Discovering Southern Vietnam

city hall saigon ho chi minh city vietnam

              After one month in Vietnam we had, for the most part, finished exploring the northern part of the country and were moving on.  My cousin and her boyfriend (who she has since married) were going to be arriving in Ho Chi Minh City in two days and we had promised to meet them there.  So, we jumped on a train in Ninh Binh and made the 32-hour train ride all the way down to Ho Chi Minh City.  

mekong delta tour vietnam
On a Mekong Delta tour.

              Meeting up with Stephanie and Kevin in HCMC was one of the best highlights of my trip.  It was great to see them and enjoy touring the town with them.  We were able to hangout with them for 3-days in HCMC.  While there we walked around the town to see some of the old buildings, tried out BiaCraft (the greatest craft beer pub in Vietnam), went to the War Remnants Museum, and took a tour of the Mekong Delta.  The Mekong Delta tour that we set up in the backpacker district ended up being the weirdest tour that I have ever been on.  

mekong delta vietnam
Mekong Delta

              After they left for Hanoi, we ended up taking the bus to Can Tho and setting up a tour of the Mekong Delta ourselves.  This tour was far better than the one that we took out of HCMC (read about both of them here).  Seeing the Mekong Delta was an interesting experience.  Not only does it play a vital part in the life of Vietnam as its largest producer of rice and in the everyday lives of the people that live in this region, but, like most of central and southern Vietnam, it played a vital role in the Vietnamese war as well.  

beach phu quoc vietnam
Long Beach in Phu Quoc.

              After finishing the boat tour, we boarded a bus and headed further south towards PhuQuoc.  Phu Quoc wasn’t originally on our list of places to visit, but we had heard along our way that it was one of the best beach destinations in Vietnam.  It’s an island off the southern coast of Vietnam, so you have to take a 2-hour ferry ride.  This had us a little worried though, because the last time we had been on a long-distance ferry was in Taiwan and it was horrible due to bad seas.  The ferry thankfully wasn’t bad, but we arrived to the island not really knowing where we wanted to stay.  Since the port is far from the main town, we hired a taxi and trusted him to take us to a nice hotel.  He didn’t disappoint at all.  Our hotel was a nice little bungalow next to the pool and was only 6 minutes from the beach.  

holding snake viper rum mekong delta vietnam
Me holding a snake from some Viper Rum.  And yes we did try the Viper Rum after this picture.  And yes it tasted weird.

              After a few days of enjoying the beach and the market we hoped back on the ferry and then a bus and rode all the way back to Ho Chi Minh City.  Usually long distant bus trips in Vietnam aren’t that bad, because they are all sleeper buses and you get your own seat.  That’s the case anyways unless you get the back seat, which is a bench seat that is always stuck in the sleeping position, and that’s the seat that I got.  So, I spent the next 8 hours laying with three other people in the back seat.

tunnel opening cu chi tunnels saigon vietnam
One of the many openings to the Cu Chi Tunnels outside of Saigon.  It's a super small opening, but I did manage to fit down it.

              We spent another few days in Ho Chi Minh City during our second visit.  We used this time to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels outside of town.  All of the tour company’s offer tours to the tunnels, but they are to tunnels that are enlarged to make it easier for western tourists to walk through them.  We try not to do the tourist thing when possible because it is usually cheaper, less crowded, and more fulfilling.  Touring the tunnels was very interesting.  It’s hard to imagine how small, extensive, and confining they are till your climbing through them yourself.  The upper level has the tallest of the three levels of tunnels, but they were still only slightly taller than me when I was sitting.  The tunnels were also by far the hottest place I have ever been in my life.  I came out of them drenched.  

white sand dunes mui ne vietnam
White Sand Dunes, Mui Ne.

              The day after visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels we started our trek back northwards, with our first stop in Mui Ne.  We had heard that Mui Ne was a former top beach destination in Vietnam as well, but after the Russian Recession it had fallen it popularity along with prices.  With the tourist drop the beaches had fallen to miss use and became dirty in most places. But the real draw to Mui Ne were the sand dunes.   The sand dunes aren’t the easiest thing to walk across, but seeing the color of the White Dunes as the sun rose was pretty cool.  While in Mui Ne we also stopped at a seafood restaurant and got a seafood hotpot for dinner.  This is something we had wanted to try for a while, but it had just been relatively expensive every where else.  

picture with piano prop nha trang vietnam
Picture of me at a piano prop on the beach of Nha Trang.

              After our jeep tour we packed up and tried to get a bus to Dalat but found out that the one bus that went there had already left.  Not wanting to spend another day in Mui Ne, we decided to just go further up the coast to Nha Trang instead.  Bypassing Dalat, and later deciding not to visit at all, was a mistake we would later find out from many other tourists that had visited.  So, like many other places that we bypassed for one reason or another, Dalat has been added to my list of places to visit the next time I’m in Vietnam.  

po nagar cham towers nha trang vietnam
Looking up at the main temple of the Po Nagar Cham Towers from the meditation hall in Nha Trang.

              Going from Mui Ne to Nha Trang meant that we were going from beach resort town to beach resort town, but two with entirely different feels.  Nha Trang is a cosmopolitan town on a beautiful white sandy beach.  We waisted no time in visiting the beach and having a few craft beers while we enjoyed the views.  We spent three full days here and all of them had a visit to the beach or at least a walk down its palisade.  On our second day there we visited the Po Nagar Cham Towers; a compound of 12 century religious temples still in use today.  I’m a lover of everything historic so I thought they were really cool to see.  Our third day we reserved for relaxation and visited a mud spa.  It might sound weird, and it kinda is, but it is pretty soothing just sitting in a tub of warm mud.  There was also a steam room and hot tub that I took advantage of.  And then ended our time of relaxation with a hooka and cocktails by the pool.  

elephant yok don national park vietnam
Elephant at Yok Don National Park.

              The next day we left Nha Trang for BMT, but not without a confusing exchange at the bus station about buses not traveling there.  Arriving in BMT at night we decided not to search out local food, but decided to indulge ourselves with some KFC instead.  The next morning, we hoped on another bus to Yok Don National Park to see the elephants.  We weren’t paying attention while on the bus and the driver completely passed the park and went to the next town.  After walking around town for a while, and paying to enter an elephant tourist park that we promptly left, we realized we had passed the park and walked the 2.5 km back.  The people at the park were really nice though and it was worth the trouble.  We got the chance to ride on shoulders of an elephant and help it bath in the river.  

inside vinh trang pagoda mekong delta vietnam
Inside the Vinh Trang Pagoda on the Mekong Delta.

              This trip to Yok Don would officially end our tour of southern Vietnam, as we would spend the next few days making our way further up north to central Vietnam for the last part of our Vietnam journey.  Overall, I really enjoyed southern Vietnam.  The highlight, for me of course, was getting to visit with my cousin and her boyfriend in Ho Chi Minh City.  But the south was interesting in its own ways.  Experiencing the Cu Chi Tunnels is something that I will never forget.  The weather was nicer in the south than in the north, although it was much hotter.  But the food, although many of the dishes were the same, was not as good in my opinion.  That’s not saying it wasn’t good.  It was great!

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