The drive from Phong Nha to Khe San is simply breathtaking. You hardly ever see other traffic on the Ho Chi Minh trail, instead, you’re surrounded by forests and waterfalls. As much as we loved the Ho Chi Minh trail, we decided we wanted to take the quicker route to Hue so we could spend the afternoon sightseeing. So we said goodbye to our friends and agreed to meet that evening, before hopping back on our bike (which we’d named Sydney) to Hue!
One of my absolute favourite things to do when the opportunity arises is to visit abandoned places – I just find them fascinating. We’d heard from some friends about an abandoned water park called Ho Thuy Tien and of course I was absolutely desperate to go (photos can be seen here).
While there were a fair few other tourists around the water park when we went, it was still by no means busy, which was perfect for capturing some eerie photos of the place. The most distinct feature of the park has to be the massive dragon in the middle of lake, which has been completely overtaken by nature. Inside, you can see the remains of smashed up tanks which once encased reptiles, including crocodiles. I love the idea of these cases being smashed open, leaving the animals to live free in the water park and claim it as their own…
Around the park you can also find rusty water slides, a big amphitheater and even a 4D virtual reality Thrillrider machine. It certainly has to be the highlight of my time in Vietnam.
The city of Hue has a rich imperial history, and there are many things to explore including tombs, temples and pagodas. We visited the Thien Mu Pagoda, also known as the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady, which is ‘regarded as the unofficial symbol of the city.’ Situated alongside the river, the Pagoda features a very pretty courtyard.
Our favourite thing we visited in the city however is the tomb of Tu Doc. While the tombs themselves are mainly remains, the site is surrounded by a beautiful lake and gardens. Unfortunately we didn’t get time to explore the Imperial City, although we’ve heard that those tombs don’t live up to that of Tu Doc, so we weren’t overly disappointed.
We spent our last night in Hue with our friends who had caught us up from Phong Nha. We found ourselves being entinced into Brown Eyes club for some cheap cocktails and dancing with the locals.
Now Hoi An has to be my favourite place in Vietnam. We arrived in Hoi An where we were staying at a lovely home stay, before we headed out to explore the town in the evening. After finding ourselves at the entrance to the old town we’d heard about, we purchased a ticket which allows you into 5 attractions in the old town (although the majority are free). We didn’t know what to expect, but as we crossed the Japanese Covered Bridge, we were completely taken aback by an endless show of brightly coloured lanterns lighting up the entire town. It’s honestly a sight to behold at night.
Favourite attractions we visited include the Chinese Assembly Hall and a photography exhibition from French photographer Réhahn. His photographs are absolutely stunning, and it was fascinating to learn all about the different tribes across Vietnam.
All in all, there’s plenty to do in Hoi An’s old town, both in the daytime and the evening. Full of bars and restaurants, we enjoyed more 12p beer and a pub quiz at the 3 Dragons Restaurant & Bar (we’re pretty sure we came last).
As it’s a pretty long way from Hoi An to Dalat, we took Sydney the scooter on a night bus to Nha Trang to save some time. It’s amazing how much stuff they can cram onto buses, and we tried not to panic when we saw them dismantle the wheels and luggage rack from our scooter!
So we made it to Nha Trang to watch the sunrise over the sea and enjoyed a quick paddle before driving onto Dalat.
We arrived at Lucky D’s Hostel (which is ridiculously good value for money at £2 a night)! On arrival, we met the infamous owner Lucky who we’d read rave reviews about on Hostelworld. He invited us to join him for breakfast and we enjoyed a nice chat while we fussed his cute pet dogs. Lucky D’s Hostel is a really unique experience compared to other hostels we’ve stayed at. With just two floors filled with up to 10 beds, you get to meet all the other backpackers staying there. Every night Lucky takes everyone in the hostel out for a meal, and it’s such a great way of getting everyone together.
A group we met on our first day at the hostel invited us to explore Dalat with them, so we all headed into town to visit Hang Nga Crazy House, a strange architectural project which according to Lonely Planet is ‘becoming more outlandish every year.’ I personally loved the experience, with my family all being very interested in art and quirky architecture, but some of my friends found it to be a bit silly! Definitely worth checking out though if you want to see something a bit different in Dalat.
As there’s not much else to do in the city centre, Dalat is best explored by motorbike, so our friends rented some bikes and joined us the next day for some waterfall hopping. First we dropped into the weasel coffee plantation, where coffee is grown using, yep you guessed it, weasel poop! As a non-coffee drinker, this didn’t sound very appealing, but Edd splashed out on a cup and assured me it was delicious!
Now, the best waterfall in Dalat has to be Elephant Waterfall – its gushing waters are truly awe-inspiring. And if you’re feeling adventurous, (and up for getting drenched) you can climb down behind the waterfall for another view.
One thing I’d found out about online and was this so called ‘haunted house’, which of course I was eager to get some creepy photographs of. However, when we turned up to the house we were pretty disappointed. Instead of a decomposing, abandoned mansion, we found a relatively done-up house and a group of locals eating inside. A few other tourists turned up and tried to explore the house, but I’m not convinced they found much!
Cat Tien National Park
After hearing some bad stories about the police catching tourists on motorbikes in Mui Ne, we decided to skip it and head to Cat Tien National Park instead. Since we hadn’t done any trekking since Hanoi, we were excited to get back out into the wilderness again.
We stayed at an amazing lodge right next to the national park, so close in fact, that we could even hear the gibbons singing! Everything about the lodge was generous, from the massive food portions to the fact we had a room with 3 double beds in to ourselves!
The national park is absolutely massive, and while there are a few walking routes you can take, the majority of the park remains unexplored. On the first day, we did a short walking route before visiting the bear rescue sanctuary in the afternoon. The sanctuary has both black bears and sun bears who have been rescued from bear bile farms and poachers, and the guide was really helpful and informative.
On our last day, we set off at 6.30am to tackle the long route through the park, which takes you to Crocodile Lake and back. In total, it took around 8 hours and it’s safe to say I was absolutely exhausted by the end! However we did manage to see some gibbons high up the trees, which totally makes up for it.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
I’d heard relatively good things about Ho Chi Minh City, so I was excited to reach our final stop. However, we soon discovered that our very cheap hostel was on the busy strip of bars, bearing resemblance to that of Khao San Road. By the time we managed to find somewhere to park, we were keen to just grab some food and have an early night after such a long drive.
The main highlight for me in Ho Chi Minh is the War Remnants Museum, which informs you all about the history of American and Vietnamese war. It was an eye-opening experience to learn about such events from a Vietnamese point of view, and I was extremely shocked by the disturbing photographs on display showing the devastating effects of Agent Orange and the My Lai Massacre. It’s truly worth a visit.
Usually, backpackers will sell their motorbike in either Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi depending on the route they took. However, after some thought, we decided to drive Sydney the Scooter over the Cambodian border, for the next chapter of our adventure!