No plan is the best plan! South Vietnam-Cambodia trip

Four adventurers: Marta, Klara, David and Jules. All that had been planned was the flight from Hanoi to Nha Trang on 1st April and the flight back to Hanoi from Ho Chi Minh City on 17th April. We tried hard to prepare a broad outline of our trip, but whenever we met to do that, we ended up drinking beer (or rice wine) and talking about everything else but our trip, although we always had all of the maps and guidebooks possible piled up around us. And off we went to the unknown 😉

We almost missed our flight, so we were close to a heart attack running in the airport with our packed bags, trying to find our check-in. But it turned out that our flight was 4 hours delayed. Having nothing better to do, we decided to enjoy some western food, so we went to Burger King. Don’t go to Burger King in Vietnam! It’s just terrible! They don’t have fries, their sets are with ice cream instead! That’s a hard decision: eat ice cream first and have a cold burger, or eat a burger first and have melted ice cream after☺ And those burgers…well they can’t be compared to the perfect American burgers, which melt in your mouth softly with every little bite making your body produce loads of endorphins… Ufffffff

Ok, back to the topic. We landed in Nha Trang in the afternoon. It is about 30 km to the city and there is no public transport, so we had to take a taxi (360.000VND after bargaining). We were driving along the coast, and the views on the way were thrilling. The city itself is charming and very clean, all of the trees are trimmed in geometric shapes, the beach looks just as those from travel agencies’ brochures – white sand and azure, transparent water. We checked in at Ruby Hotel ($14/ night/ 4 people) and spent the whole afternoon at the beach. In the evening we bought a bottle of rum (90.000 VND) and fresh coconuts (20.000 VND), and I have to say that bahamamama has never tasted better than in Vietnam J

To me Nha Trang resembles a little bit Myrtle Beach in South Carolina; it’s a place designed for tourists, with lots of attractions and facilities to make them spend their money everywhere they go, with countless restaurants offering all kinds of cuisines, and with a very well developed nightlife. The difference is that Nha Trang is much more spectacular, and the beaches around are just perfect. From the city you can easily get to Vinpearl resort, amusement park, waterpark and golf course on Hon Tre Island by the world’s largest cable car over water (3311 m long). The ride and the entrance to the waterpark and amusement park is around 450.000 VND. We didn’t do it because of lack of time and lust for something less touristy. We also didn’t find time for Thap Ba Mud Bath hot springs (prices start with 100.000 VND), which I regret because swimming in mud sounds like fun to me ;). But we went for the most exciting boat trip ever. We spent the whole day going from one island to another, snorkeling in a splendid coral reef full of colorful fish, jumping from the roof of the boat and sunbathing. We also had a hearty lunch. I’m not a big fan of seafood, but I must admit it was great, especially that it was the first time I tried shark meat, which is delicious btw. For dessert there was a variety of refreshing fruit. The whole trip, with lunch included, cost us just $15. It was definitely the best spent 15 bucks in my life! There is no happy ending though because we all got badly sunburnt and we were suffering for a few days, even aloe leaves were not very helpful. And, trust me, a backpack is the last thing that you want to have on your shoulders in such a situation.

The city has a lot to offer for visitors. We went to Long Son Pagoda, which has a huge white Sakyamuni Buddha statue on the top of the hill. It’s really impressive. You should know that the entrance is free, because there are many people who will try to fool you, and they all have quite reasonable stories prepared for you. We refused to pay to a woman who asked for 100 K per person, which pissed her off apparently because she started yelling at us, then using violence, and finally cursed us J. In the evening you can do shopping in the night market, where you will find all kinds of souvenirs possible, and after that you can enjoy rich nightlife (we recommend: Havana, Why Not?, and Sailing Club). Most of the motorbike taxis offer a variety of amusing substances, and our friend was tempted to try some, but, unfortunately, it turned out to be green tea. Advice: check it before you pay for it. We won’t let him forget about it till the end of his life J

