Vietnam in 22 Days - Part 2
My husband, Jimmy, is Vietnamese and so a trip to Vietnam had been a priority for a while. My friends Rachel, Linh, and Alex decide to join us, and then Linh's family came along for a portion of the trip too. We definitely wanted to take the opportunity to meet up with Jimmy's and Linh's family, but I also wanted to go to the tourist destinations. I think we planned a really nice mix of the two that let us have a genuine Vietnamese experience while also seeing all the sites. Trying to fit all of this epic trip into one blog post was breaking squarespace, so I've broken it into two. You can read about the first half of this trip from Hanoi to Hoi An here: Vietnam in 22 Days - Part 1.
Day 11 - Nha Trang
We stayed at Backpacker's House in Nha Trang. They had a room with four queen beds that accommodated our whole group in a rather ridiculous but cheap fashion. Nha Trang's population seems to be about 50% Russian. Pretty much all the road signs and menus had Russian translations. The town has a weird vibe - it just feels dirtier and seedier than any other place we visited in Vietnam. It was also a little too chilly to enjoy the beach at all. So I was already planning to make a quick getaway from Nha Trang pretty much the moment we got there. We had planned to spend two days there, but Jimmy and I decided to just spend the day there and go ahead of the rest of the group to Dalat.
I was however really interested in spending the day at the Egg Mud Bath's. This was by far the weirdest experience we had in Vietnam, and I highly recommend it just for the trippiness factor. There were probably no more than 20 people at the Egg Mud Bath complex which was comparable in size to an amusement park. We all paid to have a soak in our own personal egg-shaped mud bath which was quite nice and relaxing. After rinsing off, we spent some time enjoying the series of pools available. Then we explored the complex which included all sorts of weird statues and structures. There was latin music blasting all throughout the park and when we walked to the outer edges of the complex, we realized there were giant speakers placed all along the hillside adjoining the complex. Some very rich person with a very strange vision built this place, and you absolutely must go if you are in Nha Trang.
For dinner, we went to a place that was reported to have cobra. Rich and Linh, being the most adventurous eaters in our group ordered it and Rich even ate a beating cobra heart. By this time, I was all about the street food which cost about a 10th as much and generally tasted better. So Jimmy, Rachel, and I saved our appetites for street soup later in the evening.
Day 12 - Nha Trang to Dalat
We booked an afternoon bus to Dalat so had the morning to spend at the beach. It was cold. There were lots of couples fighting on the beach. Again - a weird vibe oozes out of Nha Trang. Later in the trip we visited Mui Ne. If you are deciding between a beach trip to Nha Trang or Mui Ne, I would recommend Mui Ne hands down.
The bus ride from Nha Trang to Dalat was about 4 hours long, so we didn't get in until the evening. The drive into Dalat has some really interesting scenery. Dalat is known for their greenhouse products and you see a lot of lit up greenhouses as you approach Dalat.
We checked into the Villa Pink House which was another inexpensive and lovely place to stay with great service. After checking in, we walked to the night market which had a lot of tempting items. They had a slew of adult-sized clothing that was in a style that you would see more in the kids section in the US. Lots of cartoon characters, frills, and bows. They also had an amazing assortment of teas and dried fruits. I practiced good self control around the clothes, but definitely loaded up my backpack with tea and fruits which made for good snacks and souvenirs.
Day 13 - Dalat
While we waited for the rest of our group to arrive from Nha Trang, we visited the Hang Nga Crazy House. This house was built (and is still being built) by one of Vietnam's president's daughters who studied architecture in Moscow. It is a maze of cob-looking structures that will make you feel like you've been dropped into Alice in Wonderland. Jimmy and I were in the middle of building our first house all by ourselves when we took this trip, so we were geeking out on the construction techniques and architecture.
After we had seen all there was to see at the Crazy House we took a walk around Xuan Huong Lake which is apparently a very popular spot with honeymooners. It was a lovely spot so it made sense that it would attract those in love.
Right as we were finishing our circuit around the lake, Linh called and invited us over to lunch at her grandfather's house. They put out an amazing spread of food and we got to enjoy it while also enjoying some of Linh's baby pictures.
