Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river.
Day 60: Another day, another bus ride, another country. We leave Cambodia behind us and head east towards Vietnam, a country full of beautiful gems. From the mighty massive Mekong Delta in the south to the mysterious misty mountaintops in the north. We enter Vietnam at the popular Moc Bai border. From there it is a hectic ride into the biggest city of Vietnam, Saigon (officially called Ho Chi Minh City). Crazy to think this city has over 7 million motorbikes that fill the thousands of little streets. From the bus station, it is a short walk to our hotel. Luckily we have the perfect guide for our visit, my dear friend Vo. She meets us at the hotel and takes us for an introductory walk around Saigon. We get to see the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon and French-built Central Post Office which were both built by French Colonialists back in the days when Vietnam was still part of French Indochina. Vo tells us about the Vietnam War and what her own parents had to go endure. We also make a stop at a local restaurant where I have never had so many veggies in one meal, tasty nonetheless. We end our first successful day in Vietnam with a visit to the Saigon Sky Deck. This place offers great views of the city.
Day 61: Today we are also in the good hands of our friend Vo. In the morning we get a little taxibus to the Cu Chi District. This area is well known because of the Cu Chi Tunnels. These tunnels were dug by the Viet Cong, the communist guerrilla troops, during the Vietnam War as an underground network to transport supplies and set up traps to shake off the enemy. The tunnels were dug so small and low so the taller American soldiers would have trouble running through. We visit the tunnels and experience the tunnels first hand. Ironically, the replica tunnels we can visit were made for tourists as the actual tunnels are even smaller (which would make it quite hard to navigate through). Next, Vo brings us to her home village where they are celebrating the Festival of the Mother Goddess, where all the villagers are making offerings and leaving notes on the floor. After the ceremony, Vo takes us to the Red Fruit Farm Orchard which she claims is a must during your visit to Vietnam. While seated in a sort of Garden of Eden, we are served some of these delicious juicy fruits and comes as a gift from heaven on a warm day like this. Our visit to Saigon rapidly comes to an end and our last stop is the bus station that takes us to Hoi An. We give Vo a massive hug for her hospitality and time during these last two days and wave here farewell from our overnight bus. What a great start in Vietnam!
Day 63: On our second day in the touristy ancient village of Hoi An we decide to rent a scooter and go visit the Hindu temple ruins of ‘My Son’. Visiting these magnificent ruins in the morning seems to be a good idea as the heat can be brutal. Luckily the breeze on the ride back to Hoi An offers some refreshment. The sun is setting and the town is getting ready for the Hoi An Lantern Festival. This festival is celebrated once a month during the full moon but became such a popular attraction that they decided to organize the lantern ritual every night so no visitor would have to miss out. The town pulls the electric plug every night around 8 PM to turn it into a romantic lantern river spectacle. You can buy a lantern from a local and send it off at the river banks. If you have a couple days here, this is apparently the place to be to get your suit made. But the time is limited, the backpack already bursting at the seams and the road ahead is full of new promising adventures to be made. Tomorrow we are continuing our journey up north, towards the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi.
Day 65: Sixteen hours. That is how long it took us to get from Hoi An to Hanoi (with a layover in Hué). At 6 AM we get dropped off at the bus station, still waking up and greeted by a herd of taxi drivers who offer a ride into the city. We were warned about many drivers trying to scam you but just when you think it won’t happen to you this time… it totally does. The driver overcharges us and manipulates his meter so we end up with a 20 dollar taxi ride which should only have been about 6 dollars. The damage has been done and I am in no mood nor have the energy to fight about it. We arrive at our new abode but the front desk seems to be closed. Together with Hannah, our new-made friend, we wait until we can check-in and drop our luggage. We decide to get breakfast together and afterward, Seba and I need to get our visa for Mongolia sorted at the embassy. They require 50 USD cash to arrange your visa and share the visa will be ready for pick up in a few days. We go back to our hostel and arrange the rest of our stay in Vietnam in the travel shop next door; two nights in Halong Bay and two nights in Sapa. The rest of the day we explore the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake, and finish it off with a handful of beers in one of the many bars.
Day 66: The alarm wakes us from my deep sleep. 6 AM seems to be the ‘Magic Hour’ for us here in Vietnam. Outside the hostel, a van awaits to bring us to Sapa, a mountain town located close to the Chinese border and known for its picturesque rice terraces and many minority tribes, especially the H’Mong Tribes. Upon arrival, we jump on a scooter to explorer the area. The dense fog cuts our afternoon ride short as the pass seems too sketchy and the views are nil.
Day 68: Today we get a few extra hours of sleep. At 8 AM we are setting sail to Halong Bay, one of the must-visits during your stay in Vietnam. Without a doubt, you have seen this stunning bay with the limestone karst mountains and the many ships with the red sails in one of many travel brochures or travel guides. Those typical red sails are hard to find in reality but the limestone mountains and beautiful emerald bay are ours to discover, together with thousands of others during our two night Halong Bay Adventure. You can put together your package as you please but we chose one night on a boat and the second night in on an island in the bay. We start our cruise around noon, get our rooms assigned, and as soon as we embarked lunch is served. We are sitting next to Monica and Julia, two Dutch girls, and spend the rest of the day in their company.
Day 69: After an overnight on the boat we visit Surprise Cave early in the morning. The biggest surprise here was how busy this viewpoint is, even this early in the day. After the visit, we get transferred to the island and enjoy a free afternoon. We take the kayaks to explore the waters around the island.
Day 72: Hanoi International Airport. Another early morning. The two weeks in Vietnam flew by but I am excited to collect a new stamp in my passport today. This new stamp belongs to Hong Kong, where Seba’s friend Marco awaits us, together with an approaching typhoon, Nida.