Nha Trang, Vietnam – Saturday 2nd to Monday 4th September
Ok, so, we’ve already covered our first night in Nha Trang in last week’s post; but we weren’t quite finished with the party city yet. After quickly discovering that we were after something a little different from what Nha Trang typically offered, we set about making sure we still managed to find things to enjoy. A big part of this trip has been always trying to make the best of the places we visit; Nha Trang was no different.
Saturday was much like Friday had been. Nha Trang beach was filled with managed deck chairs. And we’d established a base with one of the beach chair people, just five minutes from our hostel. So, with the sun shining we set out for a proper day in the sun. Only our third day on the beach in our first five and a half months on the road!
In honour of Hannah’s sister, we decided to eat that evening at Olivia, on Trang Quang Khai. Vietnamese-Italian has never tasted so good! In fact, it was so good that we ate there on our final night in Nha Trang, too!
Sunday, we decided to get our snorkel on; arranging a a snorkelling boat trip through our hostel, iHome. They got us on the, optimistically-named, Amazing Snorkelling Tour. It turned out this was a little hyperbolic, but actually the tour was pretty good! After a short bus transfer to the hectic Cau Da port, we boarded Lilja – our roving home for the day.
The delightful Lilja, with Hannah going all fifties film star on deck.
After an hour at sea we arrived at Hon Mun island, and were taken to three separate reef spots; with time to snorkel and sunbathe at each. During the communal lunch on board, we ended up chatting to a family of seven from Hertfordshire who’d brought their dad out for a surprise sixtieth birthday treat!
We’d been warned off snorkelling in Hoi An, but can thoroughly recommend a day out with the Amazing Snorkelling Tour. The sea was warm, the visibility good, and there was plenty to see underwater to keep us entertained.
There were plenty of underwater treats to see
We opted for Greek food at Mix that evening… Evidently so had the rest of Nha Trang. Thankfully our excellent timing saw us beat the vast majority to the front of the queue.
Hannah plays ‘Where’s Wally’ at the front of the queue at Mix
Monday became another waiting game. Our overnight train south to Ho Chi Minh City (£22.15 each) wasn’t until ten fifty that night, so back to the beach for us!
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) – Tuesday 5th to Wednesday 27th September
We arrived in HCMC early on Tuesday morning. Thankfully we were able to check in to Hannah’s apartment as soon as we got in. Tuesday was mostly a case of Phil sorting his life out ready to depart for two weeks working in Prague; though we were lucky enough to be able to meet up with a friend from the UK, Harry Worth, who had made HCMC his home. Harry took us out for some craft beers at Heart of Darkness, before amazing ‘Japanese’ pizzas at Pizza 4P’s Le Tran Ton.
Suffolk to Saigon, all at ground level. Hannah’s happy about it.
The next day we paused our adventure and said our goodbyes, as Phil departed for Prague… And then, two weeks later, he was back!
After a couple of days recovering and decompressing, we were back on the tourist trail. Given Vietnam’s recent history the next couple of days were a little dark as we took in the War Remnants Museum and a day trip up to the Cu Chi tunnels.
War remnants at the museum…
Whatever the politics, there is no denying that Vietnam suffered considerably from more than twenty years of continuous war; first with the French, and then the Americans (primarily). Awful bombardments, mining, torture, and chemical warfare. The war remnants museum documents this with surprising impartiality, especially given the spin and loaded language of the Hanoi Military Museum. The War remnants museum is not for the faint hearted – but it’s our belief that it really is a must-see. We should never forget, or whitewashed from history, the horrors of war.
Our visit to the Cu Chi tunnels, a vast network of tunnels and hidden bunkers north of HCMC, was just as enlightening. The tunnels were first dug by the Viet-Minh in the war with the French, and then expanded massively by the Viet-Cong during the American War. Fighters used the tunnels to become invisible to the expeditionary forces. They would attack, and then seemingly melt back into the jungle. By the end of the conflict the network ran to 75 miles of tunnels!
Phil heads underground at the Cu Chi Tunnels
All around Vietnam are reminders of these conflicts: bomb craters in the earth; scarred ruins; formal museums; and victims of poisoning from Agent Orange – a chemical defoliant used extensively by American forces to reveal Viet Cong in the jungle.
We were given, many times, one clear message: from the Indochina Wars there were no winners – only losers. If you take away the patriotic jingoism, clever spin, and loaded language, and think about the people in the middle, the same could be said of all wars.
The Mekong Delta – Wednesday 27th to Friday 29th September
We finished up our time in Vietnam with a three day tour of the Mekong Delta booked through Sapphire Travel. Including two nights’ accommodation and some meals, this put us back just £45 each. Early on Wednesday we boarded a minibus for a two hour transfer to the Mekong River, where we spent the morning cruising up-river, stopping for local entertainments, a visit to a local sweet factory, and a couple of little canal side-trips on rowing boats.
Hannah’s hair refused to play along with the photo shoot
We paused for the night at Can Tho, before our second day cruising the river. First up we visited the Cai Rang Floating Market, where local trade wholesale fruit and vegetables from their boats. Many of these traders spend most of their lives on the river – living on their boats. Our guide told us that a lot don’t like to venture on to land at all because they can’t stand up on solid ground!
Wholesale watermelon for sale at the Cai Rang Floating Market
Further up-river visited a family-run rice noodle factory, seeing the amazing transformation from rice to noodles (who’d have thought?!).
Making rice noodles
After a short bike ride to see a bombed mangrove tree, we smelled a rat. And then ate it. It turns out barbecued rat meat is delicious; but only if you can get it off all the sharp little bones!
Sprat, frog, or rat? Rat, of course!
After lunch it was back on a bus into the jungle to see a sunken forest. As we pulled up to our destination, the heavens opened, and we enjoyed an ‘authentic’ Mekong experience motorboating through the trees in the pouring rain!
Braving the rain into the sunken forest: Hannah and Earthworm Jim
We overnighted on a floating hotel at Chau Doc, close to the Cambodian Border; and then on our last day in Vietnam visited a fish farm and a riverside Cham village, before making our break for the border.
The floating hotel: better on the outside
Our border crossing was supposed to be a cruise on a fast boat all the way to Phnom Penh. However, the boat we boarded, while very comfortable, was anything but fast! We dutifully disembarked to complete the obligatory immigration and customs checks, and then hopped on a minibus to get back to the boat and continue up-river to Phnom Penh.
At least that’s what we all thought.
After a few too many minutes of driving Phil leaned forward and asked if we were going back to the boat. The driver cheerfully nodded and said: “Phnom Penh!” Not what any of the group had booked or been expecting, but that’s what was happening. At least we were all in the same boat (as it were)!
A couple of bumpy hours in the minibus later, we were delivered to our hostel in Phnom Penh. We’d chosen the surprisingly pleasant Billabong Hotel, for £22 a night, which sat somewhere between a hostel and a boutique hotel.
So, after a busy few days on the river, we spent the end of the week reading and relaxing by the pool; a whole new country ahead of us to explore.
Next week, we spend a few days around the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, before heading north to see the spectacular temple ruins of Ankor Wat.
Hannah and Phil x