Follow the long road, to Luang Prabang we go! ūüé∂

It is a long way from Viang Xai to Luang Prabang (the biggest city in the north of Laos), especially when you are two people with two backpacks on one scooter. ¬†Our butts can take approximately 5 hours before uncontrollable, irritable mood swings begin. ¬†Therefore we had to make two stops before getting to Luang Prabang. ¬†The first stop was a very small town called Xieng Thong (some people and the signage leading to it still call it Muang Hiam). The second leg of the journey was a stop in Nong Khiaw, another really small town but with a waterfall you can pay $30 to go see…no thanks. ¬†Not trying to sound snobbish but we have seen many awesome waterfalls and therefore couldn’t justify forking over $60 to see this one. ¬†We stayed at the Phouisak Guesthouse for 60,000 kip/night ($7.50). It is the low season so that is why the rooms are so cheap and there are hardly any travelers around. We tried Laos’ version of Hot Pot, is was much more delicious than the Vietnamese version (sorry Vietnam). ¬†Despite its deliciousness, I would not order it again. ¬†First of all, it’s hot, I mean like working in a coal factory hot. Second of all it’s a lot of work, I mean like working in a coal factory.

Both legs of the ride on the motorbike were worth it. ¬†I don’t think the experience would have been as good on a bus. ¬†The landscape is so beautiful it’s like looking into a National Geographic magazine. ¬†Finally after 420 kilometers we made it to Luang Prabang, the largest city in the north known it’s charm and historical character. Luang Prabang is like the Hoi An of Laos. ¬†It is quaint, colonial, inviting, charming, and…Frenchy (like from France). We stayed at the Hoxieng Guesthouse for 120,000 kip/night ($15/night). ¬†It was a very clean guesthouse and in the perfect location – walking distance to the Mekong River, night market, and other interests in the old town.

We hiked to the top of Mount Phousi which provided us great views of the city and many interesting Buddhist statues. ¬†There is a large hole in the rock which the people claim to be Buddha’s footprint. ¬†Personally, I think it could be evidence for a Laotian Sasquatch, but I’m not scientist. ¬†It costs 20,000 kip/person ($2.50) to go to the top and see all these wonderful things.

We walked around the old town and saw many temples where monks reside. Every morning at dawn the monks come out in a precession for alms. My closest experience of this was one morning from my guesthouse I heard low-pitched chanting and the slow beat of a drum, then I rolled over in bed. ¬†The night market is great but don’t expect to get any great bargains. ¬†Laotians are hard sellers and most refuse to haggle. ¬†The street food is pretty good which we ate every night. ¬†Luang Prabang is known for these little sausages you can buy on the street. I believe they’re made with pork belly and they are so, so devilishly delicious but they will kill you if you eat them every day.

My favorite thing we did was going to the amazing Kuang Si waterfall.  It took us about 45 min to get there from Luang Prabang by motorbike.   It costs 20,000 kip/person ($2.50) to enter and included a sun bear exhibition.  This is a sanctuary where they have saved sun bears from the evil Chinese people who think it is good for your health to drink their bile.  Poachers will capture these sweet animals, keep them in small cages and put drains in them to extract the bile.

The falls begin after the sun bear exhibit and start out small. ¬†The water is usually aqua blue in color. ¬†Due to the heavy rains the water was more green than blue, yet still beautiful. ¬†The smaller falls almost seem man-made because of how they go on and on until you get to the BIG waterfall. ¬†Gawp for a moment but it isn’t over. ¬†Everyone rushes to the bridge to play in the spray from the falls. ¬†If you look to the left of the falls there is a secret staircase. ¬†It will take you to the top of the falls where there are far fewer people. ¬†At the top, there’s a nice, and cold, natural swimming pool and places where you can walk all the way to the edge of the falls. ¬†It sounds dangerous and it was definitely exhilarating but it was totally safe because there was this totally safe wooden rail made by the locals to protect you from falling in. ¬†Lets just say that in the good ol’ U.S. of A. we would never be allowed to go that close to the waterfall.

