I entered Vietnam through its capital, Hanoi. There is a split between those who hate the city and those who love it. I suppose it depends on what your tastes are. Hanoi is very much the big city that lacks what other areas have in terms of nature and undeveloped tourism. But what it does have and what divides people is the very party-forward backpacker crowd. Hanoi itself has little sightseeing places to visit that can be done in two days but it is a great center to rest in from all of the nature-seeking tours. The city is a launch pad to popular places like Halong Bay, Sapa, Ninh Binh, Hoian and Saigon among others but my favorite was Ha Giang.
Upon arrival, I booked the party hostel Vietnam Backpackers for a few nights. I had never stayed in a party hostel so I figured what da hell. Word of mouth said that as long as sleep was not a priority but craziness was, this was a good hostel. At a minimum, they were supposed to have good travel agents for tours around Vietnam. It was also in a very good location within the Old Quarter. Only steps away from crazily crowded Beer Street.
The hostel was indeed a gateway to mayhem and little sleep but the best thing to come out of it was the Castaways tour in Halong Bay. The tour consisted of going to an island called Castaway Island for two nights and having a full-day booze cruise in the middle of the three days. For Vietnam, it was an expensive tour but it was definitely worth it if your idea of fun includes abusing your liver.
Halong Bay itself is quite beautiful. It has light green water surrounded by giant limestones. This is one of Vietnam’s must-see locales. There are many ways to get there: booking everything on your own or booking one of the countless tours available. Castaways is the most popular but not everyone will appreciate this tour. Although the little island is beautiful, the accommodations aren’t adequate for proper sleep. One of the main gripes is both a blessing and a curse: the lodging is steps away from the beach. This proximity means sand will inevitably be everywhere; from the bed and clothes, all the way to where the sun don’t shine. This hardly seems a problem if you succumb to the social pressure of being under the influence 24/7. I tried being sober on the second evening and frankly, it was boring AF given everyone else is so… not. So when in Rome…
Ha Giang is a small town to the north where tourism has yet to fully develop. The popular activity there, called the Ha Giang Loop, entails circling the town in motorbike for about 325km. Most people will complete it in 3-4 days taking their time to stop often and enjoy the beauty of the surroundings and the friendly locals. The Ha Giang Loop is my recommendation for anyone coming to Vietnam. It was an unforgettable experience, even if I fell off the bike multiple times. 🙂 The loop’s highlight is the Ma Pi Leng Pass.
I spent about a month in Vietnam and for about half of it, I had to spend it in bed. After my initial seven days of partying with the crew at Vietnam Backpacker Hostel and their Castaway tour, I was bed ridden due to exhaustion, diarrhea and an eye infection. After this much needed rest, I went to do the loop and ended up falling multiple times, causing me great pain to walk and do the most basic of movements. Once I was able to at least walk at a normal pace, my visa was about to expire and I had to leave. I could’ve renewed it, but you have to surrender your passport for a few days and I’m not cool with that. 🙂
Despite the discomfort, I loved Vietnam’s beautiful landscapes, vibe, food, and people. Vietnam offers more than I could have seen, so have no choice but to return and explore further. I’m sure I did the two best things in Vietnam, but that just means that when I return I must do the Ha Giang Loop again—without falling. But if I do fall again, at least I now have experience with that sort of thing. 🙂