Vietnam Coracle http://vietnamcoracle.com Independent Travel Guides to Vietnam Wed, 20 Feb 2019 03:17:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.6 Nam Du Islands: Travel Guide http://vietnamcoracle.com/nam-du-islands-travel-guide/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/nam-du-islands-travel-guide/#comments Fri, 18 Jan 2019 12:08:59 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=27554 A glistening archipelago of small tropical islands off the southwestern coast of Vietnam, Nam Du is beautiful & undeveloped. With mesmerizing beaches & bays, a jungle-clad interior, and over 20 outlying islands, Nam Du is a treat... Continue reading

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First published January 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Nam Du is a glistening archipelago of small tropical islands off the southwestern coast of Vietnam. Lying in the calm waters of the Gulf of Thailand, travel to Nam Du Islands is still in its infancy. Pioneered by young, Vietnamese ‘Instagram-backpackers’ just a few years ago, Nam Du Islands have been gaining a reputation as an off-grid beach retreat. A good percentage of my younger Vietnamese friends in Saigon have already been there and done it, as have a handful of expats, and some adventurous foreign travellers. But, for at least two of the last four years, since Nam Du opened to visitors, foreign travellers weren’t allowed on the islands. However, that’s all changed now, and Nam Du Archipelago is easily reached by regular ferries from the mainland, making independent travel to these beautiful and undeveloped islands absolutely possible for all nationalities. Nam Du is gorgeous, but already the impact of tourism and development is changing the islands, in many cases for the worse. It’s probably best to visit sooner rather than later.

Nam Du Islands, Kien Giang Province, VietnamNam Du is a glistening archipelago of small tropical islands off the southwestern coast of Vietnam

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GUIDE: NAM DU ISLANDS


Below is my full guide to visiting the Nam Du Islands. I’ve divided this guide into categories, and then several sub-sections within those categories. Note that although all the places mentioned in this guide are marked on my map, the locations may not be exact, because Google Maps doesn’t work properly on Nam Du Islands, as it’s considered a border area, and therefore sensitive. The best time of year to visit Nam Du is from November to April, when the weather is generally dry and bright, and rainfall is light. It’s also advisable to visit on a weekday, and avoid weekends and public holidays, during which the islands can get very crowded. Plan to spend at least two nights on Nam Du, if not more. [Note: there are no ATMs on the islands: bring cash]

Click on a category below to read more about it:

CONTENTS:

MAP:

Nam Du Archipelago, Kien Giang Province


View in a LARGER MAP

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Location & Background:

Below I’ve written a description of the location and topography of the Nam Du Archipelago, as well as some information about the current state of the environment, which is an increasing concern all across Vietnam:

Nam Du Islands, VietnamThe Nam Du Archipelago consists of over 20 islands, islets & rocky outcrops


Orientation & Topography:

The Nam Du Archipelago is at the western end of a small chain of islands drifting west of Rach Gia, a thriving port city on the mainland, in Vietnam’s western Mekong Delta region. The Nam Du Archipelago sits in the Gulf of Thailand, consisting of over 20 islands, islets, and rocky outcrops. The biggest of these is known as Hòn Lớn (Big Island), but is also referred to simply as ‘Nam Du’. This island is the centre for most of the tourism and infrastructure in the archipelago. Of the outlying islands, several are inhabited, including Hon Ngang, Hon Mau, and Hon Trung. All of these islands can be visited by tour boat, including some of the uninhabited islands, too (see Getting Around for details). Nam Du Island (Hon Lon) itself can only be reached by ferry from the mainland (see Getting There for details). Tourism is still in its infancy. Indeed, until very recently, foreign travellers weren’t allowed to visit, unless they had a special permit. These days, however, anyone can step on a ferry from Rach Gia and enjoy the Nam Du Archipelago.

Nam Du Islands, VietnamHon Lon is the largest of the archipelago’s islands, and also referred to simply as ‘Nam Du’

The islands are green and forested, yet rugged and rocky; the sea is calm and the colour of blue topaz. I like to think of the archipelago as Vietnam’s Aegean Islands. As such, Nam Du has gained a reputation for outstanding and untouched coastal scenery in recent years. Social media posts have spread the word, particularly among young domestic travellers, and nowadays, weekends and public holidays are crammed with Vietnamese visitors. But Nam Du, during the week at least, is still an off-the-beaten-track destination – you won’t find many foreign travellers here; or many travellers at all for that matter, providing you visit Monday to Friday. Google Maps doesn’t really work on the Nam Du Islands and tourist infrastructure is limited to several dozen local guest houses and a handful of mini-resorts. But, of course, things are set to change. If you really want to see the islands before the onset of major development (just like Phu Quoc Island 10-15 years ago), then you mustn’t delay your trip to Nam Du for long. Even today, one gets the feeling that, just a couple of years ago, the ocean would have been cleaner and the jungles greener than they are now, thanks to the inevitable impact of rising visitor numbers.

Nam Du Islands, VietnamVisitor numbers (especially during the week) are still low & development is small scale

On the main island of Nam Du (Hon Lon), there’s only one road. This narrow, paved lane circumnavigates the entire island, passing almost all of the island’s beaches, attractions, places to stay and eat. It’s only about 15km in total, making it easily ridable by scooter (see Getting Around for details). In general, the western coast of Nam Du Island is more rugged, beguiling, enchanting, and pristine than the eastern. The interior of the island is mountainous and green. On the outlying islands, the main attraction is the white sand beach on Hon Mau, called Bai Chuong, and some fun (if not particularly impressive) snorkeling off the coast of a couple of the rocky, uninhabited islets (see Beaches & Activities for details). As is the case with all islands in Vietnam, prices are generally a bit higher than on the mainland. Food (with the exception of seafood), drink, and accommodation are all around 30% more than you’d expect to pay on the mainland.

Bai Chuong Beach, Hon Mau Island, Nam Du, VietnamOf the outlying islands, which can be visited by boat, the most popular is Hon Mau with Bai Chuong Beach

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Environment & Pollution:

It should be noted that, as beautiful, undeveloped, and serene as Nam Du currently is, it’s a very small and fragile place. Just like the Con Dao Islands, Nam Du is an extremely delicate environment: you can already see and feel the changes and the impact that tourism and development have had here. Even though the main island has only really seen significant visitor numbers in the last few years, and even though electricity is still limited to generators (which billow black smoke and leak black oil), and daily fast boats connecting the mainland have only been operating since fairly recently, the sea water and the beaches are already beginning to show signs of awful pollution from plastic and oil, and the interior forests are disappearing. But what can you do when everyone on the island suddenly has access to plastic containers and building materials, and hundreds of tourists (on weekends during the high season) come, see, eat, drink, and leave their trash behind?

Power generator, Nam Du Island, VietnamNam Du is small, and its environment is fragile: the advent of tourism is already making an impact

The infrastructure for garbage collection is slowly being implemented – there are trash bins, information signs, a daily trash car. But where does it all go: into a landfill on the island that just gets bigger, smellier, and more toxic with each year, just like those on Con Dao and Phu Quoc islands. The impact of plastic, building materials, and tourism in small, self contained places, like Nam Du, is so apparent and so fast that it’s shocking to see. I don’t have any answers, and, as a continual traveller, I’m obviously part of the problem, but the very least you can do it dispose of your trash responsibly, and, if possible, bring your own reusable containers for food and drink. At the time of writing, a landfill is being carved out of the forest on the western coast: I expect to see its ‘progress’ every time I revisit the island.

Trash on the beach, Nam Du Islands, VietnamTrash, which is a problem all over Vietnam, is building up on Nam Du’s beaches, much of it plastic

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Beaches, Bays, Islands & Activities:

There are two main things to do on the Nam Du Archipelago: explore the main island of Hon Lon (also referred to simply as Nam Du), and take a boat trip to some of the outlying islands. If you’re really pushed for time, 24 hours (taking the early morning boat from Rach Gia, and the mid morning boat back the next day) would be sufficient to make a circuit of the main island of Hon Lon. But, ideally, I’d recommend at least 2 days and nights on Nam Du: one to explore the main island; the other to take a boat trip to the outlying islands. With 3 nights, you have plenty of time to see and experience everything this archipelago has to offer. If possible, try not to visit on a weekend or public holiday, when the islands get very crowded. It really is a different (and more peaceful) experience if you visit on a weekday. Note: Although Google Maps doesn’t show Nam Du Island’s roads and landmarks, it’s still possible to use my map as a reference to get your bearings and an idea of the lay of the land. Just bear in mind that the pins and markers are obviously only approximate.

Travelling around the Nam Du Islands, VietnamExploring the main island by motorbike & taking a boat to the outlying islands are the main things to do


Nam Du Island (Hon Lon):

Nam Du’s main island is Hon Lon (‘Big Island’ in Vietnamese). Hon Lon occupies the western flank of the archipelago, with the port village of Bai Tret (also known as Cu Tron) sitting in a bay on the northeastern coast. I’ve written the following beaches and attractions on Hon Lon as if travelling clockwise around the island on the coast road, starting from Bai Tret. The best way to explore the island is by hired scooter (see Getting Around for details). There’s only really one road on Hon Lon, and this circles the entire island. It’s only about 15km in total, so riding a circuit of the island, without any stops, just takes around 20 minutes. But, of course, the whole point is that you do stop: for swims, picnics, exploration, and just to stand and admire the views and peace of the island. 

Hon Lon Island, Nam Du Archipelago, VietnamThe archipelago’s main island, Hon Lon (Nam Du) is rugged, green, and very attractive


Bai Tret Hamlet (Cu Tron): The island’s main port and the centre for food, drink, and accommodation, Bai Tret is built on a very narrow strip of land at the foot of forested hills rising sharply from the ocean. The boat pier is scruffy and busy; a jumble of ticket kiosks, seafood shacks, fishing boats, and cafes. The village itself is a warren of tight alleyways, crammed with concrete homes, eateries, local convenience stores, mini-wet markets, and cheap guest houses. Stock up on food and water here if you’re planning on exploring the island for the day. (See Food & Drink and Accommodation for details).

Bai Tet Village, Nam Du Island, VietnamThe main village of Bai Tret (also known as Cu Tron) is a small cluster of guest houses & shops

The settlement of Bai Tret (Cu Tron) is small but sprawls along the narrow strip of land to the south of the port. A tight, paved lane leads through the covered alleyways as they pass by fishermen’s dwellings, with the occasional humongous banyan tree towering above the corrugated iron rooftops. It looks like a slow, salty, labour-intensive existence: men working the boats and the nets, women keeping the house, the children free to roam the sandy lanes and yards, happily jumping from chicken coup to beach. The locals I met were extremely warm and friendly. It’s only in the last few years that foreign travellers have started to arrive. Mieu Ba Chua Xu is a small, ornate temple beneath a banyan tree, which is worth a quick visit. Trash is a problem, as it is everywhere in Vietnam, but especially in small coastal communities like this one. Common practice is to throw everything in the sea, partly because there is little awareness of the problems of garbage, but partly because local trash collection has only recently been implemented. As connections to the mainland have become better, visitor numbers have risen, the population has swelled, and plastic has become more common. Now, much of the coastline around Bai Tret is clogged with plastic. But, in general, away from the island’s hamlets, Nam Du’s coastline and interior is still clean and pristine.

Drying fish, Bai Tret, Nam Du Island, VietnamFish drying along the harbourfront in Bai Tret: unfortunately, the port is increasingly polluted

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Southeast Beaches: The coast road begins behind Bai Tret port with a steep ascent before bearing left (due south) along the shoreline. Winding south of Bai Tret, mostly along a precipice several metres above the wash, the road occasionally skirts the ocean, opening up views to rocky bays studded with coconut palms and tropical almond trees. These bays, in the southeast of the island, have a handful of fairly basic tourist developments on them (see Accommodation details). Unfortunately, although the pebbly beaches and bays between Bai Tret hamlet and the southern tip of the island are very beautiful, when you get close, they are rather tainted by trash. These small bays are perhaps best referred to by the names of the accommodations on them: for example, Phong Vu is a very pretty little beach, Bai Soi next door is also attractive, and lastly, Humiso is a wonderful ledge of land near the tip of the island. Stopping by for a drink and to admire the views is great, but you can’t ignore the trash. Some of it washes up and gets stuck on the rocks, but some of it is the result of visitors and locals discarding their waste on the beach. However, at some spots the litter is light enough to ignore, and the water is still very clear, and teeming with fish. Phong Vu is probably the best to swim at, Bai Soi is best for lunch, and Humiso is best for a drink in one of the hammocks overlooking the sea.

Bai Soi Beach, Nam Du Island, VietnamThe southeast coast has several nice, pebbly beaches (this is Bai Soi), but there’s a bit of trash


Humiso beach resort, Nam Du Islands, VietnamHumiso is the nicest mini-resort to date: the position is great, huts are good, but trash is a problem


Humiso beach resort, Nam Du Islands, VietnamHumiso occupies an excellent position near the tip of Nam Du Island looking over outlying islands

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West Coast Beaches & Interior: The west coast of Hon Lon is the more rugged, attractive, beguiling, enchanting, and pristine side of the island. When the coast road rounds the southern tip of Hon Lon, the beaches, bays, air, sea, and light all appear to get clearer and, well, better. The road soars high above the sea, overlooking several small, lush islands to the south. The first beach on the southwest coast is Bai Cay Nho, a little, pebbly bay with clear blue water. But, just beyond this is Bai Cay Men, easily one of the most picturesque beaches in the country. This glorious white sand beach is fringed by leaning coconut palms, that appear to be kowtowing to the ludicrously turquoise waters. The surf is gentle, there’s a light sea breeze through the rustling palms, and trash (despite Cay Men being the most popular beach on the island) appears to be under control. A couple of low-impact wood-and-thatch huts serve fresh, utterly delicious, local coconuts – ask for a dừa lửa: it’s the sweetest and tastiest I’ve every had – as well as some seafood, light snacks, soft drinks, and beer. Best of all, you can camp here for virtually no money at all: surely, one of the best camping spots anywhere in Vietnam (see Accommodation for details). As you might have guessed, swimming at Bai Cay Men beach is wonderful.

The west coast of Nam Du Island, VietnamThe west coast of Nam Du Island is more rugged, attractive, pristine & beguiling, than the east coast


Bai Cay Men Beach, Nam Du Island, VietnamBai Cay Men is that perfect, brochure beach: blue sea, white sand, coconut palms & excellent swimming


Bai Cay Men Beach, Nam Du Island, VietnamIn the middle of the day Bai Cay Men can be deserted: you might have it all to yourself

As the road continues along the western coast, a couple of concealed pathways lead off to several nice bays of volcanic rocks, that are quiet, secluded and good for a swim or picnic. However, the nearby landfill might put you off. All along the coast, large tropical trees extend above the jungle canopy, looming over the road.

Large tropical tree, Nam Du Island, VietnamGiant tropical trees loom over the coast road along the western side of Nam Du Island


Volcanic rock beach, Nam Du Island, VietnamA couple of hidden pathways lead down to attractive volcanic rock beaches, good for swimming

Further still, towards the northwest of Hon Lon, the roadside temple Dinh Nam Hai Ngu Than is the island’s centre for whale worship. A long tradition going back centuries, whales are worshiped by fishing communities as deities of the ocean, and they are believed to bring good luck to sailors. One of dozens of similar temples along Vietnam’s coastline, Dinh Nam Hai Ngu Than plays host to an assemblage of whale bones, including a near complete skeleton of a whale about 7 metres long, and several baby whale skulls. The temple looks out over Bai Ong Ngu fishing village, which is a beautiful, sheltered bay with a crust of brick, concrete and corrugated-iron dwellings around it. This is the main fishing hamlet on the island. It’s a hive of narrow alleys and friendly locals that’s worth exploring.


Whale skeleton at the whale temple, Nam Du IslandDinh Nam Hai Ngu Than is a whale temple: there’s a large whale skeleton on display


Bai Ong Ngu hamlet, Nam Du Island, VietnamBai Ong Ngu is a tightly packed fishing hamlet whose narrow alleyways are good for exploring

After Ong Ngu village, the road veers east and up a steep slope, which then descends the other side back to Bai Tret port, thus completing the circuit of the island. But, just before reaching the top of the incline, a left turn (due north) rolls steeply downhill to Dat Do Beach. A crescent of sand backed by a lush, hilly headland encompassing a sky-blue bay, the setting is gorgeous. There’s construction of a high-end hotel at the northern end of this bay, but the southern end is accessible. There’s also a rustic guest house, called Kim Xoan (see Accommodation for details).

Bai Dat Do Beach, Nam Du Island, VietnamBai Dat Do is reached via an extremely steep lane: it’s a pretty bay with clear water & green hills

Before the road descends back down to Bai Tret, a small turning on the right (due south) leads up into the jungle-covered interior of the island, all the way to the mountaintop lighthouse, military post, and communications mast. You may not be allowed to continue all the way to the top, but it’s still worth the detour to go as far as you can, because the views down over the entire island – indeed, the entire archipelago – are staggering. Note that the road is incredibly steep, and some bikes might struggle, especially with a pillion. You could walk, too, but it’s a reasonably hot, long, and steep trek. You should be able to get all the way to the entrance of the lighthouse, where you’ll be greeted by a troupe of very nice (and very young) army personnel. You could perhaps try asking to buy a ‘ticket’ to the lighthouse and see if that works, but if not it’s still well-worth the trip just for the views.

Nam Du Island viewing point, VietnamRide up to the viewing point along the road to the lighthouse for majestic views over the island

Back in Bai Tret, the evenings are cool and perfect for walking along the seafront and exploring the hamlet. There’s a refreshing breeze, which blows up a bit of chop on the sea, causing the wooden hulls of fishing boats to bob out of time with each other. Meanwhile, the bright beam from the mountaintop lighthouse keeps circling the archipelago, like the eye of Mordor watching over the islands.

Bai Cay Men Beach, Nam Du Island, VietnamThe west coast is a special place: even beaches as beautiful as Bai Cay Men remain undeveloped

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Outlying Islands & Boat Trips:

There are around 20 islands, islets and outcrops within the Nam Du Archipelago, encircling the main island of Hon Lon. A few are permanently inhabited, but most are completely isolated. It’s very easy, cheap, and really good fun to take a full- or half-day boat tour from Bai Tret out to the other islands in the archipelago (see Getting Around for details). These boat tours have set itineraries, which generally include the most interesting islands and best beaches. However, you can also hire a private boat for the day, but it will cost you a lot more (upwards of $100).

