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Vietnam Travel Diary #08: Train journey from Nha Trang to Da Nang

Note: I’m really sorry for the recent travel blog hiatus. I recently finished my final term of university whilst working at a new job. Let’s just say things got REAL. Anyway, more on that another time. Back to the blog!

We woke up early in Nha Trang and got ready to say goodbye to Mai’s wonderful apartment.

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It was hard to leave because it was genuinely such a cosy, sweet apartment and Nha Trang had been wonderful so far. One of the draw backs of booking everything in advance is that if you really love one particular city it’s hard to re-arrange everything around the option to stay for longer. Still, I much prefer the feeling of knowing where I’m going and what’s coming next, and we were really excited to head to Da Nang and savour all it had to offer!

We got to the railway station and walked over the tracks to get to our train. We got a bit worried when our train (the NH1) started moving, but it was just linking up carridges. We nearly jumped on (stunt man style) I think we were both pretty tired and our brains weren’t working properly yet.

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For this journey we hadn’t booked either of the sleeper options, so we spent the next 12 hours in a chair going backwards (soft seat option). It really wasn’t that bad, but if you’re thinking of doing this journey, and you can afford to pay for a soft sleeper option, then I would suggest you go for it if you want that extra bit of comfort. If I was doing it again I probably would go for the soft sleeper, just for the extra leg room/somewhere to lie down etc…

Despite the initial worry that it would be uncomfortable, I had a 2 hour doze and enjoyed watching the the world racing by when I woke up. I LOVE train journeys, there’s just something about being in transit and watching the landscape go by that makes me feel really content.

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We had bought snacks for the journey so we nibbled on our Ritz crackers and Oreos and watched The Grand Budapest Hotel – great film. 

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The bathroom, similar to the train from Ho Chi Minh, was what you’d expect. I would suggest that you bring your own toilet roll and wear shoes if you’re heading too the loo. Our train had been sprayed with water at some point during the journey and the window had been open – so the bathroom was a bit soggy!

Whilst on our journey we also got some personalised entertainment in the form of a train attendant singing along with what sounded like a karaoke track on his phone. He was living his best life. About 5 hours in we realised that the occasional percussive noises from the train chugging along fit really well to ‘the lion sleeps tonight’. I found it pretty amusing (it was a 12 HOUR journey after all, we needed all the entertainment we could get!)

When we got closer to Da Nang and the light outside began to fade I realised I had been bitten by something. We had forgotten to put our sun cream and insect repellant on because we were inside and it was air conditioned – itchyness ensued.

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When we got to the station we headed into a taxi and then onward to our hotel. As we were riding to the hotel we saw people on motorbikes holding Vietnamese flags and honking. Our driver told us “Vietnam 3, Korea, 1 – football”. It was really fun to see a breif glimpse of these celebrations in Da Nang.

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Once we were settled at our hotel we headed back out and went to look for somewhere to eat. Everything was closing, so we ended up heading back to the hotel and devouring the minibar for dinner! Each hotel we’d stayed in so far had a selection of drinks and snacks availiable in their mini bar (some also had ramen noodles too). The prices of the snacks were okay and it was handy after a long trip. We often came in after a long journey or a hot day out exploring in the sun and took the cold drinks from the mini fridge. The hotel staff would then simply add this to the total charge at the end of the trip. Easy, cheap and hassle free. I love a good minibar!

We watched die hard and I fell asleep – the beds at this hotel were SO comfortable! I woke up at the climax of the film when ‘ode to joy’ was playing (if you know you know) and realised I’d napped through pretty much the whole film. It’s weird how sitting on a train for 12 hours can make you so tired!

We had booked tickets to Ba Na Hills the next day, so we headed to sleep, dreaming of our next adventure.

To read my previous travel blog click here!

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Vietnam Travel Diary #07: Visiting Po Nagar and eating a whole lot of Indian Food!

We had a chilled out morning and then got ready to head to Po Nagar Cham Towers. It was a really hot day, but it wasn’t quite as humid as Ho Chi Minh City, which was a relief! The walk from the apartment to the towers was about 20 minutes long and it was great to soak in the atmosphere of Nha Trang.

Nha Trang Street

Eventually we got to Po Nagar cham towers. Entry was 22,000 vnd each which is about 70p or $1. It was a really impressive site and the there were lots of people there, so I would definitely consider it one of the main tourist attractions in Nha Trang.

Po Nagar

Po Nagar

It was a really impressive site and as you can see it was surrounded with beautiful green trees. We looked around the grounds and found a gorgeous view of the river, the bridge and the fishing boats.

