Oh, Vietnam. What a magical little place you are. With lushy landscapes, friendly local smiles, and less than $1 banh mi's, it's no wonder I fell in love with both wonderment and ease. With just two weeks to explore though, I had to focus. So with friends in Saigon and a promise of an escape to (MUCH) warmer weather, the choice for this trip was easy. I was headed south for the winter. And I was damn happy about it.
I started on Phu Quoc island. A 40 minute short, painless, and inexpensive ($30) flight from Ho Chi Minh city. There I was met with new friends, mojitos by the pool, floating restaurants, island hopping, and my favorite, beach after beach after beach.
My recommendations are as follows:
Things to do:
- Sao beach- for a less crowded beach vibe, fine white sand, and the ever so infamous swing pics.
- Chuon Chuon Bistro & Sky Bar- amazing drinks of the booze and boozeless type coupled with beautiful city views.
- 9 station island hopping tour- full day small (hostel only) tour through the smaller neighboring islands. Snorkeling, fishing, fresh seafood lunch and perhaps best of all, free beer.
- Floating Village Rach Vem- for adventures in driving, floating local restaurants, and a look into real Vietnamese life and culture.
- Rory's beach bar (Long Beach)- known for a mix of Vietnamese and western food, cocktails, toes in the sand, and beautiful sunsets.
- 9 station hostel- sleak, clean, affordable and with the blackout curtains and individual sockets and lights that every backpacker dreams of. Luxury accommodation for a non-luxury price.
After 5 beautiful days on the island we headed by ferry to Ha Tien for a taste of mainland and the Mekong Delta. A 5 hour bus ride from there brought us to our first homestay in Can Tho and it was another 3 hours by local bus the following day to Ben Tre. If you have a real taste for locally made Vietnamese food and off the radar and quiet places, look no further.
Things to do:
- Relax!! Sit in your hammock & relish in the quiet sounds of nature and the spectacular views.
- Cai Rang floating markets- Go at 5:30 AM or as soon as the first boat is willing. Beat the flock of tourists arriving later and enjoy a quiet and peaceful breakfast with coffee from a small nearby boat.
- Get lost by pedal bike in the countryside. You never know where a 3 year expired coke or .80 cent pedicure awaits.
- Wave and smile to everyone constantly waving and smiling at you :).
- Green Village 2 in Can Tho- pictured below. Free dinner included.
- Quoc Phuong Riverside Homestay- pictured below. A lot less English, a lot more bugs, and just as highly recommended. Free breakfast included.
From Ben Tre we traveled 1 1/2 hours by bus back to Ho Chi Minh city for a quick nights sleep. In the early AM we took another (again painless and inexpensive) flight up to Dalat. It was a place I completely underestimated and before day one was finished, I was already googling long-term rentals. Typical....
Things to do:
- Night markets- for the best and cheapest street food I found in Vietnam. Keep an eye out especially for Bánh tráng nướng, a local rice paper dish filled with eggs, meat, cheese and veggies. Be ready to shop and be sure to bring along the hungriest version of yourself.
- Datanla falls- take the luge down to the waterfalls. It was an exceptionally fun ride to the bottom and the views weren't too shabby either.
- Linh phuoc pagoda- I was prepared to be mildly impressed by what I assumed was just another pagoda. But this one made me tear up a bit. I could have full on cried had other humans not been present, but I casually kind of kept my cool. It's massive and made entirely of broken ceramic and glass, and was by far the most impressive I have ever seen.
- Trai Ham Da Lat weasel coffee- Stop by if you're feeling adventurous enough to drink coffee made from straight up weasel poop. I was and recommend that you are, too. Side note- it was delicious. Side, side note- you can see actual weasels (and their feces).
- Maze bar- OK, this couldn't sound more lame. We jokingly made our way there thinking it had to be at least worth one drink. Well y'all, we got lost and lost and lost again inside of this dungeon with levels of fuckery around every corner. It was brilliantly designed and I highly recommend a visit. If you hate it, well, grab a cheap drink and don't shoot the messenger ;).
- Honorable mentions- golden valley for nature, Elvis on the hill for the weirdest lunch spot of your life, and the cable car for impressive views of rolling hills and rice fields.
- Oh, and while you're there, motorbike. Everywhere. All the time.
- Redhouse backpacker hostel- For $5 a night dorm beds, scooter rentals, great staff and FREE breakfast with a view. *Note- Highly unnecessary to climb over the fence at 2 AM to get in. Simply ring the doorbell next to the padlock and someone will open the door. Take it from me, my ripped jeans, bruises, and the ever-lasting embarrassing video evidence.
And last, and maybe least, Ho Chi Minh city. A great place to catch up with old friends, meet new ones, and struggle to breathe on a daily basis. The petty crime, traffic, and pollution was a bit of a turn off compared to the peace and tranquility of where we had been, but that was all to be expected on my end. As an expat though, it did appear to be a fun, inexpensive, and easy place to both adjust to and live.
Things to do:
- Ben Thanh market- for inexpensive clothes, shoes, and trinkets. Be prepared to haggle your ass off.
- Bui Vien street- for good eats, rooftop bars and drunken and crazy backpacker shenanigans.
- War Remnants museum- for a sobering look at the Vietnam War. Be prepared to cry, maybe throw up, and for your night to be definitely ruined. That being said, in my opinion, it's an absolute MUST-DO in the city.
Accommodation- No recommendation.
I kept waiting for things to go wrong in Vietnam. I was ready for the standard plane delay, to be robbed, or to be laid out somewhere with debilitating food poisoning. But it just never happened. From the itinerary, to the food, to the one in a million friends along the way, it was as perfect as perfect trips go.
So thank you for the memories and to everyone who made my short stay especially unforgettable. Until next time, Vietnam <3