Boat trips to the outlying islands, Nam Du, VietnamFull- & half-day boat trips to the outlying islands are good fun & very reasonably priced


Hon Mau Island: The most impressive and worthwhile stop on the boat tour itineraries – apart from the simple pleasure of being out on the waves and getting a different perspective on the archipelago – is Hon Mau. In the southeastern corner of the archipelago, Hon Mau is most notable for Bai Chuong Beach, a seam of white sand laid out under coconut palms and umbrella trees, with surf the colour of aftershave. The colours here are intense and blindingly bright. There’s an active fishing community of Hon Mau, but tourism is gradually taking over, with wood-and-thatch shacks and clapboard seafood restaurants setting up along the sand. The rest of the coast is pebble beach with a crust of trash. Indeed, if it weren’t for Bai Choung Beach – whose sands are kept relatively clean – there wouldn’t be much reason to visit to Hon Mau. But the colour of the water is special and the swimming excellent. Boats stop here for at least an hour, so there’s time to bathe in the ocean, drink a coconut, eat a snack, and explore the island on foot. If possible, get here early or in the middle of the day, because late afternoons often get very busy with large groups of domestic tourists, which involve a lot of beer and rice liquor and loud music. It’s all great fun, and you’ll probably get to join in, but it sure does make a mess of the beach. At the southern end of Chuong Beach is the fishing community. Simple wood, brick, and iron-sheet homes line a paved lane. Everything revolves around fishing, and it’s very labour intensive: cleaning and mending the nets, maintaining the boats, salting the fish. Men and women work together in groups, and there are animals everywhere – chickens, ducks, dogs, cats. It’s a friendly, fascinating community to stroll through – a glimpse into a life that, for me at least, is difficult to imagine.

Bai Chuong Beach, Hon Mau Island, Nam Du, Vietnam


Bai Chuong Beach, Hon Mau Island, Nam Du, VietnamBai Chuong, on Hon Mau Island, is a strikingly beautiful white sand beach with turquoise water & palms

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Snorkeling & Other Islands: Although the coral around Nam Du isn’t spectacular, the sea is very clear and calm, making snorkeling a rewarding activity. However, the coral is severely damaged and mistreated by the local fishing and tourism industry, and none of it will last much longer. Most boat tours stop off the shores of Hon Bo Dap, a small, rugged, uninhabited island, for an hour of snorkeling beneath a sheer rocky cliff, where the coral is good enough to make it interesting. Other islands that are regularly visited on the boat tours include Hon Dau (also called Hon Trung) and Hon Ngang. I’m sure many more islands will open to tourism in the near future.

Boat trips to the outlying islands, Nam Du, VietnamThere are over 20 islands in the Nam Du Archipelago that can be visited by boat: some have decent coral

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Accommodation:

As most travellers will need to spend a night in Rach Gia, on the mainland, before catching the ferry to Nam Du Island the next morning, I have included accommodation information for both Rach Gia and the Nam Du Islands below:

Accommodation on Nam Du Island, Vietnam (Humiso Resort)Nam Du Island has dozens of cheap guest houses & a handful of mini-resorts to choose from


Rach Gia Hotels: Rach Gia has a decent range of hotels and guest houses, including a string of cheap nhà nghỉ (local guest houses) conveniently located near the port, on Nguyen Cong Tru Street. Of these, Kiet Hong Hotel ($10 a night | MAP) is large, clean, and reasonably priced, just across the street from the boat pier. Rach Gia also has a couple of good value mid-range accommodations, including Hoa Binh-Rach Gia Resort ($40 a night | MAP), which is set in lush grounds only a short distance from the port. Rooms are well-equipped and come with balconies and bathtubs, and there’s a swimming pool, too. For more Rach Gia hotel options check Agoda.com.

Rach Gia Port, Mekong Delta, VietamIn Rach Gia, there are decent accommodation options conveniently located near the ferry port (pictured)

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Nam Du Hotels:

Most places to stay on the Nam Du Islands are in the budget or mid-range category. There are dozens of guest houses in Bai Tret (also known as Cu Tron), the port village on the main island (Hon Lon), and a few basic resorts scattered around the island, too. A couple of the outlying islands also have rustic accommodation options. Like most islands in Vietnam, accommodation rates are around 30% more than you’d expect to pay for similar standards on the mainland. Bear in mind that weekends and public holidays can get extremely crowded with domestic travellers. If possible, it’s best to avoid travelling to Nam Du during these times. But if you do, booking accommodation in advance is essential. Note: as Google Maps does not ‘work’ on the island, the pins and markers on my map are only approximate:

A hammock at Humiso resort, Nam Du Islands, VietanmMost of the guest houses on Nam Du are in Bai Tret hamlet; the mini-resorts are spread along the coast


Bai Tret Port & Village: The main port, where the ferries from the mainland dock, is also the main accommodation hub for the Nam Du Islands. Bai Tret Port (also referred to as Cu Tron) is a small village clustered around the boat pier, and most of the buildings here are now local guest houses. Spread around the pier and alleyways, there are dozens of little guest houses (nhà nghỉ), and hostel rooms (nhà trọ). The latter are cheaper than former, but are generally smaller, pokier, and not as clean. So, unless you’re really on a tight budget, go for the nhà nghỉ. There are dozens to choose from, but I particularly liked the following:

• Nhung Nam 2 Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 02973 830 800 | 300,000-500,000vnd: In a prime position right on the harbourfront, this is a new building with very clean, comfortable but simple rooms. Seaview rooms come with balconies overlooking the port (500,000vnd). The cheaper rooms are at the back (300,000vnd). Great value for double occupancy, and you can’t beat the location.

Nhung Nam 2 Guest House, Nam Du Islands, VietnamNam Nhung 2 guest house has clean, simple rooms right on Bai Tret’s harbourfront

• Huynh Hoa 2 Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 0919 11 55 43 | 250,000-500,000vnd: On the left as you come from the harbourfront road and turn onto Bai Tret’s ‘high street’ (it’s just an alleyway, really), this fairly large guest house has clean, bright, simple rooms, some with balconies looking over town. There are rooms with four beds, which would be good for a group of travellers sharing.

• Thuy Kiep Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 02973 830 853 | 250,000-450,000vnd: A litlle further up the ‘high street’, this is another simple, clean, quiet local guest house. It’s breezy, shady, and calm.

A room in a local guesthouse (nhà nghỉ), VietnamA typical guest house (nhà nghỉ) room in Bai Tret hamlet on Nam Du’s main island, Hon Lon

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Around Nam Du Island (Hon Lon): Along the coast road which circles the main island, several small resorts cater to the growing number of domestic travellers who visit Nam Du from the mainland. These accommodations are all by the sea, and generally nicer than the guest houses in Bai Tret. The places below are reviewed in order as if going clockwise from Bai Tret around the island:

• Khanh Vy Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 093 290 5920 | 300,000vnd: Just a few minutes out of Bai Tret village, this otherwise rather ordinary guest house is raised above the sea, giving it great views out over the ocean.

• Thao Thuong Camp [MAP]; Tel: 098 538 8885 | 600,000vnd+: Don’t be fooled by the name: ‘camp’ and ‘homestay’ get thrown around hither and thither in the Vietnamese tourism industry. All it really means is ‘small scale’. Thao Thuong Camp is a little collection of tightly packed, colourful bungalows right on an attractive stony bit of coast. It’s comfortable and cosy, but the property is fairly cramped and the whole set-up is designed for selfie-snapping Vietnamese youth. The bungalows are made of corrugated iron and glass which get very hot: most guests had the curtains closed and the air-con on full blast all day. It’s absolutely fine for a night with friends, but I wouldn’t say it’s particularly good value for money.

Thao Thuong Camp, Nam Du Island, Vietnam


Thao Thuong Camp, Nam Du Island, VietnamThao Thuong Camp is nice enough but a bit cramped and hot. Prices are OK if sharing

• Phong Vu Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 0919 138 3690 | 300,000vnd: With a good position on a pebbly beach, Phong Vu is lush and very attractive. Set in the shade of coconut palms with the sea lapping at a picturesque boat pier, the accommodation here is basic but acceptable, considering the location. Concrete or wooden rooms are arranged in a line along the seafront. Sadly, the litter on the beach and in the ocean is such that it may put off some foreign guests (Vietnamese customers appear to have a higher tolerance for trash-strewn beaches). If it’s kept clean, Phong Vu is a lovely spot.

Phong Vu Guest House, Nam Du Island, VietnamPhong Vu Guest House has OK rooms in a good position on a pebbly bay, but there’s some trash around

• Bai Soi Beach [MAP]; Tel: 02973 830 853 | 350,000-500,000vnd: On the next little bay down from Phong Vu, Bai Soi Beach is a similar property on a similar pebbly beach. However, the rooms and the restaurant at Bai Soi are better than Phong Vu, but the trash is worse. Some of it appears to by flotsam and jetsam washed up on the tide, but some of it appears to be household and picnic trash. Either way, with the beach in its current condition, Bai Soi is a bit sad, even though it’s a beautiful little bay with leaning palm trees. Rooms are in wooden huts by the sea.

Bai Soi Guest House, Nam Du Island, VietnamBai Soi has decent rooms on a nice, pebbly beach but garbage is rapidly building up

• Humiso Nam Du [MAP]; Tel: 093 566 9968 | 400,000-800,000vnd: Close to the southern tip of the island, Humiso is the most resort-like accommodation to date on Nam Du. Set on a beautiful patch of coastline and climbing up the lush hillside behind, with views over the outlying islands, Humiso has a range of attractive-looking, wooden-and-thatch accommodation. A-frame bungalows, sleeping 2-4 people (600,000-800,000vnd), are a bit of a tight squeeze inside, but generally fine. But the ‘star-gazing’ wooden cabins, which have transparent sloping roofs so you can look out at the sky, might be great on a clear night (despite the lack of privacy from outside eyes looking in) but are certainly not very practical when it’s 35°C during the middle of the day. The cheapest rooms (400,000vnd for double occupancy) are hexagonal cabins, stacked together like a three-dimensional puzzle. Sadly, trash from the resort and its customers is starting to ruin this property, and there’s something rather seedy about it, too: much of the litter strewn outside the rooms included condoms and empty blister packs of medical supplies. It sure is a pretty spot, but it’s becoming a victim of its own success: the selfie-hoards – who line up to take photos on the swaying hammocks overlooking the ocean – are taking their memories away with them, but leaving their litter. And the resort is struggling to maintain itself: an oil-powered generator – leaking all over the road – is constantly whirring away and chugging black smoke into the blue sky.

Humiso Resort, Nam Du Island, Vietnam


Humiso Resort, Nam Du Island, VietnamHumiso has a great location & a range of different rooms at reasonable prices, but there’s trash around

• Camping on Bai Cay Men Beach [MAP]; 50,000vnd: By far and away the most romantic night you could possibly spend on Nam Du Island is to camp on the white sand, under the swaying palms, right next to the amethyst wash, on Bai Cay Men Beach. On the southwest coast of the island, tents can be rented (50,000vnd) from the thatched huts lining the beach. Or, if you have your own tent, it’s basically free (just ask permission first). Pitch your tent right on the sand or back from the beach on a wooden platform under a thatched roof. Do it now, while you still can: this is the kind of beach that developers will pay millions for, as they have done on Phu Quoc Island and elsewhere in Vietnam already. It’s just too good to last, so don’t wait. There’s a bit of refuse around the edges of the bay, but not enough to distract from the general beauty of this beach.

Camping on Bai Cay Men Beach, Nam Du Island, Vietnam


Camping on Bai Cay Men Beach, Nam Du Island, VietnamCamping on Bai Cay Men beach is wonderful: either rent a tent or bring your own

• Kim Xoan Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 0915 777 738 | 300,000vnd: There are a couple of fairly basic nhà nghỉ (guest houses) in the fishing village of Bai Ong Ngu, but it’s not really worth staying here. However, down a steep lane between Bai Ong Ngu and Bai Tret, follow the signs to Kim Xoan Guest House on Bai Dat Do beach. Although the little cabins on the seafront are weathered and a pretty run-down, the position is fantastic. Bai Dat Do beach is very scenic and boasts turquoise water. There’s some trash around, of course, and at the time of writing there was ongoing construction at the far end of the beach, which will apparently be the first high-end resort on Nam Du.

Kim Xoan Guest House, Nam Du Island, VietnamKim Xoan Guest House has a good location on Dat Do Beach even if it’s a bit run down

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• Other Islands: [MAP]: A couple of the outlying islands have little guest houses on them, and camping is also a possibility – you just need to have your own equipment and hop on one of the daily tour boats to get to and from the main island. The most practical island to stay on is Hon Mau, where beautiful Bai Chuong Beach has hammocks for the night, or there’s a small guest house in the fishing hamlet: Nhà Nghỉ 5 Vạn (0773 831 555; 250,000vnd).

5 Van Guest House, Bai Chuong Beach, Hon Mau Island, Nam Du


Bai Chuong Beach, Hon Mau Island, Nam Du, VietnamThere’s a guest house on Hon Mau Island near Bai Chuong Beach or you could camp

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Food & Drink:

All dining options on Nam Du are informal, casual joints: there are no Western-style restaurants or Western food. Obviously, being an archipelago, main meals (and even snacks) are all about seafood. But there are also bánh mì (filled baguettes) and xôi (sticky rice) stalls, and noodle soup and rice eateries here and there, offering the usual hearty, fresh, inexpensive Vietnamese ‘common fare’. Island specialties include dried fish and oysters, local candied tamarind (either sour or sweet), and coconuts, all of which are available along the seafront near the boat pier. The majority of food and drink options are in the small village of Bai Tret. But there are a handful of other food outlets spread around the island.

Food and drink on Nam Du Islands, VietnamNam Du is famous for its fresh, inexpensive seafood, but there are a few other dining options, too


Bai Tret Port & Village: Along the seafront, near the boat pier, and lining Bai Tret’s main ‘street’ (it’s an alleyway, really) is where you’ll find most of the island’s food and drink offerings.

Seafood: As the sun sets, tables and chairs are laid out on the quay by the ferry pier. Diners arrive, the beer flows, and fresh, live seafood of all varieties is sold by the kilo from buckets of salt water at incredibly reasonable prices (especially when compared with the inferior seafood at inflated prices that you find on Phu Quoc Island, just to the north of Nam Du). There’s a string of about a half dozen informal seafood restaurants here. The seafood is fresh, inexpensive, and simply cooked and presented. Choose from live sea urchins, grouper, tuna, shrimp, slipper lobster, oysters, sea snails, clams, cockles and much more. As an example, a couple of large grilled sea urchins and a plate of grilled scallops costs under $5 (100,000vnd). There are several restaurants to choose from: personally, I enjoyed Minh Sang.

Fresh seafood, Nam Du Islands, VietnamSeafood at the waterfront restaurants in Bai Tret hamlet is fresh, cheap & delicious

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Other Food: During the mornings, bánh mì (filled baguettes) and xôi (sticky rice) vendors ply the harbourfront and main alleyways. A couple of the quayside cafes also offer cơm tấm (broken rice and grilled pork) and noodle soups. However, my favourite place to eat on Nam Du Island is an excellent little quán cơm phở (rice and noodle joint) on Bai Tret’s main alley, called Yen Nhi. Try the bún bò Huế for breakfast, it’s extremely good – meaty, colourful, tasty, rich, and spicy. For lunch, they serve decent rice, meat, and vegetables. There’s a small local market where the seafront lane meets the main alleyway in Bai Tret. Also, a couple of grocery stores sell biscuits, water, and other snacks that are good to take with you on a trip around the island.

A rice lunch, Nam Du Islands, VietnamA very good rice & soup eatery, called Yen Nhi, in Bai Tret hamlet is great for breakfast & lunch

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Coffee & Coconuts: There are several cafes in Bai Tret, some of which are on the quayside, that are very nice in the afternoon, when the fishing boats are leaving for the night, the harbour is calm, and the sun is setting. The coconuts on Nam Du Island are among the best I’ve ever had: make sure you try one. Ask for a trái dừa lửa uống liên – a small, reddish coconut with sweet water, that you can drink almost in one go. 

Fresh coconuts on Nam Du Island, VietnamFresh coconuts from the island’s thousands of palm trees are sweet, delicious & refreshing

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Around Nam Du Island:

There’s very little in the way of food and drink around the island. But most of the accommodations outside of Bai Tret have restaurants serving snacks or meals. In particular, Bai Soi and Humiso, in the southeast of the island, have decent food and excellent locations. There are a few shops and snack vendors in Bai Ong hamlet, in the northwest of the island, too. Some of the outlying islands have informal seafood restaurants, especially the ones that are frequented by tour boats. On Bai Chuong Beach on Hon Mau Island, for example, there are lots of seafood and drinks shacks. Finally, the thatched huts under the palm trees on Bai Cay Men Beach have excellent coconuts fresh from the trees.

Seafood on Nam Du Islands, VietnamSeveral on the mini-resorts around Nam Du Island have restaurants & a couple of the islands, too

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Getting There & Around:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: If you use the links & search boxes below to book your transportation to Nam Du Islands, I make a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

Nam Du Island is reached by boat from Rach Gia, a large, coastal city in the southwestern Mekong Delta region. There are several transportation options to get to Rach Gia, either from Ho Chi Minh City or from other hubs within the Delta region. And there are several ferry companies that operate boat services between Rach Gia and Nam Du Island. Once on the island, you can hire motorbikes to circumnavigate the main island, or small boats to explore the other islands in the archipelago:

Fast boat between Rach Gia & Nam Du Islands, VietnamThe only way to reach Nam Du is by boat from the mainland city of Rach Gia, in the Mekong Delta


GETTING TO RACH GIA: 

By Bus: From Ho Chi Minh City, there are buses throughout the day (and night) to Rach Gia. Journey time is roughly 6 hours, and the general level of comfort on sleeper coaches is pretty good, unless you’re particularly tall. Prices are around 150,000-250,000vnd ($7-$10) one-way. Futa is one of the more popular buslines, but there are many others serving this route, including the Thien Thanh Limousine, which offers lots of space and comfort. Note that buses to/from Ho Chi Minh City usually stop at Rach Soi Bus Station, just south of central Rach Gia. Rach Gia is also connected to most other urban hubs within the Mekong Delta and beyond. There are regular bus services, for example, to Can Tho and Ben Tre (leaving from Rach Soi Bus Station), and Ha Tien (leaving from Rach Gia Bus Station, near the centre of town). You can check bus services, schedules, prices, and book tickets on Baolau.com or use the search box below.