Nha Trang View

It was quite busy at Po Nagar, so it was nice to sit in the shade of the trees for a while and enjoy the gentle breeze and the gorgeous view! We also explored the surrounding gardens of the site.

Po Nagar Gardens

Po Nagar Gardens

After Po Nagar we went to Omar’s Indian restaurant which you can find by clicking here. I would 100% recommend this place! The restaurant was about a 15 minute taxi ride from Po Nagar. From the start of our visit we felt so well taken care of by the staff. I left my sunglasses outside by accident and our waiter found them for me and brought them in which was really nice of him. We were also brought cold flannels and these were great for us because we had been so hot outside. It was a small details but meant the world to us two overheated Brits!

We ordered the set menu which I believe was 150,000 vnd (about £4.90 or $6.40) for: papadam with chutneys, a starter of onion bhajis or samosa, a side of rice, a side of garlic or plain naan, one main course either chicken or vegetable, and a beer. It was all incredible! The beer came nice and cold and we had them in these cool golden beer mugs.

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The naans were HUGE and everything was delicious. Just be aware that it is very authentic in terms of spiciness. Even the chicken tikka masala (which is what we had) has a kick to it and is quite hot. If you prefer something milder go for a Korma or maybe a butter chicken. I would definitely recommend anything with chicken because this was some of the best chicken I’ve ever had in a curry!

Omar's Restaurant food 1

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We loved our meal and couldn’t believe how much food we got for 150,000 vnd, which is under a fiver in English money! I actually gave them a very similar review on TripAdvisor and their manager replied with a lovely message of gratitude. If you’re ever in Nha Trang I would definitely recommend stopping by Omar’s Indian restaurant.

We were pretty stuffed, so we decided to walk off the meal a bit and take a stroll along the coast.

Nha Trang Coast

Nha Trang buildings

We got back to the apartment and did a lot of people watching out of the window. We saw some kind of flag parade practising. There was a drummer playing a beat and a child playing a little symbol which was really sweet! It was a really interesting thing to watch. I’ve realised that people watching is one of my absolute favourite things to do!

Nha Trang Beach

Later we went down to the Vinmart to get snacks for our upcoming all day train journey the next day. Next stop… Da Nang!

To read my previous travel blog click here!

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Vietnam Travel Diary #04: Last day in Ho Chi Minh City

We woke up in Ho Chi Minh City for the last time and headed to breakfast, where we ate a hearty helping of Pho. I got two pork balls in my broth, so I knew it was going to be a good day. We packed our bags and left them at the hotel reception, and we then travelled to the Buddhist Institute (Minh Dang Quang). We travelled by taxi and it took around 20 minutes. Our driver actually got a bit lost and dropped around the back of the institute which was completely walled off, so it took us about 15 minutes to walk all the way around and finally get inside! Once we were there though, it was a wonderful experience. It was a very hot day but we took our time exploring the grounds and climbing the many steps to the top of the institute.

Buddhist Institute Tower

Buddha Statue

Buddhist flags were lined like bunting all the way up towards top of the institute, and lotus flowers (Vietnam’s national flower) were placed all over the grounds. It was a really colourful, peaceful place. A gentle breeze blew the smell of intense around. As the city bustled around us, this seemed like a den of tranquillity and stillness.

The Buddhist Institute

Lotus Flower

When we got to the top of the institute we went into the alter room. The floor was cool and cold on my feet, and the entire room was quiet and peaceful. We sat on the cold floor of the alter room, calmly and mindfully resting and taking in the atmosphere.

In the Alter room


After exploring the rest of the institute, we headed back down to the entrance and got a taxi to Ben Thanh Market. Stepping out of the taxi and into the market was like going from 0-100 in a matter of seconds. After sitting in the taxi and letting the calm of the Buddhist institute wash over us, we then jumped head first into narrow rows of clothes and bags and jewellery and food. Ben Thanh Market was pretty intense at first. Sellers were very keen to approach us and beckon us towards their products. Eventually though, it became easier and we got used to the chaos.

I felt uncomfortable haggling, even though I was well aware that many of the starting prices were inflated because we were tourists. There’s just something about haggling that I am absolutely terrible at. Luckily my boyfriend is an amazing haggler and we realised that we could easily always walk away from a sale if things were becoming too overwhelming. I ended up buying some trousers from a woman who convinced me by saying “They have two pockets, the one’s you’re wearing now only have one pocket!” She was very observant and she had a point, it’s all about the pockets!

