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A yellow building in Hanoi, Vietnam

My Vietnam Adventure

By Jane McLellan

Last updated: 1st July 2014

My Vietnam Adventure, part 1: Hello Hanoi!

A sunlit internet cafe with foliage in the window

Nothing beats travelling and discovering new places, and even though I have been lucky enough to travel around the world as part of my work for Gap 360, joining our fabulous Vietnam Adventure trip would be the first time I had ever visited Vietnam. As my flight touched down into Hanoi airport I felt the familiar rush of adrenaline that comes with the anticipation of a new travel experience, and I couldn’t wait for my Vietnam Adventure to begin!

My arrival into Vietnam was really easy and hassle-free. After I’d picked up my backpack from baggage claim I made my way into the arrivals hall and immediately saw a friendly, smiley guide holding a Gap 360 sign. His name was Hung and he was a local Vietnamese guide, but he spoke brilliant English. Five members of my group had arrived on the same flight, so we had a chance to make some quick introductions as we made our way out of the airport and took the first step into our new adventure.

The first thing I noticed as I stepped outside in Vietnam was the heat and the warmth felt lovely after making my escape from rainy England. We made our way to our private, air-conditioned bus and jumped on board for the 40-minute ride from the airport to our hotel in Hanoi. When we arrived at our comfortable hotel in Hanoi we were shown to our rooms, where we had some time to get settled in and take a shower. My room at the hotel was basic but clean and had everything I needed, including a flat screen TV, air conditioning, free Wi-Fi, a lovely hot shower and even a mini bar! What more could you need on your first night in an exciting new country?

Later on I attended the welcome meeting, which was led by our guide Hung, and I got to meet all the other members of my group who would be my travelling companions for the next few weeks. There were ten of us in total and everyone was so friendly, so I knew I was in for a great trip. Hung talked us through our trip itinerary so we knew what to expect over the next few weeks. Not only did he give us lots of advice about things to do in the area, he also gave us plenty of practical advice such as the location of the nearest ATM and how to stay safe during our stay in Vietnam.

After the meeting Hung invited us to an optional group dinner and all of us decided to go, as it was our first chance to try some tasty local food and really get to know each other. Hung recommended a lovely local restaurant and we all ordered some Vietnamese food, which was really delicious. We spent the evening getting to know each other over food and a few beers, before heading back (not too late) to our hotel. Despite feeling tired from our flights we were so excited about the adventures which awaited us in the upcoming weeks. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, dreaming of what was to come on my Vietnam Adventure…

My Vietnam Adventure, part 2: Exploring Hanoi

Yellow building in Thailand

I woke up on my first morning in Vietnam, feeling excited about exploring the amazing city of Hanoi on the first full day of our Vietnam Adventure. I was ready for a hearty breakfast to fuel me for the experiences which lay ahead, and the hotel provided a great choice of cereal, toast, sausages, fruit or even the more traditional Vietnamese noodle breakfast. Breakfasts are included throughout the entire trip and normally offer a choice of both typical western-style breakfasts alongside local Vietnamese breakfast dishes.

After our tasty brekkie my group set out on a walking tour of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. This was our first flavour of Vietnam and we loved discovering this traditional area of Hanoi, which is home to a maze of shops selling everything from clothes and shoes to souvenirs. We also walked to see a beautiful, vast lake called Hoan Kiem which sits in the heart of Hanoi, and where our guide told us all about the story of the lake and the local legend of the Golden Turtle God!

We headed back to the hotel around 11am where we packed up our luggage in preparation for our overnight sleeper train to Sapa. We checked out, leaving our luggage safely stored at the hotel, and then enjoyed some free time in the afternoon. Our guide gave us a map of Hanoi and recommended all the must-see sights of the city, and then we headed out to explore Hanoi on our own. We saw some of Hanoi’s highlights on our walk around the city, including the Temple of Literature, the One Pillar Pagoda, the Presidents House and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. After an afternoon of culture and city life we returned to the hotel around 6pm, where we ate dinner and stocked up with some snacks, ready to set off for Sapa on our first overnight train adventure in Vietnam…

My Vietnam Adventure, part 3: Overnight train to Sapa

A man on a bed on a train

Our group said goodbye to Hanoi as we boarded our overnight train towards Sapa, ready for the next stage of our Vietnam Adventure. The overnight sleeper trains in Vietnam are so much fun that travelling by train becomes an experience in itself! Each train cabin is air-conditioned, sleeps four people in two bunks, and is lockable from the inside. There is space to store your luggage under the bottom of your bunk and there is a shelf where you can keep your things like water, snacks and books, so your cabin will soon become a travelling home-from-home.

