The bus ride from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City was pretty easy going. It took about 5-6 hours for the entire trip, border crossing and all. Usually when we pass borders, we have the bike customs to worry about in addition to our own visa stuff, so sometimes it gets hectic. So with the buses, when you board the bus, the bus guide (he makes announcements too) takes everyone’s passports and fills out he customs forms and completes all the immigration. You just walk up to the counter in front of the immigration officer and get your passport back and hop back on the bus. Super simple! Probably the easiest border crossing ever! First impression of Vietnam was the sole existence of scooters as transport. Getting to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC from here on out) reconfirmed our first impression! There were hundreds of scooters at traffic lights, if we had brought our bike here, it definitely would have stuck out and on top of that…how would we ride the bike without scooters whizzing in every direction? Would have taken some getting used to!
Luckily the bus dropped us off in the backpacker area, so we strolled around and settled on a hotel. The area had a really lively nightlife which was kinda surprising since Vietnam is supposed to be a communist country. The more and more we traveled through Vietnam we realized it’s probably 60% capitalist and 40% communist. After talking to people it seems like its communism with a ‘wink wink’. We wanted to figure out what to do next, so we talked to a few tour agencies and found that our best bet was to get an open ticket for the bus from HCMC to Hanoi. An open ticket allows for a flexible trip. You can stay more or fewer days in one city or even skip a city along the way. The next day we booked an open ticket with Sinh Tourist. So we would be going from HCMC>Mui Ne>Dalat>Nha Trang>Hoi An>Danang>Hue>Hanoi. Originally we thought we’d rent a bike and then ride to Hanoi, but after doing some research we thought the bus would be a good option and something different. This was our chance to see what the backpacker life is about.
So the same day we booked the bus tickets we were to go to Mui Ne. We got to Mui Ne in the evening after a couple of stops at dhaba-like restaurants and shops. After renting a scooter, we found a really great place to stay called Joe’s. They had live music and great food! The next day we learned that Mui Ne was absolutely gorgeous! The colors are amazing and give a beautiful contrast—the water is a deep blue and the sand varies from white to almost red! The main thing to see is the terrain. There are huge red or yellow and white sand dunes that makes it seem as if you’re in the Sahara. We rode through the whole of Mui Ne and didn’t want to stop because it was too beautiful. Unfortunately our scooter wasn’t so accommodating…a couple of minutes after getting some gas the scooter came to a halt. Everytime we tried to start it the damn thing would stop. We rolled into a shop where we sat down to have a Coke and figure out what was wrong with the thing. We had to get back in time to check out of the hotel and then catch the bus to Dalat! The shop lady called someone (we didn’t ask her to) after she told us there was a mechanic shop a few houses ahead. We thought that it couldn’t be bad gas…or the scooty wouldn’t start at all…maybe a clogged air filter since we went into the sand for a little bit? Eventually a guy came and took the scooter with him, Nick went after him to his house. After 20 minutes Nick came back with the scooter in working order…turned out it was the spark plug. The guy put a new spark plug in and charged Nick $5 (too much for a spark plug) and then the shop lady charged us for the call she made to the mechanic in addition to the Coke. That kinda sucked but oh well, we had to catch the bus! But all in all, Mui Ne is an amazing beach destination…very charming and beautiful views. We definitely missed our bike since there were plenty of good roads (tarmac and dirt) to take the bike on to and also plenty of good picture opportunities.
We caught the bus to take us to Dalat which was going to be something completely different. The drive took us through beautiful, lush mountains of jungle with many waterfalls. At one point we were going through the clouds! Every turn gave a beautiful picture taking opportunity, even in the rain and mud. The bus made a stop at a shop so people could get something to drink and take a bathroom break. When it was time to leave the bus wouldn’t start! After many attempts and no go, Nick told the driver to put it in neutral and whoever was not on the bus yet helped us push the bus into motion. After 40 seconds of pushing the bus took off, thankfuly! As we got into the hill station of Dalat, the weather outside got cooler. The city immediately reminded us of Shimla…actually maybe Nanital since there’s a lake in the middle of the city! Turns out Dalat is the most popular honeymoon place for Vietnamese. The cool change in weather was definitely a welcome one because we were tired of sweating like crazy day in day out. Strolling the city was especially nice since they had a huge market and outdoor eating places. We decided it was time for us to get back to eating local since it was cheaper and a lot of times it was better tasting and better portions for your money. The lake, green-alpine hills, and cool climate made for a relaxing break from the heat. We kinda didn’t want to leave but felt we had to move on if we were going to get through Vietnam in 2 weeks. The bus was not waiting for us in the usual spot in front of the Sinh Tourist office, instead they had a van that would transport us there. Only we didn’t know that. We got into the van and set up as if this was our transport to Nha Trang. We had stuck our Spot Connect tracker to the seatbelt in front of us. When we found out we had to get off and get on the bus, we completely forgot the tracker in the van. I didn’t realize it until we had already started. We desperately tried calling the Sinh Tourist office and Dalat and I emailed them. Once getting to Nha Trang we talked to the Sinh Tourist office to please ask the Dalat office to look in the van. After repeated back and forth and the Dalat office having looked multiple times in the van, they couldn’t find it. We were able to see the location of the tracker an hour after we had left Dalat and it showed to be in the van at 2pm. Sooo either another traveler picked it up or the driver decided to take it. Good thing is that no one can use it without synching it (which only we can do), but they can sell it on eBay. So if anyone sees a Spot Connect on sale on eBay from Dalat, Vietnam…that’s ours and it’s like new (blah!). Again, Dalat is another beautiful destination. Vietnam was turning out to be one of the most scenic and worthwhile countries we had visited so far! Like I said before…definitely missing the bike. But I can tell that if we had the bike we’d end up spending a full month since we’d be stopping so much to take pics!