After Emmanuelle's third anti-rabies injection, we can now travel freely! Not quite, but we also know that there are many hospitals on our route capable of delivering the famous VERORAB!
So we bought an open bus ticket for 47 USD per person. We plan 6 stops before reaching the final destination which is Ho Chi Minh City.
One of our big favorite in Vietnam despite the 11h bus to reach it from Hanoi. We spend 2 nights there but we could have stayed longer. Here is the paradise of caves, there are more than 300, but only a few are open to public and others ask to be speleologist or adventurer! By the way, the movie King Kong was shot largely in Son Doong Cave, the largest known cave in the world, more than 9 km, we won't visit it because you need a license (more than 1000 USD) and spend several nights in this one.
We will visit Phong Nha Cave and Paradise Cave, both beautiful.
Phong Nha Cave. Accessible by boat only, measuring 7km, the boats enter it via an underground river on more than 1km. It is pleasant and calm and the navigation in the cave is done like Venice gondola. Very nice but a bit pricey: 10-15 USD for 2 people
Paradise Cave. It is located 45 minutes drive from the village of Phong Nha, so either you go on a tour (very very expensive, 40-50 USD per person), or you can rent a scooter and self drive on a loop through the National Park. We took this option. Parking is 3 km from the entrance and a "small" hike is required to access it. The cave is organized in a series of rooms all different from each other. The first room is gigantic over 100m in height, and has the size of 2 soccer fields! Only the first kilometer is open to public, to go further you need a guide and speleologist skills. Then we drove back to the village before a rain shower stopping at the Botanical Garden (40000 Dong / pers), which looks more like an adventure park when approaching the waterfall! In addition there is little information about the flora growing in the park. It is necessary to be fit to go up the river along the waterfalls!
It is already time to leave Phong Nha and we enjoyed our stay at thishotel, it was great and very central, modern and clean
We arrived very early in the morning in the city, we went directly to the hotel which offered us a free breakfast.
Hue is the ancient imperial capital of Vietnam until 1945. The monuments of the imperial city of Hue are listed as UNESCO World Heritage. Among these monuments are the citadel and the forbidden purple city. The city is crossed by the Perfume River. Despite a really bad weather (heavy monsoon) we still managed to visit this beautiful place and steeped in history.
We had originally planned to stay 2 nights, but because of the weather and the fact that it is a big city we decided to leave quickly the next day.
To reach Hoi An, it's faster, just 3h bus. We thought that after crossing the famous Cloud Pass over Da Nang, weather will be better (in the Vietnamese tradition this mountain retains all the clouds and it allows a better weather in the south). Unfortunately the elements are raging, we arrive in the middle of a monsoon episode, and it is set to last for while
The city is cute, the river's surroundings are picturesque, this place is the second most romantic destination in Asia. The city teems with artists' studios, bars, restaurants, ... in the evening there are plenty of lit lanterns everywhere, which makes it even more beautiful. We stayed there for 2 nights and it's only at sunrise on our last day that the sun came up.
We still appreciated the place, but not fully, the river was out of bed, the boats that normally pass under the bridge, are at the dock! We take the opportunity to write the article on Indonesia, do the laundry ...
Finally we find the sun, but what price to get there! 636km of road, this seems reasonable at first. But what we did not know when buying our open bus ticket is:
- Hoi An - Dalat is actually a Hoi An / Nha Trang then Nha Trang / Dalat
- We left Hoi An at 18h and arrive at Nha Trang at 4h in the morning, OK, except that the bus for Dalat leaves at 7h in the morning and even the bus company's agency is closed until 5: 30! So we are like homeless in the street, but it is OK, and it does not rain!
- The bus Nha Trang / Dalat is not a sleeper bus so, it's uncomfortable as a local bus!
- The Viet Nhat Travel Bus Company is saving some money on the bus coolant system. During the trip Nha Trang / Dalat we were forced to stop at all water sources to fill fresh water instead of coolant during the long climb to reach the highlands near Dalat!
Joking aside, Dalat is very nice because even though this city is in tropical latitudes, it is located 1500m altitude! This prevents temperatures from rising too high and allows locals to grow a lot of fruits, vegetables and flowers that would not grow in the plains. We also understand a little better why the French settlers had established the capital of Indochina in Dalat, much more cooler than Saigon, Hanoi, Nha Trang, Da Nang and other major cities of the country lying in plain or seaside with high temperatures.
We arrive at the end of the morning after a short night and almost 17h bus but we go directly to the hospital so that Emma gets injected her 4th anti-rabies shots, which happen very fast, and so we will take a well deserved nap after that.
