Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)
So after leaving Phnom Penh, we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (previously called Saigon, though both names are used interchangeably), and found ourselves on another pub crawl. A good night, but as is the case with travelling you can run into the same people you’ve met before at random times. So when we see someone come up to us going “I’ve seen you naked!” (referring to the time we went skinny dipping), it was a bit of a surprise – but they were all a good laugh.
The next day we all went to the Cu Chi tunnels, which showed how many Vietnamese people lived during the Vietnam war. It was an interesting experience, and Claire decided to go down one of the tunnels – something I’m glad I didn’t do. Claire looked quite uncomfortable when she got out. We saw the booby traps that the Vietcong made for the American soldiers (nasty stuff) and there was even a shooting range where you could fire off some weapons (M16) that were used during the Vietnam war. So naturally…
The bus back to our hostel was interesting. It had started to pour down with rain, and it was a nerve racking because we could see the thousands of people on mopeds trying to navigate their way home. Weaving in and out of busses, under massive ponchos (which kept them dry, but meant their visibility was severely reduced). I’m surprised we didn’t actually hit anyone!
The next day we made our way to our first long-stay in Vietnam in the mountain town of Da Lat. Da Lat is a really nice location that is permanently in a Spring season all year around. It must also be the bomber jacket central of the world because everyone has one! That evening we were taken to an artists restaurant – Artistic Alley. Owned and run by the artist, it is filled with his paintings and work – he even painted us a picture at the end of the night for one of us to keep (Vicky was the lucky one).
Being in a permanent Spring, the weather here was much cooler than we had been used to. It was only down to about 20 degrees, but it felt cold compared to the 35 degrees we’ve become acclimatised to, so many of us picked up jumpers.
Later that day we went to the Crazy House – somewhere that lives up to its name. There are paths winding all around, above, and through the buildings there. The main building was actually a hotel, and many smaller hotel rooms could be found throughout the labyrinth. It was confusing to navigate, but fun despite it pouring down with rain while we were there.
Over the next few days we spent a lot of time exploring Da Lat. We went to the City Flower Garden, that didn’t have many flowers (but did have Vietnam’s largest bottle of wine ever made, over 2000 litres!) We then took the cable cars high above Da Lat (that gave us some great views) to a nearby monastery, with more flowers than the flower garden. And we went to the Linh Phuoc Pagoda, a fancy temple for Chinese Buddhism in the area. It had large Buddhas around 20 meters high, one entirely covered in flowers. In one building there appeared to be where many dead monks were resting, though some (clearly of some importance) had models made of them. Life size and extremely detailed, I thought we were being watched my many stern monks when we came in, but in fact is were just the models. Unfortunately no pictures were allowed here, so here’s a picture from someone on Trip Advisor, who clearly didn’t care about the rules as much as we did, as well as some of our own pictures.
The next day most of us went canyoning (Claire treated herself to a spa day), which was great. It was a day of abseiling down waterfalls and cliffs in the mountains above Da Lat. There were some notable ones; A 25 meter high waterfall where you only have 20 meters of rope and must jump the rest, or a place from which you can jump that’s 7 meters high into a pool at the bottom of a waterfall. If you’re feeling up to it, you can go to 9 or 11 meters. I did the 9 meters and decided to stop at that height.
Later that evening we went to the 100 floors/rooms/roof bar. It’s name seems to vary depending on who you talk to, which website you’re on, or what day of the week it is. Either way, it is a tall, thin building that is similar in style to the Crazy House, with winding corridors and many different layers. It hard to say how many floors it has, because nothing was normal in there. Finding the bathroom was a challenge that took 4 of us 10 minutes. When we found it it was right next to a bar, so we got comfortable there for the rest of the night.
While in Da Lat we did actually have someone try to rob us. After visiting an ATM, a random man came up to me and was acting friendly and laughing jokingly, but was patting my pockets to see what he could grab or where I was keeping stuff. I pushed him away and quickly got out of there with the girls into a more public space, where he didn’t follow. Luckily my money was in a money belt, so he would have had a hard time trying to get that from me.
Soon we were on our way to Nha Trang. When we got onto the Stray bus apparently the guide thought I was Thai from the paperwork he had.. Not quite sure how, but he quickly realised he was wrong. We were surprised by the heat of Nha Trang when we arrived. We had just about acclimatised to the weather in Da Lat so returning to 35 degree heat was a shock. Nha Trang is also a major Russian holiday location, so there was Adidas EVERYWHERE.
Our hostel for the next few days, Mojzo Dorm, was really good. We were all impressed by the level of service the ladys behind the counter provided, all speaking English and all trying to help us as much as possible. When we arrived they gave us a free bottle of water and a cold wet wipe to cool off with. There was free breakfast, free bananas, free water refills. It was a great place to stay. They did a 60,000VND/$3/£2 “family dinner” where anyone staying at the hostel could get together and eat together. We took advantage of it and enjoyed really good food and atmosphere.
We went to Doc Let beach which is about 50km north of Nha Trang, and decided to try using public transport to get there as it was a lot cheaper than a taxi (24,000VND/$1/82p vs. 500,000VND/$22/£17). While waiting at the bus stop, we did have some guy in a minivan pull up and try to get us to get in it. It must be a popular tactic, seeing Westerners standing at a bus stop that must be going to Doc Let, and try to get them to jump in. After the locals clocked onto what he was up to and had words, he soon drove off, and our bus turned up 5 minutes later.
Doc Let is a really nice beach – more of a resort for the Russians. Theres lots of spas and bars along its length, and it wasn’t busy there. The water was clear and warm, and you could walk out quite far as it was shallow. We spent the day relaxing here. I was mainly swimming to avoid any more sunburn (I had learnt my lesson from last time), but the girls sunbathed.
When we had food, it was quite strange. My coconut smoothie was just coconut juice, Claire’s strawberry juice was cherryade, and we’re still not quite sure what kind of meat was in Claire’s burger, but it wasn’t beef. Quite possibly dog – unsurprisingly she didn’t eat it!
The next day we went to a mud spa (I-resort). I wasn’t particularly keen on going, but went as I couldn’t think of anything better to do. It turned out to be good fun. It was more than just a spa, and had a water park next to it. The warm mud bath was strange but relaxing. Don’t know if it made my skin softer, but it was still an experience. Afterwards we spent a lot of time in the pools nearby and paid the extra money (a pricey 30,000VND/$1.3/£1) to go into the water park next door.
Later that evening Claire and I went to the LIVINcollective BBQ – a place that has one of 3 BBQ smokers in all of Vietnam (with the other two in Ho Chi Minh). It was really good food and I got a good set of ribs. Claire’s potato skins weren’t the best, but it was still nice to get some proper BBQ food.
After a heavy night of drinking (we met an Australian..) we made our way over to Bai Xep, where I’m currently writing this (next door to the “Life’s a Beach” hostel). Its a nice place, but more on that in our next post!