I bagged the top bunk and as I jumped up to try it out I found it was surprisingly comfortable. You are provided with clean white sheets, a duvet and a pillow so you can soon get snug and warm, ready for a good night’s sleep on the move. The train has toilets at either end of the carriage and there are also two sinks. Some of the trains in Vietnam have squat toilets, others have western toilets, but there is a rail to hold onto so it isn’t too hard to get your balance. There’s no art to mastering toilets and train travel, you just have to get on with it!

Travelling by train can be so relaxing and we spent a couple of hours chatting, reading books, listening to music or playing cards. People tend to go to bed quite early on these overnight trains, so around 10pm we turned off our lights and got some shut-eye as we let the train rock us to sleep, ready to wake up refreshed in our next destination, the spectacular mountain town of Sapa…



My Vietnam Adventure, part 4: Stunning Sapa

After a good night’s rest on the overnight train, my group arrived into the railway station around 5:30am, for a bright and early start en route to Sapa. Our private bus was waiting for us and it took around an hour to climb up through the beautiful, mountain scenery to Sapa, where the views were absolutely stunning. The next stage of our Vietnam Adventure was about to begin!

I loved Sapa, it was a small, chilled-out town with a really lovely vibe. We got settled in to the brilliant Cat Cat Hotel in Sapa, where I had a wonderful spacious room with a balcony. We made our way outside to the incredible restaurant area up on the roof, which had amazing views of the surrounding mountains and paddy fields. We arrived in time for breakfast so I tucked in to some pancakes with lemon and sugar – yummy!

After some down-time for a shower and a rest it was time to explore Sapa’s sensational surroundings. We spent the morning walking down a hill, passing picturesque terraced rice fields and charming little villages, where lots of friendly kids came up wanting to talk and get to know us all. It was a great way to meet the local people and soak up the stunning scenery. We made our way to a beautiful waterfall and arrived in time to watch a local show with some traditional dancing, the perfect way to round off our leisurely morning walk. I think I took hundreds of photos in this pretty area, everything was so wonderful wherever we went. We headed back to our hotel for lunch and I enjoyed a gorgeous chicken salad and chips – not very Vietnamese I admit, but after the morning’s walk I had built up quite an appetite!

The afternoon was free for us to explore the delightful small town of Sapa, which has some great shops and markets, plus loads of cafes, restaurants and bars to relax in. Some of my group decided to make the most of their relaxation time and switched off with a massage, manicure or other spa treatment. In the evening we went to a lovely local restaurant that served both Western and Vietnamese food, but we didn’t have a late night because we wanted a good night’s sleep before we set out on our trekking adventure on the following day of our Vietnam Adventure…

My Vietnam Adventure, part 5: Sapa trek and homestay

Beds in a Thailand homestay

I woke up on the fourth day of my Vietnam Adventure ready for a full day of trekking in the stunning mountain scenery around Sapa. I packed up a small overnight backpack, which would be all I would need to take for my overnight stay with a local host family in a mountain village. After a tasty breakfast we checked out of our rooms and left our main luggage safely stored at the hotel as we set off on our overnight trek.

Decent footwear is a must-have during the trek; most people worse trainers, but I wore a cross between a trainer and a hiking boot and I am glad I did, as the trek can be steep in places. Sapa sees quite a lot of rain so the trek paths can frequently get slippery, so good footwear is essential. We did have some rain as we walked, which was a bit of a welcome relief actually, as it helped to cool down the humidity. The rain also made the trek really fun, as we all laughed so much when someone fell over in the mud. I fell over myself three times, and as I was wearing shorts I got covered in mud, which we all found hilarious!

As we walked on along roads, through fields and along muddy paths, the scenery surrounding us was some of the most beautiful I have ever seen anywhere in the world. Every step we took we were treated to awe-inspiring views of mountains, attractive terraced rice fields, majestic rivers and wonderful waterfalls. We were greeted by waves from friendly locals as we passed by homes and villages, making the trek a truly memorable experience.

