Vietnam

It has taken me forever but I have finally put together a video of my trip to Vietnam. I absolutely loved Vietnam from the people to the scenery and especially the food!

 

 

Advertisements

Visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels

Small group tour of Cu Chi Tunnels conducted by Interpid Urban Adventures.

We decided to go to the Cu Chi Tunnels. If you don’t know what the Cu Chi Tunnels are they are 75 miles of underground tunnels the Vietnamese used during the American/Vietnamese war. The Vietnamese lived and fought from the tunnels. They are full of booby-traps and played an important roll in the war.

There are many tours to choose from, but after reading about the long bus ride and the huge crowds of people we chose to get there by boat. It’s not only a lot quicker but you arrive before the crowds. We chose Les Rives tour company and while it was more expensive than most I’d say it was well worth it.

They picked us up in Ho Chi Minh City and drove us to the boat. The boat was open air and very clean. When we took off up the river they served us fruit and drinks. The ride was about an hour and a half and had much to see. It was interesting to see the small villages and the bustling bridges and ferries. I had one of those “this is why I travel” moments while looking at all the scenery around me.

When we arrived they had all the entrance passes squared away and we walked right in. The first thing they have you do is watch a low quality movie on a tiny screen. The movie did make us feel slightly uncomfortable as it was very anti-American and we realized we were the only Americans in our tour group. Once the movie was finished we were shown all the traps they used to kill Americans. Although frightening and sad it is a part of history. We were then shown a tank that the Vietnamese had captured. Everyone in the tour group took a picture with it. I had read on tripadvisor people mentioning how this made them(Americans) feel uncomfortable. I really didn’t get that until we were there. It was strange to watch people from different countries stand and smile in front of a tank from your home country that was captured and the people in it most likely killed.

Next we got to see the tunnels. They were tiny and I truly cannot imagine the horrors of living in them. Some Vietnamese even lived in the for 20 years!! We had the opportunity to climb down inside and it was roasting hot and uncomfortable. The guide led us through the tunnels and we would go down steps and crawl through long hallways and we were never able to stand up straight. Just the short distance we climbed was exhausting.

I was truly surprised at how emotional I was about a war I didn’t know much about and wasn’t alive for. For my own county and the soldiers who died, but also the Vietnamese who endured such hardships it was a sad place. I was not a fan of the opportunity you have to shoot guns. I felt these grounds were a sacred place many Vietnamese and Americans died for their country. It didn’t seem like a fun experience to be able to shoot the very guns that killed so many of them.

After the opportunity to shoot guns we got to see how rice paper was made, how the Vietnamese tire shoes were made, and try cassava which is what the Vietnamese ate in the tunnels.

Once we had finished walking the grounds we were taken to a little restaurant on the water as a part of the boat/tour package. We really enjoyed the meal and felt completely satisfied on the boat ride back.

Overall when visiting Ho Chi Minh City the tunnels are a must. They are an amazing architectural feat. Just be prepared to bring some tissues.

Scootering in Vietnam

1456136_10154874866970447_5228556256248899255_n

Scooters are very popular in Southeast Asia and in Vietnam it’s no exception. We were told in Ho Chi Minh City there are 8 million people and 6 million scooters. The streets are packed with them. I knew we had to drive one at some point on our Vietnam vacation. I felt that was a necessity in order to feel like a local, but mostly I just wanted to zoom around and look cool(if that’s possible).

When we arrived in Sapa we decided this would be the place to rent some scooters. There were a lot less people and more importantly a lot less motor vehicles. So one morning we got up told our hotel we wanted to rent one. We gave them $5 and they showed us our scooter. That was it. No paperwork, no instructions, no nothing. So I told Ryan I was driving first and we hopped on. I almost crashed into a parked car and everyone around us gasped, but I turned just in time and headed down the hill. The first thing we needed was gas. We realized quickly we didn’t know what any of the signs meant. We learned fast which ones were one way, do not enter, two way. It took us awhile to find the gas station since it is nothing to what we are used to. It was a metal box with the old fashion pump. We filled up with  a few dollars and took off.

We knew we wanted to go see some waterfalls and were told to drive to Tram Ton Pass for amazing views. We were lucky it was a clear day so we could see all the mountains. We zoomed past cute farm homes and streams and would stop at the different waterfalls we found. Vietnamese drivers drove much faster than us, even the big trucks, and although I felt we were going fast we kept getting passed which was a little terrifying when you didn’t hear them coming.

10830565_10154874868255447_3499689370324401398_oWhen we finally reached Tram Ton Pass we were blown away by the beauty of the rigid mountains. We rode down the pass and took in the views. It was very lush and green and the air was so clear and crisp compared to the cities we had been in. It was such a different experience than every other day we’d had in Vietnam and it was definitely one of my favorites. After we drove for about 90 minutes we decided to turn around and head back.

