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Location 51, 52, 53, 54: Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh, Da Lat, & Mui Ne, Vietnam

VIETNAM | Tuesday, 23 August 2016 | Views [295]

Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh, Da Lat & Mui Ne - Vietnam:

We left Dong Hoi, in the early morning,to catch a quick flight to Hoi An (arrived in Da Nang airport, then got picked up and taken to Hoi An).  Once we made it to the guesthouse in Hoi An we decided to sign up for a cooking class.  Hoi An is known for its culinary culture, offering tons of different classes for vegans, vegetarians and carnivores.  The three of us were picked up around 4pm and were joined by another three individuals, so we got lucky with a class of only 6 people. The tour started off with a stroll through the market where we actually bought the ingredients we would be working with and then from there a river cruise to the outdoor kitchen.  The instructor was a young and energetic woman who made us all laugh with her funny English sayings and constant questioning of if we understood her.  The three of us chose to cook the vegetarian options as Zubin and Victoria are vegetarians, and since my travels started I have eaten a primarily plant based diet.  We made four different courses, including: fresh spring rolls w/ peanut sauce, vegan pho, banh xeo (rice pancakes w/ tofu and bean sprout filling), spicy beef salad (tofu substituted).  All the dishes came out really delicious and it was a fun first night in Hoi An.   We had to get up around 5am for our flight to Da Nang, so once the class ended we were ready to call it a night and grab some sleep.

The next morning we rented the complimentary bicycles from our guesthouse and rode the 5 kilometers to the beach.  In Hoi An there are two main beaches and between them is what is called "Hidden Beach".  We asked multiple people for directions and finally found the tiny sign leading to Hidden Beach, which ended up being a great decision because there were no beach hawkers.  We managed to get free lounges with umbrellas for the entire day, which was a great bonus, in addition to the beautiful weather.  The one down side to the beach was that the water was somewhat infested with large blue jellyfish.  Since I had just been stung by one two days prior in Dong Hoi I was hesitant to say the least.  I didn't spend as much time in the water as I normally would, but it was still a nice place to cool off.  We gathered up our belongings and headed back to the guest house to shower and change for dinner.  We ended up eating at a restaurant off the beaten path, the food was okay, but the service was worse.  Once we finished Zubin and I took the bikes down to the river to look at the lanterns that get lit each night.  It wasn't as special considering they do it every night, but the river looked really awesome being illuminated by lantern lights.  We headed back as we had another very early flight to Ho Chi Minh the next morning.

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh around 8:30am and then grabbed a taxi to our hotel, where we would be staying for the next 4 nights.  Our other friend had flown in the night prior and was staying at the same hotel, so we scooped her (Jasmeet) up and then headed to the Continental Hotel where our other friends (from UT) were staying.  Christina is Vietnamese and her parents are both from HCM, and they were in town to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary, so it was awesome that my trip and their party overlapped. Our friends from college had arrived the night prior, so we had time to catch up and hangout before the actual event (three days later).  Christina's family, on her mother's side, all still reside in the city limits, so we were able to spend lots of time with them before the party itself.  The first day one of her cousin's took us to get banh xeo, which is typical all over Vietnam (varying in cooking style regionally).  They are these giant thin pancakes stuffed with shrimp and pork, plus we had a few other dishes that were all excellent.  The majority of us then left and headed to the Vietnam War Museum, which was a very interesting experience.  I am not a huge museum buff, but I am interested in war museums since I have a grandfather who was a pilot in WWII.  The museum has a very aggressive view point on the American's involvement in this war, so there was a definite sadness walking through the different time periods.  It is clear that there is always two sides to every war and someone has to be the "bad guy", but it is difficult to look at the images and read the captions, which point to it always being the American's fault.  We spent just over an hour there and then left to meet up with the rest of the group at Ben Thanh Market.  We figured out our plans for the night and then separated to get cleaned up for dinner.  Christina's cousins took us to this great restaurant that doubles as a karaoke bar, we didn't stay to do karaoke, but we did migrate from there to a bar that had great music and huge beer towers.  We spent a couple hours there and made one last stop at a club called Apocalypse.  After all the eating and beer drinking I was getting exhausted, so myself and the rest of the others at my hotel headed back for the night.  #breadgate

In the morning we met in the lobby of the Continental and headed to a very unique place for lunch.  I have to emphasize how great it was to have local people and a translator (thanks to Christina) to guide us in HCM, because a city of this size it is easy to get lost in all the different guidebook suggestions.  The lunch venue was huge with these large outdoor seating areas, that were all surrounded by fish farm ponds.  You could literally fish, while being served some amazing food.  We spent close to 4 hours at lunch and then it was time for Zubin to leave Vietnam.  We said our goodbyes and then headed back to our respective hotels before we met up for dinner.  Dinner on our second night was really cool because we actually got to eat at the home of one of Christina's uncles.  The family prepared piles of fresh spring rolls and fried spring rolls with homemade peanut sauce.  Of course there was plenty of Tiger beer to be had and we just spent time getting to know her family.  We stayed until late into the night, but eventually exhaustion struck.

