Updated: Jan 3
Itinerary (October 12-28):
Ho Chi Minh (1 night)
Da Nang (2 nights)
Hoi An (3 nights)
Hue (2 nights)
Hanoi (1 night)
Ha Long Bay (2 nights)
Hanoi (1 night)
Ho Chi Minh (3 nights)
Vietnam, your food is scrumptious.
What seems like a lifetime ago, I wrote about getting a Vietnam visa because you do probably need one if you fly into a Vietnam airport. Everything turned out fine, so flash forward to me arriving at Ho Chi Minh airport in October. Depending on what gate your plane arrives at, you may see the customs to your right and Immigration straight ahead of you, as I did. Go to Immigration, that is where your visa sticker will be. I didn’t pay for the speed through the line option and I had to wait over an hour. I don’t know how much time it would have saved if I did. My cousin arrived earlier that morning and she had a 25-35-minute wait. As my paperwork was getting processed, there seemed to be a local tour guide who would scoot to the front of the line with a handful of passports, so I am not sure if those travellers paid to be speedy or just bribed the guide. These visas were processed super quick. As in, the guides barged in front of the 20 people waiting, including myself. One thing I do know, is bring CASH, specifically American dollars, as it mentions on multiple websites. One ozzy didn’t have any cash. When she got to the front of the line, she said she only a credit card. Silly, silly girl. She not only had to wait ages for them to accept her paperwork but they charged her a huge fee since there was no ATM in the area or something. Don’t be that girl. Also, fill out the paperwork before you arrive, you’ll be thanking the travel gods as I did, since I was able to be the first in line before a massive flight arrived, where no one had filled out the forms yet.
After you clear customs, there are a few places to exchange money. I went to all three or four exchange bureaus to check their rates before picking the best one. You would think since they were all next to each other, that they would have the same exchange rates but you’d be wrong. If you wait until you get into the city, there are some tips for exchanging money here. It is a bit outdated and I personally didn’t use any of them but it is worth a try.
Getting into Ho Chi Minh city from the airport, I grabbed a yellow bus 109. I think there is a cheaper bus 152 but the one I took dropped me off close to my hotel. If the stifling 7pm heat wasn’t enough to remind me that I was in Asia, the fact that the bus didn’t even properly stop to pick up a Vietnamese person, the woman had to jump into the bus as it was still rolling, certainly reminded me. The Asia I know and love. I was advised online to only take Vinasun or Mai Linh taxis since all others are ridiculously scammy. My cousin and I only took a taxi once in Hue since they don’t have Grab there for some reason. In general, Grab will have mostly scooters available, unlike in Thailand where, in my experience, it was mostly cars. What’s nice about Grab is you can pay in cash and you don’t always need a Vietnamese phone number/data, as long as you have WiFi. I would order the Grab using the hotel’s WiFI, then when the car arrived, I’d double check the price and then have the exact fare ready when I got into the car.
Since I didn’t have a sim card for data, I used a combination of maps.me and my own instincts to get me to our hotel down a dodgy side street after the bus dropped me off. The hotel was near the bus station and served a delicious complementary breakfast. We wandered around HCM the next morning before our flight to Da Nang.
For each of our flights within Vietnam, we flew with Vietjet. It wasn’t a bad flight but they notoriously have late departures. The three flights that we had, 2 were delayed. One for 40 minutes, the other 1 hour 40. As for carry-on weight/ measurements, I am always super paranoid about this. I have nightmares that I will have to pay for excess baggage at the airport. The check-in person we had, did a quick glance for small, clearly under the limit sized bags but for everything else, they weigh and you need to get one of their “cleared to carry-on” tags. They did not take out a tape measure but to purchase a checked bag online in advance was 8 or 15 euros, (I can’t remember because my cousin and I split one checked bag).
We arrived at our fun in the sun, beach-time part of our trip, only for it to be torrential down pouring, the entire time. The An Hoi Canary Hotel we were at was nice. There is a great Pho place called Mì Quảng Dung (location below).
We took a Grab to get to the Marble Mountains. There is a set of mountains but, I think, only one is accessible for tourists or it is the most popular, so our driver just dropped us off there. Armed with our ponchos and for me, the borrowed blue sandals from the hotel room because my Berkinstocks were bothering me, we climbed. There is absolutely no point in taking this paid elevator that they set up since it only goes about a third of the way up the mountain, so you’ll have to walk the rest anyways. You can totally go when it is raining. They may close the elevator if there are high winds but you can still access the area. It does get mildly slippery since its stone pathways but definitely doable, we had no problems. There are heaps of diverging paths and viewpoints. If you see a sign for Heaven Gate, it was not worth the steps up, since that particular view is obstructed. It may be cleared by the time you read this, but not likely.
Other than the Marble Mountains and beach days, there isn’t much else in Da Nang other than the Dragon Bridge that lights up. I think on certain nights it even breathes fire but we only saw the light show part. It says online here after 21:00 on weekends and festivals the fire happens. There wasn’t much street food action in Da Nang but it could have been the area our hotel was in.
