Vietnam

Vietnam - Our Route & Numbers

 Alex & Madie’s travel route in Vietnam.

Alex & Madie’s travel route in Vietnam.

Some Final Thoughts

Writing this nearly five months after our travels, my feelings for Vietnam have not changed. I have very fond memories of the place, and looking back now, these emotions are rooted in the bonds we made with the local people who showed us their diverse country. Yes, there were some rough parts of our trip - the taxi scam upon first hour of our arrival, the meals sitting on tiny stools in the gritty old town streets, the heat. But all of those things are dwarfed by how full our hearts and minds were after our month there, on the back of motorcycles with our newfound uncles, eating our way through cities with our friend Joe, and finally spending a few days with a young guide and the night with a minority village family.

Throughout the rest of our journey through Asia I was searching how to replicate our experience from Vietnam. Maybe in Myanmar that would happen? Maybe in India? Would we love any country as much as we did Vietnam?

I’m still searching...
 

Numbers from Vietnam

  • Days in Vietnam: 27 days
  • Our daily average cost for lodging and food per person: 350,000 VND ≈ $15.50
  • Cost of a 1.5L water: 10,000 VND ≈ $0.45
  • Cost of a Vietnamese iced coffee: 15,000 VND ≈ $0.70
  • Cost of a pork bánh mì: 20,000 VND ≈ $0.90
  • Cost of a bowl of pho: 20,000 VND ≈ $0.90
  • Cost of a 6 hour bus ride: 220,000 VND ≈ $10.00
  • Cost of renting a scooter: 100,000 VND ≈ $4.50 for 24 hours
     
  • Total bánh mìs eaten: 27
  • Total bowls of noodles eaten: 32
     
  • Total time on an airplane: 55 minutes
  • Total time on a bus: 33 hours
  • Total time on a train: 12 hours
  • Total time on a motorcycle: 31 hours
     

How We Got Around

 Alex & Madie’s mode of transportation in Vietnam.

Alex & Madie’s mode of transportation in Vietnam.

Vietnam - Sapa, Three Days with Pê´

 Little ones selling bracelets. Our arms would be full if we bought one from every child asking us.

Little ones selling bracelets. Our arms would be full if we bought one from every child asking us.

Yann Tiersen - A Quai

It was a difficult choice between Sapa and Halong Bay, but we opted for what fit us best - far from crowded boats, polluted waters, and sometimes disappointed experiences. Sapa it was, the mountain town in Northern Vietnam, home to H’Mong and Red Dao minorities.

We arrive aboard a sleeper bus after 4 hours of winding roads with magnificent views, or so we are told. We only see a white blanket of fog, which colors our first 24 hours in town. But we do like it here - it feels familiar. The climate is cool and the fog is thick. It’s August, the coldest time in San Francisco, and Sapa treats us with the City’s weather. The small hillside city is quaint yet has enough tourists to attract (too many) Italian restaurants; the main street is lined with ladies and their local crafts, and shops selling low-price North Face gear. We negotiate poorly for two waterproof jackets, preparing ourselves for the next few days.

Our first morning we find Sapa O’Chau, a non-profit organization offering local communities an alternative path from difficult farm life by providing education in English and tourism, helping artisans sell their crafts, and even employing them as guides or hosts for their many treks. Wanting to help in any way we could, we try helplessly to convince the manager to give us something to do, to let us volunteer. But a week is too short, students get attached, and hosting volunteers takes much more effort than we imagined. Instead, we help by being conscientious tourists: we order a second coffee and opt for a two-day trek, with a night at a homestay promising a short course in herbal medicine and a bath. 

 Ethnic minority women getting ready to sell handmade hemp, indigo-dyed, embroidered products along the market roads of Sapa. 

Ethnic minority women getting ready to sell handmade hemp, indigo-dyed, embroidered products along the market roads of Sapa. 

