Exploring Vietnam. Part 5: Phu Quoc

One big final wow effect, we wanted to include in our stay was a beach holiday. Even if it was just for a few days, I for once, just wanted to lie on the beach, read my book and have absolutely no worries.

Everyone, who knows me also knows, how challenging this is for me, but this was part of the purpose of my holiday so it had to be done.

We took another domestic flight from Da Lat to Ho Chi Minh and further to Phu Quoc. Flights are dirt cheap in this country, especially if you only travel with hand luggage (which we unfortunately didn’t though…). Our check-in bags were actually more expensive than the actual flight ticket. I wish, South Africa would be as price conscious as these Asian airlines…

Back to my story. We took a taxi to our hostel, which was located quite closely to the main city. After our extremely pleasant day in Da Lat, arriving in Phu Quoc felt like arriving in resort downtown. Our hostel was just one road away from the beach but we very quickly realized that we actually couldn’t walk to the beach at all, as the beachside was completely plastered with resorts and no one of these securities allowed us to go to the beach.

We hired bicycles and wanted to cycle to the one recommended beach bar in the area but when we arrived, we stood in front of closed doors and an information leaflet mentioned, the bar moved and had its last operating day the evening prior our arrival. In addition, it also rained cats and dogs again. We were frustrated. Our beach holiday was at risk to be an absolute Desaster.

So…. We did what had to be done: we found an Irish pub and played cards and formulated a plan of action for our mission to lie on the beach, for the rest of the day.

There was only one solution to our problem. We HAD to rent out a scooter. I was terrified. The roads here are absolute chaos. By that I honestly mean that. People drive, however they like to and on whatever side of the road. I can’t even describe it. It feels like no one actually ever had driving lessons in this country and just drove to where ever they needed to be without any rules or regulations. To avoid cars driving towards you although you are on the correct lane is the most normal thing on earth and turning left on a bigger road is basically everyone’s biggest nightmare (well not a Vietnamese nightmare apparently). Somehow though, they all manage to stay alive and I honestly do not understand how.

So, in order for us to lie on the beach we had to dive in to the chaos and forget about everything we ever learned about driving. I. Was. Terrified.

We hired the scooters in the morning and since I have never driven a scooter before I practiced on the empty and quiet road in front of our hostel. I drove back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. Soon I was able to turn back to the other side without breaking a sweat or screaming and I was even able to put my feet onto my scooter too.

My friend decided I was ready to hit the roads. Her scooter got already peed at by the local street dog because she had to wait for me for too long.

Unfortunately, we had to turn left straight away, coming out of our quiet road. I cried a little on the inside. My friend saw the gap in the traffic and drove first, I was too scared and waited. And waited. And waited. After some time I decided THIS IS IT and I jumped with my scooter forward, screaming and with big wide eyes I managed to cross the road and turn left onto the road I had to take. I couldn’t believe I was still alive. Ecstatic as I was, I drove to my friend who waited for me a little further up the road with a groundbreaking 20kmH. It must have looked, as if I was driving in slow motion. This was the fastest I was able to go and that’s that. By the time, I arrived at my friend, she was lying under her scooter, crying of laughter.

Anyway, the biggest problem was solved, now we had to just continue straight out of town into the island roads which were pretty much empty. That was the start of a beautiful relationship to my scooter. Why did I never try this before?! The following to days, we drove around the whole island, we went to as many beaches as we could, we had little scooter races on extremely empty roads (40kmH max) and I even drove up to 60kmH at one point, laughing hysterically with tears in my eyes, because the wind blew me off. What a great feeling. We got so confident, we even drove through the busy town center after work with about 1 million other scooters and we didn’t die!! We didn’t even have a tiny chance of an accident. I was never prouder.

Summarizing Phu Quoc is really an island for scooter beginners, who like to go explore. Generally I was quite underwhelmed by the island, I somehow imagined more empty white beaches and less tourists and DEFINETLY less resorts. So sad to see that nothing on this island is actually real and doesn’t have a tourist purpose. We only found one spot in the far north which looked relatively unexplored and empty (which might have been due to the 1 million ants eating you alive if you didn’t stand in the water), but we managed to snap a few tourist pictures.

I definetly managed to intensify my Tan and read half of my book so I certainly managed to achieve my personal goals.

Exploring Vietnam. Part 4: Da Lat

Da Lat, the city of love. Or: The city of flowers. Or: the city of honeymoons. Or: the city of mountains… This city has certainly a lot of names. For me, it was the city of the least amount of tourists. The one city I was looking for during my holiday.

Everyone has a different goal when going on holiday. Some need the adventure and the adrenaline. Some people need full time entertainment and like to hand in their brain at the airport so they do not need to think.

My aim was to experience the different. To just relax and not be stressed for once. My normal life is very hectic and busy. I normally do a million things at once and have a super planned-through week. Therefore, I didn’t plan a single thing this holiday. I didn’t do a lot of research and I generally just wanted to get there and handle the situations as their come. However, I did have certain expectations which probably were shaped by all these documentaries I watched about Vietnam over the years. I expected a lot of jungle, a lot of simple houses, friendly people, rain and not a lot of tourists. So far, all we saw were villages erected for the sole purpose to entertain tourists. Nothing, were the Vietnamese were just themselves and lived their life without the purpose of entertaining tourists.

Da Lat was different for us.

We took a bus from Nha Trang (which looked like a Lloret de Mar tourist dream come true by the way) to Da Lat, which is located about 3 driving hours from Nha Trang into the mountains. We arrived after darkness and along the way we drove through clouds, thunderstorms and thick rain. I understand Forrest Gump now, when he mentioned that he experienced the rain from all sides in Vietnam – from above, the sides and even from below.

