Vietnam

Guide: Twirling Through South East Asia

South East Asia is a magnet for backpackers and for good reason. It’s very cost effective; your budget doesn’t need to be royal to be treated like royalty. It’s full of fascinating places that can keep you occupied for months. It’s easy to get around with a strong network of buses. And lastly, it’s surprisingly approachable as there is a strongly developed tourism industry that caters to English speakers. We spent 100 days moving through the region focusing on mostly the four mainland destinations of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos and we absolutely loved it. To help others plan their south east asia trip, we have put together this sample itenerary which captures a number of highlights (we aren’t arrogant to claim that you’ll see all the highlights as everyone has a different opinion) and included our budget numbers and other helpful tips on getting the most out of your south east asia experience. While you could do this trip in 45 days or so, you would be moving at just an incredibly frantic pace. We would suggest something closer to what we did (around 75 days or so) is the minimum you need to do something like this. More time is certainly a bonus and would not be wasted. Where To Go: A Visual Walk Through Want to see our full destination list? Expand to see more --> When To Go We visited the region between November and February which is the driest time and in our minds, the best. Most of the places we visited would be considered warm to hot at that time of year with the one...

Travel Budget: Vietnam by the Numbers

$38.00 US per day gets you comfortably from the streets of HCMC in the south all the way north to Hanoi. You’ll eat at local restaurants, have private rooms and take a great cruise around the world famous Ha Long Bay.

Tips to Survive the Vietnam Sleeper Buses

The trifecta of mass transit – flight, train and bus – are all available to you in Vietnam. While the first is easily the fastest, it is also by far the most expensive. Trains may be available to you depending on your destination. If neither of the first two options are available and you want cheap travel, you are on the bus. The sleeper buses in Vietnam are relatively new. But that doesn’t make them luxurious. They are a three row, two level reclining chair affair. If you find yourself on these buses, here are a few tips that may be helpful. Stick to the Windows There is basically zero on board storage room. Whatever you bring on the bus either sites in your lap or at your feet. The middle aisle lacks the advantage of a firm wall to press bags against. Avoid it. Seek out the Front Seats for Leg Room Most seats stick their legs underneath the passenger in front of them. This means that you get little foot room. That is, except for the very front row which allows for more leg room. A full six foot passenger can actually stretch out in the front two window seats. Bring Your Standard Airplane Gear Most long haul buses go overnight so don’t forget your usual gear. Earplugs, eye shade, contact lens case, etc. Bring Snacks You may not stop as often as you expect or eat when you want. Bring snacks to avoid being hungry.  The bus may provide some water but don’t plan on it. Wear Something Warm While the bus will provide a blanket,...

Hanoi to Vientiane – ‘Bus from hell’ is more like purgatory

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a traveller undertaking a tortuously long bus journey must be in want of a few marbles and in possession of a good deal of patience and humour. “Patience and humour. Patience and humour.” I repeat to myself as we steel ourselves for the oncoming 24 hour endurance feat to Laos. As promised, we are picked up at 5pm at our guesthouse. Although picked up is perhaps not the right phrase as we’re led away on foot along with a troop of Korean tourists like a brood of chicks through the narrow lanes of Hanoi and deposited on the side of a street. Half an hour of bewilderment passes by before a minibus finally arrives to collect us. The minibus then proceeds to meander for an hour through sludge-like Hanoi traffic before depositing the lot of us near something resembling a bus station. And then the script gets a bit strange. The folks heading to Luang Prabang are led away and those heading to Ventiane are told to get back on the same minibus they had just stepped off. But rather than taking us to the bus, we are driven to some sort of residential area with high-rise apartments and a few lonely cafes and once again asked to wait by the side of the road. It’s now 7:00 pm. Two hours in and we’re still in Hanoi. Ok I say to myself. Patience. Humour. Our tourist hearder now tells us that the bus will be here at 7:30 pm. We drop our bags on the pavement and wait. And wait. And wait. Every few...

Enter the Dragon: Halong Bay, Vietnam

Islands puncture the green waters like dragon teeth, stretching high above my head. Pointy canines, massive molars and expansive incisors complete the jaw. Some are bare while others are covered in vegetation like the remains of some ancient meal. Rock surfaces are stained yellow in parts, deep scratches carving diagonally along their sides. Our tour boat, a guppy in the mouth of this beast, casually swims with a school of others from tooth to tooth. Despite the crowd, silence mercifully dominates the audio landscape. I listen attentively, imagining the winds that wash over me to be the breath of the creature that now holds us in its mouth. Welcome to Halong Bay, Vietnam. We stop along one of the more impressive molars to inspect dental needs. What is revealed behind the few trees and rocks is stunning. A massive cavity has eaten away, forming echo filled caverns that reach some hundred feet overhead. The cave walls are in parts smooth and in others like fossils. The ceiling is strikingly different; more like the surface of the moon than the earth. Green, blue and yellow lights illuminate the walls and pockets as we explore. The cave’s name, ‘Surprising’, was coined by the French who found it in the early 1900s. Unimaginative as the name is, it’s accurate, but ignores the beauty of the space. The name ‘Ha Long’ meaning ‘Descending Dragon’ is much more evocative; the locals seems to have more flare for the dramatic than the French in this matter. Susana called it ‘Enter the Dragon’ to steal the title of the legendary Bruce Lee movie. At night, sitting...

