I started on a bad foot arriving in Hanoi and got overhelmed from all the traffic and motobikes in town. After coming straight from beautiful Laos, its nature and calmness, Hanoi was a bit too much for me.
It is easy to get from the airport to the old part of town where most hostels are. Just take the bus number 86 and after 45 minutes you will get dropped of 5 minutes away from the busy small streets of the historical center. So far so good. When I was looking for my hostel (BC Homestay), I thought I might get overunned every 3 seconds. I made my way to the hostel, checked in and felt brave enough to go out and discover something from the city. After an hour I decided it was time for bed and some rest. I couldn´t really cope with all this. The next morning I went out again, went for a walk around the lake and tried out some local food. I walked around for hours but the city didn´t get to me. I took a rest in the afternoon and went out with at night. It was a bit easier as there were less bikes and people were just sitting around drinking beer. The atmosphere was different and kind of cool observing the crowd made of foreigners and locals but still, Hanoi was definitely not my favorite.
The day after I decided I´d defintely had enough and made my way to Cat Ba, an island close to Halong Bay. The bus takes around 3h and after a short boat ride you arrive at the island. It´s a beautiful place. You have a national park where you can do a short 2h hike to get up to the top of one of the mountains and the view is so worth it. Cat Ba town itself is small but you get everything you need and bike rental is also cheap if you want to discover the rest of the island. The beaches are also amazing and not crowded at all. People usually do day tours to the bay so the beach itself is kind of empty. Water is fresh and cool and clean. A place I could have stayed definitely a bit longer but as I only get 2 weeks without visa I headed northwards again after having had 3 nights in Cat Ba.
The trip to Sapa was not as easy as I thought. I took around 11 hours and I had to take a big bus, a boat, a big bus, a minivan, a sleeping bus and last another minivan and arrived at 5am in Sapa. Sapa is supposedly nice but with 10°C the first impression was freezing. I found the hostel I reserved for the upcoming two nights but noone was there at this time of the day. As I barely slept during the trip I felt quite bad. Hiding from the cold in front of the reception at 7am some life was coming into town. Of course I couldn´t use the room yet (which I so hoped – but all was fully booked). At least I could leave my backpack, get some breakfast and early morning I started to walk through town, went to the market and got some first impressions. After a quick siesta and some lunch I went downhill and visited some other small town and waterfalls. Just in time for sunset at 6h30 I was back in town and got some got early rest.
The day I after I had lots of plans but instead of doing anything I had to stay in. It was super foggy, it was impossible to see anything. It didn´t help being only 12°C so I didn´t leave my room apart for getting food. Even in the room it was freezing but gladly they had some warming electriciy blankets which made being in bed the most comfortable thing possible.
The next day was the same thing. I only booked my bus back to Hanoi (6h trip) for the early afternoon as I hoped I could do some trekking in the morning but it was the same situation. Foggy, no sight and rain. I was glad once I was in the bus and made it back to Hanoi. This time Hanoi was a better experience, some streets were closed, I visited a night market and spend the evening on my private balcony of the room I booked.
Ho Chi Ming
The next day I had a flight southwards to Saigon – or Ho Chi Ming how its now called. I can´t really tell you why but I had a great first possitive impression of the city and actually liked it a lot there even though in the end I only stayed a night. We went out the evening and merged within the city vibe observing the spectacles of locals doing caraoke in the middle of the street or entering a small club and just dance for a while.
The next day I just walked around, discovered that the city has a lot of parks and you really see the develpment. You actually feel like being in a real city. Still I wasn´t in the mood for big city life and booked myself a trip down to the coast (10h) to a small town called Ha Tien from where I planned to cross the boarder to Cambodia. This was getting more of a local vibe as I was the only foreinger in the bus. Even on the stop we made people were looking as on all the buses stoping I was the only western looking person.
Arriving late at night I was lucky I was lucky to get the last available mototaxi. I didn´t expect the bus stop being so far out of town but it was actually on the other side of the river and as it was midnight I paid the price as I really didn´t feel like walking in this deserted area with all my luggage
Ha Tien itself was a nice surprise. No hostels, so I booked the cheapest hotel I could find – a quite decent place. I got a nice big room and even have a little balcony. It is close to the coast though the next beach is 5km away. I wandered through town, a green place with some nice temples and good and cheap food. The only issue is that noone actually speaks any English so you just take what you get but finally I got a more local feeling with childern greeting and friendly smiles when I try to get myself to order some food (and I never get what I wanted but ok, it´s always eatable. There is one western place called Oasis Bar, the place to get some western dishes or travel information or conacts to other travelers. I ended up staying an extra night, resting from all the bus trips and preparing myself to change country once again.
Resuming I liked Vietnam but I much better preferred what I saw so far from Thailand and Laos. The food is pretty good, much tastier than in Laos but not the same as Thailand. You get a lot of soup and rice noodles and I have to admit that I went for some western food to get some different taste once in a while. I think Vietnam is nice but it´s probably better to avoid all the typical cities and places which are ususally recommened (Hue, Dalat & Co) and just go somwhere unknown and explore from there. Me personally I don´t feel the need to come back here but as it is a country you can enter without visa for 15 days it´s worth a try. I met a lot of peole who loved it there. Transports are relatively expensive but I know people who just buy a motobike (between 150 – 300$) and travel from north to south or viceversa and later sell the bike again. Roads in general are new and good but still be prepared for driving in the cities. Not for total beginners I would say unless you feel brave enough to drive within the clouds of bikes in the bigger towns. And as bus drivers are kind of rude it might be worth to travel for your own and on your own pace.