KAMPONG CHAM – PLANNING THE BORDER TRANSITION
On our last day in Cambodia, we had to accept the bitter realization that no bus – as expected – will go to the Cambodian-Vietnamese border. So again we hired our favorite tuk-tuk driver from Kampong Cham, with whom we negotiated a fair deal for the two-hour trip to Vietnam. Meeting place was at our hotel at 5am.
OUR JOURNEY TO HO CHI MINH CITY
Already in the dark our trip to Vietnam started. The first time we took a tuk-tuk for a long haul and we immediately realized that this is not a ride. The cold airstream was not the main problem, but the roads in the country are pretty bad. We felt at each pothole as if we were sitting in a bucked wheelbarrow …
A bit tired, but frozen over punctually we arrived at the border “Xa Mat”. As a souvenir, we made a quick selfie with our driver before we went fully loaded to the counter. Although nothing was going on, the procedure at the border took a total of about two hours. Cambodia just did not want to let us go;)
On the other hand, we were directly disappointed: it was not as hoped buses or at least a taxi ready. Only we were eyed by two bored moped riders and so we had no choice but to jump with bag and bag in each case at one of the men. We were delivered safely to the next bus station. There we finally took a bus to Saigon.
THE MOPED LAND
The first thing we noticed was the countless mopeds on the streets in Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon! We read and heard a lot about Vietnam, yet we were impressed by the crowd on two wheels. We decided in the next time to renounce this type of locomotion and prefer to walk as usual.
Our first hostel was in the busy tourist party street “Bui Vien”, but in a small alley, so we were spared the noise of the drunks. HCMC is a big city that does not have much of a cultural highlight, but some nice sites like the opera, the postoffice, a turtle-free lake, a huge financial tower and a monstrous market. For lunch and dinner we made ourselves comfortable on various rooftop bars.
Especially nice was our trip to a large, artificially landscaped park with many ponds, bridges and giant water lilies. The only disturbing aspect was the loud party music, which echoed through the green area … We would have preferred to hear birds singing, we are probably getting old. Nevertheless, the way out of the city center was definitely worth it.
The food search was really a challenge for us vegetarians! Quite different from what we thought, there were only dishes with meat and fish everywhere. When we asked for something vegetarian we were looked at diagonally or offered shrimp. Unfortunately, therefore, we spent hours rummaging on streetcars and restaurants for healthy, cheap and vegetarian food. Finally, we ate a lot of fruit and vegetables from the market and cooked ourselves noodles.
A DISTANCE TO RUSSIA ?!
With one, known for Vietnam, sleeper buses it was rather uncomfortable early in the morning towards the coast! Even for Anni the seat beds were a bit short. Our hotel was actually pretty cool. Good location, large roof terrace, large lobby and good breakfast. If it were not for the comic volunteer who led us to our shabby room with lumbering and fish stinking – what the hell!
The place was so taken up by Russian tourists that we landed smoothly in a restaurant where the menu was written not only in Vietnamese but also in Russian!
Since we had some time in the afternoon, we headed to one of the local attractions – the Fairy Springs. One can think of these as a small and shallow riverbed, which meanders through a particularly red sand and is bordered by green bamboo and some palm trees. We took a nice walk along the rippling brook.
RED SAND DUNES TO THE SUNRISE – THE DESERT VIETNAMS
Luckily we had it off the beaten track at 5:30 am the next morning, luckily not far to the impressive red sand dunes. Just in time for the sunrise, we arrived and could enjoy the view over Vietnam’s small desert! On the way back, we watched the buzz of the Fisher Village and, after all the smells, were glad to get a breakfast without fish.
A PAINTING PLACE
We went back to the interior, to a small town in the mountains called Da Lat. Already on the way to our accommodation, we realized that there is an indefinable but very pleasant atmosphere here. Also our hostel, which is run by two lovely, bright siblings, confirmed our feeling.
The only thing that did not match the comfort was the temperature! So we sat with all halfway warm clothes wrapped in onion look on our scooter and explored the area! Here we discovered a beautiful waterfall, a worth seeing Buddhist temple and a wonderful lake landscape.
