Vietnam Backpacking Trip

Back in 2011 Toni and I took his 65 year old dad out of Europe for the first time. We threw him and ourselves right into the deep end, spending one full month backpacking around Vietnam. We didn’t take it easy either: no four star hotels, no luxury tours.

The moment we arrived in Hanoi we booked into a tiny guesthouse and joined the hustle and bustle in the quest for street food.

We kept a hectic pace throughout the whole trip, jumping on public buses and trains and experiencing as much local culture as we could. And guess what: Toni’s dad loved it. And so did we.

Below are the posts from my blog at the time, where you can follow along with our story…

Backpacking Vietnam

tam cocHere is our backpacking itinerary, where you can read about the route we took. This is an introduction to each place we visited and a general idea about what we did in each place. You can click through the post to learn more about each place or read more about what interests you most.

 

How to Cross the Road in Hanoi

How to cross the road in HanoiI am taking you with me on a month-long backpacking trip around this wonderful and diverse country. Our first stop is Hanoi, one of the most crazy cities I’ve ever been in in Southeast Asia. Crossing the road in Hanoi is not the same as crossing the road anywhere else. Here they have turned it into a very risky art form….

 

Street Food in Hanoi: The Best in Southeast Asia

Street food in hanoiThe best way to choose a place to eat in Vietnam is by following your nose and the locals: if it smells good it will taste good. If the locals are eating there it’s because it really is good and because the prices are right. Continue past the backpacker hangouts and go into one of the places where the plastic stools are so low that you might as well be sitting on the floor, where there are papers and tab ends and bits of left-overs all over the floor, where the favoured drink is warm bottled beer served over ice.

What the Phó?

what the phoPhó is one of the best things I ate in Vietnam. It’s soup. But it’s not just any soup. Phó is the essence of life!
Actually it can be any soup!
Phó is as close to a national dish as this nation gets. Phó is eaten for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, for supper and any time in between.

 

Halong Bay Expedition from Hanoi

halong bayWe stayed in Hanoi for just a few days before we hauled our backpacks on and set off to explore the rest of Vietnam. Our first visit was to UNESCO World Heritage Site, Halong Bay. For US$100 per person we were transferred by mini bus the 3 hrs from Hanoi to Halong City. The tour was to include all our meals, accommodation, the cruise, all entrance fees and use of kayaks and bicycles.

Getting Around Vietnam

bus ninh binhOur first encounter with public transport in Vietnam was a 5 hour bus journey that was supposed to be a 3.5 hour journey from Halong City to Ninh Binh. The people (driver, two conductors and curious passengers) were friendly, despite not being able to communicate with us. They helped us with our backpacks, which they stored at the front of the bus and they laughed openly at us during the whole journey.

A Night in Ninh Binh

a night in ninh binhAfter a crazy bus journey packed with locals with their many parcels, children and animals, we arrived in Ninh Binh. It was 6pm and was already dark. The bus left us at the “bus station”, which was basically the corner of the street, and we set off to find a place to stay. Dinner in Ninh Binh was some experience. As we walked through the streets there were all kinds of delicious aromas tempting our rumbling stomachs.

 

Tam Coc Motorbike Adventure

Tam Coc AdventureWe had the hotel in Ninh Binh organise three motorbikes with driver for us for the whole day, to take us wherever we pleased. We paid $12 each. Perhaps we could have got it cheaper but we had negotiated the cost of the trip with the price of the hotel room and were happy with the overall deal. We had done our research and there were plenty of sights to occupy us for the whole day but what we were really interested in visiting was Tam Coc.

Sleeper Trains in Vietnam

sleeper trains in vietnamWhy, oh why, do I never learn that when travelling in Asia you MUST reserve train travel well in advance? If you don’t, the best seats are taken and you have to go with what’s left. Which is usually some crowded compartment with hard wooden benches to sit on. This journey wasn’t quite as bad as that. We took an evening sleeper train from Ninh Binh to Hue.

 

In My Shoes in Hue

Hue citadelIt rained rained rained in Hue. Hue (hway) is a nice enough place with plenty of activity along the river. It is a very historical town and was once the Imperial Capital. Thanks to its rich history, Hue has a slighty touristy feel and is a place that’s used to receiving plenty of visitors.The Citadel (UNESCO World Heritage site) is good to see. And it is a good place to start any visit to Hue, where you can take in plenty of history and enjoy a nice video presentation inside.

Royal Tombs in Hue [A Photo Story]

royal tombs in hueThe Royal Tombs in Hue were built by the Emperor during the Ngyuen Dynasty and were intended as a burial place for him, his family and his kings. The Royal Tombs were built during the emperor’s lifetime, though, and were often used as locations for parties and entertainment.