Once we had spent the first few hours walking, the rain stopped and the sunshine came out, bringing the incredible views to life before us. We stopped for a welcome lunch break, and rested and refuelled with included lunch of a large baguette and some fruit, and we bought our own soft drinks. After a relaxing rest break, we continued our trek through even more spectacular scenery. We stopped off at a local village, where our guide told us all about the local handicrafts and how they are made, which gave us a fascinating insight into the local culture and crafts. The local women from the village dye the plants and weave cotton to make traditional items to sell, such as beautiful bags, scarves and bracelets.

During the last part of our trek we walked through small villages and were met by the adorable local kids who would come up to us, give us a high-five and ask our names as we passed through. By 3pm we had reached our destination for the night, a traditional wooden long house owned by a friendly and welcoming local family. We were shown around and then handed some towels so we could freshen up with a hot shower –it felt so good after a long day of trekking!

We were served chips as a snack, which were delicious, and then we had some free time to relax before dinner. We took a walk around the village, played cards and chilled out listening to music. The kids from the family we were staying with sat and chatted with us and were interested in watching and learning about the card games we were playing.

Dinner was out of this world. We sat around a big table and the mum of the house kept putting more plates of delicious food in front of us. There was so much to eat, including spring rolls, chicken stir fry, beef dishes, vegetable dishes, noodles, rice and lots more. I felt stuffed afterwards but the food was so welcome at the end of a very active day. I was surprised to find out that there were two bars in the local area, so after dinner some of the group went for a few beers while others just hung out at the house and reflected on a rewarding day’s trekking.

We spent the night with the whole group sleeping in a communal room in the upstairs of the traditional Vietnamese long house. There was a line of mattresses on the floor and each one had their own mosquito net. We all really enjoyed spending a night in an authentic long house; it was a unique and memorable experience!

We were served pancakes for breakfast, which set us up nicely for the return trek, then we hiked back past gorgeous rivers and waterfalls, stopping for an included lunch of noodle soup around 12 noon. We ended our trek back at the meeting point where we hopped on a bus back to the hotel in Sapa. We then we had the entire afternoon free to rest, relax or explore more of the town and local area. The trek was an experience I’ll never forget and my time in Sapa had proved to be a highlight of my Vietnam Adventure! I was looking forward to one last day in Sapa tomorrow before heading back to Hanoi and the next leg of my Vietnam Adventure…

My Vietnam Adventure, part 6: Sapa & Hanoi

Travellers posing for a photo at a lookout with misty mountains in the background

I woke up refreshed and invigorated after my mountain trekking adventure, and was looking forward to spending one final day in the gorgeous small town of Sapa. Soon we would be making tracks back to Hanoi by overnight train for the next part of our Vietnam Adventure, but today we wanted to make the most of the mountain scenery surrounding Sapa.

In the morning we climbed up the spectacular Ham Rong Mountain, walking up the steps which led to a stunning orchid garden which nestled on the mountain slopes. We marvelled at the amazing array of beautiful flowers and trees and stopped for some snacks and drinks while we soaked up the scents and dazzling colours of the orchid garden. We continued our climb to the top of the mountain, where we crawled through some small caves and suddenly found ourselves at a view point on the mountain top, immediately blown away by the incredible views all around us. We were so high up we were almost skimming the clouds and Sapa was laid out beneath us in all its stunning beauty!

We made our way back down Ham Rong Mountain, and by noon we had checked out of our hotel, leaving our luggage safely stored while we spent a last few hours of free time in Sapa. We wandered around and did some final exploring, or visited our favourite spots in Sapa. I had fallen in love with this wonderful little town and was sad to say goodbye!

We hopped on the bus at 4pm and wound our way through the gorgeous scenery as we drove back to the train station. We grabbed a bite of dinner before we boarded the sleeper train for another comfortable night being rocked to sleep in our cabin en route back to Hanoi.