But it was here that we had THE best and cheapest Bahn Mi of the trip. It was made by some students in front of their school, next to the highway and it cost 5000 Dong (30 cents). Miraculous. To get to Hoi An, we took a Grab from our hotel to the bus stop on the highway since we had our backpacks. You can’t miss the bus since it says Hoi An on it, even if the timetable at the stop is a bit off. Marvelous. You arrive a short walking distance to the town, there is a supermarket at the intersection and you walk down that main road, into town.
If Disneyland were a town, this would be it. I am obsessed with floating lights/ lanterns and this did not disappoint. The nicest hotel of the trip and surprisingly the cheapest was Hoi An Dream City Hotel. It is close to the old town and more importantly, close to Madam Khanh -The Banh Mi Queen, where we ate on the daily.
When booking our trip, my cousin was a tad disappointed that we weren’t here during the lantern festival (dates change each month). It’s not needed. Every day is lantern festival here. I read also that during the actual festival it is wall to wall tourists, which is hard to imagine since we already thought it was quite busy when it wasn’t torrential down pouring.
We did a day trip to My Son heritage site. Just because of who I am as a person, I wanted to shop around for the best price for a bus tour. We ended up finding some back-alley woman who sold us tickets, instead of paying the outlandish (3 euros more) hotel tour prices. That being said, the fun started the next morning while we waited for the supposed 08:00 pick up in front of our hotel. There is always that moment after paying some woman in an alley when you think okay, no one is showing up, we got scammed out of 6 dollars per person, which would be entirely my fault.
Just when I was about to apologise to my cousin for being cheap, a woman on a red scooter greets us with “my son?”
Without even taking our names, she points down an alley and says “you go”
She scoots ahead of us while we briskly walk to catch up. We get to the end where she tauntingly waits, then she drives on again around the corner. We continue to walk. She finally beckons us over from across the street to a travel agent shop thing. She pulls us out two plastic toy chairs and sets up a fan. We sit. She leaves.
Ten minutes later she rocks up with three people. Five minutes after that, some guy gets dropped off by a moped. People are being collected from god knows where, good thing we shopped around for the best price. Eventually, a massive bus pulls up on the side of the road and we all get in. I think they took our names at some point, maybe not. Our guide was this cheetah print, cowboy boot wearing, shirt unbuttoned a few too many holes (maybe I’m making that up) stud of a man. Just so, so funny. He made inappropriate jokes which may have been a language barrier thing or a him thing. Either way, hilarious. At one point, we were offered the boat option back to Hoi An where we could pay 4 euros more to take the boat instead of the bus and it comes with lunch. I read online that this was not worth it at all and sure enough, some Irish guy we met said the same thing after he arrived back in Hoi An by boat. The meal was some rice and the boat journey wasn’t that nice.
Another thing I love, other than lanterns, is tea. An absolute treat was the Reaching Out Tea House run by deaf/ mute workers. This was a splurge. I think it cost 12 dollars for three of us, I ordered multiple extra cookies even though I think the tea comes with one. Kind people, lovely atmosphere, delicious tea.
Hoi An is the town of tailors, which we didn’t know. I think there are over 100 and something in the area. We weren’t going to get anything made but then realised we are 30, let’s live a little. I got a skirt and my cousin a dress. It was awesome because we got to pick the design by showing a photo of what we wanted, the fabric and they measured us. I felt like royalty apart from when I had to change behind a fabric curtain that I was too tall for. Originally, we tried this fancy high street designer place, which quoted us 60 dollars for my cousin’s dress. We then tried another well-received place (Mr. Xe) but they didn’t have the fabrics we wanted. We asked if we could bring our own in and they said we could for an extra fee. We ended up going to a woman inside the fabric market named Mrs An located at: Stall 90 Hoi An Cloth Market. Our clothes were done super speedy and good quality. I saw her sew on my skirt buttons herself. The price was also spot on and we got to choose fabrics that weren’t in her stock but from around the corner in a different shop, for free. The only complaint would be that the measurements were slightly off. We did get a fitting where she tightened the top part to fit me better but it was slightly longer than I imagined it to be. I am sure she would have fixed it during a second fitting, if we were there longer but for a one day turn around, I couldn’t ask for more.
We rented bikes for half a day to go to the beach for 20 000 Dong. It is a nice bike ride; you see water buffalos in fields and it’s easy enough to get to. The bikes were something to be desired but they got us there (that’s me being Dutch). When we arrived at the beach, there was a guy waving us down saying we need to pay and we can’t take our bikes on the beach. Utter bull shit, so we kept biking. Another person waves us down and offers us a better price to park are bikes, which again, being Dutch, I think is utter bull shit. I am angered at this point because 10 000 to park at a beach where the bike rental cost not much more than that, is sheer lunacy. There was a police officer sitting in a booth nearby. I asked him and all he said was no bikes on the beach, so I guess you have to park them at the designated spots. We did, grudgingly.