[Some travel agents in Ho Chi Minh City, Rach Gia & Nam Du can arrange bus-boat packages: the ticket includes transfers from the bus station to the boat pier and on to Nam Du Island]

By Air: It’s also possible to fly between Ho Chi Minh City and Rach Gia Airport on a daily propeller flight operated by VASCO, a part of Vietnam Airlines. There’s one flight a day in both directions departing in the early morning. Flight time is less than 45 minutes. One-way airfares are around $1,200,000vnd ($50). You can check flight schedules, prices and book tickets on Baolau.com or the Vietnam Airlines website.

Search & Book: Type your travel dates below & click ‘Search’ to find current ticket prices & availability for buses & planes between Ho Chi Minh City & Rach Gia:


Propeller flight between Saigon & Rach Gia Rach Gia can be reached by bus (from Saigon & Mekong Delta hubs) or by air (from Saigon only)

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GETTING TO NAM DU ISLANDS:

By Boat: The only way to get from the mainland to Nam Du Island (Hòn Lớn) is by boat. All boats leave from Rach Gia Port. There are currently at least three different ferry companies operating fast boat passenger services to Nam Du Island. These are: Phu Quoc Express (don’t be fooled by the name), Superdong, and Ngoc Thanh.

The duration of the voyage varies slightly depending on the boat and weather conditions, but in general it takes 2.5 hours between Rach Gia and Nam Du. Most boats to Nam Du also stop at Hon Son Island (also known as Lại Sơn) on the way, and sometimes Hòn Trê Island, too. The boats are comfortable, with coach-style seating, outside deck-space, life jackets and rafts. At present, there are no car ferries to Nam Du, but this is a good thing, because the island is far too small and fragile to accommodate large vehicles. However, at the time of writing, it is possible to take your motorbike or bicycle on the Phu Quoc Express fast boat, but not on any of the other services.

Fast boat between Rach Gia & Nam Du IslandThere are at least three different ferry companies operating fast boat services to Nam Du Island

Sailing schedules change depending on the season, time of week, weather, and demand. Therefore, the times given below should be treated only as an indication: they are not set in stone. But, in general, you can guarantee at least one sailing a day (usually in the morning) in both directions from each of the three main boat operators. There are almost always extra sailings on weekends and during high season (December-April).

Fast boat between Rach Gia & Nam Du IslandAll the fast boats have comfortable, air-conditioned, coach-style cabins and outside deck space

Buying tickets is fairly straightforward. There are ticket offices for all boat operators at the port in Rach Gia and along 3 Tháng 2 Street near the intersection with Trần Thủ Độ Street, which is very near Rach Gia Port. On Nam Du Island, the ticket offices are clustered around the boat pier. It’s also possible to book boat tickets through most accommodations in Rach Gia and Nam Du. Booking in advance is advisable in high season, especially if you want to take your motorbike. More details (although, again, not necessarily accurate) can be found on the boat operators’ websites (see below) and bookings can also be made through Baolau.com.

*Key: PQE=Phu Quoc Express; SD=Superdong; NT=Ngoc Thanh


RACH GIA  NAM DU

Departures: 6.30am (PQE), 7.30am (SD), 7.30am (NT) daily*

Duration: 2.5 hours

Passenger Ticket: 200,000-250,000vnđ, discounts for seniors, children, disabled

Motorbike Ticket: around 200,000-250,000vnd (Phu Quoc Express only)

Websites: PQE: www.pqe.com.vn | SD: www.superdong.com.vn | NT: www.ngocthanhexpress.com or BOOK HERE with Baolau.com

*At least one sailing daily by each ferry operator (usually in the morning); extra sailings in high season (November-April) & weekends


NAM DU → RACH GIA

Departures: 10.00am (PQE), 11.00am (SD), 11.30am (NT) daily*

Duration: 2.5 hours

Passenger Ticket: 200,000-250,000vnđ, discounts for seniors, children, disabled

Motorbike Ticket: around 200,000-250,000vnđ (Phu Quoc Express only)

Websites: PQE: www.pqe.com.vn | SD: www.superdong.com.vn | NT: www.ngocthanhexpress.com or BOOK HERE with Baolau.com

*At least one sailing daily by each ferry operator (usually in the morning); extra sailings in high season (November-April) & weekends


Search & Book: Type your travel dates below & click ‘Search’ to find current ticket prices & availability for fast boats between Rach Gia & Nam Du Island:


Fast boat between Rach Gia & Nam Du IslandGenerally, there’s at least one sailing a day in each direction on each of the ferry operators

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GETTING AROUND NAM DU ISLANDS:

By Motorbike & Mini-bus: The main island of Nam Du (Hòn Lớn) is ideal for exploring by motorbike (or bicycle, but I couldn’t find any for rent). If you didn’t bring your own motorbike with you on the boat from the mainland, they can be rented from most guest houses and hotels from around 150,000-200,000vnd per day. There’s only really one road on Nam Du, which circumnavigates the entire island and is only about 15km in total. Thus, riding a circuit of the island only takes about 20 minutes on a motorbike, without any stops. But, of course, the whole point is that you stop for swims, picnics, and just to stand and admire the views and peace of the island (see Beaches & Activities for details). Although Google Maps doesn’t show Nam Du Island’s roads, it’s still possible to use my map as a reference to get your bearings and an idea of the lay of the land and the roads. Just bear in mind that the map pins and markers are only approximate, not exact. Although the road is paved and in pretty decent condition, it’s quite narrow, extremely steep in places, and the corners can be gravelly, which makes it easy to skid: be careful. Traffic is almost non-existent, but local drivers are the most trigger-happy with their horns than anywhere else I can remember in Vietnam. There aren’t any gas stations on the island, but rental bikes come with a full tank, and the distances are so short you won’t need to refill. If, for some reason, you do need to top up, gas is sold in bottles in Bai Tret. In high-season and on weekends, there’s a daily tourist shuttle-bus that circumnavigates the island (50,000vnd).

Riding a motorbike on Nam Du Island, VietnamRiding a circuit of Nam Du by motorbike is a hugely rewarding way to see the main island

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By Boat: A boat trip to the outlying islands is a must-do activity when visiting Nam Du. The Nam Du Archipelago consists of over 20 islands, islets, and rocky outcrops. Although Nam Du (Hòn Lớn) is the largest island with the biggest population, several other islands are also inhabited, including Hon Ngang, Hon Dau, and Hon Mau [view map]. All of the above mentioned islands can be visited by boat on cheap and easy half- or full-day tours. Even some of the uninhabited islands, which are small, rugged, green and forested, are included on these boat tour itineraries (see Beaches & Activities for details).

Taking a boat tour in the Nam Du Islands, VietnamBoat trips to the outlying islands are a must-do activity when visiting the Nam Du Archipelago

Boat trips to the outlying islands are easily arranged through your accommodation, and leave from Bai Tret village. Full-day tours (250,000vnd per person) leave at around 7.30am and return around 5pm; half-day tours (150,000vnd per person) leave at around 7.30am and return around 12noon, or leave around 1pm and return around 5pm. The cost, which is very reasonable, includes the boat, snorkeling equipment, any entrance fees, and even an on-board meal: usually rice porridge with seafood. Tour itineraries change from time to time, but as a general outline: half-day tours take in Hon Mau (including the wonderful Bai Chuong beach), and Hon Bo Dap island for snorkeling beneath the large cliffs; full-day tours follow the same itinerary, but also include stops at Hon Dau, Hon Ngang, where’s there’s a large fishing community, and Hon Lo, a tiny islet (see Beaches & Activities for details).

Taking a boat tour in the Nam Du Islands, VietnamMost of the tour boats are attractive, wooden, two-deck vessels offering reasonably prices daily tours

The boats are attractive wooden double-deck vessels, which can accommodate dozens of passengers on benches on the covered lower-deck and open-air upper deck. Safety is not bad: there are plenty of life jackets, but the gas cooker arrangement at the stern looked very dodgy to me, and the crew threw all their trash in the sea, as did some of the passengers. There can be a surprising amount of chop out on the ocean and the boat tilts and turns a fair bit: bring travel sickness pills if you’re prone to seasickness. The majority of passengers are Vietnamese groups, couples, or families, all of whom thoroughly enjoy the experience. The boat engines are quite loud: a good tip is to sit on the upper deck, where it’s significantly quieter, the views are great, and it catches more of a breeze.

Taking a boat tour in the Nam Du Islands, VietnamThe boat trips are a lot of fun: highlights include Hon Mau Island & standing on the top deck at dusk

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Weather:

Like Phu Quoc, Nam Du is best visited in the southern dry season: November to April. During these months, the skies are generally clear, the sea calm, and the colours luminous. However, I personally prefer going during the shoulder months: October/November and April/May. At these times, the weather is still good (but with more of a chance of some rain) and the visitor numbers low, meaning you can enjoy the islands in peace: as long as you visit on a weekday, not a weekend. July to September is the wet season, when prevailing winds from the west bring monsoon rains from the Indian Ocean. The sea can be rough and winds high, meaning that boats to the islands are often cancelled. But this doesn’t mean you can’t visit during these months, and it certainly doesn’t rain all the time. You just need to have time and patience in order to allow for possible cancellations and rainy days.

Another sunny day on the Nam Du Islands, VietnamIt’s possible to visit Nam Du Island any time of year, but the best weather is November-April


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like these islands and I want my readers to know about them. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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The Southern Dry Season: Travel Guide http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-southern-dry-season-travel-guide/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-southern-dry-season-travel-guide/#respond Tue, 25 Dec 2018 09:51:46 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=27862 The southern dry season is a period of glorious, warm, sunny weather in the lower regions of Vietnam. Lasting from November to May, the southern dry season covers all regions south of Nha Trang. Here are some of the best places to visit during this time of year.... Continue reading

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First published December 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

The southern dry season is a period of glorious, warm, sunny weather in the lower regions of Vietnam. Lasting roughly from November to May, the southern dry season covers all regions south of Nha Trang. However, the very best weather is from December to February, when the sun shines almost all day, the skies are blue, the colours are brilliant, the air is clear, the heat is dry, humidity is low, and temperatures in the mornings and evenings drop to pleasantly mild (even chilly) levels. These months are the ideal time to travel in the south of the country. There are dozens of excellent road trips, destinations, and accommodations to choose from that fall within the region of the southern dry season. These include islands, river deltas, resorts, mountains, homestays, forests, beaches, camping, plateaus, and cities. On this page, I’ve pulled together all of my guides which are best explored during the southern dry season.

The Southern Dry Season, VietnamThe southern dry season lasts from November to May: it’s the best time to see the south of Vietnam

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GUIDE: THE SOUTHERN DRY SEASON


Below, I’ve listed all my guides that fall within the southern dry season in three categories: Destinations, Motorbike Routes, and Accommodation. Each guide is illustrated with an image, and I’ve included a brief description, the date of latest revision, and a direct link to every one of them. All the guides are also plotted on my map. The purpose of this post is to give travellers a better understanding of where to go during the southern dry season months, which I consider one of the best and most rewarding times to travel in Vietnam. While northern and central provinces endure their grey, cold winters – especially from November to February – the south is basking in glorious sunshine.

Click on a guide from a category below for more details:

DESTINATIONS:

MOTORBIKE ROUTES:

ACCOMMODATION:

MAP:

Southern Dry Season Guides: Destinations, Routes & Hotels


View in a LARGER MAP

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GUIDES: DESTINATIONS


Ha Tien: Jewel of the Mekong [read here]

Region & province: southwestern corner; Kien Giang Province [MAP]

Best time to go: November-March

First published: September 2017

Description: In the southwestern corner of the country, Ha Tien is the most attractive place to be in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region. Its irresistible combination of bustling markets and languid backstreets, crumbling shophouses and forested hills, delicious street food and local temples, promenading pedestrians and river traffic, twittering swiftlets and chiming pagoda gongs, makes Ha Tien the ‘Jewel of the Delta’……read more

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Ha Tien, Mekong Delta, travel guide, Vietnam

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Exploring Saigons Railway Tracks: [read here]

Region & province: Saigon; Ho Chi Minh City Municipality [MAP]

Best time to go: January-March

First published: June 2018

Description: Lined with cramped housing, intriguing architecture, temples, shrines, pagodas, fruit trees, flowers, cafes, casual dining, trash, beer joints and other such urban miscellanea, Saigon’s railway tracks are a fascinating area to explore, whether on foot or on two wheels……read more

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Exploring Saigon's Rail Tracks, A Guide

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La Nga River & Thac Ba Waterfall: [read here]

Region & province: southern Central Highlands; Dong Nai & Binh Thuan provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: December-February

First published: June 2017

Description: Offering freshwater bathing, lush jungle, mountain scenery, and opportunities for camping, all within a few hours’ drive of Saigon, La Nga River & Thac Ba Waterfall is a great escape for city-dwellers: best visited with your own wheels……read more

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La Nga River & Thac Ba Waterfall, Vietnam

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Cam Ranh Bay: Cam Lap Promontory [read here]

Region & province: south-central coast; Ninh Thuan & Khanh Hoa Provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: December-May

Last updated: January 2017

Description: Filled by the calm, glistening waters of the East Sea, Cam Ranh Bay is a splendid natural harbour surrounded by hills. From its southern shores, a finger of land points northwards into the bay: this is Cam Lap Promontory……read more

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Cam Lap Promontory, Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam

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Ho Tram & Ho Coc Beaches: [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast; Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province [MAP]

Best time to go: November-May

Last updated: August 2016

Description: Two long & wide stretches of sand, Ho Tram & Ho Coc are by far the best beaches within easy reach of Saigon. If you’re a Saigon expat with a mini-break of a couple of days, or a traveller looking for a short trip out of the city, this is where you should be heading……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Ho Tram & Ho Coc beaches, Vietnam

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Saigons Street Food Ghettos‘: [read here]

Region & province: Saigon; Ho Chi Minh City Municipality [MAP]

Best time to go: December-February

Last updated: May 2016

Description: Throughout Saigon, there are clusters of crumbling old apartment complexes, all of which are on the verge of either collapse or demolition. As is so often the case in Saigon, street life enlivens these relatively poor areas, making them some of the most exciting street food destinations in the city……read more

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Saigon's Street Food 'Ghettos'

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Phu Quoc Islands Beaches: [read here]

Region & province: southwestern corner; Kien Giang Province [MAP]

Best time to go: November-April

Last updated: November 2018

Description: Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s largest island, and fast becoming the country’s premier beach destination. There are dozens of excellent beaches on Phu Quoc Island, and this guide covers them all, including my tips for accommodation on each one……read more

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Phu Quoc Island's Beaches, Vietnam

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Phu Quoc Island by Boat: [read here]

Region & province: southwest coast; Kien Giang Province [MAP]

Best time to go: November-April

Last updated: October 2018

Description: Taking the boat to Phu Quoc Island is fun, reasonably priced, relatively easy, and a really convenient way to combine a trip to the island with travels in the Mekong Delta or the Cambodian coast……read more

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Phu Quoc Island by Boat, Vietnam

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Public Swimming Pools in Saigon: [read here]

Region & province: Saigon; Ho Chi Minh City Municipality [MAP]

Best time to go: November-May

Last updated: December 2016

Description: If you’re not lucky enough to be staying at one of the smarter hotels with a pool, or if you’re an expat looking to escape the heat and clamour of the city, Saigon has plenty of decent & inexpensive public swimming pools to choose from……read more

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Public swimming pools in Saigon, Vietnam

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The Con Dao Islands: [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast; Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province [MAP]

Best time to go: February-May

Last updated: August 2018

Description: With its wild & beautiful beaches, rugged, jungle-covered interior & fascinating but tragic history, the Con Dao Islands is a remarkable place. Once a brutal penal colony, established by the French colonial administration, today the Con Dao Islands is one of Vietnam’s most beguiling destinations……read more

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The Con Dao Islands, Vietnam

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Saigon to Phan Thiet by Train: [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast; Binh Thuan Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-April

Last updated: July 2018

Description: The daily, non-stop express train between Saigon & Phan Thiet (Mui Ne) is a cheap, easy, fun, fast & efficient way to get from the city to the beach. Put your motorbike on the train with you & let the rails carry your wheels……read more

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The train between Saigon & Phan Thiet

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Saigons Parks & Open Spaces: [read here]

Region & province: Saigon; Ho Chi Minh City Municipality [MAP]

Best time to go: December-February

Last updated: March 2015

Description: During the dry season months, find respite from the heat in one of Saigon’s parks & open spaces. Some date from French colonial times; some are a product of the recent economic boom……read more

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Saigon's parks & open spaces

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GUIDES: MOTORBIKE ROUTES


Saigon to Dalat: the Back Ways [read here]

Region & province: southern Central Highlands; Dong Nai & Lam Dong provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: December-March

Last updated: February 2017

Description: There are many ways to ride from Saigon to Dalat, but if you want a relatively direct route that avoids highways, there are several great options. These ‘back ways’ to Dalat utilize new, quiet & scenic roads to make the journey as fun as possible……read more

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Saigon to Dalat, the back ways, Vietnam

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The Ocean Road: Saigon to Mui Ne [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast; Ba Ria-Vung Tau & Binh Thuan provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: November-May

Last updated: August 2017

Description: Skirting the deserted coastline for much of its length, occasionally ducking inland through cashew trees & dragon fruit plantations, over white salt flats & green rice fields, past hot springs & hilltop pagodas, the Ocean Road is the scenic route between Saigon & Mui Ne……read more

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The Ocean Road: Saigon to Mui Ne, Vietnam

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Mountains in the Mekong: [read here]

Region & province: southwestern Delta; An Giang Province [MAP]

Best time to go: November-March

Last updated: August 2016

Description: Most of the Mekong Delta is as flat as a sheet of rice paper. But my favourite corner of the region, the western edge along the Cambodian border, is blessed with some high ground, in the form of a mini mountain range, which rises from the plains of An Giang Province. These mountains are connected by beautiful back-roads, perfect for a road trip……read more

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Mountains in the Mekong, motorbike loop, Vietnam

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Midnight Motorbike Loop: Saigon [read here]

Region & province: Saigon; Ho Chi Minh City Municipality [MAP]

Best time to go: December-February

Last updated: January 2018

Description: At night, Saigon is at its best: temperatures are cool, humidity is low, and traffic is light – it’s the perfect time to see the city. The Midnight Loop is an urban motorbike route designed specifically for riding after dark: a night out on two wheels……read more

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Midnight Motorbike Loop, Saigon

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Binh Thuan BackRoads: [read here]

Region & province: southern Central Highlands; Binh Thuan Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-March

Last updated: March 2016

Description: Binh Thuan Province is known for its beaches, but inland there’s a rich and varied landscape waiting to be explored. A network of rarely used, rural back-roads takes you on an inland loop – over arid plains, through forests, and across rivers……read more

