Backpacking Vietnam South to North

For our first ever big trip, Craig and I chose to go backpacking Vietnam, from south to north. We went from Ho Chi Minh City up to Hanoi on a two week tour.

It was a place that both of us had been wanting to visit for some time, and he was planning to go anyway. I was lucky enough to get invited to join. This was to be the start of a budding travel relationship which has led to many blog posts and even our own travel YouTube channel!

Back then I wasn’t too sure what I was doing with blog posts – so this is a very long post of the whole trip! I still hope you find it useful and enjoy the tale of our first proper adventure!

The Intrepid Travel Tour

We booked onto a tour with an Australian travel company called Intrepid. Personally, I had never been on an organised tour like this before, having previously travelled round parts of South East Asia independently with a friend. But Craig had, and we thought it would be the best way to keep us on our strict two week schedule as well as avoiding complications with travel, as we had a huge amount of ground to cover!

We did the South to North package, travelling from Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon, which is still its airport code which is kinda odd) all the way up to Hanoi, the capital city.

The itinerary that we did has sadly changed at the time of editing this post to update it in 2019, and now includes Cat Ba island rather than Ha Long Bay, which is a shame as that was the highlight of the trip for us, but they do have other tours which include this, or you can always do an independent tour from Hanoi.

Cathay Pacific plane wing
We flew with Cathay Pacific

Getting there

We packed our big bags, rather than cases because that isn’t real backpacking, and headed to Gatwick on the train. We had chosen to fly with Cathay Pacific based on recommendations from a friend, and were flying via Hong Kong.

We would have preferred to break the journey up more evenly, in 6/7 hour chunks rather than 11 hours then 2 but never mind. The flight was at midday and they turned the lights out pretty early to try and get us to sleep on Hong Kong time, but since that was 7pm UK time the result of this was that we just didn’t sleep. I watched an entire series of The Big Bang Theory instead… oops! Then after acquiring coffee in the airport we headed for our second flight, ready to make it to Vietnam to start our adventure.

Day 1 – Arrival in Ho Chi Minh City

To start our backpacking Vietnam south to north adventure, we flew in to Ho Chi Minh City. We got there and it was actually chucking it down. Great start. We had booked an airport transport through Intrepid and it picked us up along with 2 Canadians. They were doing the same tour as us but starting later in the week.

Beers at East West Brewery
Beers at East West Brewery

We got there and threw our stuff into our room as we were keen to get out and explore the city. First things first, we headed straight to a bar called East West that sold Vietnamese craft beer, a growing industry there, just like back home. The beer was tasty and it was definitely not a traditional first stop but it was an us stop and we would recommend to any beer fans!

After this we headed to a street food market which we had spied by the hotel, called BenThanh street food market. It was odd, like being in Shoreditch practically with the neon signs, street art and variety of stalls. It was tasty and cheap, and definitely needed after my not eating the plane food we got for breakfast!

Street art in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
I didn’t choose the Banh Xeo life, the Banh Xeo life choose me

We wandered over to the Palace, which is iconic in Vietnamese history, but decided since it wasn’t open much longer that day to go in other day. This would turn out to be an error on our part…

We stopped for a drink and by this point I was basically falling asleep into my beer. We only had a few hours until our trip orientation meeting, so we headed back to the hotel for a quick nap and freshen up before hand.

Benthanh Streetfood Market Ho Chi Minh
Benthanh Streetfood Market

Orientation meeting with Intrepid Travel group

The official start of our journey backpacking Vietnam south to north! Predictably the meeting wasn’t all that informative beyond what we already knew about the trip anyway from the guidance on their website, although the one unexpected thing that was brought up was our guide’s insistence that we had to have hiking shoes for the jungle trek we were due to do towards the end of the trip. The website had advised comfortable walking shoes to be brought for this but nothing more, so naturally everyone had just bought trainers. I was the worst for that as I had only bought my converse, having lugged my gym trainers all over South East Asia last time I went and not worn them once so assumed it would be pointless to bring them. More on this when I get to the hike… but rest assured hiking boots were not needed!

We went out for a group meal that night as a chance to get to know one another. On our trip we had a German couple a similar age to us, two Australian sisters again a similar age, an Australian family with a girl in her twenties, then a Canadian couple who lived in New Zealand and a lady travelling solo from Australia.

