Backpacking Vietnam (Part 2) (Episode 5)

In this podcast, Matt and I talk about the last part of our backpacking excursion through Vietnam. We left off at Da Nang city last time and starting with Hue in this one. In this episode, we talked about: 

  • Hue and why we personally very much disliked it and its unique food
  • Why we didn't explore much of Hue
  • Phong Nha, a national park in Vietnam known for its caves
  • Our exploration without a tour guide into a less popular cave named The Phong Nha cave (how convenient!) and how we got there
  • The spectacular views on the boat ride there, inside the cave, and back
  • How Matt and I got someone kicked off of a sleeper bus
  • Our bus ride to our next destination, Ninh Binh, and how we arrived three hours earlier than we expected-- at 3 AM
  • One of the greatest AirBNBs we'd ever stayed at and some of the greatest food we'd ever had
  • Our boat ride through Trang An, it's most popular attraction, and how it completely blew us away
  • Poor Matt's sudden diarrhea while on a row boat in Trang An and how he magically found a toilet in the middle of a jungle! 
  • The breath-snatching nature just a five-minute walk from our AirBNB
  • Hanoi and the backpacker area 
  • Our one-day tour of Halong Bay and why it disappointed us a bit
  • Kayaking on Halong Bay and discovering yet another cave
  • Some of the greatest sandwiches we ever had in our lives in Hanoi
  • A night out with a couple of new people we met

Thank you for reading/listening! If you'd like to know more about our backpacking adventure and see some spectacular pictures, just scroll down to the blog post!

If you missed Part 1 of our adventure, check it out here!

Cheers!

Wine: Viña Albali - Tempranillo (Spain) 


 

Hue

We arrived to Hue at around six in the evening. Our first impressions of the city? Big, hot, and crowded. The main reason that we wanted to head to Hue was for the food. According to what people had told us previously, Hue has a different style of food. This was due to the fact that the emperor during Hue's heyday demanded the best food be given to him and his people. So, the recipes had been handed down from generation to generation and the food continues to be unique to the city to this day.

That night, we went to a Korean-style restaurant and tried Banh Khoai (a Hue-style savory pancake), sausage, and spring rolls. The food was relatively good!

The following day, we went through the blazing heat (a whopping 130 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity!) to try a place that specialized in Hue-style food that our AirBNB host from Da Nang recommended. We tried some food items special to Hue and honestly, they all sucked. It was cold, had little flavor, and most of it had a gooey texture that we were just not into!

 Banh Beo (right) and Cha Tom (left)

Banh Beo (right) and Cha Tom (left)

 Ram It (I actually likes these a bit)

Ram It (I actually likes these a bit)

 The best one: Banh Khoai!

The best one: Banh Khoai!

When leaving the restaurant, we saw a restaurant right across the street with the same name as the restaurant we went to! So, we might have gone to the wrong restaurant. Considering it was terrible, I would say we definitely did. 

During our stay in Hue, we honestly didn't do too much. We stayed in our hotel in the air conditioning most of the time because it was just too blisteringly hot!

Phong Nha

Phong Nha is a national park with a number of large caves. When we arrived there, we instantly noticed how much cleaner the air was and how open the little town there was. It was basically just one street of buildings, like hotels and restaurants, with a good number of foreigners. Not as many as other places we had gone to, so that was great!

 The view from outside our hotel window

The view from outside our hotel window

The following day, we went to the Phong Nha cave because it was cheaper than the others and it was less of a touristy way to get to the cave as well. We took a Vietnamese boat with a Vietnamese family, and it was such a beautiful ride! We were riding on a turquoise stream surrounded by these towering mountains. It was honestly better than the cave itself!

When we arrived to the cave, we noticed that it was dark (duh) and so cool. It was such a nice break from the heat outside! We were able to walk around a bit and see some amazingly huge stalactites that were purposefully illuminated with various colors by lights. 

