Heading to Vietnam was exciting for me since the country seemed so foreign in comparison to other countries. Crossing overland from the Chinese side made it even more exhilarating. Caleb and I started our journey to Vietnam from Shanghai. We were supposed to get a train but it would have taken over 30 hours. Instead, we found a plane ticket to Nanning, a border city, for a couple of dollars more than the train price (You can read about the interesting flight to Nanning here). Once in Nanning, we headed to the local bus station to find a bus to Hanoi, the capitol of Vietnam. The bus ticket to Hanoi was around $25 per person from Nanning which included transferring buses at the border. The bus was air-conditioned and had a bus attendant who made announcements and passed out refreshments. Every passenger received a pastry, an apple, and a bottle of water. At the border, we were directed to board a large golf cart which took us to the customs building. Customs went smoothly without any complications. A Chinese police did ask to see Caleb’s passport, but I think it was out of curiosity (unless Caleb looked nervous). Once we crossed finished customs in the Vietnam side, we boarded another large golf cart and transferred onto a new bus headed towards Hanoi.
After a 6-7 hour bus ride, Caleb and I arrived at Hanoi around 8pm. I thought we would find wifi the bus station to find our way to the hostel, but the station was a dark, unpaved dirt lot away from from everything. I befriended a Chinese man on the bus and he helped Caleb and I find our way to the old city where our hostel was located. Once we checked-in, I went to the lobby to use the hostel’s internet computer. After a few seconds I noticed something. I could not stop sweating. I was just sitting down and not moving at all, but sweat kept pouring down my back and forehead. Imagine walking! From this point on, I stopped wearing closed shoes and pants. I even bought a sleeveless t-shirt.
After accepting the fact of being sweaty all the time, Hanoi became a vibrant city with crowded streets of people and motorbikes. The intersections were quite a sight. There were no trafic lights directing traffic and somehow cars smoothly crossed each other simultaneously without any accidents (most of the time). People were expected to also cross roads without traffic lights. The best way I found to cross roads in Vietnam was to just cross without waiting and cars would stop or go around you.
I was told that I coud not leave Hanoi without seeing these tall rocks in a bay called Ha Long Bay. So I signed up for a on day tour. Caleb decided not to go and I spent the entire day out in the bay. The tour included a three hour bus ride to the bay, a dine-in cruise to the rocks, kayaking around the rocks, and a return bus ride. All for $20.
After two days in Hanoi, we headed to southern Vietnam towards Ho Chi Minh City where we would cross into Cambodia. Ho Chi Minh City is at the opposite side of Vietnam taking at least 30 hours on bus. Our best option to get there was to purchase an open bus ticket. With an open bus ticket, we could get off and on at cities in between Ho Chi Mihn and Hanoi which would make the trip shorter. The buses were sleeper buses (beds instead of seats) and some offered wifi. So we ended up stopping at Hoi An and Nha Trang.
Hoi An was a small quiet version of Hanoi. Many of its buildings are original and town has been recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO. The town did not have busy streets and there were custom tailors everywhere. Caleb tried the custom tailor by having custom leather shoes made, but they came out pretty bad. He ended up leaving them behind.
Nha Trang is the most popular beach in Vietnam which made it very touristic. Although touristic areas can be fun, having an area that only exists because of tourists takes away its authenticity. We did however find an authentic side of the city when we attended a home church. The small Seventh-day Adventist Christian group was very welcoming and glad to have visitors in their short service. After their short service we headed to the beach to look around. I noticed that Nha Trang main tourists are Russians. Store signs and restaurant menus in Russian were everywhere. That night we were supposed to board an overnight bus to Ho Chi Minh but we missed the bus because we could not find the bus station. We ended up leaving the following morning placing us behind in our schedule.
Since we arrived at Ho Chi Minh a day late, we only spent one night there and left the next morning to Cambodia. While in Ho Chi Minh, I my iPhone would not charge. I was able to find a local iPhone repair job and had it fixed. Although the visit to Ho Chi Minh was short, I was able to have one of the best tasting fried rice and Oreo shakes.