After getting a few souvenirs we headed back to the hotel and booked a taxi to take us to Saigon Railway Station. The concierge at the hotel was considerate and reminded us that we should eat some dinner before getting on the sleeper train. We headed to the station and got a quick bite to eat. As we were eating the heavens opened and it started to pour with rain.

Whilst we were at the station I spent a while searching for toilet paper; every travel blog and Vietnam travel guide seemed to suggest that this was a good idea, and they were right. If you’re taking a long train or bus journey in Vietnam then definitely take your own toilet paper. We then walked over the train tracks and onto the train. I’ll go into more detail about our journey on the sleeper train in the next blog. Next stop, Nha Trang!

To see my previous post about tasting Pho for the first time and seeing breathtaking views of Ho Chi Minh City click here

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10 Ways to Deal with Travel Anxiety

My travel journey always starts with the excited planning stage. The minute I’ve booked a trip I’m like Bilbo Baggins, frolicking through the house shouting “We’re going on an adventure!”. But as the various tasks and realities of the trip come to light, I will often start to feel a degree of apprehension and worry. I have a fear or flying and severe health anxiety, so venturing into something new, whilst exciting and wonderful, also brings with it a series of worries and fears.

I relate to Bilbo Baggins on quite a spiritual level really. I love my little hobbit hole, and I’m often afraid of venturing too far, but deep down I long for adventure! We all deserve the chance to travel and see the world, and despite my apprehensions I am determined never to let my anxiety stop me from seeking adventure!

So with that in mind, here are 10 ways to deal with travel anxiety:

1. Do your research

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Do as much research as you can about the country you’re visiting. Research at the culture, the history, the customs, the cuisine, anything and everything you can. Look at people’s blogs, surf the web for pictures and reviews, and let yourself become excited! The more research you do, the more familiar this place will feel when you arrive. Doing your research will also give you a confidence boost and will allow you to feel more informed and ready to explore!

2. Make some loose itineraries

Train Station

This might not work for everyone, but I’ve found that forming even just a bare-bones itinerary for each trip is beneficial to me. Even if it doesn’t always unfold as planned and things change as you go along, having a plan can reduce a lot of the stress that comes with travelling. It could be as simple as writing a list of all of things that you are most keen to see and do, and then ranking them in terms of importance.

As an anxious traveller, I often find it hard to cope with too much uncertainty, but having a basic itinerary gives the trip a sense of structure. Again, this isn’t for everyone, but for me it’s super helpful!

3. Talk to your travel buddy

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There’s nothing worse than having to pretend you’re okay when you’re not. If you’re travelling with someone else then try to articulate your fears and worries to them. Tell them what they can do for you in terms of support. Examples of this could be:

  • Telling your partner you need them to hold your hand on the plane when you take off and land
  • Telling a friend that whilst on your trip you may need some occasional alone time
  • Setting boundaries within a group and vocalising any fears you have about certain activities – know that you are always allowed to say no to things!

4. Bring something familiar

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This could be your favourite music, T.V shows or films, a cuddly companion like a soft toy, or a cosy jumper or pair of socks that you love. Having something that brings you positive familiar memories can help to ground you when you’re feeling anxious or homesick. T.V shows, films and music are also a great form of escapism and they can help you to get out of your head for a while if you’re overthinking and worrying. (If you bring these, remember to download them onto your device, just in case you don’t have access to WiFi!)

5. Pack an anxiety kit

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Create your own emergency kit for when you start to feel anxious. Having this on hand will not only help you in those moments of stress and anxiety, but it will also give you peace of mind throughout your trip because you’ll know that it will be there if and when you need it. Each person’s kit will be very different but I like to bring:

  • Lush sleepy body lotion – I find sleeping in new places really difficult and this cream has been so helpful when it comes to trying to drift off. It also smells like lavender so it is really helpful for calming panic and anxiety.
  • An eye mask and earplugs – as someone who also suffers from migraines these are essential for me. When I’m feeling anxious and overwhelmed, sometimes I find it helpful to block out all sights and sounds to reduce stimulation. Most long-haul flights give you these items or you can bring your own.
  • Headphones – being able to listen to music, watch a bit of YouTube or listen to an audio book when you’re anxious is super helpful. It’s a form of escapism that can soothe you and encourage positive feelings.
  • The Calm app – the calm app is an absolute life saver when it comes to calming anxiety. They have meditations that can be done in less than 2 minutes, emergency calm meditations, sleep stories and music for meditation and relaxation. I would definitely suggest picking a few of your favourites and downloading them to your phone so that can access them offline.