The next day we decided to go on motorbikes to the north, discover some non-touristy places. While trying to find a shortcut, we drove past a village where apparently nobody has ever seen a foreigner, because the gossip about the newcomers spread with the speed of light and all the inhabitants gathered in the center to see us and wave. It was sweet, but we had to continue our trip because we wanted to go around the peninsula, find the best beach and sleep under the stars. Choosing the best beach was really hard because we found a few that were amazing. We spent the whole afternoon at the Jungle Beach, which was our little paradise and there was nobody around, just as we wanted. Guys, treading the path of Bear Grylls, wanted to show us their survival skills by climbing the palms and opening the coconuts with a stone. I will just say that we would not survive J There were some bungalows nearby but since the price was not for us (600K VND), we decided to go somewhere else. And we ended up in Doc Let, sitting at the beach watching thousands of colorful flashing lights of the boats on the sea. We didn’t sleep on the beach though because there were too many crabs hanging around 😉 We found a very nice and incredibly cheap guesthouse instead ($3 per person). The next day we checked out after a delicious breakfast at the beach, consisting of a variety of fruit that we bought at a local market (ridiculous price, almost for free – 40 000 VND all together). On the way back to Nga Trang one of our bikes got a puncture. We were extremely lucky though because just next to the place where we left the motorbike to be repaired there was a wedding going on. We didn’t even manage to respond to the invitation before a table chock-full of food and beers was set for us. You don’t say “no” to a free beer 😉 Honestly, that was one of the highlights of our trip. Those people just confirmed what we already knew – that Vietnamese are generous, hospitable, sincere and modest at the same time.

The following day we took a bus to Mui Ne. When we got there we went to the first restaurant having wifi to check places to stay. The best deal we found on Agoda was $16/four people with breakfast included. And this is definitely a place to recommend (Nha Nghi Qua Dinh). The atmosphere is great, the rooms are neat and clean, the owners are very helpful and the breakfast is delicious. The beaches of Mui Ne are quite beautiful, but what we were hoping for was the sunrise over the dunes. I was so proud of us for waking up at 4 o’clock in the morning to experience this breathtaking view. We rented a jeep and went to the white dunes. We were literally bathing in the sand, pushing and making others fall down, checking who will jump the furthest off the dune, etc. 😉 It was fun. Yellow dunes weren’t that impressive though, so instead of wasting time there, we went to Fisherman’s Village and it was definitely worth it! The picturesque panorama of the sea spotted with hundreds of colorful round boats and people walking around in conical hats was what I expected from the Vietnamese seaside. Another must-see in Mui Ne is the Fairy Stream. The entrance is for free but you might meet somebody on your way claiming that you need to buy a ticket for 5000VND. It’s nothing, but still somebody tries to take advantage of tourists, which is not fair, so just say no. Anyways, you can wade along the stream ankle-deep in red water admiring the perfect harmony of colors surrounding you. Then the stream changes into a chest-deep pond (I’m 160 cm and this is written from my perspective 😉 and the water turns into pastel green-ish with visibility equaling zero and you don’t know what kind of creatures live in this water, so if you have always wanted to be Indiana Jones, you should definitely go for it, like we did. Mui Ne is also famous for ostrich rides, which I wanted to do badly, but that day it was closed and we were taking the night bus to Saigon, so I had no chance to try it the next day :/

Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Sai Gon) is a place that you must visit! Personally, I loved it. It constitutes a perfect combination of westernized improvements with Vietnamese traditions and culture. It’s also more open-minded, while Hanoi is still noticeably conservative. A girl from couchsurfing offered to be our guide and thanks to her we managed to visit the most interesting sights in Saigon within one day. We started with the 19th century Central Post Office, next to which proudly rises up the Notre Dame Basilica – the city’s neo-Romanesque cathedral established by French colonists. After a coffee break on the grass in the park, where we could admire a mighty escape of park vendors from the approaching policemen, we proceeded to the Reunification Palace, and then to War Remnants Museum. China Town was quite an interesting experience because there were no tourists at all, probably because it’s quite remote from downtown. Both food and souvenirs are very cheap there though, so it’s definitely worth going. In the evening we met with another couchsurfer who took us to the rooftop club called Prudential, which has an amazing 360º view and crazy parties. The next morning we went for a trip to Mekong Delta ($12/person). We were swimming in a boat on the river, observing floating shops and houses on bamboo sticks. We visited the coconut factory, where we could try all of the products. Then we watched the performance of local people and spent the rest of the time cycling around the jungle villages. Then we went back to Saigon, where we took a bus to Cambodia. If you want to read about our adventures there, take a look at Klara’s post and photos here:

https://camonvietnam.wordpress.com/2015/05/20/cambodia-paradise-for-backpackers-happy-pizza-happy-people-angkor-what-tuk-sem-tuk-tam/

Peace out, Marta

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