After lunch, Linh's family showed us some of their cut flower operation. Then we spent some more time walking around Dalat. We kept walking uphill and ended up at the top of the cable car station. The cable car was closed by the time we got up there, so we didn't get a chance to enjoy that, but we did enjoy walking around Truc Lam Pagoda and the views from up there. By the time that we got back to the Dalat town center, we were feeling a bit peckish again. We stopped at Che He which I highly recommend. Che is the word for an assortment of Vietnamese desserts that often include coconut milk, tapioca, mung beans, sticky rice balls, and bananas. I have never met a che I didn't like, and this che shop did not disappoint. Jimmy and I headed back to the Pink House so we could book a "secret tour." While I didn't want to split up from the rest of the group again, I had heard really good things about this tour and FOMO got the best of me.
Day 14 - Dalat
We woke up very early to meet Rot, our tour guide for the day. He gave us a crash course in the motorcycle we would be riding for the tour. I am slightly terrified of motorcycles after witnessing a motorcycle accident when I was a teenager. So I jumped on the back of Jimmy's motorcycle and tried to keep my pleas for him to slow down to a minimum. Fun fact - the Vietnamese word for motorcycle is xe om which literally translates to hug car. Isn't that adorable?
Our first stop was the Dalat market. Rot guided us through the stalls explaining how the ingredients are used in traditional dishes. He had a good rapport with all of the vendors and they were quick to provide us all with samples of the items Rot was explaining.
Next, we rode our motorcycles a little further up the road and visited a cricket farm.
Next, we rode further up the road to visit a silkworm factory which was absolutely fascinating.
We got back on our motorcycles, and the adventures continued. Our next stop was a curry and coffee farm.
A little further up the road on our motorcycles and we got to some amazing views of the Dalat highlands and Elephant Falls.
We stopped for lunch at a Buddhist monastery. The lunch was very basic and it was at this point I realized how fortunate I was to be travelling with Vietnamese people. It can of course be challenging to have an authentic experience as a tourist or even know what that is. I felt so sorry for all of the people that were on our tour as it seemed like most of their meals were similar to the one on this tour. Jimmy schooled them on all the dishes they should be ordering in the future and hopefully they took his advice. After our lunch, we visited a K'ho village. The K'ho are a Vietnamese highland minority that speaks their own language and seem to have isolated themselves pretty well. We weren't allowed to take photos during this part of the tour, but we were invited in one of the K'ho houses and treated to a fun comedy show of Rot interacting with the ladies of the house who were constantly yelling at him and hitting him. They also offered us a fermented rice drink that is made by chewing up rice and spitting it into a jug to ferment. Jimmy tried it, but I couldn't work up the nerve after I saw how it activated his gag reflex. The women then brought out some lovely weavings and we bought one to bring home with us.
From there, we rode on our motorcycles straight back to the Pink House. It was actually kind of tiring, so kudos to all those that tour Vietnam solely by motorcycle.
Despite giving us a full day experience, Rot offered to take us all to a restaurant for a special dinner experience. We were eager to meet up with our friends again, so we skipped the dinner. But we did meet up with the group at the tail end of their dinner so we could enjoy a beer with the group and introduce our friends to Rot. They still had some food on their plates and so Rot encouraged Jimmy to eat some of the leftover meat. Then of course he disclosed that it was dog. Jimmy assured all of us that it was not tasty at all, so there's probably no need for you to try it. The tour group was all going out for Karaoke (Rot must be the most dedicated tour guide I have ever met!) and while we kind of wanted to do the same, we thought it best just to split up and go on our own. I also wanted to make another che stop on the way.
There are a ton of Karaoke places in Dalat, so we just picked one at random. This was a private room karaoke situation that included English and Vietnamese songs. We had so much fun Karaokeing until the wee hours of the morning. It was a great way to end our time in Dalat which I would say is probably my favorite city in Vietnam.
