After four wonderful days in Hoi An, we boarded an overnight train for Nha Trang, Vietnam’s beach resort capital. We decided to really splurge in Nha Trang and stay in the 5-star seaside Best Western. Spending $100 CND per night was a bit hard considering we’d had very comfortable accommodation thus far for only $30 CND, but the hotel was truly luxurious with its beautiful outdoor pool area and massive breakfast buffet (with western options like bacon, baked beans and waffles with (wait for it…) maple syrup!).
Our first day in Nha Trang was spent mostly recovering from a crappy sleep on the overnight train. That said, sleeping on a sunlounger by the pool was not entirely inconsistent with our plans for Nha Trang (it was simply to windy to sleep on a lounger at the beach).
On day two, we rented a motorbike and drove to Doc Let beach, a supposedly quiet stretch of sand about 50km north of the city. When we arrived at the beach we were asked to pay about $2.50 each to park the motorbike and access the beach via a decrepit resort. While not necessarily a scam, we didn’t feel well compensated for our $5 – it didn’t even include a lounge chair! In hindsight we should have found another beach access point. The beach itself was nice, but again it was just too windy (and chilly) to roll out the towel, so after a little exploring we jumped back on our motorbike. Instead of stopping back in Nha Trang, we drove another 20km further south to check out a resort (Hotel Mia) that we had actually booked for our honeymoon (which we canceled once we decided to go to Belize rather than Vietnam). At Hotel Mia we snacked on tapas, drank a pint, enjoyed the view, and daydreamed about what staying at this secluded place would have been like (definitely not in the budget for this trip!). With the sun setting, we headed back to Nha Trang – although our day at the beach was a bit of a bust, the drive along the coast and through the countryside was really enjoyable.
On our third day in town, Patrick went scuba diving (for only 55 bucks!) and Ashley enjoyed some more R&R at the hotel pool. Unfortunately we never ended up having really hot weather conducive to beach resort activities. Our final “activity” in Nha Trang was staying out until the late evening / early morning to watch Canada beat the US in the men’s hockey semifinal – there was a healthy number of other Canadians on hand to keep the celebrations going quite late. In the end, we wouldn’t consider Nha Trang to be a necessary stop on a tour through Vietnam. The city itself lacked any real character or substance – it is simply a city that serves the primarily wealthy Russian and Chinese tourists looking for a bit of sun on their backs.
From Nha Trang, we took a bus inland to Dalat – a beautiful city nestled in the hills. With only one full day in Dalat, we spent the day on a “secret” motorbike tour of the countryside that was organized by our hotel.** So on our own scooters, along with our guide for the day and one other couple, we set out on a ride that took us through some beautiful landscapes and smaller villages that were mostly off the tourist trail. Along the way, we stopped at a cricket farm for a quick snack, visited some beautiful waterfalls and chatted with some members of an indigenous hill tribe – all in all, a great day visiting some of the lesser seen parts of Vietnam.
After Dalat, we bused to Saigon, Vietnam’s most populous city with over 7 million people. Although Saigon was actually renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the reunification of Vietnam in the 70s, most people in the south still use the city’s old name. Saigon is a city of contrasts: old versus new, rich versus poor, chic versus plain and Western versus Asian – truly a city with it all. And although there was always a flurry of activity, Saigon never felt overwhelming.
Besides just walking around or sitting on a sidewalk patio and absorbing the wonderful craziness that is Saigon, we also hit two noteworthy tourist attractions. First, we visited the War Remnants Museum which contains numerous exhibits about the war in Vietnam. The pictures of children that to this day still suffer birth defects as a result of the use of agent orange were particularly difficult to look at. Second, we did a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels that are located about 30km from Saigon. Cu Chi’s extensive network of tunnels helped the Viet Cong evade the US military during the war and, ultimately, was an important factor in the north’s victory. Crawling through a 40m long section of the tunnels (which had actually been widened for tourists) really helped us appreciate how difficult it would have been to live underground (in some cases for months on end).
Saigon proved to be an excellent way to end our month in Vietnam. Overall, Vietnam was a fantastic place with diverse landscapes, rich culture and friendly people – what a great way to start the “Asia leg” of our trip.
**The Villa Pinkhouse in Dalat runs the “secret tour” for those looking for something different than an Easy Rider tour.