We kept the scooter all day and drove it to dinner and around town. It was a blast and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Sapa. In the meantime I am working on convincing Ryan to by me one!

Marble Mountains

IMG_7726

I had really done my research on Vietnam. Especially Hoi An. I couldn’t wait to visit this city. I had heard briefly about the Marble Mountains, but not enough to make me think I had to go.

After a few days in Hoi An we decided we wanted to see something outside the city so we hired a driver to take us to the Marble Mountains. I am so glad we did, this turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the trip.

When you first pull up any driver or tour is going to drop you off at a marble store. The workers will then make you promise you will come back and buy from them. You can if you want, but we saw a lot of cheaper marble items in the airport of all places.

Then you can either take the elevator or the stairs up the mountain. We opted for the stairs and made the trek up. When you get to the top you first find a huge white marble Buddha and a few beautiful structures. We walked around admiring the view when a guy came and grabbed us and was motioning us to follow him. At first I was hesitant, but then we followed and he took us behind one of the buildings into a cave where there were smaller caves and beautiful Buddha carvings.It was one of those moments I just thought “This is why I travel”.

The guy who showed us was a little pestering. He kept saying picture? picture? picture? It took me a little while to realize he wanted to take a photo of us so we would pay him. It took away from the atmosphere, but he didn’t ruin it.

We were wandering the exquisite caves and structures until dark. You can even hike to the tip top. I would say give yourself  few hours here and really explore or you may miss a cave or a view.

I was shocked at how little people talked about the Marble Mountains. I personally think they are a must if visiting the Hoi An Da Nang area.

Why You Should Visit Vietnam

1047908_10154874859905447_8453737142774497436_o

When we booked our tickets to Vietnam I got asked a lot “Why Vietnam” honestly I didn’t have a reason except why not? Leading up to the trip I would get excited butterflies and then some days I would have nervous butterflies. I read so many reviews on visiting Vietnam and really it was 50/50. People seemed to hate it or love it. I can tell you we loved it. If you love travel, don’t mind trying new things, and want to see some gorgeous sites Vietnam is for you. Here are my top reasons why Vietnam is a must.

1. The Food. I kept hearing how great the food was here. Upon arriving I must say I was nervous. There is a lot of street food and when you’re used to the US it can look intimidating. We quickly got over this quickly though. The whole time we were in Vietnam we didn’t have a single bad meal. The food was so unique from anything we eat at home. It was an adventure every time we went to eat and it was always delicious.

2. The People. The people in Vietnam are incredibly kind and always ready to help. We had heard horror stories of people being rude to American’s and things getting stolen. Even someone we know personally was robbed of all he had in Vietnam weeks before we left for our trip. We were surprised by how kind everyone was. We were extra careful with our things, but we never felt like we even came close to an incident.  We also found that almost everyone we ran into spoke pretty good English. When we were in Sapa we really enjoyed talking to the H’mong. They were so interesting and to hear about their families was heart warming. We really loved the people in Vietnam.

3. The Different Terrain. We started in Saigon and made our way up to Hoi An, Hanoi, Sapa, and ultimately Halong Bay. The difference between each city is astounding. It is almost as though you are in a different countries. Being able to see the hustle and bustle of Vietnam’s busy cities and then getting off the train in Lao Cai and breathing in the fresh mountain air was quite the experience. Many people asked us why we were staying in Vietnam our whole trip why not move on to Cambodia or Thailand and honestly I’m so glad we didn’t. There was WAY to much to see in Vietnam and I’m so grateful we didn’t skip out on one of our destinations for a new country.

Visiting Sapa

DCIM101GOPRO

To me visiting Sapa is a must. We got there after being in Vietnam for a week and a half. Sapa is unlike any other part of Vietnam we visited. The air is so fresh compared to HCMC and Hanoi, it was really satisfying taking a deep breath of that crisp mountain air. Here are my tips for visiting Sapa.

1. Take a train to Sapa and get a soft sleeper 4 berth. We used Vietnam Impressive to help us book our train tickets. I highly recommend them. They made sure we were taken care of and helped with any changes we needed. Anyways we rode one way on a Fanxipan car and back in a Chapa Express car on the way back. Both were clean and nice. Soft sleepers are the more luxurious than hard sleepers and I believe most hard sleepers have 6 beds instead of 4. You can pay extra to have a private 2 berth, but I think the 4 berth was a fun adventure. To be honest Ryan and I were a little nervous to meet who we would be sharing a room with. It turned out we shared one with the first American’s we met while in Vietnam. We got to chat with them about all their experiences and we had a great time. On the way back we shared a berth with an Australian and his tour guide and again we got to chat and learn things we otherwise wouldn’t have known.