Sapa is surrounded by minority villages of the H’Mong and Red Dao people, two of the most prominent of the region. These minorities are ethnic groups originating from the area and not yet accustomed to modern life. They are often too poor to afford the things we take for granted, like electricity, clothes, or education. They live in small communities (read: tiny) spread throughout the countryside - we had our first experience with them between Da Lat and Nha Trang with the Easy Riders uncles. Now we get to live with them for one night.

 The start of our two day trek with Pế.

The start of our two day trek with Pế.

It’s 9am and we meet our guide, the shy and young Pế. While trekking out of town we are followed by a lady insistently selling textiles, her voice filling the awkward yet understandable silence that occurs when people with a language barrier come together. But in time, all three of us open up, and Pế’s candid, sweet interest in our life is touching - “No babies yet?”. We slowly discover more about him and his H’Mong village nearby; we learn he has been learning English for only six months at Sapa O’Chau, walking miles to get to town for classes. He wants to be a full-time trek guide and keep perfecting his already unbelievable English. During the first half of our day, Pế will stop many times, chatting and laughing with locals and offering invitations - his younger brother is getting married in two days. Soon the seldom silences are the comfortable ones you can only have with a close friend.

Pế shows us his country, takes us along winding mud roads and across vast farmlands, tells us about hemp and how to cultivate and treat it, asks us about whether we’ve ever tried smoking it, puzzled by why we’re not using it for clothing. We pass small villages nestled in vibrant fields of green, barely a few houses, with roaming chickens, pigs, and water buffalos. There’s an elementary school, a small old crooked building with corrugated metal walls. I think of Worldreader and hope they’ll be here soon. We keep going, cross ruined bridges and step over gaping holes, falling silent to the scenery in front of us, the dramatic landscape of rice terraces, hills, and valleys of Sapa. Everything the fog was hiding from us a few hours before. We got lucky with the weather, as a couple days before Typhoon Nida was hitting the area, causing a large, fatal landslide blocking the way up. Now we’re in this painting after the storm, with large clouds overlooking our trek.

 This part of Vietnam is really special to us. From trekking 24km with our new friend Pế, spending a night with a Red Dao family of ten, and visiting Pế’s H’Mong village home to celebrate his brother’s wedding. Our hearts couldn’t be more full. The beautiful landscapes are just a bonus. 

This part of Vietnam is really special to us. From trekking 24km with our new friend Pế, spending a night with a Red Dao family of ten, and visiting Pế’s H’Mong village home to celebrate his brother’s wedding. Our hearts couldn’t be more full. The beautiful landscapes are just a bonus. 

 The food in this region is quite simple by Vietnamese standards - not as many sauces or herbs, surprisingly - but delicious, nonetheless. Standouts for us were the Sapa spring rolls (in a distinct wrapper and filled with the usual ingredients plus egg, mushrooms, and more vegetables), and really flavorful steamed pumpkin, both of which we ate at Sapa O’Chau’s post before Ta Phin village.

The food in this region is quite simple by Vietnamese standards - not as many sauces or herbs, surprisingly - but delicious, nonetheless. Standouts for us were the Sapa spring rolls (in a distinct wrapper and filled with the usual ingredients plus egg, mushrooms, and more vegetables), and really flavorful steamed pumpkin, both of which we ate at Sapa O’Chau’s post before Ta Phin village.

A warm lunch of local food and we’re off again for another 10km in the fields. The kids we pass are many, often curious and smiling. Madie has a knack for getting them to smile and laugh. We explore a small cave, ford a river and turn our hands blue with indigo herb.

