Da Nang and Hoi An – Hidden Gems of Vietnam

Beach

Vietnam’s coastal towns of Da Nang and Hoi An are some of its lesser-known tourist attractions.  While admittedly the ancient village of Hoi An is famous for being a Unesco heritage site, the larger area surrounding it and the beach-filled coastline up towards Da Nang are some of the best-kept secrets of Vietnam.

An Bang Beach
An Bang Beach

DA NANG

For the most part, Da Nang is a large metropolis with an uninviting, busy and polluted city centre.  However, it’s gifted with a fortunate geographical advantage in the form of a river dividing the main city centre from a beautiful strip of land that serves as a beachside haven. A mix of fancy and affordable hotels stretch for miles along white sand beaches from the Son Tra mountain in the North all the way down to idyllic ‘An Bang’ beach in the South.

Da Nang benefits from a comfortable mix of local and expat influences, with a string of excellent traditional seafood restaurants lining the beachfront up north.  The south has a stronger foreign influence in the form of informal western-style beach bars and fancy, upmarket resorts.

A La Carte
The Rooftop Pool at A La Carte

Popular Attractions

Son Tra and The Lady Buddha

Son Tra mountain dominates an outcrop of land that forms a natural border and defines the northernmost reaches of Da Nang.  Here, amongst the traditional Vietnamese architecture of Linh Ung Pagoda, you can find the famous ‘Lady Buddha’ – the tallest Buddha statue in Vietnam at 30-storeys high.  The statue is so tall it can be seen from anywhere in Da Nang, and from the hill upon which it sits the entire city is visible – all the way down to the extraordinary Marble Mountains in the South.

 

Lady Buddha

Marble Mountains

The Marble Mountains can only be described as bizarre beyond imagination. Carved deep within two imposing marble outcrops, jutting from the flat and coastal landscape, is a maze of caverns.  These are decorated with cult-like adornments – sculptures and artworks that would instil a deep sense of unease in even the most hardened of souls.  The structures are part of ancient Buddhist and Hindu grottoes which depict the suffering of souls banished to hell.   

If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you can also take a lift or walk up to the top of the mountain, where you will discover some pagodas and be rewarded with a 360-degree panoramic view of the entire area.

Marble Mountains
Marble Mountains

Ba Na Hills

Ba Na Hills is a hill station consisting of a collection of botanical gardens, a wax museum and a faux-French village built high up on a mountain overlooking Da Nang.  The station is accessible by one of the longest cable cars in the world, at 5801m.  It features daily performances of both traditional and European music and dance and hosts a number of restaurants with cuisine from around the world.

The high altitude can cause the weather to get a bit chilly, so additional warm clothing is advisable. Due to the size and number of things to see, it’s worth spending a night at the fabulous (and affordable) Mercure Hotel.  This will also afford you the opportunity to experience the moody nighttime atmosphere as the village becomes engulfed in a thick mist.

The Dragon Bridge

Da Nangs Dragon Bridge is the most beautiful and ornate of the many bridges that cross the Han River.  Completed in 2013 by an American engineering firm, it supports six lanes of traffic and spans 666m. Every Saturday and Sunday evening at 9 pm you can relax on the eastern shore of the river and watch the ‘dragon’ breathe fire and water from its nostrils.

Entertainment and Accommodation

For evening entertainment notable stalwarts of the music scene include The Village – a fabulous live music venue on My Khe beach, and Minsk Bar – a very relaxed Rasta-themed bar just off the beachfront on Ngo Thi Si street. This area, An Thuong, is generally considered to be the expat and tourist area of Da Nang and is loaded with accommodation for all tastes – ranging from budget backpacker hostels to 5-star hotels and resorts.  For some excellent rooftop swimming pools, check out A La Carte and The Queen’s Finger hotels.

Rooftop Pool at the Queens Finger
Rooftop Pool at the Queens Finger

 


HOI AN

Ten kilometres south of Da Nang you will find the ancient Unesco heritage village of Hoi An, a world away from the bustling city of Da Nang.  Hoi An town is primarily inland and focused around the Thu Bon River, but also stretches west and includes the nearby beaches of Cua Dai and Cam An.

Hoi An
Hoi An Bridge

Architecture

Hoi An is colloquially known as ‘Lantern Town’ due to the prevalence of the beautiful, multi-coloured Chinese lanterns that adorn every building and street.  Adding to this visual feast is architecture unlike anything you will see elsewhere in Vietnam, with heavy influence from both ancient Chinese and colonial French styles.  

