As part of my travels around South East Asia I spent one incredible month going from the south to the north of Vietnam. One thing that struck me was how it unmistakably changes, not only in landscape, but in the manner of its people: locals become much more friendly the further north you go! 

The North is filled with magnificent cascading mountain scenery and harsh terrain, whilst the crowded concrete skyscrapers of Ho Chi Minh City offer a likeness to most western metropolitan cities. The differences can largely be accounted for by Vietnam's recent war between Communism and Capitalism, which horrendously divided the North and South. Sadly, Vietnam is peppered with reminders of its recent traumatic past; disfigured Agent Orange victims and old war veterans clutching at their crutches intermingle with the bustling tourists on each boulevard.

However from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi, one thing remains the same: the constant heckling from tuktuk drivers and Moto taxis. "Tuktuk, tuktuk! Very cheap for you!" ...Is the soundtrack as you walk through every city centre. In the beginning I was politely declining every offer, but by the end I wasn't even looking at the hecklers! 

Here are a few highlights from my trip:

Nha Trang
Largely a holiday resort for Russians rather than a backpackers beach haven as the Lonely Planet suggests. There's a water park on an island just off the coast which you access by taking a cable car over the sea. It's a good day out if you go with a big group, but it's missable. However, Nha trang is the main transport point to Dalat, where you can do lots of outdoor adventure activities (see my previous blog post about Canyoning).

Hoi An
Beautiful and quaint French colonial buildings make up the atmospheric old quarter of the city. 
Hoi An is famous for its talented tailors and seamstresses; the streets are filled with boutique handmade clothes stores and smart suit fitters. Just watch out for illegitimate touts approaching you from the street offering a fitting- these tend to be poor quality establishments. The tailors who let you browse without bothering you are much better.

Hai Van Pass
The scenic road connecting Hoi An and Hue was the most beautiful part of my journey up the coast of Vietnam. We hired motorcycles for $10 each +fuel, and rode the 145km journey North. The views are spectacular, the roads are surprisingly quiet and the route is relatively easy to follow. This journey also features on the Top gear Vietnam special and riding the HVP was certainly a highlight of my time in Vietnam.

Of course the capital is not to be missed! Its crazy bustling vibe can get a little bit much at times, but the city manages to keep its charm with tall trees arching the streets and balconied French buildings lining the avenues. Also, there's an abundance of delicious street food everywhere you look, and the evening markets have some cool clothes stalls that are reasonably priced.

Halong Bay
This is the one MUST VISIT place in Vietnam. I met a few travellers who'd decided to skip it for financial reasons or time constraints, which I really couldn't comprehend because I can honestly say it's the most beautiful place I've ever been to. It's so worth the money and the extra travel time to get there. We opted for the 3 day/2 night Castaway tour, booked through our Downtown Backpackershostel. It was way above our price range at $195, but it was an incredibly fun/crazy few days. The price included one water activity (we did Hi-speed tubing), all your food, 2 nights on a secluded, private island in the remote Len Ha bay, kayaking, a booze cruise through Halong Bay, and of course all transport, and drinking water. It involved a lot of drinking and partying, and you couldn't ask for a better location.

Kayaking through Halong Bay

Castaway Island
I'm so glad we got to spend our last few days here. I've never seen a landscape like it; magnificent terraced hills dominate the view for miles. The people are friendlier and don't bug you to buy things as much as in Hanoi. We opted to do a homestay here with a Hmong tribe family who live in a modest hut high up in the mountains. The husband, Pao, took us on an 8 hour trek up and over a huge mountain. It was possibly the most physically challenging day of my life! But despite wanting to give up many times, I'm so glad I did it. We arrived back to the hut in the evening for dinner, after washing off in the mountain stream, we were treated to a feast of fresh vegetable and meat dishes, and of course more rice than you could ever eat. The bowls were never ending, and every few minutes, Chi (Pao's lovely wife) would exclaim "Eat! Eat! Eat more!"

Views for miles

Eating at Mama Chi's house

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