We finally arrive at our homestay, a humble wooden house of a Red Dao family of ten, set on a cliff overlooking the valley. Electricity is only for light and TV, everything else is made with open fire. Grandma is the only English speaker, and her welcome is as warm as a grandma’s could be. She is wearing traditional Red Dao clothing, a hemp robe dyed indigo blue with colorful embroidered patterns. We sit outside on small wooden stools, munch on french fries, and watch heaps of corn roast for the chickens. We talk, sharing a bit about ourselves and our cultures, and soon learn about the tragic human trade of the surrounding villages - daughters being sold into marriage to Chinese tourists (the border is only 20-30km away) for a mere $3,000, a large fortune here. Our shock translates to sadness in Pế and grandma’s eyes. 

 Grandma and granddaughter outside their home.

Grandma and granddaughter outside their home.

Their life is simple, humble, but full of joy, laughter, and the screams of a three-year-old girl running around, the end of a toilet paper roll to her mouth so to be as loud as possible. Her older brother is proud, also blaring, and butt-naked most of the time, his pants a size too big. The two children join us and grandma as we pick herbs along their property, the plants serving various cures for stomach pains, joint aches, skin rashes, headaches, and more. Put them all together in a cauldron of boiling water and we have the cure-all bath we were promised. Right before dinner, grandma fills two large wooden barrels with the steeped dark liquid and hands us towels. We close the curtain and jump in, giggling as quietly as we can - our smiles too large for the room.

 Various herbs procured and being steeped for our wooden barrel bath.

Various herbs procured and being steeped for our wooden barrel bath.

After dinner with the family (and plenty of happy water to go around) and a restful sleep, we hike our second day back to Sapa, passing the local market to have proper bowls of phở with Pế. Over our bowls of noodles, we finally give in and promise to come to his brother’s wedding the next day, a little shy at first, but sticking to our promise to say yes as many times as we can this year. And we could not have been more right.

We rent a motorcycle to head over to Pế’s brother’s wedding the next day, taking off from the top of the valley and riding alongside the dramatic and breathtaking landscape. The road is full of potholes, giving me a chance to perfect slalom techniques. It turns to gravel and mud on a steep incline as I proudly conquer the road with a manly roar, too oblivious to notice Madie getting nervous. Finally approaching a bridge, the road is now impassable - we took a wrong turn as it turns out.

 Breathtaking views of Sapa’s valley.

Breathtaking views of Sapa’s valley.

After an hour of being lost and messaging Pế, we finally arrive at his village, Y Linh Ho - between Ta Van and Cat Cat. The towns are spread out amongst the rice fields, so we meet at the only describable place: the local shaky red bridge. As we head over to his house, sweating profusely after 20 minutes of uphill walk, we enter a small house (missing to hit my head twice) filled with many of Pế’s (slightly drunk) family and friends around a few tables.

 Pế’s mother Mai in front of their house.

Pế’s mother Mai in front of their house.

 Humbled to have been invited to Pế’s brother’s wedding celebration.

Humbled to have been invited to Pế’s brother’s wedding celebration.

 Madie with Pế’s mother and aunt.

Madie with Pế’s mother and aunt.

The wedding is humble, with many guests approaching the bride and groom for a traditional speech and toast, spoken quietly as if only for them. The rice wine flows, with Pế’s mother making sure we get our fair share, clearly happy we’re here. The warmth of the wine and the people quickly overtakes us. We try to make small conversation in broken English, feeding on sticky rice and spicy salt barbecued pork and boiled chicken. As we leave and thank them profusely, we’re given one of the many bracelets sold around Sapa by the mother, a simple token to remember this place.

Madie and I walk away for a couple minutes, and stop to feel this moment again: beautiful in its simplicity, sincerity and profound emotion; people we barely knew inviting us to their home for a celebration; people we may never see again but who we will remember vividly for a long time; some call it a blessing. We take a minute together and let the happy tears go away before we continue toward our motorcycle.

We will spend the rest of our day with our favorite activity, roaming around the countryside on a motorcycle, stopping for iced coffee and to reminisce on a beautiful three days, finding ourselves lucky to have skipped Halong Bay. Meeting and spending time with people was always more important to us than seeing limestone, and here, in this beautiful valley of Northern Vietnam, we met the beautiful people of Sapa O’Chau, the Red Dao family of our homestay, and our new dear friend, Pế.