Hoi An Architecture
Hoi An Architecture

Its heritage status means it’s one of the best examples of a well-preserved 19th-century Vietnamese trading port.  The streets abound with many timber-framed buildings, old wooden bridges, traditional riverboats and ornate monuments.  

The Japanese Covered Bridge is one of the most popular tourist attractions in town.  Dating from the 18th century, it’s a small, wooden pedestrian-only bridge featuring traditional carvings and a small museum depicting its history.

Hoi An River
Hoi An River

Accommodation and Food

Hoi An is awash with some of the finest cuisine you will find anywhere in the country, and its street food is world-renowned.  

Cao Lau, a pork and noodle dish, is arguably its most famous and consists of ingredients only found in Hoi An, including Cham island noodles and local organic vegetables.  It is such a speciality that the dish can hardly be found anywhere else in Vietnam!

Seared Tuna
Seared Tuna

Mi Quang is another popular dish and can be accompanied by any range of meat, including chicken, pork, prawns or fish.  Like Cao Lau, it’s a noodle dish, but it’s the range of spices, roast peanuts, fresh herbs and sesame rice crackers that make it special.

To have your taste buds tantalised check out local eateries Tuan Cafe, Nahn’s Kitchen, The Hoianian and The Claypot.  For more western-inspired dishes head to White Marble, Herbs and Spices or the amazing Greek restaurant MIX.  It serves what is quite possibly the best Greek food you will find outside of Greece.

Greek platter at MIX
Greek platter at MIX

Accommodation in Hoi An won’t leave you wanting.  While less focused on the backpacker crowd, there is still a good selection of cheap hostels around.  These include The Sunflower, Leo Leo Hostel and the slightly more upmarket Hoi An Backpackers in Cam Chau, near the beach.  Quality hotels abound, ranging from affordable but fancy 3-star options to opulent 5-star resorts like the Anantara.

Vietnam Backpackers Hoi An
Vietnam Backpackers Hoi An

 


Read more about Vietnam here: Motorbiking Vietnam

 

Phong Nha

My mother came to visit me in Vietnam and we went to Phong Nha to check out the caves and beautiful scenery.  We decided to travel up by train from Danang, as six hours on a motorbike seemed a bit much and we were short on time.


The Danang train station as expected was rather chaotic and our train was delayed, but fortunately only by 20 minutes.  Luckily I had booked ahead and we had two bottom beds in a first class 4 sleeper cabin, so we had somewhere nice to sit around the small table.  I highly recommend booking ahead so you can get the bottom beds and paying the tiny bit ($1- $2) extra for first class 4-sleeper cabin so there is space to sit up.  We weren’t actually intending on sleeping as it was an afternoon train, but all the seats were sold out so we had to take this.  I walked down to take a look at the seat cabins and they are quite nice too, similar to reclining airplane seats so quite fine if you book ahead and want to save a bit of money.  They are about $3-$4 less than sleeper cabins.

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The view on the way through the Hai Van pass is spectacular, although unfortunately our window was tinted so it was hard to see, but it was still a very enjoyable ride.  They have lots of food and drinks available on the train including beer, crisps, noodle pots and cooked food like spring rolls, chicken, rice and veg.   Just make sure you check the prices on the menu first – they tried to rip me off!


IMG-20170527-WA0043The train doesn’t actually go direct to Phong Nha, so we had to get off at the nearest town which is Dong Hoi – about half an hour away and $20 by taxi.  Fortunately the tour we had booked for the following day included a free pick-up from Dong Hoi, so we spent the night there at a cheap homestay near the station.  This is a good option if you are travelling by train, however if you’re on a motorbike it works out cheaper just to visit the caves on your own rather than through a tour operator.


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There didn’t seem to be anything worth doing in Dong Hoi so we got to bed early to be ready for our 8am pick up.  The tour operator arrived in good time and we drove off towards our first stop – Paradise Cave.


Paradise Cave has only recently been discovered and opened to the public.  In total it continues for 31km, but most people only explore the first 1km which has walkways, ladders and lightening to help navigate.  We spent about an hour walking through to the end and back, marvelling at the incredible rock formations and underground rivers.  Then we headed to a restaurant with the tour group to have lunch, which was very common Vietnamese fare – rice, spring rolls and various meat and veg dishes.


