336 Hours in Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh ⌲ Mekong Delta ⌲ Nha Trang ⌲ Hanoi ⌲ Halong Bay ⌲ Sapa

I remember going through a magazine and seeing a photo of these limestone islands serenely established on beautifully emerald water. Skimming through the description, it was mentioned that these islands are located on the North of Vietnam.

“That’s in Vietnam?” I had to ask myself several times before convincing myself where those beautiful islands are located in that country. Without hesitation, my good friend, Josh, and I booked our flights the following week and made our way to Vietnam.

After what felt like the longest flight of my life, we finally landed in the city of Ho Chi Minh. And oh my, it was busy. Scooters were coming from every direction we looked. Every time we crossed the road, it felt like walking into a death trap. You have to basically close your eyes and hope for the best.

We walked around the city looking for places to photograph but nothing in the urban environment inspired me. And I must admit, photographing cities is very challenging to me.

The next day, we made our way to Mekong Delta. I had heard good stories about it as it is home for its coconut candy and vast maze of rivers. This was exactly what I experienced upon arriving.

Mr. Pahn, a local tour guide took us to his favourite places when he was a kid. We paddled a small boat through the swamps before arriving at his old home. His friends welcomed us with gratitude by offering us local foods while listening to their traditional music.

Already captivated with Vietnam, we headed our way up north and made a stop in the city of Nha Trang, where I got really burnt every time I was exposed to the sun. We wanted to blend in with the locals and experience the busy streets, so we rented mopeds for the day which cost us around 200,000 Vietnamese dong (apprx. $11).

Full tank in our mopeds, we drove 27kms out of the city to avoid the busy tourist locations. Driving through the rural area is how you will truly experience the beauty of Nha Trang. The palm trees, the smell of local foods and experiencing culture with the local people is what made me enjoy my stay at this place.

Continuing on with our adventure, we carried on up north, enroute to the limestone islands. We made a quick stop in Hanoi before catching a bus to Halong city. After three hours had passed, the island began to reveal itself to me amongst the mist. With excitement I woke up Josh from his nap. We both skimmed through the bus window and as the fog was clearing up the limestone island became crystal clear.

Upon arriving at Halong bay, we caught a small taxi boat before stepping on the large cruise boat. With excitement, the captain greeted us with a smile as we sailed north with the rest of the other cruise boats.

I sat down at the front of the boat by myself, breathing in the fresh air and experiencing the limestone island as close as possible. It felt like I was in a different world. We spent two nights on the bay with no internet connection and stayed disconnected with the real world for what felt like a moment.

If you ask me how it all felt, I would say it felt good. We made new friends on the boat who were backpacking across the country. We sat down on the top deck of the boat drinking Saigon beer into the early hours of the morning.

After being awakened by the situationally unnatural sound of my alarm clock, we had our last breakfast with the crew before setting back to Halong city. But before that, we had to tick one more on the list. We kayaked through a cave and entered a limestone island surrounded by monkeys and unknown species. Our jaws dropped as we paddled across the beautiful scenery around us.

After an emotional goodbye to the crew and the breathtaking Halong bay, we regretfully headed back to Hanoi city before boarding another bus to our next destination.

Have you ever felt so scared in your life that you were scrambling to hold on to anything around you? Or have you felt so sleepy but you are forcing yourself not to just in case you don’t miss something beautiful or breathtaking that could occur at any moment? That describes our bus ride to the mountain town of Sapa.

Because of the slim ‘two-laned’ roads the wheels of the bus were riding at the edge of the cliff, skimming flirtatiously with the idea of a several hundred-meter fall.

The fact that trucks and buses were overtaking on blind corners assuming that no vehicle would show up any time soon added onto the apprehension. These guys were crazy!

A few hours after the bumpiest and death-defying ride of my life, we were let off in the town of Sapa where were greeted by the most enthusiastic local who walked us to our hostel while she spoke of the history of her little town.

Slowly settling in with the beautiful scenery, we hiked through the rugged mountains surrounded by rice paddies, lush vegetation and lively villages. As I stumbled through the track, we came upon some kids playing on the field whilst waiting for their buffalos to devour the green pastures.

One thing I noticed from the people in this town was that they were constantly happy, smiling. They seemed content with the little things in life. This filled my heart with joy and bitter-sweet emotions as I realized that their happiness is probably more fulfilling and long-lasting than most.

We continued on our trek before arriving on one of the homestay for our lunch break. Tofu, rice, chicken and vegetables was a repetitive meal I had during my stay here. Filling ourselves up with the delicious cooking, which put a smile to my face we descended back into the little town.

Unfortunately, our time in Vietnam had come to an end. I have learnt a lot on this trip and I will continue to apply this to my everyday life. I want to say thank you to the graciousness, homeliness and generosity the local people showed us. You are the reason why I want to work hard and continue on conquering the dreams that I have set out.

Vietnam, you have truly captured my heart. Until next time!

Benny.