A seemingly massive amount of time is spent whilst travelling figuring out our route; where are we going next, how do we get there, where do we stay? Information on the internet is impressively sketchy, with sites like wikitravel being particularly poor (yet also useful).
So, to try and help anyone else who stumbles upon this page in the future, here is out trip in detail. Where we stayed, how we got there. I hope this helps you figure out your way around.
We’re here in June/July. It’s rainy season and it’s low season, which meant a lot of stuff we’ve been able to do last minute as there’s a lot of availability. We’ve booked mostly through hotels.com, because for every 10 nights booked you get 1 night free, and airbnb, because it’s just really awesome for finding unique places and being able to communicate directly with the owners (really helpful when navigating to new places).
If you click here to sign up to airbnb, you can get $25 for free to use on your accommodation.
Ho Chi Minh City
Common Room Project (booked via AirBnB)
$15 a night
Ho Chi Minh City to Vinh Long, Mekong Delta
We turned up at the bus station (Ben Xe Mien Tay) and found the MaLinh ticket booth (far right of the booths, pretty obvious) and booked 2 tickets on the next bus (ours departed at 10am, we arrived at 9:45 and got on fine). Bus was a sleeper bus despite being daytime and was very cool. Cost about $5 each.
Happy Family Guest House (Booked via AirBnB)
$15 a night
The guesthouse is a bit of a journey from Vinh Long. Supposedly there is a free shuttle bus provided by Ma Linh to take you anywhere but after an hour and much hand waving nothing materialised. We took a taxi to the An Binh ferry (about 150k dong), went on the ferry by foot, then we were met by Tong and someone else on the other side who scootered us to the guesthouse on what was quite a nervewracking (but enjoyable journey) along thin paths.
On the reverse leg, we paid to get biked all the way to the bus terminal; this was marginally more expensive (think 150k dong each) but compared to taxi ended up cheaper and much easier. Would recommend doing it both directions.
Vinh Long to Can Tho
Not sure which bus station this went from as the xe om took us directly in. The bus clearly said “Vinh Long to Can Tho” on it and was a pay-on-bus affair. It was quite reasonably priced at a few dollars each.
Nguyen Shack Can Tho (booked via agoda)
Again, a bit out of town. As soon as we stepped off the bus we were jumped on by a xe om driver. With the help of his English speaking friend they figured out where we were heading, and took us for 60,000 dong each.
The manager organised a taxi back for us (a proper, 4 wheel, air con taxi) which dropped us off at the bus station.
Can Tho to Chau Doc
We got our accommodation to book the bus for us, going with the bright orange bus company. Despite being harassed by an old lady who wanted us to go with her cheaper (and less appealing) bus, we just headed straight to the offices, claimed our ticket and waited for the bus to turn up.
Victoria Nui Sam Lodge (Booked via hotels.com)
$30 a night
Although out of town, it was really easy to get to. The Chau Doc bus station is out of town, so there is a free transfer minibus. This took us to the Victoria hotel in town, which then had a free shuttle up to Nui Sam.
Chau Doc to Phnom Penh
There are a number of boat options at different price levels, but they’re all effectively the same (some may offer lunch for a huge added price to the ticket). We booked through our hotel which was an error as it cost us an extra $9 for nothing. We went with Hang Chau which, if you book with them, will cost you $25.
They will slightly overcharge you for the Visa for a “handling” charge, but it’s not worth fighting (think we paid $34 each).
The boat leaves from the dock right behind (and slightly to left) of the Victoria riverside hotel. Even in low season the boat was overbooked; we had to sit out back. I’m glad we did because we got great views and natural air conditioning, but the wooden seats are hard: we had travel cushions so it wasn’t so bad. A lot of people were angry about having to sit out back. If you would be one of them, get to the front so it doesn’t happen. Boat leaves at 7.15.
Don’t forget a passport sized photo.
To Be Continued…
It honestly feels like we’ve been away for month, not 10 days. We’ve already seen so much and experienced a side to Vietnam I really didn’t think we would be able to. We’ve met quite a few people who seem to have been rushing from one place to another, eager to get to the next place but I’m glad we’ve taken it (the teeny bit of Vietnam we’ve seen) slowly because it’s allowed us time to take everything in and has made it much more enjoyable.
Although I enjoyed Ho Chi Minh, I’ve found the Mekong region to be much more interesting and would encourage anyone to come here, regardless of how much time they’ve got. The slow pace of life here really appeals to both of us and we have loved how relaxed it all is. All three places that we’ve been to have been well out of the towns that we were dropped in and it was definitely worth the extra time taken to reach them. Each one has required several transport swaps and trying to communicate to people who speak very little English by pointing to a map. No disasters so far though!
Yesterday we arrived in Chau Doc, on the border of Vietnam and Cambodia, and immediately left the town, which seems kind of so so, to travel up to the top of the sacred Sam Mountain (take a wild guess at who this place appealed to.) We are staying in a beautiful lodge, with amazing views stretching well into Cambodia.
This morning, we went on a fantastic bike ride down to the base of the mountain, around it and then back up to the lodge. We then walked upto a shrine at the very tip of the mountain and saw the most breathtaking views. Tomorrow we take the boat for 4 hours up the Mekong, across the border into Cambodia, to Phnom Penh. Very excited.