After lunch we continued on to Phong Nha cave, which you enter via a boat which then drops you off on an underground beach inside the cave so you can continue to explore on foot.  In contrast to Paradise cave, Phong Nha cave has been explored for centuries by IMG-20170527-WA0062Vietnamese people and so has a rich history and a more authentic ‘ancient cave’ feel to it.  There are a number of ancient staircases built into the rock and strange carvings and sculptures made by previous inhabitants.  After exploring the caves for a bit we stopped for a drink and looked at some souvenirs before heading back on the boat.


That evening we had a drink and watched the sunset from our balcony before heading to dinner at a small nearby restaurant.  Phong Nha town is tiny and there is really only about 5 restaurants and two bars.  I briefly checked out the hostel bar at Easy Tiger where they were playing some live music but not much was happening so I got to bed early.


 

The following morning we hired a scooter and drove to the ‘botanical gardens’, which are really more just a walking pathway through a natural jungle with streams and waterfalls.  There didn’t appear to be any manicured flowers like I’ve seen at other botanical gardens, which was nice because it gave it much more rustic and authentic feel.  We walked around for about 3 hours, went swimming in one of the natural pools by a waterfall, saw some peacocks and then headed back to the car park.  By some amazing coincidence I saw my old motorbike parked in the parking lot – the one I had sold in Ho Chi Minh city about two months before!  I almost didn’t believe it at first but on closer inspection I confirmed it was definitely the same bike.  They had repaired the broken clutch and put a new luggage rack on, but it was otherwise identical.  Considering the number of bikes in Vietnam, the statistical probability of that happening must be astronomical!  A bizarre ending to a lovely weekend…

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Motorbiking Vietnam

While travelling solo in Laos I met up with two Irish guys, an English lad and a German girl who were halfway through a motorbike trip across Vietnam and had just come to Laos to renew visas.  I jumped at the opportunity to join them and a few days later we were all on a sleeper bus from Vientiane to Danang in Vietnam. One of the Irish guys offered us all Xanax to sleep through the bus journey and I enthusiatically took one immediately, meaning I slept straight through the lunch stop a few hours later. However at least I was awake when we arrived at the Vietnam border, which is more than I can say for the others. Needless to say the process of getting visas was rather slow and hilarious.
The remainder of our sleeper bus trip was fairly uneventful, except for when one of the group woke and asked how long until the border – completely unaware he had gone through the whole visa process and we had been in Vietnam a few hours already.  That was funny.  We briefly stopped for lunch but only had beers as we were short on local currency, and then fairly soon after arrived in Da Nang.

After unloading the bikes we set about putting them back together.  I stupidly wandered off to go piss against a far off wall of the bus parking lot and stood on a rusty nail that went through my flip-flop and quite deep into my foot.  I think only the bone stopped it going right through.  I tried desperately to remember if I’d had a tetanus shot or not while I hobbled back to the group, blood leaking all over my flip-flop.  Sammy very kindly helped me to clean it and wrap it and I think we managed to disinfect it well enough.

Exif_JPEG_420Once the bikes were assembled I jumped on the back with Enda and I experienced for the first time the insanity of traffic in Vietnam!  There don’t seem to be any rules, other than you must constantly hoot for no apparent reason. Everyone just drives wherever they want, no yielding or indicating – every man for himself!  How there aren’t more accidents I’ll never know.  We drove off towards the river and the famous Dragon Bridge, where we stopped for some lunch at a crazy restaurant with tiny stools and really good fried octopus.  My friend told me about a hostel called Barney’s down the road so we headed there to see if they had room, but they only had 3 beds left so we ended up in a hotel a few doors down that had a 6 sleeper room with three double beds for only £2 each.  I guess I’d have to share a bed with one of the guys though, haha.  It had a great view from the balcony of the river and the many beautiful bridges and buildings.  I had no idea Da Nang was such a nice, modern city.

We went out that evening to SkyBar 36, an amazing rooftop bar with fabulous views of the16999105_10158398861415220_4051575364322011865_n city, but we just took pics and didn’t stay for drinks as it was £7 for just a small beer!  Still half the price of most Ibiza clubs though.  We walked on and ended up at Golden Pine, a ridiculous local club/bar with no dancefloor but a massive soundsystem pumping out cheesy rave music.  Craig met a Singaporean girl named Irene there and she came with us to get some amazing burgers and beer at another bar nearby called Factory 47.  We got chatting to the owner who was German and he gave us free shots and spoke to us a bit about Da Nang.