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Binh Thuan Back-Roads, motorbike loop

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River Road: The Cai Valley [read here]

Region & province: lower Central Highlands; Khanh Hoa & Ninh Thuan provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: December-May

Last updated: March 2016

Description: A silver seam of glistening water, the Cai River meanders through a beautiful valley between Dalat & Phan Rang. A new road follows the course of the river, from its source in the high, forested hills to its mouth on the eastern seaboard.…..read more

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River Road, the Cai Valley, Vietnam

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The Pine Tree Road, Dalat: [read here]

Region & province: Central Highlands; Lam Dong Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-March

Last updated: February 2016

Description: An enticing road leads north from Dalat and into the remote forests and mountains of deepest Lam Dong Province. Coniferous forests stretch to the horizon, making this route great for camping or picnicking……read more

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The Pine Tree Road, Dalat, Vietnam

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Tet Classic: Lunar New Year Loop [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast & Central Highlands; Dong Nai, Lam Dong, Khanh Hoa, Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan & Ba Ria-Vung Tau provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: January-February

Last updated: January 2017

Description: Tết (Lunar New Year) is the biggest festival of them all in Vietnam, but travel can be very difficult at this time of year. That’s why, every year, I take a meandering road trip that bypasses popular tourist spots & makes the most of the dry season weather……read more

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Camping during a Tết road trip, Lunar New Year, Vietnam

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Saigon to Phu Quoc: Motorbike Loop [read here]

Region & province: Mekong Delta & southwest coast; Tien Giang, An Giang, Kien Giang, Can Tho provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: January-February

Last updated: January 2017

Description: Flying to Phu Quoc is easy, but if you want a real adventure, riding there by motorbike is much more fun. This road trip takes you from Vietnam’s biggest city to some its best beaches, via the waterways & back-roads of the Mekong Delta……read more

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Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

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The Sand Dune Highway: [read here]

Region & province: south-central coast; Binh Thuan Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-May

Last updated: October 2016

Description: Get off the beaten track from Mui Ne with this short, scenic, easily navigable and rewarding road trip. Excellent coast roads lead between Mui Ne, Phan Ri Cua, Lien Huong and Ca Na, passing some great coastal scenery……read more

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The Sand Dune Highway, Mui Ne to Ca Na, Vietnam

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Nui Chua Coast Road: [read here]

Region & province: south-central coast; Ninh Thuan & Khanh Hoa provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: December-April

Last updated: March 2017

Description: Nui Chua is a beautiful promontory jutting into the ocean between Phan Rang City & Cam Ranh Bay, on Vietnam’s south-central coast. A spectacular coast road has opened up access to its superb beaches, forests, rivers & fishing villages……read more

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The Nui Chua Coast Road, Ninh Thuan, Vietnam

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Dragon’s Graveyard Coast Road: [read here]

Region & province: south-central coast; Ninh Thuan Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-April

Last updated: March 2017

Description: A new coast road has opened access to an arid, wild, windswept, boulder-strewn & cactus-studded section of coastline. People say this is where dragons’ came to die, and the earth scorched itself in grief……read more

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Dragon's Graveyard Coast Road, Vietnam

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Deep South: Riding the Dragon’s Tail: [read here]

Region & province: the far south; Tra Vinh, Soc Trang, Bac Lieu & Ca Mau provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: November-March

Last updated: August 2015

Description: Vietnam’s ‘deep south’ consists of vast, flat, agricultural provinces, criss-crossed by rivers and canals. I like to call it the Dragon’s Tail. Travellers rarely make it this far south, but this motorbike loop is a lot of fun, taking in bustling Mekong towns & rustic backwaters……read more

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The Deep South, Vietnam

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The Burnt Road: Vietnam’s Desert: [read here]

Region & province: inland south-central; Ninh Thuan Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-May

Last updated: April 2015

Description: A short, easy ride through a big, hot landscape of barren hills and abandoned farmhouses, Highway 27B is the Burnt Road. This road trip takes you inland, through the vast open spaces of Vietnam’s driest province……read more

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The Burnt Road, Vietnam's Desert

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The Southeast Loop: [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast & highlands; Binh Thuan & Lam Dong provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: December-March

Last updated: March 2015

Description: This road trip is a classic ‘Saigon escape loop’, taking in Mui Ne and Dalat via good coastal and mountain roads, but avoiding most of the big, busy highways. This guide hasn’t been updated for a long time, but the route is still just as rewarding as when I first wrote it……read more

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The Southeast Loop, Vietnam

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GUIDES: ACCOMMODATION


Cat Tien National Park: Where to Stay [read here]

Region & province: southern Central Highlands; Dong Nai Province [MAP]

Best time to go: November-April

Last updated: November 2016

Description: Traditional longhouses, luxury safari tents, bamboo huts, camping under tall trees: accommodation in & around Cat Tien National Park is atmospheric, good value and, more often than not, environmentally & socially responsible……read more

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Where to stay in Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam

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Beach Camping: Saigon to Nha Trang [read here]

Region & province: southeast & south-central coast; Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Binh Thuan, Ninh Thuan & Khanh Hoa provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: December-May

Last updated: October 2016

Description: Pitch your tent under a coconut palm just metres from the surf & enjoy Vietnam’s south coast sleeping in the open air. This is my guide to camping on the beaches along the Ocean Road from Saigon to Nha Trang……read more

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Beach camping: Saigon to Nha Trang

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Ana Mandara Villas, Dalat: [read here]

Region & province: Central Highlands; Lam Dong Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-February

Last updated: November 2016

Description: With 17 beautifully restored French colonial villas on a pine-studded hillside, Ana Mandara Resort & Spa keeps the romance of Dalat alive. Luxury accommodation in the Central Highlands doesn’t get more atmospheric than this……read more

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Ana Mandara Villas Resort & Spa, Dalat, Vietnam

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Camping in Dalat: [read here]

Region & province: Central Highlands; Lam Dong Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-February

Last updated: June 2017

Description: Watch the sun set over purple mountains cloaked in pine forests stretching into the misty distance, with the smell of wood smoke & coffee blossom scenting the cool highland air, as you camp in the hills north of Dalat……read more

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Camping in the pine forests, Dalat, Central Highlands, Vietnam

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Ho Tram Beach Boutique: [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast; Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-April

Last updated: April 2017

Description: Just a couple of hours southeast of Saigon, Ho Tram Beach Resort is one of Vietnam’s most tasteful & charming coastal retreats. It’s romantic, elegant, refined yet understated, and blends in with the natural surrounds……read more

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Ho Tram Beach Boutique Resort & Spa, Vietnam

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Mango Bay, Phu Quoc: [read here]

Region & province: southwest coast; Kien Giang Province [MAP]

Best time to go: November-April

Last updated: July 2016

Description: Mango Bay Resort has been around for over a decade & withstood the massive changes the island has gone through. And, despite increasing competition, Mango Bay is still the best place to go if you want to live the tropical island fantasy for a few days……read more

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Mango Bay, Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

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Thanh Kieu, Phu Quoc: [read here]

Region & province: southwest coast; Kien Giang Province [MAP]

Best time to go: November-April

Last updated: March 2017

Description: The unsung hero of seafront, mid-range accommodation on Long Beach, Thanh Kieu Resort is an exceptionally lush, peaceful, and unassuming place to stay on Phu Quoc Island. It’s been my go-to resort for years……read more

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Thanh Kieu Resort, Phu Quoc Island

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Victoria Beach Resort, Mui Ne: [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast; Binh Thuan Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-May

Last updated: April 2016

Description: One of the first luxury resorts to grace the sands of Mui Ne, Victoria is still one of the best places to stay on this popular beach on Vietnam’s southeast coast. With lush tropical gardens & a long stretch of beach, Victoria is far more spacious than its competitors……read more

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Victoria Beach Resort, Mui Ne, Vietnam

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Binh Chau Hot Springs: [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast; Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-April

Last updated: November 2017

Description: Just a couple hours’ drive from Saigon, Binh Chau Hot Springs Resort & Spa has improved its facilities and aesthetics in recent years: it’s now a lush, relaxing and satisfying retreat from the city……read more

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Binh Chau Hot Springs Resort & Spa, Vietnam

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Leman Cap Resort, Vung Tau: [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast; Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-April

Last updated: April 2017

Description: Sitting on the rocks above Vung Tau’s attractive seafront promenade, Leman Cap Resort is an excellent option for expats or mid-range travellers looking to escape Saigon for a couple of nights by the sea……read more

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Leman Cap Resort, Vung Tau, Vietnam

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Vinh Hy Bay Resort: [read here]

Region & province: south-central coast; Ninh Thuan Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-April

Last updated: September 2016

Description: Vinh Hy is a gorgeous natural harbour between Phan Rang & Nha Trang. At the centre of the pretty bay & fishing village, there’s an excellent-value place to stay: Vinh Hy Resort is perfect if you’re on a road trip along the coast……read more

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Vinh Hy Bay Resort, Vietnam

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Ocean Dunes, Phan Thiet: [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast; Binh Thuan Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-April

Last updated: August 2016

Description: On the beach in Phan Thiet City, the Ocean Dunes Resort is excellent value for money. Offering high-end amenities at mid-range prices, the Ocean Dunes is a great option for budget travellers looking for a slice of luxury and, because of its wide greens spaces, for families……read more

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The Ocean Dunes Resort, Phan Thiet, Vietnam

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Juliets Villa Resort: [read here]

Region & province: southern Central Highlands; Lam Dong Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-March

Last updated: March 2017

Description: Surrounded by coffee farms, tea plantations, rice paddies & fruit trees, Juliet’s Villa Resort is a family-run, quiet, secluded & peaceful place to stay near Di Linh, a part of the Central Highlands most travellers overlook……read more

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Juliet's Villa Resort, Di Linh, Vietnam

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Lotus Lake Homestays, Mekong Delta: [read here]

Region & province: southern Central Highlands; Lam Dong Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-March

Last updated: January 2018

Description: In the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap, a collection of bamboo & palm-thatch huts on wooden stilts above a sea of lotus flowers, offer a night in a hammock or on a futon under a mosquito net, just a few feet above the frogs, the fish & the flowers……read more

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Floating Lotus Lake Homestays, Mekong Delta, Vietnam


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Top 10 Most-Popular Vietnam Coracle Guides http://vietnamcoracle.com/top-10-most-popular-vietnam-coracle-guides/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/top-10-most-popular-vietnam-coracle-guides/#respond Wed, 12 Dec 2018 07:05:10 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=27757 Having reached 1,000 subscribers to this website, I’ve decided to celebrate by compiling a list of the top 10 most-popular (i.e most-read) guides on Vietnam Coracle.... Continue reading

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First published December 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Having recently reached 1,000 subscribers to this website, I’ve decided to celebrate by compiling a list of the top 10 most-popular (i.e most-read) guides on Vietnam Coracle. I’ve used Google Analytics to find out which of my guides, articles, and reviews have received the most hits over the years I’ve been running Vietnam Coracle. Thank you for reading, using, and interacting with my content, and thank you for sharing, spreading the word, and talking about Vietnam Coracle. Tom

1,000 subscribers to Vietnam CoracleTo celebrate reaching 1,000 subscribers I’ve compiled a list of the 10 most-read Vietnam Coracle guides

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TOP 10: MOSTREAD VIETNAM CORACLE GUIDES


I’ve listed the following top 10 most-read Vietnam Coracle guides in order of their popularity: starting with the most popular. For each guide, I’ve included the title, the number of times it’s been read and shared on social media, the date of publication and latest revision, a brief synopsis, a title image, and a direct link to the guide. I’ve also plotted each of the 10 guides on my map. If you want to know more about Vietnam Coracle, take a look at my About Page; if you’d like to help this website, please see my Support Page; and, for an interactive archive of all my guides, check out the Vietnam Coracle Map.

Click on a guide below for more details:

MAP:

The 10 Most-Popular Vietnam Coracle Guides


View in a LARGER MAP

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1: Saigon to Hanoi: 5 Routes [read here]

Pageviews: 237,025 | Map views: 2,344,100 

Social media shares: 1,500

First published: April 2016 | Last updated: March 2017

Synopsis: Riding the length of Vietnam by motorbike is definitely one of the best ways to see the country, and, in my opinion, one of the most rewarding travel experiences currently available anywhere in Asia. These 5 great routes between Saigon and Hanoi are specifically designed to suit the needs of different travellers, based on scenery, time frame, and ease of navigation, among other things……read more

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Saigon to Hanoi by Motorbike: 5 Suggested Routes

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2: Ha Giang Extreme North Loop[read here]

Pageviews: 160,201 | Map views: 663,350

Social media shares: 1,010

First published: October 2014 | Last updated: December 2017

Synopsis: Home to a mythical landscape of conical limestone peaks & craterous valleys, Ha Giang is Vietnam’s northern-most province. Over the years, Ha Giang has gained an almost legendary status among travellers, mainly because of an incredible motorbike loop around the ‘north pole’, which is perhaps the most thrilling road trip in the entire country……read more

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Ha Giang Extreme North Motorbike Loop

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3: 7 Streets for Street Food in Saigon: [read here]

Pageviews: 101,453 | Map views: 569,230

Social media shares: 648

First published: July 2014 | Last updated: November 2016

Synopsis: Arguably the best place to explore Vietnam’s extraordinary street food scene, Saigon is a city that boasts so many street food outlets that it feels like a gigantic open-air restaurant. This is my guide to 7 of the best streets for street food in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)……read more

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7 Great Street Food Streets in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)


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4: Ho Chi Minh Road: Motorbike Guide [read here]

Pageviews: 90,368 | Map views: 367,634

Social media shares: 1,225

First published: October 2013 | Last updated: May 2016

Synopsis: Stretching almost 2,000km along the mountainous spine of Vietnam, the Ho Chi Minh Road is fast becoming famous as one of the finest motorbike rides in Asia. Now fully paved from Saigon all the way to Hanoi, this is my full guide to the entire length of what is surely one of the most evocative road names in the world……read more

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The Ho Chi Minh Road by Motorbike, Vietnam

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5: Phu Quocs Beaches: A Guide [read here]

Pageviews: 90,086 | Map views: 317,602

Social media shares: 453

First published: July 2014 | Last updated: November 2018

Synopsis: Vietnam’s largest island, Phu Quoc is fast becoming one of Southeast Asia’s premier beach destinations. There are dozens of excellent beaches on Phu Quoc Island, and this guide covers them all: 19 beaches, bays, and coves, including my tips for accommodation on each one……read more

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Phu Quoc's Beaches, a guide, Vietnam

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6: Hai Van Pass: Motorbike Guide [read here]

Pageviews: 83,532 | Map views: 685,7587

Social media shares: 351

First published: April 2012 | Last updated: February 2018

Synopsis: One of the most famous roads in Vietnam, the Hai Van Pass weaves around a mountainous stretch of coastline in Central Vietnam. Combined with several other scenic coast roads, the Hai Van Pass forms a fun, easy & picturesque ride between Hoi An, Danang & Hue……read more

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The Hai Van Pass Motorbike Guide, Vietnam

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7: The Cafe Apartment in Saigon: [read here]

Pageviews: 64,398 | Map views: 101,002

Social media shares: 2,390

First published: June 2016 | Last updated: February 2017

Synopsis: Boasting over 30 independent coffee shops & fashion boutiques, the old apartment block at No.42 Nguyen Hue is the coolest address on Saigon’s Walking Street. I call it the Cafe Apartment, and this is my complete floor-by-floor guide……read more

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The Cafe Apartment at 42 Nguyen Hue Street, Saigon

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8: Expenses for a Motorbike Road Trip: [read here]

Pageviews: 43,883

Social media shares: 270

First published: April 2015 | Last updated: March 2018

Synopsis: A list of expenses and an estimated daily budget in three separate price categories to help riders prepare for a Vietnam road trip. These costs are based on hundreds of road trips that I’ve taken – both solo and in a group – over many years of motorbiking in Vietnam……read more

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Guide to expenses for a motorbike road trip in Vietnam

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9: 13 Public Pools in Saigon: [read here]

Pageviews: 41,072 | Map views: 241,331

Social media shares: 215

First published: September 2013 | Last updated: December 2016

Synopsis: If you’re not lucky enough to be staying at one of the smarter hotels with a pool, or if you’re an expat looking to escape the heat & clamour of the city, Saigon has plenty of good & inexpensive public swimming pools to choose from……read more

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Public Swimming Pools in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

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10: Con Dao Islands: A Guide [read here]

Pageviews: 30,287 | Map views: 166,708

Social media shares: 541

First published: June 2012 | Last updated: August 2018

Synopsis: With its wild and beautiful beaches, rugged, jungle-covered interior, and fascinating but tragic history, the Con Dao Islands is a remarkable place. Once a brutal penal colony, established by the French colonial administration, today the Con Dao Islands is one of Vietnam’s most beguiling destinations……read more

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A Travel Guide to the Con Dao Islands


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Vu Linh Homestays, Thac Ba Lake http://vietnamcoracle.com/vu-linh-homestays-thac-ba-lake/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/vu-linh-homestays-thac-ba-lake/#comments Tue, 20 Nov 2018 14:54:45 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=23639 Vu Linh is a rural commune on the eastern shores of Thac Ba Lake, where several excellent homestays offer atmospheric lodgings & access to the lake & local community.... Continue reading

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First published November 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

About 150km northwest of Hanoi, Vu Linh is a rural commune on the eastern shores of Thac Ba Lake, one of the largest artificially created lakes in Vietnam. Formed by the flooding of the Chảy River for hydroelectricity projects, Thac Ba Lake is roughly 80km long and 10km wide. Its clear, placid waters spread out in tentacles, peppered with hundreds of hilly, forested islets. The tiny, lakeside commune of Vu Linh has several excellent homestays, most of which consist of picturesque, palm-thatched wooden houses on stilts above the water and crop fields. The Vu Linh homestays are inexpensive, extremely atmospheric and friendly, offering lots of lake-related activities, such as boat trips and helping out with local agriculture. Staying at one of the Vu Linh homestays for a night or two is a very rewarding getaway from Hanoi, or as a way to break the journey between Hanoi and Ha Giang or Sapa. And, best of all, you can swim in Thac Ba Lake.

