Vietnam (Part 1). Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang

After a few days relaxing in Eagle Point, eating more passion fruits and our body weight in mussels (4 meals in 3 days may be a little excessive) we unpacked and then repacked, boarded the train to the airport and flew into Ho Chi Minh City. We had 48 hours in the non-stop city.

Ho Chi Minh City

We arrived at our hotel at 2:30am in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City backpacker area of District 1, the PNL Strip. Blurred eyed we were soon wide awake with the nightlife glory thrust in our faces. Initial thoughts: what the hell have we booked, but once we got to our room we had a surprisingly rested night sleep (probably more due to the jetlag).

Welcome to Ho Chi Minh PNL strip
Welcome to Ho Chi Minh PNL strip

We started our HCMC adventures the next morning with a pleasant breakfast at the hotel’s rooftop terrace, watching the busy PNL strip come to life and get ready for the day ahead.

Anyone that has been to HCMC will tell you how hectic the city is and they are not exaggerating. But its this madness that is the beauty of the city. 10 million people and about 9 million scooters, food and beer within 10 meters of you all the time, and people trying to sell something everywhere; if you fight the madness it will engulf you.

Even simple tasks like crossing the road have their own HCMC flare. All you need to do is literally just step out, start walking and the traffic moves around you. Easier said than done… The first time you stand there thinking really, no thanks, I’m not suicidal, but you take a deep breath, step out and it just works. There is a weird calm from the chaos.

The general mayhem of the roads was so entertaining to us that we even got a beer and sat roadside to watch it all one afternoon. It seemed road rules are just guidelines; one way streets for most traffic have the odd scooter going upstream using it as a shortcut, pedestrian sidewalks are a great way to get around a traffic block, and as long as you have something that looks like a helmet on, the more the merrier on one scooter. We watched in awe/amusement at some of the stuff being transported on a scooter, and whole families getting from A-to-B. No worries, load up the scooter with 5 people.

We did a lot of walking around the city, keeping our energy levels up with a few stops at some of the amazing French influenced bakeries, and saw all the normal touristy things and learnt a lot about Vietnam’s history, especially the war.

The War Museum was a real eye opener and from the Vietnamese’s view of what happened.

War Musuem Ho Chi Minh City
War Museum Ho Chi Minh City

We also headed out to the Chi Chi tunnels; A long drive to get to, but worth it. They really gave you some perspective about the war and what the Vietnamese people endured.

We enjoyed some awesome street food, diving straight in and ordering a Pho most places, and finished the evenings with a beer at the View Bar, on the PNL overlooking the city. The beers were a little more expensive ($4/beer) here, but it was worth it for the evening breeze and unspoiled view of the skyline of Ho Chi Minh City.

48 hours was enough for us mountain folk in the bustle of the city, and we jumped on our delayed plane, arriving in the early hours of the morning in Nha Trang.

Nha Trang

The main reason for heading to Nha Trang was for Hayden and Kelly’s weekend, but we also checked out what the city on the beach had to offer.

We stayed the first few nights in the fish market area on the North end of Nha Trang, checking out the Po Nagar temple and beach. Nha Trang is really popular with Russians and they like speedos…

One evening we went for dinner with Hayden and Kelly, and ended up at a local fish market/street food place. With no English on the menu and no clue what anything was, Kelly did all the ordering for us. Still not 100% sure what we ate, but it was tasty. This seemed to be a theme for our time in Nha Trang– we also went to a locals favourite BBQ house. Think there was some goat in there.

For the wedding ‘weekend’ we stayed at the Champa Island resort, where the wedding reception was hosted, and the rest of the Australian side of the wedding party arrived. As well as some pool lounging at the fanciest place we were going to stay on the trip, we did our ‘beauty treatment ‘for the wedding by going to the Thap Ba mud baths. It was a bit strange at first having 3 grown men and one lady sharing the same bath filled with mud, but the whole experience was quite relaxing and really made our skin feel good.

Told you things were weird...
Told you things were weird…

Another of our pre-wedding activities was a trip to Vin Pearl Land; Vietnam’s answer to Disney World. After getting their gondola over the ocean to get to the island, we spend the day running around like kids, enjoying the rollercoasters and waterslides at the water park.

Fully prepped for the wedding, the wedding day started in the morning with a traditional Vietnamese ceremony and then lunch. We both were part of the wedding party, so dressed in the traditional ceremony outfits.

The ceremony started with the present giving by the men in the wedding party to the ladies. Shane ended up giving the largest and heaviest gift, a 20kg fruit display, to the smallest lady in the party. She received it so gracefully with, ‘no, no, no’ and then others helped her carry the basket into the ceremony table. There was then the traditional tea serving routine, and the father of the bride handing over an offering to the newlyweds (ie stacks of cash), before the vows.

After the ceremony there was a feast (again not 100% sure what we ate, but it tasted good), including birds nest spit in a can – apparently, this is a delicacy?!?

Once lunch and the morning festives were over we went back to the pool before getting ready for the evening celebrations.

As Hayden has Scottish heritage, the groom’s party wore kilts for the evening (western) ceremony and the dinner/party.

Once the ceremony was done it was dinner, another endless round of courses, and the entertainment. We were treated to fireworks, dancers, singers/karaoke, and speeches. It was all quite spectacular. Unlike traditional western ceremonies, the Vietnamese tradition is to have more of an open party where neighbours/loosely know friends of the family just turn up for dinner.

Peace out Nha Trang
Peace out Nha Trang

A few days after the wedding, once we had recovered from all the celebrations it was time to make our way to the next stop on our tour of Vietnam – Hoi An.

As with all non-flight travels in Vietnam, this was a long journey – 10 hours by train to Da Nang first. We got a cabin on the train and lucky had the whole thing (2 sets of bunk beds) to ourselves for the whole trip. The train was super easy, comfortable and safe, and surprisingly the 10 hours passed by relatively quickly (a few card games, some Netflix and a short nap).

Our cabin on the train
Our cabin on the train

We arrived late into Da Nang so stayed the night in a hostel by the beach, and then headed to Hoi An the next morning.

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