Winging it has gone exceptionally well for us. There is a huge amount of freedom associated with the ability to make your own decisions while travelling. Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? It’s totally up to you and you can decide on the fly! We met some other travellers who had been travelling for 6 months and had no plan at all. They had ended up staying in Hoi An for three weeks just because they loved it so much. That’s the dream!
Coming to Vietnam I was very keen to learn more about the war, something I knew little to nothing about. It soon became apparent that the reason we aren’t taught a lot about this war is that it was by no means anything to be proud of and it was questionable what we were actually fighting for. Touring through the War Remnants Museum in Saigon was brutal. The effects that the use of chemical warfare, in particular – Agent Orange (Round Up on steroids) – has had on the people of Vietnam is incredibly cruel and can still be seen today in the genetic defects of some people. Ever resilient, people with disabilities from the war keep on trucking and are given jobs in special factories where they are amazingly talented despite their deformities.
We booked a full day tour with TNK Travel which included city sights, museums and the Cu Chi tunnels. While the freedom to roam about on your own accord is great – to learn more and gain invaluable local insight I would highly recommend booking some tours with a local guide. You get to go to places, try delicacies and learn phrases that you never would on your own. Our tour got to go to the shooting range and fire some AK47’s (who needs duck-shooting) and we also went to a local coffee shop to try Weasel Shit Coffee. Weasel’s eat the ripe coffee cherries but are unable to process the actual beans so poop them out. Their digestive process does manage to remove some of the bitterness from the bean however, and once roasted and double filtered you have a very sweet and delicious coffee – I shit you not!
Another great thing about travelling with no particular agenda is that when Jetstar is delayed (would you believe it?) there is no great panic. Flying budget airlines in Asia is an experience in itself. You get crammed onto a bus to take you from your gate to the plane (and in our case, from the bus back to the gate to wait another hour), then you have to squeeze your long European legs into the shoe-box they call leg room (while the Vietnamese lady next to you is fully stretched out) and then, despite the safety instructions being read in both the native language and English, you have to hope that the 3 people in your vicinity on their mobile phones don’t send the plane off course or that there is no real reason for the window shades to be up for takeoff and landing OR that old mate across the aisle from you doesn’t end up in your lap because he’s taken off his seat belt to further enjoy the turbulence! Give me Air New Zealand any day of the week!
Anyway, we eventually made it to Da Nang with no harm done and made our way to Hoi An – only about 20 mins by car. If there’s one place in Vietnam i recommend you go – it’s Hoi An! I fell in love with this gorgeous little (big) town. It has the most amazing shops to meet all of your tailoring and shoe-making needs as well as great nightlife and a beach close enough to cycle too, what more could you want?!
We were accosted on the street by googly eyed Su who took us to her shop (Cloth Shop Su). We thought we were probably being scammed but her prices ended up being very reasonable and we were super happy with the garments we got made – watch this space to see if they stand the test of time. Although a much smaller town, the traffic is still out of control so we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to hire a scooter ($6/day from our hotel) but we decided we could in fact tackle a push bike trip to the beach which only included a couple of intersections on the way (hire for $1/day). We are pretty much locals after that I would say.
We hired a private car to take us from Hoi An to Hue (said ‘whey’) and stayed 2 nights there. We chose the car instead of the bus or train because it went over the ‘Pass’ instead of through the tunnel. The way the locals talked about the revered Pass we thought we had to see it. Turns out you get better views on the way to the family bach in Jacks Bay! It made us realise how lucky we are in New Zealand to have these amazing views at every turn and a little bit sorry for the Vietnamese bloke who was stopping at all these ‘amazing’ view points for us to take an obligatory photo and get back in the car.
The main attraction of Hue is the Imperial City. Unfortunately it was largely damaged during the wars but is being painstakingly restored and what has been done and is still in-tact is quite spectacular. Although the Imperial city was interesting and we had a great night in town meeting and drinking with other travellers I don’t think I would go out of my way to recommend Hue to others. My advice – stay in Hoi An!
After our big night we managed the admin to fly back to Saigon and went straight to McDonald’s to replenish our levels of vitamin CN (Chicken Nuggets) and then to the hotel where our Intrepid Tour (Cambodian Traveller) starts from for some much needed downtime. This travelling business is hard work!
My tips for Vietnam:
- Take tissue/toilet paper with you always – you can’t rely on some places to have toilet paper, in fact, most places don’t!
- Allow 3 days at the very least in Hoi An – you will end up wishing it was even longer
- Kiwi’s – save money and take the bus north to Hue through the tunnel
- Pay extra for guided tours or day tours around certain places if you wish to actually learn about the history and random facts that you would otherwise never know (and they are so cheap so why not!)
- Post is expensive! Don’t get too carried away with gift buying 😉