Vu Linh Homestays, Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamThe Vu Linh homestays are about 150km northwest of Hanoi, on the shores of Thac Ba Lake

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GUIDE: THAC BA LAKE HOME STAYS


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MAP:

Homestays in Thac Ba Lake

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Getting to Vu Linh, on the southeastern shores of Thac Ba Lake, isn’t particularly straightforward. Public transportation gets you near Vu Linh, but not actually to it. Trains on the Hanoi-Lao Cai line stop at Yen Bai, as do buses between Hanoi and Sapa, or between Hanoi and Ha Giang they stop at Tuyen Quang. Either way, you then need to get a taxi or motorbike-taxi to take you the rest of the way to Vu Linh. But it’s worth the effort, especially for those who prefer to leave the beaten path behind. However, by far the best and most convenient way to get to Vu Linh is with your own wheels, whether by motorbike or hired car and driver.

Thac Ba Lake, Vu Linh, Yen Bai Province, VietnamThac Ba Lake is huge, but Vu Linh, on the eastern shore, is quite difficult to get to on public transport

The lakeside road meanders along the shore, until small, makeshift signs start to appear for various homestays. Currently, there’s at least half a dozen good homestays in the Vu Linh area, which are spread over a patch of land between the lake road (Road 170) and the lake shore. I stayed at La Vie Vu Linh Homestay & Eco-lodge, but I also checked out Vu Linh Farmstay, Vu Linh Family-Homestay, and Vu Linh Homestay, all of which looked great. What’s more, several readers have written to me with positive experiences of them all.

View from Vu Linh homestays, Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamThere are several good homestays in Vu Linh on Thac Ba Lake: I stayed in La Vie


View from Vu Linh homestays, Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamAlthough the weather was terrible during my visit, the lake views from my room were still impressive

Depending on the time of year, some of the homestays are set just back from the lake shore, while others are right on the water. During the rainy season (May-October), the water-level rises dramatically, flooding much of the area, so that even the inland homestays have direct access to the lake. Indeed, if the rains have been heavy, you may only be able to reach your homestay by boat or, as was the case when I visited La Vie Vu Linh, by a self-operated bamboo raft-ferry. This only serves to make the arrival at your homestay that much more dramatic, and gives the impression of straying way off the beaten path.

Taking the boat to Vu Linh homestays on Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamDepending on the season, sometimes homestays can only be reached by boat or by bamboo raft

And, in general, the Vu Linh homestays are off the beaten path. The lake road is chewed up in places, public transportation is slow and indirect, and there’s only a trickle of independent travellers who visit. However, the lake and homestays are well-known to expatriates in Hanoi and domestic travellers from the capital, and some of the homestays occasionally host large tour groups and school outings. When I visited, there were no other travellers at all, and everything felt very quiet, remote, and peaceful. But, I would imagine that the atmosphere might be quite different if there happened to be a school outing or tour group staying at the same time as your visit.

Boarding the boat on Thac Ba Lake, Vu Linh, Ye Bai Province, VietnamMy family boarding the boat at La Vi Vu Linh Homestay


A rowing boat on Thac Ba Lake, Vu Linh, Ye Bai Province, VietnamVu Linh is generally quite off the beaten path, but tour groups & school outings occasionally visit

All of the homestays have inexpensive dormitory accommodation. Usually on the first floor of a communal wooden longhouse, these dorms consist of mattresses laid out on the wooden floor under mosquito nets, partitioned from each other by curtains or drapes. The dormitories are fan-cooled, and there’s also a breeze off the lake coming through the open windows on warm nights (during the winter months it can get quite cold in Vu Linh). The dorms, which have shared bathrooms and showers, are comfortable, clean, cosy, and great value for money: prices range from 50,000-150,000vnd ($2-$6) per person, per night. Some of the homestays in Vu Linh also offer private or family rooms. These are larger, self-contained rooms with en-suite bathrooms. At La Vie, the private rooms are particularly atmospheric, with windows and terraces overlooking the water, rustic bathtubs, and mezzanine lofts. However, the prices are significantly higher ($30-$60 a night) and the level of comfort isn’t necessarily much better than the dorms. You’re paying for the privacy and the space, rather than any extra amenities or luxuries. But, it’s worth the extra cost, especially if you’re travelling as a family or a couple.

Guest room, Vu Linh homestays on Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamDormitory-style sleeping is very cheap & consists of mattresses on the floor under mosquito nets


Guest room, Vu Linh homestays on Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamMore expensive private rooms are available, with lake views, terraces & direct lake access

As with other homestays across Vietnam, meals are generally eaten ‘family’style’, as a group sitting on the floor of one of the communal houses. Food, which is a highlight of any homestay, is excellent, locally-sourced, and the cooks can usually cater to vegetarians, too. Meals must be ordered well in advance, because the cooks need to know how many ingredients to buy at the local market. Prices are generally between 100,000-200,000vnd ($4-$8) per person for dinner, and about half that for breakfast. Drinks, such as tea, coffee, and beer, can be purchased throughout the day. At La Vie, there’s a fabulous lakeside terrace bar serving a wide variety of beverages, from French red wine to gin and tonics, familiar cocktails to locally-produced grain alcohol.

La Vie Vu Linh Homestay, Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamThe terrace bar at La Vie Vu Linh Homestay overlooks the lake & has a good range of drinks

For many of the homestay families, life revolves around the lake and the land, and work changes according the seasons. Most homestays, whether by coincidence or design, are low-impact and fairly sustainable. But at La Vie they make a point of trying to promote sustainable tourism, preferably in a way that gives back to the local community and reinforces good practices in agriculture and fishing. A lot of this revolves around integrating the local Dzao ethnic minority. There are many ways to get involved, most of which are outlined on the La Vie website. All the homestays are warm, friendly, welcoming, and very hospitable. At La Vie, I felt there was occasionally just a hint of ‘performance’ to the hospitality: stories and anecdotes about the local area, people, history, and produce that had been rehearsed and staged numerous times before. But that didn’t make them any less interesting or engaging.

Rowing a boat on Thac Ba Lake, Vu Linh, Ye Bai Province, VietnamLife for locals in Vu Linh revolves around the lake & agriculture: at some homestays you can get involved

For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects about staying at the Vu Linh homestays is access to the lake. The swimming is wonderful: the entire lake is your infinity pool. When I stayed at La Vie, the weather was horrendous – it hardly stopped raining once, and the landscape was all grey: there was no visible line between the lake and the sky. But as soon as we arrived – I was travelling with my extended family, most of whom swim – we jumped off the terrace and into the lake. It was a gloomy, dark, and brooding dusk with black clouds hanging over the lake, thunder rumbling, lighting illuminating the forested islets, and torrential rain falling onto the black water. But the lake was warm and calm – it somehow felt safer and more sheltered to be out in the water, floating on one of the bamboo rafts, than on land. Looking back at the homestay, with the lights of the terrace barely shining through the rain and enveloping night, it looked as though Vu Linh were an ark drifting through the storm, while everything else around it flooded and sank. But, just 10 minutes later, I was warm and dry under the thatched roof of the terrace, shooting back corn liquor and eating mounds of rice and local delicacies before going to sleep on my mattress under a mosquito net, listening to the rain falling outside.

Swimming in Thac Ba Lake, Vu Linh, Yen Bai Province, VietnamThac Ba Lake is serene & clean: it’s perfect for swimming (even during a storm)


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like these homestays and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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Panhou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang http://vietnamcoracle.com/panhou-village-ecolodge-ha-giang/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/panhou-village-ecolodge-ha-giang/#respond Thu, 18 Oct 2018 12:27:12 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=27265 Deep within the folds of steep mountains & plunging valleys, Panhou Village Ecolodge is set in the middle of a remote & seldom-visited part of Ha Giang, Vietnam’s northernmost province.... Continue reading

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First published October 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | REVIEW | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Deep within the folds of steep mountains and plunging valleys, Panhou Village Ecolodge is set in the middle of a remote and seldom-visited part of Ha Giang, Vietnam’s northernmost province. A cluster of bamboo, brick-and-thatch structures constructed on a lush patch of land by a clear-flowing river, Panhou Village Ecolodge is a boutiquey blend of local ethnic minority architecture and a few modern comforts. In recent years, Ha Giang has become famous for the extraordinary landscapes of the Extreme North Loop, which lies to the east of the Lo (Blue) River, a major waterway that bisects the province. But the territory west of the Lo River is far less trodden, yet it offers equally beguiling countryside. Panhou Village Ecolodge is an ideal base from which to explore this scenic region. The hiking and biking are excellent, and the Ecolodge is a cosy place to call home for a few days in the green embrace of Vietnam’s northern highlands. [Average rates are $40-$50. To check availability & make a reservation for Panhou Ecolodge please BOOK HERE]

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamDeep in the mountains of remote Ha Giang Province, Panhou Ecolodge is a cosy & unexpected hideaway

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REVIEW: PAN HOU ECOLODGE


Address: Thong Nguyen Hamlet, Hoang Su Phi District, Ha Giang Province, Vietnam [MAP]

Average Rates: $40-$50 | Website: www.panhou-village.com


MAP:

View in a LARGER MAP


Located on a small, paved lane, about 20km west of road DT177, Panhou Village Ecolodge is accessed via a narrow, wooden bridge, suspended above a rocky river. Even when you’re on road DT177, you’re already off the beaten path, so by the time you reach the Ecolodge, you’re way off the grid. Panhou is a few kilimetres north of Thong Nguyen hamlet, which isn’t much more than a cluster of concrete houses at a rural crossroads. The nearest town of any size is Hoang Su Phi, 25km to the north. And Ha Giang, the provincial capital, is a 3-hour drive northeast of the Ecolodge. What’s more, many of the local roads are regularly blocked due to landslides, such is the mountainous nature of the surrounding terrain. In short, Panhou Village Ecolodge is remote.

The bridge to Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamPanhou Village sits on an island in a stream: a wooden bridge leads across the water to the ecolodge

With this isolation comes spellbinding landscape. For most Vietnamese, the name Hoang Su Phi, the district in which Panhou is located, conjures romantic images of a wild, mist-shrouded mountainscape, where forests are punctured by waterfalls, and rice terraces grace the valleys. And this romanticized image is, well, pretty much accurate. It’s a majestic part of Vietnam; a region with genuine grandeur. And yet, there’s still very little tourist infrastructure here, which is one of the reasons Panhou Ecolodge is so special and unique. It was established specifically for travellers who wanted to experience this part of Vietnam, especially on trekking holidays. Personally, I think of Panhou as a place to treat myself in the middle of a long motorbike road trip, specifically the Borders & Back-Roads route, between Sapa and Ha Giang.

Guest room at Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamPanhou Ecolodge makes a great stop for travellers on the back-roads route between Sapa & Ha Giang

Unsurprisingly, given its remote location, getting to Panhou Ecolodge requires a long journey. You can get here independently by motorbike (or a very challenging bicycle ride) or hired private vehicle. The nearest transport hub is Ha Giang city, but from there, local buses will generally only get you as close as the town of Hoang Su Phi. Or, if you book in advance, the Ecolodge can arrange transportation for you from Hanoi or Sapa, at an extra cost. Either way, it’s a day’s journey, perhaps more if road and weather conditions are bad.

Restaurant & fireplace at Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamPanhou Village is very remote, but the lodge is cosy & comfortable, including this restaurant & fireplace

The Ecolodge is nestled on a patch of flat land between the riverside and the hills behind. It’s a small complex that resembles a traditional hamlet. The grounds are extremely lush: tropical plants, trees, and flowers grow profusely all around the property – you can almost see the foliage growing as you walk through the gardens. In amongst this jungle are dotted several thatched structures, connected by meandering stone pathways. The gardens and buildings are very well kept and cared for by a staff that includes local people from ethnic minority groups. Twenty three guest rooms, including doubles and triples, are tastefully but minimally furnished. Wooden desks, bamboo chairs and curtain rails, bedside lamps, crisp white sheets, and tiled en-suite shower and toilet are enough to make the rooms comfortable and cosy. There’s a ceiling fan, but no air-conditioning. Windows open onto the lovely gardens and feature mosquito netting so that you can leave them open at night for the breeze without letting the bugs in – a simple feature, but one that most accommodations in Vietnam lack.

Garden at Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamThe gardens at Panhou are incredibly lush – tropical foliage grows all over the property

As the name suggests, Panhou Ecolodge is ostensibly an environmentally friendly property. Solar panels heat the water, local materials are used for building, local people are employed, and local ingredients – many of which are grown on the property – are used in the cooking. I always find it difficult to judge, but on the surface at least this eco-lodge does appear to be low-impact and sustainable.

Garden at Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamPanhou Ecolodge appears to be relatively low-impact & eco-friendly, including the use of solar power

Breakfast, including excellent bread and home-made jams, is included in the room price. Lunch and dinner are set menus consisting of good Vietnamese highland dishes. There are vegetarian options, too. All meals are a flat rate of $13 per person. If you have your own transport, you can go a few kilometres down the road to Thong Nguyen hamlet for a meal at a quán cơm (rice eatery), but otherwise the only option is to eat at the Ecolodge. The restaurant and bar are (somewhat unnecessarily) housed in separate structures close to one another, both of which appear to blend traditional architectural motifs with modern flourishes. The bar offers a good list of cocktails, which must be the only ones for miles around. A gin and tonic or Campari and orange next to the blazing, open fire after a long day’s trekking or motorbiking in the mountains is a real treat. Another treat after an excursion is to indulge in one of the traditional, herbal, therapeutic baths on offer. 

Dinner at Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamGood, home-cooked, locally sourced meals are available & cocktails & wine are served in the bar

But all this comes at a price, and that price is usually around $50 a night for bed and breakfast, double occupancy. For a couple, or two friends sharing, this seems pretty reasonable, especially considering the location is so remote, and the fact that it’s a generally low-impact and environmentally friendly property. But, for the price, some guests might have higher expectations when it comes to the level of comfort and amenities. When I first visited the Ecolodge, I was quite surprised (but not disappointed) at how sparse the rooms were. This is something to bear in mind, particularly if you’re a budget traveller thinking of ‘splashing out’ for a night. Whenever I’ve stayed at Panhou Ecolodge I’ve shared the cost with a friend and felt that the room rate represented value for money. In any case, it’s such a lovely, lush, well-maintained, and pretty place that you won’t be thinking about the money. [Average rates are $40-$50. To check availability & make a reservation for Panhou Ecolodge please BOOK HERE]

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamPanhou Village Ecolodge is atmospheric, remote, cosy, comfortable & very scenically located

Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like this ecolodge and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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The Cafe Apartment at No.14 Ton That Dam, Saigon http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-cafe-apartment-at-no-14-ton-that-dam-saigon/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-cafe-apartment-at-no-14-ton-that-dam-saigon/#comments Fri, 12 Oct 2018 16:47:39 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=27269 The old apartment block on Ton That Dam Street, in downtown Saigon, has been colonized by cool cafes, hipster bars & fashion boutiques. Gritty & intriguing architectural vestiges lurk in every nook & cranny of this enigmatic French colonial-era complex.... Continue reading

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First published October 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

The old apartment block on Ton That Dam Street, in Saigon’s downtown District 1, has been colonized by cool cafes, hipster bars, fashion boutiques, and places to eat. What’s more, gritty and intriguing architectural vestiges lurk in every nook & cranny of this enigmatic French colonial-era complex. In the midst of rapid urban development, Saigon is losing many of its characterful, old apartments. The irony is that many of these apartment blocks are either vibrant street food zones or have become hip icons of modern, youthful Saigon. Almost nothing else in the city says ‘young, hipster, trendy, and sooo Saigon’ than an old apartment complex riddled with cafes, co-working spaces, boutiques, bars, and restaurants. Saigon’s most famous ‘apartment cafe’ is at N°42 Nguyen Hue Street. But the apartment at N°14 Ton That Dam Street (just a 10-minute stroll from its more famous sister) has long been a hip hangout, too. In fact, the Ton That Dam apartment was part of Saigon’s ‘cool scene’ way before the one on Nguyen Hue.

The Cafe Apartment at 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamThe old apartment at N°14 Ton That Dam has been colonized by cosy cafes, hipster hang-outs & bars

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GUIDE: TON THAT DAM CAFE APARTMENT


The Ton That Dam apartment complex, which by some accounts dates back to the 1860s but with extensive remodeling throughout the 20th century, is a sprawling maze of corridors, exterior stairwells, interior elevator shafts, mezzanine levels, home units, open shopfronts, dark antechambers, and cramped courtyards open to the bright, tropical sunshine. Its walls, floors, and surfaces are a colourful, textural collage of materials: cold concrete, wooden shutters, tiled floors, peeling plaster, exposed brickwork, external piping, whirring air-conditioning units, and nests of electricity cables twisted like jungle vines. This compelling and Instagram-ready structure houses an eclectic mix of cool, chic, elegant, and eccentric cafes, bars and boutiques, some of which would put Berlin or London to shame. As a general rule, expect to pay a premium for most things: after all, this is downtown, hipster Saigon. Here’s a floor-by-floor guide to the N°14 Ton That Dam apartment building.

*Note: Saigon’s old apartments are in a constant state of flux: I haven’t listed every business operating out of Ton That Dam in this guide, and some of the details are bound to change. Most of the cafes are open throughout the day; the bars tend to open from the afternoon into the night.

Click a floor from the list below to read more about it:

MAP:

N°14 Ton That Dam ‘Cafe Apartment’, District 1, Saigon

View in a LARGER MAP

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Ground Floor:

Enter the Ton That Dam apartment via an internal alleyway leading under the building, which also serves as the apartment’s motorbike parking lot. (Note: some cafes and bars give customers a ticket to waive the motorbike parking fee: 10,000vnd.) The apartment complex is located directly opposite the overbearing neoclassical facade of the State Bank of Vietnam, formerly the Banque de l’Indochine, in French colonial times. Unlike the Cafe Apartment on Nguyen Hue, the Ton That Dam building isn’t especially striking from the outside. A rather worn and weathered edifice of grey-brown concrete, its neglected condition reveals patches of exposed red brick here and there, like flesh wounds. But things change as soon as you enter the complex via the alleyway, which leads all the way through to a back-yard of sorts, over which a multilevel external staircase zig-zags above the courtyard. The complex is a amorphous jumble of architectural styles, from century-old out-buildings to 1950s apartment units and modern renovations. It’s fascinating to observe the different layers of the structure, which reveal themselves as you wander around.

On the ground floor, around the parking lot, there are a couple of boutiques, including Jubin Studio fashion store, Duong Le watch shop, and ACOHI craft gift shop, plus a decent vegan restaurant, Mãn Tự, that attracts local businessmen and Buddhist monks alike. But the ground floor is best-known for the views of the external stairwell and access to the all-important main internal staircase, which winds up from parking lot, with a handy list of all the cafes, boutiques, and emporiums posted on the wall.