We returned to our Hanoi hotel and then enjoyed the whole day exploring the city at our leisure. We had a free day to rest, relax or explore more of Hanoi, visiting whatever sights we fancied, such as impressive pagodas, fascinating museums or the War Prison. Then I headed to bed in good time, excited by the prospect of travelling to magical Halong Bay the next morning, for what was to be a highlight of my Vietnam Adventure…

My Vietnam Adventure, part 7: Heavenly Halong Bay

Halong Bay on a cloudy day

Halong Bay was the place I had been most excited about seeing on our Vietnam Adventure and I couldn’t wait to get there! After breakfast in our Hanoi hotel, we packed a small overnight pack and stored our main luggage at the hotel, and then by 8.30am we were ready to hop on a private bus bound for heavenly Halong Bay!

I had seen so many incredible photos of Halong Bay on the Gap 360 website that I was anticipating the sight of the beautiful bay long before we got there. Halong Bay is made up of around 2000 limestone islands that are scattered around in idyllic waters. The Bay is home to some unique features, such as fantastic floating fishing villages, unspoilt sandy strips of beach, the Cat Ba National Park full of brilliant birds and animals, misty mangrove forests and unbelievable offshore reefs.

Our bus journey took four hours and we stopped on the way to buy drinks & ice creams and use the bathrooms. The excitement was building as the bus got closer and when we reached the port and I could see the limestone rocks sticking out of the water it was just incredible. Halong Bay was every bit as beautiful and outstanding as I had hoped it would be!

At the port we boarded the boat and were shown to our cute and comfortable cabins, which slept two to a room and had a private bathroom and air conditioning. We had every comfort we could wish for on board. The boat was really cool and was made up of three levels, with the cabins on the bottom, then a dining area with bar in the middle and a wonderful open, wood decking on the top floor. The decking was complete with sun-loungers where you could soak up the sunshine and enjoy the breathtaking views of Halong Bay in comfort.

We were greeted by the friendly staff and were then served a delicious lunch, with piles of tasty local seafood and some vegetarian dishes on offer too. After eating three yummy courses, I was stuffed full so I decided to chill out on the top deck and enjoy the unique and mesmerising views. I took loads of photos as we cruised around, capturing the beauty of the Bay from every angle.

Around 3pm we moored up and explored one of the incredible islands. We walked up a path and into a huge limestone cave, which was made up of three impressive chambers with unique rock formations. We had time to explore and take some more photos, and it was awesome to be on one of Halong Bay’s stunning islands.

At 4pm we were given the option to go on a kayaking tour for an extra cost of only USD10. Paddling two to a kayak, we followed our guide and explored the waters of the Bay, in hidden areas which cannot be reached by bigger boats. We were lucky enough to spot some monkeys with their babies on one of the islands we passed, an unforgettable moment! We also hopped off the kayaks and enjoyed some time to swim before returning to the main boat for some more sailing time around the Bay.

As we anchored up for the evening, the group chilled out on the boat and had showers before meeting up again for a delicious dinner on board. You can buy soft drinks, cocktails, beer, spirits and wine at the on-board bar, so your entire evening’s entertainment is on tap. We watched the lights twinkling on the waters of Halong Bay as we relaxed on the top deck and played cards. We even enjoyed a bit of karaoke to top off the perfect day in Halong Bay!

After a cosy night in our cabins we had breakfast on the boat and then we cruised back towards the port, where our bus was waiting for us to take us back to Hanoi. I didn’t want to say farewell to Halong Bay, which was without doubt one of the best bits of my amazing Vietnam Adventure. Once we were back in Hanoi we had a few hours free time before going to the train station to catch an overnight train. I knew my memories of Halong Bay would last a lifetime, but I also knew more incredible experiences awaited me at the next stop on my Vietnam Adventure, the historic city of Hue…

My Vietnam Adventure, part 8: Temples & pagodas in Hue

Thien Mu Pagoda

Our overnight train took us to the historic and charming Vietnamese city of Hue, which I immediately liked, and which seemed a lot calmer and quieter after the bustling streets of Hanoi. Arriving in the morning, we checked in to our hotel and had some breakfast before heading out for a cultural excursion. Our guide, Hung, told us to wear some respectful clothing as we would be visiting some temples and pagodas. Girls were asked to cover their shoulders, chest and legs and boys were asked to wear sleeved tops and long shorts or trousers.

A short bus ride brought us to the site of the Royal Tomb and to see a stunning seven tiered pagoda. Hung explained the interesting history and culture of the site to us, and we got to take some great photos. After our culture fix we jumped on a boat and enjoyed a leisurely river cruise back to the centre of Hue, slowly soaking up the atmosphere of this historic and lovely city as we cruised past.

