmosphere.

9 July 2017

One of our trip goals was to do a cookery course and Hoi An was, as far as guidebooks recommend, one of the best places to do so. Our hostel organised it for us so it was a good price. We were met by our guide who took us to the local market first of all so we could learn about the local produce. Some interesting sights and smells before we boarded our boat to take us up the river to the cookery class. We were met by a lovely yet tiny vietnamese lady who would be teaching us for the day. We picked what we wanted to cook for the day which included a Papaya and green Mango salad, fresh spring rolls and a chicken dish. The lady was rather impressed by Josh's knife skills! It was quite cool when we made home made prawn crackers and roses out of tomatoes. Food was delicious and far too much for us to eat. Full bellies we headed back to town and had a look around, got a bit stuck on the river first due to low water levels poor boat driver had to get out and push us for a while.
BEACHTIME! Cycled out of town to An Bang beach, free sun loungers, cheap beer and slightly cooler temperatures meant for an enjoyable afternoon relaxing and putting the world to right! Hoi An is so chilled! Just very easy to explore, and free from hassling from people trying to sell you stuff all the time! Cheap vietnamese place for dinner...(we were so hungry Josh ordered spring rolls for dessert!) and an early night! Earlier start than usual for our cookery class tomorrow!
We cycled round the sites, over the traditional bridges and thought the market stalls etc finding our bearings and mastering how to use the ancient bikes we had been given! Today was incredibly hot, so after an hour or so of exploring and a couple of drinks along the way we headed back to the hostel. Evening meal was fair walk away but they served delicious pizzas so couldn't complain!
After our overnight journey to Hoi An, being tired was an understatement. We arrived to our hostel unfortunately we arrived at 6am which meant the room was ready to check in as it the current guests hadn't checked out. We have been lucky so far and avoided having to wait until the check in time, this time it was not the case. I found a quite corner and fell asleep anyway, whilst Josh explored what was around us. The hostel turned the room round as quickly as possible and we got in about 11am. The homestay river hostel had a lovely location surrounded by the river and run by a family. They didn't speak the best English but were so lovely that although we originally had booked for 2 nights we ended up staying for 4! Once checked in and spent a while relaxing we took advantage of the free bicycles available to us and went for a wander through Hoi An. Hoi An old town is gorgeous with cherry blossom trees overhanging the buildings, and multicoloured lanterns across all the streets.
We checked out in the morning and decided before our night sleeper bus to have another day of relaxation (why not?!) at the mud bath spa. It was purely educational as Josh had never been to one before so worth the splurge. Mudbaths, hydro therapy, hot springs and Waterfall pools made for a delightful day...another customer (Russian I think) even came up to us and said she thought we were very attractive couple. Can't complain at that! Headed back to the hostel in time for free beer hour before our Coach.
Normally for the price of the both of us, it makes sense to get private rooms rather than stay in dorms however it was quite expensive to do this in Nha Trang. We stayed in a place called Mojzo Dorm and we loved it. Granted the room itself was standard and sharing with other people isn't great but the hostel staff were amazing. Couldn't be more helpful or sweet and went out of there way to get to know you. The hostel even put on free tea and biscuits every afternoon, and an hour of free beer a day too! Breakfast was also amazing and included!
A lot of people had warned us off visiting Nha Trang, saying that it was 'just another beach resort', ' full of Russian's', 'expensive and built up' now while Nha Trang is all of those things it is actually very pleasant! The beach which we were expecting to be Thailand style dirty are pretty luxurious, and clean with clear water and great views. All along the beach front are little swings, trees that have been shaped into patterns and whilst the back drop of the busy city and hotels isn't far away it doesn't detract from the beach's loveliness and after a few days of exploring we were more than happy to sit and relax! We found a beach side bar with a pool and rented beds there for the day. Granted there were Russian children every where which was annoying but playing around in the pool was heaps of fun! A day of top up tanning was had with barely any moans from Josh!