I needed to buy a motorbike so we could start the trip properly, so in the morning we went to find Craig who was at a hotel nearby.  I rode Craig’s bike there which was good practice as I hadn’t really ridden much before except that once in Vang Vieng.  Breakfast took a bit longer than expected and then I went with Craig to look for bikes while Dave dropped his bike off at a mechanic to get the gears fixed.  Unfortunately our bike hunt was unsuccessful and it was looking like Da Nang might not be a good place to buy motorbikes, only scooters. We were hoping to get a bike and head off that afternoon, but when we got back Dave told us the mechanic wouldn’t have his bike ready until 2pm the next day so it looked like we were staying another night afterall.

Exif_JPEG_420While sitting around drinking at Barney’s and contemplating how we could get me a motorbike, I looked down a small side alley and saw what looked like two old bikes covered in sheets.  Upon further inspection we found them to be some fairly decent looking Honda Win’s, albeit a bit rusty.  We enquired at Barney’s and the receptionist said they had been abandoned there and her boss was trying to sell them.  Score!  Unfortunately the better looking of the two had been sold already, so we played around trying to get the second one started.  Fortunately it kicked into life after a few tries, so after the receptionist arranged to get the lock cut off (is this stolen?) Dave tinkered with it a bit and got it nicely up and running.  The tyres needed some air and the chain needed tightening, but otherwise good.  The owner only wanted $100 which is already a great price, but I tried negotiationg anyway.  Eventually he wouldn’t budge, but the nice receptionist gave us each a free beer as consolation.

So with my bike sorted we proceeded to celebrate with a few (a lot) more beers at Barney’s until about 7pm when I had to go meet my friend Danny who had been living and working in Da Nang for the past few months.  The others all came along and we had dinner at some mexican place and then headed out to a nearby Rasta bar called Minsk.  I chatted to Danny a lot about life and work in Da Nang and it sounded like he might be able to get me some work, and it seems like a great place to live.  Most of the others all left early and after a few games of foosball I headed back with Craig.Exif_JPEG_420

In the morning Craig went to fetch Irene from Hoi An and I went with the others to get Craig’s bike and sort mine out. We all met back at Barney’s, where we left our luggage and gave them some of our washing to do.  The plan was to just take day bags, drive over the beautiful Hai Van pass and then continued on to Hue, a few hours north, spend the night there and then come back the next day and get our stuff.  It started raining just as we set off, so I had to stop along the way to buy a proper helmet with visor and a waterproof poncho. Despite the thick fog and rain the Hai Van pass was still really beautiful, and after a small complication with dirt in the fuel tank my bike was running fine.

Once we had made it over the pass it was beginning to get dark.  My rear light worked, but my front headlight didn’t work and Enda had no lights on his bike at all.  However, the road on to Hue was a main road and was somewhat well lit, so we decided to push on through.  It was still raining heavily and loads of big trucks and buses were passing us on the road, so this was pretty scary to say the least.  I made peace with myself that this is how I’m going to die, held the accelerator tight and never took my eyes off the bike in front.  Eventually after about 3 gruelling hours avoiding trucks and enduring the cold and wet, we arrived in Hue!

We found a place called the ‘Google Hostel’ and the fun bouncy receptionist checked us into our rooms.  I met a French girl and German guy in the dorm room who seemed nice and we chatted about our travels and then we all went for dinner at a nearby restaurant and then played pool and drank until about midnight.

The next day we went to check out some old Chinese temples from the Ming dynasty, but itExif_JPEG_420 was still raining and pretty bleak.  Still, it made for some good photos and was interesting and very moody in the strange weather.  While heading back to Da Nang on the the bikes we lost Dave and Sammy because they took the beach road and Enda thought they had gone the other way.  Then we lost Enda because he drove off faster than us so just me, Craig and Irene headed back together.  Once we got back to Barney’s we waited there for the others and had some pizza, then we all went and checked into another hostel nearer to the beach in the area called The Village.  We got quite a nice 4 bed apartment for me, Craig, Irene and Enda, and Dave and Sammy got a hotel.  Our apartment had a free bbq on that night so we got a bunch of really nice free food and I chatted to an older South African couple who were travelling in Vietnam and seemed to really love it.