Everyone got a sharing set menu (although I got my own veggie dish – I had decided to be veggie for the trip following the food poisoning incident in Thailand. Plus it’s easier to say I am than explain my weird meat eating habits to people in this kind of context!). Turns out most people had been there for a few days already to acclimatise and get over their jet lag. Would definitely say that is a smart idea, although not one we had time for unfortunately.

OMG rooftop bar Ho chi Minh City
Me enjoying my delicious cocktail on the roof

We were kind of hoping people would want to go out for drinks but no one else did after, so we went off by ourselves to a roof bar we had spotted nearish the hotel on the walk to the restaurant. It was called OMG and was actually pretty nice on the roof! We ended up having G&Ts and then several cocktails because we were having such a good time we wanted to stay.

But we had an early start for our trip to the Mekong delta the next day so we had to head back to the hotel. Which was definitely the worst one we stayed in, called the Blessing Central Saigon Hotel. Wouldn’t recommend unless you like not having a window in your room or wet rooms.

Day 2 – The Mekong Delta

Mekong Delta riverbank
Mekong Delta riverbank

We were on a bus nice and early with our overnight bags packed for our stay at a homestay on the banks of the delta. We were then picked up by a boat, and our guide told us that the islands in the river were named unicorn, dragon, phoenix and tortoise, for their different qualities. Still think the tortoise got a rough deal there but hey.

Snake vodka
Snake vodka

We were taken to a tropical fruit tasting, where people came and performed Vietnamese songs for us and the other groups that had been taken to that location. I learnt that I do not like papaya.

Then it was off to a honey farm, where we were given honey tea and there were bees flying around quite literally everywhere, although the snacks were pretty tasty.

We were finally taken to a coconut candy factory and I foolishly tried it to be polite even though I hate coconut and thought it was gross. They had a shop there with some interesting merchandise, including snake vodka with a dead cobra in the bottle.

The whole thing was a bit of a tourist trap really, I get that they need to make a living but it wasn’t quite the authentic experience we were promised.

Mekong delta canoe ride
Mekong delta canoe ride – we didn’t mean to be matching, honest

After this we had canoe rides wearing the traditional hats to our lunch spot. I definitely do not suit hats. The lunch was interesting, I was given chicken for not eating fish so I already had to break my no meat rule which I wasn’t thrilled about.

Everyone else ate a giant fish with the scales still included but I am informed it was tasty. We were given loads of dishes to share and there was a crazy amount of food. This was to become a theme across all these trip included meals that we did. Meals that often included me being given loads of tofu, which I am not a big fan of, which was kind of unnecessary as there were plenty of communal veg dishes that were more than enough for me. Next time I do a similar trip in future in Asia I don’t think I will bother saying I am veggie and just eat what I do like…

We then headed to our homestay and had a walk around the small village where it was located. After that we had time to chill in the hammocks and drink some beers and continue to get to know our fellow travellers before dinner.

Hammock in mekong delta homestay
Enjoying the hammock in the homestay

Dinner was much the same as lunch in terms of food, lots of rice, veg, meat and spring rolls yum.We were also treated to some home made local rice wine. We had a beautiful view of the river from the terrace we sat at, as a storm came in. It was quite cool watching the thunder and lightning, until we had a power outage! Luckily we had some candles and iPhone torches came in handy for the half hour or so it took to return. Most people went to bed but we stayed up with the Germans as it was one of their birthday’s so we had a beer at 12 before going off to bed in our wooden cabin type things.

I had never been to a homestay before, but for those who had they said that this was more like a hostel, as we didn’t really meet the family and we all had individual rooms. The bathrooms were behind the rooms and opened out into the jungle, which reminded me of some of the place I had stayed in Bali which were set up like that. I have to say after the second homestay I could understand what the others meant, but more on that later.

a butterfly in the mekong delta
a butterfly in the mekong delta homestay

Day 3 – back to Ho Chi Minh

The next morning as we waited for the bus to come and get us after our breakfast of omelette, bread and bananas. I saw some of the biggest butterflies I have ever seen and failed miserably to get a good picture of one.

