Travel In Vietnam
We crossed into Vietnam via the Kep, Cambodia border crossing. We had to apply for our visas ahead of time online and they arrived with only hours to spare for us to catch the bus. The tourist visa we applied for cost $25 and was good for 30 days. We entered Vietnam without any problems and got on a bus towards Can Tho. We spent our first few days there before going on to Saigon. We then took a bus to the mountain town of Da Lat where it was cold enough that we needed to buy jackets and wear jeans. Coming down the coast from Da Lat the weather was warmer but it is not the season for beach time so it was very windy and the water was to wavy and cold for anyone to swim. We stopped in several towns as we made our way to Hoi An and after Hoi An we actually took our first domestic flight in a very long time to Hanoi. It was about $10 more to fly than it was to take a bus and the bus would have been 12 hours and the flight was 1 hr. We stayed in Hanoi for a week and celebrated the New Year there. We took a bus north to Son La and then proceeded to Dien Bien, where we were rejected exit from the country because we possessed the e-visa. So, we turned back around and bused back to Hanoi and flew out to Bangkok.
Can Tho was our first stop in Vietnam after crossing over from Cambodia. We took a bus across the border from Kep into Hà Tiên and from there into Can Tho. Can Tho was a great first taste of Vietnam because it is off the backpacker path. Most people come all the way down from Saigon just to see the floating markets, but if you stay in Can Tho you are much closer. We really enjoyed walking around and drinking Vietnamese coffee at the shops all over town. There is a lively river district in Can Tho as well as several popular walking streets for shopping and restaurants. We stayed by the bus stop in a nice hotel that only sot $7 usd a night. There were plenty of markets around to by fresh fruit.
Ho Chi Minh City is probably the most popular stop in Vietnam. The city boasts some great historical architecture and several important war museums. It was a little more expensive to stay in Saigon because it is so popular. Our room was $17 a night and right downtown on the walking street. All of the museums are very cheap to enter and a great way to spend the days. The food in Saigon is world renown, especially the pho. The Benh Than market is a massive tourist trap, but there are many other markets in town where you can grab some authentic food and take in the atmosphere. It is easy to navigate the public buses in Saigon but we mostly stuck to walking to get around. We enjoyed eating at all of the different restaurants and also managed to visit some very cool breweries.
Da Lat was one of my favorite towns we visited in Vietnam. Da Lat is a seemingly quite mountain town but it has so much to see and do it is a wonder there are not more tourists there. The streets are so colorful with apartments and shops packed up and down the steep and winding roads. There are so many coffee shops and great restaurants in town it was hard to pick a place to eat for each meal. There is a large outdoor market that turns into an even larger market at night. You can take the local bus a little ways out of town to see some really cool waterfalls. Everything in town is within easy walking distance.
Anyone that has been to Nha Trang knows exactly what I am talking about when I refer to it as “little Moscow.” Nha Trang has been turned into Russia’s top vacation spot. All of the signs in town are in Russian and every restaurant and hotel caters to the Russian demographic. The streets are flooded with pudgy Russian men in track suits and Russian women with their dyed hair and botoxs. The town itself is really cool and there is plenty to do. When we visited in the off season the beach was not pleasant but you could tell that at the right time of year it would be a really nice spot. There are some cool ruins close by that we visited along with the Long Song Pagoda that has a giant white Buddha overseeing a monastery.
Qui Nyon is becoming a popular beach town during the high season, but was pretty calm when we were there. The town is very authentically Vietnamese with plenty of outdoor markets and pho restaurants. We stopped here for a few days to break up our trip between Saigon and Hanoi. There is a nice long sidewalk along the coastline with restaurants along the way serving fresh seafood. The only sad part is the state of the beach, which is covered in rubbish. Maybe they put more effort into clean up during the busy season but it did not look good when we were there. There aren’t really any attractions for tourists in this town but sometimes that’s the type of place we like to hangout. People were genuine and friendly to us because they were not used to seeing so many foreigners.
Hoi An is one of the most popular stops in Vietnam. For many people it is the only stop they make between Hanoi and Saigon. The city is pretty large and boasts a magnificent coastline along with a great historical downtown area. We visited in December and so the weather was not great for the beach. However, we stayed close by so we could tell that during the right time of year you could enjoy a long and empty beach along with great seafood restaurants and the like all around. The big thing in Hoi An is that most all of the hotels have free bicycles for their guests. That’s because the old town and the beach are about 5km apart. Everyone can be seen riding bikes alongside the busy highway and getting honked at by scooters and cars. The old part of town is rammed with tourists, but has some really picturesque street scenes and old colonial style buildings. There are of course way too many souvineir shops and even the outdoor market downtown is filled with vendors who will happily try to charge a foreigner 4x the normal price for fruit and other goods. They wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work on someone so stop encouraging them allowing yourself to be ripped off!!!
We actually flew into Hanoi from just outside Hoi An because the price of the flight was only $10 more than taking the bus and would get us there in 1 hr instead of 17 hrs. It was difficult to find an affordable place to stay in Hanoi that wasn’t a hostel. We settled on one of the only hotels that was under $20/night and still close to the action. There are a lot of museums and municipal buildings to see in Hanoi. The food is different in Northern Vietnam than in the South but many of the classic dishes are still around. I especially enjoyed having the egg coffee. We rang in the New Year in Hanoi and had a great time hanging out in the busy town.
We began making our way towards the Northern Vietnam border with Laos to cross over and so we decided to break the trip up into a few stops. We really enjoyed stopping in the small towns along the way. It was refreshing to get away from the backpacker/tourist crowds of Saigon and Hanoi and just lay low for a few days in some small towns and see what everyday life is actually like. Son La is a very calm town situated in the Northern mountains. We stayed 2 nights and spent most of our time looking for places to eat. There were not many restaurants in town or much to do besides walk through the market. People were very friendly and accommodating. We had some nice pho at a small family restaurant and were invited to stay after dinner for tea. Even without a common language we still had some laughs and watched their kids play.
Dien Bien is the last town before the border crossing with Laos. We were trying to use up our whole visa so we actually stayed in Dien Bien for 4 nights, which is about 3 nights too long. There is a nice walking trail up on the hillside and several cool monuments honoring a battle that was fought and won there against the French. There is a large outdoor market with lots of fruit and fun stuff but also dog meat. There is another indoor market in town with more clothing and things like that. Mandarin oranges are in huge supply in the north and are sold in mass quantities on every corner and store front. We were the only foreigners there to celebrate the anniversary of the end of the French occupation in this town and after watching several fun performances we were invited to dance around a fire and drink rice liquor. I’m pretty sure we ended up in the newspaper the next day.