The Cafe Apartment at 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamThe exterior of the Ton That Dam ‘Cafe Apartment’ complex in downtown District 1, Saigon


The Cafe Apartment at 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamThe external staircase at the back of the apartment complex, seen from the courtyard/parking lot


The Cafe Apartment at 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamThe beginning of the main internal staircase, with a list of apartment businesses on the wall

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First Floor:

Ascending the dark, atmospheric staircase to the first floor landing, shafts of light beam in through poky, shuttered windows, illuminating tiled floors and crumbling walls, graffitied with the art, logos, and slogans of the bars and cafes that lie ahead. On the first floor, the stairwell widens to provide room for the long-gone elevator system: now just an empty shaft which the staircase curls around, offering a sight line all the way to the top floor. It doesn’t take long to realize that the corners and corridors, the patches of light and shade, of regeneration and decay – almost everything about the Ton That Dam apartment – is perfect ‘camera candy’. Indeed, there’s often a queue of young Vietnamese posing on the stairs for their social media portraits.

The first floor divides neatly into two halves: right and left of the stairwell. To the right of the stairs there are high-end and second-hand clothing stores, such as Bui Shop, Troy’s, and MIS BE Boutique which, although worth poking your head into, have never enticed me enough to purchase anything. To the left of the stairwell is a superb clutch of trendy ‘vestige’ cafe-bars. Café Hoang Thi and Things Café are both wonderfully characterful and cool places to be, whether hanging out with friends or using them as digital nomad nests for a day. Café Hoang Thi is a desperately cool homage to old Saigon, with antique wooden furniture, textured stucco walls hung with original artwork, a mezzanine chill-out lounge, hanging lamps, cocktails, teas, juices, craft beer, Italian and Vietnamese coffee, and even a good soundtrack. Things Café has a similarly bohemian feel to it, but it’s quieter, cuter, and more romantic, hence the presence of cuddling couples on sofas. The tiled floors, wooden tables and chairs, creaking ceiling fans, table lamps, chess boards and Murakami books lying around all create a mellow, reflective mood.

Perhaps the most well-known of the first floor bars is Snuffbox, located directly opposite the elevator shaft. A concept bar designed around the idea of a 1920s speakeasy drinking hole – which were discreet, secretive places during Prohibition in the United States, when the sale of alcohol was banned – Snuffbox is very stylish and elegant, even if it does feel just a little bit pretentious. Drinks are expensive but very good; decor is perfectly judged. It’s only open in the evenings.

Cafe Hoang Thi, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamHoang Thi Cafe & Bar has a good drinks lists, an artistic vibe, good music, & great decor


Cafe Hoang Thi, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamThe entrance to Hoang Thi Cafe & Bar seen from the first floor corridor & landing


Things Cafe, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamThings Cafe is a cosy & romantic ‘vintage’ coffee shop with antique decor & a mellow vibe

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Second Floor:

What’s particularly nice as you get to the higher floors is that the open-sided corridors get the breeze: the air circulates through the cramped, narrow spaces, and light filters in through hanging plants, decorative railings, and slatted shutters. To the right, as you come up the internal staircase to the second floor, a tight corridor with a tiled floor leads down to Zen Tea. Under the same management as Mãn Tự vegan restaurant on the ground floor, Zen Tea has a mellow, ‘Buddhist’ vibe. With green wooden shutters and green potted plants adorning a cabin-like space with a window onto the street below, it’s a cosy setting. Lots of lovely teas and infusions are available, and the menu operates on a donation bases: there are no set prices. (Note that the Other Person Cafe, the cutesy Japanese anime-themed cafe that used to be at the end of the second floor corridor, is now closed.) At least a couple of units on the second floor are homestay-style apartments. These are very snug, homey little dens, but they’re usually occupied, so the doors are closed. Also on the second floor, the Zero Waste Saigon office is located opposite the landing. This fascinating and admirable project aims to raise awareness of Vietnam’s huge problem of single-use plastic, while offering elegant alternatives to every day plastic use. They’re planning to open a shop here soon. Find out more on their website.

The Cafe Apartment, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamLooking out an open window from the internal stairwell towards to the external staircase


The Cafe Apartment, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamA view down to the courtyard from the top of the external staircase


The Cafe Apartment, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamThe facade of the Ton That Dam apartment complex seen from behind, from the external staircase

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Third Floor:

Much of the third floor is being converted into chic, short-term rental apartments. Although these will definitely make great Airbnb-style properties, it seems a bit of a shame to me, because they are private, closed spaces, whereas part of what makes the other floors so attractive is the feeling of light and space you get from all the doors and windows being flung open, free for visitors to explore and wander almost at will. But I suppose this is what happens to all trendy locations in any major city. Just like London, where I’m from, creative people, usually young, move in to low-rent buildings or areas and slowly transform them: perhaps opening a couple of bohemian cafes, cheap restaurants, maybe some live musical performances, all of which cater, at first, to their wider circle of friends, but then attract a more diverse clientele. The space becomes hip and cool, driving the prices and prestige up, until the original occupants are forced to move out, and the yuppies move in to what are now high-rent apartments in a trendy part of town. For the time being, there’s a fair amount of renovation in progress on the third floor.

There are several trendy fashion stores to the left of the staircase as you ascend to the third floor. A Little Vintage, Kay Wai Streetwear, REDEVI (Retro Denim Vintage) all jostle for space along a dark corridor hung with fairy lights, and bare walls scrawled with murals. But the standout unit on the third floor is Thi Fi Cafe, right on the landing by the stairwell. White-washed brick walls, tiled floors, wooden tables, comfy sofas, fairy lights, a mezzanine seating area, and a window onto the street make Thi Fi a pleasant place to hang for a while with a book or a friend, sipping coffee, tea, or smoothies. In the evenings, acoustic sets are regularly performed by local musicians, making for a good atmosphere. At other times, pretty cheesy Asian pop is played through the speakers.

The Cafe Apartment, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamThe walls of the internal stairwell are graffitied with logos, tags, slogans & names of the businesses


The Cafe Apartment, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamVintage decor decorating one of the many windows open to the breeze & sunlight outside


The Cafe Apartment, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamA corridor to an outbuilding off to one side of the main apartment structure: great for exploring

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Fourth Floor:

Follow the stairwell all the way up to the top and you’ll reach the fourth floor. From here, there’s a great view back down the empty elevator shaft with the stairway winding all around it to the ground floor. To the left of the landing, Mockingbird Cafe was one of the first places to put the Ton That Dam apartment on the ‘cool map’ of Saigon. Enter through the wooden doorway to a smallish, low-lit space with grey-painted walls decorated with chalk and paper, wooden tables and chairs on cold tiled floors, and lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Collections of empty bottles, dried flowers, fairy lights, and a few brooding fashion snaps plastered here and there, make Mockingbird feel like the dorm of a creative student from Swinging Sixties’ Britain. It has the cosy intimacy of a studio, and the space is just about chaotic enough to feel ‘lived in’. Amy Winehouse and some soulful classics suit Mocking Bird’s cool but mellow space. The drink list runs from coffee to cocktails, and the little balcony with fairy lights is a good place to bring a date.

Next door, at the end of the corridor, the recently opened Utakata Bar occupies the prime unit of all the apartments in the building: the corner of the top floor, with surrounding windows affording views out over Saigon and the Ben Nghe Channel. It’s a diminutive but classy little place, playing an interesting mix of Japanese pop and Western jazz. Drinks are fairly pricey (on a par with high-end hotels) but very, very good. There’s a long list of cocktails and Northeast Asian rice and plum wines. It’s open from 6pm until midnight and the perfect way to end an exploration of the Ton That Dam apartment building.

From the fourth floor there’s a great view down the empty elevator shaft to the bottom of the stairwell


Mockingbird Cafe, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamMockingbird Cafe was one of the first cafes to put the Ton That Dam apartment on the ‘cool map’


Utakata Bar, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamUtakata Bar occupies the prime corner unit on the top floor: the drinks are very good (if pricey)

Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like this apartment complex and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Ha Giang http://vietnamcoracle.com/auberge-de-meo-vac-mountain-lodge-ha-giang/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/auberge-de-meo-vac-mountain-lodge-ha-giang/#comments Fri, 28 Sep 2018 04:57:53 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=23578 A timber, tile & rammed-earth structure encircling a stone courtyard surrounded by a stone wall with haunting limestone peaks looming all around, the Auberge de Meo Vac is a remarkably atmospheric place to stay in Vietnam’s northernmost province, Ha Giang.... Continue reading

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First published September 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | REVIEW | MAP | RELATED POSTS

A timber, tile and clay structure encircling a stone courtyard surrounded by a stone wall with haunting limestone peaks looming all around, the Auberge de Meo Vac is a remarkably atmospheric place to stay in Vietnam’s northernmost province, Ha Giang. Originally built in the 1930s as a home for a wealthy Hmong family, the adobe structure was faithfully restored in 2011, and is now the most distinctive place to stay in the town of Meo Vac, at the end of the legendary Ha Giang Extreme Loop. Located just out of town, on a slope among fields of elephant grass and sweet corn, the Auberge de Meo Vac (also known as Nhà Cổ Chúng Pủa) sits at the bottom of one of the steep limestone karsts that hold Meo Vac in a protective fist. I’ve stayed here a couple of times – once with a friend on a motorbike road trip, and once with my family on a 4×4 tour of the north – and loved it. There are dorms and private rooms, making it suitable for budget and mid-range travellers alike.

Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangHoused in a restored adobe Hmong home from the 1930s, the Auberge is a unique accommodation

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REVIEW: AUBERGE DE MEO VAC


Address: Chung Pua hamlet, Meo Vac town, Meo Vac District, Ha Giang Province, Vietnam [MAP]

Prices: $14 (dormitory), $55 (private double room) | Tel: (+84) 0 219 3871 686


MAP:

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Hidden away down an increasingly narrow paved road, which becomes a lane, which becomes a pathway, the Auberge de Meo Vac is a 5-minute stroll north of the sleepy town centre of Meo Vac. The Auberge is enclosed by a thick stone wall, around which locals grow sweet corn, herbs, and other vegetables. The wall runs around the perimeter of the Auberge, creating a kind of compound for the accommodation. But it doesn’t feel too private or closed-off, because the stone walls, although very thick, are only a few feet high, allowing guests to see out over the surrounding crops, houses, and limestone peaks.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe rammed earth, wood & tile Auberge is located down a lane just outside the town of Meo Vac

The first time you visit the Auberge, excitement builds as you approach the entrance gate via the narrow pathway. An imposing double wooden door leads through thick mud-brick walls, flanked by faded carved stone reliefs of dragons. Rough paving slabs lead under the arch and into the main stone courtyard, where the two-storey, yellow ochre facade of the Auberge bears down on the communal patio.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe entrance to the Auberge de Meo Vac is through a large wooden gate, opening onto a stone courtyard


The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe attractive adobe facade of the Auberge glows in the late afternoon & morning sunlight

The complex of buildings that makes up the Auberge de Meo Vac is fairly simple and small, but striking, stark, and very attractive. The main structure fronting the stone patio is a two-storey rammed-earth building raised on a stone base with wooden beams supporting its overhanging tiled roofs. White windows with decorative ventilation slots adorn the otherwise bare adobe walls. Accessed via stone steps to a thick wooden door, the main structure opens onto a shared living room, with lamps, wooden furniture, and a large fireplace. Up the steep and fairly treacherous wooden stairs, the second floor is cramped but cosy: it feels like the loft of a medieval home. One side of the main courtyard is open to the countryside, but the other features a wood-and-tile structure on stilts, with the bar and reception downstairs, and the communal dormitory upstairs. The stone courtyard is the main focus of the Auberge: it’s a special and enchanting place to be.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe main building is a two-storey earth, stone & wood structure with an outbuilding attached


The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe tiled rooftops, stucco walls & decorative windows make the Auberge an intriguing structure

The Auberge de Meo Vac is absurdly photogenic and picturesque, especially in the early mornings and late afternoons, when the low sunlight illuminates the clay walls, casting a warm light and long shadows across the stone courtyard. The Auberge has a remote, other-worldly, and timeless quality. To me, it can feel quite disorientating at times: I’ve stayed in similar places in southwestern China, on the Mongolian steppe and the great plains of Central Asia, and even the deserts and oases of the Arabian peninsular. And that is part of the magic of Ha Giang Province: it’s stark, bold, beautiful, haunting, empty, and enthralling. The Auberge captures much of this in its style, location, and accommodation. It’s a fitting place to stay when visiting Meo Vac as part of the Ha Giang Extreme North Loop, especially after days of long, hard riding in the mountains.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe Auberge de Meo Vac is a very photogenic place with its tiled roofs, stone courtyard & scenic setting


The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe Auberge has a timeless quality & reminds me of similar places I’ve visited around the world

The sleeping capacity of the Auberge de Meo Vac is very small. There are only four private, double-occupancy rooms (two on each floor of the main building), and a communal dorm on the first floor of the outbuilding, which sleeps a maximum of 8-10 guests at a time. The dorm accommodation consists of single mattresses laid on a wicker mat on the wooden floor in a cosy room with soft lamp light, wooden beams, bare stucco walls, a wood-burning heater (necessary in the cold winter months), windows looking over the courtyard, and a balcony with lovely views onto the Auberge rooftops and surrounding countryside. At upwards of 330,000vnd ($14) per person, it’s expensive by dorm standards, but still in the budget price bracket, and well worth it for the experience of staying in such a memorable place (even if you do have to put up with the snoring of your dormitory companions).

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangDormitory accommodation is very good & cosy, even if it’s a bit pricier than most dorms

The private rooms are tasteful and atmospheric, but a bit dark and cramped for the price: 1,320,000vnd ($55). Large, comfortable beds sit on woven rattan carpets with lanterns illuminating the bare adobe and stone walls and structural wooden beams. Unfortunately, privacy is a problem, due to very thin walls and large gaps in the partitions. It’s also important to note that all rooms – private and dorms – have shared bathrooms, which are located on the ground floor behind the main building. Like everything else at the Auberge, the bathrooms are very tasteful, featuring stone and stucco walls, tiled floors, and beautiful stone sinks outside in the garden under bamboo bushes. Be very careful when negotiating the walk to the toilet during the night: it’s a death trap of wooden struts and steps.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangPrivate rooms are atmospheric but a bit gloomy & lacking privacy, especially considering the price

Room prices do not include breakfast, but all meals can be taken at the Auberge if you order in advance. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner (including vegetarian options) are available for between 100,000-250,000vnd ($4-$10). All meals are set menus according to whatever ingredients are in season and available at the local market in Meo Vac. The food is fresh, local, beautifully presented, and delicious, with the possible exception of the continental breakfast, which is fairly average. As an example, my first meal at the Auberge was stir-fried morning glory, local gourd, bamboo shoots, spring rolls, pickled ginger, stewed pork, and egg rolls.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangDinner at the Auberge (including vegetarian options) is very good, but breakfast is disappointing

Meals are served on the premises: you can choose to dine on the wooden picnic bench outside in the stone courtyard (perfect for summer nights under the moon and stars), or on the wooden furniture in the open-sided bar area, or in the communal living area on the ground floor next to the open fire (very cosy on cold, wintry nights). Drinks are available throughout the day, including juices, soft drinks, tea, coffee, cocktails, such as gin and tonic, home-brewed plum wine, and local corn liquor. In general, I found the alcoholic drinks to be good, and the coffee bad. The Auberge can also arrange lots of activities, such as hiking and trips to local ethnic minority markets.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangMeals are served in the courtyard on dry, clear nights, or in the fired-warmed living room on cold nights


The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe indoor communal areas at the Auberge, including a bar & a living room, are warm & cosy places

At night, as in all homestay-style accommodation in Vietnam, there’s the procession of sounds from outside: the night-time chorus. By day, even rural Vietnam is largely dominated by human sounds: motorbike engines, voices, farm machinery. But by night, animals rule the airwaves. From early evening the cicadas and the frogs and other bugs hum in the background; then the dogs in the dead of night, and cowbells from restless cattle in their straw cowsheds; then the cockerels, crowing from 4am in an increasing cacophony, until the sun rises. And, if the weather is bad, the sound of the rain hitting the tiled rooftops.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangAt night at the Auberge, the sounds of the Vietnamese countryside seep in through the windows

But one thing to remember when you’re staying at the Auberge de Meo Vac is that this is not a homestay; it’s a business. And, although staff are nice, they are not ‘hosts’ like the families of a homestay. Don’t expect a personal touch: this is a hotel, a unique and special one, certainly, but nonetheless a hotel and a business: you aren’t entering someone’s family home, and witnessing their daily life. This can feel quite jarring, because the Auberge feels like a homestay: but it isn’t.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangAlthough it may look like one, it’s important to remember that the Auberge is not a homestay; it’s a hotel

Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like this accommodation and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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The Vietnam Coracle Map http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-vietnam-coracle-map/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-vietnam-coracle-map/#comments Fri, 07 Sep 2018 12:23:10 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=26948 An interactive map of Vietnam with all my guides, posts, articles, reviews, and videos marked on it, including direct links from the map to all my content. The Vietnam Coracle Map will help readers navigate the content on my website, in order to get to the information they are looking for.... Continue reading

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First published September 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | MAP | GUIDE | RELATED POSTS

The Vietnam Coracle Map is an interactive map of Vietnam with all my guides, posts, articles, reviews, and videos marked on it, including direct links from the map to all my content. As there are now hundreds of Vietnam Coracle posts and pages, the purpose of this map is to help readers navigate the content on my website, in order to get to the information they are looking for. I’ve tried to make the Vietnam Coracle Map as simple, practical, and easy-to-use as possible. The map should be pretty self-explanatory and intuitive for most people, especially those familiar with using Google Maps. But, to fully understand how the map works (on desktop and mobile), please take a few minutes to read the User’s Guide below, which will greatly improve your experience of the map.

The Vietnam Coracle MapAn interactive map with links to all my content: open the map or read the User’s Guide

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THE VIETNAM CORACLE MAP:


*Note: please read the User’s Guide below to fully understand how this map works

[Open Map in New Window: CLICK HERE]

*Open map in a new window

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HOW TO USE THE MAP:


Below is a detailed User’s Guide to the Vietnam Coracle Map. Please read it carefully so that you’ll get the most out of using this map. Note: in some cases there are separate instructions for desktop and mobile:

Opening & Viewing the Map:

Desktop & Mobile: You can use the Vietnam Coracle Map ‘inline’ on this page: this means you can navigate around, scroll in all directions, and click on any of the icons, markers, and links on the map as it appears on this page above. However, it’s probably easier to open the Vietnam Coracle Map in a new window: to do this, either click here, or click the ‘expand’ symbol in the top right corner of the map above, or click any of the links on this page saying ‘Open map in a new window‘.