Ho Chi Minh city post office
Ho Chi Minh city post office

We got back to the hotel and had day rooms to keep our stuff in and change. We had free time until our first overnight train, so we wandered off to try and visit the palace. Unfortunately, the president had died the week before we arrived and it was closed for a few days for the state funeral.

Instead we had a wander round the city and found the opera house and post office. Many of the buildings in Ho Chi Minh are very French influenced from the period where they ruled there.

We managed to go to the market and buy me one of those round wicker bags that every instagram travel blogger has for a bargain price of about £6. No regrets I love it, I hadn’t taken a handbag because I wanted to get one of those so I needed to get it early in the trip for future use! (Side note – it broke in Cuba 6 months later but is surviving with the strap tied not glued on!).

We also picked up some cheap local rum to try and make the overnight train more bearable.

fountains in Ho Chi Minh City
exploring the fountains in Ho Chi Minh City

Following a slightly disappointing group dinner at what seemed to be a chain Pho restaurant, we headed to our first overnight train. I had been very unsure about what to expect on these trains, having heard and read very mixed tales of people’s previous experiences. We bought our own sleeping bags with us and that proved to be an excellent shout and well worth the bag space which they took, as we used them at both home stays and on all the trains. I would highly recommend bringing one if you plan on doing any similar journeys!

The train wasn’t that bad although it was very basic and not comfortable. But we didn’t have any bugs and the state of the toilets was only not good rather than horrendous – winner! We were in groups of 4 with others from our trip. It was fine really, just didn’t get a huge amount of sleep. We made it to Nha Trang at 5am and were woken up by blaring music not long before.

overnight train cabin vietnam
My bed for the night

Day 4 – Snorkelling in Nah Trang

That day we were going to do a group boat trip to visit the fishing village on a nearby island, then go snorkelling. After changing and leaving our bags in another day room we were ready to go and explore.

snorkelling trip Nah Trang Vietnam
Feeling less of a boat lad after being forced to wear a life jacket

First we went for some local breakfast of eggs, bread, pork and beef at a tiny little cafe with mismatched tables and plastic stools, then for some coffee before the boat trip time.

Bamboo Boats Nah Trang
Bamboo Boats Nah Trang

Nah Trang is a funny place, lots of tourists go there from places such as Russia and China. There was a huge luxury resort build on one of the islands, complete with a cable car over to it and giant hollywood style writing by its ferris wheel. Seems somewhat out of place when you consider the small fishing communities surrounding it.

We took a boat to the fishing village and had a walk through it, where we were taken to bamboo basket boats. Then we were rowed across in those to a floating fish farm, where the main boat picked us up. They are funny little round boats which do not look like they should work so well but they do! Some people even got asked to help row – I was on GoPro duty.

In a bamboo basket boat
In a bamboo basket boat

After this it was time to go out to a reef and try some snorkelling. Now I have been snorkelling before and to be honest I really hated it. I am not a huge fan of being out of my depth in water in the ocean, despite being a pretty good swimmer. But I think I can safely say that my problem with snorkelling is more the mask than anything, after the second attempt. It feels so weird and they are always too big for my tiny face so water eventually starts to come in. Think I will save it for the great barrier reef if I ever go there but I don’t need to do it again!

At this point when we were debating taking the GoPro in for some shots, but didn’t have the floating handle for it. Our guide decided to help us out and created one out of cable ties and an empty plastic bottle then threw it into the sea. Despite the aforementioned fears I jumped straight off that boat to save the camera, which to my surprise and relief, actually did float thanks to the bottle. Thank you, physics.

Floating bar
Floating bar

After this we were given lunch on the boat, which was again masses and masses of food! Then our guide, who named himself ‘crazy’ Dong, made us all cocktails and a few of us went to go and enjoy ours on the roof, which was great but it was bakingly hot up there, especially with the metal ceiling! Crazy Dong then wanted to make a floating bar, which involved the cocktail bucket going in a life ring and us all wearing upside down life jackets to float us. This was a very cool experience, chilling in the sea with new friends and come cocktails floating along.

