Training through Vietnam

A 2-week journey from South to North

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Dark Blue Planet / Vietnam / Training through Vietnam

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We had heard so many great things about Vietnam and we decided pretty early on in our travel plans that we wanted to go via trains along the whole length of the country, from Ho Chi Minh in the south to Hanoi in the North. This is our experience of this diverse and beautiful country!

Filed Under: Vietnam by Katrine February 5, 2013, 21:58

We started our journey into Vietnam via bus from Phnom Penh. Passing through the border crossing was easy and organised, not as confusing and chaotic as the border into Cambodia the week earlier. When we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon and we were hit with a busy looking huge city full of thousands of motorcycles and cars but no tuk-tuks! Was it true? Had we really left the countries of tuk-tuks and ventured into something different? 

After checking into our next hostel in the middle of the buzzling backpacker district in central Saigon we checked out what tours and sights were available to get involved in. We found that most of the tours went to the same places, the Mekong delta or the Mekong Vietcong tunnels. We decided to join both options and where looking forward to seeing what Vietnam had to offer. 

The first bus tour to the famous Mekong delta took us on a few hours ride with the normal stop halfway for souvenirs and toilet brake. The whole group jumped onto a big wooden longboat and so started our little cruise along the mighty and fast flowing river. We stopped at numerous little islands in the delta and we did fast boat racing down on traditional Vietnam boats, we saw the production of palm sugar sweets that apparently was a huge export industry in the delta, and we finished the day with tea and a mix of local fruit to some indigenous singing performance.  After an hours wait once we got back to the mainland our buses finally showed up and we set back in rush hour to Ho Chi Minh City.

The next day we started our bus journey north west to see a famous and pretty unique temple called Cao Dai before we were going to see the infamous Cu Chi tunnels used by the Viet Cong from the Vietnam war. Let’s just say that a 5 hour long journey to see one temple for 20 minutes was not a wonderful experience. Temple Despite the temple being indeed very unique and colourful, it was not worth such a long trip in our opinion. The tunnels were slightly more interesting and interactive since we could walk around a big forest area that had been preserved since the war complete with tunnels and exhibitions of various trap techniques and warfare material along the way. They had also made a “western” friendly tunnel ( read bigger ) which we could try out and it was very claustrophobic and humid. We couldn’t believe how scary it must have been to use them during bombing and shooting!

We had already decided to use trains to take us through Vietnam from the south to the north and the next day we left on the night train for our first stop at Nha Trang. We spent a few days in the relaxed beach town enjoying nice food and cocktails by the sound of the ocean while we planned the next step on our journey. 

After an early morning and full day in a sleeper birth on the next train we arrived to Hue in darkness and downpour. We didn’t see much of the city until the next day when we went on a city tour to see the major sights of the former capital city. The Imperial City had a Citadel next to the Perfume River and it was an enormous area of the city centre where the Emperors during the Nguyen dynasty used to reside. The whole area was stunning despite partly destroyed from bombing in the Vietnam war. The Citadel contained a whole city itself complete with temples, houses, gardens Royal Tomb and palaces for all of the former royal family. We saw several other impressive temples in and around the city and our guide was excellent explaining everything about the places. 

We left Hue on our last and longest train ride so far to get to Hanoi, the end of our journey. Arriving in the busy capital city we had an interesting dispute with the taxi driver that took us the long way to our hotel about the cost of the ride. But being thick skinned after months of haggling and arguing about costs of things in Asia, we were used to these kind of tactics and escaped, paying what was fair. In the Old Quarter where we were residing it was busy and very smoggy. The whole area was made up of small streets and alleyways with small shops and market areas. It was wonderfully charming and crowded! We decided to do our own tour of the capital so the next day we headed out with our Halong Sunset backpacks and a map to see some of the major sights around the city. We had a great day seeing an old railway bridge, the Ho Chi Minh tomb, the presidential palace and different parts of the city. We enjoyed a very treacly coffee in a small cafe by one of the big lakes and everywhere were Christmas decorations reminding us that the holidays were near.

For Christmas Eve and Christmas day we had booked in to do a boat cruise in Halong Bay. So we got picked up by bus with a group of other people and then we drove to Halong. On board the big wooden boat we got a lovely cabin with ensuite and after checking in we all got welcome drinks and fruit. Unfortunately it was cloudy and foggy and we could hardly see any of the majestic, tall islands that Halong is so famous for. However we were lucky that when the boat stopped to anchor the clouds were lifting and the sun was peeking out just when we headed out on some kayaking to a nearby tall view point island. Once we arrived at the island after some nervous manoeuvring through a small but busy harbour area we climbed to the viewpoint and enjoyed a spectacular panoramic view of Halong bay. When we got back on the boat we spent a good while on top deck admiring the most stunning sunset over the bay.

That night the staff aboard the ship made a surprise Cave Christmas party complete with badly covered Christmas songs, a Christmas cake, wine and presents for all of the guests. It was lovely. 

For Christmas day the weather had turned for the worse again with grey skies and the wind picking up. We were picked up by a smaller boat and taken deeper into the archipelago for some more kayaking. At this point we were deeply in love with kayaking and we had the most brilliant day paddling into lagoons and making our way through the islands in the sometimes choppy water. After lunch back on the smaller boat we went off kayaking some more onto nearby beaches for some great photo opportunities. On the way back to the big boat we went by a floating village and a pearl harvest village to learn about how the Halong pearls where being made. After joining back with the big boat again we spent Christmas Day evening pretty much the same way as the earlier night.

On the last day we headed off towards Sung Sot, a giant cave that was extremely impressive to explore. On the way back to the boat Rob had a close encounter with the local wildlife. A monkey was sitting on a fence observing the tourists walking by when a crazy woman walking in front of Rob gets the idea of stroking it, with the result that the monkey goes berserk trying to attack her and the people around her. Luckily enough no one got hurt but there will always Kayaking be those who just don’t have common sense around wild animals. 

When we reached land and went on the bus back to Hanoi we were coming to the end of our adventure in Asia. It was time to catch a flight towards New Zealand and Australia to continue our journey there. Of all our experiences the last months through the South Eastern Asia territory we had seen so much diverse cultures that had so many similarities but also so much differences. We had learnt how easy it is to travel in this part of the world, and how much wondrous things and beautiful structures there are to see and experience. We had so many beautiful encounters meeting new friends and enjoying extremely tasty food. We learnt how to haggle for things, how to look after ourselves and how much fun it is to travel among these friendly and diverse people.

Goodbye Asia, until we meet again!


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Val says February 5, 2013,22:37

Another really amazing entry thank you both for sharing all these experiences,
Lots of love,
Val xxxx

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