Travel Diary Entry #1: VietNOM-ing Around
I am alive and well and so SO happy. I returned from Vietnam safe and sound on February 8th, 2015 and can now officially say that I’ve successfully completed my first trip outside of Singapore. And boy oh boy was it a blast!
Leading up to Vietnam, the planning felt a bit hectic. Especially with a short amount of time (4 days) you want to try and jam pack every single city or sight in. But, realistically, I’ve learned and can attest to say it is best to spend your time doing quality activities and sites rather than trying to have it all. So, the Vietnam plan was to visit Ho Chi Minh City & Mui Ne. I would be travelling with my pal Katie, and the initial plan was to fly into HCMC on Wednesday. BUT, funny story… On Tuesday, I happened to look at my flight itinerary and for some reason, my flight said it was leaving Thursday. I was shocked and really, really confused. Pretty much, it turns out that I booked my flight for the wrong day LOL… :$ TOTALLY my bad. I guess I was a bit overexcited while booking my first trip, but hey, I guess there’s a first for everything.
DAY 1: WELCOME TO HCMC
Flying in alone was pretty liberating and when I arrived at the airport, I grabbed a taxi and had planned to meet Katie at our hotel. I fell in love with the city as soon as the taxi exited the airport: the business of motorcycles zooming the streets, the colourful lights that strung from lampposts… SO BEAUTIFUL (and of course, I was dreaming about all the Vietnamese food). My taxi dropped me off at a street in front of my hotel and told me it would be 1,160,000 VND (About $80 CAD). I was shocked because the ride was so short and I remember Katie telling me that Taxis in Vietnam were relatively cheap. But being only minutes into a foreign country and being alone, I felt slightly powerless and torn as to what to do. So, I paid him.
A short walk later I found my hotel through some thin alleyways. I ended up finding out that my cab should have only costed $200,000 VND (About $10 CAD) I GOT RIPPED OFF 🙁 Classic tourist trap. As upset as I was, I knew I couldn’t dwell on it as I wasn’t going to let it ruin my trip. After meeting up with Katie, I got a fresh passionfruit smoothie on the street for less than $1 CAD AND ate some fresh vietnamese spring rolls for dinner. It was a relaxed evening, and ended off with some Vietnamese Iced Coffee at 1 a.m. (p.s. if you haven’t tried Vietnamese Iced Coffee, I HIGHLY recommend it! It’s a strong coffee mixed with condensed milk, so the sweetness is complimented well with the bitterness of the coffee). It was a good and bad idea because it was DELICIOUS but I couldn’t fall asleep until 6 a..m… so, note to self, enjoy the coffee during the day.
DAY 2: THE FIRST PHO
The next morning I had anticipated for a very, very long time. I was going to eat PHO (vietnamese beef noodle soup) for breakfast! I actually have an obsession with Pho and have dreamed of eating a bowl in Vietnam for many years. I don’t even know if it’s a breakfast item, but I would honestly eat it for any meal. We headed to one of the well-known Pho restaurants and OH MY GOSH, WORDS CANNOT DESCRIBE THE AMAZING-NESS. It seriously did not feel real!!
The day was then followed with a series of adventuring and exploring the Ben Thanh Market, Saigon Square and some street vendors. Afterwards, we headed to the War Remnants Museum. Check out our sweet ride in the photo.
It’s called a cyclo! Pretty much, a cart where you sit and the driver rides a bike to push you along the streets. Now, Katie and I are sure that this seat was made for one person, but somehow they managed to convince us both to squish into one seat… LOL
The War Remnants Museum had some really dense and heavy content. It told the stories and horrors of the war between America and Vietnam. To be completely honest, I don’t think I was actually prepared for what was inside but some of the stories were absolutely heartbreaking. I definitely had moments of feeling dizzy and queasy because of some of the things I read. It was one of those experiences that really makes you appreciate your own fortunes and feel empathetic to the trauma others have suffered.
That night, we bought tickets for an overnight bus to take us to Mui Ne, a beach town about 8 hours away that is absolutely beautiful. We waited in line for the bus, but not without grabbing a quick fruit smoothie and some fresh spring rolls and mango salad. If there’s one thing I love about Vietnamese cuisine, it’s how fresh everything tastes!
DAY 3: MUI NE
We boarded the bus, and let me tell you, this was no ordinary bus. It was a sleeper bus!! So pretty much, all the seats are reclining chairs that are meant to look like beds. SO COMFORTABLE (Go Transit & TTC, if you guys integrated this, I would have the best naps EVER.)
I fell asleep for the ride and at 2 in the morning, we arrived in Mui Ne. We were a bit disoriented when we arrived because we hadn’t pre-booked our accommodations. But, we ended up walking around the streets, ate some pizza (because oddly, Western food felt so comforting at 2:30 a.m.) and found a hostel that was recommended in our travel guide.
We weren’t allowed to check in until 7 a.m., but the security guard let us wait in the lobby. I ended up taking a little snooze on the couch and at 5:30 a.m. I went exploring the hostel for a bathroom. I unknowingly walked out to the beach in the back and… it was STUNNING. I grabbed Katie and we ended up watching the sunrise. It was one of the utmost incredible and breathtaking experiences ever. So peaceful, so quiet, as we saw the fishermen in their boats out in the distance. It truly was a blessing to stumble across that.
