Vietnam, the final chapter

August 09, 2016

I know it sounds clich├ęd, but it’s a well-known fact that one of the worst things about travelling is saying goodbye to all the fabulous people you meet. When I first met Kacie we were complete strangers, and within just three weeks we were arguing like we’d been married for years. Our friendship had endured through one spiked drink, three days of hideous sickness, and a mutual hatred of the Aussie lads that came in at 3am and woke up every single person in the 28 bed dorm (three things that bond people, apparently) – and I was unexpectedly gutted to have to say goodbye, adding her to the list of friendships I’ve made this year that will have to conquer several time zones.
However, the day before Kacie left my friend Hannah arrived to meet us in Hanoi – so normal play resumed pretty quickly.
Having seen most of Hanoi in the two previous trips I’d made, we skipped town pretty quickly and headed to Hue, halfway down the country.
One 10 hour night bus later we had arrived, slightly bleary but on the whole well rested (thanks to my miracle ‘travel sickness’ tablets) at the hostel we had booked. Now for this place, I use the word ‘hostel’ lightly – because how many hostels have a private beach, infinity pool and bar stretching along the sand?
We opted to stay at the beach instead of the town in Hue, so Beach Bar Hue, where we stayed, was around a 40 minute drive from the main city. There’s very little around the area, and it's pretty quiet itself – it's linked to a fancy hotel, Villa Louise, and it definitely doesn’t have a party vibe. However, the beach was breath-taking, the sun-beds were free and so is the pool – despite being told we had to pay. The only downside is that the food and drink from the Beach Bar is a little on the expensive side, mainly because there’s not much other choice around.
We both wanted to explore the town too, so on our second day we rented motorbikes from the hotel – also quite expensive at 200,000VND for the day – and drove into Hue. The drive is simple enough, just one straight road, although still pretty nerve-racking for two gals completely lacking in motorbiking experience. Hue is famous for its citadel, which we had grand plans to explore – however, the drive in 36 degree heat meant that by the time we got there, all we wanted was a cold beer and some lunch. I went for Bun Bo Hue, which is the speciality of the region – it’s spicy noodle soup deliciousness and would 100 percent recommend.
(Then we headed back to the pool.)
After two relaxing days, we headed out on the 4 hour journey to Hoi An. This was probably the place I was most excited and I’m so glad I left it until last – it was everything I hoped Vietnam would be!
 We stayed at the Sunflower Hostel, which is a ten minute walk from the centre but has a pool, a brilliant buffet breakfast and a bar offering a bottle of vodka and mixer for around £4 – basically, backpacker heaven.

Things to do in Hoi An:

1) Explore the night market – the night market is one of the most beautiful, atmospheric places I have ever been. Stalls sell lanterns lit up in different colours, as well as loads of great street food – the BBQ pork skewers which were delicious. (Although if you have a nut allergy, stay away from the ‘mango’ cake – unless I am completely mistaken and mango is another word for peanut, there is no mango in it whatsoever.
 2) Get something tailor-made – Hoi An is the clothing capital of Vietnam, and almost every shop in town is a tailors. For around $100, men can get a full suit custom made within 24 hours, with a formal ballgown being around $80. However, the price varies greatly – if it’s a casual dress or plainer cotton clothing, head to the streets outside the centre (the one on the way to Sunflower has plenty). I managed to get a custom made/designed dress and a playsuit made to measure for $40 for both!
 3) Go out drinking! Lots of places in Vietnam don’t cater to the backpacker drinking lifestyle as much as other countries, for example Thailand, and even in Hanoi all bars close at 12am. However, Hoi An is a lot smaller and seems to have a bit more leeway – plus, all the bars have either a free drink on entry or a great happy hour, so money isn’t a worry. Why Not Bar is good if its busy, and offers a free drink, and then Tiger Tiger club is a safe bet for later.
4) Hit the beach – by the time I reached Hoi An I was a bit beached out – there’s only so many nights you can sleep in sandy sheets before you start hating the stuff – so we only went once, but it was definitely one of the better beaches I visited in Vietnam. Head for An Bang beach, which is relatively quiet – its about a 15 minute motorbike ride out of the town. Bargain for the sunbeds – most of the bars along the beach will let you use one for free as long as you buy your lunch there.
5) Visit Marble Mountain – just outside Da Nang, a 30 minute moped ride away, is Marble Mountain, a collection of beautiful Hindu and Buddhist caves and leady green pagodas. The view from the top, once you arrive, is pretty spectacular.
 We loved Hoi An so much that we decided to stay for a whole five days – the longest I stayed anywhere on my trip. However sadly, it was then time to head back to Ho Chi Minh for my flight back to London. HCMC is a fairly long bus – around 18 hours – so we chose to fly from Da Nang airport. The flight cost just £30 with JetStar but was, of course, delayed!
Back in Ho Chi Minh it was time to do what I’d been waiting for since the beginning – hit the market and spend the rest of my money. Whilst in Hanoi you can’t buy anything from the market if you’re white – yep, a bit racist – HCM is a dream for all things fake. Bags, shoes, purses, sportswear, you name it  - they have it. When I had finished I had a) several irate Vietnamese stallholders who were convinced it was I ripping them off and not the other way round and b) a very full rucksack to take home to London.
 The next day, it was time to board my plane back to London. Whilst a part of me was pretty excited about spending a guilt-free 12 hours napping, drinking wine and watching movies, a much bigger part of me was gutted to be leaving. At the beginning, it was much harder than I expected to get used to backpacking again – the last year has been crazy busy, between work, classes, exploring Italy and meeting all my favourite people, I’d basically forgotten how to chill. After a couple of days, I was slightly terrified at the prospect of spending an entire month doing little other than eating, drinking and exploring. Slowly though, I got used to it – probably a little too used to it, if I’m honest, since my first week back at work seems to have been much harder than usual (has eight hours always been that long??)
Pictures keep popping up on my Facebook from friends I made who are still out there, and from my office its obvious where I’d prefer to be. Graduating and getting a real job can wait – I’ve definitely got a few more places to see first!

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