In the afternoon we were offered the chance to take part in an optional pedicab tour of the city. When travelling by pedicab, the driver cycles from the back and takes you around the inside of the Old Citadel, Hue’s walled city. Our group decided to enjoy the sunshine and visited a five-star hotel paying the small fee of USD8 to use their fabulous swimming pool and sun loungers. Bliss!

In the evening we felt like eating some Italian food so we visited a sweet restaurant in Hue called ‘Little Italy’.  We all got our pasta/pizza fix and enjoyed the yummy food, before carrying on to a lively bar called Brown Eyes, for some good music, a DJ and even a dance floor. Each night they have special offers and we enjoyed the buy one get one free cocktails, played pool and had a great time dancing the night away! Then we headed back to our beds for some shut-eye, knowing we would have an early start tomorrow for our mountain bike ride in the Hue countryside…

My Vietnam Adventure, part 9: Bike rides and banquets

Jane riding a bike

My Vietnam Adventure wouldn’t have been complete without a mountain biking experience! After our big night out in Hue’s ‘Brown Eyes’ bar the previous evening, we did wake up with slightly sore heads, but we still had to be up bright and early start for our bike tour of the beautiful Hue countryside. We hopped on our mountain bikes and followed our guide out of the city of Hue and along some attractive rural roads. We got right out into the colourful Vietnamese countryside, cruising along and soaking up the scenery. It soon blew away the cobwebs of the night before!

As we passed through the local villages on our bikes, the kids would rush out and hold out their hands so we could high-five them as we passed. Everyone we met en route was really friendly and seemed so happy to see us. We cycled on past paddy fields and rivers, stopping for a break and to buy some soft drinks. Mountain biking is thirsty work!

When we stopped, I was approached by a lovely 79-year-old lady who offered to read our fortune for £1. I don’t normally believe in things like this, but when she read my fortune I was amazed to find that she knew so many things about my past and told me what she believed would happen in my future, which I was relieved to find out were all positive! We spent some time exploring a local village and market before getting back on our bikes and cycling back into Hue.

Two travellers in tradition Thai garb

The afternoon was free to chill and most of us relaxed around the hotel or took the chance to go back to the five-star hotel for another swim in their pool. In the evening we had the opportunity to attend a Royal banquet, an optional event which cost as little as £10. It was more than worth it and I’m so glad I went! Arriving at the restaurant, we were first invited to choose our costume. You could choose to dress as a king, prince, queen, princess, servant or concubine. My outfit was bright pink and I wore a silly hat! The group had to nominate who we wanted to be the king and queen and they got to wear some really fancy Royal headwear. We took some funny photos of us all in our Royal get-up!

All dressed up and looking the part, we sat down around the grand banquet table and were then served an incredible ten courses of delicious food. We certainly dined like Royalty, and after dinner we were treated to a show where local people played traditional musical instruments and sang traditional songs.  It was a fun evening and the ideal way to round off our adventures in Hue. Still full from the Royal Banquet we went to bed, knowing we would say goodbye to Hue in the morning and continue our Vietnam Adventure in the brilliant city of Hoi An…

My Vietnam Adventure, part 10: Happy days in Hoi An

Bidding a fond farewell to Hue, the group boarded a public tourist bus at 8am, making tracks for the charming colonial city of Hoi An. The journey was comfortable and air-conditioned and we passed through some sensational scenery, past stunning beaches, magnificent rivers and bridges and through gorgeous countryside. The bus ride took four hours in total, with a comfort stop half way, right by a lovely beach.

On arrival at our hotel in Hoi An we were excited to hear that the hotel had an outdoor pool – happy days! Leaving our luggage in our rooms, we met up with our guide who took us to a really nice restaurant in the old French quarter of Hoi An, called Green Chilli. Green Chilli has a great menu on offer and specialises in Vietnamese, Italian and Mexican food. The chef was trained in Milan and his business partner had trained in Texas so they really knew their stuff. I ordered chicken enchiladas and they were amazing!

