I was in Vietnam for a long time and went through many cities, maybe too many. After Sapa I took a sleeper bus (and actually slept, I too was shocked) down to Ninh Binh, a city they call the Halong Bay of the Land.
By the time I arrived to my hotel in town I was extremely tired and flipping upset. Staying away from too much negativity, I had basically been disrespected and scammed to an extent that I felt quite unsafe and almost ready to leave the country. I have been traveling for a long time but after experiencing a few, well a lot of, ‘situations’ in Vietnam I was at the end of my rope. I can honestly say it felt as if all the locals I met hated me and wanted me out of the country, and I almost left! Luckily, I was staying in a private room in the city center of Ninh Binh. I arrived to my hotel and the owners were so kind, the nicest people I had met in all my time in Vietnam. I put myself together, because I’m an independent woman, so I went and rented a bicycle. Another mixed solo traveler reality – when I am upset, I have to completely depend on myself. However, this means that I am quite easy to forgive and forget which is a blessing in disguise!
I spent the afternoon biking around the whole city and the countryside taking in the beautiful views on my two wheels. Instantly, my stress dissipated and I was back to my joyful, solo gal self. People were telling the truth, hot dang, this place was gorgeous! My favorite sites included seeing the temple built into a mountain cave, hiking up to an extraordinary viewpoint, and biking through rice terraces. My friend from Australia joined me the next day and we went on a boat ride that took you through farmland and into caves. Quite an experience as we ducked our heads to avoid being smacked in the head by a cave wall. I truly understood why this is called the Halong Bay of Land as it was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. After a few days it was time to move on!
We decided to take a night bus to Phong Nha, seeing as our night bus from Sapa didn’t go that catastrophically. Welp, we were wrong. I barely slept and had to pee almost the whole night but there were no toilets on the bus. However, I must have gotten some sleep because Maddy told me that we were at one time stopped by the police to check driver registration! I have no memory of that. We arrived to the town at around four in the morning and I sleepily stumbled into the bunk bed of my hostel to sleep for a few hours. That day we decided to tour a nearby cave on a boat with a group of travelers we had met. We hired a boat and were taken into the cave and hiked around inside. It was amazing! After lunch we spent the rest of the day relaxing and eating.
The next day, I went on a motorbike (not driving, not there quite yet!) to tour the largest cave open to tourists, Paradise Cave. Wow. I used to think caves weren’t that impressive but this cave was insane! It was humongous and we were only allowed to see a small part. Side note: I did not have a helmet with an eye guard for riding the moto and was STRUCK twice in the eye by things I would like to remain anonymous. I never made this mistake again.
After our time in Phong Nha, we took the day (learned our lesson) bus to Hue, the old imperial city. Shamefully, I did not make it to the attraction of the city, the imperial city itself. We all have to make sacrifices sometimes and I chose mental health and relaxation over another tourist site. A girl can only take so much! The most important thing I did was book my easy rider tour through the Hai Van Pass for the next day. The Hai Van Pass is the road between Hue and Hoi An and is a must see. I went with an easy rider, a local guy who straps my bag onto a moto and drives me the six hours to Hoi An. It was amazing and maybe the most beautiful ride of my life.
Hoi An is really where my opinion of Vietnam started to turn around. This is where I finally started to feel comfortable in the country and not completely hated by the local people. It had gotten to a point where I was so suspicious of every local person trying to talk to me that I was a little jumpy, something that I am still coming down from. Hoi An is clothes central and most people get custom made clothes here. Sadly, I just bought something and did not get it custom made because $$ baby. I have already spent more money than expected in Vietnam (chica needs a break from those dorm rooms). Hoi An also has a beautiful beach and I spent a whole day swimming in the amazing waves with other travelers I had met. Those beaches had some of the most fun waves I have ever experienced! We did have a pretty freaky experience when we arrived to the beach and parked our bikes. A man literally screamed bloody murder and chased us to try to make us pay for parking, even though it’s free. Fight or flight…I was on my bike peddling away from the dang man faster than my friends could say “let’s find a different spot to park our bikes”. I had been in Vietnam long enough to know to just avoid, avoid, avoid.
The biggest tragedy of the trip also occured in Hoi An when a fellow traveler I had been traveling with stole money from me and also another in the hostel. I wasn’t hurt, I was pissed. I confronted them and they just avoided eye contact and told me I must have just misplaced it. Bloody bastard, karma will get you soon enough, I am sleeping well at night knowing this. I messaged my friend Maddy and she sweetly listened to me plot his demise over an expensive glass of wine under glowing lanterns next to the river. If this traveler is reading this right now, you should be ashamed of yourself.
Maddy and I decided to avoid the night bus and instead take a short flight down to Southern Vietnam, a more expensive but lovely decision. I think I finally understand what all the travel bloggers talk about when they say they have a love/hate relationship with Vietnam. The views are breathtaking, food is delicious, travel is cheap….but people can be brutal. Luckily, southern Vietnam was a complete change from the north!