THINGS I LOVED:
» Fresh Beer: When we took the Hanoi Food Tour one of our stops was at a “Brewery” where they served Fresh Beer. This beer costs about $0.25 for a glass and is poured out of a keg. I asked our guide what kind of beer it was, and she said that, “Fresh Beer has no name because you have to drink it fast. It was adorable. I’m not going to claim that this was the greatest beer ever, but I am going to say that it was a quarter… I feel like that’s reason enough to love it.
» Pho: Call me crazy, but I had never had Pho before this trip to SE Asia. I loved this yummy soup so much that it was the only exception to my no beef rule! It was just so tasty and I loved being able to add what you wanted. The one flaw is that they’re so massive, but Stacey and I figured out a solution to this- we ordered one small Pho and two bowls! It worked out perfectly and we didn’t waste a bunch of food!
» Coffee: Vietnamese coffee is without a doubt the strongest coffee I have ever had! I had it hot, I had it iced and I even tried egg coffee! Our first full day in Hanoi we stopped to get a coffee-fix around 4pm and then on our food tour the same day we had the egg coffee and I did not fall asleep until almost 5am! Craziness. So, I know what you may be thinking, What is this egg coffee thing I keep mentioning?! It is essentially a couple of shots of the incredibly strong Vietnamese coffee on bottom with a custard-like cream on top made from egg yolks, milk and sugar. When I heard about the egg coffee I was a little bit leery at first, but I gave it a shot and it was delicious – don’t miss out on it!
THINGS I DIDN’T LOVE:
» Living on a Night Bus: We ended up spending almost half of our nights on night buses because we were trying to make the absolute most of our time by traveling at night, which also cut back on our accommodation costs, but it made for some long days & nights. As much as that helped us out with time & money, it was a bit tough on us mentally and physically.
» Crossing the Street: Hanoi has the craziest traffic I have ever seen. Ho Chi Minh has a lot more traffic, yes, but to me it seemed much more organized than the traffic in Hanoi. The small streets in the Old Quarter were full of motorbikes, bikes, mini vans and cars that never just stopped to let you cross the road. We basically just took a step of faith and made our way across the street. We learned that you just have to keep moving; even when people honk at you- they’re usually motorbikes and will make their own way around you. It’s still unnerving when at least three different people honk at you while you’re crossing a two-lane road.
» Getting Scammed: This was the only place that we knowingly had someone just truly, maliciously try to take advantage of us. We arrived in Ho Chi Minh around 4am, and we just wanted to get to our hostel, so instead of taking out our guidebook map and seeing where we were, we decided to just take a cab. He started taking us a weird direction and we knew we needed to be in the area we were dropped on in, but he said this was the way and basically just made a giant square and in less than 5 minutes his meter magically jumped up to over 200,000 Vietnamese dong. I started to call him out and say he was scamming us. He said, “No, your hostel is here; I show you.” So, he pulled over, told Stacey to wait in the car and walked me to our hostel. It was indeed our hostel, but I felt like we were on the street we started on. I was arguing with him when our friend Tim walked right up from the bus stop. Can you believe it?! It really upset me that I had someone trying to scam me! I was instantly pissed off, I pointed my finger at him and said angrily, “You tried to scam me!” Then I hit his trunk with my hand demanding our bags. It was such a frustrating situation.
» Central Backpackers Hostel Da Lat: When our bus stopped in Da Lat it stopped right in front of this hostel. I suggested we just step in to see how much their rooms were and they were $5 (each) for a dorm room or it was $10 (total) for a private room! So, we decided to take the private room and we each even got our own bed! It was awesome! We also booked our canyoning / abseiling through them, which was $20. They were helpful in giving directions to food, to The Crazy House and even walked me to a store to help me but electrical tape. I highly recommend their private rooms!