My kit has a lot of sleep related items in it because my anxiety tends to sky rocket if I become sleep deprived! Whatever you feel will help to ground you and calm you, bring that with you and keep it on hand just in case.

For more information on strategies to deal with anxiety check out my previous post on Anxiety here

6. Be prepared

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Being prepared is so important! One of the best things you can do for yourself if you suffer from any kind of anxiety is to be as organised as possible when it comes to packing your bags and sorting travel documents.

Lists are excellent when it comes to this. When you’re planning the trip, make a list of all the things you can’t forget to do like sorting out visas and photocopying passports etc… Then make lists of what you need to bring with you and have it all ready and packed the night before you leave. This way, when you wake up there’s no mad rushes and sudden panics about not having everything with you. There’s nothing worse than getting on a train or a bus to go to the airport and realising you’ve left something behind!

7. Give yourself a break

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When travelling, we often put expectations on ourselves to do anything and everything we possibly can.  Maybe you’ve felt this before, or seen other travellers on social media and felt like you need to live up to that expectation. However, just because you’re travelling doesn’t mean you should let yourself burn out!

Don’t push yourself to do things that you don’t want to do. Travelling is such an individual experience and you should never compare it to anyone else’s. It’s okay to pause when you’re travelling. Take a nap, read a book, rest, watch the world go by… just give your mind and body what it needs to re-charge. Never beat yourself up for having to take breaks when you’re travelling.

8. Be Mindful

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When travelling it’s important to stay mindful. The more mindful you are, the more you can appreciate the experience of travelling without rushing it. Once you’re there, just be. Don’t be angry with yourself if you don’t see everything you wanted to. Learn to see the wonder in the small things; the language, the food, the smells and the changes in the weather. Take in the atmosphere and know that it’s not all about doing as much as possible as quickly as possible. Being mindful also allows you to focus your energy on the present, and can help with feelings of stress, pressure and anxiety.

9. Keep a Travel Diary

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This is, by far, the best thing that I did for myself when I went travelling. Keeping a travel diary gave me a routine in which I was able to practise introspection. The process of writing down my experiences allowed me to look at all of the positive things I was experiencing throughout my trip. It gave me a diary full of memories that I may have otherwise forgotten. This was so helpful in calming my anxiety because it allowed me to write down all of my thoughts and feelings about travelling. It was an great creative outlet for me throughout my entire trip.

10. Enjoy the journey!

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Remind yourself why your travelling. Do you want to experience new cultures? To open your mind to new ideas? Travel can be such a wonderful experience. It’s important to enjoy the journey! Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you feel. Don’t force yourself to do or be anything other than exactly who you are.  Journeys are full of ups and downs, and that’s okay!

As for me, well… let’s just say I never in a million years thought I’d be sharing a sleeper train carriage with two strangers and riding on the back of a motorbike through paddy fields. Sometimes you CAN and WILL surprise yourself. This anxious little hobbit managed it, and you can too! Seek out your adventure and you’ll return home with a head full of memories, just like Bilbo.

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Vietnam Travel Diary #03: Ho Chi Minh City – Delicious Pho and Breathtaking Views

I woke up with some seriously low energy after being very sleep deprived. The jet lag still had me fully and firmly in it’s grasp. But then… it was time for breakfast. All of a sudden, it was like I had been gifted a bowl of pure joy to cure all of my woes.

I’m talking about Pho…

Pho

Pho is a delicious mixture of broth, rice noodles, herbs and usually either beef or chicken. In our hotel they put a little Vietnamese meatball in there too! You can add beansprouts, lemon juice, and also red chillies if you’re up for a bit of spice! There are slight regional variants to the taste of Pho, and in the South of Vietnam the broth usually has a sweeter flavour.

After being far too cautious and eating mostly from the buffet the morning before, I decided to venture into new territory and went up to the Pho counter. As an incredibly socially awkward human being, I got very flustered when I saw all of the extra ingredients that were placed by the station. Just to put how confused I was into context… I put my lemon wedge into my broth WHOLE. I didn’t even squeeze it… I just dropped it in there like a berocca tablet in a glass of water. But the chef at the station was so lovely. She used tongs to take it out for me, and then got a new lemon and squeezed the juice into my broth. Within 10 seconds, and without speaking, she had properly instructed me on how to properly garnish a bowl of Pho.