So far Laos has been pretty amazing. ¬†I love the green and lushness of the land. ¬†However, the road less traveled isn’t for everyone. Since crossing the border the road has been VERY rural. Google maps isn’t up to date in Laos. ¬†Often times we would see the name of a city but nothing else. ¬†There is no plan. I don’t know if there is a gas station coming up or if there is a guesthouse or hotel when we stop. ¬†If I started to worry I always told myself, we have money so we will be ok…

Crossing into Laos and exploring the caves of Viang Xai

The road from Mai Chau was challenging at times for two people and two backpacks on one motorbike, especially after a good rain. ¬†There was one spot in particular that halted us in our journey. ¬†In rural Vietnam, a nice paved road turned into a gravel road which the turned into a huge mud puddle. ¬†After having driven nearly an hour all we could do was stare at it, both of us pondering our next action. ¬†It was then a miracle happened. ¬†A local on a motorbike, fully loaded with a mountain of stuff (chickens, plastic bottles, etc.) passed us by and with full confidence maneuvered his bike through the giant puddle with no complications. ¬†Maybe it was the shot of whiskey a local man gave me before leaving Mai Chau that day or maybe it was something else, but I said “Go for it!” Obviously we made it through but just warning, it can get a little hairy here and there. ¬†That was by far the worst spot. ¬†We stayed one night in Quan Son before heading the border the next day.
Motorbike skills
Motorbike skills

The¬†Na Meo border crossing was very relaxed and easy. ¬†It was a Sunday and we were the only people there. ¬†The Vietnamese officer gave us a few tips on how to say “Hello” and “Thank you” in Laotian. ¬†It costs 200,000 VMD or ($10) to export the bike. ¬†Once we got to the Laos side it was $3 to import the bike and $40 each for our 30 day visa. ¬†The road on the Laos side isn’t all that great but not too bad. A little bumpy and pot-holish (that’s a word now). ¬†Nothing a little Paracetamol (Asian Tylenol) won’t fix. ¬†We passed¬†little villages where people will either stare at you in utter surprise (like they haven’t seen a white person before) or warmly wave and welcome you with a resounding “HELLO!!!” It’s heartwarming when the village kids run down the steps of their huts to wave at us as we pass.

¬†Our first night in Laos was in Viang Xai. ¬†We stayed at Chitchareune Hotel for only 100,000 kip ($12.50) a night. ¬†It was a good deal. We had a huge comfy king size bed, flat screen smart tv, and air conditioning. ¬†Ohhhh happy dayyy. There isn’t really much to this town, in fact it seems like a post-apocalyptic ghost town when you arrive. There is however some very interesting history regarding the impact the Vietnamese War had on the people. ¬†Like the people living in the tunnels in Vietnam the Laotian people sought refuge in the many caves that surround the area.

Entrance to Viang Xai. This image can be a little unsettling for an American. Once I learned the history I had a better understanding.
Entrance to Viang Xai. This image can be a little unsettling for an American. Once I learned the history, I had a better understanding.
Tim and I decided to take the audio tour of the caves which is 60,000 kip ($7). ¬†It sounds cheesy but it turned out to be pretty cool. ¬†First of all we were the only people on the tour which includes a (very little) English-speaking guide. ¬†The audio tour had good music, real interviews from survivors and the narrator sounded kind of like a British Morgan Freeman so it was easy to pay attention. ¬†I’m not a big history buff, so I had no clue about this “secret” war that the US had going on with Laos during the Vietnam War. So here’s the Readers Digest version The U.S. bombed Laos because they wanted to stop communism and Laos was believed to play a part in its expansion. Planes bombed Laos everyday from 1964 to 1973. ¬†Thousands of people belonging to the communist faction sought refuge in the caves from the bombs. The people had to learn life without being seen by the planes, spending most of the lives in the caves. ¬†Interesting facts – ¬†1) They only had one hour to cook, 0500-0600, all the meals of the day so smoke wouldn’t be seen. 2) All the clothing they had that was white they rolled in mud to dye it brown. 3) They had ducks and chickens but if one was born white or red they would kill it. They learned this from a captured pilot who told them that he was told to look for chickens. There are many caves in the area but we were only allowed to go into 7 on the tour. Some caves were natural and some were a mix of natural and man-made (via dynamite). Some caves, that housed the bigwigs in the communist movement, had airtight bomb shelters within them that had these really awesome oxygen pumps (provided by the Russian’s). ¬†One of them still worked and you could feel the air coming out with manual cranking.
One story stood out to me from the tour. ¬†We ascended a steep staircase to the mouth of a cave where the anti-aircraft artillery would attempt to shoot down the planes. ¬†We listened to a survivor tell us his story about when he shot one down. ¬†The people ran out to the plane to try and capture the pilot but he wouldn’t come out. ¬†Suddenly another plane came and started shooting at the people so they had to run back to the caves. ¬†Lucky for him, the pilot was rescued. It seemed like a scene from a movie. Standing where the Laotians were shooting down planes in the valley and imagining the scene of them running out to the plane. It felt very real. Viang Xai wasn’t even named until after the war was over, it means “City of Victory.”

