Vietnam has been a country of ups and downs. Both sentimentally and geographically. Geographically, for its scale and to get from A to B – I don’t think I have ever or will ever spend as many hours on overnight buses as I did there – and sentimentally as I had never felt so far away from my family as I did at points, but in equal measure never had I felt so independent.
In just under three weeks I don’t even feel like I scratched the surface of Vietnam; I only just managed to get halfway, but the parts I touched, I loved. I said goodbye to some amazing friends, and made some new ones, I climbed mountains, crossed seas, walked around imperial citadels and developed an unhealthy addiction to spring rolls. So in summary, I had a great time.
Landing in Hanoi from Vientiane was an exciting welcome back into what felt like civilisation compared to how basic and underdeveloped Laos was. While that was one of the aspects I loved most about Laos, it was a stark contrast to be back where roads were smooth, toilets were clean(er) and everything was just that bit more modern and, ok I’ll say it, Westernised and comfortable.
Spending a few days in the capital, Hanoi, I was quickly thrown back into the debauchery of a big city – it was a happy coincidence that we were opposite a 24hour bar, too. But soon the calling of some R&R in Halong Bay and Cat Ba took me north for a much needed break of sun, sea and Saigon beer.
On first impression, Cat Ba itself was a bizarre and rather dated Magaluf-meets-Miami strip, catering for the transitional traveller either arriving or leaving this supposed island paradise. I didn’t get it. Where were the views and iconic sunsets that were imprinted on the backs of my eyes from months of research? All I saw were happy hours and burger menus… I was pretty disappointed, I’m not going to lie. That was until the next day when we pulled a blinder and wangled ourselves onto a private overnight tour for just three people on a huge 20 person junk around the beautiful bays. Sorry not sorry.
Cracking open my first can at 10.30am, Spotify playing in the background, factor 30 slathered on, we (three plus private guide, chef and captain) pulled out of the harbour and into the islands of Lan Ha Bay with not a cloud in the sky and were undisturbed all day. We had secluded beaches and lagoons to explore, we watched one of the most amazing sunsets, ate some amazing food and were basically spoilt rotten. And for a bargain price. Coming off the boat the following afternoon after a blissful night on the water (and my first ever private room in weeks) was a bit of a downer, I have to admit.
After the sparkling waters and beautiful weather of Cat Ba, next on the agenda was Sapa, the famous Northern region of the rice fields. And a climate at least 10 degrees cooler – I had to dig out my hoody for the first time since my flight over.
Having been recommended Shosho our guide, shout out to you ✌️️, we experienced the best of Sapa and sweet Jesus were we put through our paces – a change from the casual urban stroll, I have to say. Fuelling up with a steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup at 6.30am, we walked a total of 18km that day, up and down the mountains and rice terraces, passing through the villages of Lao Chai and eating some of the most amazing local cuisine with Shosho and her family. It was a real insight into the true tribal culture of Vietnam. My god did we deserve (slash crave) that cold beer after we peeled our shoes off.
After a night at the home stay and some shots of happy water the next stop was Hue and then Hoi An, towards the middle of Vietnam, if you look on a map. Hue was a funny place and I don’t have a huge amount to say about it apart from beer pong and a massive hangover, but one of the best things about it was the drive from there down to Hoi An, over the Hai Van Pass – aka the Top Gear Road. If JC can do it….
Renting yet another 125cc scooter for the 140km journey, I took off with a group stopping at waterfalls and a floating restaurant where, again I had some of the best Vietnamese food, I know I say that a lot, before turning onto the winding roads of the Hai Van Pass. It was pretty cool – even if I was dressed in a full length poncho battling against the torrential rain. It added to the experience, visor and all.
Hoi An was the last leg of my journey in Vietnam and I’m so glad I spent the most time there. It was a stunner. Oozing French charm, bursting with character, the relaxed sleepy vibe made it a great place to chill out for a few days at the end. Famous for its coffee (sweet with condensed milk, oh yes…), tailoring, bicycles, lights and lanterns, it was a beautiful and grown up town for travellers. Until a few free vodkas at Tiger Tiger, then Tiger Tiger 2…
I met some great people and settled into easy company and I couldn’t have wished for a better way to finish my stay in Vietnam. Even being bed bound with a fever for 36hours before my flight out hasn’t dampened my memories and if anything just reinforces the fact that I will have to come back again!
Until next time, Vietnam…
Next stop: Malaysia and the Philippines 🌴☀️