Day 15 - Dalat - Mui Ne
Rachel, Jimmy, and I split off from the rest of the group and boarded a 4 hour bus to Mui Ne. We got there in the early afternoon and when we went to check into the hotel I had booked, we realized we were a day late due to the extra time we decided to spend in Dalat. It is easy to loose track of days after travelling for 15 days, but luckily they had a room that could squeeze all three of us. We set down our things and went to find some lunch. Mui Ne is much classier and upscale than Nha Trang and the prices reflect that accordingly. So while I recommend Mui Ne over Nha Trang, that might not be the best recommendation for a budget traveler. Rachel is a beach person and demanded that we spend the rest of the day relaxing on the beach. I obliged, but in all honesty I get very antsy lying on the beach. I eased my antsiness by doing some beach yoga, taking a walk to look at all the kite boarders, and buying some mud masks and wine for us to enjoy in the evening.
Note that if you buy a mud mask in Mui Ne it might actually be a bleaching mask. Lots of Vietnamese people like to bleach their skin. Once we felt the mask burning and read the package more carefully, we rinsed it off immediately. We are pasty enough as is.
Day 16 - Mui Ne - Saigon
While Rachel wanted to spend another day on the beach and I wanted to do more exploring, we compromised and decided to do half and half. In the morning, we caught a cab to the Fairy Stream which is a short little hike through a stream that ends in a waterfall. There are bright red sand dunes along the way and a fish sauce factory at the start of the hike.
On the way back we saw this little cocktail stand which was calling us. The bartender was totally clueless though, so Rachel just took over for him and made us some pretty banging daiquiris. We spent a few hours enjoying the beach and then we boarded a bus to Saigon. It was about a 5 hour ride to Saigon. We must have passed about 30 miles of dragon fruit farms on the way which was a really cool sight to see. By the time we got to Saigon, it was pretty late. We caught a cab to Jimmy's Aunts' house and after some quick introductions we went to sleep.
Day 17 - Saigon
We ate breakfast with Jimmy's aunts. Then we met up with Linh's family to do the Cu Chi Tunnels tour. This place is a total tourist trap, but still worth a visit. It was interesting to see all the communist propaganda and ingenious techniques the North used to stay ahead of the south. The tunnels were actually built in the 1940's during the Indochina conflict, but most of the information at the site is about the Vietnam war.
After our tour, we went back to the tour office headquarters and booked a Mekong tour. Jimmy and I were headed to Rach Gia to visit Jimmy's Mom's family and Rachel was headed towards Cambodia. So we were hoping that we could find a Mekong tour that would allow us both to end up where we needed to be. The tour company was more than happy to arrange something that fit the bill at a super affordable price, and once again I was super impressed with the tourism infrastructure in Vietnam.
After spending a little more time with Jimmy's aunts, we met up at Buddha Chay, a Buddhist Vegetarian restaurant, with Linh's family. We were a very large group, I think about 20 people, but the restaurant accommodated us just fine. The food was delicious, and it wasn't just me who thought so.
We spent the rest of the evening sipping bia hoi (draft beer that costs about 25 cents per glass) in a nearby bar.
Day 18- Mekong River Tour
Rachel, Jimmy, and I boarded a bus for our Mekong River tour. After about an hour and a half on the road, the first stop on our tour was Vinh Trang Temple which wins the prize for biggest Buddhist statues on our trip. It was a very lovely place to stroll around for about an hour.
We actually ran into Linh and her family who had booked a fancy cruise that would take them back to Ho Chi Minh City. So this must be a very popular stop off for all the Mekong Delta tours.
We boarded the bus again and drove to a spot somewhere near Ben Tre where we picked up a boat. The boat then took us along the Mekong Delta to an island that featured a coconut candy factory.
From there we boated to another island that had an assortment of tourist attractions including a python, some crocodiles, and a bunch of people singing and dancing.
We were treated to some fruit tastings, and then we were given some very basic tour lunch.
After lunch, we boarded some canoes for a ride down the river.
Afterwards we boarded the bus and drove to Can Tho where we were staying for the night. Our hotel was right near the river and a market. So we wandered around the market for a while and then discovered a glorious plaza of street vendors. There were so many options, but I settled on a sin to bo (avocado smoothie) and banh trang nuong. It was hands down the best meal I had while I was in Vietnam, and it was of course one of the cheapest. The avocado smoothie is just avocado, sweetened condensed milk, and ice blended together. There are plenty of smoothie stands in Vietnam where you can buy these, so I highly recommend you try it at some point during your trip. Can Tho was the only place that I saw banh trang nuong though. It's made on a grill with a lot of skill. It starts with a rice paper which is then topped with quail eggs, green onions, dried shrimp and a siracha mayo type sauce. The whole thing is cooking while it's being assembled and then is folded over when the rice paper is the perfect combination of gooey and crunchy. It's amazing and you must try it if you ever see it.
