Vietnam has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go there even if it was for just six days. But the big question was how could I maximise my time the most effectively and still get some much-needed relaxation. A quick look at the map showed me that there was no way I could go everywhere I wanted to go in the time I had. In fact on closer inspection I discovered that Vietnam is actually a surprisingly big country from north to south. A look at the predicted weather showed me that this time of year favoured the south of the country, so it was goodbye Hanoi and hello Ho Chi Minh City.
With the general area pinpointed, we then decided to break the trip up into three main events.
- Mekong Delta – floating markets, boats and cycles.
- Beach Action – we opted for Nha Trang
- City and Conflict – war museums and monuments of Ho Chi Minh City, plus the Cu Chi Tunnels.
After 12-hour flight and a fab five hours in Singapore, we flew into Ho Chi Minh on Monday night, and after dropping our backpacks at the hotel we headed into the night, going straight to the nearest discount travel agency to book a Mekong excursion. Once the trip was booked we spent the next few hours boozing and eating streetfood in the backpackers’ road of Bui Vien Street.
Tuesday & Wednesday
We were up at 6am eating breakfast on the roof of our hotel before departing on our 2-day bus trip to the Mekong Delta. We opted for the overnight excursion, which was brilliant because we got to go on boats, bikes, horse and carts, and then stay over in the vibrant city of Can Tho in the heart of the Mekong Delta before an early morning trip to one of the floating markets.
I cannot enthuse about this trip enough – it was absolutely brilliant, everything I dreamed it would be and more! And at approximately £20 per head, an absolute bargain, and for a full itinerary you can read my 2 Days In The Mekong Delta blog. Anyway after an amazing two days spent in the Mekong our bus got us back to Ho Chi Minh City late on Wednesday afternoon, just in time for us to enjoy a massage and a meal, and then jump aboard the night bus to Nha Trang.
I must admit to being a bit concerned about the Vietnamese night bus situation before I tried it – but how wrong I was. It was brilliant. It cost under a tenner – you have your own little ‘compartment’ which was practically reclined (in cases like this I’m always glad I’m not tall). And gets you to the heart of your destination on an efficient and comfy fashion. Two words of warning, eye mask would be most useful as the ‘disco lights’ are switched on occasionally. Also wear easy to remove footwear as the onboard staff are fierce and extremely impatient in their non allowance of shoes on board.
Thursday & Friday
After an 8-hour journey we arrived at Nha Trang at about 5am and jumped in a waiting cab to the cheap hotel area on the beachfront (quick word of advice, make sure you agree an amount before getting in the cab as our driver did try and rip us off). Our hotel was quickly selected – although we couldn’t check in until a more reasonable hour so we then headed to the beautiful beach to watch the sun rise whilst eating a delicious bahn mei for breakfast.
By 7.30am the sun was up and our stomachs were satisfied – but we still couldn’t check in to our hotel for about 5 hours – so we jumped in a cab and headed to the I-resort for a few hours of pampering. The area of Nha Trang is renowned for its mineral spas and I’d read that I-Resort was the nicest, cleanest and most authentic one in the area. We arrived here at 8am and had four superb hours of mud baths, hydrotherapy, swimming, sun bathing – not to mention a quick pop to the water slide area in a golf cart. Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the Golden 2 Hotel and check in. Then it was straight to the beach to have a delicious seafood extravaganza at the Louisiane Brewhouse beach club.
The afternoon was spent relaxing on the beach and bobbing about in the South China Sea – which was chillier than anticipated but still great fun. We then had a sundowner before getting changed for the night ahead. And after a mooch around the great night market (holiday presents easily chosen) we had fresh-from-the-tank seafood washed down the vodka and then took a ride on one of the many cyclos (such fun!) to a recommended night spot on the beach called the Sailing Club – which it turned out was practically opposite our hotel but looked completely innocent by day! With enormous cocktails served in plastic sweet jars, fabulously cheesey music, and a back drop of the crashing waves of the South China Sea, this this was definitely the place for me. And when it came to kicking out time we went for a few more drinks in the backpackers area before getting a motorbike taking home (excillerating is not the word!).
The morning after the night before was a struggle, but we managed to enjoy another day of beach fun, inter-dispersed with regular and essential food and refreshments – and before we knew it it was time to catch the night bus back to Ho Chi Minh City.
For our last night in Vietnam we’d decided to push the boat out and booked to spend the night in a fancy hotel with a rooftop pool. Again we’d arrived too early to check in (around 4.30am) so we dropped our bags and headed out for breakfast and then to check out the sights, monuments and museums of Ho Chi Minh City.
We started off at the Ben Than Market, an authentic fixed price market selling everything from fresh live frogs to cleaning products! We then saw the Opera House, Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum (that was gruelling but necessary), Notre Dame Cathedral (yes really!), the Old Post Office, and all manner of temples and churches. It’s amazing how much you can fit in when your day starts at 4.30am! By now we were suitably tired but still unable to check in, so we had an hour’s massage before heading to our rooftop pool for a swim. Refreshed by the swim it was time for lunch was at Quin Bui a delicious nearby Vietnamese restaurant.
Post lunch we did more city wandering and more rooftop swimming, then as night fell, in keeping with our swanky last night we headed to the 52nd floor of the Bitexco Tower for a cocktail and to watch the sunset. There is a viewing platform here but it’s cheaper to go for the cocktail bar instead – and you get a cocktail and a view rather than just a view! Cocktails and sun downed it was time to get back to our more natural habitat, so we headed back to the backpackers area in search of some delicious street food and vibrant atmosphere. We weren’t disappointed!
The next morning it was another early start as we had a 7.30am coach to catch to the Cu Chi Tunnels which are about an hour or so out of town.
This was a really fascinating tour where we were shown the traps the Vietnamese used to defeat the US – as well as to go through their actual tunnels (v cramped and claustrophobic) plus there was the option to fire an AK. 47 or M16 for $20. Initially sceptical about doing this I must admit I am so glad I did! It was really interesting (made better because I actually hit the target) and the smells and noises of the guns gave you a real sense of how dreadful the experience of war must be. Word of warning tho – don’t try and take the empty shells home as souvenirs – I did and it didn’t go down well at the airport… but the less said about that the better as I’m still not 100% sure what I signed to get my luggage released!
Shots fired it was time to get back on the bus and get back to Ho Chi Minh just in time for a quick rooftop swim, late lunch and facial before heading to the airport to fly home.