Before I visited Vietnam I didn’t really know much about Hoi An but I fell in love with this picturesque town straightaway, as did the rest of the group. I think overall it was my favourite place in Vietnam, and it’s not hard to see why. Hoi An is known for its delicious food, fun shopping, skilled and very reasonably priced tailors, friendly people and cosy atmosphere. Hoi An has impressive Chinese temples, a Japanese-designed bridge, gorgeous pagodas, traditional wooden shops, French-colonial houses and old canals plus it boasts lots of amazing restaurants, cafes and bars. A beautiful river runs through the city and this is the best place to be at night, as the river area is lit by quaint and old-fashioned lanterns making it an atmospheric and beautiful spot. As if that wasn’t enough, Hoi An is also only 5 miles away from a beautiful beach!

After lunch we had a chance to explore Hoi An. Our guide took us to a tailor that he recommended, where we could ask them to copy an outfit design we liked that we had seen on the internet, in a magazine or from one of their many fashion catalogues. After we selected the outfit we wanted, we could choose the type and colour of material and then the tailors measured us and gave us a quote. We went back the next day to see how it was going, to make any final amends and then our outfits were ready within a few hours. So basically we got a made to measure outfit made in 24 hours! Amazing! We took the rest of the afternoon to discover more of Hoi An before going out for dinner together in the evening. It had been a fun first day in Hoi An but there was more to look forward to, with beaches and a bike ride on the agenda for our next day on the Vietnam Adventure…

My Vietnam Adventure, part 11: Beaches, bike rides and Vietnamese cooking

My Vietnam Adventure in Hoi An continued in this beautiful area, and me and a few of the other girls in my group decided to head out of the city for some beach time! We jumped in a taxi and were blown away when we reached the stunning beach, lined with palm trees. The weather was gorgeous and the sand was so hot that I had to quickly run into the sea to cool down. After a day chilling on the beach it was time to head back to the hotel for 4pm, in time to take the group bike tour out into the scenic countryside around Hoi An. In the evening the group went out and enjoyed the lively nightlife.

Our final day in Hoi Ann was a free day, so I spent the morning by the pool and in the afternoon I went to do some serious shopping. Clothes and shoes are really cheap in Hoi An and you can barter for some great bargains. Altogether, I bought two pairs of shorts, some trousers and a dress, all for around only £15!

Later on that day, our guide arranged a local football match between the boys in our group and some of the local lads. The girls were invited to join in too but we didn’t feel like it; a combination of it being too hot and none of us having any experience playing footie! Apparently it was a good match but our boys lost 8-1.

In the evening we had an extra special dinner because it was one of our group members, Ollie’s, birthday. Our guide arranged for us to go to a place where you get to cook two of your own courses as part of a four-course meal. We were shown to a table that was laid out with all the ingredients we would need to cook some tasty Vietnamese treats, so we put on our aprons and were ready to cook up a storm Vietnamese-style. The first dish we made was spring rolls, and we chopped up the ingredients and then we were shown how to roll them. Everyone in my group made perfectly rolled ones, but mine were short and fat – it didn’t matter what shape they were though, as they all tasted delicious!

The next dish we created was a spicy mango salad, which tasted amazing. All the other courses were prepared and cooked for us and they were all mouth-wateringly good. By the end of the four-course meal we were all completely stuffed, but there was just room for the strange dessert. We were served something that I could imagine an alien on a different planet would eat, consisting of a shelled coconut carved into a cup shape then filled with bright blue jelly. As weird as it sounds, it actually tasted nice! Just when I thought I’d reached a point where I could seriously not eat anything else, the staff presented Ollie with a huge birthday cake and I just had to force a slice down. Feeling extremely full, we headed back to our hotel on our last night in lovely Hoi An. Tomorrow would take us cross country on a train as my Vietnam Adventure continued on to the idyllic coastal town of Nha Trang…

My Vietnam Adventure, part 12: Beach, snorkelling & party time in Nha Trang

Two people in scuba gear swimming in blue water

I couldn’t believe that I was already on day 15 of my unforgettable Vietnam Adventure, and I knew my time in Vietnam was sadly approaching its end. We boarded the train from Hoi An after breakfast, ready for the leisurely 10-hour journey to the gorgeous coastal town of Nha Trang. We got our own cabin on this train which was great and we all lounged around on our beds, slept, read books, listened to music and played cards and the day whizzed by! We arrived in Nha Trang in time to get some dinner before checking into our hotel. Nha Trang is considered to be Vietnam’s most famous beach resort and not only does it have a lovely beach within walking distance of the hotel, it is full of really cool bars, clubs and restaurants and is the perfect place to switch off and relax in Vietnam.