The next morning we met up with Enda and another Irish girl he had met on Tinder and we all drove the short half hour ride to Hoi An together.  We stopped for lunch at a restaurant and the woman running the place said she had a house that could sleep 7 people.  Three double rooms for the couples and me on the sofa… great.  I went out on the bike to buy eggs for breakfast and also bought a bunch of beer and we got drunk and went to the beach to swim, although it was cold and rainy so I didn’t go in.  We also arranged an English flag and a Scottish flag for me and Craig’s bikes and took some awesome photos with all of us on our bikes.  Then we went for dinner and somehow on the walk home Dave and Sammy lost us and ended up wandering around for 3 hours looking for the house and eventually sneaking into a fancy hotel and sleeping for free in a room!  Classic.
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In the morning everyone woke up and spent a while trying to get hold of Dave and Sammy.  Eventually they managed to find their way home and after some awesome full English breakfast courtesy of Craig, we all hopped on the bikes and drove off toward the mountains. We lost Enda at one point and waited a while for him to come back, but he never did so we carried on without him assuming he will meet us at the final destination – a tiny village in the hills. Exif_JPEG_420The scenery in the countryside is crazy beautiful, with just rice paddies, banana trees and stunning mountains and valleys everywhere.
It started raining a bit heavily towards evening and then Craig’s back wheel broke because his bike was overloaded.  Luckily we had just passed a bike shop so me and him turned around and tried to get his bike back there.  Eventually it wouldn’t move anymore so I drove on to the bike shop to see if one of the mechanic’s can help.  The language barrier made it difficult but eventually he understood what I was trying to convey, and hopped on a scooter off into the direction of Craig who was just stranded on the road side.  A few minutes later he came back on the scooter with the back wheel and started pulling the spokes out to repair it.
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After a short time Dave and Sammy showed up – they hadn’t seen that Craig broke down and had ridden on.  They said they passed Craig on the way back and he was just chilling with his half bike outside some woman’s house, but luckily in shelter from the rain.  Since the wheel was going to take an hour or so, we all had some dinner and beers at a tiny makeshift restaurant next door.  Luckily I also got my light fixed at the same time because now it was pitch black and raining hard.
After about two hours they were still trying to fix the wheel, so I decided I better ride over to Craig and see if he’s okay.  I found him chilling with some beers watching movies on his laptop!  Soon after the mechanic showed back up with the wheel and we got moving.  The 16999103_10158396673820220_5077872408029866829_nnext hour was spent riding in pitch black pouring rain with the bare minimum light that motorbike headlamps give off, over crazy pot-holed roads with trucks and buses whizzing past.  I guess it was character building at the least, but I could have done without it to be fair – it was really scary and difficult to navigate.  I was never so happy to arrive at a destination finally, which was really just a very basic trucker motel for £3 a night, but warm water at least.

We grabbed some noodle soup for breakfast as that’s literally the only food available out in the mountains, and then got back on the road.  Craig’s bike was giving trouble again and had no power going up hills, so I went back to help him but the others carried on.Exif_JPEG_420  We managed to slowly get it to a bike shop where they fiddled with his clutch and got it going again, but then immediately after his chain broke!  So we spent about another hour at the bike shop getting that and the sprocket replaced, and then rushed off to catch the others and get to Pleiku, our next destination. Fortunately we had no more trouble on the road and after stopping to check out a weird wooden church we met the others in Pleiku just as the sun was setting.  Enda found us a hotel with some cheap double and twin rooms so we checked in and then grabbed some fried chicken at Lotteria, which is like Vietnamese KFC.  Pleiku is a really crazy town, in the middle of nowhere but huge and busy with lights everywhere like the Vegas strip.