2. The minorities are incredible to learn about, but they generally have a motive. The H’mong people have gorgeous clothing and they are incredible people. I really enjoyed speaking to them. For the most part they are out to sell you their gorgeous bracelets and other “handmade” items. With that being said it is still worth speaking to them and learning their story. I spoke with a girl who told me how she was married at 16 and had two babies by the time she was 18. She was so sweet and I loved hearing about her. I did end up buying 5 silver bracelets from her, but I love those bracelets. They remind me of her.

3. Don’t have high expectations for food. We really enjoyed the food in Vietnam. I would have to say our least favorite food was in Sapa. I think because it is such a resort town you can expect resort food. There was a french style restaurant we really enjoyed… but it wasn’t very Vietnamese. That was The Hill Station. They have a great assortment of cheeses and do a wonderful packed lunch for the trains. Overall though we were disappointed with the food in Sapa.

4. Room with a “view”. Be careful when you book a room with a “view”. We paid a little extra for a view and got to see about 1/4 of the mountains with the rest blocked by another building. Although we were glad we could at least see the mountains that to me was not what I would consider a view. Just be wary when booking and maybe even inquire first before paying extra for a view.

5. Rent a motorbike. This is a MUST. In most of Vietnam the roads are crazy. Even in the middle of Sapa they can be a bit overwhelming. Once you get on the country roads though it is for the most part traffic free. Riding the motorbike over passes and to different waterfalls was probably my favorite part of the whole trip. We rode all day and only paid $5 for the motorbike. I cannot stress enough how much we enjoyed this.

Visiting Halong Bay

halongbay

Halong Bay is a MUST when visiting Vietnam, but choosing a cruise can be stressful. It took me a lot of time and research to finally decide which company we wanted to use. Here is my advice when visiting Halong Bay.

1. Do at least a 3 day 2 night cruise. The 2 day one night cruises are so short. You don’t get on the water until the afternoon and the next day you leave in the morning. Hardly touching Halong Bay. With a 3 day 2 night cruise you get to see so much more I would even suggest booking a longer tour if you have the budget and time for it.

2. Choose a cruise that visits Lan Ha Bay. All of the cruises hit Halong Bay, as you can imagine Halong Bay gets packed. It’s still gorgeous, but you should try to see Lan Ha Bay as well. Lan Ha Bay is way less crowded and you feel as though you have the sea to yourself. It is also home to the largest floating village in Vietnam.

3. Stay one night on Cat Ba Island. There aren’t many rave reviews about Cat Ba Island, but I beg to differ. We loved Cat Ba! We hiked up to Cannon Fort and watched the most gorgeous sunset. We biked to a remote village and hiked to an ancient home. I was worried about the hotel our cruise was putting us in, but it ended up being one of the cleaner hotels we stayed in and definitely the most western like hotel.

4. Don’t get near the monkeys. I’m not joking…. our guide warned us about the monkeys but no one seemed to notice. I watched as a woman got close to get her photo taken and the monkey chase her down and scratch her. Ryan and I were relaxing under the cabana when one jumped down onto our table. We backed up and watched her for a minute when another one jumped down and showed it’s teeth and chased us. Seriously, these monkeys are mean! I even saw one try and steal a woman’s bag. STAY AWAY! If you get bit they have to take you back to get a rabies shot…. stay away from the monkeys.

5. Don’t stress, just pick a cruise. I’m a hypocrite on this one…. I stressed a lot. I researched and researched and finally chose a cruise and then stressed about it. We went on the Golden Lotus. There aren’t many reviews on it so I was really worried. It ended up being just fine. The boat was a little musky, but it’s a boat… the food was decent and the guide was WONDERFUL. Just find an itinerary you like and make sure the price is about average or more(I’ve heard budget cruise nightmares) and you will be just fine!

Visiting Vietnam as a Vegetarian

DCIM102GOPRO

There is not a lot of information out there about visiting Vietnam as a vegetarian. When we booked our two week trip I was a little concerned about what I would have to eat. Let me tell you though, it really wasn’t a big deal! Here are my tips to eating vegetarian while in Vietnam.

1. Give Notice. If you’ve booked a tour that includes meals make sure to let them know in advance or before booking asking if they can accommodate. While in Vietnam we did a day tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels, Ha Long Bay Cruise, and even a food tour. All three tours were so kind and made sure I was well fed. Even the food tour catered a whole vegetarian food tour for me. It was wonderful!

2. Use Tripadvisor.com. When we were hungry but in no rush I would use TripAdvisor to find a restaurant. You can look through the reviews to see if anyone mentions the vegetarian options. We even found a vegetarian restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City we ended up trying, and it turned out to be my favorite restaurant on the whole trip!