 

No Optical Illusions in Hue

ray bansYou walk down the street and you pass an opticians, you walk a little further and you pass another opticians, next door to that is another, and another! The only things breaking the rhythm are the grocery shops and coffee shops, of which there are just as many as opticians. The Vietnamese people are not very imaginative when it comes to business ideas!

 

It’s a Small World

Spanish friends in HueIn Hue we had dinner with some friends from Spain! What a coincidence. We found out the previous day that they were in Hue at the same time as us (before that we didn’t even know that they were in Vietnam). And not only that but they were staying at the same hotel as us – and there is certainly no shortage of hotels in Hue.

 

He Was Lucky: A Cautionary Tale

Train from Danang to Hoi AnLeaving Hue everything was fine although, as I mentioned the other day, we had to reduce the half hour walk to the station to 20 minutes because breakfast went on a bit too long. We caught the 8:03 train at about 8:30 and the journey to Danang took just short of 3 hours. After collecting our ever growing backpacks and other things, we got off the train, ran the gauntlet of shops, sellers and randoms that lined the platform and found the exit.

We Killed a Dog in Hoi An!

hue trafficWe were driving down a dual carriageway and there was a dog in the road. It didn’t move and we would have been easily able to drive around it. As we were approaching, two smaller dogs started to cross over the road to the first dog so the taxi driver slowed down and swerved to miss them but the dogs saw him and panicked, doubling back right into our path.

 

Hoi An: A Beautiful Town

Hoi AnHoi An was the first town during my travels in Vietnam that I would actually call beautiful. Of course, there have been many beautiful sights during this trip but not the actual towns themselves. There are vibrant towns, exciting towns, and busy, bustling, atmospheric towns, and there are towns – most in fact – where every moment is a photo opportunity. But beautiful they are not. Until I went to Hoi An.

 

Cao Lau: Very Good!

cao lau very goodIn Vietnam, especially towards the south, you can get “phó” (noodle soup) at any time from the street vendors, in the markets, in bars, cafes and restaurants. In Hoi An they make a very special kind of phó called cao lau. As you walk through the market and other outdoor eating areas you will hear the women who make and serve cao lau enticing you to try theirs with cries of “Cao Lau, very good!” And it is very good.

Getting the Rice Paper Right

hoi an marketA fun morning in Hoi An is to join one of the many cooking experiences on offer. Many travel agencies and restaurants offer the chance to learn about the local dishes, get some hands on practice and then eat the results. We decided to book a half day out with the most renowned, most recommended and most expensive cooking school in Hoi An: Redbridge Cooking School. I thought it would be the most interesting and complete of the cookery courses available.

Hoi An Tailors

hoi an tailorThe thing to do in Hoi An is have clothes made. There are tailors and shoemakers lining every street and they are all ready with their tape measure and their calculator. Most of the Hoi An tailors in the centre of town display similar garments to each other in their windows.

 

Sunday with the Locals in Hoi An

Hoi An SundayA visit to the other side of the river took us to a completely different world when we stumbled upon a strange bar full of motorbikes and rice paper munching teenagers. Not having anything better to do we decided to join in with whatever was going on and sat down for a few beers… And a nibble of rice paper!

 

Cycling in Hoi An

hoi an_beach 01In Hoi An we hired bicycles to go to the beach. If you’ve read some of my posts about the roads in Vietnam then you will understand why this was quite intrepid for me. But actually cycling in Hoi An was pretty pleasant, especially when we got out of the city centre… To get from our hotel to the beach it was a few kilometres’ ride on a straight, fairly flat road but I still felt extremely brave cycling in Hoi An and being part of that chaotic mêlee of traffic.

Marble Mountains [A Photo Story]

marble mountainsHave you heard of the Marble Mountains in Vietnam? They are easy to reach from Hoi An and are definitely worth a visit. The Marble Mountains are five hills and each one is said to represent one of the five elements: earth, water, metal, wood and fire. It is a long climb up to the top and even when you reach the top you are not exactly at the top and there are more summits! However the climb is well worth it and the views are spectacular.

Daylight Robbery in Nha Trang

Backpacking VietnamI was totally taken with Vietnam; the whole country, culture and, above all, the people really impressed me. There’s always one place out of a whole country that you just wish you hadn’t included in your itinerary though, isn’t there. That place in Vietnam was Nha Trang and you are about to find out why…

 

My Top Things to do in Nha Trang

Long Thanh GalleryI know that many people visit Nha Trang just to go to Vietnam’s most important beach, but there are other people who are actually looking for things to do in Nha Trang. And guess what, I have a list. Here are my top things to do in Nha Trang…

 

 

Long Thanh Gallery: A Worthwhile Visit in Nha Trang

Long Thanh GalleryDuring a visit to Nha Trang, something to give a little inspiration to any aspiring photographer or holiday snapper is the Long Thanh Gallery, displaying Mr Long Thanh’s beautiful black and white captures of day-to-day Vietnamese life. The simplicity is quite breathtaking.