6 July 2017

Before we arrived in Dalat we were undecided whether we were going to bother going there. It was slightly off the route I had in mind and we hadn't really heard of it before. The description of it sounded right up josh's Street being in the Highlands and mountain area, motorbike tours, and of course the climate was cooler. He was sold. Dalat truly was lovely, very clean (a thousand times cleaner than Thailand or Cambodia) beautiful flower beds
Our next part of the day involved a trip to the local attraction 'crazy house' we weren't expecting great things but were very impressed. A female architect had purchased several houses and land on a street in Dalat and created weird and wonderful maze of houses which you can climb on top of, walk through, go underneath. Each house has different themes so one is woodland creatures,there's one which is under the sea and another which was a Chinese house. The detail and decoration was pretty amazing! Carrot cake at one more cafe (which I discovered whilst Josh was on his motor cycle) finished the day off. After a long day enjoying Dalat's gorgeous views and scenery, pretty flower beds and grand buildings it was time to leave. We'd been booked on a minibus to our next destination Nha Trang which was about 4 hours away. Very very bumpy ride, scary mountain roads but sunset and mountain views made it bearable.

3 July 2017

On our last day in Dalat we took a wander along the local sites. The first being a cable car over the mountains to a nearby monastery. With Dalat being in the Highlands it means theres lots of lovely greenery, pine trees and stunning views. Over the other side we had a meander through the Monastery which was lovely, I'm not sure if it's because Josh is so funny looking the Chinese love woman even wanted to pose with him in a photo. Strange. Anyway once josh's head couldn't get big enough and I was fed up of him taking a photo of absolutely everything we decided to get the cable car back. It was too hot to walk the 50 minute walk to our next stop so we cheated and got a taxi (taxis in Vietnam are a dream so far in comparison to Thailand and Cambodia due to the fact theres no bartering involved just a simple meter suffices here).

