One day in Da Lat was enough to eat a lot of amazing street food (the earlier the better) and try out new Vietnamese desserts, drink morning coffee with local men, stay at a hostel run by the craziest and most welcoming family and where they make family meals and encourage spooning your neighbor by putting the beds very close to each other.
In order to avoid the tourist masses I took a motor taxi at 6 am to My Son to see what remains of the Hindu temple built between the 4th and 13th century. When I arrived after an awesome 75-minute motor ride, I was the only one on the site (a rare thing in touristy-Vietnam). The ruins were breathtakingly beautiful, the weather was perfect, the sky was blue and I experienced all of this before 8 am. Getting up early was so worth it.
From Hoi An I took a night bus to Nha Trang, aka mini Russia, and arrived the next morning at 5 am, just in time to see the beautiful sunrise. Me and my two best friends, sunblock and after sun, enjoyed two scorching sunny days at the beach, playing with the waves and reading in the sun. A nasty sunburn was obviously unavoidable, my back turned into roasted meat. Was definitely missing a travel companion for that reason. Other than lying on the beach I also drank many fresh passionfruit-aloe juices and ate fresher than fresh sea food.
The moment I had longed for finally came, I could take out my tiny summer dresses, get rid of my terminally ill looking pale skin and switch from hot coffee with condensed milk to the iced version (short-term cooling off, long-term stomach problems: ice isn’t necessarily made from clean water).
My three days in Hoi An were total bliss: lots of good eating (seriously, that banh mi was the best), sizzling in the sun, morning bike ride to the beach (aka getting sunburned at 9 am), more bike rides (I’m too Dutch to function – riding a bike feels like home to me), visiting the My Son sanctuary and getting some cheap tailor-made shoes and dresses (whoops, this was not included in the budget).
Cao Lầu – chewy noodles with pork meat, bean sprouts, herbs, casave chips and soy sauce.
Taking the open bus from Hanoi to Saigon (or the other way around) is very convenient. You can buy a ticket including 3-5 fixed stops with open dates, you only need to reserve your next bus a day in advance. It’s a sweet deal: a ticket for over 40 hours of traveling with 5 stops only cost me $47.
From Hanoi I took a night bus to Hue. After being in the bus for only 10 minutes, we discovered there were more passengers than we had initially noticed: hundreds of cockroaches were accompanying us on this 14-hour trip. After an inner conflict – am I just a spoiled white girl from the Netherlands who cannot handle a little dirt? – me and my newly made friends decided to switch busses. The thought of the creepy little creatures crawling into my bag, under my blanket, in my hair etc and laying eggs in all those warm places was more than I could handle.
I only stayed in Hue for one day, which was just the right amount of time. The old imperial city is very nice, but very small compared to another one closer to me. After visiting the imperial city I decided to rent a motor taxi which would take me to the old tombs around the city. I gradually started to relax on the back of the motor, even started taking selfies when we were driving and I didn’t clung on to the skinny driver anymore. It was really nice to be out of the big city again, into the country, smelling fresh trees, breathing clean air (Beijing air quality as I type: “very unhealthy”), not being surrounded by people & motorbikes & sounds and enjoying the beautiful scenery and old tombs.
From Hanoi it takes about 4 hours by bus to get to Halong Bay, from there you board one of many boats available and sail the bay in one, two or even up to ten days. My time was limited and the weather wasn’t too great, so I was only able to go on a day trip. We cruised around the incredibly beautiful bay, passed by water villages and kayaked through some caves. Life is pretty sweet.
My entire trip in Vietnam was centered around food: the first thing I would do before going to a new city was doing research on what and where to get the best food. And before taking the train and bus to Hanoi I had already booked two cooking classes to learn how to make some of the refined Vietnamese dishes the cuisine is known for.
I was eager to learn, but unfortunately I was a bit disappointed. The cooking classes, not surprisingly though, target audience are tourists who are looking for a fun activity during their travelling, not necessarily people who love cooking and do it regulary. So in the “hands-on” cooking classes I barely did any cooking myself, but luckily I learned a lot of new things, like the big spoon is called a tablespoon and the small spoon is called a teaspoon..
For my meals in Hanoi I mostly relied on this genius and the recommendations of my hostel, which actually pretty much overlapped. My big time favorites: coffee with condensed milk and sticky rice, xoi. Oh boy, I’m just salivating at the thought right now.
Of course I had the must-have Phở, aka beef noodle soup, in the city where it originates from, but I was just too greedy to have the patience to take a decent picture before devouring it.
Cha ca – Fish sauteed in dill and turmeric and served with rice noodles, peanuts, fresh herbs and fish sauce.