Snorkel trip Nah Trang
Exploring the top deck

We then headed to one of the island’s with a beach for some chill time. This was full of Chinese tourists, most of whom were still fully clothed and not remotely acting as if they were on a beach. Others were having full on photoshoots, at this beach which frankly was not that nice. For the full hour or so that we were there and we just could not stop watching all the posing and outfit swapping that was going on between them!

After the boat trip we had a quick nap after virtually not sleeping on the train. It was at this point that Craig and I realised we were so very sunburnt on our backs, thanks to the snorkelling and roof sitting with the water washing off cream and reflecting the rays. Definitely the second worst sunburn I have ever had, after Bali where my legs were in agony for days.

We headed for a group dinner, which was pretty standard in terms of food, but we managed to buy a giant tub of aloe vera on the way which was so vital for the next few days. A few people then came with us to a bar on the beach to celebrate that it was about to be Craig’s birthday yay! We went to a fancy place and had cocktails which were pretty good, before heading back to the hotel for a good sleep with the promise of a free morning. Sadly I don’t have any pictures as our guide said lots of tourists get robbed in Nah Trang and advised us not to take phones out, but I really think it would have been fine and I am annoyed I don’t have any photos from this!

swing on Nah Trang beach
swing chilling in paradise

Day 5 – Pagoda and Spa day

Treated ourselves to a cheeky birthday lie in and then went for lunch at a beach bar. The lunch was slow and not great but at least the views were nice and we had a quick wander onto the beach before having to rush back to check out. Then we spent the afternoon exploring, going to a pagoda and an ancient temple, before treating ourselves to a spa trip!

Nah Trang Pagoda Buddha
Nah Trang Pagoda

The Pagoda was very pretty but we had to climb what felt like millions of stairs before we got to the giant buddha statue at the top. The views of the city from there were awesome though so it was worth the very sweaty climb.

Po Nagar Cham Tower
Pretty sure I was on the set for the Jungle Book

Next was the Po Nagar Cham Tower, which is a Hindu temple that quite literally looked like we had walked onto the set of the Jungle Book, so naturally I absolutely loved it! It was however swarmed with massive busloads of tourists, who seemed to insist on taking hundreds of pictures of everything with various combinations of photos of themselves. It was an extreme sport trying to find free spots and take our own pictures! But it was incredible and the shrines inside were beautiful.

Waterfall Nah Trang
Queen of the waterfall

Then it was spa time! Having spent the day getting annoyed by the volume of tourists, we opted to get our own private mud bath area for the 8 of us who had gone, so that we actually could relax. This proved to be a good idea and it was fun soaking in the mud, before entering the very warm bath with what looked and smelled like giant tea bags floating in it. I’m sure it was good for our skin.

Craig and I then went to go climb the waterfall and take some shots with the GoPro but after about 10 minutes we got told off because apparently you weren’t meant to go in it even though there was a bridge leading to it… So then we went to check out the hydrotherapy walk, which turned out to be a bunch of painful jets shooting at you from every angle. After a good soak in the jacuzzi and then a dip in the pool, we showered and mentally prepared ourselves for train number two.

(Sidenote: @pockettrailblazer actually has an episode of her first travel series which features here, which we were very excited to see when we discovered her channel a few months after this trip, so check that out if you want to see just how brutal that hydrotherapy walk was!)

Nah Trang spa pool
Nah Trang spa pool

Group dinner that night was at a place on the beach which was again a little disappointing. Other than the tasty side of sushi we got, because birthday. Our overnight train wasn’t until 11 so the waiting around was pretty crap but gave me plenty of journal writing time.

The second overnight train was definitely the worst. We had a night cap and headed to bed, but some of our group’s carriage had cockroaches in it and they weren’t too happy about it. We saw some smaller bugs in ours so blasted the place with our bug spray. I did not let any of my limbs out of my sleeping bag despite being boiling! The severe back sunburn that hurt every time I moved added an extra level of fun to that experience too.

Day 6 – Hoi An

Hoi An Lanterns
Lanterns ft Craig

We arrived in Da Nang at 7am and got straight on a bus which was to take us a few hours away to Hoi An, somewhere we were really looking forward to. We arrived and I jumped in the shower, where I was greeted by a tiny gecko on the walls! Lunch was at a banh mi bakery. These are the sandwiches you see all over Vietnam and as they had vegetable options they became a firm favourite of mine.

