As the dreaded Chiang Mai burning season was about to start, the next three months were going to be spent in Vietnam. I was a little late on the flight tickets, so there was no affordable direct options available matching my dates. Thanks to this I decided to do something I had wanted for a long time; cross-country train in Asia. Chiang Mai to Bangkok, super affordable, and then spend a night in Bangkok night life, before flying direct to Hanoi the next day.
Spring weather in Hanoi
Hanoi is supposed to be a thriving city, and should be well worth spending some time, with co-working spaces and everything a big city has to offer.
Problem: February 2018 was exceptionally cold in Vietnam. The north of Vietnam, including Hanoi, was just over 4°C. This, and arriving with only summer clothes, and no real jacket, quickly changed our plans. We would spend only little time in Hanoi, and completely skip the supposedly vast beautiful nature north of the city.
Race against the weather
For every 100 km south we could gain at least one or two degrees towards warmer weather. It was a numbers game of managing time vs temperature
vs attractions. We had to stop at least by some of the cities we passed through, to eat, sleep and explore.
Among the stops were Vihn, Phong Nha Kẻ Bàng national park and the Imperial City of Hue. Vihn felt rather deserted, being a smaller city mostly geared towards tourists. But no other tourists were there, and the hotel had no heating, so it was time to sleep in several layers of clothes.
Phong Nha Kẻ Bàng
The temperature might have doubled, but from 4 to 8 °C feels like little to be excited about. However, the famous national park, recently acknowledged as home to the world’s largest cave, had to be visited. Despite little convenience in terms of internet access, cities, restaurants and the bunch, Phong Nha kept us almost a week. It was no summer weather, and the nights were especially cold, but the nature was some of the most beautiful I had ever seen.
Hue and the Imperial City
The Imperial City sounds like something straight out of Star Wars, but the story behind includes very few lightsabers. Hue was the imperial city of the Ngyuen dynasty, founded by Emperor Gia Long in 1802, when he moved the capital from Hanoi to Hue. It since then stood against French forces in 1885 and North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces in 1968. Over 10,000 people died in Hue at that time, when the Americans and South Vietnamese retaliated on the Citadel and the Imperial Palace with napalm. As such, the Imperial Palace doesn’t quite live up to its name anymore, and is probably as impressive as the Death Star after Luke Skywalker applied… napalm.
Warm weather in Đà Nẵng
Approximately midway on the journey from North to South, Da Nang was the first city on our way that had warm weather. And it suddenly turned very warm, not just because of its location further south, but also because the cold days were starting to fade from all of Vietnam. Da Nang is one of the more popular tourist destinations in Vietnam, partly because of its proximity to one of the most popular tourist destination Hoi An.
Da Nang was already the biggest city we had been to since Hanoi, and it seemed thriving with options for digital nomads. It was appealing by being far less touristy than Hoi An, while maintaining many modern conveniences and plenty food and café options. As such it became the first real stop on the journey, and base camp for about two weeks.
Flying to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
As our time in Da Nang and Hoi An came to an end, we decided to spend the rest of our time in Vietnam’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. The trip in Vietnam had been rather sporadic, and given little time to focus on work. Since half the length of Vietnam had been covered by train trips, it would be time to opt for a bit more comfortable alternative. Although more expensive than the trains, flights from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City were inexpensive. An apartment had already been sought out for our arrival.
Exactly a month remained which is always convenient when looking for accommodation. The time consisted of typical city life: cafés, work, malls, cinema, drinks and good food.
Vietnam in conclusion
The nature in Vietnam is impressive, an albeit an increasing amount of tourists, there are still a lot of good spots in this amazing country.
As a digital nomad I can’t say that the country is especially suited, coming straight from Chiang Mai. Ho Chi Minh City being in the South of Vietnam, is extremely hot and together with the pollution, noise and smell, it’s honestly not a nice place to roam about. The very center of the city is nicer, especially by night when the temperature becomes bearable. But it is very touristic. I would assume Hanoi to be a better suited for digital nomads, as the climate should be a bit milder, and the city just a bit more civil.
There will definitely be a “Vietnam part 2” sometime in the future, this time checking the weather forecast for North Vietnam in advance.