 

Nha Trang: The Beach

nha trang beachNha Trang’s beach measures 6km in length, making it Vietnam’s longest stretch of sand. It is reputedly the most beautiful beach in Vietnam and while there is no denying that it has something special, I personally think there are much better beaches in Vietnam, such as on Phu Quoc Island, for example.

 

Covered in Mud in Nha Trang!

Mud nha trangMy visit to Nha Trang’s famous Thap Ba Hot Springs was very well timed. The previous day I had had my iPhone stolen and I needed a way to de-stress. A mud bath in Nha Trang is the perfect way to unwind. Just Toni and I went and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. We would both highly recommend it for couples – it was really good fun. There were different options and we decided to book the package with everything.

 

Backpacker District in Saigon

backpacker district in saigonI found myself trawling up and down the backpacker district in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) looking for accommodation on the morning that I arrived in the city. Let’s just say I was happy to leave Nha Trang and get on yet another sleeper train to Saigon. Of course, by the time I got to Saigon at 5.30am I was ready for some real sleep, although I knew that I wouldn’t be getting any…

 

How to Book a Mekong Delta Tour From Saigon

mekong deltaWhile we were in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) we booked an organised tour to the Mekong Delta. Yes, that is as exotic as it sounds! Here I’m going to tell you where and how we booked this tour and how much we paid.

 

 

Reunification Palace Saigon

reunification palaceThe Reunification Palace, also known as the Independence Palace, is an important landmark in Saigon and is a worthy place to visit. It’s interesting, it’s well set up for tours, it’s easy to get to and it’s cheap. The Reunification Palace is steeped in history: A former presidential palace, it was the residence of the president of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War and it was the most important place in the whole country at the end of the war.

Mekong Delta Tour: Value for Money Gastronomic Excursion or Two Days of Commercial Stops?

mekong delta tourIn this post we will be examining the Mekong Delta Tour that I took from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and we will decide whether a Mekong Delta tour is an amazing value for money gastronomic excursion or two solid days of commercial stops. Really the Mekong Delta tour was a bit of both of the above, but as I enjoyed myself so much I am quite happy to look at the tour as the gastronomic experience that I would never have had if I’d just made my own way in the Mekong Delta.

Where to Eat in Can Tho: A Night to Remember

Where to eat in can thoI cannot recommend a better place to eat in Can Tho than the place that I experienced…
As we were so tired after our day on the Mekong, and as the town of Can Tho was flooded, we decided not to venture too far from the hotel for dinner so we just walked down to the riverfront. We immediately found the place recommended in the Lonely Planet: big, spacious, clean-looking, packed with foreigners…
… And following our own advice and experience we walked straight past.

Life in the Mekong Delta

Life in the Mekong DeltaLife in the Mekong Delta might seem charming and romantic to visitors who think about the simple boats making their way up and down the river, on which the people live, trade and basically exist. However, life in the Mekong Delta is, in reality, full of hardship, relative poverty and fear of the very waterway which sustains life – at least for those people who live on the river itself.

 

InMyShoesTravel Mekong Delta Photo Tour

InMyShoesTravel Mekong Delta Photo TourAfter seeing so much in the Mekong Delta and discovering plenty, I thought it would be nice to share my favourite Mekong Delta photos with you. If you have already read some of my posts about the Mekong Delta, then you will be able to relate easily to the photos here.

 

Bartering From A Boat In The Mekong Delta

Mekong Delta Floating MarketOne of the most exciting and unique markets I’ve ever visited was the floating market in the Mekong Delta during my backpacking trip to Vietnam. We went to the floating market on the second day of our Mekong Delta Tour. We boarded a fairly small boat just for our group and headed off down the river. After about 40 minutes of navigating down the Mekong, we started to see many more boats.

 

What to do in Phu Quoc

What to do in phu quocWhat to do in Phu Quoc? Well that’s an easy one: nothing. In Phu Quoc there is no need to do anything at all. Just enjoy. Sound like paradise? It is. Step into my flip flops because after all our exertions in the Mekong Delta we are ready to travel no further than the beach on Phu Quoc Island. We’ve earned this break in paradise…

 

Out of Vietnam With a Bang!

sapaYes, I know that it was supposed to be Destination of the Month and we’ve been backpacking around Vietnam since October! But it’s such a wonderful place and there’s so much to see. To add the last bit of diversity to such a culturally and geographically rich country, I finished my backpacking trip of Vietnam with a visit to the greenest and most picturesque location: Sapa.