TOP THREE SITES / EXPERIENCES:
» Canyoning / Abseiling in Da Lat: When we were in KL a guy in our hostel dorm told us about “repelling down a waterfall”, and that was all it took to know we NEEDED to do that. We booked our trip through Highland Holiday Tours and we were very pleased with them. Our main guide was awesome and patient with us, the food was delicious & plentiful and we had an amazing photographer with us that got proof of it all for us! It was so amazing to slide down waterfalls, abseil down massive waterfalls, cliff-jumping and wading through the mountain-river. I would give this a 10 out of 10 for experiences in Vietnam!
» Sapa Trek: I was a bit hesitant to do the Sapa Trek because, to be honest, it was out of my budget, and we had already done a rice terrace trek in Bali. However, this surprised me by being a really fun experience. We booked through Friends Travel Vietnam and enjoyed this experience a lot. We did the step up from the cheapest option and had an amazing time. We learned about the Sapa-lifestyle from our adorable & sweet guide (who was seven months pregnant), learned more about how rice is grown, met an amazing French-Canadian father / daughter duo from outside Quebec City that totally made our experience, and stayed at a super-cozy homestay in the middle of nowhere that strangely had wifi… Seriously. I loved taking in the amazing views from tiny local farms in Sapa. What a truly great experience!
» Hanoi Food Tour: I have to admit that my level of adventurousness when it comes to food in Asia. 9.9 time out of 10 I ate vegetarian and didn’t stray too far from my comfort zone (other than the cricket) taking this tour really pushed me to do this! Even though I only truly liked three of the things I ate, I enjoyed the experience, learning how things were made, making my own rice pancake, and trying things I would’ve never tried without this tour. We went with Hanoi Food Tours (booked through Kim’s Tours) and loved our talented and sweet guide!
VIETNAMISMS (“oddities” and culture shock):
» Transportation is Very Unorganized: We had several super unorganized things happen to us. I was yelled at (to get in the back of the bus for a 16-hour sleeper bus ride that we wouldn’t be able to sit up in at all), we didn’t get tickets until halfway through bus-rides sometimes – it just was crazy most of the time. The craziest moment was when we got off our sleeper bus and were waiting for our bus to Da Lat and when it came we walked up to find several girls near tears yelling at the woman taking tickets demanding to be let on the bus. This led to everyone having to get off the bus, getting our bags and then having to individually hand off tickets and have our bags placed on the bus. It was a bit of a mess. It was super unorganized and took about 4x as long as it needed to.
» You Will More Than Likely Get Yelled At: As an adult, I hadn’t ever been yelled at. Not at school, at home or at work. However, in my time in Vietnam I was yelled at twice, and I don’t mean spoken to with a tone, I was genuinely yelled at over my seat on a bus and because a woman made me two coffees instead of one and screamed at me over it. It was intense, but just be ready for this possibility.
» Barter at Least 30% and Up to 50% Down In Markets: Depending on the city you could barter down quite a bit. Our hostel owner in Hoi An told us to not accept anything more than 30% of the price market vendors originally tell you. We experienced so many people going at least 50% after the first time you say no, though. Be sure to brush off your bartering skills here.
» Truly Read Up on the Scams: I hate that we got scammed here, but we had had warnings going into Vietnam, from several backpacking friends, that this country was full of different types of scams varying from cabs ripping you off to taking you to wrong hotels and more. Just do your research, but don’t be constantly paranoid, just be aware!
VIETNAM WAS MY LAST STOP AND THEREFORE WE HIT IT HARD. WE DID AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. I COMPLETELY FELL IN LOVE WITH DA LAT. I LOVED BEING UP IN THE MOUNTAINS, WALKING THROUGH THE TOWN AND TAKING ON MY ADRENELINE-JUNKIE SIDE. IT WAS A GREAT TRIP AND I LOVED SEEING THE LOCAL LIVES IN SAPA AND VISITING MUSEUMS IN THE CITIES. IT WAS AN EYE-OPENING EXPERIENCE AND IT WILL ALWAYS BE REMEMBERED.