Vietnam, where everything went wrong

A few months ago we watched the Top Gear Vietnam Special. Now I’m not saying I’m a marketer’s dream or anything…but we ended up booking a holiday.

Felipe and I started off in the south, in Ho Chi Minh, then travelled north. So first off then, the Cu Chi tunnels, which are just outside Ho Chi Minh. These are where the Viet Cong hid and fought during the war. It’s easy to see how the Americans would have found it impossible to infiltrate this sprawling underground network – the entrance here has been enlarged for us western visitors:

And this tunnel has been enlarged too:

Pretty scarey stuff really, when you start looking at the primitive but deadly weapons they built.

Then we headed north. Unlike the Top Gear guys, we didn’t go by moped though. This turned out to be rather lucky, we realised, as we sat on the plane on the runway for over an hour due to ‘bad weather’ in Hue. ‘Bad weather’ was secret code for ‘Tropical Depression’…and it didn’t stop raining for days.

Look, here’s Hue in the rain:

Rain in Hue

You get the idea…so we got bored of rain and headed down to Da Nang. We went by train. That was a mistake…

We were lead to believe that the train was fairly luxurious, plus the views were worth a trip on their own…
Well, the views were non-existant as it absolutely threw it down the entire time, the train was hot and stinky (they put the air con on after it reached about 35C) and I shared my seat with about 300 little beetles. But other than that it was lovely!
So we got to Da Nang…and it continued raining. My sister joined us, and we carried on south to Hoi An, where it had rained so much it was about a meter underwater.
The Venice of Vietnam!
Actually joking aside, the locals told me that it flooded every year, but because it’s a UNESO heritage site, they’re not allowed to change anything, so there’s nothing they can do about it. If that’s true, it seems slightly unfair.
Still, it wasn’t  complete disaster, there were still a few restaurants opens (which suddenly had waterfront views!) and we got some lovely clothes made…
We then had to go back to Hue to take a plane to Hanoi. I know I know, it wasn’t exactly ideal, but I booked the flights, and I clicked on the wrong thing. It wasn’t the worst booking disaster that I’ve ever had, I once booked flights from London to Moscow for a long weekend, but after buying them I realised they went via Milan. That was bad enough, but they actually stopped in Milan for the night. Opps. Anyway, I digress. The long and short of it was, that we all traipsed back to Hue. This time no trains though! We went by taxi, taking the long route for the fabulous views:
Yes, unfortunately there was a small issue with fog…
So, next stop Hanoi, but only briefly as we were actually on our way to Ha Long Bay. At least here it wasn’t raining! This was definitely the highlight of the holiday. We booked through Far EasTour, on their Petit Dolphin Boat. It wasn’t the cheapest way to do it, but it was absolutely brilliant – look at the food!:
….and Ha Long Bay is absolutely beautiful:
Now, one of the main aims of the whole trip to Vietnam, was to get an item of clothing made in Hoi An and go and sit in the floating bar in Ha Long Bay, the same one they did in Top Gear. I know it’s sad, but it made us laugh when we were planning everything.
According to the internet, the bar was in a place called Ba Hang, so we specially tailored our tour to go via the floating village, despite the tour group’s reluctance. “There’s not much there….”, but we wouldn’t be told.
We heard we were approaching Ba Hang, so we all went off to don our b..e…a…utiful outfits….and what happened???
The bar had moved!!!!
Literally it had floated off. This yellow house was all that was left of Ba Hang. DAMN IT!!!!
So instead we all jumped into a Kayak, paddled half an hour to a little island, where we climbed to the top and got funny looked in our sexy clothes. My sister really enjoyed this bit (“I didn’t sign up for a bloody adventure holiday”), so we headed back to the boat and failed to catch some squid instead.
Back on dry land, we headed off to Hanoi. Felipe headed back to work and Vicky and I thought we’d wander around the crazy city.
First on the list of things to do, was to go and see Ho Chi Minh. His Mausoleum’s here and you can go and pay him a visit. However, apparently even dead people go on holiday these days, and he was in Moscow for maintenance!
Where Ho Chi Minh should have been!
Anyway, even without Uncle Ho, Hanoi was great – crazy roads, but great fun:
I have 2 recommendations:
1. Do NOT eat at a place called the Lucky Bar and Restaurant on Hang Be street. The only people it’s lucky for is the owners as they blatantly tried to scam us out of 100,000 Dong…and then admitted it!
2. DO eat at a place called Huong Ly on Ly Thuong Kiet, it’s got ‘Red Bar’ written on the front too. Absolutely fabulous food and a lovely terrace to sit on too! They got to know us quite well after 3 days of visiting!
So in short then, everything might go wrong during your trip to Vietnam, it might rain constantly for the vast majority of your holiday and large areas of cities might be submerged, but you will still have a fabulous time….even if you don’t get some ridiculous clothes made.

About Steff Gaulter

Al Jazeera English's Senior Weather Presenter
This entry was posted in Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Vietnam, where everything went wrong

  1. Jason says:

    Hi, My girlfriend and I are just about to do a similar trip to yours, and we were wondering what time of the year you went to Vietnam? We are hoping to avoid most of the rain!

    Thanks 🙂

    • We went in a very wet November.
      The rainy season only ends in Da Nang in December, so the driest time of year for the country as a whole is usually January and February. The only drawback is that it will be quite cool in the north at this time of year, the maximum temperature is 19C and the minimum is 13C.
      It’ll still be nice and warm further south though!

  2. Bonnie Falk says:

    Hello Stranger,

    My husband, a friend of ours and I are about to do a very similar trip! (Also inspired by Top Gear. I get to be Hammond.) We’re hoping by the end of December it should be better weather than you experienced. I’m sorry to hear so many of your plans didn’t go so well. We’re a bit nervous about some of our transits as well so hopefully we can learn from your misfortune. Thanks for sharing!

    ~ Bonnie

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