From Cat Ba to Mai Chau

We rode for 8 straight hours through intermittent rain back through the traffic/construction hell that is Hai Phong to stay ahead of the storm. We finally made it to the town of Ninh Binh(famous for its karst formations that you can take a slow boat through) and got a room at Khach San Hoang Hai. That night at around 2am the storm hit with full furry, 70mph winds and heavy heavy rain. The power went out and our room had huge ten foot tall windows on three sides which luckily didn’t break(which was very worrying while trying to sleep) but they did leak like a sieve leaving our floor soaked. When we got up in the morning roughly a quarter of the trees in town had been blown down(including one right across from us that could have hit our hotel, and our windows) and the local Vietnamese were out with their hatchets(hatchets, lol, not even an axe much less chain saws) at 6am trying to clear a path through the roads. We decided to stay another night to give them time to get the roads clear for travel, especially since we were headed for more remote areas.

When we left the next day, the gas gage was reading empty but I just assumed it must have been broken because I knew I had about a half tank when we arrived. However a few hundred feet down the road we ran out of gas. I bought some gas from a repair shop next to where we broke down ¬†and drove back to the hotel to inform them that someone had stolen our gas while stored at their hotel. The manager swore up and down this was impossible since they have cameras and refused to reimburse us. When I heard he had cameras I said “great let’s watch it from the time we arrived to the time we left and see what happened”, he of course refused. I called them thieves and stormed out and Victoria left a nice review on Google for them. All that for $2 worth of gas…. If they had half a brain they would have left a bit more so we were much further away rather than taking every last drop.

When we finally got back on the road it went from nice, to beautiful, to just absolutely stunning. The area near the border with Laos is mountainous with some tiered rice paddies, very cool. On the way to Mai Chau you climb and climb on a very well paved road and then when you reach the top you get a beautiful view of the small town below and then begin the long descent into Mai Chau itself, also on excellent road.

Once you get down into the valley it continues to amaze. You are surrounded on all sides by rice paddies which in turn is entirely surrounded by the tall green mountain peaks in every direction. Although there is a hotel and a guesthouse or two available the places to stay here are the homestays. This is where you basically stay at a family’s home which they’ve added a few rooms onto for travelers to stay. We got a room on stilts overlooking the rice paddies and mountains with a fan, an electric outlet, and bug netting for 200k dong ($9). Being at a higher elevation meant that the fan was enough to keep us cool at night for sleeping. In the town there are all kinds of hand made handicrafts for sale. This has been intentionally setup as a way to use tourism as a way to preserve traditional Vietnamese crafts in the area.

All and all the tropical storm added some unnecessary excitement to an already exciting trip and although Mai Chau was stunning we were excited to get to Laos so we just spent the one night.

Next up, our journey to Laos!

