Hanoi to Nha Trang, Vietnam
May 10-18, 2023
Day 14: Hanoi, Vietnam
May 10, 2023
After 3 days of sitting on the back of a motorbike, cruising through rough roads and steep mountains, our butts were raw. Not to mention being out in the elements all day, we were exhausted and sore. Dehydrated, and barely awake we caved in and finally sought out western food. Sadie was head over heels for the pancakes, and we both liked the American portions of iced coffee.
We spent the rest of the day recovering while watching Queen Charlotte on Netflix.
Day 15: Hanoi, Vietnam
May 11, 2023
I took Sadie on a walking tour around Hanoi to check off the last of our Hanoi to-do list. The first stop was the lake that John McCain landed in after his aircraft was shot down. The Vietnamese had even erected a monument dedicated to shooting down 10 aircraft, including that of John McCain, and the locals who captured him.
We attempted to see the body of Ho Chi Minh at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, but as we made our way towards the entrance it didn’t appear they were accepting any more visitors for the day. I had heard that although they are open from 7:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., they kind of do whatever they want, and frequently turn people away. Obviously not going to test our luck, we walked around the empty, yet heavily guarded square surrounding the mausoleum.
It was rather creepy seeing 40+ guards with automatic MP5’s in and around the area of a deceased person. There were other government buildings in the area, but it just felt odd. Especially with weeks of only having seen one or two police officers in our time in Hanoi.
Ho Chi Minh Museum, not to be confused with the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, was down the street and just as confusing to enter. Once we were in, we saw a hoard. And I mean HOARD, of 200+ 1st grade children. There was no order, only chaos.
In an attempt to stay ahead, we quickly made it to the front but to no avail. You could hear them throughout the entire museum, and it was impossible to focus so we ran through without learning anything.
The last stop was the Vietnam Military History museum. It seemed to focus on two main topics, how Vietnam was successful in every war they’ve fought in, and how horrible everyone was to Vietnamese Communist Revolutionaries. Not any other kind, only the Communist Revolutionaries, specifically.
Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of honorable things within the museum, but I can’t believe that the only people who have ever done anything humane and noble in this world were the Vietnamese revolutionaries.
One cool thing they had was a B-52 that they had shot down over Hanoi on display, which is an impressive feat for any country.
Day 16: Hanoi to Phong Nha, Vietnam
May 12, 2023
We booked a sleeper bus from Hanoi to Phong Nha to explore some of the largest cave systems in the world. But first a 10 hour bus ride awaits. I slept well once I figured out a comfortable position, and the constant bumps and turns actually put me to sleep. Sadie however was not as lucky with her sleep.
Day 17: Phong Nha, Vietnam
May 13, 2023
Quick check in, and quicker showers before we could get into bed around 5am. Taking advantage of the 3 hours we had left before leaving the hostel for our tour.
A Vietnamese tour guide nicknamed Chocolate (a mystery to this day), picked us up and explained the area and other local information. The Phong Nha area is a UNESCO world heritage site, and protected national park containing dozens of the world’s largest cave systems. The craziest part is that some of these world record sized caves were discovered as recent as 2014.
From the gate leading to Paradise Cave, we walked around 20 minutes through the jungle, and up the steep mountainside. Although tired by the time we got to the top, I was excited seeing the small entrance.
Having been diving in Florida caves, the best caves have the most unsuspecting entrances. Places like paradise springs in Florida have an entrance about the size of a backyard pool. Once inside it opens up wide enough that it could fit several semi trucks with trailers side by side.
With a quick briefing it was finally time to head down the stairs and through the entrance. I knew it was going to be a large cave, and I’ve seen some big caves, but this was on another level.
Each step down the stairs brought the size of the first room into a better perspective. The damp, earthy, and iron smell was prominent in every breath. In the background I could see a platform surrounded by lights that looked like a helicopter landing pad. Between the orange and white rock color, the iron smell, and bizarre rock formations, it felt like I was on Mars. I had to look back up the stairs to confirm that I was in fact still in a jungle.
Stalagmites that were bigger than a semi truck trailer were common in every room. Drapery, cauliflower, columns, flowstone, and several other types of formations were present in most rooms.
