Lunar New Year in the South of Vietnam

Back in the Chinese New Year holiday's I took my very first trip down to South East Asia. A big draw for me choosing to work in Hong Kong in the first place is the location, it's a great place to be based for travelling around Asia.

I didn't know a huge amount about Vietnam other than a lot of love for the food, having consumed plenty of Pho and rice paper spring rolls in the numerous Vietnamese restaurants in HK. And of course some awareness of the devastation caused by the war with the USA.

A few pre-trip hitches..

We booked this trip very last minute. Originally we had purchased a groupon getaway to Saigon, the deal turned out to be unusable at the time we could travel, but we got a full refund and I came across some cheap flights with Vietnam airlines around six days before the holidays.

It was all very spontaneous and surprisingly most things went smoothly... except, we forgot to look into getting a visa. A friend asked us at dinner about three days before we left if we had sorted the 'approval letter' needed upon entrance to Vietnam. Panic.
As the Lunar new year is a massive festival in both Hong Kong and Vietnam (Tet) all embassies were closed for over a week. We managed to get one online easy enough, it ended up being around double the price, but it could have been much worse. I wouldn't even like to imagine how much it would have cost had we arrived in Ho Chi Minh without an approval letter on the first day of Lunar New Year, i'm so grateful to our friend for mentioning it.
So the (obvious) lesson here, check what the visa situation well in advance of any future trips, it seems Vietnam is the most hassle to get into in SE Asia, because of the requirement of the approval letter.

The rest of the journey went very smoothly and we were looking forward to exploring Ho Chi Minh city and spending a few days relaxing on the beaches of Mui Ne.

Ho Chi Minh

I loved Ho Chi Minh, it was the first time i'd been in a backpacker hotspot and experienced that 'buzz' I'd heard so much about. It was strange seeing so many young, hippyish westerners like those I used to see all the time in Sheffield. There are plenty of westerners in Hong Kong, but we're definitely hugely outnumbered by locals.

In Ho Chi Minh we stayed at mymyarthouse in backpackers alley, we had a really nice stay here and came back after our trip to Mui Ne. The staff were friendly, (Kim was particularly helpful) you can book lots of trips here, the rooms were very clean and cheap rates. We had a private room with two double beds and an ensuite bathroom for just under £7 a night. Breakfast and coffee for US$1 too (it is worth bringing a bit of American money here). They also offer airport pickup which was very useful for us.

Highlights of the trip

Most nights we ate Pho with a side of spring rolls to share, and had a beer each. We rarely spent much more than £3 each time.
The price of alcohol was very low too, we found one particularly impressive bar in HCM where we had around 4 drinks each (beer for Ben, vodka for me) and the bill came to just under £5 between us. Total bargain.
The cheapest beer we had was 10p a pint.

The Food.
Most night's we ate Pho with a side of rice paper spring rolls, I love this dish. So simple and tasty!
I also tried Crocodile for the first time, in the form of 'Crocodile curry' in Mui Ne. It was alright. The meat was a little on the tough side, but the curry it was cooked in was amazing.

The Coffee.
I loved the Vietnamese coffee. They use locally grown coffee beans and usually make it using condensed milk, not great for you health wise but it's so good.

Ho Chi Minh

A Scam to Watch Out For

I'll start with the negative as the rest of the trip was great.

We had noticed a lot of men watching around with a load of coconuts on our back whilst walking around Ho Chi Minh. A few had stopped us all trying to give us directions to the war museum (all pointing in different directions we noticed). We weren't really aiming to go anywhere, just looking around museum's that we stumbled across, so we ignored them at first. We decided to go to the Renuncification Palace later and found ourselves a little lost, one particularly nice coconut man began talking to us and said he was heading towards the palace so would show us the way. He was very charming and lovely and even let Ben put his coconut's over his shoulder for a picture, after a while he stopped and placed two coconuts in our hand (without asking if we wanted one) and suddenly seemed a bit aggressive and demanded 300 000 VND. We were both a bit taken aback by his change tone, and would have bought two coconuts off him anyway regardless as he had been very nice and helpful up until this point (although we afterwards realised that we were no where near the Palace). It was our first day in Vietnam so we were both still totally baffled by the currency and gave him what he asked. I thought it seemed a bit much at the time but was so startled by his aggression we just gave it to him. We later worked out that 300 000 VND is £10. We were so angry, when we were approached by several more coconut men on our way back to the hostel, I'm pretty sure we were very rude to in telling them we did NOT want help from them.
So, beware of the coconut men and try to get to know the currency quickly to get ahead of the scammers.
All part of the scam

A boat trip down the Saigon.
I booked this online before we arrived. We paid £14 each, which I thought sounded cheap for a whole day trip. Turns out we could have got it for £7 each from the hostel. I looked at it as a learning curve in for future South East Asia travels and didn't mind anyway as this was one of our favourite days of the trip. It was quite a drive away (about 2 hours I think) which suited me fine, we had met up with our friend who was also in HCM the night before and didn't get in until late so was in need of a little extra sleep time.

We had one stop on the way which was at an amazing temple complex.

Going down the Saigon river was beautiful. We felt like we were on a film set.

We stopped on a little island for lunch and did a little jungle trek which finished with a boat ride on a little raft manned by a local. We got to wear the hats too.

A View of Ho Chi Minh

What trip to a big city is complete without seeing a panoramic view?
New Year Flower Display

Mui Ne

A Quiet Tropical Beach
The hostel we had booked into was quite a bit further up from the main cluster of hostels and bars. This was perfect as we were just after a couple of days of peace and beach relaxation. As I arrived in Hong Kong when the weather had got a bit colder I was yet to experience an Asian beach. We pretty much had the stretch of beach to ourselves outside the hostel, which I wasn't expecting at all after the crowds of Ho Chi Minh.

We were staying near the fishing village which was lovely, there were lots of little 'coconut boats' floating in the sea outside our hostel, I got up one morning to watch the sunrise and the beach was the busiest I saw it the whole time we were there, it was a beautiful sunrise and I enjoyed watching the locals doing their morning fish.

Good Morning Vietnam

The Fairy Stream Trek
Not only did we have pretty much only have to share our stretch of beach with local fishermen and a few cows. We were right next to the Mui Ne 'Fairy Stream'. This is a trek along a stream which runs between huge sand dunes and rugged jungle terrain. The contrast in colours between the orangey sand dunes, lush green jungle and brilliantly blue sky was fantastic to see, and looked great in pictures. We had another film set moment wading through muddy water surrounded by desert and jungle. Ben was living out his Apocalypse Now dream.

If you go right to the end there's a small waterfall which you can have a paddle in. It was very welcome after the trek on such a scorching hot day. We climbed over the waterfall to see what was above it. We found some locals having food on a table which was placed in water, surrounded by a couple of rice fields.

We saw a few tables placed in water in Mui Ne

We also saw an opportunity to go ostrich riding, which we passed...

Mui Ne is a lovely spot to spend a few days relaxing, plenty of little bars and restaurants, even up where we were. It's a good place to go to for a break from the crazy backpacking scene and see rural Vietnam. If you still want to be in amongst the backpacking crowd, it did seem a bit busier further down the road. It's also seemed to be a good place to stop to break up the long bus journey from Ho Chi Minh to the North of Vietnam.

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