Decorative gate in Hoi An
Decorative gate in Hoi An

Then it was time for our orientation walk, which started off good but ended up being rather long given how small the town itself is, with people wanting to stop and look at things would have been best to do so by ourselves I think! We were shown some tailors and Craig had wanted to get a suit made, so he picked one and a blazer, and I as a sucker for shopping couldn’t resist getting involved with a pure silk wrap dress, from Blue Eye Tailor. They took our measurements and we picked fabrics with a promise they would be ready the next day. After that hard work of all those decisions we went for a few cocktails, which were very cheap and delicious.

Cheap tasty cocktails Hoi An
Cheap tasty cocktails

We went for another group dinner that night, where I had some pumpkin because I didn’t like anything else on the menu! Everyone else went back after that but Craig and I wanted to explore the bars and take in the beautiful lit up lanterns of the town. It is honestly one of the most picturesque places I have ever been. There are virtually no cars with bits that are pedestrians and bikes only, the buildings are all around 3 storeys and there are lanterns everywhere. Really does look like something out of a disney movie.

Hoi An by night
Hoi An by night

We found a roof bar and had a drink there before turning in for the evening due to a very early morning bike ride being scheduled for the next day. Which made sense because it would be too hot later in the day but still.

Lanterns roof bar Hoi An
Lanterns and beer make me happy

Day 7 – Exploring Hoi An

Despite the early hour the bike ride tour was pretty good, we saw rice fields and wildlife and attempted not to die on the roads (Vietnamese traffic is very chaotic).

bike rice fields Hoi An
My bike Chariot

Once this was over a group of us got a minibus taxi to a place called the My Son temple, an ancient Champa ruin set deep in the Vietnamese jungle. These ruins were amazing and fairly well preserved in places but sadly quite damaged from all the recent wars in the last century in Vietnam.

There were bullet holes and shell craters and signs warning you not to venture into the jungle due to unexploded land mines… The temples were amazing though, so exquisitely carved and mad to think they were built in around the 11th century. I felt like Lara Croft all morning I was loving it! I have since done a more in depth post on this which you can check out here!

My Son Temple UNESCO Site
Rhonna Croft at your service

When we got back we went to see the tailor. The garments were finished but needed some slight alterations, so we were told to come and fetch them later that afternoon. We headed to Amba beach where we got some lunch and chilled for the afternoon. The sea was pretty rough so not much swimming was done but we braved it anyway since the water was quite warm!

Hoi An beach
One sunburnt me on Hoi An beach

We retrieved our new tailored clothes, which are great and we are really happy with, and went for a short wander to gather the souvenirs I wanted before dinner. I wanted a lantern for my room, bold move I know given all the travel but I am happy to say it has survived and is now hanging from my curtain rail! I also purchased a small felt dragon who has a string of pom poms, beads and a Vietnamese hat, since I wanted something with the hat included and I love dragons.

Mojitos bigger than Rhonna's head
Mojitos bigger than Rhonna’s head

Craig and I went off for dinner and got a cute balcony table overlooking the river in a restaurant called the banana leaf, where I had a gigantic salad. I also had the worst mojito ever, it was basically dark rum – the first issue, a tiny bit of ice and some mint. And there were annoying, loud Australian children running all over the place too so we ate fairly swiftly before going to find a bar.

We managed to find one with happy hour buckets of cocktail on a terrace, and no children. We headed across the river and saw an Irish bar with green lanterns and some live music, so to be stereotypical we stopped there for one with a table watching the river. They had cider there too, which as I am not a big beer drinker and Asia is mostly beer, I was grateful for! Also foreign Strongbow is way tastier than ours. Then we found a place with drunk backpackers playing some tunes so stopped there, but the DJ let the drunk people take over and it was a mess so we headed back to the roof bar from the previous night, where we played Jenga until it closed.

It seemed odd that all the lanterns went out at 10-11ish and all the bars were shut at 12, but it was fairly off season so I suppose that is why. How An was my favourite place on the backpacking Vietnam south to north trip though. Hands down.

Day 8 – The journey to Hue

The Hai Van pass
The Hai Van pass

The next day we were off to cross the former South-North border to get to Hue. We took a bus for this journey and stopped at China beach, which was actually pretty dirty and not that nice and an old french bunker at the Hai Van Pass. The view from up there was very cool.