Cat Ba Island

After the stunning scenery of Phong Nha National Park we decided to go see the Phong Nha of the sea, Ha Long Bay, another Unesco World Heritage Site. We heard Ha Long City was over touristic so we decided to head to Cat Ba Island via the port city of Hai Phong. This involved a three-day drive. The first day we headed to a small town off the Ho Chi Minh Trail called Bach Dai Dung, this was a pretty nice drive along the scenic and little traveled road. The next day we drove to Thanh Hoa, this was a much less pleasant drive with much more traffic and development. Both days we spent the night in small guesthouses for under $10 a night. The third day we drove to the port city of Hai Phong, the third largest city in Vietnam. This drive was even less pleasant, a ton of traffic, trucks, and construction and then we had a bit of trouble finding a place to stay. We finally found a decent hotel for $15 with a garage to park our bike.

The next morning we got up early to make the dusty drive to the ferry terminal. It was 120k($4.5) Dong per person plus an extra 30k($1.5) Dong for the motorbike. The ferries run every hour from 8 to 5 with a lunch break between 11 and 1, luckily we made it just a few minutes before it left, so no waiting. The ride was fairly scenic but even more scenic was the motorbike ride through the island to the town of Cat Ba where the hotels were located. This was high season so despite being less touristy than Ha Long City there were still plenty of people around, mostly people shuttled in from Hanoi. Even being high season we got a bay front room on the main strip up on the 7th floor for $15 a night. The food however was at least 50% more expensive than the mainland, still cheap but not like before.

The first day we just kicked it at the hotel after three days of hard traveling and enjoyed the view. The next day we got up and changed the oil and had our bike rack rewelded and then went and to check out the two public beaches. We decided on the second beach and ended up renting chairs with no mats and an umbrella for 120k dong. That was pretty steep considering we paid 80k in Nha Trang and had access to a resort and pool. However from the first few hours we pretty much had the place to ourselves. The water was also ridiculously warm, I would guess 92 or 93 degrees, not too refreshing! The last day we rented a tandem kayak for 200k($9) for the day. This was probably the highlight of the trip as we paddled through the amazing formations and even through a cave to our own beach, just like the movie. We also paddled to Monkey Island, where we saw no monkeys. We tried to make the climb to the top but it was a difficult hike that required scrambling and the rocks were simply too hot to touch in the middle of the day.

The next day we had to get up early to make sure we caught the ferry. There was a tropical storm coming and it was likely that the ferries would be shut down later in the day. Luckily we made it off the island and then made a mad dash to get as far inland as possible.

 

Going underground…Vietnamese Tunnels and Caves

We bungeed our backpacks to the motorbike rack and hit the road to Dong Ha to see the famous Vinh Moc Tunnels. ¬†We were excited to go inside the tunnels for a true experience of how the people survived underground during the Vietnam War. We were amazed at the complexity of the tunnels. There are 13 different entrances, 7 of which point out to the sea where they received food and weapons from the north. ¬†There are 3 layers of the tunnel system at 12, 18 and the deepest 22 meters. It took 13 months to build and sheltered 300 people. ¬†Each family had a very small living space, literally a hole in the wall. ¬†The worst part was the fact that there was only ONE bathroom for everyone! ONE… for 300 people! At least the air temperature was cool, being underground and all. ¬†When the tour was over I was conflicted with feeling happy to get out, since it can be a little claustrophobic, and a yearning to go back in when the 110 degree heat index and 100% humidity slapped me in the face. ¬†The people lived like this from 1966-1972, six years, and 17 children were born in the tunnels. ¬†The war ended long ago, but the bomb craters are still visible. ¬†The Vietnamese that lived in these tunnels survived during a hard time. I can’t even imagine how awful it must have been.