1 July 2017

We had a short bit of riding through city traffic just before we got back to the hostel. The Vietnamese are nuts on the roads. Could be because none of them actually have licenses to drive, could be that the average age of the road user is probably around 14, or maybe they all just have some inglorious 'die on a crap scooter' aspiration for life. Either way, many penalty points would be accrued on a British driving test. I was greeted by Laura when I got back. She said she wasn't feeling well and she'd had a rubbish day. This in no way impacted how much fun I'd had 😊
On the ride home, as we rode like proud Knights on our machine horses, Mr Lee followed my instructions and pulled over at a nice viewing spot just off our mountain pass. I liked this for two reasons. Firstly, the view was an absolute belter. The light was beginning to fade into the evening glow which lit every contour in the texture of the cloud, and the valley beneath stretched far into the shadows of distant mountain serenity. Bliss. The second reason I loved it was that we had to do a tiny bit of off roading and when we stopped I did a badass skid on my bike. I'm so James Bond it's crazy.
I was allowed to smell the unground beans compared to other varieties and you genuinely can tell the difference. Because weasels are fussy eaters, consuming only the freshest and high quality fruits, and because the beans aren't digested, when they lay in the gut, they are infused with the fruity flavours of whatever Mr weasel had for dinner. The beans are then cleaned before being roasted and ground and made into weasel shit coffee. But it's expensive stuff, about 75,000D (just under $3) for a small cup, and I was skint so no weasel poop for me. NB yes I know that isn't a lot of money but that's main course at dinner kind of price and I was still skint so it doesn't change anything. Another side note: they also bred dogs at this place so I saw some cute puppies of various breeds 😂
Even the visit to a pagoda. I liked that too! Another temple, I thought it'd kill me to have to witness the see-through lie that these were holy places and not just cash cows aimed at western tourists. This one was pristine, quiet and it didn't hurt that it overlooked Awesome Waterfall B either. I couldn't enter the main temple as I was wearing hot pants (they used to be swim shorts before I gained a little weight) but the gardens and the outside was enough to leave me pleasantly satisfied. Then there was the coffee plantation. Or as I call it, 'Weasel Shit Cafe'. You might not know this, but in the coffee game, one of the top delicacies available is coffee from the beans that have passed through the digestive system of a weasel. Now you understand my naming of this place. Sadly, I'd run out of money after buying Mr Lee and myself lunch so I didn't get to try it. That isn't sarcasm either, I would have loved to taste some.
Before booking this trip, I thought a lot of its attraction stops sounded like gimmicky fillers to make the tour appear grander online. I even considered changing it and telling the guide id prefer to stop less and ride more. I'm actually glad that I went along with the planned route. For example, I would have skipped the visit to a silk farm. After having seen it, I can say that seeing a silk farm is awesome and fascinating and I cant believe I've lived for 25 years without knowing the processes of harvesting silk and turning it into a scarf, or curtains or a tie! The machine used to weave the silk into a fabric is so intricate and precise, it's truly mesmerising to watch. The way the pattern is 'coded' by a sheet with holes it it that correspond to positions on the machine reminded me of the Turing machine and early computers. It was like a physical binary code.
The landscape was amazing. All the rocks were moss covered and the rapids that ran between them were bubbling white. Only a couple of people scrambled down as far as we did, it always feels good to get that photo or experience that the rest of the crowd couldn't get. The tribal village had a nice story to it based on an old leader and his daughter's love life: marrying well into another tribe or being with her love etc. I won't tell the tale but it's moral was that parents should not meddle in their children's relationships, which struck me as quite forward thinking for what was, allegedly, a very old culture. Plus they had a matriarchal society which I think is always something we should strive for. Oh part of this old legend with the father and daughter involved a chicken with 9 talons, so their village has a big chicken statue and they are known as the 'minority chicken village'. Not the best name for what I thought was a great little tribe. Good work, chicken people.
The first Waterfall we visited was spectacular. It was probably about 50m wide and the valley onto which it fell was a field of huge boulders that you hopped between to get a view from the bottom. Apparently during the wet season it is a huge river and there's no way to get to where we did for the pictures. Needless to say, I loved it. Climbing around on rocks to look at something as natural and majestic as a megabig Waterfall? Yes please! The second Waterfall was even better. It wasn't as wide so wouldn't have had the volume of water cascading over it, but it was concentrated and powerful. The climb to the bottom of this one was sketchy to say the least. The power of the water created a thick mist and wet everything beneath it so it was very slippy and muddy. My guide, Mr Lee, actually didn't want to go down. But I'm a powerful, rich westerner who had purchased him for the day so I made him come with me...
Today I rode a motorbike around the Dalat region and through the mountains. It was part of a tour given by what the Vietnamese call 'easy riders'. Luckily I was the only person in the tour so it was just me and the guide all day long. The tour itself was a journey if about 120km with probably 7 or 8 stops to see something interesting. There were some waterfalls, a silk farm, a coffee plantation, a tribal village and a few more that were all reasonably interesting, some more so than others. My bike was an old Honda 150cc thing that was really good fun. Obviously not the most powerful thing in the world but it was enough to get me up some steep hills. I got lucky with the weather. The forecast was for heavy thunderstorms all day but I managed to stay in sun enough to top up the burn on my neck and legs 😎. The best part of it all (aside from actually exploring on a bike) was definitely the waterfalls. They were massive, so much better than any of the weak crap we saw in Thailand...
Sweaty start to the day having to walk to the pick up point in Ho chi Minh to get our transfer (well sweaty for Josh who was carrying both of our backpacks...what a babe). We weren't looking forward to our 7 hour coach ride to Dalat, however our minds were soon changed when we saw our coach. It was a sleeper coach which meant every passenger had a bed, aircon, comfy seat and WiFi! Best journey ever. The coach was also pretty empty so we moved seats in the end to take the ones at the back which was 5 beds together so we pretty much had the comfort of a large double bed for our journey. Our hostel were very nice and also arranged for us to be picked up at the bus station and dropped off. The hostel was rated very highly on trip advisor and we see why. On the first evening they give you a free dinner in the main reception area with all the other guests so you get a chance to meet other people which we thought was a nice touch. Plus free breakfast and in general very helpful and friendly.

