Vietnam Part 1 – Saigon, Hoi An and the Marble Mountains

Vietnam had been on my list for 10 years, so I could easily have been disappointed after all that time, but I wasn’t. Vietnam is absolutely amazing! It is geographically stunning, the people are genuinely friendly, the food is delicious and the colonial architecture elegant. It has a complex history with memories and visions of war everywhere. Now a country at peace, it has been an emerging travel destination over the years, yet you still feel it is refreshingly unspoiled. And as I discovered, Vietnam is so much more than rice fields and conical hats!

My trip began in Saigon and finished 12 days later in Hanoi. The streets of Saigon were incredible with motorbikes everywhere! There are 3 million motorbikes on the street at any given time – imagine the round-abouts! I took my own cyclo tour visiting the War Museum, City Hall, the Rex Hotel and various other sights including the famous ones from the book/movie ‘The Quiet American’. I also strolled down Dong Khoi street which was famous for its brothels and massage parlours. It is now a rather chic area of Saigon with fancy restaurants and shops. The buildings are all very elegant and more sophisticated shopping can be done here. 

Eating is easy in Saigon as there are outdoor night markets everywhere; food was wonderful and very inexpensive! An average dinner cost about $3.00USD – and that includes a large beer! 

We spent a day boating on the Mekong, which is well worth a visit. If you can get in a small boat and pole down the tributaries it is quite beautiful, very lush and very peaceful. We stopped at various islands and wandered through villages.

From Saigon we made our way to Hoi An. Once a bustling port town, Hoi An is now a lovely haven of cobbled stone streets where coloured lanterns hanging from colonial buildings. You can get anything made to measure here. There are over 300 tailors! But try not to spend your whole time shopping! Instead just wander the streets, rent a bike and cycle into the country – it is very flat, rent a boat and paddle to some of the nearby islands and wander through villages, visit the early morning fish market, watch the school girls bike to school wearing their immaculate white ao dais. Hoi An is a treasure, so enjoy! 

From Hoi An we drove north to the Marble Mountains and China Beach. It is definitely worth climbing the 200 steps to the top of the Marble Mountains. Get a beautiful view and poke your head into some of the cave temples. From there a quick stop to see China Beach – an untouched beach (at least at the moment). We continued on and went over the Hai Van Pass. If it wasn’t foggy, which it usually is, the view would have been spectacular.