Ok enough depressing stuff. ¬†Our next adventure was at Phong Nha National Park, home to the oldest karst mountains in all of Asia (approximately 400 million years old!). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. ¬†The park has 300 different caves and grottos. ¬†We opted to explore Paradise Cave, founded by British explorers in 2005 and recently opened to the public a few years ago. ¬†You can walk along a wooden boardwalk for 1 kilometer into the cave but it goes as deep as 31 kilometers. ¬†The cool damp air within the cove is mighty refreshing after having hiked a couple of miles in the sweltering heat.¬†¬† I¬†couldn’t stop smiling like a child at the impressive formations within the cave. ¬†Every step gets better and better. ¬†The park did a fantastic job on illuminating the cave. It felt like being on another planet. ¬†The cost was 250,000 VMD each (or about $13 USD). It was one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had in my life and worth every penny.

If you don’t have a motorbike, I highly recommend renting one for the day to explore the beautiful park. ¬†The loop around the park is incredibly scenic and there are little side trips to do as well.

Hue – We bought a motorbike!

We had heard about the amazing motorbike ride from Hoi An to Hue, originally from the Top Gear Vietnam Special (If your even mildly interested in travel or comedy you should check it out, episode 8, series 12, it’s hilarious). They rated it as the best coast road in the world, and those are the guys who would know! One way rentals from Hoi An to/from Hue are available from Motorvina ($400,000 VMD or $20 USD), they even send your bags ahead so you don’t have to carry them. The trip was truly amazing and little trafficked.

Once we arrived in Hue we decided we liked the ride so much we bought a bike of our own. After speaking with other backpackers and random Vietnamese guys outside our hotel we ended up buying the bike from Kim Thien, a pretty famous mechanic around these parts. He was recommended online as the best mechanic in Hue and some even claim all of Vietnam. Anyways, we end up with a 10 year old Yamaha Nouvo with only 20,000 km on it for $240, a locals bike rather than a backpackers bike (that gets run up and down the country repeatedly). He was also able to custom modify a rack for us to carry our bags on each side of the bike rather than piled on top like farangs usually do(foreigners, more a Thai expression but I like it). So far the bike has been just about flawless.

Once we got the bike we decided we should take it for a cruise around the area before leaving town just in case there were any problems. First we explored an abandoned water park a fellow traveler told us about that was cool and eerie¬†at the same time. Then we cruised out to the beach that was nice and deserted in the middle of the day, although I’m sure the locals show up around 5pm as the trend has been thus so far. The only problem was the amount of jellyfish everywhere, so we headed back to get in the pool. On the way back we got some fresh coconut water with the meat in an ice-cold pitcher, just perfect.

From Hue we took our new-to-us motorbike to the Vinh Moc Tunnels in Dong Ha and then on to the stunning National Park Phong Nha. Awesome photos and videos to come ūüėČ

Hoi An, the biggest little city in Vietnam

Hoi An is a must if you travel to Vietnam. There are so many great things about it. ¬†It has a nice beach, a quaint downtown scene which locals call the “old town” and lots of delicious, cheap, street food. ¬†Most of the accommodations in Hoi An are “homestays.”¬†We decided to stay at Thanh Laun homestay located between the old town and the beach. ¬† The homestay came with free bikes which came in handy for getting around. The hostess of the homestay, Trinh, was very welcoming and made delicious coffee and breakfast every morning. ¬†Thanh Luan is located right off¬†the main road, Hai Ba Trung. ¬†If you go north it will take you to An Bang beach. ¬†If you go south you will hit the old town. ¬†Since we stayed in the middle it only took us 10 minutes by bike to get to either. ¬†And the food, ohhhh myyyy GAWWWWDDDDD! Commence food pics….

The bike ride to the beach is very beautiful, especially at sunset. ¬†In fact, we think Hoi An has the best sunset we have seen so far in Vietnam. ¬†There can be quite a bit of traffic on the road but it didn’t have much of an impact on the beauty of our surroundings. ¬†There are rice farmers throwing seeds in the paddy fields and grazing water buffalo. There is an intersection before you get to the beach, turn left and take the next right and venture down one of the alleys for a less crowded area of the beach. ¬†You can park your bikes for free and the chair rentals are only 20,000 VMD ($1). ¬†Don’t follow Hai Ba Trung all the way to the beach or you will have to pay to park your bike and like $70,000 VMD for a beach chair. ¬†Also it is VERY crowded at this section of the beach. ¬†The locals start to crowd the beach daily around 5 pm.

