The cities of Southern Vietnam
Choosing to visit Qui Nhon the day before we arrived, we had no idea what to expect from this beach town. Qui Nhon is just big enough to be called a city but small enough to still feel quaint. It offers wonderful beaches and has a laid-back charm as it hides off of the Vietnam tourist radar.
We didn’t explore outside of the city, except for driving up to a viewpoint, because the city had more than we needed. We ate at two authentic Vietnamese restaurants that only served one dish each, but of course made them to perfection. The first place served vermicelli bowls and the other specialized in Vietnamese pancakes. They are as authentic and delicious as it gets. We could only find one western style restaurant, which shows the lack of tourist influence in the area.
Two different evenings the three of us enjoyed hanging out on the beach while watching the sunset. On both occasions multilple groups of locals showed up to play soccer on the sand about an hour before it became dark. It was fun to watch them play as the sun set behind the hills.
We only spent one day and two evenings while in the tourist haven of Nha Trang. The city offers miles of beaches, expensive restaurants and a plethora of over-sized, blinged out hotels. Besides a few Vietnamese restaurants I couldn’t find an ounce of Vietnamese influence or culture.
That’s not to say we didn’t go out and have a good time. That evening we met up with our new buddy Matt for dinner and ended up at the Why Not bar later for foosball and billiards.
The following evening we found a brewery within walking distance and were able to sample some good beers (no IPA).
Dalat – the flower city
Dalat offers an incredible amount of activities to keep one busy, no matter what your taste. Known as the flower city, Dalat has farms, greenhouses and terraced countryside that surround the city. Markets day and night are also easy to find, offering local foods, handicrafts and of course, flowers. Just outside of Dalat we found beautiful pagodas, lakes and waterfalls.
Our second night in Dalat we met Matt for dinner but he too picked up a couple new friends. Elena and Denise a brother/sister travel duo from Russia. Matt met them in Nha Trang and they traveled to Dalat by scooter together. All six of us at the dinner having conversations over each other reminded me how much fun it is to be with a group of people. Before parting from dinner we invite Matt, Elena and Denise to join us the next day on a scooter ride out to Elephant falls. After an amazing family style breakfast at our hotel we were ready to head out.
The one hour ride outside of town was filled with beautiful farming crops, greenhouses and small villages. As we made our way along the windy road the sun was beaming down on us as I reflected on how fun it is to meet new people. Our initial motor bike gang of just Jim, Jolene and I had turned to six!
The parking lot for the waterfall came out of nowhere! It didn’t look like there was much of a river around to create some spectacular waterfall. We paid the entrance and parking fee which was probably $1 and started walking towards a railing and cliff. Out of nowhere was this muggy colored, powerful waterfall!!! We continued down a stairway path so we could get closer to the bottom. The path consisted of rock steps, then medal steps and a railing that looked liked they would collapse at anytime. Parts of the railing looked Frankenstein’d together because it broke at one point. We spent maybe 45 min. discovering the area, took some pictures and were on our way.
Lihn Phuoc Pagoda
Before heading back to our hotel we visited Lihn Phuoc Pagoda. The initial feeling when we drove up was overwhelming. Four separate structures all decorated using mosaic tiles.
The multi colored pieces made it hard to focus on just one area. It was amazing! Inside some of the temples and pagoda were HUGE Buddha statues! As we entered the pagoda, a spiral staircase took us to the top floor. From the top are beautiful views of the greenhouse filled farm land and city. We spent some more time exploring the complex and then said our goodbyes to Elena and Dennis.
After seeing the pagoda we headed back to our hotel to get in the HOT TUB! Matt joined us a short time after. While hot tubbing we met some very nice people! John from California and two women from Australia. As we chatted away, we ended up inviting John to join us for dinner and the Australian women wanted to meet up for drinks later. John suggested an Vietnamese BBQ place he had eaten at the night before.
The dinner spot was an outside pop-up restaurant as I call them, near Da Lat’s night market. Just a bunch of “squatty” chairs and tables no higher than your knees, set up each day to create a seating area. As we pursued the menu we ended up ordering 5 different things and sharing. They brought out a clay pot with hot coals and a wire rack over the top. This was our cook top! Some of the things we ordered were already cooked, others we had to cook ourselves. It was a great day of meeting new people, trying new foods and exchanging life stories over drinking a beer!
We rolled into Mui Ne with Matt in tote and I remember thinking this isn’t much of a beach town. It has the same characteristics of the beach towns back home. Smelled of ﬁsh, lots of ﬁshing boats and it consisted of one long strip of road. Little did we know what Mui Ne had in store for us. After a good nights rest we found a place right on the beach called Pogos for breakfast. This place is important because we spent a lot of time there! It was also the ﬁrst place that actually served ﬂuffy, buttery, reminded me of home PANCAKES with actually syrup! Every country’s version of pancakes is different and none of them served theirs with syrup.
