In February of 2017, my husband and I ventured on a three week vacation in Southeast Asia, two weeks of which we spent in our now favorite country of Vietnam. This was our 2nd venture there and with only 2 weeks we had a lot of places to see – 6 in total. Come along with us as we make our way on this 1,800 km+ (1,100 mi+) journey.
A. Phu Quoc
We entered Phu Quoc by way of Cambodia, which was surprisingly easy. Just visit the Vietnamese embassy in Sihanoukville and one day later you’ll have your visa and will be ready to travel. We traveled by bus to Kumpot, Cambodia, then crossed the border and got on a speedy ferry (about 1 hour) from Ha Tien. We loved Phu Quoc last year and thought it would be a fun place to come back to, where we can enjoy the beach, massages and awesome food, which is a fusion between Vietnamese and Thai (yes!).
Business is booming in Phu Quoc and while the accommodation and food remain very affordable, massages have sadly increased by 100%. We used to love to brag about their 4.5$ massages, but that won’t be the case any more. Still, Phu Quoc is a gem in my book – it can be as peaceful and quiet as you want, or venture out to a Night Market, a club or a day trip and you’re sure to find things of interest to various types of travelers.
B. Hoi An
From Phu Quoc, we flew very inexpensively to HCMC, which later took us to Danang (Vietjet – $50 for 2 people in February of 2017). Danang, while interesting didn’t excite me as much as Hoi An. Luckily, our hotel had a pickup from Danang Airport, which took about 1.5-2 hrs ($13). We stayed at a very friendly hotel (Green Apple Hotel), which was in a good location between the city and the beach. We borrowed bikes from our hotel on the daily bases to explore this ancient town full of beautiful, older architecture, markets, shops and restaurants. Yes, there are many tourists that visit Hoi An during the day (but not as many as in the narrow streets of Jiufen, Taiwan). While many fellow tourists may be turned off by this fact, I loved Hoi An – it’s picturesque nature, the close proximity to the beach and of course food and craft beer choices. Once we learned about a certain Happy Hour at a stunning pub, we started planning our days around it. The nights were always spent roaming the gorgeous streets in the center of the city, filled with what feels like millions of lit up lanterns. I’ve never seen so many lanterns in one place and Hoi An at dusk/night is a feast for the eyes and cameras alike.
To get from Hoi An to Hue, we hired a taxi to take us through one of World’s Windiest Roads at Hai Van Pass. There was no way that we were going to drive it on a scooter or miss it alltogether by taking a train, so we went with a personal taxi to take us to a few sights and then to our hotel in Hue. This was a fine selection (a bit pricey at $60 for 2-3 hr drive) but with an English-speaking driver, you can get to know the country and the local way of life pretty quickly. There is something about being stuck together in one vehicle that helps the conversation flow, without a drop of alcohol involved. It is one of our most memorable conversations in Vietnam all the while you’re passing ridiculously stunning scenery along the way.
A day in Hue is all you need to be asked about 10 times by different motorcycle drivers whether or not we wanted (Weed? Marijuana? You smoke? Smoke ok?). Jeez, is that all that is tourists do there? We walked along the river, got some ok local food and were on our merry way to Hanoi and Halong Bay adventure.
D and E: Hanoi and Halong Bay
Hanoi seemed like a large, noisy, busy city, after the likes of Hoi An and Phu Quoc, but it is here that you have to reach in order to take off for your 12 hour long (or more if you desire) adventure through the magnificent Halong Bay. We booked our trip through an online company Viator (you can get a $10 discount with them by clicking here), which ended up costing a bit more than local advertisements. But for a 12 hour trip $40 seemed reasonable behind the screen of a computer. What that means is – you spend about 3.5-4 hours just getting to the port, which left us with about 4 hours of actual cruising on a ship. Included lunch on the ship was more than enough to satisfy our growling stomachs and off we went towards giant rock formations and back-lit caves.
The weather was cloudy and slightly grey and for a single day trip from a photographic perspective it was fine (at least it wasn’t raining on our aquatic parade).
F. Mai Chau
Originally, I thought we’d take a 12 hour train ride north to the remote villages of Sapa, where tracking and tribal villages seduce travelers into going. But after three weeks of sightseeing and frequent traveling, we opted out for a closer getaway of Mai Chau, located about 3-4 hours away by van. Still not an easy journey (my tailbone hates me for traveling anywhere farther than 2 hours), but it is a beaut! The lovely Mau Chau Nature Lodge is located in the valley of rice paddies, surrounded by enormous mountains and cliffs. It is peaceful, romantic with a slight smell of cow and chicken shit, which reminds you how far away you are from civilization. We booked 2 days and 1 night ($60pp), which included a round trip van, our personal bungalow, lunch, dinner and breakfast, a night cultural show, a bicycle tour through the villages and a hike to more remote villages up in the mountains with a personal guide.
Our 2 week Vietnamese vacation was phenomenal. We completely fell in love with this diverse, delicious and dynamic country. From Halong Bay to the beaches of Phu Quoc, we came across friendly and inviting people. We enjoyed the likes of sweet and sour, beefy Pho, egg coffees, Ban Mi sandwiches, noodles, Vietnamese ice coffees and .25 cent local beers that hit the spot every time. I personally enjoyed the plentiful opportunities for exciting images and dreamy landscapes. It is without a doubt that we will be back again, because we have yet to see the sand dunes of Mui Ne, the high altitudes of Dalat, Sapa, other beaches, islands and cities that occupy a country, whose motto is spot on: “Independence, Freedom, Happiness.”
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