When we arrived in Hue we had a group lunch at a vegetarian restaurant, which you’d think I would be happy about. But at this point I was pretty done with tofu and I don’t like mushrooms, which were basically the only options.

We were then allowed to explore and Craig wanted to check out the demilitarised zone bar and I have to say it was very cool and they really committed to that theme, going so far as to have a map of the country and outposts etc painted on the ceiling! We then wandered around. Not a lot was open and the bars and restaurants were quite empty but we went to a few anyway before heading back to go for group dinner.

It was very wet in Hue, where it was their rainy season, unlike in the north and south of the country where it was dry. We had to take shelter in a bar on the way to dinner due to the volume of rain, where we tried some local beer. We tried many many local beers across the country, but the one in the centre, Huda, was pretty nice.

blue margarita Hue
The blue drink obsession lives on

We all went for cocktails after dinner which was nice even if we did seem to have managed to find the slowest cocktail makers in Vietnam ha. There were blue cocktails so I was happy.

Day 9 – The Imperial City

Hue Forbidden Imperial City
Hue Forbidden Imperial City

The next morning we headed out into the rain to go see the Imperial city. The architecture here was very Chinese influenced and it was really interesting to walk round and see all the buildings and little gardens and imagine what it was like when the royal family lived there.

Forbidden Palace Hue
Forbidden Palace Hue

We then visited the emporer’s tombs which was also a really beautiful site and I found dragon statues and more Koi carp. After this we headed to a small pagoda and walked around it, before hopping on a boat back down the perfume river.

I throughly enjoyed the dragon boat we went on, even though the river cruise itself wasn’t that exciting. We went on a multitude of different boats but this one had to be the weirdest, they were selling beers and coke and water out of a cool box to us. And we sat on plastic chairs that you could just pick up and move and they were also trying to sell us clothes. Bizarre.

Next it was time for our third and final overnight train. Woo… Our guide organised take away to be brought to the station so that we could eat it for dinner as we were leaving at 4pm. The pizzas we got as we thought it was the best option for eating cold on the train were tiny! And the train was delayed by an hour, which I was sad about because I needed to pee and the station only had squat toilets. I had to brave it and there were dead cockroaches in there. It was definitely not a trip highlight…

The train showed up and mercifully it was more like the first train than the second, which had been very old and really not great. We played some card games, including wizard which is a firm favourite of mine and was excited to meet others who knew how to play! By the third train sleeping wasn’t as hard although it still really wasn’t great, but that was it, no more trains! We had made it to the final city of our trip, Hanoi.

Day 10 – Hanoi

Noodles for breakfast
Noodles for breakfast

That morning, after our breakfast at a local place of noodle soup, we were taken on an orientation walk and around the Ho Chi Minh complex, where the famous leader’s body is still on display for people to visit, which we did. They were rather strict about covering up and cameras and wouldn’t let us take water either, which wasn’t ideal as it was really hot that day!

The mausoleum where Ho Chi Minh lays
The mausoleum where Ho Chi Minh lays

We then got free time to wander around the city so Craig and I went to a famous street food street after getting that all important train track photo, of where the night trains run right through the busy city streets. He ate some weird tiny birds with heads still attached. I opted for chips.

Then we went to go find a Harry Potter themed cafe which I had heard about in the Old Quarter, which was pretty sweet and we had ‘butter beer’ and ‘goblet of fire’ cocktails which were great and cost about £1.50. After that we wandered to the temple on an island in the middle of the lake. But it was packed and cost to enter even though it was half under repairs so we decided to give it a miss and just walk around the lake then stop for a drink looking out at the view. Here we saw some wild terrapins to add to our wildlife spots.

The train track shot in Hanoi
The train track shot in Hanoi

Group dinner that night was at a place that just did one or two dishes that were not Rhonna friendly, so I had a fresh smoothie from one of the many cafes dedicated to fruit drinks which was pretty tasty. Then we found a hostel with a roof bar and two for one cocktails for girls, so I was on drink buying duty. It was alright but quiet due to how off season it was, other than a group like ours who were having their last night drinks, so we headed back to pack for our next mini adventure.

