Gapyear.com heads to South East Asia
If there's one area of the world that I know inside-out it's South East Asia. I've been in and around South East Asia five times now (since 2006 it was only the years of '08 and '11 that managed to escape me), and on my gap year I was even anointed "Macca; King of Asia" by a group of backpackers I was travelling with.
One of my favourite countries in South East Asia is Vietnam. The food is to die for and it's a hawker's paradise. A lot of backpackers and travellers find Vietnam quite hard to travel around but I loved it; I never had any trouble and I thought the people were kind, generous, and curiously inquisitive.
It's been three years since I last visited Vietnam. Three years is a long time in anyone's books so I thought I'd head back to see what's changed. So, on Friday 21st September, I'm off backpacking once again to South East Asia.
Emirates now fly directly into Ho Chi Minh City via Dubai so I'm keen to see their new route in action. Total flight time, including connections, is about 16 hours, which is a steal in my books!
Ho Chi Minh City
In Ho Chi Minh City I'm meeting up with some real cool cats and going on an Intrepid Travel Tour. I've never been on a tour before so it's going to be really interesting to see how it differs to independent travelling.
If you've ever been to HCMC before you'll know what I'm talking about, but the first impression you have of the city is chaos. Not even organised chaos, just your regular 'I-have-absolutely-no-idea-how-this-city-works' type of chaos. Yet it does work. Very efficiently in fact. HCMC is one of the fast growing cities in the world and its economy is booming at the moment.
If you're feeling particularly brave in HCMC, try and cross the road. With over three million bikes and scooters, I won't blame you for your trepidation. But step out and see what happens - it's like water passing round a stone as people perform their own sport of synchronised scooters.
You're never short of things to do in HCMC and I'm keen to take in some of the culture - with the former Presidential Palace, the War Museum, historic Dong Khoi Street (the Rue Catinat from Graham Greene's novel, 'The Quiet American') and the bustling markets of Ben Thanh and Cholon, there's certainly enough to choose from!
Nha Trang is one of the most popular backpacker hot spots in Vietnam and it's a great place to kick back and relax. If you're into diving there are a few dive shops and in the evening everyone heads to the Sailors Club (a bit of a backpacking Mecca) to chat and chill over drinks.
In Nha Trang we're taking a boat to some of the surrounding islands, swimming in the pristine and perfect waters, and who knows, maybe we'll even enjoy a beer or two! The seafood is sumptuous in Nha Trang so I'm looking forward to sinking my teeth into some.
Another favourite with backpackers, Hoi An couldn't be more different from Nha Trang. Where the latter is a costal holiday destination, the former is a charming colonial town.
Known as Faifo to early Western traders, it was one of South East Asia's major international ports during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Today, parts of Hoi An look exactly as they did a century and a half ago.
In Hoi An we're going to hire some bikes and see what's around the town and the surrounding countryside. And of course, no trip to Hoi An would be complete without getting some clothes made up at one of the many tailors - the town's famous for them and they can recreate any design you want! Girls; beware. You can spend a lot of money in Hoi An if you're not careful!
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the power in the north. It's easy (I say easy, it takes time) to get to both China and Laos from Hanoi.
Anyway, Hanoi is famous for a number of things, particularly for being the final resting place for national hero Ho Chi Minh (if you don't know him you should) and for being the gateway to Halong Bay.
Halong Bay really is one of the jewels of South East Asia. After all, it was recently voted as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. In Halong Bay we'll get a Junk Boat (they're old wooden boats) and sail around one of the world's most interesting and beautiful landscapes. With over 2,000 limestone islands rising from the emerald waters the area is simply breathtaking.
So, that's the tour. South to north. However, I'm not content with just telling you about it now - over the next couple of the weeks you can follow the journey with me to get you in the mood for travelling yourself. I can assure you it'll be a journey worth following...
As I said, one of the things Vietnam is famous for is its cuisine. It has over 2,000 different dishes to choose from, some more appetizing than others, but the question is, how many dishes do you think I can eat in eight days? 40? 50?
You can also follow Intrepid Travel live on the road @intrepid_travel.
About the Author: Macca Sherifi
Macca is gapyear.com's travel editor and writes on a myriad of topics, giving the best travel advice in an easy-to-read style that he would describe as 'cutesy'. His two passions are travelling and writing, which is lucky, because he's a travel writer. Macca travelled for 20 months non-stop, never settling in one place for more than a week or two, living to travel and travelling to live. In his spare time, he reads about travelling, thinks about travelling, and then travels. If that fails he still harbours hopes of being a professional rugby player...