Day 19 - Mekong Delta - Rach Gia
After breakfast in the hotel, we hopped on the bus for a short ride to the Cai Rang floating market. We boated through the market for about an hour and had a couple opportunities to make some purchases. It was challenging because our boat didn't stop, so the vendor had to keep up with us. I thought maybe they would just float off with our change, but that never happened.
We were then taken to a place where ladies were making pho noodles the old fashioned way.
There was also a guy in this complex who was making his own biofuel for cooking from pig manure.
This complex also had some pretty legitimate lunch options.
At this point, we had to say our goodbye to Rachel. The rest of the group continued on to Siem Reap while Jimmy and I were let off at a bus stop that would take us the rest of the way to Rach Gia.
Jimmy's uncle met us at the bus stop and took us to his house where we stayed the next two nights.
We were welcomed with a very lovely meal of blood cockrels, shrimp, and soup.
The rest of the day was devoted to Jimmy catching up with his family while I tried to follow bits and pieces of the conversation. Jimmy got exhausted trying to translate everything for me and so ended up only translating all of the really funny bits which mainly came from his grandfather along with a lot of curse words. One highlight that will always stay with me was when his grandfather found out that I am primarily a vegetarian and he said, "Who does she think she is, the fucking Buddha?"
Day 20 - Rach Gia
This day was also devoted to catching up / meeting all of Jimmy's family from his mother's side. Jimmy had only met most of these people one time when he was 14, but his mom calls home all the time and shares lots of stories. Jimmy's mom is the oldest of 10 children. Most of those kids had kids of their own and so we must have met about 40 of Jimmy's aunts, uncles, and cousins in a very short period of time. I did a lot of smiling and nodding while there was a whirlwind of Vietnamese conversations all around me.
Day 21 - Rach Gia - Saigon
We said our goodbyes and boarded a bus to Saigon in the late morning.
It was about a 5 hour bus ride and so we got into Saigon in the late afternoon. We spent some time with Jimmy's dad's family at their house and explored their neighborhood some.
Later we went out to eat and walked around to see all the lights that were being set up for the Vietnamese new year.
Day 22 - Saigon
Our flight out of Vietnam didn't leave until 8 PM, so we had some time to see some more Saigon sites with Jimmy's cousins. We started at the Reunification Palace. This building was made famous when the North Vietnamese drove a tank into it, thus symbolizing the end of the Vietnam War. You can walk all throughout the building which has been restored to what it looked like in 1975. It's a maze of fancy meeting rooms, antiquated telecommunications equipment, and bunker space.
We were especially interested in the Huey helicopter on top of the palace since Jimmy's dad was a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam war and this was the type of helicopter he flew.
Next we set off on a mission to find these baby figurines that Jimmy had grown up with.
After a couple of stops, we realized these things must have been trendy during one of Jimmy's mom's visits ages ago and then fallen out of fashion, a la Beanie Babies. We stopped for lunch in a cafe and went to one last place that happened to have a couple of the figurines collecting some dust on a shelf. With babies in hand, our trip to Vietnam was complete!
We then went back to Jimmy's aunts house to hang out with them and say our goodbyes before heading to the airport.
The total cost of this trip for Jimmy and me was $5158. $2226 of that was for flights. Flights to Vietnam have dropped quite a bit since we took this trip in 2014 and can now be found for about $600 per person. Our per person cost per day averaged out to $63. We did stay at budget accommodations for the most part, but we also spent a good amount of money on experiences and travel. We saw a lot of the country in a short amount of time, so you could definitely take a cheaper trip by spending more time in each place. And I can't recommend the street food enough for saving money and for culinary reasons too. I know next time we visit Vietnam, we will eat a lot more street food and we will eat better while saving money. You could also spend a lot more money if you wanted to splurge on some nice hotel rooms.