 Dressed in traditional Red Dao clothing with our guide and new friend Pế.

Dressed in traditional Red Dao clothing with our guide and new friend Pế.

Sapa treated us with its picturesque valleys and quiet beauty; it showed us another side of Vietnam, one of the mountains and far from the country’s busy motorcycle-packed streets and sidewalks. It’s been a month since we landed in this country, in Saigon, the capital of South, which lost the war to the North. We have seen many faces of Vietnam: we found new uncles and friends, and met old ones; we indulged in cheap delicious food at every stop, with local beer to wash it down; we met students who wanted to speak English and learn about the US; we caught a glimpse of propaganda at Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. It’s time to head back to Hanoi for a few days before the next country. We walk through the old town where streets are named after what is sold there - maybe this is “Restaurant Supply Street”; this one must be “Keys and Locks Street.” We stop for more Bún Chảs and Bánh Mìs, for one last Hanoi beer and random delicious soup on a small red stool, for a final Chè. We haven’t left and already miss the best food of our trip, the perfect balance of spices, fresh herbs, heartwarming broths, and succulent meats. We walk lazily, thinking of nothing and of everything our trip has come to be. I realize this is the first country in SE Asia where people have learned to do nothing, to just sit at a terrace and drink Vietnamese coffee - finally some French influence. But daydreaming is dangerous - a scooter almost runs over me. It’s time to leave the heat and humidity of SE Asia and head to China.

 A local boy with the sun sinking below Fansipan. This is the highest peak of Indochina, and at 3143m high, it’s the most south-eastern part of the Himalayas. Here we are, just 50m from our hotel, at golden hour.

A local boy with the sun sinking below Fansipan. This is the highest peak of Indochina, and at 3143m high, it’s the most south-eastern part of the Himalayas. Here we are, just 50m from our hotel, at golden hour.

Vietnam - Hoi An To Hanoi with Joe

 The infamous yellow walls and decorative lanterns of Hoi An’s old city.

The infamous yellow walls and decorative lanterns of Hoi An’s old city.

Bon Iver - Holocene

Hoi An

We leave Nha Trang at night, hopping on a 10-hour sleeper bus to Hoi An, a small town at the center of Vietnam. The bus departs full and adds a few passengers along the way, all of whom will be laying on the floor between the aisles. Madie and I have top bunks, semi-beds, too short for me but still better than the Philippines. We arrive at 7am, groggy, ignore the many taxi drivers trying to get a hold of our bags, and start heading toward our guesthouse; there’s nothing like a nice early morning walk. With a few hours until check-in, we go out for a cup of rich Vietnamese coffee, pâté, eggs and bread. Gosh, I missed coffee until we got to Vietnam. 

 Old city street scenes.

Old city street scenes.

We walk aimlessly with no one else on the road but, perhaps, the other travelers waiting for their rooms. Hoi An, the Venice of Vietnam, is a must stop for anyone venturing south of Hanoi. But for us, it is a meeting point we’re overly eager to reach, the place we meet Joe. 

He’s joining us from the Philippines. And as food lovers traveling together, what better place to be than Vietnam. Hoi An greets us with eye-catching scenes and mouth-watering food: the old houses with dark wooden panels giving the real character of the town; the bright red Chinese dynasty temples and intricate mosaic dragons, venerating generals instead of religious figures; the local dishes, Cao Lau, Bánh Xèo (first of many) and the succulent Bánh Bèo Chén; the pedestrian walkways and river, illuminated by the many colorful lanterns; the market of produce, meats and noodles, close to Bourdain's favorite Bánh Mì (which we’ll double down on); an old school shave for Joe at the local barber (it’ll take a little more to take my beard away - it took 33 years to get there).