We ended up leaving Phong Nha that night. We got on a bus at around nine at night that we pre-paid for and Matt didn't have a seat when we got on it! The bus driver took off without even noticing/caring that Matt lacked a seat! We yelled at him to stop and let us off because he was not about to spend a nine-hour ride standing up! But, they ended up stopping the bus and kicking off some random Vietnamese woman and her child, probably because she didn't have a ticket, and we were right as rain.

Ninh Binh

The time we were supposed to arrive, and the time we told our AirBNB homestay host, was six in the morning. However, our bus let us off with a few others at three in the morning! We were all shocked and left scrambling in this small and dark city. We were able to magically contact our AirBNB host and he said it was fine for us to come early (luckily)-- and we didn't even have to pay for an extra night! We (eventually) made it to his house in pretty much the boondocks with the aid of a very lost and confused non-English-speaking taxi driver. 

After sleeping for a few hours, our host and his wife kindly made us a buffet of Vietnamese food for breakfast/lunch! It was honestly one of the greatest meals we have ever had! We had so many delicious and well-prepared food options and we simply couldn't get enough!

Afterwards, we headed to the main attraction in Ninh Binh, which was about a thirty-minute cab ride from our homestay. We took a boat rowed by a Vietnamese women using only her feet through some of the most beautiful scenery in our backpacking experience. 

During our boat ride through Ninh Binh, Matt's stomach started acting up! So guess what happened? You won't be able to! We had to pull over and Matt ran into the wilderness. When he returned, he somehow had a smile on his face because he managed to find a toilet in the middle of the woods! How convenient!

When we returned to the homestay, we walked around and saw even more beautiful scenery! 

We later got another buffet-like dinner with some homemade and very pungent and strong alcohol! We drank and ate heavily with our AirBNB hosts and it was one of our favorite meals throughout all of our travels!

The next morning, we had yet another ridiculously delicious buffet-like breakfast, but this time we got to enjoy it with a guy from Scotland and a woman from Australia. It was a lovely breakfast of course, but it was nice to have some real and deep conversations with complete strangers who had similar life views with us. 

Hanoi

After an hour and a half ride on a local "bus," or like a minivan, we arrived in Hanoi. We stayed at a "fancy" hotel in the backpacker area of Hanoi, which was actually a nice area. It was tight with a good amount of people, but it had everything we needed around us, which was great!

We booked a tour with the same tour group we had been using throughout our backpacking excursion and headed to Halong Bay the following day!

Halong Bay

After a three-hour bus ride, we arrived at the famous Halong Bay! We stepped onto an unsurprisingly dingy boat and were served some not-so-tasty food. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day, so the scenery wasn't quite what we thought it would be. 

We kayaked out of a fishing village and around a small area, which was actually really nice! It was so quiet, peaceful, and beautiful.

We got back onto our boat and went to yet another cave! It was a beautiful cave, but there was a ridiculous amount of tourists! 

After the cave, we headed back to the dock and then headed back to Hanoi!

Hanoi (again)

We returned to Hanoi around dinner time and had some seriously amazing paninis at this tiny panini place on the backpacker street! The had Cuban, Italian, Spanish, and other various (and decadent!) panini flavors! I'm unable to find it online, but if you go to the backpacker area in Hanoi, it'll be there and you should definitely give it a try!

That night, we decided to go out to a club or a bar. We went to a club at first that played really crappy techno, so we left there pretty fast. We then went to the bar next door and ended up spending the rest of the night with an incredibly friendly Australian couple we met there!

The following day, we cut our trip a little short and skipped out on Sapa, which was apparently a gorgeous place in the North of Vietnam. We were tired, we felt that we saw enough of Vietnam, and also felt our wallets draining, so we just wanted to head back to Ho Chi Minh City.


Backpacking through Vietnam was easily one of the most rewarding and incredible experiences of our lives! We've even talked about doing it again we loved it so much.


Would you ever backpack through Vietnam? Where would you go? Where wouldn't you go?


Wine: Viña Albali - Tempranillo (Spain) 
(We accidentally also drank this same wine in Podcast 3. Oops!) 

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