Well since my computer once again was stolen, and this time on the last bus we took, I lost my in depth report on Vietnam. While I'd love to recreate the previous blog, now that my trip is over, it seems much easier to simply give a recap. Vietnam was definitely my favorite country on the Southeast Asia trip. The combination of really nice people, beautiful scenery, plentitude of activities, great accomodation, and smooth transport all added up to a memorable experience. In the south starting in Saigon we learned a tremendous deal about the Vietnam War visiting numerous museums in Saigon as well as the Cu Chi tunnels slightly north of the city. The food in Saigon, and our first taste of Vietnam cuisine was also some of the best. The Ban Xeo, Pho, and Lunch Lady all resulted in really tasty meals that all represented Vietnamese food properly, hot and flavorful dishes with lots of fresh herbs to accompany and add to taste. We then headed south to the Mekong Delta for a few days to visit some of the largest floating markets in all of Southeast Asia. While traffic was terrible getting there, and our tour around the markets was painfully slow and long, it was still interesting to see how the markets work and view the boats and residents in their natural habitat. The markets were not as exciting as we had thought and the apparently 3 hour bus ride ended up taking 6 hours both ways, which didn't add to the experience. The great thing about Vietnam as well is that most destinations are a perfect night bus distance away, so unlike other countries, no days were wasted on travel time.
Further up north we spent a full day in Nha Trang, the "party beach" of Vietnam. While at first we thought about skipping this destination because we weren't looking for another Kuta in Bali or Thailand experience, we were very happy with our decision to stay since we saw some of the most beautiful beaches on the trip and even my life. The "party" reputation is definitely in relation to the other deserted beaches of Vietnam, since Nha Trang was no where near as touristy as other places we'd visited. We took Travel Fish's advice, rented a motor bike, and immediately headed south and spent the day at two beaches. While I forget their names, the first was 20km south - pretty, but still close enough to attract visitors, and the other, 60km south, one of the most pristine and untouched beaches I've seen. It took us a while to get there, but it was worth the constant stopping to ask for directions. The water was crystal blue, white sand beaches empty except for large wicker baskets used as small boats to bring fisherman out to their larger boats, and delicious, fresh seafood for almost nothing. We spent the rest of the day there swimming, lying out, and eating tons of squid and fish with two beers that only costed 5 USD total. After our time was up we headed back to Nha Trang for sunset and to catch our bus to Hoi Ahn. That day in Nha Trang was perfectly executed and the scenery was magnificent. Even drive the drive to the beaches were great.
Hoi Ahn, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was also a great place to spend a few days at least. The heritage area was very pleasent to walk around and well preserved along the riverside, the market was large and very interesting with tons of fresh seafood and produce, along with multiple stands offering dishes containing Hoi Ahn famous noodles. There must be something in the water because the carbs in Hoi Ahn are the best in Southeast Asia. The noodles were amazing, but most importantly their bread was ridiculous. Probably better than anything you'll find in France. That being said, before our final stop at a sanwhich stand our last night, Cambodia was winning the battle for best sandwhich; however, the final one we tasted, I was sure would be a winner. There was a huge line with three women working in back preparing the sanwhiches filled with numerous meats and sauces. Added to the bread, the sandwhich there was the winner hands down and finally relived us of our quest for the best sanwhich. We spent the first day walking all along the heritage sites as well as the town, and on the second day we rented a few push bikes and took a ferry to a close by island to meander around aimlessly. While the island was pleasant with no tourists around, we accidently stumbled off the island, back on to mainland, but from another direction and literally stepped though another time zone. All around us were rice fields after rice fields stretching as far as the eye could see. And as the only tourists around everyone was very friendly with lots of hellos. It was a great two hours spent. We took the rest of the day to explore the beaches 15 minutes off of Hoi Ahn which were also very nice. Overall, Hoi Ahn is a must-see in Vietnam. While the heritage area is crowded with tourists, only 15 minutes away will take you to a world before tourism hit, to beautiful rice fields, beaches, and water bufalos.
The next morning we caught a plane to Hanoi, landed early in the morning, and spent the entire day walking all around the main areas and planning our trip to Halong Bay. We finally settled with our guesthouse's tour outfitter, which worked out perfectly. Hanoi is known for scamming tourists by creating business with the same name as reputable ones, learing unsuspecting tourists in and decieving them into a bad experience. So we were very cautious and made certain to ask specific questions in order to avoid being dissapointed. We opted for the 2 day one night stay on the junk instead of the extra day at Cat Ba Island, an island we heard was not impressive and not worth the time. The trip was amazing. The food was great, room really nice, and views spectacular, especially from the viewpoint atop Titop island. Overall it was perfect.
Now came the big decisions. Did we want to purchase a ticket the following morning for a flight to Laos, a country we heard such great things about, or continue north to Sapa for a 3 day trek into scenery very simmilar to Northern Luzon, with the possibility of bad weather, and an experience too touristy to enjoy. Obviously from the sound of my options, the first seems better, so we choose that one and left the next morning for Laos. However, after looking back on the decision we made and having spent time in Laos, we would probably say our biggest mistake was not going to Sapa. We took one kids advice who said some negative things about the trip even though our hostel that organizes a group said no one has ever complained. While the scenery may have been similar, it would have still been beautiful, we would have been able to hike for multiple days and see multiple villages, and we could have visited the famous Bac Ha sunday market. We heard there was some of the best trekking in Laos, so we figured we could have the same experience for a lower cost and a less touristy experience; however, in the end Laos was just as expensive, with scenery not as pretty, no famous markets, and we ended up only doing a day trek. So overal, not the best choice, but something to come back for.
As I mentioned before....the food, transport, people, activities, scenery, culture, and overal experience was amazing in Vietnam and all combined to make it our favorite country and one of the first places I would return to later in life. If you only have 10+ days to visit one country in Southeast Asia, make it Vietnam hands down, no other option. Thailand is well known, but is crap comparatively.