The old Japanese bridge is the main attraction, even though no one remembers why it’s there. We indulge on many Vietnamese iced coffees, small desserts, and passion fruit juices. We get lost and trespass trying to find the local theater currently on holiday, only to find the drummer practicing in the back, and wash it all down with the cheapest beer we find, at a mere 3000 VND ($0.13) a pint. After a few too many glasses, we come across a community house and temple at the edge of the old town. The old gatekeeper was done for the day but is happy to give us a last tour under the light rain, contributing to the eerie feel of the place, a bare bone structure honoring another Chinese dynasty. The place is simple and peaceful but his stories make it feel more magical; we even get to hit the drum with the old man’s help on the proper rhythm. 


Huế

A small shuttle takes us to Huế, stopping by the Marble Mountains with temples built on top as if carved into it. The cave holds a large Buddha, overlooking us and the flood of Chinese families and groups of friends, giving Joe his first experience of the infamous tourist bus. But it’s Huế we’re most excited about. Upon arrival, I eat my first bowl of Bún Bò Huế, the local bowl of noodles with a lemongrass note.

Huế was the capital of Vietnam during the Nguyen dynasty, with the large Imperial City now well restored; it also holds a collection of tombs and pagodas unrivaled throughout the rest of the country. The Perfume River that crosses the city is known for a peculiar flowery smell, which we all make a story up for: something related to a princess (Joe’s), a former trading post (mine) or a natural phenomenon (Madie). Whichever it really is, we liked the princess story best.

 Our dragon boat on the Perfume River in Huế, Vietnam.

Our dragon boat on the Perfume River in Huế, Vietnam.

Aboard an extravagant boat with two dragon heads and plastic chair seats, we embark on a day of visits around town. We start in the Thiên Mụ Pagoda and walk along its monastery. The place is simply beautiful, set atop a hill overlooking the river and surrounded with pine trees reminding me of the south of France; children are setting the table for the community lunch and last meal of the day. The famous picture of the burning monk is displayed above an old car, as a memorandum of the monk who lived there, drove to Saigon and lit himself on fire in 1963 to protest the Diem Regime persecuting Buddhism (see Wikipedia: Thich Quang Duc). 

 This temple was the last in a series of three gateways that leads to Minh Mang’s burial site, which we could not access. The rest of the royal grounds is made up of lakes, bridges, obelisks, flower gardens, and pavilions, making it one of the most epic tombs we’ve been to.

This temple was the last in a series of three gateways that leads to Minh Mang’s burial site, which we could not access. The rest of the royal grounds is made up of lakes, bridges, obelisks, flower gardens, and pavilions, making it one of the most epic tombs we’ve been to.

The dragons take us to two royal tombs, with drastically different styles. The first is the tomb of Minh Mang, second emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, and who allegedly had around 400 wives and concubines (mah man...). Built in 1840, the tomb is actually a large architectural complex of pavilions, palaces, temples, moats and ponds, set harmoniously in the forest. It is entirely symmetric, creating a calm and enchanting park where we could stroll for hours. And as friends go, the best thing we think of is tasting a glass of sugar cane juice. The second is the tomb of Khải Định, twelfth King of the Nguyen dynasty reigning until his death in 1925. Despite being unpopular with the Vietnamese people for being too obedient with the French, his tomb is one of the most elaborate, combining ancient and new architectural styles evoking old French castles.

Exhausted by the heat and the many visits, we decide to come back to do what we do best: eat. We introduce Joe to Nem Nướng, and the weird fishy herb, adding imperial rolls and Bánh Bèo. We finish the night with a tiny food stall under a bridge serving Chè, the delicious dessert found in many Southeast Asian countries (Halo Halo in Philippines, Mix Mix in Malaysia, Baobing in Taiwan): shaved or crushed ice, sweet or coconut milk, and as many toppings as you can fit in a bowl. As always Vietnam’s Little Red Plastic Stool doesn’t disappoint. 

