Southern Vietnam

As promised, here is my last post on our time in Vietnam!  We spent a total of 3 weeks here, and could’ve easily done a month, but wanted to go ahead and get to Cambodia so we ended up skipping some areas of the south, though I still think we saw the best areas it has to offer!

After Hoi An, we took a sleeper bus to Nha Trang which is a beach town.  We heard mixed reviews about the area, but needed to pass through it anyways so we ended up going for one quick night.  We did not see much, we arrived at 9pm and left the next morning to head to Da Lat.  From what I could tell, Nha Trang wasn’t anything special, but we did have a yummy breakfast before heading out.

Da Lat:

We really wanted to check out Da Lat, which is further inland, centered around a lake, and in the middle of beautiful mountains.  We knew it had higher chances of rain, but the temperature difference was huge and so refreshing!  I actually needed a light sweater at night, which was a nice break from sweating 24/7.

We stayed at The Cozy Nook Hostel, which is probably one of the best hostels we’ve stayed in.  The facilities themselves were good (needs more toilets in my opinion), but the atmosphere was an A++.  It had a very social, yet not too crazy atmosphere.  The family cooked amazing family dinners and had an honor system set up in which you take a beer, water, or soda from the fridge and you just keep a tally on a chalk board.  Each drink was 10,000 dong (0.45 USD), which is cheaper than beers you buy in most restaurants so there was always a very social scene in the common area, especially during and after dinner.  They closed the downstairs at 11pm, so those that wanted to continue to party could head out elsewhere for drinks while the rest could call it a night.  Whenever we did stay in early, we were not awakened by loud, drunk partiers.  It seriously was the perfect mix of socializing and quiet time.

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Da Lat Street Shot

Da Lat is known for its outdoorsy adventures which we enjoyed and took part in.  Our first full day there, we decided to join a Swiss couple and rent and ride a scooter to about an hour outside of town to see the popular Elephant Waterfalls.  Though the falls were not as beautiful as the Kouang Si Falls that we visited while in Laos, it was still cool to see and we were able to hike down to the bottom using the man made trail and railing to assist us.  You had to climb, crawl, and slide down the sometimes challenging trail.  After the falls, we grabbed lunch, stopped for a quick coffee at a weasel coffee farm, and then headed back to town to try and beat the almost daily afternoon rain.

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Viewpoint on the way to Elephant Falls

Here is a short clip of Elephant Falls:

Our second day in Da Lat, we joined a group outing with another 8 people from the hostel.  It was a canyoning adventure that involved abseiling down a couple of small cliffs, cliff jumping, rock sliding, and finally abseiling into a waterfall!  I was really nervous at first since I am a little afraid of heights, but I just focused on the task at hand and got through it just fine.  The guides took plenty of pictures on their Go-Pros and posted them on Facebook so we didn’t even have to bother bringing anything with us.  If we had a floating Go-Pro strap we would’ve tried to bring it, but since we do not, we did not want to risk losing it.  So we do not have any videos of this day, only the pictures from the guides below:

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Abseiling together!
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Scary stuff!
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The Hoch
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Group Shot
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Rock Sliding
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Abseiling into a waterfall – they call it the washing machine
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Cliff jumping from 11 meters – I only did the 9 meter jump

That evening, everyone showered, rested up, and after the family dinner and a long game of Cards Against Humanity, a large group of us headed to a popular maze bar, 100 Roofs Cafe.  We arrived, grabbed a beer and then walked downstairs to enter the 3D maze.  The maze had a scary tree theme and had stairs and alleyways running every which way.  It was fun to get lost in and every now and then, you would come across hidden nooks with table and chairs to enjoy your drink.  There was also a main bar area and a roof top patio that was unfortunately closed the evening we were there.  I was initially tired and almost decided to stay in, but am glad I went.  It was hard to get a decent photo since it was dark in there, but I was able to get a few of the tree faces.

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Delicious dinner at the hostel
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Family Style Dinner
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Tree Face
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Maze Bar

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon):

We took a short bus ride from Da Lat to Saigon and arrived right after dinner.  We had plenty of snacks on the bus and were not hungry, so we decided to stay in and plan our next couple of days.  We also enjoyed a couple of free beers on the hostel while doing so.

Saigon is a huge city and is a lot more westernized.  We were back in the mix of crazy motorbikes, but also saw more convenient store chains, gyms, and even a dance studio where you could see people taking dance lessons in the window.

Since we are limited on time (more on this later), we decided to stay 2 nights in Saigon and then head to straight to Cambodia so we only had one full day in Saigon since we arrived late and were going to leave early.  Well we made the most of it!  On our full day, we visited the War Remnants Museum, the Cu Chi Tunnels, and did a mini bar crawl in the evening.