29 June 2017

Didn't have a great sleep (good old stomach problems) so had a very leisurely day of doing nothing. Went out for lunch at a recommended restaurant called Bun Cha. So glad we did, the food was traditional Vietnamese,cheap and absolutely delicious. What also made it a little bit more meaningful was all of the staff were completely deaf so it was a great way to support them. We had the local delicacy of bun Cha which is a broth soup thing with pork, chilli and garlic which you dip spring rolls into. We also ordered some sides which were fish coated tofu, then some green rice balls with fish (so so good). I spent the rest of the day napping before going out again for food at the Royal Saigon and had another delicious meal. Still feeling ill Josh ate my meal which he was ecstatic about and then went home for another early night, before another long day of travelling. We've loved Ho Chi Minh, a bustling cultural city which has the right balance of urban and strong Vietnamese character!
In the 80s so affecting people my age and younger! The devastation caused in Vietnam from that war is unthinkable and I can't believe it took until now to find out about the horrific war crimes committed. We spent a good few hours in the museum and was well and truly informed about the war and it's effects afterwards. We spoke about it at length all the way back to our hostel. A complete worthwhile experience, that will no doubt resonate with you afterwards. Pho soup at a local restaurant, and an early night. If I had a fitbit it probably would have exploded with all the steps covered today.
The War Remnants Museum. A must see in Ho Chi Minh city! Whilst I have limited knowledge on the Vietnam-American War, and only perspective I have is from films such as Platoon etc the museum is a real eye opener. Horrific, disturbing, educational yet fascinating at the same time. Outside the museum is old American war planes, helicopters, tanks, guns etc which are magnificent to look at in them selves, along with missiles and bombs...the sheer size of them is ridiculous and the scale/potential impact these things had is unthinkable. The museum also has a replica of a POW prison, some disturbing and gut wrenching images and descriptions. Some parts of I couldn't look at...especially inside the prison cells which had mannequins, which in general give me the absolute creeps. The exhibitions are hard hitting, especially seeing the effects of Agent Orange (dioxin poison) from the Americans which are still affecting generations with birth defects with quite a few of these people being born
First stop on our tour was to the Notre Dame Basilica (Vietnam was once under French occupation so a lot of French architecture), and opposite that was the Saigon post office. The post office, believe it or not, is actually a tourist attraction in Ho chi Minh. The building is rather grand, high ceilings and ornately decorated. We sent some post cards to a lucky few! We headed along to the Reunification Palace. We learnt quite a lot about the divided nation of Vietnam and the important events which led to them being reunited. Unfortunately for us, we had extremely limited knowledge on the history of Vietnam so these important people, events and dates were a bit lost on us especially when there wasn't much information on the placards around explaining the context. We have since Googled and are now up to speed 🤓
After a delightful sleep in our guest house we set about our day. We had plans to do quite a lot of tourist sight seeing so it was imperative that we have a heart breakfast to set us up for the day. We went to the hungry pig 🐷 which is obviously a western eatery rather than Vietnamese but we didn't mind. The menu was just full of all delicious variations of bacon and ham sandwiches and although I attempt not to eat pork I couldn't help myself. Ridiculously full we set about our day.

26 June 2017

urban house Saigon is one of the nicest places we've stayed at! It extremely modern and brand new and more like a hotel. It's in a great location and we also have free washing facilities to catch up on our chores! A bit of a meander into the backpacker district and we found is to be a bustling hub of restaurants,bars, cool coffee houses showing us the cosmopolitan vibe. We went for dinner in a place called 5 oysters which as the name suggests was a seafood restaurant. We were very excited to have fish at such a reasonable price!! Finished off with some ice cream at the note cafe (coffee house decorated in personal post it's from customers) we left a little note to say we had been there and also wished Josh's nan a happy birthday as it would have been her birthday today. Apart from even more mental motorbikes and traffic we enjoyed our first night in Vietnam!
I don't know how we managed it but after a heavy night with limited recollection of even booking our bus tickets we were up in time for our pick up at 6am. Comfy coach journey was soon stalled as the coach broke down at the services so we were waiting an hour or so for its replacement. Nothing like a broken down bus to drag out n already long day. Got to the Vietnamese border and despite a very slow immigration service we made it through and continued on until our arrival In ho chi Minh city (formerly Saigon). We managed to get on the WiFi and book accommodation which was only thankfully a 10 minute walk away.