Day 11 – Jungle trekking and homestay

That adventure came at the end of a 4 hour bus journey down some very questionable and bumpy roads up a mountain at the end. During a stop for a photo on the mountain of the view I spotted the biggest most poisonous looking spider I’ve ever seen and suddenly felt very uncomfortable about a jungle trek and a night in the jungle… I will spare you all the picture, because gross.

Tiny cat vietnam
the smallest cat I have ever befriended

We were dropped off with our bags and had lunch cooked for us by a local family, who had several very friendly cats and dogs which came to hang out with us. Then it was off on our jungle trek, which you may remember, we were told we needed hiking shoes for, which no one had or was willing to buy just for this.

Well thank god we didn’t, our guide showed up in sandals. Not walking sandals, no, like those slider things everyone as wearing last summer. It was advertised as a mostly flat terrain walk of 4km. It was not mostly flat, particularly towards the end and according to my iPhone step counter it was more like 4 miles than 4km in the blistering heat.

Also we saw a big lizard which was cool and a long black snake edging its way up the rocks, and a stick insect. Fortunately no sign of any more creepy ass spiders. Still, in two hours we had made it to the stream where we cooled off and headed to the lake, where a tiny boat with tiny plastic chairs took us through what looked like the set of Jurassic park, to our homestay in the village of Da bac.

Boat journey to Da Bac
Expected to be attacked by dinosaurs any minute

The village was only home to a handful of people, and this homestay looked more authentic than the previous one. We were all staying in one room and sharing facilities this time.

We jumped into the lake, which was quite fun for a little swim around, although the water wasn’t as clear as it had been in the sea which we swam in earlier in the trip! Then dinner was served to us by the family. Both the meals we had this day were really tasty and I wasn’t attacked by excessive tofu yay!

Traditional dancing at Da Bac homestay
Traditional dancing at Da Bac homestay

After our meal, they performed the traditional dance of their people, the Mung tribe, for us, which was great and when it came to the bamboo trap dancing, where you jump between the changing gaps, they got us all up to join in. I’m not big on audience participation but it was a pretty cool experience. After a few beers we headed off to bed on our mattresses on the floor in mosquito nets.

Day 12 – Back to Hanoi

Hammock vitiligo feet
Hammock chilling

In the morning, some of us went kayaking for something to do until we were picked up. This proved pretty challenging as they were two man kayaks and I had never been kayaking before, so there was some initial disagreement on how best to paddle, but we got there in the end.

It was exhausting though and I got massive blisters on each thumb which made it somewhat difficult to row but it was still cool to have done. Then we had the long and slightly disconcerting trip back down the mountain to Hanoi to look forward to.

Treat yo’ self – Vietnam edition

Ceaser salad sofitel vietnam
Salad of dreams

We got back and after a good long shower, headed off into town for some dinner. Craig and I decided that we fancied a little bit of luxury after all our travels, and so decided to check out a hotel bar we had been recommended by a friend – think it was a Sofitel but honestly cannot remember. It was absolutely lovely and we ended up treating ourselves to dinner. It was incredible, the bread came with truffle butter and I had the best salad of my life and we had a cheese board. I really missed cheese.

After that we ventured to a roof bar where we had a drink before heading back to the hotel to prepare for our final trip out, the one we had been most excited about, Ha Long bay.

Day 13 – Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay boat cruise
Craig on a boat in Ha long bay

Off we went in the morning to the harbour where we would be catching a boat that would take us to stay overnight amongst the rock formations of Ha Long bay. The boat was huge and much fancier than I was expecting! We had our own little cabin and there was a roof deck with sun loungers and a bar. We had lunch on the boat, which included for me, when everyone else had pork stuffed tofu, tofu stuffed tofu. Yeah, I am not kidding.

Ha Long Bay caves
Ha Long Bay caves

We stopped to visit some caves, which were surprisingly untouristy which was nice, and then we went to the Titop beach one one of the islands, which was full of tourists. This is where the tower is where everyone takes their Ha Long bay photos, which was a gruelling walk up some very uneven stone stairs, where a lady tried to charge us double for water what the price list next to her said… But we climbed to the top and the view was so very worth it!