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Using Layers & Categories:

The Vietnam Coracle Map is designed using the Google Maps ‘layers’ function. Each ‘layer’ is effectively a separate map, which displays a specific collection of markers, icons, and links corresponding to the title of the ‘layer’. My map has 7 layers: each layer represents a ‘category’ or ‘archive’ of the content on my website. The layers (i.e. categories) on my map are as follows:

  • Motorbike Guides
  • Travel & Destination Guides
  • Food & Drink Guides
  • Accommodation Guides
  • Transportation Guides
  • Videos
  • Information-Resources-Miscellaneous

Using the map ‘layers’ is slightly different on desktop and mobile. See the following instructions:

On Desktop: When viewing the Vietnam Coracle Map on desktop, the ‘list of layers’ (or ‘layers menu’) is displayed on the left side. See the instructions below:

  • Open the ‘Layers Menu’ on this page: To view the ‘list of layers’ on the map on this page above, you need to click the ‘menu’ symbol in the top left corner of the map. This will open a ‘list of layers’ on the left side of the map. To hide the list, click the ‘menu’ symbol again and the ‘list of layers’ will disappear.
  • Open the ‘Layers Menu’ in a new window: If you open the map in a new window here, the ‘list of layers’ should open by default on the left of the map. If not, click the ‘Map Legend’ button in the top left of the map and this will open the ‘list of layers’. To hide the list, click the three vertical dots next to the map title in the top left corner, then select ‘Collapse map legend’.

Once you have opened the ‘layers menu’, you will see a list of all 7 layers (i.e. categories) on the left side of the map. By default, all 7 layers are open and all icons, markers, and pins are displayed on the map. But you can choose to open or close whichever layers you want to. To do this, click the box next to any of the layer titles in order to check (open) or un-check (close) that layer. For example, if you click the box next to the layer title ‘Food & Drink Guides’, the map will display all icons, markers, and pins under that category. If you want to see more than one layer at the same time, simply click the box next to all the layers you want to see. For example, if you click ‘Food & Drink Guides’ and ‘Motorbike Guides’, the map will display all the icons, markers, and pins in both those categories. To ‘hide’ a layer from being displayed on the map, simply click the title (i.e. un-check the box) of the layer you want to hide.

On Mobile: When viewing the Vietnam Coracle Map on mobile, by default all 7 layers are open and all icons, markers, and pins are displayed on the map. In order to open the ‘layers menu’, you need to click the white tab at the bottom of the map, labelled ‘Vietnam Coracle Map’. This will open a list of all 7 layers (i.e. categories). Scroll up and down the ‘layers menu’ and check the box next to any of the layers you want the map to show. For example, if you check the box next to the layer title ‘Food & Drink Guides’, the map will display all icons, markers, and pins under that category. If you want to see more than one layer at the same time, simply check the box next to all the layers you want to see. For example, if you check ‘Food & Drink Guides’ and ‘Motorbike Guides’, the map will display all the icons, markers, and pins in both those categories. To ‘hide’ a layer from being displayed on the map, simply un-check the box next to the title of the layer you want to hide. When you have selected all the layers you want the map to display, click the ‘back arrow’ at the top left of the map. This will close the ‘layers menu’ and open the map again, this time showing all the icons, markers, and pins in all the layers (i.e. categories) that you have chosen.

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Using Icons, Markers, Pins & Links:

The Vietnam Coracle Map displays hundreds of icons, markers, and pins, each of which contains the title of one of my guides, posts, articles, reviews, or videos, and a direct link to that content on my website. If you click any icon on the map or any item in the ‘layers menu‘, you will find an image, a title, and a direct link to the content. However, using the map icons is different on desktop and mobile. See the following instructions:

On Desktop: You can use the map icons in two ways on desktop (the process is the same whether using the map inline on this page above, or in a separate window here). Either open the ‘layers menu’ (as explained above) and browse all the icons and titles by scrolling up and down the list and clicking on any of them. Or, keep the ‘layers menu’ closed, and simply browse the icons directly on the map, by zooming in and out and clicking on any of the icons you want to. Either way, when you click on an icon, in the ‘layers menu’ or directly on the map, this will open a tab which will slide out from the left. In this tab, you will see the title of the icon, an image to illustrate it, and a direct link in the description to the content on my website. For example, if you click on a yellow ‘food icon’ (a knife and fork), a tab will appear in the left of the map with the icon title (let’s say, ‘Coconut Ice Cream’), an image of ‘coconut ice cream’, and a link to my guide to ‘Coconut Ice Cream’, and so on. To close the icon tab, click the ‘back arrow’ next to the title in the top left corner, under the image. In this way, it should be easy and fun to browse the Vietnam Coracle Map, clicking on icons anywhere in Vietnam, and clicking the links to go directly to the relevant content on my site.

On Mobile: There are two ways to browse and open the icons when viewing the map on mobile (the process is the same whether using the map inline on this page above, or in a separate window here):

Browse Icons Using the ‘Layers Menu’: Open the ‘layers menu’ (by clicking the white tab ‘Vietnam Coracle Map’ at the bottom of the screen, as explained above) and browse all the icons and titles by scrolling up and down the list and clicking on any of them. When you click on an icon, a new tab will slide up from the bottom of the screen, and the icon you clicked will be highlighted on the map at the top of the screen. In the new tab, you will see the title of the icon, an image to illustrate it, and a direct link in the description to the content on my website. To close the icon tab, click the ‘back arrow’ next to the title under the image: this will take you back to the ‘layers menu’, where you can continue clicking on any icon you like.

Browse Icons Directly on the Map: The second option for browsing icons is to keep the ‘layers menu’ closed (on mobile, the ‘layers menu’ is closed by default when viewing the map inline on this page above, or in a separate window here) and navigate around the map, zooming in and out, and clicking on any icon you want directly on the map. When you click an icon, the title will appear in the white tab at the bottom of the screen. To open the tab, click it, and a new tab which will slide up from the bottom of the screen. In the new tab, you will see the title of the icon, an image to illustrate it, and a direct link in the description to the content on my website. To close the icon tab, click the ‘back arrow’ next to the title under the image: this will take you back to map, where you can continue clicking on any icon you like, and opening them in the same way as above. *Note: if you want to get back to the ‘layers menu’ after clicking icons directly on the map, you will need to close the icon tab as described above, and then click once directly on any blank area of the map: this will bring you back to the white tab named ‘Vietnam Coracle Map’ at the bottom of the screen. Click this tab to open the ‘layers menu’.

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Elegant Suites Westlake, Hanoi http://vietnamcoracle.com/elegant-suites-westlake-hanoi/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/elegant-suites-westlake-hanoi/#comments Fri, 24 Aug 2018 04:43:50 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=23530 Comfy, smart & luxurious but unpretentious, Elegant Suites is a great alternative to staying in the cramped streets of Hanoi's Old Quarter. Located in the well-to-do district of West Lake, it's a chance to see a different, albeit more affluent, side of the capital. The facilities are fantastic & it's perfect for families, couples, or business travellers.... Continue reading

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First published August 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | REVIEW | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Hanoi’s West Lake District (Tây Hồ in Vietnamese) is the up-and-coming, fancy inner-suburb of Vietnam’s capital city. When I visit Hanoi, I usually stay in the small, shady, back-streets around St Joseph’s Church. But, on a recent trip, I chose to stay in Tây Hồ instead, at the Elegant Suites Westlake. I stayed on two separate occasions, both after long roads trips, when I felt like pampering myself after weeks in the saddle. I really enjoyed the change of location and the chance to see a different, albeit more affluent, side of Hanoi. This was also a much quieter, more serene and peaceful experience of Vietnam’s capital city: a welcome relief in a city that’s characterized by tight, busy streets and terrible air quality. The facilities at Elegant Suites Westlake are excellent, including a large swimming pool, gardens, kids playground, gym, sauna and steam bath. The rooms are enormous, modern and well-equipped, with balconies overlooking the lake and city skyline. Considering the level of accommodation, prices are pretty reasonable, especially if sharing with a friend, partner, or family. [Average rates are $80-$110. To check availability & make a reservation for Elegant Suites Westlake please BOOK HERE]

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

Elegant Suites Westlake, hotel & serviced apartments, HanoiGreat value for couples, families or friends sharing, Elegant Suites has excellent facilities

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REVIEW: ELEGANT SUITES WESTLAKE


Address: 10b Dang Thai Mai Street, Tay Ho District, Hanoi, Vietnam [MAP]

Average Price: $80-$110 | Website: www.elegantsuites.com


MAP:

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As the name suggests, West Lake District is the area spreading around the large lake known as Hồ Tây (West Lake), just north of central Hanoi. Many of the traditional tourist attractions, such as the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake, are just a 10-minute taxi ride from West Lake, and it can be nice to base yourself in the quieter, more comfortable surrounds of West Lake, and then ‘commute’ to the central areas during the day. Indeed, this is the main reason why West Lake has become so popular with expatriates and wealthy Vietnamese: they can live by the placid waters (and ever so slightly better air) of West Lake, while going to work in downtown Hanoi. This particularly appealed to me, because I’ve visited Hanoi dozens of times in the past and stayed in the busier central districts, so this time I wanted to try something different. I would imagine this might also appeal to first-time visitors who want to ease themselves into the intoxicating chaos of urban Vietnamese life, rather than jump straight in. And also to people travelling as a family, especially with young children.

Exterior, Elegant Suites Westlake, HanoiLocated in the affluent district of West Lake, Elegant Suites is a good alternative to staying downtown

I have a tendency to live in old, characterful houses – both in Vietnam and in the U.K, where I’m from. What struck me about Elegant Suites (which is a serviced apartment complex rather than a hotel) was how new and shiny everything is. Furniture, floors, bathrooms, beds all appeared to be modern and of good quality. Likewise, fixtures, fittings, and appliances seemed in perfect working order and felt like they’d continue to work for some time to come. This is not always the case with high-end accommodations in Vietnam, which, although brand new, feel as though they are built to last six months: the emphasis being on the appearance of quality. The staff at Elegant Suites also stood out compared to similarly priced accommodations: they were highly trained, helpful, attentive and had excellent English. They made service personal by remembering the names of guests and residents.

Guest room, Elegant Suites Westlake, HanoiFurniture & fixtures are new, modern & good quality, unlike some high-end accommodations in Vietnam

Elegant Suites is a large, twenty-something storey structure which looms over West Lake. There are other big serviced apartments and high-end hotels around the lake, but Elegant Suites is better value, in my opinion. Almost all of the apartments have balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows, which you can leave open during the evenings, because they have sliding ‘bug screens’ so the mosquitoes can’t get inside. The building isn’t particularly attractive, but neither is it an eyesore, and it functions well. The porte-cochère is grand and bland and so is the lobby and reception. It’s all a bit clinical and business-like. But who cares, because you’re not going to spend much time in the lobby. The other side of the building (the lake side) is where most of the facilities are located. The pool is marvellous: a good length and depth, very clean, with a shallow end for children. The showers and gym are well-equipped, and the steam room, sauna and Jacuzzi are attractive enough to resemble a gentlemen’s club bathhouse.

Swimming pool, Elegant Suites Westlake, HanoiThe swimming pool at Elegant Suites is fantastic & so too is the gym, sauna & spa

There are a few room types to choose from. The cheapest is a Studio Room, but the bigger One-Bedroom Apartment is only a few dollars more and you get a lot more space and a better view, so it’s well worth the extra. The other options are Two- or Three-Bedroom Apartments which are excellent value for a family or a few friends sharing (room sizes range from 50-100m²). In your apartment you get, well, everything: two bathrooms with shower and bathtub, fully equipped open-plan kitchen (including laundry and dish washing machines) leading onto a wide, bright living room with comfy sofas and armchairs, a dining room table, large soft beds, loads of windows and a big balcony with views over the city, or the lake, or the Red River. There’s even a coffee machine with daily supplies of espresso tablets, including de-cafe. Because Elegant Suites is a serviced apartment, it feels much more like staying in a home rather than a hotel, but with all the conveniences of the latter. Comfy, smart and luxurious but unpretentious, it really is a great space to have at your disposal while staying in Hanoi.

Guest room, Elegant Suites Westlake, HanoiGuest rooms are fully equipped apartments, very comfortable with lots of space & balconies

The Camellia Restaurant, on the ground floor to the side of the lobby isn’t great. The variety of Western and Asian dishes is O.K but the quality is below average. If you do eat here, go for one of the Asian dishes as these are a lot better than the Western ones. However, the restaurant redeems itself when it comes to the buffet breakfast, which is included in the room price. A medium-sized spread, the quality is very good, especially the coffee. Even high-end hotels in Vietnam tend to let themselves down when it comes to the coffee at the buffet breakfast, often resorting to weak filter or even instant coffee. But the coffee at Elegant Suites is strong, flavourful and good. There’s a wide range of eggs ordered off a menu and the crispy bacon is excellent. And, get this, the fruit juices aren’t sugary cordial but actually come from real life fruit. All in all, it’s a good way to start the day.

Breakfast, Elegant Suites Westlake, HanoiAlthough the restaurant isn’t great, the buffet breakfast (included in the room price) is very good

A daily shuttle bus from Elegant Suites takes you into town and back, or you can get a taxi. Either way, it’s a short hop of about 10 minutes, depending on traffic. However, there’s plenty to do, see and eat within walking distance of Elegant Suites: take a stroll along the lakeside road, stop for a coffee at a lakeside cafe, and get some food at one of the lakeside restaurants. West Lake is more of an expat enclave/well-to-do Vietnamese neighbourhood than the local streets you find in the city proper. But it’s still pleasant and rewarding to explore.

View from Elegant Suites Westlake, HanoiElegant Suites is a 10-minute free shuttle bus ride from Hanoi’s main sights & attractions

In general, the guests at Elegant Suites are Northeast Asian families living in the apartments or Asian business people. There’s also a handful of Western business travellers and expats. You won’t find many holidaymakers staying here, even though it’s perfectly suitable for families or couples. I stayed here with a good friend from the U.K on one occasion, and with my parents on another. It worked out really well both times. The location and accommodation gave us the time, space, leisure and facilities to unwind and enjoy each others’ company, while dipping into the chaotic charms of central Hanoi during the day. At Elegant Suites you get a lot more for your money than you would at similarly prices accommodations located in the city centre, around Hoan Kiem Lake, for example. [Average rates are $80-$110. To check availability & make a reservation for Elegant Suites Westlake please BOOK HERE].

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

Guest room, Elegant Suites Westlake, HanoiI stayed at Elegant Suites twice (with my friends & family) & both times were very relaxing & comfortable

Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like this hotel and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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A Guide to Climbing Mount Fansipan Independently http://vietnamcoracle.com/a-guide-to-climbing-mount-fansipan-independently/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/a-guide-to-climbing-mount-fansipan-independently/#comments Fri, 17 Aug 2018 08:07:20 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=23630 Known as the 'Roof of Indochina', Mount Fansipan is the highest mountain in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. At 3,143m (10,312ft) it's a 'real' mountain. But Fansipan can be climbed independently, without a guide or porters or any specialist climbing equipment, in one day..... Continue reading

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First published August 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Fansipan (or Phan Xi Păng in Vietnamese) is the highest mountain in Indochina. At 3,143m (10,312ft) it’s a real mountain, but can be climbed without any specialist equipment or guides or porters. Located near the former French colonial hill station of Sapa, Fansipan is part of Vietnam’s Hoang Lien Son Range, which is essentially the southeastern-most extent of the same continental collision that formed the Himalayas. The ascent of Mount Fansipan can be made comfortably in one day if you are in reasonably good physical condition. And, now that the new and controversial cable car to the summit has opened, it’s possible to make the return trip to Sapa on the same day. It’s not necessary to hire a guide for the hike, but obviously you must be extremely careful and plan sensibly before setting out. The ascent takes between 6-8 hours depending on your pace, and the views are stupendous. But Sapa’s bleak climate means that Fanispan and the surrounding mountains are often hidden behind a grey, lingering mist that refuses to lift for days at a time. Even so, it’s still a challenging, rewarding, exciting, and beautiful trek. Below is my guide to climbing Fansipan independently.

Climbing Fansipan mountain independently, without a guide, VietnamThe Roof of Indochina: it’s possible to climb Mt. Fansipan independently, without a guide, in one day

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GUIDE: CLIMBING MtFANSIPAN


There are several trails to reach the summit of Mount Fansipan, known romantically as the ‘Roof of Indochina’. However, only one is easy enough (and safe enough) to follow independently, without a guide. This is the trail that begins at the entrance to Thác Tình Yêu (Love Waterfall), 15km west of Sapa on road QL4D. Known as the Tram Ton Pass trail, it’s fairly easy to follow and, despite local opinions to the contrary, can comfortably be climbed in one day, without a guide. However, it’s still essential to prepare and climb responsibly and safely. In this guide, I’ve tried to include as much information as I can so that other climbers who want to make the ascent independently may do so. However, please note that although all the information in this guide is accurate at the time of writing, I can’t guarantee that things won’t change in the near future.

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CONTENTS:

MAP:

Mount Fansipan & Environs

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Time, Distance & Duration:

According to the signs at the trailhead, the one-way trek from the starting point of the Tram Ton Pass trail (at the entrance to Love Waterfall) to the summit of Mount Fansipan is 11.2km. We made the ascent in 6 to 6.5 hours. We climbed at a leisurely pace with regular short breaks, either to rest or to hydrate and have a snack, or to take photos and admire the views. We left our hotel in Sapa at a reasonable hour in the morning, after breakfast, sometime around 7.30am. The taxi ride to the trailhead takes 10-20 minutes, so we were on the trail by roughly 8.00am. We reached the summit after lunchtime, approximately 2.15pm. You could potentially make the ascent in under 6 hours if you’re very fit, don’t stop often, and have perfect trekking conditions. However, I would imagine that for most people of average fitness who simply want to successfully scale the highest mountain in Indochina and enjoy the walk, the views, and the experience (rather than treat it as an athletic contest), a general estimation would be anywhere from 6-9 hours. But there are other factors to consider: weather conditions might slow you down; perhaps you will get cramp and need an extended rest; maybe part of the trail is obstructed by a large branch or landslide. This is why you should leave fairly early in the morning, so that even if you encounter any unforeseen circumstances, you will still have time to reach the summit before nightfall. Note that, if you do run out of daylight hours, there are two permanent camps along the trail to the summit, one at 2,200m, the other at 2,800m.