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U.S. Air Force Planes outside of the War Remnants Museum
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U.S. Army Helicopter outside of the War Remnants Museum

I did not get any photos of the inside of the museum.  Similar to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial that we had the chance to visit in Japan, it was a very somber experience.  One part of the museum consisted of nothing but photos taken by the combat photographers of the Vietnam War.  Many were killed while working and several photos listed the photographers name and would state “last roll of film” meaning the photographer was killed shortly after taking the photo.  Some photos showed people working in rice fields with B-52 planes flying in the background, while other photos were action shots showing the wounded or dead or even prisoners who were killed shortly after the photos were taken.

An even more disturbing area of the museum showed the effects of Agent Orange, which was used by the U.S. military to eliminate forest cover.  The horrible effects of orange agent on the people that were exposed to it include cancers, skin diseases, miscarriages, children born with no limbs and other birth defects that can continue on for generations.  It was truly sad to see.  Chemical warfare and war in general is never pleasant to reflect on.

After the museum, we took a much needed break and then headed to the Cu Chi Tunnels in the afternoon.  We joined a tour group through the hostel which was a rather large group, but the information was interesting enough, that the size of the group didn’t bother me too much.

The tunnels of Cu Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels that were used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.  The Viet Cong tactics were quite different than what Americans were used to.  They had hidden booby traps both above the ground and inside the tiny tunnels, they would pop up from tunnel entrances to attack and then hide again, they squatted low when they ran, and practiced this in their off time so that they were fast and agile and used their small size in their favor.  The tour guide said they would practice pistol squats (one legged squats to just above the ground) to keep their thighs strong.  He had the entire group try to do one (while he demonstrated it easily) and no one could complete one correctly.

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Booby Traps
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The Cu Chi Tunnel for Tourists is 30% larger than the actual tunnels!
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Cu Chi Tunnel Entrance (Not for tourists)

After the tour, we returned back to the hostel in time for dinner.  Hoch and I headed out to a busy street near our hostel.  We sat in a place that had a live band and were able to people watch.  The streets were busy with motorbikes and people walking around.  There were the usual people trying to sell things, but we also saw girls spitting fire which was a first for us.  I did not get a picture of this, but a few other street shots are shown below:

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We probably should’ve stayed in Saigon one more night to see more of what the city has to offer, but we’ve officially booked a flight from Bangkok to Myanmar(!) on August 4th, which means we would have less than 2 weeks to enjoy Cambodia and make it back to Bangkok so we wanted to get to Phnom Penh ASAP.

In summary, I am pleasantly surprised with how much I like Vietnam.  Thailand and Laos are both beautiful, but based on where we’ve visited on this trip so far (omitting southern Thailand, southern Laos, and Cambodia), I think Vietnam may take the win in my book.  I do prefer Thai food though (Hoch prefers Vietnamese).  In a nutshell, northern Vietnam has the beautiful countryside, southern Vietnam has the history, and Central Vietnam has both (making it my favorite).  Also, the further south you go, the friendlier the people and the better the food. 🙂

Here is a map of all the cities we had the privilege to visit in Vietnam:

You can click on the red pins of each city, and a picture with the dates we were there will pop up.

Also, if you would like to see more photos then what I’ve shared on this blog, check out the following album:

Vietnam Album 2016

Refer back to my Northern and Central Vietnam posts if you haven’t read them already.

I will leave you with a short video of us motorbiking through Vietnam!

Hope you enjoy!

Kimberly

Hoch says:

-Nha Trang – we skipped it because it had a reputation for being a Russian holiday beach town. On the morning of our departure I saw a middle aged Russian man walking around at 9am with a bottle of beer so I’m going to assume we made the right call.

-Weasel coffee, in a gist, is renowned because a specific species of weasel will only eat the “best” beans and then poop out the seeds – which are (presumably) cleaned and roasted. It is one of the most expensive types of coffee in the world – an espresso at the farm cost ~$3. While the coffee was excellent, I can’t say I support the practice after seeing dozens of weasels in undersized cages forced to eat and shit coffee all their lives.

-I suck at cliff diving. In Da Lat, for my first cliff jump I didn’t stretch my legs vertically enough and smashed my butt and thighs hard on the water. Even worse, my legs were spread apart and my balls took the worst of it all. That sucked.

-Victims of Agent Orange also include American soldiers and its allies. Chemicals that were not fully tested for its effects were deployed and tens of thousands still suffer the consequences. Companies like Dow, who produced the bio-weapon, still spend millions a year in court cases to deny the victims any compensation. War is hell, but we create that hell.

 

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