Ha Long Bay View Point
Ha Long Bay View Point

Then we went for a little swim and had a beer on the beach. Once again the water was beautiful and we never wanted to leave. Sadly then the sun started to go down, so we headed back to the boat for some dinner after watching the sunset. It was definitely one of the most beautiful sights I have seen. Shame that there were so many other boats there too, but hey. Was still absolutely stunning and an amazing way to pretty much end our trip.

Ha Long Bay sunset
Ha Long Bay sunset

Day 14 – final day in Hanoi

The next day we spent some time sunning ourselves on the deck after a breakfast of toast and bacon rather than noodles which was pretty welcome by this point. Then the boat headed back to the harbour, for our final journey back to Hanoi.

We made it back and decided to go for a walk to the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ the prison where American soldiers were kept in the Vietnam war, which was originally built by the french occupiers for Vietnamese rebel prisoners. The versions of history which were told weren’t exactly neutral, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless.

Then, after all the trains and uncomfortable bus journeys, we decided to treat ourselves to a massage after spotting a few reasonably priced hotel spas. The full body massages weren’t the best we’d ever had but at least they had sorted out a few kinks and aches before our long flight home.

We had our leaving dinner that evening and it was sad to say goodbye to everyone, although we went back to the street food area for some final beers with the germans before leaving.

The next morning we were the first to leave nice and early to get to the airport for our 12pm internal flight to Ho Chi Minh. Of course, because we booked on a budget airline, it was delayed by 2 hours. Luckily we had anticipated something like this happening and booked a flight 5 hours before our flight to Hong Kong. So whilst it was dull waiting, we had some last beers and hopped on our plane.

We got some dinner at Ho Chi Minh airport, and were surprised that we found no Vietnamese wine in duty free. We had tried some and wanted to bring it back, even though it wasn’t great. But that was not to be. Also my dinner which sounded vegetarian had shrimps and various meats in it which wasn’t ideal.

In Hong Kong airport we managed to catch half the Liverpool game for the boy, in another Irish pub, where it was about £7 for a beer! And then it was off for our final plane back to London. Luckily the plane was quite empty and we managed to take a row of three each to lie down and have a sleep, which was definitely needed, since we landed at 6am and had to get back from Gatwick and be at work for 9… Needless to say it was a long day!

And that was our experience of backpacking Vietnam south to north in only 2 weeks.

My thoughts on Vietnam

I really loved it. It was a bit of a culture shock in some ways, like the traffic which was mad and you literally just had to cross the road and hope for the best as most places had no crossings. Asian cities have always seemed to me to be pretty bustling and rather cramped and hot, but charming in their own way, and I found Vietnam to be no different in that respect.

The old quarter in Hanoi was really cool, as was Hoi An, they felt slightly different from being smaller and older.

dusk in Hoi An
Dusk in Hoi An

Hoi An was my favourite place I visited for sure, I felt like I was in a gorgeous fairytale and wish we had had a bit longer to explore. I also could have spent more time on the beach here or in Nah Trang, as they were very pretty.

It was a very full on trip and I wouldn’t recommend going on one like this if you mind moving constantly and want to relax! Nor if luxury and comfort is your thing, although it really wasn’t that bad most of the time!

I personally struggled with the food a bit, as I am so fussy with meat and they don’t seem to have many vegetarians there. There is a lot of raw meat being sold and prepared in the street which is grim in that heat in my opinion but it is just what they do there. Some places did have more Western options, which I didn’t really want to always have to pick but sometimes it was my only choice.

Again I would say, fully recommend taking a sleeping bag if you plan to do the trains, and I think it is worth doing one for the experience!

If Vietnam is on your list I would say go for it, and try and see as much as you can! If you have longer than the 2 weeks we could manage with leave from work, then do it because there is so much to see and it is pretty cheap once you are actually there!

We fully intend to go back and explore the north a bit more and see a bit more of rural Vietnam. I am personally looking forward to experiencing a bit more of the food now I am much less fussy! But backpacking Vietnam south to north was a great first trip for us and will always have a special place in our trips for us!

Categories: Adventure, Backpacking, bars, Eating out, Fine dining, Food & Drink, Lifestyle, Travel, VietnamTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


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