You do not have to pay to go into the Old Town. ¬†There are some historic buildings that you must have a ticket to go into but it doesn’t cost anything to walk around. ¬†Wandering around¬†the old town at night is a must. ¬†Motorbikes are not allowed and the old town is lit up by colorful lanterns. ¬†It creates a romantic ambiance. ¬†There are ladies that strongly encourage you to purchase their “wish” candles you can float down the river. I couldn’t resist. ¬†We noticed a huge difference in the amount of people on the weekend verses weekday so if possible try to avoid visiting on the¬†weekend.

 

Another thing you must do is have some clothes tailor-made. ¬†Having wide hips and long legs, it has always been a struggle in my life to find a great pair of jeans. ¬†A petite Vietnamese lady took my measurements and in less than 24 hours I had a $40 pair of jeans that never fit me so good. ¬† For $70, Tim had a purple sports coat made. ¬†He was due for a new one. ¬†If you know Tim, you know how much he loves his purple sport’s coat he got from a Goodwill like 10 years ago. ¬† The ladies nailed our clothes since neither one of us needed adjustments. ¬†You can literally have anything you want made in 24 hours. ¬†If you have a picture of what you want, the tailors can copy it for you. It is simply amazing.

We spent five very enjoyable nights in Hoi An and could have stayed longer. ¬†Tim and I have been hearing a lot about this very popular ride from Hoi An to Hue via motorbike….Stay tuned. ūüôā

Qui Nhon – A Local Beach Town

From Doc Let we wanted to travel to Qui Nhon as we had heard good things about it and it sounded nice to mix with some more locals again, however neither are particularly popular so you can’t just buy a straight bus ticket. First we needed to walk back to the bus station in Doc Let and catch the public ¬†number three bus (the only one, runs every 20 minutes) back to the main highway (AH1) in Ninh Hoa(10,000 dong). ¬†From here you can flag down any minibus headed north and get dropped off at Qui Nhon or pretty much anywhere further north. Ignore the people who want to “help” you catch the bus, they just want a 50% commission for something you can easily accomplish yourself. It was 100,000 dong in a absolutely packed minibus.

We got dropped off at the bus station in town and walked down to Chuong Duong Street where there were a number of cheap hotels to stay at. The vast majority of hem are not listed online as this is not an area popular with western tourists, we didn’t even seem to see many Vietnamese tourists. During the day the huge beautiful beach was completely empty, crazy in a town this size. However about 5pm the locals come out to swim and drink nuc mia. The beach also has a beautiful 3km long promenade to walk along or hang out on. It’s quite nice to not have beaches blocked by huge resorts.

The food choices catered only to the local Vietnamese as would be expected which isn’t a problem usually but if you don’t get up in time, there is no chao or pho, you have to eat com(rice with assorted toppings, a lunch item). Don’t expect much English.

One day we decided to rent a motorbike and go check out the sights around town. We went and saw some Cham temples, an ancient civilization eventually wiped out by the Vietnamese. We then went and drove the Phuong Mai Peninsula and checked out a traditional fishing village and also drove past a 7 star resort being built(I didn’t know there was such a thing but judging by the size alone I’d give it 7 stars). After grabbing some lunch we went for a ride to check out the beaches to the south, some very secluded beautiful beaches. We drove past Bai Xep which is a popular backpacker hangout with $30 beach bungalows available. We then stopped and swam at the amazing beach Bai Bang which was nothing more than a picture perfect fishing village. Then a little down the road we went to Bai Bau where we had to pay 10k dong to get in but the had showers and refreshments available along with tables and chairs. It seemed real popular with the locals. The drive itself was stunning and would be worthwhile on its own.

Next up the historic town of Hoi An, where we’d be spending a few extra days since I left my debit card in an ATM in Nha Trang apparently and had to have a new one mailed out.

The road less traveled, Nha Trang to Doc Let.