After our delicious breakfast we headed to Fairy Stream just five minutes down the road. Once there we parked our bikes under an awning made of fern leaves piled on top of each other. It wouldn’t keep our bikes completely dry but if it rained it was better than nothing. We headed towards the steps leading to the stream, took our shoes off and entered the ankle high red colored water. As we hiked through the stream we were surrounded by a canopy of beautiful vegetation. Huge leaves stretched over the stream trying to reach you. About 300 feet down, the stream opens up with farmland on one side and a red dirt cliff on the other. Lining the stream are sand pillars hardened by water over time. They reminded me of towers on some of the temples or palaces we’ve seen.
We passed numerous vendors selling drinks and food with tables and chairs set up in the stream. About 1/2 a mile up stream was a small waterfall. Above it the stream continued and the area surrounding it turned into private farm land. That was our cue to turn back.
During the hike back it started raining. Not just raining, monsoon rain!!! We took shelter at the nearest cafe along the the stream. It was a nice open air cafe with a gazebo on a small pond surrounded by tropical trees and some super sweet dogs roaming around. I thought we stumbled across a really peaceful little place and then out of nowhere, there it was, the SNAKE VODKA! Dispensers ﬁlled with vodka infused with different snake parts and ﬂuids! Some ﬂavors for men and some only for women.
Matt, Jolene and Jim thought when in Rome I guess. I offered to be the photographer to document this moment of pure disgust! The guy working there poured the shots and one, two, three, down it went! After a couple minutes to recover it was suggested we walk around the small zoo behind us. A zoo and snake vodka at a cafe along a stream….. why not! We walked through the small zoo consisting of crocodiles, birds, a squirrel looking little guy and porcupines. Once the rain subsided we continued on the hike back to our bikes. All of us a little bafﬂed but amused at what just happened!
That night we returned to Pogos for dinner. The same very attentive bartender from breakfast was still working. We found out his name is Greg from Poland. He’d been traveling like us but took a break to work a bit. Displayed on a wall of the bar was a bio and photographs taken by a traveler. The pictures caught my eye so I read the bio. It describes their love for travel, where they’ve been and hope to go. They also mention being an amateur photographer but the pictures were stunning. They try to make extra money by accepting donations for their pictures. At the end of the bio it’s signed Greg, our bartender! Jim and I picked out some pictures, talked to Greg about his travels and felt privileged to carry a little piece of his experience.
The night continued with playing some pool and sitting on the edge of the retaining wall by the beach, feet dangling over the edge. All of us perfectly content watching the white caps in the darkness and listening to the sounds of the waves. Some crashing against the wall getting our feet wet. It was the perfect ending to the day.
The following morning was spent by going back to Pogo’s for more delicious breakfast and it was close to noon before we managed to get back to the hotel. If being lazy was our goal, we definitely succeeded that morning. After we got our act together we headed to the beach, since we hadn’t even seen it yet. I was impressed at the size of the waves, much larger than any we had seen in Vietnam and there were quite a few people surfing on them.
That afternoon we explored the area some more and eventually went back to swim at our hotel. Later on Matt and Jojo left to get massages and after they returned we left for dinner. It started raining so we hailed a cab and after we got settled, the driver started playing “I love cheap thrills” as loud as the stereo would go. Of course, Tash and Jojo were singing loudly and dancing to the music all the way to the restaurant. After we got out it dawned on me that was the first vehicle we had been in, in over a month!!
After dinner we went to Pogos for one last time. Matt and I decided it was a good time to each buy a bucket…. a bucket of a cocktail (don’t judge). We had a good time conversing, playing pool and watching the waves crash against the concrete wall.
Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)
Ho Chi Minh is pretty much everything I thought it would be. It’s a sprawling city that would probably take a month’s time to feel as though I had seen it all. With only a couple days in HCM, we got a very basic glimpse of the metropolis. The first evening was consumed with selling back our motorcycles, finding a nearby restaurant and getting some sleep. So, with one day to explore the city our first stop was to visit the intersection where the Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc gave his life for a bigger cause. The memorial showed the history of his life and why he sacrificed it for his people.
War Remnants Museum
Later Matt met back up with us and we visited the War Remnants Museum. It contains numerous tank, airplanes and weapons used in the Vietnam War (American War is what the Vietnamese call it). It also documented the horrific POW camps where the South Vietnamese tortured their own people. After ten minutes of looking at gruesome pictures and explanations of other ways that torture took place, I decided not to look at anymore
We decided to check out the 861 foot tall Bitexco Financial Tower and had a couple drinks on the 50th floor Skydeck. The tower is ranked as one of the top five most iconic towers in the world and one of the tallest in Vietnam.
The rest of our last night in Vietnam was spent relaxing and hanging out for one last time with our new friend Matt. He promised to come visit us in Phuket and I’m going to hold him to it!
There always seems to be a strange feeling when you realize that you might never see a place again. After being in Vietnam for an entire month, I can truly say that I am going to miss it!