My highlights from Vietnam:
The only downsides:
It’s insane that we’ve only been gone a week. Already feels much longer (which is no bad thing). Our first week of travelling has been split into two distinct sections; the utter craziness of Ho Chi Minh City and the tranquil relaxation of the Mekong Delta.
We flew straight into HCMC from Hong Kong (our flight was at three, and Laura only finished work at 12). We landed just as it was going dark and hopped into a cab having sorted out sim cards- £6 for calls and unlimited data. Incredible value and very useful as even in rural Vietnam the data works (as shown by the bike drivers on their smartphones). The only place that I know of that resembles the insanity of HCMC is Bali, but that seems relatively calm in comparison. Cars are a recent addition to Vietnam as they used to have a heavy import tax, which means that most people are on mopeds or motorbikes. Traffic lights are routinely ignored, and the general approach to crossing the road is just to keep walking as the traffic flows around you.
As is traditional for when we stay in a city we stayed a bit further out (District 5, about a 40 minute walk to the backpacker district) and walked everywhere. It’s not an easy city to walk in, as the pavements tend to be covered with things for sale or parked scooters. It’s a city of mixed architecture; part new and flashy, part old and run down. Despite the many warnings online before hand we didn’t get hassled or have any issues whatsoever; perhaps because we stayed away from the hardcore tourist areas. Even at the War Remnants museum, one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city, there was just one kid outside selling coconut water.
The museum itself is brilliant, and shows there is two sides to every story. It’s (understandably) very anti-American, and paints a horrifying image of the war. There’s no filtering here; pictures of corpses and people being tortured mean it’s not for the faint hearted. Outside there is a great selection of military hardware from the war, and a lot of the significant buildings (like reunification palace) also have a couple of fighter planes outside. There must have had plenty left over.
After two days we were definitely exhausted. Everyone we spoke to beforehand told us Saigon is like marmite; you either love it or hate it. I think I lie somewhere in the middle though. It’s amazing how cheap everything is, and getting to zip around on the back of a scooter on a foodie-tour was an amazing experience (the highlight for me was eating frog; it really does just taste like chicken). But with no underground or rail system it’s a frustrating city to get around, relying on taxis (relatively expensive) or busses (which are unreliable).
After two nights we set of for the Mekong Delta in very southern Vietnam. We turned up at the bus station and managed to buy a ticket for the next bus which we were shuttled onto quickly for a speedy departure. This is the first time I’ve ever been on a sleeper bus; three columns of bunk beds with a quintuple bed at the very back. As a bit of a transport nerd I found this exciting and would highly recommend it. We were staying pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so after arriving at Vinh Long bus terminal (then waiting for an hour for a mythical shuttle bus that never appeared) we then jumped in a cab to a ferry which we crossed on foot, before being met by a couple of Xe om’s (motorbike taxis). They impressively balanced our massive backpacks up front and us on the back (not as impressive as the guy we saw with 3 pigs on the back of his bike today though) as we then drove for another 30 minutes into the middle of nowhere to our accomodation.
The guesthouse was lovely; a pool (a rarity around here), darts, pool table, 40p bottles of beer and some amazing, freshly cooked Vietnamese food helped us to wind down after the insanity of HCMC. Although the rooms left a bit to be desired (the bed was considerably shorter than I am, and the lack of aircon didn’t help) for 15 quid a night including breakfast we couldn’t complain. It also had the most incredible river side area for relaxing by, with some amazing sunsets.
After 3 nights we set off on a (very local) bus to the near by town of Can Tho, to another guesthouse about 5km outside of the city (still in the Mekong Delta). Our room is completely open (we’ve got about 2 and a half walls) with dual hammocks, and there’s a pet pig called Bacon.
Some quick highlights of the trip so far:
So Ho Chi Minh has turned out to be nothing at all like I thought it would be- in a way, it reminds me of Bali and the craziness on the roads, although this place ups the ante somewhat. Crossing the road is taking your life into your own hands, although, touch wood, nothing bad seems to have happened to us yet. The traffic never stops and often there are no lights to tell anyone when to go/stop. My advice (and every travel article on this matter:) walk purposefully- no dilly dallying (which a surprising number of westerners haven’t seemed to grasp.) It’s strange, but everything just works. We were on scooters last night and it was amazing to see just how polite everyone actually is- in UK, beeping a horn usually signals aggression, but here it’s just a ‘hi, jus tot let you know, I’m here!’ Organised chaos indeed.
I’ve had plenty of ‘Vietnamese’ food before but nothing compares to how amazing it is here. Even a basic Pho (noodle soup) is so yummy and costs only about 35,000. So so cheap. Last night we went on an ‘XO foodie tour-‘ can’t recommend this enough. The food we ate was so far off the beaten track and so delicious,although when they brought out the duck embryo, it was time to call it a night.
FINALLY. It feels like so so so long since we started thinking about maybe planning this trip and now it’s actually here. Leaving HK wasn’t actually hard at all, I thought I’d be sad to leave my friends, my home, but it turned out to be just like going away for a weekend. Maybe it’ll feel real once it sinks in that we’re not actually going back? I was saying to a friend in a taxi on the way to the airport, that I won’t fully appreciate the fact that we don’t need to work until everyone goes back to work in August and we’re just……not.
First impressions of Ho Chi Minh:
1. Motorbikes and scooters. EVERYWHERE.
2. A distinct lack of that lovely HK humidity we’ve all come to hate.
3. I have no idea about the currency- it’s something like 37,000 to 1. That will be one of Sam’s jobs.