Our journey to Vietnam began bright and early with a 7 AM minibus departure from Ban Lung. The first minibus took us one hour to the border at O’Yadaw – Le Tanh where we received our Cambodian exit stamp. We then proceeded to the Vietnam side at Le Tanh which was relatively hassle-free. You can’t get a visa on arrival at the border so we had pre-arranged our visa ($45) through a travel agent while we were in Siem Reap. Two Norwegian guys who were traveling with us to the border got rejected because they had no visa and no proof of onward travel after Vietnam. There are a number of countries who do not need a visa to enter Vietnam (U.S. is not one of them), however they must apparently show proof that they are leaving the country. We were all arguing with the border guards but they wouldn’t budge and told the guys they had to go back to Ban Lung and book a ticket before entering Vietnam. We continued to the next gate so we’re not sure what ever happened to the Norwegians.
Cambodian-Vietnam Border Crossing
Another minibus awaited for us on the other side of the border. We thought, “wow, this is great, no problems at all”. After we got in the minivan…. it proceeded to drive around the border town in circles for over an hour picking up and dropping off various goods and people, as well as paying police money (possibly bribes?). Every stop we made there were Vietnamese guys mocking us while we sat there in the van. The typical series of questions went like this, “Where you from?”, “How long you stay”?, and “You buy something”? We immediately wondered if being American put us at a disadvantage. So, we started to play games saying we’re from Canada and Spain to see if reactions differed. Once we finally left the town, we headed to Pleiku, which is the next largest city where we could catch our bus to Quy Nhon on the coast. The minibus doorman kept trying to get more money from us. Brett refused and told him that we already paid for the entire ticket from Ban Lung in Cambodia to the border then to Pleiku in Vietnam. The bus guy then told us that he’d take us straight to our hotel for an extra $5 (100k dong). Brett politely told him no and to just take us to the bus station in Pleiku.
Scams begin in Pleiku, Vietnam
The driver dropped us off in the middle of Pleiku town instead of the correct bus station. (No one spoke English, so you can imagine how difficult it was to explain our next transfer stop) We hopped on two moto bikes with our big backpacks to the bus station. Upon arrival, we were immediately swarmed by ticket salesmen. Christie asked for the toilet and the guys made a comment and started laughing hysterically. Brett didn’t appreciate it and snapped at the guys and they shut up pretty quickly. We bought two bus tickets for 180k dong ($9) from Pleiku to Quy Nhon (four hours). Without Vietnamese dong, we could only pay in dollars. We weren’t entirely sure of the exchange rate as our guide book is two years old and says it’s 16000:1. (also forgot to look online the night before!) The ticket folks tried to exchange another $100 for 18000:1. We had a feeling they were screwing with us and thought the exchange rate should be between 20000 – 21000, so we didn’t exchange. We later discovered that indeed they were scamming us and the exchange rate is closer to 21000:1. These events were our introduction to Vietnam. We were on guard for the rest of our stay (rightly so) and could trust no one.
After the four hour ride from Pleiku we finally arrived to Quy Nhon at 4 PM. Quy Nhon is a quiet college beach town north of Nha Trang, which is a popular Russian vacation spot. Mostly locals visit the town, so our short visit was quite pleasant and relaxing. The beach town is also a popular hang out for Kiwis. We stayed at the Hoang Yen Hotel right on the beach for $32 a night. Their buffet was comprehensive and “night club” impossible to describe in a funny way. Very few locals spoke English, making our stay that more fun. There were a few decent hotels across the street for much less, but we opted for some beachfront comfort after our jungle trek around Ban Lung, Cambodia.
Beaches of Vietnam
We spent a full day walking along the beach rock cliffs 5km south to Queen’s Beach on the South China Sea. There was a 10,000 dong ($.50) toll road to pass through. We arrived a few hours into our walk to a beautiful (and quiet) beach called Quy Hoa. We swam and took a bunch of silly water photos. Our instant veggie noodle lunch was sufficient since we were starving. We tried the Hanoi beer and found it the worst since arriving in Asia. Directly in the front of the beach is a humongous Leper hospital, which looks like a resort. Several Christian religious statutes appear around the site. We read that the facility is funded by a French Christian organization. After much needed relaxation on the beach we headed back to town.
Seafood from China Sea
We had to sample the fine Vietnamese seafood, so we ventured out to find the Dong family seafood restaurant. The restaurant was within a 15 minute walk from the hotel along the beach. We read to cross the streets of Vietnam slowly and to avoid making any jerky moves. This was an understatement as traffic doesn’t stop, ever! Motos wiggle around you and cars press up close until you reach the sidewalk. At dinner, we feasted on whole crab, garlic grilled lobster and corn fritters. The local Larue beer was somewhat better than the Hanoi we tried earlier. The family was very nice and the experience enjoyable. On the walk back, we passed through a night market where we found plaid designer face masks. These would surely come handy as we encounter dusty streets and smelly bus rides.
Our beach time in Quy Nhon was fantastic but we had to move on to our next destination, Hoi An. We had heard many fantastic things about its romantic charm and characterful French streets and buildings.
See our Photo Album:
Quy Nhon, Vietnam