Afterwards, we ended up checking into the hostel’s sister chain (as the current one was full). It was my first experience staying in a hostel, but this was no ordinary one. This hostel was literally A RESORT! There was a pool, and lounge chairs and the most delicious banana pancakes and smoothies for breakfast. It did not feel real in any way shape or form. Oh AND it was about $10 for the night. ZERO COMPLAINTS whatsoever.
We booked a tour through our hostel to visit the fairy stream, fishing market, and the sand dunes (also super affordable, only $6!). Boy oh boy, this was the tour of a lifetime! We were snugly fit into a jeep with about 5 other travellers, all whom were really nice. The first stop was the fairy stream. It’s considered a magical, purifying stream, especially because the water is so warm. We were walking through it and suddenly, something caught our eye: AN OSTRICH. So, naturally, we asked some questions and it turns out we could ride it. Soo… (see photo!).
Next up was the floating fisherman market. Truly quite a sight from above. Especially when you learn how huge of an industry fishing is in Vietnam.
They always say save the best for last, and the sand dunes were no exception. We visited the white and red sand dunes and OH. MY. GOSH. We got to go ATV-ing through the white sand dunes. Wind and sand were blowing everywhere, and at some points I truly thought I was in the desert from the movie Aladdin or something. Despite our ATV getting stuck and me literally pushing it from behind, it was UNREAL. We made sand angels, had a little photo shoot, and we might have overspent our time there to the point where our taxi driver came to search for us on his own ATV (haha don’t worry he wasn’t mad, just laughing that we managed to get it stuck), but it was absolutely worth the experience.
The red sand dunes were nothing less than amazing. A popular thing to do at the red dunes are to “toboggan” down the sand hills. YUP. My inner Canadian was exploding with excitement and fireworks because let’s be honest, who doesn’t LOVE tobogganing!! Katie and I actually had a whole group of little kids who decided to show us around, push us down hills and take us everywhere. It was really something that made the experience truly special. After 30 minutes of tobogganing, my pants were filled, literally FILLED with sand. Perfect timing because it was time to head back to the hotel.
The day was incredible, but also extremely exhausting so we ended up falling asleep super early. Our bus back to HCMC the next day was at 4 p.m and so we had the whole afternoon to soak up the delicious food, sun and the ocean. After eating oceanside at a BBQ restaurant (we literally watched them freshly catch and BBQ the food!) we were off to the beach. A popular thing in Mui Ne seemed to be Kitesurfing. It’s pretty much surfing, but you’re attached to a kite which uses the wind to give you power to move. We had read signs about getting a free demo, but every stall we went to said it was too windy for a demonstration. BUT THEN, we bumped into “Kite With Me” and a gentleman named Dallas. Dallas has been kitesurfing for over 10 years and he worked for the company “Kite With Me” to teach others to kite-surf. Somehow, Dallas ended up offering to take Katie and I Tandem Kitesurfing (Kitesurfing with the instructor on one board) at absolutely no charge. We were so confused at why he was being so nice. The reality is that he was just an extremely genuine person who wanted to share his passion with others. The only thing is that we wouldn’t be done until around 4:15 p.m. and our bus was at 4… It was such a conflict because this was a once in a lifetime chance. We could take a later bus, but we had already bought our tickets…
So… we kite-surfed!! The first time the board rode a wave, we were shot up into the sky by like 3 or 4 meters. It was the most liberating and exhilarating feeling in the world. I honestly thought I was flying and nothing else felt like it mattered. It might sound silly, but I felt as free as a bird and couldn’t stop smiling and laughing. Hands down, I would have to say this was a highlight of the trip. It was one of those things that unexpectedly happens and you just go with it. We ended up finishing at around 4:10 p.m. and guess what? When we got back to our hostel the bus hadn’t even come yet! So in this situation, yes, we had our cake AND ate it too.
Katie and I both completely knocked out on the bus ride back. Back in HCMC at 11p.m., our flight out the next morning was at 7a.m. We put our stuff back at our hostel and decided to explore the night markets. After all, we only had a few more hours in Vietnam. The night ended off with a final bowl of pho, a mani and pedi at 2 in the morning, AND some iced coffee (I knew I wasn’t going to be sleeping… hahaha).
We grabbed a cab (and did not fall into any tourist traps this time around, thank goodness!) at 4 a.m., our hands filled with our bags and a fresh fruit smoothie-to-go.
The flight back to what I now call home, Singapore, was bittersweet. I was sad to be leaving Vietnam and what felt like one of the most amazing experiences I could have had. But I was also excited to go back to Singapore and school (yes that sounds so nerdy but it’s true). Honestly, travelling can be exhausting sometimes and it’s important to let your body rest. Especially being my first trip, it took a good week and a bit for me to recover from just sleeping well again and getting back into the groove. But I truly am grateful to have the balance of travel and school. I think it’s a good reality check to come back to school/work and having a purpose of being here. But, it’s also really nice to be able to travel around and take little vacations, especially because the countries in South East Asia are so close to each other!
All in all, Vietnam, or rather, VietNOM (seriously the best food I’ve had yet!!), was unforgettable and truly an eye opening experience. I am ready for more adventure, more open minded decision making, and just going with your heart’s instincts. I can’t wait to see where the next adventure takes me, and I’m excited to share it with you!
Read more of Jasmin’s travel diaries and about her time studying in Singapore.