In the morning Enda, Dave and Sammy had to get some stuff fixed on their bikes so me, Craig and Irene headed off ahead. Unfortunately Sammy wasn’t feeling well and they didn’t want to spend too long on the bikes so they decided to take another route to a different town.  We had a really good day on the bikes though, with clear skies and sun and a nice lunch in a tiny village.  As we got near to our destination, Tuy Hoa, we got on to this amazing road that snaked along a canal with beautiful little houses overlooking a stunning river and valley.  It was by far the most visually stunning 20km stretch of road I’ve ever seen and I could easily imagine myself living out my life there in quiet, idillic peace.  I’d probably get bored eventually though.Exif_JPEG_420

In Tuy Hoa we got a 3 sleeper room in a little hotel for £2 each, and then wandered off to find Bob’s, a little pizza place someone had told us about that was apparently popular with travellers.  Tuy Hoa is not exactly a backpacker town so it’s not very busy and there was no nightlife or anything, but we had some pizza and beers and I chatted to a Vietnam veteran who had moved out here to live and had some pretty incredible stories about the war.  I love talking to old people, they have some great life advice and they’re not full of shit like all the young drunk people (me included).  They are straight up and get to the point 🙂
We had leftover pizza for breakfast and then hit the road again for the short drive to Nha Trang where we would reunite with the others.  On the way we hit an AMAZING piece of coastal road that had no cars on it and just winded along the shore in huge S-bends that were so much fun to race the bikes along.  I was weaving along across lanes and cutting corners like I was in Moto GP, even though the bikes only get to a top speed of about 80km.

We hadn’t booked accommodation in Nha Trang, which was a bit silly as almost everything was booked out but eventually we found a shithole called Son & Daughter that had cheap rooms but smelt like piss.  We all checked in, showered and got some food at a Russian restaurant downstairs.  Everything in Nha Trang is Russian for some reason… ?  Then we went out to some place called Why Not bar to play pool and I ended up having a pointless drunken conversation with a lesbian Russian couple but otherwise it was a pretty tame night, I don’t think much was happening.

In the morning I moved hostels to a place called iHome which was WAY better than Son & Daughter, got my washing done, bought some more clothes and then stupidly decided to try get my phone screen fixed again.  It cost me $50 dollars and I broke it again within 24 hours. What a waste… cheap Chinese parts. Craig and Irene had been in a hotel the night before but decided to move with me to a dorm in iHome and then we went to the beach together and just lay in the sun and got drunk on rum and fresh coconut milk, listening to music on our portable speakers. It was awesome, one of my favourite days of the trip so far.  Every evening at iHome they have free beer from 6-7pm, so after the beach we made use of that and then went out to a cool rooftop bar called 55 and met some fun Canadians.

Dave, Sammy and Enda had to rush off the next morning to get to Ho Chi Min so they could have time to sell their bikes before their flight to Australia on the 8th, but we wanted to stay a few more days in Nha Trang because it’s awesome.  Unfortunately we didn’t ask to extend our stay at iHome soon enough and they were fully booked, so we had to move to another place called Backpack Hostel (creative name, lol).  It was okay but didn’t have the cool rooftop bar with free beer like iHome.  Luckily we had made friends with the iHome bar man so he said we could still come back for the free beer in the evening.  Then we got on the bikes and rode to a nearby waterfall with some rocks to jump off and nice pools to swim in.  Once back in town we met an Australian girl at our hostel who came to the beach with us for one quick drink and then we all went to iHome for the free beer.  Craig wasn’t feeling well17022067_10158417484945220_1294316953625967216_n so he went back early to sleep at the hostel and me, Irene, the Australian girl and most of the hostel went to a beach party down by the sailing club.  It was really awesome, we even managed to sneak in for free and not pay the £6 entrance fee.  The music was a bit cheesy but I was drunk enough that I didn’t mind and just danced on the sand for hours.

The next day Craig was still feeling a bit rough so we decided to stay another day, which we just spent chilling on the beach mostly.  It wasn’t as good weather though and the others weren’t drinking so it was a fairly tame day.  After that I went back to iHome again for free beer with a cool German guy I met at the hostel, and we got involved in an insane drinking game with some British people.  We were downing tequila and these huge buckets of vodka and fruit mix.  We were all supposed to go out to this rooftop bar but I was too drunk so I just went and passed out in the movie room because my head was spinning.  I woke up a few hours later at about 1am and wandered back to my hostel.

In the morning we got Craig’s bike fixed and then left for Da Lat, a small inland town we were going to stop in before Saigon.  Irene had left the night before to go home, and the German guy, Ollie, was also going to Da Lat so he joined us.  The first bit of the ride was through some beautiful mountain passes with huge waterfalls, but my bike was struggling a bit going up the hills so it was slow going.  Once we got over the pass Ollie’s bike broke down so we spent about 2 hours at a bike shop drinking beer and getting a part of his engine replaced.  We finally made it into Da Lat just as the sun was setting and checked into a hostel called Wolfpack that somebody in Nha Trang had recommended to Ollie.

