Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An and Hue
Megan was eager to see how much Vietnam has changed since she last visited ten years ago and was excited to share some of her favorite spots with Markus.
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City can at times overwhelm the senses. Motorbikes speed by in all directions maintaining somewhat of a fluid motion as they weave in and out of traffic, the smell of coffee and fermented fish sauce can hit you simultaneously, and there is constant noise primarily in the form of honking. This was Megan’s third time to Ho Chi Minh City and she was quick to describe that it felt a bit different. Compared to when she first visited Vietnam roughly ten years ago, there is now a pretty significant skyline. Also, in general things felt more developed. As we continued our journey north in Vietnam, this became more and more apparent.
Our first morning in Vietnam we went for a breakfast of pho and Vietnamese coffee (served with condensed milk). The Vietnamese love coffee and it is not uncommon to see multiple busy coffee shops lined up in a row. Markus is not a fan of pho, so he struggled through breakfast, but in Megan’s opinion this is part of experiencing Vietnam. Later in the morning we visited the Independence Palace and the War Remnants Museum. These are both must-dos while in Ho Chi Minh City. The War Remnants Museum focuses on the American War and includes sections on the effects of Agent Orange as well as the anti-war movement in America and beyond. There are also a few sections on the French Indochina War. As we missed our initial flight to Vietnam, we were short on time and could not visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, the tunnel system used by Viet Cong soldiers which played a huge role in the Tet Offensive. In the evening we went bahn mi hopping, essentially trying various banh mi’s at different stands. While Markus is not a fan of pho, this signature Vietnamese sandwich is a favorite of his.
The next day we boarded an overnight train on the Reunification Express to head toward Hoi An. The Reunification Express is one of the most convenient methods of transportation in Vietnam and is also simply a lot of fun. The typical backpacker route goes from Ho Chi Minh City to the beach town of Nha Trang and then picks up again to continue on to Da Nang (Hoi An). We chose to skip Nha Trang and take it straight through to Hoi An, so our trip left at 3pm and arrived the following morning at 9am. The journey cost us around $30 usd for a soft sleeper ticket.
The city of Hoi An has the nickname City of Lanterns because the old town is covered in them. This is part of the attraction of the city, the historical section has beautiful buildings that are lit up in the evening with colorful lanterns strewn allover the streets and buildings. This city was touristy when Megan first visited it, however it felt like it’s tourism grew ten-fold. Again, during the evening we were on a quest for the best bahn mi in the city, and hit up one of Anthony Bourdain’s favorites: Bahn Mi Phuong. While it was delicious, the line left something to be desired. We had multiple people in front of us ordering roughly 30 sandwiches for their entire families. They did also have a “locals only” line, which we appreciated.
Hoi An is also a short distance from the beach, making for a great city break, sadly though much of the beach has eroded in recent years. One of the other highlights to visiting Hoi An are the numerous tailors that will make custom made clothing or shoes for you within a day or two. We decided not to have anything made, but Megan had a few items custom made for her ten years ago on her first visit, including shoes!
Our next location was Hue, a short 3 hour car ride from Hoi An. Many people either take a direct bus to get there or they hire a driver for the day so that they can make a few different sightseeing stops. We chose to rent a motorbike and do the journey on our own. The first stop we made was at Marble Mountain which contains a few marble and limestone hills that overlook the city of Da Nang. It also has a few pagodas and caves which are worth exploring. We then headed along the coast and then up over the coastal mountains and Hai Van Pass. We made a few pit stops along the way to Hue for lunch and photos.
By the time we reached Hue we were exhausted and felt like we had been overexposed to the sun. We took it easy in the evening and woke up bright and early the next day to watch the Warriors championship game. We headed to one of the most famous backpacker bars, DMZ Bar, assuming they would be our best chance to watch the game on a big screen–we were correct.
The next day we rented a motorbike to explore the city and it’s surroundings. At the heart of the city is the Citadel that surrounds what was once the Imperial City. Hue was once the imperial capital of Vietnam and thus has many distinct sites to visit, including the numerous tombs that surround the outskirts of the city center. The most famous one is Tu Duc Tomb, however it is worth visiting the others, even if they aren’t as kept up as this one. Both Tu Duc Tomb and the Citadel are undergoing restoration efforts at the moment, in fact restoration efforts have been ongoing for years. These restoration efforts are necessary as a lot of the damage is a direct result from the numerous wars fought within Vietnam including a bombing campaign during the Battle of Hue.