Backpacking in Vietnam
It’s hard to believe, but in February it will be seven years since I had my first experience of travelling in Asia – a visit to Vietnam in 2010 when I was 21. At the time, I was teaching in Abu Dhabi, and I went on this trip with around 12 other teachers during a two-week mid-term.
We started our journey in Ho Chi Minh, formerly known as Saigon, travelling from there to the Cu Chi tunnels and the Me Kong Delta, before travelling back up the coast through Nha Trang and Hoi An, before arriving in capital city Hanoi for our flight home.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit lots of other countries since then, but few have such an incredible combination of awe-inspiring things to see and do.
Unmissable Vietnam experiences
Crawl through the Cu Chi tunnels
One of the reasons Vietnam won the war was because they had a secret labyrinth of underground tunnels that they used to communicate with each other, launch attacks and live. A section of the tunnels have been enlarged for Western tourists, but are still no more than a metre tall. Our guide set us a challenge – to crawl through 100 feet of the tunnel, but with the option to bail at every 20 foot mark. It was dark, uncomfortable and claustrophobic in the tunnels, with no opportunity to turn back, and most of us left after 40 feet – with a few of the more determined going to 60. It was unbelievable to think people spent years on end in them.
While we were there, our guide educated us on some of the torture instruments and guerrila tactics used by the Viet Cong, and we were given the opportunity to shoot a cow dead with an AK47 – we passed on that!
Row through the Me Kong Delta
Having hired motorbikes (and in my case, a Vietnamese man to drive my motorbike), I set off toward the Me Kong Delta with some of my friends and an English backpacker we met over breakfast that I invited along. At the delta, we rowed down streams lined with Asian foliage, befriended a python and watched as the catch of the day was fried in front of us. The outstanding memories of that section of the trip was the English guy. We hit it off and as my friends made their way back to Ho Chi Minh that night, he and I stayed on at a town near the delta where no one spoke English and we could only order food by pointing at the noodles we wanted. And it turns out, you’ll learn how to use chopsticks pretty fast when forks and knives aren’t an option!
Visit the War Remnants museum in Ho Chi Minh
The first thing you see when you go in are colourful pictures painted by children depciting peace, love and harmony. From there on in, it’s a harrowing couple of hours reading about the impact of the decades-long Vietnam war. After a lifetime of hearing about the war from the American media, seeing the human impact on the lives of the Vietnamese people was a massive eye-opener. Inside, exhibitions depict shocking photos of the war with graphic details on the use of Agent Orange and other American attacks, while outside airplanes and army tanks from the war are displayed.
Party till dawn in Nha Trang
I spent three days in Nha Trang, sipping cocktails and lying in hammocks during the day, partying till dawn at night. My memories of this spot are a fantastic, fun-filled blur: This was back when I still drank alcohol (hard!) and I danced the nights away, skinny dipped at 4am, smooched someone on the beach and had the time of my life. Just thinking about it brings a warm, nostalgic smile to my face!
Get some bespoke tailored clothes in Hoi An
Hoi An is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. Lanterns are strung up throughout the town, giving the place a romantic, oriental feel. Hoi An had the best food I tasted in Vietnam, and we stayed there for a few days because it’s most famous for tailoring (there are about 300 tailors there and it’s a tiny little town). I had three beautiful dresses made – one of which I still own and love today – if only it still fitted! After the hectic time we had partying in Nha Trang, Hoi An was the perfect antidote, colourful and totally relaxed.
Have an adventure in Halong Bay
As the holiday was drawing to a close, we took a final trip – a night in Halong Bay, a UNESCO world heritage site. Many of the sights we had seen were beautiful, but the bay was breathtaking. We organised to spend a night on a boat out there in the ocean, to be followed by a day of activities including kayaking, swimming and snorkelling. Unfortunately, our kayaking trip went slightly awry when my friend B and I accidentally sank our kayak and got conned out of loads of money by men who were holding our passports. But that’s another story.
It’s amazing to be able to think back after this long and have such incredible memories – and these are only the major highlights. The only other country I’ve visited that had a silmilar impact on me was Kenya. Have you been to Vietnam, or would you like to go? Leave a comment! Or connect with me on Facebook or Instagram. I want to hear from you!