From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh via Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An and Dalat

Posted on May 30, 2013

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I decided to spend the last ten days of my trip travelling from Hanoi back down to Ho Chi Minh, with a brief interlude at the UNESCO world heritage site Halong Bay.IMG_2203

My mum popped over for a few days and this was an ideal Mum daughter few days out of the flashpacking schedule. With just a little research Bhaya Cruises had been recommended to me but several people so we booked without hesitation. A few days before we were upgraded to the AuCo, which was out of this world. Floating around the limestone casts was quite an experience and the sheer size of  bay is astounding. I loved every second of it.

Hanoi is a big city and I didn’t spend much time there. If you have a few days check out Hanoi Kids for free tours by students that want to practise their English. I didn’t do it but heard great things about it. I was also told that the women’s museum is good.

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Eat at Bun Bo Nam Bo for amazing street food which serves one dish, and they serve it well (pictured). For upmarket try Green Tangerine which is a French Vietnamese mix. Also try and get to one of the hidden rooftop cares for views over the lake.
I was staying upmarket in the Sofitel Metropole which was fantastic but not for those on a budget. I asked the concierge to book me a place on the sleeper train to
Hue and his face was an absolute picture – I don’t think the Metropole often gets requests such as that!

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The train however was great, about $50 for a soft bed in a 4-berth (pictured). Trains north to Sapa also have 2 berths available (I didn’t have time to get up there but fully intend to at some point in the future). Leaving around 7pm and arriving in Hue around 8am. Water was provided, drinks (including beer) sold and noodles provided for breakfast.
We took a car down to Hoi An for $50, stopping at the elephant springs (divine on a hot day) and  few other places on the way down. A train is also possible but not nearly as convenient.

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Hue is a nice town, situated on the Perfume river. It is known for it’s tombs and temples which I explored with Hue Riders on the back of a motorbike. By far the best way to get around and see the sites, my driver Le was knowledgable and friendly. The tombs are spectacular and there is a lot to learn about the past kings, queens and concubines! I can see why they chose the places they did as their final resting points. Serene is the word. Hue is often a stopping point on the way down to the more picturesque Hoi An and a couple of days there was enough.
Hoi An was everything that I’d hoped it would be (except for the other tourists). A small old town, full of charm and easy to get around especially on bikes which are cheap and easy to hire. We stayed at Flower Garden and loved it. The rooms were well done and comfortable, the faily friendly and just outside town is was quiet but easy to get around.

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This town is where all the tailoring is and they are wonderful at copying items of clothing. They will also work from pictures in magazines or online but make sure you leave plenty of time to try things. I found a few of the tailoring and shoe shops a bit pushy (the only place in Vietnam that we found this). We used Huong Xuan at 8 Le Loi St and they were fantastic. Friendly, patient and had good prices.
Food wise there are many tourist places but we found some good street food too. Hi was our favourite and is well recommended on Tripadvisor. I also ate at Morning Glory which is in all the books but not as good as the street food and ten times more expensive.

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If you want a cooking class, check out Green Bamboo, I just loved it! A fun day which starts going around the food markets. We learnt a lot and then ate the fruits of our labour. Van is a wonderful hostess and you won’t come away disappointed.
We also went on a snorkelling day trip to Cham Island and it was nice to be on the water for a few hours. They also had diving but visibility wasn’t great. The island itself is pretty and the guys at Cham Island Diving took us on a little walk telling us about living in the village. Quite remarkable hearing how an Italian lived there for several years and integrated into the community.
After 5 days in Hoi we were ready to move on and decided to fly to Dalat rather than suffer the 18+hrs bus ride. Here I found out that the hotels and travel agents get much better deals than online. If you’re travelling around this region, it’s actually better to buy tickets as you go, a day or two in advance as they are much better than the prices you get online. There are plenty of flights so even in high season this doesn’t seem to be an issue.
Dalat is a little different to the other Vietnamese towns I visited. In the mountains it’s cooler and agriculture is flowers and strawberries rather than the paddy fields I had got used to. It’s a wealthy town and the Vietnamese come here to honeymoon.

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Straight off the early morning flight I somehow found myself abseiling waterfalls by lunch time. Not a big fan of heights I surprised even myself at the 25m abseils, especially down the aptly named ‘washing machine’. The guide was reassuring and fun, equipment was good and our goup of four laughed non stop for the day. It’s well worth doing.

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Again I had heard that the best way to see Dalat in a short amount of time is on the back of easy riders as many of the sights are outside the town. It’s not hard to find easy riders but it is better to go with a reputable company to ensure you get a good bike and a good guide. We used Dalat Easy Riders who I would recommend. You can pick and choose your schedule and they guides were good fun. Through coffee plantations (make sure you hear about weasel coffee), silk worm factories, waterfalls and much more it was a packed day.
After just two days in Dalat I needed to get back to Ho Chi Minh to get my flight so we booked on the bus, opting for the sleeper seats for $2 more. It’s a 7 hour drive which is spectacular out of Dalat, if you can bear the crazy driving – I still don’t understand the rules of the road in Vietnam – and with comfortable seats, it was easy to snooze for part of it.
What a trip! I loved Vietnam and can’t recommend it highly enough. My favourite thing about the country: people giggle all the time, it’s infectious
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Posted in: Asia, Destinations