HO CHI MINH CITY (SAIGON)
I only had two nights here due to my visa expiry date rapidly approaching, but that didn’t mean an uneventful time. The fleeting visit included the value for money War Remnants Museum (with horrific visual reminders of the war), watching locals play what appeared to be badminton with their feet, three amazing 50p street-side pork kebabs within 18 hours of each other, having an inebriated man ride his motorbike into our table whilst chomping on some BBQ goat, before finishing the night off with rooftop drinks overlooking the city with my Mexican/Canadian amiga. A good way to say goodbye to Vietnam, an incredible place.
TOP TIP: If coming to Vietnam for diving/snorkeling during September, don’t do it in Hoi An. Instead, wait to get to Nha Trang for crystal clear waters to about 10m
The Thu Bon River where it isn’t supposed to be…
…but the floods, which happen only twice a year, really didn’t seem much of an issue to the locals. Life went on, markets traded, dragon dances weaved through the streets. The men in blue overalls knew it was coming. You just have to finish your dinner a bit quicker when you see the river lapping up against the doors of the restaurant you’re eating in.
Snake Wine Night
Loose scales in shots – commonplace.
PHONG NHA NATIONAL PARK
Looking at the first image below, you wouldn’t think you could walk through that dense jungle, but you can, for 16 back-breaking kilometers as it turned out. Advertised as a day tour, I thought it would be a relatively easy going and tranquil task, perfect for someone who’s never done any trekking whatsoever. Instead, what materialised was 8 hours of climbing up what felt like vertical slopes covered in jagged, slimy rocks, avoiding poisonous plants, swimming 400m into pitch black, freezing cold caves with 6 inch ‘slightly’ venomous spiders taking to the water in front of me to lay their eggs, clambering over 30ft limestone boulders (where falling off really wasn’t an option) into the depths of an even darker cave, wading through rivers, sliding down banks of saturated mud as I cling to thorny root systems, squeezing through low tunnels of foliage, one hell of a toe blister and spending the day with visibility of seldom more than 5ft. This last aspect, as we found out an hour into the trek, was due to the fact that this was only the second time the guides had used the route we took (they got lost researching it), and so the path we were taking was not that well trodden, in the slightest. I would have been utterly broken if it wasn’t for the cold beer that greeted us at the finish line and the sense of achievement gleaned over the course of the day. A day of days.
Can you spot me above?
THE PUB WITH COLD BEER, PHONG NHA
Pictures from the bike road to The Pub With Cold Beer, where a fellow Phong Nha Farm Stayer and I took the ‘scenic’ route to our destination, on purpose, honest. It tuned out to be a great experience, especially having three school kids jump on the back of your bike as you try to cycle up a hill.
HA LONG BAY
One of the must sees of Vietnam. However, getting there involved a ride on a bus along Vietnam’s unique road system, and I was lucky enough to sit right at the front of the bus in the Death Seat. By this I mean I could see all the near misses going on ahead us as we hurtled towards Ha Long Bay. The main priority of Vietnamese bus drivers it seems isn’t to avoid motorcyclists or head-on traffic, but to avoid the maze of pot holes ahead of them, regardless of the fact that another bus is doing exactly the same in the opposite direction. This often creates a problem – multiple vehicles vying for the same patch of tarmac at high speed. Somehow we made made it to Ha Long Bay for the 2 day tour and the ride in the Death Seat felt worth it…
View from the deck
Sailing round the islands
The Hammer & Sickle: A gentle reminder of where I am
Shortly before taking this photo (in an area where photos WERE allowed), I was walking along a street trying to find the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and spotted what appeared to be the outside exhibtion of a war museum behind some railings, perfect photo opportunity I thought. So camera comes out, ready to snap, only to be waved at by an angry communist Army man holding a machine gun. Upon turning around I realised I was stood outside Vietnam’s Ministry of Defence, and was swiftly ushered to the other side of the street. It turns out that it was actually a military museum across the road, just not the best location to have a camera hanging round your neck.
Ha Noi Food Tour by Night
Started with a visit to a local market where many traders are from out of town who opportunistically set up stalls on the roadside. This makes it easy for people to pull up on a motorbike, collect their order, and get away quickly…
After some micro baguettes (“baguettes, in Asia?!” I hear you cry, yes baguettes, brought here by the French during their colonial rule) containing fried shredded pork with cucumber, which were one of the best things I’ve ever tasted, we (San the guide, and Gerry and Lori, a New York couple who formed the rest of the group), headed for a tiny place serving Bahn Cuon. That’s the only dish they served, as is the way with many places here, one dish specialists…
Our guide then took us on what felt like a real treat, although all the groups doubtless get it, but it still felt special nonetheless. We took a walk down the the railway line which bisects Ha Noi and runs right up against people’s homes. At this point I should mention that it is still a fully active main railway, you wouldn’t have guessed…
The penultimate stop led us to a street corner which by day is a bag shop, and by night, transforms into a BBQ joint. A more exotic menu was offered here, so when in Rome, you try duck tongues (sitting on top of everything else below). Very little actual meat for those considering them.
The tour finished in a ‘secret’ roof top cafe overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake, and to be fair it felt very much off the beaten track. Not a westerner in sight, only a few locals, and what seemed like some convincing needed by our guide to the owner to let us in. The two-storey climb up a spiral staircase was worth it…
Hoan Kiem Lake