Humour: My 5 Step Action Plan for Financial Freedom and Getting Struck by Traffic in Vietnam

Have you ever dreamed of the financial freedom that comes from being hit in a traffic accident and suing the bastard that hit you? I know I sure have! But until recently, my dreams of broken limbs and health insurance fraud seemed so distant. North America was full of cautious drivers, clearly marked roads and well paved surfaces. Getting hit by some inattentive millionaire driving a Mercedes seemed like a mission impossible reserved for Tom Cruise.And then I travelled to Vietnam. Let me tell you, when I took my first steps on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, I swear I could hear the screeching tires of ambulance chasers everywhere. Hell, during rush hour, I didn’t even need to stick a leg out into the street to risk it, the motorbikes came to me! Right there on the sidewalk! You can imagine my excitement.  I read before coming that Vietnam experiences 30,000 injuries a year due to motor accidents. I wanted a piece of the action! The deal was sealed when I went to dinner the other night and had to pay 150,000 for rice and some chicken. For dinner! Everyone around here must be millionaires to afford this. I immediately moved my lawyer’s number up to 2 on my speed dial. So, after watching some foreigners take it on the chin crossing the street, I quickly put together my 5 step action plan on how to get run over in Vietnam while crossing the street. Here it is: Wear black. Jeans and dark rain jackets are best. Avoid reflective surfaces. When wading into traffic by foot, walk...

Dark, Damp and Deadly. The Tunnels of Cu Chi, VIetnam

It must have been terrifying. Entombed in constant darkness of the tunnel, slowly crawling inch after agonizing inch, hands outstretched feeling for any clue of a trap. There were of course countless to look out for. The Viet Cong were creative and effective in their trap building. Home made grenades made of coke cans. Vipers stuffed in bamboo rods hanging from the roof. Hornets nests. Fake walls with Charlie waiting behind, spear in hand, peering through a peep hole. Countless nests of spiders and dens full of scorpions. The life of the Tunnel Rats – the proud, slightly insane men that explored and occasionally found the enemy in the tunnels of Vietnam – was the most danger filled and least glamorous of the US soldiers that fought in Vietnam. It took something special to work the tunnels. Most men wouldn’t dare go down them. Or couldn’t. They were designed to be not much wider than the slender Viet Cong guerillas that plied them and barely three feet tall. Walking a hundred yards, forget exploring the miles and miles that existed in Cu Chi, was exhausting work. You broke out immediately in a sweat in the tunnels should you dare to go down in them. If Charlie wasn’t waiting to spear you in the groin when you first entered, there were often claymore mines or grenades made from coke cans. The claustrophobia was crippling for most. Even those that proudly wore the badge of the Tunnel Rats sometimes broke down from the mental anguish of being constantly in danger. Shashin Error:No photos found for specified shortcode Exploring the tunnels was...

Visiting The Sand Dunes of Mui Ne, Vietnam

Driving down the coast of Mui Ne in our bare bones jeep, the trees to my right open up to reveal the bay below. Basic life boats and larger fishing vessels bob in the waters. The popular and purpose built round boats used for fishing always amuse me. Watching a fisherman try to paddle a round boat gracefully always makes me laugh at the futility of it all. We continue along the winding road passing slow peddling school children on bikes and kite surfer dudes on motorcycles with t-shirts that read ‘Wind F*ucking Forever’. From The Sand Dunes of Mui Ne, Vietnam The metal plate beneath my feet starts to heat up. We haven’t been on the road for more than 30 minutes and already the engine feels exhausted. It’s impossible to tell how fast we are going since the speedometer, like all other gauges on the dash, is reading dead zero. We must have traveled some 30 km by now. And then, cresting over a hill, the ocean turns to a sea of sand dunes. We had reached our destination: the sand dunes of Mui Ne, Vietnam. From The Sand Dunes of Mui Ne, Vietnam Our driver turns to me, his Top Gun aviator glasses (bought no doubt exactly because they are Top Gun aviator glasses) reflecting my image and says in the kind of perfect English one acquires from saying the same dozen English sentences for the past 5 years: “We stop here for one hour”. Approaching the foot of the dunes, an eager crowd of kids await us. They have the thing of grown men’s dreams:...

Touring the War Remnants Museum of Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam has a long history of throwing out colonial and imperial forces. Most famous is the Vietnam War of the American imagination. But even before the Americans, Vietnam had to throw off the colonial French, finally doing so in the victory at Dien Bien Phu. In the process of defeating first the French then Americans, a lot of artifacts of war were left behind. A few of them can be seen now in the War Remnants museum in Ho Chi Minh city. The museum is a three story building displaying mostly photographs inside and the heavier stuff like field guns, tanks, helicopters and fighter jets outside. The photographs are split into various sections visually telling the history of the wars, those that supported Vietnam during the struggles, and most disturbing of all, the effects that chemical warfare – particularly the use of Agent Orange – had on the population. Pictures of deformed babies and children are shocking here. While neither Susana nor I are American, there is something to learn here for everyone. The Vietnam war stands as a testament of military overconfidence, political miscalculations and the viciousness of man.  Canada, our home country, is increasingly engaging more and more in military conflicts in an effort to “punch above our weight class”. Walking through the museum, Canada may wish to reconsider such a...