After Dalat our next stop was Nha Trang. Our arrival in Nha Trang was timed just before the arrival of the TET holiday, which is the Vietnamese lunar new year. We had heard travel could be tricky over TET because everyone goes home to visit their families making bus and train tickets hard to come by. Also we had been told that lots of businesses close over TET. Nha Trang sounded like a good choice to stay in for TET because it is mega touristy so we reckoned we would be ok getting food and accommodation. There was also the prospect of getting back into the water for scuba diving.
Unfortunately the water in Nha Trang was decidedly nippy when we went scuba diving. Both of us were shivering despite the full length wetsuits we were wearing. The fish life was also very disappointing compared to Koh Tao, so after our first day diving we decided to save our money to put towards diving when we are back in Thailand.
We filled the rest of our time in Nha Trang with a visit to Vinpearl land (a water park with some really fun slides), getting pampered in a mud bath, sampling the wares of the two craft breweries in town, going bowling and to the cinema. Bizarrely, we didn’t make it to the beach once despite that being what Nha Trang is famed for!
Once TET had arrived (I slept through the new year celebrations, oops) we decided to move on to Hoi An. Hoi An was very touristy, but it was oh so lovely too. It is a UNESCO site with Chinese and Japanese influences on the architecture.
Hoi An is also quite possibly the culinary capital of Vietnam. So of course it was only right to do another cooking course here! The class we chose was overlooking the river and we were free to pick exactly what we wanted to make from a very extensive menu. Vietnam has the potential to make me go up a dress size, the food here is just so incredibly good!
Dragging ourselves away from Hoi An was very difficult, but it was time to head north. We had after all been in Vietnam for over a month now and still hadn’t reached the north. We didn’t though go very far, only about 30km north to Danang for a few days of beach time before moving on to our next stop, Hue. Danang by the beach is still very quiet and undeveloped. However, the developers are moving in fast and there are signs of big resorts being built along the coast. In 5 – 10 years time I reckon it will be just as busy and just as touristy as Nha Trang. Now is the time to go to enjoy the tranquility while it is still there.
Hue was my chance to be a history geek about Vietnam’s past pre-war. This was the capital under the Nguyen dynasty who were in power from 1802 until the last emperor, Bao Dai, ceded power over to Ho Chi Minh in 1945. The Imperial City was built during this era and it was a massive complex built to house the Emperor, his wives and his concubines. Sadly very little still stands today, it was heavily damaged during the Vietnam was in 1968. What is left has been sympathetically restored and the rest has been left to crumble gracefully.
The next day it was time to see where the emperors had ended up for their afterlife. The countryside around Hue is doted with imperial tombs. Each emperor oversaw the design and building of their tomb, some used them as palaces during their lifetime. We went to the Tu Doc, Minh Mang and Khai Dinh tombs. Each one was very different and each one was spectacular in its own way.
Khai Dinh was smaller but much grander than the others.
Minh Mang was set in an ornate garden which felt like a country home in the UK.
Tu Doc was much more decayed, but set around a lake with tombs for the queen as well as the Emperor
After Hue we finally hit north Vietnam! We were feeling really lazy so when our hotel in Hue suggested a private car to the next stop with a tour of the Demiliterised Zone (DMZ) thrown in we jumped at the chance. A door to door transfer with some sightseeing thrown in, what’s not to like about that!
The best bit was getting to see the Vinh Moc tunnels. These tunnels were made to house the villagers of Vinh Moc which lay just north of the DMZ. This area was heavily bombed by the US during the war forcing the villagers to seek shelter in the tunnels. It was quite eerie exploring the tunnels, unlike the Cu Chi tunnels these tunnels were really quiet we were the only tourists there. It was incredible to think that 600 people lived down here.
After over a month in Vietnam we had finally reached the north! Next stop Phong Nha National Park.