Vietnam will always be special to me as it’s the first country I ever travelled to solo. I was eager to return after twelve years and I wasn’t disappointed. It certainly has changed, it is very much set up for tourism now so it’s very easy to travel through on sleeper buses and most people on the tourist trail speak English.
We arrived into Vietnam from Nanning China and headed straight to the French colonial city of Hanoi, with some new friends we met on the bus. That evening we hit the Old Quarter part of town hard, starting in ‘Bar Street’ searching for the Tinder date our new French friend had acquired. We drank free beer and cocktails at our friend’s dorm and from then on it was a downward spiral of dancing in the smallest club ever and trying to hold up our new friend from China, who had recently escaped the clutches of his strict parents and clearly could not handle alcohol. The next day we visited Hanoi’s Prison Museum and the Women’s Museum to learn about Vietnamese family traditions and the work the women of Vietnam complete.
After slurping up noodles galore, we spent our time dodging the millions of scooters, walking around the central lake, visiting the cathedral and drinking strong coconut coffee. I had been to Ha Long Bay on my last trip and wanted Tim to see it’s captivating beauty so we took a day trip on a boat. Thankfully he was not disappointed.
We grew tired of Hanoi, as one can so easily do from the constant heat and general craziness, taking a sleeper bus to a tiny village in Ninh Binh. We stayed at ‘Ninh Binh Homestay’ and had delicious home cooked group meals each night followed by stinging rice wine. Here we rented scooters and bicycles, admiring the backwater scenery, twinkling pagodas and village life. My favourite part of our stay here was taking a two hour boat trip down the river to see Skull Island (where King Kong, the first ever international movie was made). We also visited the disappointing Mua Cave, however the stunning panorama view made up for it.
Reluctantly we left Ninh Binh, taking a sleeper bus to Hue. The trip went by fast as we got talking to Ryan, a fellow Irish like myself, who had been living on the road for many years, often working in blueberry farms to fund his lifestyle. Unfortunately in Hue it rained non stop but we still managed to see the old city, a tiger arena and the military museum. We booked ourselves onto a Demilitarized Military Zone tour, to learn more about the Vietnam war. We stopped at an observation site, at the river that divided the north and south of Vietnam and an American military museum. The highlight was seeing tunnels the Vietnamese had dug out to live in, as well as the war cemetery.
If I had known now what was to occur we would have stayed in rainy Hue as unfortunately we got caught up in Typhoon Damrey in Hoi An! For three days we were stuck in a guesthouse situated down a narrow lane that was up to our necks in filthy water. As bad as our situation was, many people across Vietnam lost their homes and some lost their lives. It was the worst typhoon the country had seen in sixteen years, yet the Vietnamese people carried on with their lives as best they could, smiling and showing utter resilience.
Finally we managed to get a bus out of Hoi An heading back up north as the weather was too bad for us to continue travelling down south. We found ourselves in Sapa, a chilly hill station town which I wasn’t too fond of as it’s stuffed with tourists and children selling goods, but I enjoyed our time sleeping in nearby village about fifteen kilometers outside. The rood was treacherous so we had to be so careful on the bike but we loved the village life, trekking up the paddy fields in search of a bamboo forest and waterfalls.
On our last night a kind Vietnamese family toasted with us over dinner giving us their homemade rice wine. It was the perfect end to a fantasic yet unruly stay. We plan on returning to the south one day together.