From Mui Ne we bought our bus tickets from a travel agent conveniently located down the ally from our hotel.  The tickets were 100,000 VMD each (about $4.50). It was our first time in a sleeper bus.  The ride was fairly comfortable and went by fast.

Sleeper bus
Sleeper bus. I invested in a face mask which helps block out second hand smoke and automobile exhaust.

Five hours later we were dropped off in Nha Trang. ¬†We knew we were in serious tourist territory on the way to our hotel with many white faces, mostly Russian, flooding the streets. ¬†After checking out a couple different hotels, we decided on the Sunny Sea Hotel. ¬†It’s nestled down a quiet ally only one block away from the beach. ¬†They quoted $20/night but came down to $18/night after we said we had to look around a bit. ¬†We had a balcony which overlooked the ally. We don’t usually like to stay in the tourist zone because of the inflated prices on food but it didn’t take long for us to find where the locals hang out. ¬†From the hotel it’s only a 10 min walk to the street, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, where you will find lots of cheap eats.

All the reviews about the beach in Nha Trang were true, it’s spectacular. ¬†Despite all the tourism the beach is kept pretty clean for Vietnamese standards. The water is clear, the sand is white, the waves were calm so swimming was great as well. ¬†The only problem was the hawkers who pace up and down the beach trying to sell you everything from artwork to corn on the cob. ¬†I recommend renting beach chairs from the Louasiane Brewhouse for $40,000 ($1.80) where you also have access to a nice pool and showers. ¬†Another perk I liked about renting chairs from the brewhouse is how the hawkers can’t come up to your chairs while on the beach. ¬†They will however yell at you from outside the “no solicitation” zone.

The pool at Louasiane Brewhouse.
The pool at Louasiane Brewhouse.

¬†Another thing Nha Trang is known for is it’s night life and party atmosphere. ¬†To be honest I can’t really say if it this is true because we didn’t go out after 10 p.m. ¬†During the day we didn’t see anything but families and couples. Maybe the partiers¬†all come out later. ¬†We were however told four different times to be careful with our bags on the beach. ¬†Apparently,¬†Nha Trang is also known for its bag snatchers and pick pockets. ¬†

A street at night in Nha Trang.
A street at night in Nha Trang.

After three nights we were ready for a slower pace. ¬†We took the local bus (number 3) to Doc Let beach, about an hour and a half north of Nha Trang and only costs 24,000 VMD each ($1). ¬†Accommodations are quite slim here, especially when arriving on a Saturday so plan accordingly. ¬†I highly recommend staying at Paradise Resort. ¬†It’s a mile walk down the beach from where the bus drops you off. An aircon room for two that includes all 3 meals was $60 a night. ¬†Those who know us know how cheap we are so $60 a night is a lot to us. BUT… We were literally right on the beach. ¬†I was a little worried about the all-inclusive meal deal but all the meals exceeded my expectations. ¬†Lunch and dinner ranged from 3-4 courses. They also had beer and coke which are less than a dollar a piece.

To me Doc Let was more enjoyable than Nha Trang where you can’t go five seconds without hearing the honk of an automobile or being hawked for sunglasses or motorbike rentals every five minutes. I would definitely return to Paradise resort. ¬†After three very enjoyable nights, we walked back down the beach to the bus stop and took the local bus to Ninh Hoa where we waited for another bus to pick us up to continue our journey north to Qui Nhon.

Mui Ne and My First Bribe

From Vung Tau we had originally wanted to travel to the Con Dao islands, a chain of unspoiled islands with the best diving in Vietnam. There are two ways to get there, the ferry from Vung Tau for $10 or a flight from Ho Chi Minh City for $80, both one way. Of course we decided we’d take the ferry. Unfortunately after roaming around on a tandem bike for a few hours to find the office(GPS coordinates for the ferry office/terminal to save others the hassle 10.413820, 107.128352) to buy tickets we were informed that it was too rough to make the crossing. We called the English-speaking lady at the office the next two days with no luck either(To save you even having to go to the termianl call Ms. Hoa at 0982 890097). Oh well, maybe we’ll get there on the way back.