That night we had a huge buffet dinner at the hostel with all the guests, and then the 30 strong crew of us headed out to find a famous bar that has a huge maze inside it that an American guy there had heard of.  We eventually found it and it was well worth the walk!  Definitely up there with the best bars I’ve ever seen – this cavernous maze set over about 5 stories with stairs and ladders and crazy decor all made with concrete and dimly lit with small areas to sit and have a drink while you try find your way out.
I got very absorbed with the whole maze experience and I even got a group together to play hide and seek.  I’m pretty sure I’m still mentally a 12 year old.  It closed at midnight so we followed a Canadian to another bar he had heard of that stays open late, but it was crap with just a pool table and no music.  I was with this American guy who was awesome, and this German girl and another American who builds art cars for Burning Man.  We got talking to a rich Chinese guy who I’m pretty sure was gay and hot for the American dude, but anyway he wanted us to come back to his apartment for an afterparty but it never happened for some reason and we ended up just heading back to the hostel.

In the morning me and Craig packed up, said cheers to our new friends and headed off towards Saigon, our final destination.  The road out was crazy busy and we lost each within the first hour.  I waited at this circle for Craig for about 30 minutes but he never showed up so I continued on.  Eventually I stopped at a gas station and asked to use their wifi so I could message him.  Turns out I had passed him and he didn’t know so he was waiting for me further back at some coffee shop, but by the time I had seen the message he had moved on.  I messaged him a place to meet further down the road and drove on, but when I got there the place I had planned to meet him didn’t exist.  By some stroke of luck I happened to see his bike parked outside a coffee shop nearby so I found him.  After a quick coffee we headed on until about 2pm when we stopped for lunch at an awesome little truckstop with hammocks to chill in and Craig got his biked checked out next door as it was still giving trouble.

About 6pm we finally rolled into Saigon after 2 weeks on the road.  Craig’s bike had almost completely died by then and he had to keep running down the road amongst the crazy Saigon traffic trying to push start it.  We checked into a hostel that had been recommended to us called Vietnam Inn which looked pretty good and had free beers and stuff for a few hours every night.  Saigon is pretty mental, I thought Bangkok was mad but this place is insane.  We went down to meet the others and find a bar on this street called Bien Muy or something where all the travellers go, and there’s just lights and noise and “massage parlours” everywhere.  We all reunited and had some food at a BBQ place before heading out to some or other bar called Donkey bar where we met a Swiss couple and chatted shit for hours.

After free breakfast in the morning we ended up back at Donkey bar playing pool and darts for hours with a funny Canadian guy called Jimmy who had been working in Saigon for 6 months.  Then the others joined and we went to a nearby hostel where they were playing drinking games with jenga blocks.  On each block was written a different challenge.  A northern English girl chose one that said she must swap clothes with someone and she picked me, so we swapped all our clothes.  That was quite interesting – I spent the rest of the night walking around in tight denim hotpants and a thin string top while she had my baggie pants and vest on.  Fortunately neither of us were wearing underwear as it’s too hot in Saigon and nobody does, so I didn’t need to try squeeze into her panties.  At some point she swapped my vest with Jimmy so at the end of the night when we swapped back I eneded up with his random dirty vest and then I couldn’t find him to get my vest back.  Anyway the rest night was fairly boring, just pub crawling and then ending the night at a club dancing until 4am.

The next day Dave and Enda left for Australia, and I spent the morning printing signs to sell my bike.  Then I met up with Dave and Sammy and we had some food and then went for free beer at the hostel.  I didn’t plan on partying again that night but the alcohol gods had other plans for me and once again we were out until about 3am.  I bumped into Jimmy and he still had my vest on as he had gone back to a hotel with some girl and not been home yet.  Obviously he didnt want to give it back to me then and go home shirtless so I told him I’d get it the next day.

In the morning I showed somebody my bike but because I didn’t have a bluecard she didn’t want to buy it, and I figured nobody else would either so I just ended up selling it to a bike shop for $80.  Only a $20 loss, not bad for almost 3 weeks of biking and some of the best times of my life!  After that I decided I was done with Saigon and booked my ticket to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, packed my shit, got my vest back from Jimmy finally (he was still wearing it!!), had one last beer with Craig and got on the bus.
After a few short hours I arrived at the Cambodia border… and that’s the next adventure.