After breakfast the next day, we hopped on a five-minute bus ride and then boarded a boat for a day cruise to some of Nha Trang’s amazing surrounding islands. It was a hot and bright sunny day, the perfect day to be lazing around on a boat. Our first stop was a small fishing island, where our guide took us on a walk and filled us in on some interesting facts about the islanders’ way of life. We found out about some local traditions and how the islanders earn a living, and we saw some local kids lowering buckets into the well to get water for their families.

We got back onto the boat and cruised around the islands, until we found a rocky area and anchored up for a spot of snorkelling. Snorkels and masks are provided on the boat and we all jumped into the clear, gorgeous, turquoise water. The first thing we spotted was a big sea snake chilling on the bottom of the sea, and it didn’t seem bothered by our presence. As we swam closer to the shore we could see more coral and lots of amazing colourful fish. Those that didn’t want to snorkel could sunbathe on the top of the boat or jump off the boat and enjoy a leisurely swim.

For lunch we were served a variety of yummy dishes on the boat including spring rolls, chicken stir fry, tofu, noodles, rice, prawns, vegetable and beef, plus pineapple and water melon for dessert. The boat set off again and we found another lovely area near an island and we spent our time jumping off the boat and sunbathing; it was the perfect way to spend the afternoon. In the evening we returned to Nha Trang where we had dinner and made the most of the party atmosphere in this lovely coastal town.

The following day was a free day so most of us spent the time on the beach just relaxing, while others went to the nearby muddy baths and thermal pools where you can chill out in warm mud or water! There are loads of other great things to do in Nha Trang, such as taking a ride on a cable car which goes across the bay, splashing about at a water park or having some fun at a theme park. On the evening of day 17 we ate dinner and then got our final overnight train down to Ho Chi Minh City, for the final stop on my epic Vietnam Adventure…

My Vietnam Adventure, part 13: Goodbye Ho Chi Minh City

We arrived into the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City around 6:30am, and hopped off the sleeper train to check into our hotel and eat some breakfast. Ho Chi Minh City was to be my final stop on the Vietnam Adventure. I had to go back to work in the UK on the Monday so I sadly got to miss the last three scheduled days of the trip.

Our first experience in Ho Chi Minh City was a morning city tour, and we drove around the city stopping at places of interest including the War Museum, which was so interesting. In the museum you could see real tanks, planes and helicopters that had been used in the war and there was also an area dedicated to prisoners of war and we learnt about the sad living conditions they had to suffer. The museum had three floors of fascinating photos, exhibitions and artefacts from the war, and we learnt a lot, but the visit was also a really emotional one.

Our next stop was the Reunification Palace, which was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. We got to see the old bedrooms, the grand banquet areas and the offices as well as the roofed terrace, heli-pad and the balcony that boasts fantastic views of the city. Our last stop on the city tour was to see Notre-Dame Cathedral and the amazing building which houses the Central Post Office. We then had the rest of the day free to relax and explore Ho Chi Minh City at our own pace.

Sadly, it was time for me to say goodbye to my group and head home, but I knew the rest of my new travelling buddies had a further three days of the Vietnam Adventure left to enjoy. I couldn’t help but be a little envious when I found out what I would be missing. My group were journeying onwards to Cai Be, on a boat trip down the mighty Mekong River, which would take them to a traditional dinner and a long house overnight stay with a host family on an island. They would then return to Ho Chi Minh City for some final time in the city and an optional trip to the unique Cu Chi Tunnels which run under the city. Their final evening would be spent enjoying a farewell dinner on a boat on the Saigon River whilst being entertained by a music band – amazing! Some of the lucky travellers had also signed up for the extra blissful beach week in Mui Ne where they could relax in the sun, lie on the beach and try watersports, sandboarding, quad biking or jeep tours at Mui Ne’s unique sand dunes.

I couldn’t pretend I wasn’t sad to miss out on these final few days of fun on the Vietnam Adventure, but I was glad that I had got to have some wonderful experiences during my trip and visit the incredible country of Vietnam for the first, but definitely not the last time.

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