It was so delicious. A beautiful blend of flavours and textures… With every spoonful of broth that I had, I felt better and better. You know how Popeye needs spinach to get all strong and brave? That day I needed Pho, and Pho worked. It warmed my soul and reminded me that travel is a wonderful and unpredictable experience that creates something truly priceless memories. I thanked the lady again when I left and she nodded and gave me a warm smile. She’ll never know how much she cheered me up that day.

We’d already seen the majority of the things we had wanted to see in the city the day before, so we decided to spend the afternoon chilling out at our hotel’s amazing rooftop pool.

Rooftop Pool

We set up two sunbeds by the pool and had a relaxing swim. It was so refreshing up there and the views weren’t half bad either!

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After we got out we sat on the sunbeds drying off and feeling the gorgeous breeze that drifted past us. We watched the occasional dragon fly come and explore the pool area. I listened to an audio book and watched the clouds roll by.

In the early evening we headed to Bitexco Financial Tower. Until January 2011 this was the tallest building in Vietnam, and you really can’t miss it! We headed up in an elevator that whisked us all the way up to the observation deck. Once you’re up there, you can see panoramic views of the entire city.

Daylight View from Bitexco Financial TowerInside Bitexco Financial Tower

We had aimed to get there about 30 minutes – 1 hour before sunset, and luckily we made it in time to see Ho Chi Minh City both in the daylight, during the sunset, and also after dark.

Night view from Bitexco Financial TowerNight View from Bitexco Financial Tower 2

This was such a wonderful way to spend our last night in the city. As I sat there, I just kept thinking about how much this skyline has changed throughout history, and how different it may look in the future.

To see my previous post all about the history and culture in Ho Chi Minh City click here

 

 

 

 

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Vietnam Travel Diary #01: Ho Chi Minh City – First Impressions

We hadn’t got much sleep on the red eye flight from Doha, despite there only being about 30 of us on the plane and having ample room to spread out (I’m serious – it was bliss). I spent the majority of the flight surfing the entertainment system; this included ‘The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants‘, which made me very happy.

The flight to Tan Son Nhat International Airport

When we stepped out of the airport and into Ho Chi Minh City it was an instant sensory overload. The humidity hit us and we were met with a whirl of noises and smells. There were people sleeping, eating and reading on their parked motorbikes, motorbikes zooming and weaving in and out of each other, the smell of petrol and heat and the constant sound of horns. It was a bustling symphony of metropolitan sounds. As we travelled into district 1 of Ho Chi Minh City in our taxi we saw motorbikes that were piled with pallets, gallons of water, piles of straw, all sorts! One man had a few tall ladders stacked on the back of his bike. The road’s were chaos, but it just… worked! It was fascinating to see the way the city flows.

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We got to our hotel and had to wait a while for the room to be done, so we dropped our bags off and went to explore some of the city. One of the first things I noticed was that we were getting a lot of looks from the locals. Not nasty or sinister stares, just a few interested looks and smiles. After just one short stroll down the pavement we had seen street vendors cooking corn and rice, Luke had been offered a shoe shine, and I had seen about six different types of fruit being pushed along the pavement in bike baskets. We popped into a 7-eleven to look for some snacks and the staff gave us a very enthusiastic ‘Xin Chào!’. There was so much to see. It was slightly overwhelming at first, but it was the best way to become acquainted with Vietnam.

Then is was time to cross the road…

If you aren’t familiar with the roads in Vietnam, you should know that there isn’t much of a strict pedestrian system in place. There are traffic lights and pedestrian crossings, but many motorists don’t stop at them. The general rule for crossing the road in Vietnam is to look left and right, and then walk at a steady and confident pace across the road. This is to allow the riders to anticipate where you are walking and let them weave around you. It’s kind of like playing frogger! It’s a trust exercise with a bunch of strangers you’ve never met and it sounds insane, but it’s weirdly exhilarating! If you’re worried about crossing, a good tip is to follow someone who looks like they know what they’re doing! Ho Chi Minh City probably had the most chaotic roads of all of the places we visited, motorbikes even mounted the pavement, so we had to be constantly alert. But it was a real rush!

In the evening we thought we would take it easy and just stroll through the city to find some dinner. Ho Chi Minh City was gorgeous at night and the culture shock that I had initially felt was slowly wearing off at this point. We headed to the ‘Saigon Centre’ which was a huge modern mall filled with all kinds of shops and restaurants.

The Saigon Centre

We walked out onto a rooftop garden in the centre and had a great view of the city. It was so alive, and watching the bustle of the city from the tranquillity of that garden was such a wonderful experience.

The Roof Garden

Ho Chi Minh City at night

Tomorrow, we thought, it’s time to explore!