On the 4th of November 2012, James and I boarded a plane to Hanoi (via Kuala Lumpur) and set off on our 3.5 month backpacking adventure. James had only ever been to Bali before and I had a few other countries under my belt, however this was our first independent adventure. We flew into Hanoi and spent roughly 3 weeks in each country, visiting Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand before heading home on January 29, 2013 from Bangkok.
In terms of budget, we spent $3500 each over the 3 months (including flights) and averaged our spending at $30 per day. We booked our accomodation a couple of days in advance for the first 4 weeks, however found that there were much nicer (and cheaper) options that weren’t listed online. Therefore, for the remaining 8 weeks we just showed up in the town and chose our hotel once there (which worked a lot better)! It also mean’t that we could stay with people we met along the way and we weren’t tied down in having to be in places by a certain date.
It was a fantastic trip and we had a lot of fun. We met some awesome people and couldn’t wait to go away again the next summer.
Anyway! As mentioned above, we began in Vietnam. The route we took is outlined on this map:
After flying into Hanoi we spent a few days enjoying the temples, the lake, the museums and all the Ho Chi Minh themed sights! We also watched a water puppet show which was entertaining. One downside was that when we arrived at the airport James’ backpack wasn’t there – we were starting to get worried after not hearing anything for 2 days but finally we got a call to say it had arrived. We never did find out where it had gone though!
From Hanoi, we made our way to Halong Bay where we had organised to do a 2 day/1night cruise. The bay itself is truly breathtaking and all the limestone karsts and the caves are incredibly impressive! Our boat was slightly more run-down than in the brochure but we didn’t really mind.
After heading back to Hanoi for the night we did a day trip down to Ninh Binh before catching the night bus to Hue (quick tip: don’t ever take the night bus in Vietnam… they’re uncomfortable and the driver played kareoke CDs super loudly throughout the entire night). The main attraction of Ninh Binh is a boat trip along the river and through some caves, rowed by the locals who row with their feet. It was very pretty scenery but there were heaps tourists which made it very overcrowded.
Hue was the first place on our trip where we hired a motorbike. We drove out to look at the many tombs that belong to past Emporers – they were amazing and it was one of the highlights of our time in Vietnam. We also had a look around the Imperial City however after it was bombed during the Vietnam War it was never fully rebuilt, so we had to use our imagination a little bit!
During our time in Hoi An we had a look around the Old Town and also drove a motorbike out to the My Son Champa Ruins. The ruins themselves were really impressive however our camera ran out of battery after only 30 minutes – it also started pouring rain as soon as we got there so we got absolutely soaked on the ride back. As everyone does in Hoi An, we also had some clothes tailor made. We ended up buying 1 full suit for James and 3 dresses for me however not without conflict! We went to 2 different shops and the quality of one of them was terrible so we didn’t want the clothes – no like no pay they said… yeah right! Finally after countless arguements we ended up buying the 2 crappily made dresses and leaving the suit. However we ended up with a fabulous suit and gown from Kimmy’s tailors!
Nha Trang turned out to be a bit disappointing. We had imaged a nice up-market beach destination however it was just dirty and over-run by obese members of the Russian Mafia (I won’t include the picture of the drowned rat we found on the beach…)! We only ended up staying for 1 day and the highlight was definitely the Oceanographic Museum.
Dalat was definitely the highlight of our time in Vietnam. The town was very pretty and was cooler as it was in the mountains, however we also went on a motorbike tour with Mr Rot for a day which was the most fun we had had yet! We drove through the mountains and stopped at various places before having lunch with his family and spending time with the ladies of the hill tribe village he grew up in. If you do anything in Vietnam it has to be this motorbike trip!
Spending time with the hill tribe ladies
Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon
James and I both found Ho Chi Minh City very interesting. By this point in our trip we had learned a lot about the Vietnam War (from both sides) so going to the museums, Reunification Palace and the Cu Chi Tunnels was awesome. We also both got to shoot an AK-47 which was pretty cool!
We decided to make our way into Cambodia via a 3 day/2 night Mekong River cruise. Apart from our tour guide being absolutely terrible, the actual sights themselves were quite nice. We went to a few different farms and workshops, saw a floating market and went to a cave pagoda all whilst quietly cruising along the river. After crossing the border into Cambodia we were put on a bus for the last few hours to Phnom Penh – once we were on the bus we realised we had never actually handed over any money in exchange for our visa, so we ended up getting it for free!
We crossed the border in Cambodia on November 28.