I officially crossed over the border into Cambodia yesterday and by doing so ended my time in Vietnam. And although I'm very excited to start yet another adventure, it's also bittersweet to leave Vietnam that I completely fell in love with. The thousands of different smells, the smiling people and the rich culture blew me away and I could've easily spent months getting to know Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh or Hoi An. Every place was so unique and different from the last and the contrast between modern and old, countryside and city and North and South was incredibly interesting to witness. Even with all the tourists in some areas most of Vietnam still seemed so local in its essence and because so many travellers followed roughly the same routes I met and re-met many friends. But enough of my blabbering here's a recap of my last 10 days in Vietnam. I woke up around 5 am on the 7th of September to a very wild ride up winding mountain roads in the pouring rain. Although the speedy turns had my heart racing, the sunrise through the morning mist and in between the mountains was beautiful. I arrived in the French colonial city of Da Lat around 7 am and made my way to Cozy Nook hostel. The temperature was like a European spring and walking through the old French hill town made me question whether I really was still in Vietnam. At the hostel, I met up with Reeti and Mette and before I knew it we were off in a car for the countryside tour. We told our guide to skip the weasel farm, cricket farm and silk factory (trying to be ethical travellers) and set off towards the Pongour Waterfall, on the way stopping at the Paradise Lake and a pagoda.
Pongour waterfall was incredibly stunning (probably the most beautiful waterfall I've been to so far) and we stayed for a while admiring it.
Then we drove to Elephant Waterfall, saw a pagoda and the Happy Buddha and ate an incredible family-style lunch at a local restaurant.
We then went a rice wine farm (and tried the "happy water" - yuck) and visited a minority village (where the women are in charge!) It was super cool to see the traditional wooden houses and learn about their matriarchal society. The final stop was a flower farm, before our super knowledgeable and sweet guide dropped us off at the old French train station.
From here we began a very tedious and long search for the old French Quarter that google maps said was inside a fenced and closed area. After a very long walk up to different roads, we gave up and went to an underground shopping mall on Central Square, then to the main cathedral and then back home.
We joined the really nice family dinner at the hostel, walked through the night market and then went back to bed.
Because Reeti and Mette had to catch the bus back to Saigon in the afternoon, we were up and out pretty early the next morning, walking to the old train station and getting tickets for the train to Lien Phouc Pagoda made up of ceramic pieces. The ride there was fun and the pagoda was pretty cool, but by the time we got back, we were an in a bit of a pinch time-wise.
We took a grab to Bao Dai's summer palace, which was incredibly interesting with its 1930s French style interior.
We had to rush through it slightly though and then speedwalk to the Crazy House - an incredible art gallery and hotel. It was like stepping into a fairytale world and was an unbelievably cool place to explore, although we did have to go through it pretty quickly.
We ended up at Breakfast and Brew with a good amount of time to spare, ate an incredible lunch and said our goodbyes. I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing.
My third and last day in Da Lat I spent pretty relaxed, walking to the local market in the morning to observe the hustle and bustle of it
and then walking allllll the way around the giant lake in the middle of the city. It was a long and peaceful walk and I came by a little flower garden on the way as well.
I explored the central square some more before hiding from the rain at Breakfast and Brew. In the evening I found a local vegan restaurant to eat at before walking through the night market once again. I spent the 10th of September travelling to Ho Chi Minh city by bus and then getting a grab bike to Will's (a good friend from the farm in Thailand) apartment. The late afternoon traffic was absolutely insane and definitely threw me into the big-city-chaos head first. It was so good to see Will again, like being back with family. We fell back into easy talk and joking in an instant and soon went to district 1 for a drink.
He didn't know that David (who we met at the full moon party) was in town, so we surprised him by "accidentally" running into him on the street. David's friends were there too and I joined their big group from the hostel and went out dancing (following a pub crawl most of the time).
The next morning Will and I went out for breakfast at a nearby vegan restaurant before he went to work.
I hopped on a grab bike and met up with David, Jaya and Tom at the War Remnants museum. It was an incredible and horrifying museum and I ended up spending the whole afternoon there, learning about the Vietnam War and the aftermath of it. I braved the afternoon traffic on a scooter again and met up with Will back home.
We had agreed to meet up with Mette, Reeti, David, Tom and Jaya for dinner, but Tom and Jaya ended up bailing and David was more than four hours late. So we were just four, eating, drinking and talking for a long time. Mette and Reeti went home, while Will and I walked all the way to Bui Vien (the party street) to meet up with David - we had some amazing talks about life, travel and expectations on the way. We all three went to Miss Saigon and danced late into the night. Will and I bought loads of falafel and junk food and ended up talking and eating on his floor until 5 am in the morning. I think that is probably gonna be one of those memories that will always make me smile to look back on - Will does truly feel like family and has at this point just started introducing me as his sister.
