Noticed the blog’s gone a little quiet? Apologies for that! I’m currently on holiday in Vietnam and meant to create a ‘bye, I’m off, see you later’ post before leaving but things got a bit crazy with work and I didn’t have the time.
Before I jumped on the plane, I was a grey-coloured writhing ball of stress and had also picked up a bit of flu (flying with that was suuuuper fun) but all it took was copious amounts of OTC drugs and 24 hours of sun and saltwater to get me back on track.
Before leaving, I had a few people question me as to why I’d want to head off to Vietnam. I got the impression that their idea of the place is kind of patched to together via a million war movies and the TV show China Beach. (‘Memba that, 80s kids?!) So much so that I had more than one person warn me not to step on a land mine!
But here’s the deal – I’m hooked on heading east (Thailand is one of my favourite places in the world) and Vietnam, a lush, tropical paradise with white sandy beaches, is almost next door. It’s one of the few places where our bullshit rands really go the distance. Also, as it’s a rapidly developing country with a surging tourism industry, it makes for a pretty interesting mix.
In the bigger cities, you’ll find huge glossy malls (Gucci, Prada, Zara!) and five-star hotels sitting right next to a broke down mom n’ pop shop selling motorbike fuel in milk bottles. Think Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King (the prawn and cheese balls are epic!) and Starbucks all lined up in a row but with an old woman in a straw hat flogging pancakes on the pavement. In short, it’s an exciting place!
Anyway, if you want your first taste of the East, I recommend doing Thailand first. Thailand’s tourism industry is very well established so the whole business of getting in and out as well as getting whatever you want is completely seamless. Almost everyone you’ll encounter while in the tourist bubble will speak English and the things you’ll need (a SIM card… day tours to hot spots… transport…) will be served up to you on a silver platter with an orchid on it.
That’s not to say you won’t get these things in Vietnam. It’s just that here you might have to ask for directions to a laundry (possibly using google translate) whereas in Thailand you’ll find five to choose from right outside your hotel. Also, if you visit a place like Phuket (Thailand’s most popular island) you’ll find 70% of the people surrounding you are tourists, while in Phu Quoc (the Vietnamese island I’m on now) I feel like 70% of the people surrounding me are Vietnamese.
For those of you who’ve asked, my travel buddy (Karisa, she of Cape Town My Love) and I booked our trip ‘a la carte’ and didn’t get any type of package. We prefer flexibility and find it works out cheaper to do it on our own. Our flights were via Emirates (CT – Dubai – Ho Chi Minh) booked through travelstart as it was the cheapest option at the time of booking. If I remember correctly, it was about R13K, but you can find flights for less if you book in advance. Our trip was a bit off the cuff.
We then booked hotels via bookings.com and agoda.com as they’ve always got great deals on the go. Our resort (Famiana) was the most expensive at R681 per person per night and our next stop, The Royal Riverside Hotel in Hoi An, was about R330 per person per night but it looks even fancier pants than Famiana!
All the hotels we’ve booked have included breakfast, a pool and free Wi-Fi. Just like Thailand, Vietnam is super hooked up in the Wi-Fi department. It’s lightning fast and you’ll find it everywhere you go. Even the most rural-looking hut selling squid on a stick has Wi-Fi and the password is given freely if not plakked up on the wall. You literally just walk into a spot, hand over your phone and they’ll connect you in a flash with a smile.
We’ve been lucky in that all the people we’ve interacted with during our trip have been nothing short of delighted to help a tourist and I don’t want to be that doos who’s all ‘hashtag blessed!’ but I’d be lying if I didn’t say the kindness and patience we’ve encountered has been pretty humbling.
As far as internal travel goes, we decided to fly rather than take a bus or train to save time and found Vietjet was reasonable (think Mango prices), provided you don’t get sucked into adding a zillion extras like a specific seat, extra luggage or the option to be flexi. As far as domestic low-cost carriers go there are lots to pick from and you’ll find a nice list here.
The other pre-trip expense you’re looking at is the Visa which is R900 plus the cost of couriering your passport and papers to the embassy and back if you’re not in Pretoria.
P.S. Our itenary is as follows: We flew into Ho Chi Minh*, landed late and slept over before flying to where I am now – Phu Quoc (a little Vietnamese island just off the coast of Cambodia) for a little R&R. Tomorrow we’ll move on to Hoi An, the culture and foodie capital to shop and eat until we explode then head further up to Hanoi, the ‘real’ capital, that I keep thinking of as ‘the Jozi of Vietnam’. From Hanoi we want to take a day trip to Ha Long Bay (Google it, you’ll die from awesome) and, if we have time, take another trip to Sapa where all the rice paddies are. (Again, just Google it. More dying!)
*Ho Chi Minh is the new name for Saigon, in case you were wondering. We spent just one night and half a day there but it was gorgeous. So green! So clean! So ‘mod’ mixed with ‘old’. Walking around one tree-lined streets full of glossy shops and old world culture made me feel like I was in the NYC of the East. Also, we moved around on foot – both day and night – and felt super-duper safe. At 10/11pm the streets where still busy with people sitting out on the sidewalk drinking coffee while every teen in the world was zipping around on a light up hoverboard!