The infamous banana pancake!
The infamous banana pancake!

So we decided to continue onto Mui Ne. There was some debate online about where the bus station was and when or if busses ran to Mui Ne. They do at 5am and 1pm for 100,000 dong ($4.50) and the station was easy to find(10.3502991, 107.0873626). The ride was around four hours on a nice bus with AC, free WiFi, and a place to charge your phone at every seat.

Ban Mi at the bus stop
Ban Mi at the bus stop

When we arrived we were approached by a lady who offered her guesthouse(Nhat Phuc, I’ll leave the pronunciation up to you lol) to us for the night for $10. It was a nice clean room across the street from the beach but was dark as the only window was covered. We took it and then had dinner at her beach front restaurant, a fantastic meal of spring rolls, fresh salad, saut√©ed spinach and vegetables, and a whole fire roasted fish smothered in chili and lemon grass, all for about $12 (and only that much because the retaurant was beach front).

The buses here have free wifi!
The buses here have free wifi!

The next morning we decided we wanted to move since it was gloomy and if we were going to be trapped indoors we wanted a room with a view. So we moved to Viet’s Hotel, a much nice place, in a better location in town and near the nicer part of the beach(I hear the sand shifts so that may not always be the case), and a killer view from the top of a hill, all for the same price.

Being at the top of a hill offers some advantages...
Being at the top of a hill offers some advantages…
The view from our new hotel
The view from our new hotel

We continued to eat good, more ban mi, more pho, more Chao, but also other random delicious dishes fried pork, sweet and sour pork, noodles and beef, all good, all different. (We also splurged on some American burgers, fries, and wings one night, our most expensive meal so far but at least it was done right.) All of this was available cheap on the same street(tiny alley) that our new hotel was on.

The "road" to our hotel
The “road” to our hotel

The next day we rented a motorbike for the day from our hotel, $3 and went to checkout the sights. Now technically your supposed to get a license to drive a motorbike in Vietnam (an onerous process and an international drivers license does NOT count) but in practice no one cares. We went to see the famous red and white dunes outside of Mui Ne (way overrated but the ride was awesome). We both loved riding the motorbike. In fact I liked it so much I kind of wish we had bought a bike, you can get them for $200 here.

The famous Red Dunes
The famous Red Dunes
The White Dunes, look at those clouds, time to go!
The White Dunes, look at those clouds, time to go!

Unfortunately between the white dunes and the red dunes there were police pulling people over, we had heard that usually they leave the tourists alone. However that wasn’t the case here they were pulling over literally everyone, locals and tourists alike and charging them with real and fictitious infractions alike. I was originally told they were going to impound the bike for a week and then I’d have to pay an 800,000 to 1,200,000 ($35 to $45) dong fine plus the cost of renting the bike during that time not to mention having to stay there for a week. An obvious shakedown. So I said how about I just pay now, he said 1,000,000 dong, I said ok, and he said your good to drive around here for a week.

Rebels without a cause
Rebels without a cause

Our little motorbike journey ended being pretty expensive after that…… Come to find out that it is very uncommon for tourists to be pulled over…. Except in Mui Ne. Apparently the local police are pretty corrupt and this is a common practice for them. In fact they had the same thing going on in the same place when we left. They even pulled over our sleeper bus! We still plan to do more motorbiking.

After that debacle we decided to ride into Mui Ne proper, a small fishing village just north of the tourist areas on the beach. We were foiled again by literal monsoon rains (the reason the boat to Con Dao wasn’t running was because of a tropical depression hanging out in the South China Sea). We waited at a little while for it to die down a bit and then we made the ride home in the rain, it was exciting if not very pleasant.

Victoria posing in the rain on the beach in Mui Ne
Victoria posing in the rain on the beach in Mui Ne

The next day Victoria woke up with a cold, she blames the cops, I think maybe the rain did it. Anyways we took it easy after that. The next stop of the journey, the tourist mecca of Nha Trang!

Selfie!
Selfie!