I’m happy to convince them the next morning of a real Vietnamese breakfast - the one they serve at the food stall on the corner of the street with the same colored stools. We all order Bún Bò Huế and leave our bellies full and happy to visit the immense Imperial City of 1000 acres. Despite being bombed multiple times, the palace complex has been restored and is now open for all to visit. The large moat and ramparts immediately give a threatening feel to the place. We venture through the Emperor’s mother's house, his mother-in-law’s, and walk in the fields that hosted the many concubines (not yet restored). As in Chinese tradition, the city was called the Purple Forbidden City and only those allowed by the emperor could enter; eunuchs were the only ones to see the many concubines (yikes). The many houses and quarters will get us lost multiple times, eventually finding our way out, exhausted and (already) hungry. Nem Nướng, Bánh Bèo, and Bún Thịt Nướng it is.

 The gateway to Huế’s Imperial City.

The gateway to Huế’s Imperial City.

If Hoi An took our hearts, Huế took our bellies. As we get to the train station we’re jolly about boarding an old night train together. Failing to pre-book dinner service, we survive on Hanoi beers, a pack of Pringles, and nuts. We’ve eaten enough for a few extra days anyway. 


Hanoi

Hanoi greets us at 5:30am - already with sweat and heat. The place is busier, but the streets are large and sidewalks are left to people walking, unlike Saigon. The architecture and buildings remind us of Paris, or maybe Lyon - we all get nostalgic of home, and of France also. We walk around the neighborhood, avoiding the many scams of free donuts and sandal repairs - it is Vietnam after all. The Hoàn Kiếm Lake, close to the old town, is a busy crossroad where KFC, Burger King, and Korean dessert companies meet the local shops. We’re accosted by a group of students. Although reticent at first (and waiting for another scam), we understand they only want to talk and practice their English. Thirty minutes (and a few new Facebook friends) later we finally head to the hotel, ready to crash and watch TV for once.

 The French presence remains strong through this city’s architecture and lakeside promenades.

The French presence remains strong through this city’s architecture and lakeside promenades.

But Hanoi will be a different place for us. A busier city, with too many cars and scooters for us to feel too comfortable, and a night market unbearably loud and crowded. We visit the Women’s Museum (Madie’s favorite), take note of the traditional fashion and blackened betelnut-stained teeth and oblige to Joe’s favorite hobby: going to the movies. We even eat Belgian food nearby an old church right out of a small French town. At night, the quirky water puppet show will tell us the story of the lake. We hunt for the best Bánh Mìs and find the delicious Bún Chả, a noodle soup with a sweet broth accompanied with ground meat and Nem - and discover that the photo of Bourdain and Obama is in a nearby restaurant. Another round of Chè will finish the job - the puppies were just extra icing on the shaved ice.

 The epic Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

The epic Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

Hanoi is also home to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, set in breathtaking propaganda. Walking there, we pass by the heart of the Communist Party, a succession of luxurious houses similar to French bourgeoisie. As we walk amongst them, I can’t help but recall the words of Tintin, our Easy Rider from Da Lat: all the money gathered by the Communist Party is to empower themselves and live in luxury while most of the rest of the country is at despair (swear words not included). Near the mausoleum, we have to take a long detour along a patch of grass protected by guards; even though we see the entrance nearby, we will walk 10 minutes around houses to not disturb the scenery. If there’s one thing Communism knows well, it’s how to look epic. Red flags surround an almost empty square; the mausoleum threateningly overlooks the area; A single line is formed to visit Ho Chi Minh’s corpse. We head in line together and are being asked to hand over our cameras and phones (hence why we have no pictures); the few who sneak them in are quickly scolded when attempting to take pictures of the guard. The visit to the corpse of Ho Chi Minh is made in a long procession, in complete silence. His corpse is in a glass rectangle protected by four guards and illuminated on all sides, almost hologram-like; above him, a large hammer and scythe overlooks everyone menacingly. Outside the mausoleum is a park, adorned with a giant screen showing a concert of the Communist Party, traditional songs celebrating Ho Chi Minh and other figures. We want to exit but are forced through a park we don’t want to pay for. Finally out, we are all in different states of shock. For me, there is also fascination. I never imagined such effort for the image of a party - not a religion, a country or even a philosophy, but a political ideology that took power and is now imprinting its mark on generations. It was an unforgettable experience. As Tintin put it: “There is no religion here. The only one allowed is Communism.” 