Climbing Fanispan mountain independently, without a guide, VietnamThe hike on the Tram Ton Pass trail is 11.2km: it can be completed in one day if you start in the morning

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Fitness & Endurance:

Climbing Mount Fansipan in one day via the Tram Ton Pass trail is something that most people in reasonably good shape can do. However, it does require a significant physical effort and, because of the altitude, breathing difficulties caused by lack of oxygen make the climb even more of a challenge. When I made the ascent I was 34 years old and in pretty good physical condition. I was with my dad and uncle, who were 73 and 69 respectively, both of whom take daily exercise in the form of long-distance swimming and running. I found the ascent challenging but by no means exhausting. However, I do take regular, strenuous exercise. I also think that my concern for my dad and uncle’s physical well-being on the trek kept me focused on their efforts rather than my own. My dad and uncle both made the ascent without incident, but they both agreed it was one of the toughest physical pursuits they can remember undertaking. We encountered around a dozen other climbers on the trail (all with guides), most of whom were younger than us and had taken two days for the ascent, spending one night at one of the base camps. However, the other climbers appeared to be mostly of average fitness and had not had any trouble making the ascent. They seemed to be in good spirits and while they had found the climb challenging, they were not exhausted. The first half of the trail is well-marked and of moderate steepness, but the second half is rocky and very steep at times, involving metal ladder and peg-ladder climbs. Particularly grueling is the last couple of hours, when several steep ascents immediately descend again, which can be very demoralizing, especially as the air is getting thinner and your body more tired.

Climbing Fanispan mountain independently, without a guide, VietnamAlthough strenuous, the climb can be completed by most people in reasonably good physical condition

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Supplies & Equipment:

Although you don’t need any specialist equipment to climb Mount Fansipan, you still need to carefully consider what to wear for the trek and what to bring with you. The unpredictable mountain weather means that conditions can be very hot and very cold on the same day. In general, temperatures around Mount Fansipan and Sapa are significantly cooler than lowland Vietnam. Daytime temperatures can be mild to warm (15-25°C) during the summer months, or cool to cold (5-10°C) during the winter. On the summit it can reach freezing, and the added wind chill factor can make it feel even colder. However, the physical exertion of the climb will make you feel stuffy and hot. Therefore, it’s best to dress in light but warm and windproof clothing, with the option to strip off one layer if you get too hot. For example, we wore a T-shirt, sweater, and thin waterproof at the beginning of the climb, when the morning temperatures were cool and our bodies had not warmed up. During the middle of the trek, with the difficulty and temperature increasing, we stripped off a layer. But as the clouds descended, the wind picked up, and a light rain began to fall near the summit, we re-clothed for full protection.

Climbing Fanispan mountain independently, without a guide, VietnamNo specialist climbing equipment is necessary, but good shoes & sensible clothing are important

For footwear, standard hiking shoes are perfect, but decent trainers are also fine. I made the climb in my Adidas Barricade tennis shoes, which are fairly hardy trainers. (Many of the guides we met were wearing flip-flops for the climb, and the Vietnamese young women in their group were wearing plastic bags over their shoes to keep them dry and clean, which would also make them treacherously slick.)

Take a small backpack with some food and drink supplies, and remember to leave room for your clothes for when you get too hot. There are no shops or kiosks on the trail, although you could potentially stop at one of the two camps if you needed to. The most important thing to bring is water, lots of it. Dehydration leads to cramp and that can be extremely dangerous on a mountain. We took three litres of water each (two 1.5 litre bottles in each of our backpacks). For food, we stocked up on local milk candy bars (bánh sữa) and Vietnamese energy bars, called lương khô, which are like army rations: compact and full of energy. At the summit there are all sorts of dining and drinking options, so you can look forward to a hot coffee and a burger when you get to the top. My dad took his trekking poles which he’d brought with him from the U.K, but you might be able to find them in the stores in Sapa somewhere, too.

Climbing Fanispan mountain independently, without a guide, VietnamTake a small backpack with some warm clothes, food & lots of water for the climb

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Safety & Permission:

Although Mount Fansipan can be climbed independently, without requiring any specialist equipment, climbing abilities, or permission, it is still vital that you treat the ascent seriously by preparing sensibly and climbing responsibly. There have been deaths on the mountain in recent years, including foreign tourists attempting the ascent without a guide. Like any high mountain, Fansipan can be dangerous, and the risks of climbing alone, without a guide, should not be underestimated.

The trail is well-marked for most of the ascent and is fairly easy to follow. However, when the clouds descend on the mountain, visibility can be very bad, leading to difficulty finding your way. In damp conditions, the rocks can become very slippery. Tread carefully because even a minor slip can lead to an injury, and even something as small as a sprained ankle can cause big problems when on a cold, wet mountainside with no help. It should go without saying that straying from the trail, or climbing boulders and cliff faces without proper equipment, is an extremely bad idea.

Fansipan mountain, VietnamThe dangers of climbing Mt. Fansipan, especially without a guide, should not be underestimated

It’s essential to stay hydrated. Bring lots of water with you. The climb is strenuous so you will be perspiring all the time, even if it doesn’t feel like it because of the cool weather conditions. Dehydration leads to cramp, which can be a major hindrance, forcing you to stay static for hours at a time. Cramp may not sound serious, but if your legs cramp at 10,000ft as a storm is blowing in and the daylight is fading, your situation can suddenly become very grave. Make sure you bring some warm clothing. The mountain can get very cold, even in the summer months. If you get stuck on the mountain in freezing temperatures, hypothermia is a serious possibility.

If possible, don’t climb alone. Go with a companion or a small group. If something happens to one of you, the other can get help. Bring your mobile phone. There’s a phone signal for most of the ascent. Make sure you have a local SIM card with plenty of credit. It’s best to get a Viettel SIM, because they tend to have the widest coverage in the mountains. Make sure your battery is fully charged, or even better, bring a USB battery pack so you can recharge your phone on the climb. Take a small flashlight in case it gets dark.

Climb Fansipan mountain independently, without a guide, VietnamClimb carefully & responsibly, because even a minor incident can become very serious on a mountain

When it comes to permission, before the ascent I’d read all sorts of stories about independent climbers not being allowed on the mountain, being turned back or even fined by national park authorities. In reality, however, we didn’t encounter any authorities on the climb, no tickets or permission papers were asked for, and none of the official guides we passed and spoke with mentioned anything at all about it. No doubt, one of the reasons the authorities and tourist agencies in Sapa say it’s not possible to climb Fansipan independently is because, if such a climber were to have an accident, it would not only be a personal tragedy, it would give the mountain and the national park bad press and a bad name. This seems reasonable to me. However, part of discouraging independent climbers is also likely to do with money. A guided climb can cost upwards of $100. And yet, we met a number of guides and their groups who didn’t appear to have safety in mind: they were climbing with flip-flops or, in some cases, with plastic bags over their shoes so as not to get them wet or dirty, thus increasing the chances of a nasty slip or fall because of the lack of traction. Unless things have changed by the time you read this, it certainly is possible to climb Fansipan independently, without a guide and without needing to get permission. However, if you do climb independently, have some respect for the mountain and for the independent climbers who will follow in your footsteps: don’t be reckless; climb responsibly and safely. If your negligence leads to an accident on the mountain, you give other independent climbers a bad name, and the authorities the perfect excuse to ban independent climbers in the future.

The hiking rail up Fansipan mountain, VietnamOn our climb, we weren’t asked for tickets or any kind of permission to scale the mountain independently

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Weather & When to Go:

As with most high mountains, weather on Fansipan is very unpredictable and subject to change within minutes all year round. In the morning, the summit might be perfectly visible from Sapa, gleaming in the fresh highland light; but by the time you reach the trailhead, just 15 minutes later, thick cloud might have descended on the lower slopes, and a drifting rain set in above the forests. Likewise, the temperatures fluctuate from hour to hour. Perhaps hiking through the dense forests on the lower slopes, humidity and heat will force you to strip off your layers; but as soon as you emerge from the foliage onto an exposed, treeless ridge, the wind ripping in from the north, you’ll be chilled to the bone and reaching for your jacket. Most people agree that the best times of year for climbing Fansipan are spring (March, April) and autumn (September, October). During these months there’s a good chance that the sun will shine for at least some portions of the climb and temperatures are fairly mild. On our climb, for example, we had beautiful weather in the morning, but the higher we ascended the more the weather closed in, and for the last third of the climb we could hardly see 10 metres ahead of us, including at the summit.

Misty, cloudy weather over Fansipan mountain, VietnamConditions can change quickly on the mountain: in general, spring & summer months are best

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Getting to the Trailhead:

Sapa is the base from which to plan and start your ascent of Mount Fansipan. From the hotels, hostels and homestays in and around Sapa, it’s a 10-20 minute journey by taxi to the trailhead at the top of the Tram Ton Pass (also known as O Quy Ho Pass). Ask your taxi to take you to Thác Tình Yêu (Love Waterfall), which is 15km west of Sapa on road QL4D. The car park and entrance to Love Waterfall is on your left (if you’re approaching from Sapa) just at the top of a mountain pass, which is in turn the beginning of the Tram Ton Pass, wiggling its way around the mountains to the west of Love Waterfall. By the roadside opposite the entrance to Love Waterfall, a large billboard titled ‘Hoang Lien Son National Park’ has a rudimentary map of the three trails leading to the summit of Mount Fansipan, including the camp sites. The one that begins at Love Waterfall (the Tram Ton Pass trail) is the furthest to the right on this map. However, there’s very little detail. From the car park at Love Waterfall, walk under the entrance arch (with the words ‘Suối Vàng-Thác Tình Yêu’) and bear left, opposite the ticket kiosk for the waterfall. There’s a little noticeboard titled ‘Rules for Conquering Fansipan Summit’, at the bottom of which is a casual arrow announcing ‘Fansipan Summit 11.2km’. (Note: when we made the ascent, there was no one at the entrance, or anywhere else for that matter, who asked us to buy tickets for the trail.)

A taxi is the easiest way to get to the trailhead at Love Waterfall. There are lots of taxis in Sapa and the fare is only around $10 (200,000vnd). However, you could also arrange a motorbike taxi from Sapa (which would be cheaper), or a minivan (if there’s a group of you) which can be arranged through your hotel, or even self-drive there on a rented motorbike, but then, of course, you’d have to return to the trailhead after the climb in order to pick up your bike again.

The hiking trail up Fansipan mountain, VietnamThe Tram Ton Pass trailhead is at the entrance to ‘Love Waterfall’, 15km west of Sapa

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The Climb & Ascent:

From the trailhead, the pathway immediately plunges into brush and forest. The trail is good: paved at first, with large stepping stones over cold mountain streams. Some of the trees, bushes and flowers are labeled. The canopy is thick but light shines through the branches, illuminating patches of the forest floor, thick with roots and fallen leaves. The first hour or so is peaceful, quiet, gentle and pretty – it reminded me of walking in the Welsh landscape on a damp but bright spring day.

The hiking trail up Fansipan mountain, VietnamThe early stages of the climb are gentle & well-marked, passing through forests & over streams

The Tram Ton Pass trail to the Fansipan summit is undulating: it rises steeply and then falls. This can be dispiriting, because each time you expend effort to ascend a steep section, the pathway immediately descends half the height you just gained. Thus, it feels like two steps forward, one step back. A couple of hours into the climb, the forest gradually fades: going from a thick, gnarly canopy, to a spindly, thin covering with bald patches, until it disappears altogether, leaving you hiking along the top of an exposed ridge. Although open to the elements, the views back over the forested valleys and mountains are wonderful.

Climbing Fansipan mountain independently, without a guide, VietnamThe forest cover disappears as you climb higher, and the trail is largely a dirt path & stone steps

The middle section of the climb involves increasingly steep hikes along a clearly marked but deteriorating dirt trail. From the first campsite at 2,200m (there are two on the climb, both of which consist of corrugated iron roofed huts), the going gets tougher. The trail is steep, slippery and rutted; grooved by rivulets of rain water running down the mountainside. The air gets thinner, breathing becomes more difficult, the wind picks up and the temperature plummets. There are expansive views east over Sapa and west over Lai Chau, but during our ascent this was when the clouds drew a curtain of grey over the mountain, and although we could feel the gaping landscapes below us, we couldn’t see much at all.

Climbing Fansipan mountain independently, without a guide, VietnamSome sections are very steep & require a bit of scrambling & ladder climbing to ascend

Before reaching the second campsite (at 2,800m), there are a couple of major ascents which climb in altitude very rapidly. Parts of this section are so steep and rocky that metal rails, fixed ladders, and peg-ladders have been installed to help climbers get up. These can be quite tricky, especially if it’s wet. There are a few big and dangerous drops close to the ladders, so it’s essential to climb cautiously. This is also the point at which, if you suffer from vertigo, the steep slopes, sharp drops, and sensation of being very high up may start to affect you. A variety of bamboo grows on the mountainside here, known as ‘Dwarf Bamboo’. As the named suggests, it’s short and stocky but has delicate leaves and stems, unlike the large, towering clumps of bamboo you get in lowland Vietnam. Also, several kinds of rhododendron bushes that like high altitude are scattered around the trail, their pink, purple and violet flowers brightening the grey weather conditions.

Wild flowers on Fansipan mountain, VietnamAs well of large trees & gaping valleys, colourful wildflowers & ‘dwarf bamboo’ grow on the mountainside

The last climb, from the second campsite to the summit, is tough. It starts out gentle, and then descends. You pay for this later when the gradient gets very steep, including a peg-ladder up a sheer rock face. There’s a dramatic moment when a giant escarpment reveals itself, plunging down into the cloudy abyss below. For me, this was the first time on the climb that I had the sensation of being near the peak of a big mountain. It suddenly struck me that we were now higher than any other natural formation in this southeastern corner of the Asian continent. Strangely, this was also the moment when we heard, and then saw, the cable car emerging from the mist above us. Then came the sound of clanking hammers working on the construction site that sprawls around the peak. In fact, there was plenty of construction debris strewn around the trail as we got nearer the summit, presumably discarded from the building site. This made us think we were near the top, but the climb dragged on, winding around the various developments: pagodas, a giant seated Buddha, restaurants, viewing platforms, shops. When we finally reached the grand, wide staircases leading to the summit, the weather had closed in to the point that the pylons marking the peak were hardly visible. We weren’t rewarded with fine views over the Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range, but I’m sure they are absolutely spectacular in clear weather. However, this didn’t take anything away from our own sense of achievement at having made the climb and enjoyed it.

Fanispan mountain summit, VietnamThe last section of the ascent is the most tiring, but at the summit you can wave the Vietnamese flag

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At the Summit:

Only a few years ago, the summit of Mt. Fansipan was what mountain peaks should be: wild, windswept, and isolated; just you are your fellow climbers standing alone, seemingly on top of the world, with nothing but nature surrounding you. And all this was gained through your own physical effort; the views over endless ridges and peaks poking above the clouds your reward for the climb. These days, however, things are very different indeed. In 2016, a cable car to the summit of Fansipan opened, thus transforming the ‘Roof of Indochina’ forever (more about the cable car below). After climbing for over 6 hours through forests, along streams, over giant, moss-fleeced boulders, and into the clouds without encountering more than a dozen people along the way, it comes as quite a shock when, within sight of the summit, the silence is broken by the purr of the cable car, the clank-clank of construction work, the nasal tones of announcements over public address systems, and the silhouettes in the mist of what appears to be a city in the sky. This is the reality of Fanispan’s summit today: a commercial toy town of fast food stands, souvenir shops, photography booths, tourist transportation systems, grand staircases, wooden decks and plank walkways, Vietnamese flags, summit pylons, and a sprawling Buddhist temple complex, including a giant seated Buddha presiding over the scene.

Statue of seated Buddha, Fansipan mountain summit, VietnamThe summit of Mt. Fansipan is a bit of a tourist trap these days: there are temples & souvenir shops

It’s jarring, impressive, unsettling, convenient, and confusing. In the thin air, hungry and tired after the climb, I felt a kind of culture shock on arriving at this fairground of a mountaintop. We were grateful for the hot food at the restaurant and the good, strong, hot coffee, and we gladly grabbed the Vietnamese flags, provided at the summit, and waved them above our heads next to the pylons. And we were relieved at the attractive (too attractive to resist) option of taking the cable car down the mountain, back to Sapa. We would have enjoyed the views, too, were it not for a thick fog. To some extent, at least, the structures built on and around the summit are in fairly good taste and make an impressive visual impact. The imperial-style gates that appear to lead into a kingdom beyond the clouds for example, or the mysterious silhouette of the giant Buddha waxing and waning in the mist, seemingly levitating above the material world. It was odd to see the crowds of people there, most of whom were dressed in their best, shiniest winter clothes so as to look good in all the portraits they were having taken at the summit. For Vietnamese, it’s becoming a national pilgrimage to take the cable car to the top of Fansipan, the highest point of their nation. We saw octogenarians and toddlers at the summit, neither of whom would be there were it not for the cable car. Even so, it left me feeling conflicted. I was glad we’d hiked up rather than taken the cable car. It made us feel we deserved the views (if we could have seen them), and the food, and the coffee, and the cuddly toys, and the ‘I Conquered Fansipan’ T-shirts…..

Tour groups at Fansipan mountain summit, VietnamSince the cable car opened in 2016, thousands of people visit the Roof of Indochina each day

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The Cable Car & the Descent:

If you really wanted to, you could hike back down the mountain the same way you came up, but it would be very tough and inadvisable to attempt to do this on the same day as the ascent. Another option is to descend on one of the two other Fansipan trails, but these are supposed to be more challenging and longer treks, and I can’t vouch for doing either of these trails independently. For us, it was all about the ascent, and we never had any intention of hiking back down: we always planned on taking the cable car back from the summit. Arriving at the peak around 2pm, we stayed for an hour or two, and left on the cable car around 4pm, thus arriving back at our hotel in Sapa before sunset, at around 5:30pm. This worked out perfectly for us, and it was a very satisfying, fulfilling way to spend a day. 

The Fansipan mountain summit cable car, VietnamThe cable car is a convenient option for climbers who want to get back to Sapa in one day

The cable car is a spectacular ride, passing high above the forested valley, in and out of the clouds, going from alpine forests near the top to terraced rice paddies near the bottom. The ride only takes about 15 minutes, even though it’s over 6km long and has an elevation gain of over 1,400m. It’s a smooth, beautiful ride, the cars are large, bright, comfortable and clean, and they operate constantly from 7am to 6pm. There’s even a train running from the cable car station at the bottom into Sapa town, or you can easily take a taxi. However, ticket prices for the cable car are high: 700,000vnd ($30) one-way for adults.

The Fansipan mountain summit cable car, VietnamThe cable car is a very scenic & comfortable ride, but it is quite expensive ($30 one way)

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