NO HOSPITAL ACCESSIBLE
In HCMC we got an insider tip from a friend. Of course we did not want to miss this and drove to the peninsula of Ninhvan. After we made a hike to a waterfall on our day of arrival, Anni unfortunately got caught the following night with severe pyelonephritis. Strong chills and 40 degrees fever prompted us to seek medical advice from Germany. This meant clearly: “off to the nearest hospital”! But since we could not find a taxi in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, hot water bottles and antibiotics had to prevent the worst.
THE PLACE OF RECOVERY
In order to get no cabin fever we decided to change the location and discovered a top accommodation in the otherwise not very interesting city Nha Trang. Our stay was just relaxation in our extremely comfortable room and super delicious, cheap and vegan food in one of our favorite restaurants in Vietnam. To continue our journey, we took enough time to fully regenerate. Unfortunately we had to do without the highlights Hoi An and Hue by flying the long section from Nha Trang to Hanoi.
THE OLD QUARTER OF HANOI
Hanoi appealed to us from the start with its uniquely lively Old Quarter. Even the smog that stubbornly hung over the city these days did not stop us from walking a full day’s walk through the city, discovering the most interesting spots. Our highlights were the “Train-Street”, the “Long-Bien-Bridge” and the “Hidden Gem Café”. At night, the Old Quarter transforms into a bustling pedestrian street filled with street food stalls and souvenir shops. In many places even “Free Beer” is advertised to lure the tourists into their own restaurant.
We decided to explore the famous “Ha Long Bay” from the main island “Cat Ba” of “Lan Ha Bay”. Already on the ferry, which brought us from the mainland to the island, we were able to admire the extraordinary island and rock formations in wonderful weather. As we checked in to our hotel in the evening, the setting sun colored the sky into a deep red. At the end of the day, we enjoyed two vegetarian dishes in the secluded Buddha Belly Restaurant. The place itself is not very worth seeing. We explored the island with a scooter and visited the “Cave Hospital” from the Vietnam War.
A WET KAYAK TOUR
The boat tour the following day, unfortunately we were not too lucky with the weather, it was dry, but there was far and no sun to see. As you know, there are only bad clothes and no bad weather and so we enjoyed the trip to the fullest. The highlight of the day was an accidental dip in the water during the kayak tour. Timo went overboard with the electronics bag, but luckily everything stays healthy – only Timo was soaking wet during the following reconnaissance trip through three caves.
NINH BINH – HALONG BAY ON LAND
This place is considered one of the scenic highlights of Vietnam. The “Halong Bay on land” also offers a towering “Limestone” mountain landscape. Lush green valleys and caves, through which wide rivers meander slowly and peacefully, attract many tourists. We rented a scooter to explore everything on our own. The highlight of the day was the mountain of the “Lying Dragon”. Although the entry was piggy, but you will be rewarded with the best view of the region. Unfortunately, we caught a season to the rice fields were already “mowed” and so everything seemed very brownish. We practiced imagination.
Due to time and Internet shortage, it sometimes happens that our research is incomplete. In the case of Moc Chau (we did not know the difference to Mai Chau before) this was an unexpected enrichment. We landed in a place unknown to western tourists and were invited to have lunch by a nice young Vietnamese girl. For the next 24h we rented a (relatively overpriced) scooter, but were rewarded by a breathtaking mountain region!
Spontaneously we decided to extend our stay in Moc Chau and found with “The November” a new bungalow complex with special hospitality. The cozy wooden huts made us feel like in Scandinavia because of their style. An insider tip led us to a hidden waterfall. Even the weather was warm and sunny and invited to take a dip in the cool water – our personal nature highlight of Vietnam.
Extra: The region is known for its special eating habits – among other things dogs are also eaten here. Passing through one of the nearby coffins, we made a less appetizing experience: a whole goat was roasted on the floor of a driveway with a big Bunsen burner.
In Mai Chau we found the Mai Chau Ecolodge, a small oasis of well-being for the Chinese New Year (Tet). We cycled through rice fields at sunset, ate and drank with locals in their living room and danced traditional dances – our personal cultural highlight of Vietnam. The lodge spoiled us with a pool day and a wide buffet breakfast. Even to Hanoi there was a private shuttle for us.
PREPARING FOR THE PHILIPPINES
Our last nights in Vietnam we spent again in the capital Hanoi. Originally we had Sapa and the stunning Ban Gioc waterfall from our travel list, but we did not have enough time for the long distances to the far north. So we prepared for our trip to the Philippines in our cozy hotel and enjoyed the special Vietnamese hospitality during the first days of the new year.