Vietnam On A Shoestring
I entered Lao Cai, Vietnam via China on a sleeper bus. I won’t go into details of that now however sleeper buses are definitely an experience that everyone should have at least once! For anyone entering via China you should be careful that any books you may have on you are suitable and do not contain anything that may be constituted as negative Chinese propaganda. We wisely sold our lonely planet just moments before the border much to our relief as this would have swiftly been confiscated (by the Chinese side, not the Vietnamese!)
Our first call was Hanoi, to get there you need to board a train, unfortunately these can take up to 12 hours, my recommendation would be to always pay for first class as any other class will involve you sitting on a potentially backless, hard wooden bench for 12 hours straight!
On arrival, found the hotel we had pre booked was not a real hotel therefore traipsed around looking for one late into the night. In the end we settled for a gorgeous hotel, which we thought would cost us an arm and a leg but instead cost a mere £20 for the night! However (being on a tight budget) the next night we moved to an equally nice, but cheaper hotel which set us back £5 a night. We found throughout Vietnam that the general price really was £4 – £10 without pre booking. Whilst the Vietnamese use Dong – which goes into the millions just for a few quid, they happily take dollars and always gave us a better deal when using these.
Hanoi, as a place was brilliant. There is so much activity going on that it is nice just to sit on a stool outside one of the Bia Hoi bars, having fresh Bia Hoi brought to you (around 30p a pint) and watch the world go by. The locals are charming and very friendly, we made friends with one man who took us to bars far past their very early closing times (normally around 11pm) as they often would let in Vietnamese people. I would NOT recommend getting a motorbike in Hanoi, whilst accidents are usually relatively mild, they are exceptionally frequent. From Hanoi we took a 2 night / 3 day trip to Halong Bay. There are many travel companies offering this tour with a huge range of prices. My advice is not to go for the cheapest – as we did, but go for a middle of the range tour but barter! Our tour had poor food and poor sleeping arrangements but many people who were on the same boat had paid double if not triple what we had so it is easy to get ripped off. However the tour is fantastic, gorgeous Pirates of the Caribbean style scenery and some fantastic walks, snorkelling and canoeing to be done.
After Hanoi we headed down to Nin Binh in order to take a tour to Tam Coc. Tam Coc is gorgeous and no one should miss it. Nin Binh is not quite so desirable and should really just be used as a resting spot.
Dong Ha was our next stop. This allows you to go see the famous tunnels from the Vietnamese War. This is an experience not to be missed. No matter your opinion of the war the tunnels just bring to life how petrified the Vietnamese people must have been. They are certainly not for the claustrophobic though! If you can, try to get a Vietnamese Veteran as your tour guide, if you ask around in Dong Ha you will easily find one, they are fantastic as they have often lived in the tunnels themselves and will be more than happy to take you down to the beach for a few drinks with other veterans after!
The next place worth an extended visit is Hoi An. The hotels are gorgeous, the place is gorgeous and the beaches were the first we had seen and were fantastic! The food is exquisite there, very influenced by the French, and there are lots of fantastic wine to go alongside it! If you do want to have a motorbike experience, here is the place to do it. Drivers are relatively patient and if you are as nervous as me and stall midway through a junction they are far more likely to wait for you here!
After Hoi An we moved on to Nha Trang. Nha Trang is like the Vietnamese Riviera. A beautiful place with lots of beautiful people and some very expensive restaurants and hotels. However it can easily be done on a budget. If you do visit make sure you go to one of the fresh seafood restaurants – there are plenty. They barbecue almost anything and everything you could imagine and the fish tastes fantastic.
Our final stop was Saigon, dependent on whether you are a Northerner or Southerner (Vietnamese that is) then this is the capital. I did not make much of Saigon really, however it is a fascinating place. Rumour is that you either love Hanoi and hate Saigon or vice versa. For me it was the former – although hate is a strong word! As with Hanoi, the quantity of bikes in Saigon is colossal and it is definitely not the place to start practicing riding one!
Overall I absolutely loved Vietnam. The country is beautiful and the people especially so. Yes, there are some that will try and rip you off but isn’t that the same anywhere you are in the world? For the month I spent in Vietnam I spent a mere £600, which included all my travel but obviously not flights from the UK. Vietnam is a place where you can spend as much or as little as you like and have a fantastic time regardless.
If you are booking your hotels as you go along make sure you haggle. The first price they give you will definitely not be the best. Make sure you have items such as breakfast, air conditioning and a TV included in your room price.
When crossing a road don’t get caught up in looking left and right. You need to make the brave decision that you are crossing and just plough on looking straight ahead the whole way. The only time I had a near miss with a vehicle was when I started trying to dodge them!
Drink as much Bia Hoi as you can! For the price it would be rude not to!
Written by Josephine Long From AeonIFA