Vietnam: Up the coast to Nha Trang and Hoi An

The tourist trail is  fairly straight forward in Vietnam, you either start in Hanoi (in the north) or Ho Chi Minh (in the south) and make your way to the other city stopping at 2 or 3 locations along the coast.  They even have bus tickets allowing you to do this for about $35 which is amazingly cheap considering its about 36 hours and you can stop off for as long as you want. I decided not to complicate things and follow this route as it was tried and tested but instead of taking the bus which I’d heard some horror stories about I decided to try and get the more comfortable train as much as I could, despite it being about twice as expensive.

My first leg was the 8 hours from Ho Chi Minh to the seaside town of Nha Trang.  I arrived in the afternoon and got myself a room in the main hostel in town.  After a brief walk around I was surprised to see everything was first translated into English and then Russian; apparently this was a very popular holidaying spot for them and there were also some rumours about the Russian Mafia having a strong link with the city!

Apart from that the city has a long golden stretch of beach and several islands not far from the coastline.  But for me there was  just something not-quite-right with the city,  I think something to do with the disjointed layout.

One of the main draws of the Nha Trang is the boat trip around a few islands; and the hostel I stayed at had an offer of a free boat ride if you booked three nights there.   I snapped up the deal which turned out to be a massive error because it seemed as soon as I paid the money the heavens opened and it rained apocalypticly for the next three days due to a cyclone hitting the coast further south; meaning all boat trips (and any other fun activities) were cancelled!  Everyday I hoped the next day would bring sun but it never came.

So after twidling my thumbs for three days I decided to try and get a train ticket for the 12 hours further north to Hoi An where hopefully the weather would be better. It appeared a lot of other people had had this idea as well and the only seats available were hard seats which would have given me major bum-ache. So instead I opted for the dreaded sleeper bus.

The sleeper buses in South-East Asia are different to the buses I had been used to throughout Europe, the Americas and Oz/NZ etc.. in that you actually get a kind of pod which is almost flat but not really soft and not quite long enough for even the shorter of western bodies.  But you do get a blanket and pillow and sleep is not totally out of the question depending on the journey.

It rained all the time I was in Nha Trang so the camera didn’t come out much.   I did take a snap of these delicious looking cakes.  You could get one of the top row for just £3.90:

I don’t want to do the place an injustice as it is famous for being Vietnam’s top seaside resort so here’s what it looks like when the sun comes out:

Arriving in Hoi An early  in the morning it appeared the rain had followed me so after befriending a couple of southern lads on the journey we got a 3 person room and caught up on some sleep.

Hoi An is a really attractive old trading town that has a UNESCO world heritage site status.  It has a very ancient oriental feel to it as most of the architecture has been retained from the olden days. It’s famous for its monthly lunar festival where the centre become traffic-free and thousands of lanterns come out which is spectacular to see.  It’s also famous for its tailoring and it seems every other shop is flogging suits.  I heard the quality was very good and prices low but didn’t indulge as hopefully I won’t have much use for a suit in the next few years!

Hoi An central bridge:

One of the Chinese-style temples:

The Japanese bridge takes you to the original Japanese settlement:

The river by night:

On the second day I finally got to see the sun again after what seemed like a lifetime of rain (actually about 5 days) so I decided to hire a scooter and hit the beach which was about 7km away.   The beach was a beautiful white sandy one and the water was refreshing-but-not-too-cold and after a few hours of lazing around I went back to town.

Hoi An beach:

Mean machine:

I had befriended some Vietnamese guys the previous night so that night I went to one of their cousin’s birthday followed by some karaoke with the whole family in a private room (which is the style in Vietnam).  I was the only one singing English songs which nobody seemed to know!

The mum of the family that took me in ran a food stall selling meat-on-a-stick.  I got it for free 🙂

The next day the sun was out again so I decided to hit the beach with the Vietnamese guys.  I probably would have stayed in Hoi An for a bit longer but having not wanted to get caught out by the trains again I had booked my onward train ticket a couple of days earlier meaning I had to leave that night.  This ensured that I got a soft sleeping cabin and wouldn’t have to spend the 16 hours to capital Hanoi on a hard seat or on a sleeper bus.

My train wasn’t until 11.30pm from nearby city Da Nang and so luckily I got to see the lunar festival in full swing which just happened to be the night I was leaving.

Some Vietnamese ladies chat next to their lantern stall:

My camera was never going to give the beauty of the lanterns floating on the water any justice:

Lanterns for sale:


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. James Littlewood
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 17:26:28

    Sweet action, Dom. I went to Hoi An a few years back and it sounds like you found it exactly as I left it. It was probably my favourite Vietnamese town; quieter than the chaos of Hanoi and Saigon and less destroyed than Hue. My only regret about Viet Nam was not getting on the train, but taking the plane instead. Something about it being around Thet and everyone going on holiday, but fairly sure I got ripped off. That happened a lot…

    Seems like you’re heading North, so make sure you get to the ‘snake town’ near Hanoi, but agree the price of the snake before accepting the lift to the town, cos there’s no way you’d get back to Hanoi if you didn’t pay the asking price!


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