We were both pretty hungover the next morning, Will got us orange juice from a street vendor before I hopped on a grab bike and met up with Mette and Reeti at the klook travel office.We boarded the tour bus to the Cu Chi tunnels, on the way stopping at a factory and shop where they employ agent orange victims. My hangover and I were very excited about the coffee there.
Our guide was extremely knowledgable and taught us everything there was to know about the tunnels and Viet Cong as he showed us around the Cu Chi tunnels area, demonstrating how the traps, gear and rooms had been used.
We tried crawling 20 meters through an enlargened part of a tunnel, which really put the Vietnamese fighters' lives into perspective. The whole experience was mindblowing, thought-provoking and extremely interesting.
Picture: trying tapico with peanuts and spices that Viet Cong mainly ate
Picture: collage of me trying to hide in a tunnel
Will met up with me back in district 1 and we got a grab to a grocery store, where we got loads of groceries and went back and cooked amazing Mexican food (well, I probably cooked most of it). We sat on the floor eating and talking, before going to bed early. It was such a cosy night.
On Friday the 13th I met up with Reeti and Mette for lunch at vegan restaurant Au Lac. We set out towards Notre Dame Cathedral in the pouring rain but had to seek refuge in a cafe on the way. Reeti went to a spa appointment while Mette and I walked to the cathedral, then the Central Post Office and then to the Opera House.
Because Mette bought tickets for a show we got a free tour of the building and then we walked to Ben Thanh Central Market.
I got a grab back home and relaxed with Will for a little while before we met up with Reeti and Mette at vegan cafe El at the Rubik Zoo (a kind of night market). We all went for drinks at a bar in district 1 (of course after the obligatory Circle K visit for cheaper alcohol), meeting up with some of Mette and Reeti's friends, before heading back home around 2 am (again ending up chatting until 4.30 am). I think Will and I have some of the absolute best talks when we are drunk.
Once again I woke up with a hangover and we stayed in the apartment and did absolutely nothing for a while before going to district 1 for coffee. We failed at getting tickets for the Heineken tour to the Skydeck of the Bitexco tower and instead walked to Ben Thanh Market for groceries.
Back home we (meaning I) made pineapple fried rice and mango salad, something we always made back on the farm in Thailand. We once again ate and talked (and drank) on the floor and after dancing around in the apartment for a little while we hopped on two grab bikes to district 2.
The drive was absolutely crazy in the pouring rain and with actual lakes having formed on the road (it had basically been raining non-stop for two days by now), but we got to Saigon Outcast without issues (albeit with wet shoes). We wanted to get alcohol at the VinMart on the other side of the road first to save money and a stranger was kind enough to drive us across the road on her scooter. We had a bit of a problem getting back across though and ended up putting plastic bags on our feet and making a run for it (it did not work in any way).
With soaked feet we watched the Pride Ball and drag show competition taking place, streaming and clapping along - it was a hilarious evening and we were both completely drunk (because we had to celebrate my last real night in Saigon according to Will).
When the show was over we got a grab to district 1 and sat down at a Circle K with yet another Soju (a strong rice drink from South Korea). We had a hilarious chat, which is the last thing I remember from that night, but according to Will we also had a great time dancing with Vietnamese women at Lush Bar for about two hours before getting a grab back home.
My last day in Ho Chi Minh I spent unmoving in bed, knocked out by a horrible hangover, but it was nice none the less to just have a completely lazy day. Around 4.30 pm I felt fairly human again and after a quick shower, Will and I went for a coffee before meeting up with Reeti and Mette for our last dinner together. And holy moly was it the best last dinner ever - we went to a GIANT all-vegan Asian buffet, Au Lac healthy world. I have never seen so much vegan food in my life, with so many creative and delicious things and lots of incredible mock meats. We all stuffed ourselves to the brim in vegan starters, sushi, soups, mains and desserts and sat talking until the restaurant closed. I said sad goodbyes to Mette and Reeti before going home to the apartment.
I was up and out early on the 16th, saying goodbye to a half-asleep Will and getting a grab to the bus station. I boarded the local bus to Phnom Penh and thankfully got past the border check easily. The bus arrived at 6 pm in Phnom Penh (three hours late) and the next chapter of my travels started.
I absolutely loved Ho Chi Minh City (although I am completely ready for a detox), with all its skyscrapers, luxurious hotels, French architecture and chaotic traffic. So many people had told me that it was a shitty city you should only pass through and I had expected dirty old buildings and sketchy streets but the big modern city seemed both extremely local and very hip and Western at the same time. It didn't have much in terms of tourist attractions, but I found the atmosphere and buildings amazing.