We spent two weeks in Vietnam – we moved from the capital Hanoi to Cat Ba Island which is close to the (in) famous Ha Long Bay. Afterwards, we took a train to reach the central highlands – Tam Coc, Hue, Bach Ma and Hoi An. We spent our finals days in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon – the old capital of South Vietnam – and we sailed along the Mekong Delta.
In Vietnam we were amazed by stunning, immense sceneries; we have learnt to deal with wild drivers and savage traffic jams, dynamic cities, fierce, determined but generous people, tons of Asians tourists. We understood that only patience could save us when it comes to transportation. Last but not least, our bargaining skills have now reached the TOP level – we could probably run a business at the local market.
Since I’ve already told you about Hanoi in my previous post I’ll talk more extensively about Cat Ba Island. Here we spent the worst two days we have had so far during our holiday.
Don’t get me wrong, the island is stunning; however, it is loud, dirty and crowded, full of low-priced and packed boat tours that drive you up and down the bay. Luckily, we decided to paya bit more: totally worth it. We almost got a personal tour, since we shared our boat with only other 7 people. Also, our tour avoided Monkey Island, a popular stop were tourists are encouraged to give beers to monkeys 😢. For the ones planning to visit Vietnam, the tour is organized by Cat Ba Express.
The Central Highlands – Tam Coc
After a very rough drive from Cat Ba to Tam Coc, we finally relaxed in this enchanting national park. As soon as we were dropped off to our stay we were able to smell the hay of the fields
This city is particularly famous for the production of rice – literally, there are tons of kilos of rice drying under the sun in every corner of the city, on the roads and in parking lots. Every space in the direct sunlight is used for this purpose, and cars just drive on it! Of course, we tried it too 😏
We decided to visit the park by scooter, and we climbed up and down temples in the tropical heat. At Tam Coc there are no hills: the ground is flat, where rice is cultivated, surrounded by karst mountains – which If you remove the rice paddies and you replace them with water, it’s like being in Ha Long Bay, with more cows and less tourists.
The Central Highlands – Hue
Since we wanted to avoid a night bus in the fear of experiencing crazy drivers for 18 hours, we decided to take the night train. This was one of the best choices ever. The train is old and charming – as soon as you move on the railway you are inevitably brought back to the past.
Hue was our chill stop. We decided to visit restaurants instead of the ancients tombs; however we couldn’t avoid visiting the old imperial citadel, that was right in front of our stay.
The Central Highlands – Bach Ma and Hoi An
From our stay in Hue we arranged a private car to reach Bach Ma national park and then Hoi An, our next destination. Bach Ma is the mountain that gives the name to an immense national park hosting one fifth of Vietnam’s biodiversity. It is even said that some of the remaining wild tigers live in the most hidden corners of this beautiful park.
In 1930 the park became a popular resort and holidays destination among the French and the richest part of Vietnamese society. And that’s the period when the first chalets and houses started to be built in the park.
We decided to follow the 5 lakes trail. During our trek in the forest we were surrounded by gigantic butterflies and dragon flies, as well as other strange bugs. The lakes are little mountain ponds all connected through the same stream of water – you can also swim there.
South – Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta
Saigon is very busy – maybe even more than Hanoi – but the atmosphere here it’s totally different. The people seem to be more relaxed, less motorcycles use the sidewalks. Foremost, the city is full with small bars, cafés and restaurants, some of them are even “secret” spots, without any sign to recognize them. We found one, the rogue bar, which is specialised in crafted, local beers, and even has a rooftop space! Next to these little gems there are modern skyscrapers, and we couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit the tallest of Vietnam.
Around Ho Chin Minh City there are the Cu Chi Tunnels, a net of circa 200 km underground that was built to protect people from the American bombings. It was also used by Viet Congs as secret base and armoury. Villagers moved their everyday lives two meters under the ground: since the bombings were so frequent women started sewing or using the telar, there were beds and cooking spaces. We tried to walk for 100 meters in one of these tunnels. The place is so narrow, you have to crawl to move forward, and there is not a lot of oxygen. Definitely not recommended for claustrophobic people.
Moreover, the area offers the possibility to shoot with the guns used during the war, the AK-47 and the M16. When you visit the outdoor museum, you always hear in the background people shooting, and it definitely helps you imagine how the place would look like 50 years ago.
South – Mekong Delta
We decided to join an extremely cheap tour agency to visit the Mekong Delta, and we got back a very cheap experience. We literally visited all the shops and merchandise area of the Delta, but at least we sailed through its islands and its narrow channels. And we managed to eat a lot of food for free 😏. The ones who know Marcello, our tour guide was his Asian version.