The ceiling in one room was 200 ft high, and another 500 ft wide. The total length of the cave was about 32 km long. Think about it, you can walk for 32 km without seeing the sun. There are no pictures that will ever do it justice.
I honestly think you could play baseball in the first room. I didn’t ever want to leave, but once the guide said the word “lunch,” it was definitely time for the next stop.
We stopped for a quick Vietnamese lunch, which always seemed to involve a table with every inch covered in plates. I scarfed down a bowl of rice and some beef stuff, then loaded up on a river boat. It looked like a blue banana with a long rod out of the back with a propeller on the end.
Sputtering slowly up the river, the captain docked right in front of a cave wearing a Vietnamese army helmet. The deckhand hopped off, grabbed tickets, then hopped back in. We entered the cave quietly using oars to propel us upstream into the darkness.
Phong Nha Cave, like many others, was used during the Vietnam war to protect soldiers, civilians, and weapons, from U.S. bombings. It is a super cool cave so I don’t blame them.
Just like the previous cave there were endlessly unique formations, and it was bigger than anything in Florida. But it was no paradise cave that’s for sure. We spent about an hour before walking back to the boat and grabbing an ice cream for good measure.
An excursion I will never forget. But also an exhausting one… Sadie was out cold around 4:00 p.m., and didn’t wake up until 4:00 a.m. the next day.
Day 18: Phong Nha to Hoi An, Vietnam
May 14, 2023
Our bus ride departed at 4:30 am, and got us to hoi an a little after 11:00 a.m. The sleeper seats were extra tight that day, but thankfully it wasn’t that long of a trip.
We arrived in Hoi An, only to find out our preferred hostel was booked. Thankfully there was one just around the corner with air conditioning and free breakfast!
After checking in we went out for lunch, and to check out the town. Then returned to our home for the next few evenings.
Day 19-20: Hoi An, Vietnam
May 15-16, 2023
Hoi An is known for two things: hanging lanterns, and tailored clothes. It has a lovely, beachy, vacation vibe. It was akin to Ubud, Bali or even an Asian Clearwater, Florida.
Vendors are more vicious here. Look in their direction and they pounce! The streets are aesthetically pleasing with yellow walls, colorful lanterns hanging over the stone sidewalks, and greenery scattered throughout. As with most places in Vietnam it’s hard to take a bad picture. Anywhere you point your camera you’re bound to capture something beautiful.
Over the next two days we spent our time leisurely planning our next stops, exploring the colorful town, and most-fun of all: designing custom made clothes.
After hours of shopping around we finally chose our tailors. I designed a suave 2-piece suit and a shirt, and Sadie a custom dress. Over a day and a half we designed, attended three fittings, and sent for alterations, before we were granted our customized garments. And they could’ve been done even sooner–we were simply in no rush!
Day 21: Hoi An to Nha Trang, Vietnam
May 17, 2023
Our final hours in Hoi An were spent in the American Embassy, otherwise known as Starbucks. Killing time with U.S. size coffees and AC before next night bus to Nha Trang.
Day 22: Nha Trang, Vietnam
May 18, 2023
Another long bus ride, but this time with a twist. Around midnight we stopped for a bathroom break, and when the driver closed the door something started hissing. The compressed air that keeps the door closed wouldn’t seal, so air was bleeding out, and it was loud.
I managed to figure out a way to sleep for a bit, but not everyone was so lucky. Instead of taking stops every two hours or so, we bombed down to Nha Trang and arrived two hours early, around 5:00 a.m. They wanted the bus fixed ASAP.
Hurriedly, we were herded off the bus and on to a street that wasn’t our scheduled stop. A regular occurrence in Asia. Still half asleep we got our bearings, grabbed our bags, and made our way to the hotel.
Arriving at 5:00 a.m. instead of 7:00 a.m., and with no restaurants open so early, we opted for an additional night at our hotel and some extra shut-eye after the loud, uncomfortable, bus ride.
After a nap/second sleep we got dressed and set out to explore the sea-side city of Nha Trang. It was rather Western in design, very industrialized, and the ocean views were beautiful. We didn’t do much for our short stay since it was essentially only a layover. We got some food, took some pictures, and got to bed for: you guessed it! Another bus in the morning.