I’m finally sitting down to post a recap of our trip to Vietnam (two weeks later.. that’s not too bad). Minh and I took well over 7,000 pictures over the two weeks that we were there, and there’s no way that we would be able to go through all of them… or is there? Minh sat down and put together this seizure-inducing video of every picture we took with the DSLR on the trip (I took a few more with my phone that aren’t included in the video). At a rate of 10 frames per second, the video comes in just over 13 minutes. It’s quite a bit to take in, so I would not recommend anyone watching it if they’re prone to headaches or motion-sickness (or seizures). You’ve been warned. Also.. sorry no audio…
I’ve taken a little time to pull together some of my favorite photos and memories from each places we visited.
We arrived in Hà Nội after a very long flight (delayed in LHR due to weather, mad rush in Moscow to make our connection, delayed for de-icing on the runway) with literally the clothes on our backs and whatever we happened to pack in our carry-on backpack (which wasn’t much). The airline did not transfer the luggage for about 100 or so passengers during the connection in Moscow.. so Minh and I went three days (in Hà Nội and Hạ Long Bay) wearing the same clothes. Luckily for us, and everyone else in our group, it was fairly cold out, so we weren’t sweating much. Our hotel also had provided soap and toothbrushes, so we could still shower and brush our teeth.
While in Hà Nội, we took in the Temple of Literature, Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum and surrounding area (including Presidential Palace, Hồ Chí Minh Stilt House, One-Column Pagoda, and Hồ Chí Minh Museum) and had an outskirts bike ride around Hà Nội. This was all spread out over a few days, with a trip to Hạ Long Bay right there in the middle of it.
On the way to Hạ Long Bay, we got into a fender bender with a semi-truck. Everyone was safe, if not a little shaken up.. but the rear window was completely shatterred. Luckily, we got picked up on the side of the road by a few other tour groups heading in the same direction.
Hạ Long Bay is incredibly beautiful, and that was on particularly hazy and cloudy days. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like if the sky was clear and the sun was shining. On our way to Cát Bà Island, we stopped at one cave formation and did some kayaking. The next morning we took a public ferry back to the mainland, and then a bus back to Hà Nội. I wished there was more time to explore Hạ Long Bay, but alas, we had bigger and better places to head off to. I also had some pictures kayaking that I took on my phone, but will need to upload those at a later date.
After an overnight train from Hà Nội, we arrived in the Huế, which is the birthplace of my father and the Imperial Capital during the reign of the Nguyễn Dynasty. On the night we arrived, we went to a “royal banquet” – during which Minh and I got to play king and queen. The next day, we did a full day tour which consisted of visiting a market, an agriculture museum, the tomb area of Emperor Tự Đức, a tiger and elephant fighting arena (Ho Quyen), cruising Sông Hương (the Perfume River), visiting Thiên Mụ Pagoda, and visiting the Imperial City. It was a very busy day.
I wish we had time to visit Thuận An Beach, which is the beach where my dad fled the country in 1975, and where my sister got her name. It would have been nice to have visited there, and taken a picture for my family. Next time…
It was a long bus ride over Đèo Hải Vân (the Cloudy Pass) from Huế to Hội An. We stopped near the top to check out the view, and saw some old bunkers.
Of all the places we visited, we spent the most time in Hội An… three whole days! We suspect it’s because this is where you get all your clothes custom made for cheap, so the tour companies need to plan for a suffiicient amount of time for the clothes to be made. I only had one ao dai made.. and though it wasn’t exactly how I expected it to turn out, it’s still pretty nice (sorry no picture). Minh and I had plenty of time to explore the city, which included a group bike ride, lots of milling around the shops, up and down the river, and the market area, and just relaxing. We also had a half day trip to Mỹ Sơn temple complex, which is supposedly like the Angkor Wat of Vietnam.
We had a LONG LONG LONG day train ride from Hội An to Nha Trang. Somehow, even though our train left later than the original schedule (by a couple hours) we only arrived a little later than expected, and before midnight on NYE, so that was good. Minh and I ended up ditching our tour for NYE.. opting for a quiet dinner and hitting the beach next to the Sailing Club to ring in the New Year. I’m pretty sure that club started they’re countdown late, but not big deal.
On New Year’s Day, we did some exploration around the city, including Christ the King Cathedral and Long Sơn Pagoda, and then walking along the beach. We mostly just took it easy after lots of walking around. On our second day in Nha Trang, Minh and I joined up with a group tour with Long Phu Tourist to Monkey Island and Orchid Island. While I was excited to get off the mainland and see the beauty of these islands, I was quickly brought back to the reality that these stops were made strictly for tourists. And as beautiful as the beaches and the surrounding areas may have been, the whole experience of both islands, especially the animal shows, really put me off. I don’t think I’ve ever seen show animals so afraid of making mistakes in my life. I also have to say, that Nha Trang was my least favorite place to visit of the whole trip. Wish I had read this article before we headed out there..
We boarded our last overnight train to Saigon (or Hồ Chí Minh City, as it’s officially called). This last train was much nicer compared to the first two, but I knocked our almost right away once we boarded, and slept until the early morning (pre-5AM!) when we arrived in Saigon. The majority of our group was going for a day trip to the Mekong Delta, but since Minh and I only had one day in Saigon, we opted to do an Urban Adventures trip to the Củ Chi Tunnels. On the way, we drove past several rubber tree farms and stopped at a local house where I had my hand at making bánh tráng (rice paper). It’s harder than it looks!
The tunnels were pretty amazing. We only were able to see a small fraction of the over 200 km of tunnels in the area, but just the idea of it is mind-boggling. The tunnels that we were allowed to go through had been widened for tourists, and I still felt a bit claustrophobic. I actually had to bail out at one of the many emergency exits.
After the tunnels we had some time in the afternoon to explore Saigon a little bit more. So we did a lot of walking around to see the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, Ben Thanh market area, the post office, hung out at the mall and did some more sightseeing.
We seriously had such a great time that we’ve already decided to go back next Christmas, with the goal to spend more time in Saigon and the Mekong Delta. One last picture for the post to remember Vietnam by.. at least until next year.