Hey guys! I hope you’re all well and getting by okay in this very odd time we’re living through.
As we all know, travel is pretty much still at a standstill right now, so this situation has given me time to look back on my South East Asia backpacking trip that started in September 2019 and ended in December 2019 (and cry whilst remembering the heat, the freedom and the cheap food.)
After North Thailand and Laos, we headed to Vietnam, planning to spend about a month there (which we did.) Because we spent so long in the country, one blog post would be far too long and I don’t want to chew your ears completely off, so I’ve decided to split it between the North and South regions we travelled.
We started in the North and worked our way down South (that’s over 1000 miles – Vietnam is a huge country length-wise!) There’s a lot to get through here. Vietnam is an impressively diverse and extremely budget friendly destination (I’m talking meals for less than £1 and pints for about 60p) so sit back, grab a cuppa and enjoy!
Our first destination in Vietnam was Hanoi, and we actually didn’t enjoy it, to be honest. Most travellers we met absolutely loved it, but I personally couldn’t see why – after an explore around the crazy streets, sitting by the lake and walking about, there didn’t seem to be a great deal to do or see in the daytime. However, it’s worth a visit; the nightlife is certainly memorable and it’s a great base to explore other nearby areas such as Ha Giang, Cat Ba and Sapa.
Okay, I’ll give it to Hanoi – they certainly have some great, authentic Vietnamese food. We discovered the famous Banh Mi here – a backpacker staple at around 30-90p a pop, the stuffed baguettes filled with all sorts of yummy stuff really are delicious and we had some amazing ones in the city (namely from Banh Mi 25.)
Ha Long Bay
Despite being a very touristy destination, Ha Long Bay was without a doubt one of the most beautiful settings we experienced in our entire trip! We took the Hideaway Tour there, and just had a fantastic time. The scenery was idyllic (especially from the boat) and our kayaking experience was certainly memorable.
When I said kayaking was memorable, it was certainly enjoyable yet slightly alarming at the same time. The islanders dogs insisted on joining us, but had a really annoying habit of constantly launching themselves off the boats, and then desperately scrabbling to get back on board once they got tired. So, the kayaking experience I imagined of basking in the sun, relaxing and elegantly rowing actually turned into a whole lotta’ screaming, howling and hauling very wet doggos back into the boat, before repeating several more times.
After leaving the stunning Ha Long Bay and enduring 2 boats and 3 buses to Ninh Binh, we arrived and checked into a lovely hostel. Silly (and drunken) me realised I’d booked our original hostel for the day after we arrived, so we found another one to stay in for just the night. Unfortunately, this one turned out to be absolutely gorgeous, comfortable, cheap, and even came with a delicious free breakfast; the owners were also lovely, and we felt so unbelievably guilty the next day walking to the fancy new hostel next door whilst they asked us with a puzzled look how we were going to fit all that Ninh Binh has to offer into one measly day. If you can’t tell, I still feel really, really bad about this. Moving on… *wipes away tears*
Although this wasn’t exactly a completely pleasurable experience, jungle trekking in the Cuc Phuong National Park was certainly memorable (I’m really seeing a pattern here…) I have genuinely never sweated so many buckets in my entire life; it’s true that jungle humidity is another level of intensity. Sorry for the TMI, but I could pretty much wring out my top once we’d finished. That being said, it was a pretty awesome day and I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. My friend Meg might not agree so much, as she realised about an hour after we left that she’d been bitten by a leech who clung to her leg like superglue, and consequently meant she spent the rest of the day googling diseases you could catch from leeches and panicking. Never Google ANYTHING.
The trek up to the Hang Mua Caves gave us a brilliant view, despite the torrential rain and clouds. The walk down was probably more treacherous than the walk upwards, and accordingly took about 5 times as long, as we were terrified of making one dodgy slip-up and tumbling to our dire fate. Always the optimist, clearly.
Boating in Tam Coc
Quite the hilarious experience was our little boat trip around the Tam Coc area. We paid a lovely lady to pedal us around (using her feet, I might add – I need to try this next time) and enjoyed a slow, leisurely ride around the breathtaking scenery. This was until we approached a floating market/snack-shop, and after explaining that we weren’t hungry, we realised our rower actually wanted us to buy her a snack, and we were subsequently milked for all we were worth, whilst being encouraged to purchase half of their available stock. (All jokes aside, she did a brilliant job rowing us about so we couldn’t say no to her cute smile. She was persuasive, I’ll give her that.)
Our overnight journey from Ninh Binh to Phong Nha was when we truly realised how grisly a sleeper bus experience can be. Our bus arrived late, leaving us with only the bottom bunks (never a good idea – hello, car sickness) and arrived early into Phong Nha, meaning we got there at around 4am. Feeling confused, groggy and extremely tired, we headed to our home-stay where the host thankfully let us check in early and enthusiastically tried to sign us up for an action-packed tour (for that morning, may I add – i.e. 5 hours after our arrival) of caving, diving, zip-lining and abseiling. We politely declined and retired straight to bed – I can only imagine how the excursion would have fared, running on 2 hours of broken sleep and an oreo.
Veggie Box Restaurant
Yes, this restaurant is an entire highlight in itself because it was so good. It was totally vegan (which excites me massively, because it’s not often I get more than one option to choose from.) After eating just rice and noodles day in day out, it was always so amazing getting to mix it up with something different. This place even offered a vegan brownie for dessert – I was so happy I could have wept!
Phong Nha is famed for its beautiful caves, especially Paradise Cave. The warm and sweaty trek uphill to get inside here was undeniably worth it for a stroll inside the coooool, cool cave.
Hue wasn’t our favourite place ever, and we only spent one night here before heading to Hoi An via the Hai Van Pass.
This was one of the cheapest hostels we booked on our whole trip (I think it was around £1.50 a night) and yet what came with that was the nicest, sweetest, most welcoming service ever. We were checked in with a big plate of fruit, offered free cold beers from their fridge and even given a complimentary breakfast. I honestly could not recommend this place more – if you’re staying in Hue, do check it out! You won’t regret it.
So, there we have the first leg of our Vietnam travels! I really hope you enjoyed this post and I look forward to part two, where we’ll delve into the South!
Love, Dayna x
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