The next day Christina's parents (who arrived the night before) took the whole group to one of the BEST dim sum restaurants I have ever been to.  It was in the heart of Chinatown here in HCM, and since there is a huge Chinese population here, you know it is going to be good.  The dumplings were unbelievable and I was in need of a crane to lift me from my seat.  Christina's family also has a long line of dentists, who own their own pracice, so I casually asked for a teeth cleaning. The family obliged, so after lunch I got my teeth cleaned in their family dental office (thank you Trang).  I then was taken by motorbike (motorbikes in HCM are rampant, and definitely the preferred way to travel) to a family friend's spa where we all got great massages for a great price.  It was now late afternoon, so we headed back for our shower and changing ritual before meeting up to go on a very awesome dinner cruise.  In celebration of one of our friend's graduating with an MBA (congrats Stella!) and the 40th wedding anniversary, we ate dinner on a beautiful boat that cruised down the Saigon River.  The entire experience was wonderful, the service on the boat was incredible, the food very tasty and the company even better.  Once we docked we headed to a rooftop bar that overlooked the entire city.  The view was spectacular and music/cocktails were awesome.  We ended up staying till the rooftop closed, but it just goes to show when you are having fun, it is easy to lose track of time.

The last full day in HCM was the big event, the 40th wedding anniversary party.  We all spent most of the day just hanging out in the hotel and keeping it low-key in preparation for the evening.  We all gathered in the hotel lobby around 6pm and then made our way into the event venue.  It was a very beautiful room with every decoration taken into consideration.  Christina's parents were dressed in traditional Vietnamese garb and looked great.  The whole party was an awesome experience because it was unlike any event I had been to before.  It is common at events like this for the family and friends to sing songs for the happy couple, so we got to see some very lively/talented performers.  The food was unbelievable and the staff running the show were overly attentive (couldn't finish a glass of anything before it was being filled up again).  I feel very fortunate to have been invited to such a formal/important event, so thank you Chrstina, Manh and Nga - congratulations!  The event ended around 11pm and most everyone was exhausted from the night and days prior; however, Victoria and I decided to go to the after party back in the same area as our meal the second night.  Although there was a bit of a language barrier, we still ended up having a great time with our new friends.

The next day we packed up our bags, grabbed lunch, said our goodbyes and headed to the airport for our flight to Da Lat.  We were only going to spend 1 day in Da Lat and we were going for one reason only, it was to go canyoning.  Canyoning is essentially the act of just repelling down waterfalls.  In theory it sounds really fun, which it was, but in reality it was much more intense than the pictures shown on Google.  We got scooped up from our hotel at 7:30am, then we were driven by jeep for 40 minutes through very rough terrain.  Once we finally made it to the stopping point we were suited up with wetsuits, helmets, gloves, and harnesses for the repelling lines.  We were given a 20 minute training and then it was time to go.  The waterfalls grew in size, so the first couple were manageable, but hard because it is difficult to keep your footing with moving water breaking over you.  We then made it to the last waterfall before lunch, which ended with the guide directing you head-first down a "waterslide" into a pool of freezing river water.  It was fun, but nerve-racking not having your bearings.  We ate lunch picnic style and then prepared ourselves for the biggest waterfall, 65 meters (~213 feet).  The previous ones started at 10, 20, and 30 meters, so this one was more than double of the largest we had seen.  The option to opt out of this waterfall was on the table, so a couple people chose to stay back.  I decided to go forward and it was definitely not easy.  I probably fell 20 of the 65 meters, but overall I am glad I did it.  Once we got to the bottom we then walked to a 10 meter cliff jump, into a pool of river water. The hardest part was probably the trek back up to the top of the series of waterfalls, but overall it was a great experience.

The last two days in Vietnam were spent pool/beachside in Mui Ne.  Mui Ne is a coastal city on the South China Sea.  Victoria and I managed to grab a two floor studio room for $15 a night and access to all three resort pools.  We spent the first day by the pool and the second day we grabbed lounges on the beach at a neighboring beach front resort.  Overall it was a great way to end time in a very awesome country.  Vietnam is one of those places that I have decided I will definitely return to someday.

I have two nights in Bangkok and then three nights in Hong Kong before the final leg of this trip.  The last 10 days of my journey are going to be spent with two very good friends from back home, on a chartered catarmaran and five star resort in southern Thailand.  Not a bad way to end 6 months backpacking!

Neill

See photos here.

Tags: beaches, canyoning, waterfalls

 

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