To be fair, I do not know enough of the accomplishments of Ho Chi Minh and I’m not one to venerate religious figures either, whether they be Christian or other. What truly shocked me is the imposed belief of a political choice, the lack of freedom of thought and speech. Until this visit, I did not understand how much certain fundamentals of the Western world were so important for basic human rights: the simple power of freedom of expression. And it became difficult for me to imagine how a population can escape from it.

 Hanoi comes alive at night, when the weather finally cools and the sizzling food stall bring you out to the streets.

Hanoi comes alive at night, when the weather finally cools and the sizzling food stall bring you out to the streets.

But maybe I’m simply underestimating the power of a new generation, especially in the times of social media when information is a lot more difficult to control. As I write this, Bourdain just published his piece on Hanoi, and where he had lunch with the President, and skillfully writes:

I cannot possibly overstate the warmth with which he [Obama] was received by the Vietnamese — particularly the young ones — who were not even alive during the war years, for whom America appears a far, far more attractive (and less threatening) model than China. Vietnam may still be a communist country. But you can hardly tell from the streets. Money flows in and out in a raucous, free-market scrum of Western brands and materialistic expectations. Buildings are going up everywhere, private enterprise having long ago outpaced ideology. As in Cuba, the toothpaste is out of the tube. And there’s no putting it back.”
 Exploring Hanoi with our early morning “glow” after our sleeper train from Huế.

Exploring Hanoi with our early morning “glow” after our sleeper train from Huế.

So what do Joe, Madie and I do? Well, we go to a pub for dinner - with decadent burgers and a happy hour making sure we drink a little too much. We spend the last hours being happy together before he has to leave for his plane back to the Philippines. Justin Vernon gave a meaning of the song attached to this post: “Places are times and people are places and times are people.” Hoi An, Huế, and Hanoi were first and foremost a place and a time we spent with our dear friend Joe. Now, it’s only Madie and me again. It‘s been four months on the road now. We’ve changed already, maybe, but we still have a way to go.

 

Links

We went from Hoi An to Hanoi, traveling for eight days total on a shuttle bus and train, both very comfortable. Bus tickets can usually be arranged with your hotel for a nominal fee. We booked the train ticket online (www.seat61.com is always the best resource when it comes to train rides in any country).

  • Hoi An is a 10-hour night bus from Nha Trang. It’s a beautiful town no one should miss if visiting this part of Vietnam - Joe’s favorite spot! The main attraction there is simply to visit the old city. Buy a ticket at the counter on the outskirts to get five entries to the temples, community houses or other main sites. We stayed at the Heritage Homestay, a 5-minute walk away from all the action. And just outside Hoi An, on the way to Da Nang, is a popular site called Marble Mountains. Our shuttle bus to Huế stopped for 90 minutes so we could check it out.
  • Huế is home to the Imperial City and the many tombs of past emperors of Vietnam. You can find many cheap tours for $7-9 (ask your hotel). The Imperial City is a fixed price for foreigners at the entrance. Don’t give in to the touts.
  • Hanoi is, of course, the capital of Vietnam. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is the main attraction, but it is also the starting point for Ha Long Bay (which we skipped), Sapa (our next destination) or going South. Our night train from Huế to Hanoi was a 10-12 hour comfortable ride. Bring your own dinner, or package of noodles (hot water is available on all trains in Vietnam). 

We missed two major sites (we like to leave things to come back to):