We arrived at the cutest little B&B in town and went down to the center after we checked in. After all, it was independence day and we wanted to head out and celebrate with the locals.

Due to its location, Da Lat is usually much colder than the other cities around Vietnam. I even wore CLOSED SHOES, something I didn’t wore two weeks anymore due to the heat. What a feeling! Da Lat is therefore also a retreat for Vietnamese to get a break from the heat and the City life.

The town was therefore flooded with tourists, but barely any foreign ones, which was a joy to see. This was honestly the first city I saw so far which sole purpose was NOT only to entertain tourists. It was a working city, feeding the rest of the country with the stuff they grew there: mainly veggies, coffee, flowers.

The following day, two extremely friendly guides picked us up and we explored the area for the next eight hours on our motor bikes. I, being an absolute city girl, had no experience whatsoever with driving a motorbike or even sitting on one. I was already terrified of the scooter chaos in Hanoi, sitting on one was definetly the last thing, I imagined myself on.

My guide was the most patient soul though and after a few panicky shrieks from the back of his motorbike, I settled in pretty quickly and was even sitting on the back HANDS FREE. I actually very quickly realized, what a joy it is, to sit on a motorbike, even just as a passenger.

The scenery was breathtaking. Flower and coffee fields were scattered everywhere and we stopped at quite a few viewpoints to take pictures of the surrounding mountains.

We spent the most wonderful day in the mountains, drinking local coffee, rice wine, eating super cheap noodle soup in a local restaurant and buying some local silk (yes I know I am a scarf addict, but I really needed one!), visiting a few temples and even a local village. Every stop, our guide explained us with great depth about the history of the places and I think within these 8 hours I learned more about the country than I did in my complete holiday.

Honestly, if you have the chance, do yourself a favor and spend a few days in this city of mountains. We finally found a piece of Vietnam, relatively untouched by mass tourism and I felt like my personal mission of the holiday was completed with visiting this city.

Exploring Vietnam. Part 3: Hoi An

I was really looking forward to this stop. After crazy busy Hanoi and extremely touristy Cat Ba , I wanted to get out to the countryside and away from the destinations that are easy accessible for tourists. Also, as we were still in low season, it didn’t stop raining the past days and Hoi An promised sun and hot temperatures again.

11 years ago I backpacked my way through Australia. I was generally broke 10 out of the 11 months of backpacking and I often drove long, long hours because a) it was cheaper and b) I also had ALL THE TIME. I slept in 10 to 12 bed dorms, ate cheap food and drank cheap wine.

Now, 11 years later, things have changed a little. I mean, due to living in a country which currency is worth less every month, I am still generally broke but at least I can now more often pretend I actually have a little bit of spare money due to a bit of savings. Also, I unfortunately do not have 11 months of holidays anymore, I only have 2 weeks. As time is pressuring and I am feeling too old to actually sleep in dorms with „kids“, 11 years younger than me, we decided for this trip, we would live a bit of a Luxury life and a) fly from destination to destination and b) sleep in private rooms. Hands down, I am not the party animal I used to be and I cherish a good night sleep.

We therefore flew from Hanoi to Da Nang. It’s a short and relatively cheap flight and the steam room humidity welcomed us as soon as we exited the plane. Why did I curse the rain back in the North?? A shuttle transfer then drove us all the way to Hoi An, which is just about 45min drive away.

We chose our new accommodation well. It had a pool and best of all, we were able to rent bicycles for free. Cycling through Vietnam was on top of my list! After a quick swim we therefore cycled to town to explore the old part of the city, which is an absolute highlight. Again, this wasn’t a real countryside village, this was another tourist downtown. Long queues of tourists made their way through the center and I honestly do not wanna know, what this looks like in high season. My search for an empty and more authentic city therefore continued.

Besides that, unlike Cat Ba, this city at least looked super pretty. Colorful lights everywhere and the houses of the old Town are super pretty and offer everything you never knew you wanted. The city is popular for selling EVERYTHING. Shoes, tailored suits, dresses, typical Asia hippie trousers, coffee and all sorts of STUFF. similar to South Africa, price negotiation is key of you don’t want to leave with an empty bank account, so I tactically shopped my way through town the following two days without having the feeling that I just sold my soul and dignity too.

Stay away from the restaurants in town, if you wanna have a more local experience and again save a few bucks. All meals are way overpriced in the old Town. We enjoyed the typical homemade Cau Lau a little outside of town while watching football with the rest of the town. Vietnam competed in a U23 championships and apparently the whole country was rooting for their youngsters. They became fourth though and the city was dead silent after the match.

Another highlight in this town are cooking classes. Again, it’s not something unique, as basically every second restaurants offers it, you just have to be a little streetsmart and do a little research beforehand to find out about an operator, who is not offering the generic mainstream cooking class but something outside the tourist box.

We found an eco coconut tour which was absolutely perfect for us. Our very motivated guide took us to the local market and explained us the ingredients we required. After that we took a boat and traveled quite far down the river to a local community who showed us, how to fish for river crabs while sitting in a tiny waterproof basket without killing yourself. We proudly fished 3 crabs out of the water, before we boarded our small ship again and went to another part of town where we then cooked a three course meal together with a lady in her tiny bamboo restaurant. I created my own Vietnamese version of a pancake as well as fresh spring rolls and a papaya salad. I was so proud of myself at the end of this day and we even received all those dishes in short version in a pretty cute receipt book created with WORD Art (who still knows the struggle to choose the right word art for your header??)

Pretty stuffed, we jumped into the ocean at the end of our day and into the pool too as both didn’t really satisfy our craving of cold water and goosebumps.

Our next destination would sort us out in that regard though and I was already excited for the next adventure to come. Maybe my search for no tourists and a pure rural village would finally end with our next stop.