For me, the best and the worst part of travel is moving on. On the one hand, the promise of a fresh adventure and the possibility that I might fall in love with a new corner of the world is what keeps me travelling. On the other, saying goodbye to the places I do love, the people in them and the experiences I’ve had there can be really tough. As we boarded a plane back to Asia after our summer visit to the UK I was wracked with homesickness and nostalgia but I also felt a glimmer of excitement and possibility at the thought of our new lives in Vietnam.
This first phase of our adventure is hurtling towards closure at an alarming speed. Our trip back to the UK in June signals an end to this initial 15 months of travel and with that end looms the knowledge that we need to start working in the autumn. What lies ahead is a scary, uncertain path – the only thing we know for sure is that on the 21st August we will board a plane back to Hanoi, Vietnam.
We ended our travels in 2013 with a one-month trip to Vietnam. Our journey started in the north of the country, where we discovered our favourite Asian city, Hanoi. During our week-long stay there we spent day after day in museums, palaces and temples and took an overnight boat trip in the beautiful-yet-crowded Halong Bay. We then headed south on the train to Hué to see ancient tombs and the old Citadel, continuing on from there to Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage City which wasn't quite as nice as Laos’ Luang Prabang.
After Laos we jetted into Hanoi, Vietnam to spend a month travelling from the capital city in the north down to Ho Chi Minh City in the South. We made plenty of stops along the way, visiting historic Hué, the World Heritage Town of Hoi An, the sand dunes of Mũi Né and the highlands. During our trip we also spent our first festive season out of the UK, celebrating Christmas in the mountains of Dalat and New Year’s in crazy Saigon. Here’s how much it cost us to travel in Vietnam for one month.
Although Vietnam isn’t quite as well travelled as some South-East Asian countries it still has a decent transport network. Throughout our month in Vietnam we travelled from Hanoi in the north all the way down the coast to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) before heading into Cambodia. While the clean fast trains were a joy to use, most of our bus journeys were typical of Asia - pretty hellish. If you’re planning to travel to Vietnam, check out our tips on how to get around the country.
I challenge anyone to visit Vietnam, or even just hear the country’s name, without thinking of the war America waged there mere decades ago. Coming from a western country, much of what I knew about the Vietnam War before visiting Asia was derived from popular media and what I was taught in history classes at school, which turned out to be very little. What I learnt from our month in Vietnam was that the truth about the war – if there even is such a thing - is far more complex than I ever imagined.
There’s no doubt about it, I’m a born city rat. I love feeling lost and anonymous amongst teeming crowds, while at the same time feeling like a tiny cog in a complicated, ever-changing machine. Back in London I used to relish strolling along the riverfront and through the city squares, or sitting on packed trains watching millions of lives unfold all around me. The bigger and more hectic the city, the better, I used to think. That was until I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - the craziest place I’ve ever been.
We first met some Easy Riders while waiting at a bus stop in Danang. Two men with faces as worn as the black, insignia-inscribed leather jackets they wore roared over to us, pulling their shiny, black machines to a stop: “We are Easy Riders – wherever you are going, we’ll take you,” they said, flashing confident, tobacco-stained smiles in our direction.
The five-hour bus journey up to Dalat was pretty standard for Asia; uncomfortable, overloaded and bumpy. The air visibly cooled as we climbed higher into the central highlands and the scenery morphed from seashores and sand dunes to hills and forests. It was the week before Christmas but it certainly hadn’t felt like it as we’d sweated in the fierce heat of Mũi Né and strolled along the beach-front. So, I was feeling much more festive when we arrived in Dalat, zipping our jumpers against the nippy evening air and inhaling the scent of pine trees on the breeze.
When planning our Vietnam itinerary we never thought of stopping off at a beachy place. Vietnam and beaches never really seemed to go together in our minds but it turns out the country has it all: over 3,000 Kilometres of coastline, highlands with mountains that saw snow this last winter, beautiful countryside and scorching, bustling cities. So, we left Hoi An on a Vietnamese 'VIP' sleeper bus to explore the beaches of Mũi Né.