3. Ask. We went to a highly rated restaurant that had a set course of 6 dishes. Many of the dishes were meat dishes and we knew that ahead of time. My husband still eats meat so we asked the waiter if they could do anything vegetarian. He said they could only do the 6 dishes they made, but that 4 of them were vegetarian. We decided to stay and he so graciously gave us bigger portions on the vegetarian items and only charged us half price for me since I didn’t eat the meat. I thought that was  really kind of him to do. I found every restaurant we went to could accommodate me and I really appreciated that!

I would say Vietnam is a great place to travel to as a vegetarian. I had some of the best food of my life there and would recommend it to anyone!

Visiting Hoi An and Danang

DCIM101GOPRO
When planning our trip to Vietnam I heard over and over again that we had to go to Hoi An while there. I made sure to make time for this location, but found there were a few tips I wish I had clarity on. I want to share those tips with you.
1. If you want to get to Hoi An you most likely will have to go through Danang. Danang has an airport and a train station whereas Hoi An does not. It’s about a 45 minute drive to Hoi An from Danang. There are taxi’s that will take you, but make sure to establish a price before getting into the car. Don’t pay more than $22 US Dollars. If you’ve made hotel arrangements already most hotels have a pick up service that will make getting in smooth.
2. Spend some time in Danang. While planning my trip no one gave Danang the time of day. I wish we had more time to explore Danang after seeing it! They have a gorgeous dragon bridge that every Saturday night at 9pm blows fire! They have a GIANT ferris wheel, a gorgeous beach, and some highly reviewed restaurants. I would make sure to spend a few hours exploring Danang. It has some cool treasures.
3. The Beach and Hoi An are not as close as you might think. Hoi An is kind of sold as a beach town. It is not. Hoi An sits on a river and isn’t too far from the beach, but don’t expect to walk to the beach from downtown. You can definitely do it on a bike, but it may take you an hour or two to walk. Try and find a hotel with free bikes to rent. This way you can get to wherever you need to go.
4. Make sure to get custom clothing made! This was a really fun and unique experience we had while visiting Vietnam. We went to Bibi Silk in Hoi An. I was a little nervous getting clothes made. I didn’t know how it worked or what to do. When we walked in they handed us bottled water and a book of clothing. They gave us a few minutes and then we showed them what we liked either in the book or pictures from our phone. They then took our measurements and sent us on our way. It took a few fittings, but our clothes we done in less than 48 hours. It was very reasonably priced! If we would have had more room in our luggage we would have gotten a lot more made.
5. Go to the Marble Mountains. As you drive to Hoi An from Danang you will see mountains that seem to be in an odd place. The landscape is seemingly flat and then all of the sudden these mountains shoot out of the ground. I hadn’t heard much about these, but we decided to go and check them out. I am so glad we did. You climb a staircase up to the top and you will find pagodas, giant statues, and caves. Make sure to look around and follow all the different paths. This was one of those places I had that feeling of “Wow… this is why I travel”

Tips they don’t tell you before visiting Vietnam

Vietnam is a great destination for an adventurous vacation. There are a few things I feel are important to know when going that I had either not been told beforehand or weren’t completely confident on when visiting.

1. Don’t throw out your train tickets.  This is important. When riding the train in Vietnam you show your ticket to get onto the train, but that is not the last time they will ask for it. Sometimes you will have to show the ticket again after you get off the train as you are leaving the station. I know at home when I get on the train once I show it the first time I usually toss it. We were lucky we didn’t do that this time and had I just happened to keep them crumpled up in my pockets.

2. Keep luggage tickets for domestic flights. Similar to #1. When you check a bag you get that sticker receipt. I believe that is mostly in case you loose your luggage so they can track it quick and figure out where it is. Make sure to hold on to this. When you land and pick up your luggage you will have to show that receipt and your luggage in order to leave the airport.

3. Visas on Arrival. We decided to do a VOA instead of obtaining a visa beforehand. I was really nervous about this. It seemed a little sketchy. It turned out to work out just fine though. Just make sure you do everything necessary. You must use a reputable company a few months before departure in order to receive your Letter of Approval. They will also walk you through what all you need. Another great resource for information source is Tripadvisor.com they have a great article on it here. Also, make sure when you arrive you have $45 US CASH, you must pay this in order to get your 30 day visa.

4. “Buy Something!” This is what you will hear in Vietnam when passing a tourist shop especially in Sapa and Hoi An. Don’t ever look just to be nice. Smile and say “no thank you”. If you aren’t interested in buying anything from their store don’t act like you might. It will only make it harder to walk away.

5. The people are eager to help.  I had heard different stories regarding the people in Vietnam. What I experienced is for the most part everyone is more than happy to help tourists. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or for directions. I found a lot of the time they went above and beyond to help us out.