On Leaving Vietnam

Viet Nam was never on my list of countries to visit on this trip to SE Asia.  I have other travelers to thank for strongly influencing me to go there, particularly Lauren and Natalie who invited me to travel with them there.  I stayed for the entirety of my 30-day VISA and feel like I really got to know the country as well as one can in only a month.  I don’t know if it was because I was there longer than the other countries I went to in SEA, or if it was the culture, the food, the people, the nature, the history… or most likely a combination of all those things… but Vietnam was definitely my favorite SE Asian country that I visited.  Followed closely (very closely) by Indonesia.  (If I had spent more than two weeks in Indonesia, it’s very possible that it would have been my favorite.)

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Vietnamese coffee is the shit


While in Vietnam, you will frequently hear that Vietnam is the #1 coffee producer in the world.  This is a bit misleading.  Vietnam is actually the second largest coffee-producing country in the world after Brazil, but they export more Robusta beans than any other country.  Brazil exports more Arabica beans.  All of this came as a surprise to me, as I had never thought of Vietnam as a “coffee country.”  Being from North America, when I think “coffee”, I think of Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, etc.  But in Vietnam, the coffee industry employs more than two million people and has helped Vietnamese people rise out of poverty.  The central highlands, where I did my motorcycle tour, is the coffee capital of Vietnam because the majority of the plants are grown in this region.

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Easy Ridin’ in Viet Nam’s Central Highlands

I just finished five days of motorbiking around the Central Highlands with an Easy Rider tour (meaning I was riding pillion, not driving).  They were five exhilarating, educational, and exhausting days. We started between 7-8:30am every day and rode anywhere from 165-240 kilometers a day.  The days were full of stops to explore the region and its people.  The nights were lazy and entailed big dinners, lots of rain, and going to bed early due to boredom and/or exhaustion.  Some days were better than others.  Some stops were more interesting than others.  Sometimes we got rained on.  Sometimes my butt hurt a lot and my legs went numb.  But the overall experience was really rewarding and I’m glad I did it.  I got to see parts of VietNam that most people never see.  “Real VietNam” my driver called it.  And it’s true… it was an authentic experience.  Nothing I saw or did on the tour seemed set up or imitation. So, read on to get a slice of my real VietNam experience.

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Da Nang: A Day at the Beach

After doing the motorcycle day trip in Da Lat, I knew that I wanted to see more of Viet Nam from the seat of a bike.  Touring Viet Nam by motorcycle is a “thing.”  Lots of people (mostly guys) come here, buy a cheap bike from another traveler who has just finished his trip, and head on up (or down) the country on two wheels with their packs tightly strapped on the back or in saddle bags.  One day, I will learn how to ride a motorcycle and do this trip myself.  But for now, if I wanted to see the country by bike, I needed to hire a driver.  Fortunately, this is easy to do, as there are dozens of companies (Easy Rider is the most well-known) that organize just this type of thing.

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Above the clouds in Sapa, Vietnam


Sapa is a small town way up in the mountains of northwestern Vietnam.  It is a popular spot on the tourist trail for its trekking, homestays, cool weather, and beautiful vistas.  Even though I had heard good things about Sapa, I had a hard time deciding if I would go there, or instead to a town called Mai Chau which is not as touristy.  In the end, I decided to follow some of my travel buddies to up to Sapa on an overnight bus from Hanoi.

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Halong Bay, Vietnam


In Vietnamese, “halong” means “descending dragon.”  Legend has it that Halong Bay was formed thousands of years ago by dragons who came down from the heavens to protect local inhabitants from invaders.  The Dragon Mother and her children spat giant emeralds into the sea battlefield, which created a defensive barricade against the invaders.  The emeralds eventually turned into the islands and islets that majestically dot the ocean landscape off the northern Vietnam coast.

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Hoi An Stole My Heart

Where do I begin with Hoi An?  It is a city that makes your soul feel good.  Historically a port town, the city’s architecture is a beautiful mix of French colonial buildings, Chinese temples, and an ancient Japanese covered bridge and pagodas.  Then there are the Chinese lanterns that are illuminated each night and cast a romantic spell over the old town.  I can’t imagine anyone strolling through the city at night, with the myriad of riverfront restaurants and cafes, street artists, floating candles, and bicycle rickshaws carting tourists up and down the street, and not falling at least a little bit in love with the place.  Even when it is jam-packed with tourists, as I’m sure it always is.  Vietnamese and foreign tourists alike seem to flock to Hoi An.  It is like a precious gem set in the center of the country.

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Ho Chi Minh & the War Remnants Museum

I never had plans to travel to Vietnam, but after meeting so many travelers who reported that it was their favorite country I have to admit I was more than curious.  So when my travel partners, Natalie and Lauren, invited me to join them for their two-week trip, I just had to say yes.  So, on May 1 I flew from Bali to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and met up with the girls.

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