The next day we booked a tour "cultural and tradition" and we were not disappointed with the program:
- Visit of the old Dalat railway station, dating from the French colonial era.
- Visit of Elephant Waterfall, a beautiful waterfall but without much interest apart the walk down to have a panoramic view of the waterfall! Manu stopped just two jumps from the end!
- Not far from there is a big Buddhist temple with a big Happy Buddha!
- Visiting a cricket farm with the tasting included, YES Thomas tasted and YES Emma ran off!
- The visit of a silk weaving factory! Fascinating to see the process from A to Z and see the machines on the way!
- Visit a flower plantation and also a coffee plantation. It must be known that despite the altitude, Dalat is one of the main coffee producing areas in Vietnam!
After that busy day, it's time to have a good restaurant and then sleep, because the next day we go at 13h in the aftertoon to Mui Ne.
Only 5h bus to reach the "beach" resort Mui Ne. The city stretches on a long bay. Why "beach" in quotation marks, because it's not really the paradise of the beach, or at least we missed it. We arrive late at night and took a taxi to reach our hotel which was great with clean room, comfortable, nice staff, and very well located.
The big points of interest of Mui Ne is a gigantic sand dunes slightly inland, we arranged with the hotel a tour for the next morning, departure 4h30, to see the sunrise from the dunes, all for 2 EUR / pers!
So we have a quick dinner in a great place for tourists: Dong Vui Food Court, You can find everything there ! Delicatessen, French cheese, wine, Indian food, kebabs, Portuguese dishes ... great place! We will opt for a plate with Brie and Spanish cold cuts for 6 EUR!
The next day, so early alarm o'clock ! And big disappointment, we arrived somehow at the top of the white dune after paying twice the price of the tour, of course we only speak about 4-5 EUR / pers, for a 5 minutes ride in ATV quad to reach the summit, but the sun is hidden behind the clouds, bummer !
Right next after the white dunes, we visited the red sand dunes, which are closer to the city, then went to see the fishing port, impressive to see all these boats but not sure they all fish, looks more like a cemetery of boats !
Before returning to the hotel we stop at the "fairy river", a barefoot walk of 1km in the river (only a few inches of water the day we were there) to go up the river and discover the canyon. A slight resemblance with some Utah landscape, but at much smaller scale, red, white, yellow land, it's beautiful. It is only 11h in the morning and we are back to the hotel
That night, it's big football night in Vietnam, there is the final of the ASEAN Cup (a kind of Euro of South East Asia). The game is played in Hanoi, so much to tell you that the whole country is in front of the TV that night. We take the opportunity to find a restaurant projecting the game on the big screen and we enjoy drinking a few beers during the game. The first leg away ended on a 2-2 in Malaysia, so there was a big change that Vietnam was going to be sacred 10 years after their last victory! The end score is 1-0 for Vietnam, Malaysia loses, so they are champions! Parades in the streets of Mui Ne begin, the vuvuzelas are out! Big deal in Vietnam!
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
We spend only 2 nights there. There is a lot to see and do. For us it was a transit before leaving for Thailand. The only paid visit we did was the War Museum, which is a must for any visit to HCMC. The pictures galleries are sometimes atrocious and not suitable for a young audience, but it tells the story of Vietnam from the post-World War II until the opening to tourism in the ninetees with a particular focus on the seventees and the American invasion.
For the rest we wandered the streets and spent time in the Bến Thành market, seeing the Notre-Dame cathedral of Saigon, and our hotel was in the first district, on the bustling Bui Vien Street, so we We did not have much to walk to find food, drink and something to do.
Summary of Vietnam
- Hanoi, Dalat, Mui Ne
- Our unbeatten tracks outings in Cao Bang and Phong Nha
- The kindness of locals
- Emma's monkey bite, but nothing really serious
- Bus transportation sometimes chaotic
- Halong and Sapa, destinations suffering from mass tourism, and still being in the must do of any guides
- Beer everywhere: Saigon, Hanoi Bia, Ha Long, Larue in the center
- The red wine of Dalat, a bit better compared to Albanian wines!
We have less and less desire to follow the expenses on a daily basis, we are now aware after six months that we travel simply with some limits, we no longer use the application Expenditour to track expenses so it is difficult to report on it. But:
We spent the equivalent of 1434 EUR in Dong including 108 EUR + 60 EUR in various hospitals for the anti-rabies treatments of Emmanuelle
+ 436 USD (380 EUR) for Hanoi-HCMC open bus and the tours in Ha Long bay and Sapa
That is, a total of 1814 EUR for a budget of € 1,643.56 for 25 days.
However if we remove the EUR 160 hospital costs the budget seems respected!