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Wight Backpacker — Exploring Southern Vietnam

Zoe Adler at the Hung Mua Temple, Southern Vietnam. Photo by Jason Moore.

Zoe Adler at the Hung Mua Temple, Southern Vietnam. Photo by Jason Moore.

Saturday, January 13, 2018 - 13:00

Follow former County Press employee Zoe Adler as she explores South East Asia and New Zealand with her partner, Jason Moore.
Trying to make our way south, our next stop was Tam Coc. We went to a town called Hoa Lu, which is the ancient capital in the Ninh Binh area - a popular stop gap for travellers.
After a five-hour bus journey (and a hole in the ground as a bathroom stop) we arrived.
The taxi ride to our home-stay was short and we were soon greeted by a lovely family. Families renting out their spare rooms to travellers, marketed as a way of experiencing the 'real' country, is very common now and a great insight for us to see how the local people live. 
Being in quite a rural area, our hosts let us use their bicycles for free. This allowed us to explore the nearby 'Hung Mua', meaning dancing caves, and the temple which was a 500-step climb to the top of a mountain.
It was very daunting, I will definitely need a knee replacement in the future, but the view was worth every step.
Some other places that we wanted to visit were a bit further so they let us borrow their Mo-ped. It was a bit of a hairy experience at first but we soon got the hang of it. Although not strictly legal, this is the main mode of transport for backpackers in South East Asia and by far the best way to get around as it gives you so much freedom.
We took the bike and explored the Bird Park and Nature Reserve, with lots of hiking along with a few untrustworthy bamboo bridges, plenty to fill our afternoon although some of the park was under renovation.
Many parts of Vietnam that we visited or drove past seemed to be under construction. It is said that it will soon be the 'new' Thailand with lots of beach resorts and western influence, targeting holiday makers rather than just backpackers. 
Realising that time was really getting away from us and we only had time for one more stop, we had to make a decision where to end our Vietnamese adventure. After some Googling, Hoi An was pinned as our next point. Some might wonder why we decided against going to Ho Chi Minh City, but after hearing that it is busier than Hanoi, the pull of a beach was too strong. 
Fifteen hours on a sleeping bus wasn't as bad as I was expecting, we actually had a berth where we could lay down. It was clean and had air con, which was needed when there was about 40 people trying to sleep in one enclosed space. Some people were even sleeping in the gangways on the floor, which made getting to the loo at 4am quite a challenge. 
Neither of us knew what to expect when arriving in Hoi An as Typhoon Darney had only hit a week ago.
We were surprised that apart from a few palm trees uprooted and huge sand bags guarding the beach, you wouldn't have known. The town was dry and clear of any washed up debris, not to mention absolutely charming. Lining the canal were lanes of tailors, restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques all decorated with pretty lanterns. Walking around we couldn't help but compare some of the architecture to that of France, which led Jason to educate me - it used to be a French colony. 
We were just free to look and wander around as we pleased, which was very refreshing after the wrath of Hanoi.
I was told that you should get a custom made dress when visiting, as they are some of the best tailors in the world and are very well priced! I walked into a tailors and was greeted with a bottle of cold water and a very helpful lady, she helped me pick the fabric, measured me and told me to come back at 5pm for a fitting. 
Whilst waiting for the dress to be made, our hostel offered a free bike tour to see the sights, as the word 'free' was involved we couldn't turn this down! He took a group of us off the beaten track all through the back streets and rice paddies.
Our first stop was a very colourful boat, anchored in the middle of a field, he explained that the boat was a sacred place where the local people gave offerings and prayer.
We were then led to an old broken bridge. Navigating carefully across, it allowed us to walk through a forest of bamboo, making us feel as if we were ants in the blades of grass.
Jumping back on the bikes, our next stop was an elderly Vietnamese lady's home. She was practising the art of traditional mat weaving using all different coloured rice reeds and even let me have a go! 
Nearing 5pm,  we went back to the tailors. She made a few adjustments and said that it would be ready in two hours. As it was our last night in Vietnam, we decided to treat ourselves to a sit down meal in a restaurant overlooking the canal. Three courses of Vietnamese-style food were served, including spring rolls, deep fried wonton with sweet and sour pineapple, white rose, pork noodles, fish cooked in banana leaf with rice and of course a chocolate banana pancake to finish - I must have eaten one nearly everyday for the past two weeks and I am still not bored of them. 
I will miss a lot of things about this country. Vietnam has buckets of natural beauty, equally by the coast and in the countryside. The hospitality is faultless and our money stretched far which was an added bonus!
There has been no language barrier issues as everyone seemed to know a little English. It was a good job really as I haven't attempted to learn any Vietnamese - very ignorant of me and definitely something to work on.  The only thing I wanted was more time in this exquisite country - we will definitely be back. 
Bamboo bridge Southern Vietnam by Jason Moore

Zoe Adler on a bamboo bridge in the bird park. Photo by Jason Moore.

Tam Coc Southern Vietnam by Jason Moore

Tam Coc, Southern Vietnam. Photo by Jason Moore

Zoe Adler in Southern Vietnam. Photo by Jason Moore.

Zoe Adler in Southern Vietnam. Photo by Jason Moore.

 


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