Jodie Frain speaks out about her seven day trip to Vietnam that took place at the beginning of April and what it entailed.
My first time experiencing the extraordinary breadth of Vietnam’s vivacious culture, visiting the Southeast Asian spot was certainly a memorable trip. Arriving at Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon) in the evening, meant that there was plenty of time for my travel buddy and I, to put down our bags and head on out to the main street in district one. As we did, all of my senses were tantalised – the potent smells coming from the Bánh mì stalls, bright lights diverting my attention, various sounds from all over the city, and people brushing past me in the narrow streets. On that first night, I claimed “this is like Vietnam’s very own Bangkok.”
After a few drinks and making new friends at a local bar, we stopped by a Bánh mì street vendor. I had heard good things about these sandwiches, but I wasn’t expecting anything quite as delicious as the reality. A product of French colonialism, Bánh mì baguettes can vary slightly, but they typically are filled with shredded meat, coriander, cucumber, pickled carrots and spicy sauce. So heavenly, that I returned the night after for round two.
The following day I grabbed my first Vietnamese coffee before boarding the bus to the Cu Chi Tunnels, and I have truly never enjoyed a coffee so much. This one was iced, rich, smooth and creamy, and my first of many during the trip. Being shown around the Cu Chi Tunnels was an incredible experience; en route I saw the place where workers were vigilantly crafting egg shell canvases with tweezers and lamps, and I genuinely observed in awe. I appreciated the patience these people must have for such tedious, yet delicate work. However, the product at the end of the crafting is something out of this world – beautiful, arty, handcrafted pieces that really stand out.
Our tour guide, at the Cu Chi Tunnels, showed us the miniscule tunnel entrances that I was too scared to climb into for fear of my hips wedging in there. However, some of the other tourists clambered in and it was certainly a squeeze. We also saw various traps, that were utilised in the Vietnam War, which was darkly exciting. Firing an AK47 at the shooting range was a highlight of the whole holiday for me – never mind the excursion. Toward the end of the tour we were given the opportunity to explore the underground tunnels by entering down a long set of steep steps. Luckily I’m not claustrophobic, but it was still very cramped and warm in there – several people were quick to exit! Overall, I’d give 10/10 for the tour.
After a couple of nights, taking a flight to Da Nang meant that we were to see more of Vietnam without spending too much money or going too far, as we were restricted by time with only a week to see as much as we could. Da Nang was miles away from Ho Chi Minh City – in the literal and metaphorical sense – offering a relaxing beach, quiet roads at night, and quaint bars as opposed to streets packed with drink offers and music blaring. Although I really enjoyed Ho Chi Minh, it was a pleasant contrast.
During the first day at Da Nang, I cruised past the Lady Buddha and witnessed the stunning peninsula, offering panoramic views of a crystal blue ocean, white sand, and clear skies. What a dreamy ride this was, on the back of a motorbike with shorts on and the sun on my skin. Slipping into the ocean later was divine; the water was warm and satisfying. ‘The Dawn’ was a local beach bar that stayed open until fairly late, and we returned there after enjoying our first taste of the cocktails, lively music and incredible Vietnamese tacos. The pork taco with wasabi-slaw took the lead for winning taco – I could eat them all day.
Another unforgettable point in the trip took place in Da Nang, was seeing the Marble Mountains, famous for stone sculpture. After taking the lift part way – I was a little delicate after the previous night’s antics so I took the ‘easy’ option – I came to a fork which led to many paths. Beautiful greenery surrounded the many walkways that offered signs with various routes. I took the route to the highest point and after climbing a good number of steps in the sweltering heat, I reached the peak. A plethora of emotions swept over me looking out at the incredible views – it was stunning. Following this, I crept back down the steepness and discovered further caves whilst enjoying a refreshing coconut with a straw. The large cave at the farthest distance was such a joy to explore, beholding Buddhist sanctuaries and much more.
So, if you’re thinking about taking a trip sometime soon, consider Vietnam because it was definitely on my top three places for best vacations. You’ve learned a little about the bustling and diverse Ho Chi Minh, and also the cultural and aesthetic Da Nang, and whether you decide to visit one of the two cities or venture elsewhere, Vietnam is definitely a worthwhile location to spend your time. Oh and did I mention how cheap everything is? The first Bánh mì that I had was the equivalent of RMB 6, and the price we paid to see the Cu Chi Tunnels on a half day tour was RMB 75. Well worth it! So there you have it – your next trip is already planned out for you. You’re welcome!
Images provided by the writer Jodie Frain.