Taking a Sleeper Bus from Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne

The easiest way to city-hop through Vietnam is by bus. Flying is not only more expensive, but the airports can be chaotic and there’s a higher change of delays than taking a bus. When I planned my trip, I read a lot about public buses. The repeating words mentioned in reviews included unreliable, uncomfortable and broke down on the way which didn’t sound too promising.

More research suggested taking a “private VIP” bus which was advertised as comfy, timely yet quite cheap. Yolo. I booked three buses for two people between Ho Chi Minh and Mui Ne, Mui Ne and Da Lat, and finally Da Lat and Ho Chi Minh for less than $45 total. There were many companies to chose from, but I went with Vietnam Bus Tickets.

I remember being confused by the term “sleeper berth” because I didn’t actually know what sleeper buses were. I pictured comfy seats that reclined a little for comfortable sleeping. What I wasn’t expecting was two floors of horizontal seats that recline into seats! Or being asked to take my shoes off before getting on the bus…

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The meeting point was described as a “cafe” but it was more of a sitting area with a much needed fan blowing down on the seats. We got there very early and managed to catch an earlier bus to Mui Ne! The bus came on time and we were loaded on quickly in a friendly manner that didn’t make us feel like cattle.

Fast forward to comfortable seats (I got the top floor by a window, which offered a great view.) There was free water, a clean blanket, functional lights, a fan on the wall panel and curtains in case the view got in the way of snoozing. Everything was perfect and the four hour bus ride extremely comfortable. We even got to see some great views from the window as we approached Mui Ne.

We were so happy with this experience and were glad that our next two rides would be the same. Or so we thought… but I’ll get into those painful details another time.

You can see our experience for yourself by watching my YouTube video of our bus journeys.

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Draft Beers & Ciders at BiaCraft Artisan Ales in Ho Chi Minh

On our booze-full first day in Vietnam we visited several bars in Ho Chi Minh. The one with the greatest selection of draft drinks was definitely BiaCraft! The perfectly air-conditioned space had simple decorations and a mouth-watering menu.

Picking a drink was absolutely excruciating. Did I want the beer with a dank hop aroma, strong in citrus with tropical grapefruit & passion fruit? Or maybe the cider with a modern spin on classic cider with pure, apple-y goodness? These are just two choices out of… several dozen maybe? It was awful.

We ended up each getting two or three different drinks each and we took sips to taste as much as possible. Every sip I took was even better than the last. Isn’t it just horrible when you can’t even decide which drink you like the most?! The prices are steep by Vietnamese standards but cheap compared to drink in the Western Europe or the USA.

So, to summarize, the drinks were all too good, with way too many choices at too much of a reasonable price. It’s like they were trying to get us to stay there all day and get drunk. How despicable.

I’m totally kidding of course. The place was amazing, the drinks were amazing and the staff was great. We asked if we could keep a few coasters and they brought us a bunch of brand new ones to take home free-of-charge. We’ll definitely come here again next time we’re in Vietnam. I can’t say I’m looking forward to scrutinizing over all the choices, but it was worth it. Plus, whatever you get, it’ll taste absolutely perfect.

Czech Beer & Food in Vietnam: Hao Vien Brauhaus

Vietnam and the Czech Republic don’t seem to have anything in common, right? Wrong. Although one is in Asia and the other is in Europe, plus the fact that language, food, culture and everything else is night and day. They actually have some common history. Plus, the largest minority living in the Czech Republic after Slovaks and Ukrainians , it’s Vietnamese!

I’m not a history buff, but I can summarize the basics for you. During the dark years of Communism in the Czech Republic, many Vietnamese were brought in as guest workers. Just like the Turks in Germany, they never left and started families all over the country. One of these Vietnamese people who spent a lot of time in the Czech Republic returned to Vietnam and decided to bring a bit of home with him.

Hao Vien Brauhaus was an instant hit and there are now four in Vietnam. They are decorated in Czech newspapers, street signs, typical Czech art and most importantly, lots of Pilsner Urquel paraphernalia. The menu has lots of Vietnamese food in addition to most of the Czech classics that cost no more than the same dishes in Prague!

I skipped the goulash and knedliky (dumplings) and went straight for my all time favorite: fried cheese with homemade tartar sauce! Obviously, I also ordered one beer. At least the first time around in Ho Chi Minh. We went back to a sister location in Hanoi and ordered more fried cheese, several beers and even shots of Becherovka.

Czechs are known for having the best beer in the world, so I would definitely recommend that you visit Hao Vien Brauhaus while you’re in Vietnam. You can find one in Ho Chi Minh, another in Mui Ne and two in Hanoi!

If you’re a fan of all things high-tech, there is another perk to these restaurants: Japanese toilets. In case you have no idea what I’m taking about, read my blog post about the beauty of Japanese toilets. Just to summarize, they have heated seats, dozens of buttons with various functions (including several bidet options) and music for shy pee-ers. If you live in China, like we do, you’re probably crying with envy right now.

Find out more about Hao Vien Brauhaus on their official website!

A (Non) Touristy Day in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

How to spend a (non) touristy day in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam!

Our first stop on our 20-day trip to Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City. Most tourists in Vietnam start in the south and city-hop north, or vice versa. Unfortunately because of poor planning we were starting south, going halfway up, then returning south before flying north… JUST to fly back south before leaving Vietnam. It may have been cheap, but SO not ideal.

Anyway, Ho Chi Minh is great and there’s lots to see, but 20 days is barely enough to even scratch Vietnam’s surface. This means that we only had around 36 hours to see the city. Luckily, we had a great local guide: our American friend who we met several years ago in Prague (confusing, I know). She met up with us early in the morning with her boyfriend and two motorcycles in tow. We were in for quite the ride!

If you’ve never been in Vietnam, then it might be hard for you to understand what it’s like to race through the city on two wheels. Here’s a 90 second unedited video to give you a taste. Like Chinese bikers, people in Vietnam aren’t scared to go full speed, but unlike in China, they wear helmets. Every single person wears a helmet! This was quite the culture shock.

Riding on the back of a motorcycle was exciting (albeit terrifying). We whizzed past countless constructions while our friend explained that the metro is in the process of being built plus sidewalks are being renovated. We also zoomed across beautiful bridges, past tiny Vietnamese houses and even a pink European style church!

First things first: a phở breakfast. There were several different kinds, and we went with rare beef. There were plenty of fresh herbs, limes and sauces to season the already perfectly-tasting noodle soup. I’ve eaten phở all over the world, but nothing can compare to the real thing.

Next up was a fabric’s market that made me drool with a desire to craft ALL THE THINGS. We walked through the aisles with our jaws on the ground and didn’t close our mouths until mangosteens were shoved in them. In case you ‘re as clueless about mangosteens as I was, it’s a tomato shaped fruit with a hard pink shell with white lychee-textured sweetness on the inside. Delicious. And incredibly messy…

After that scrumptious snack came a scary-sounding desert: weasel poop coffee with typical Vietnamese condensed milk. It’s considered the most expensive coffee in the world and it does not, I repeat, does not taste like poop! Give it a try. It’s perfectly clean, safe, yummy and surprisingly strong.

Just when we thought things couldn’t get any better, we were whisked off to a Czech restaurant. After living in Prague for 20 years, I wasn’t overly excited about “knockoff” Czech beer. I could not have been more wrong. Our pint of pilsner beer and traditional fried cheese made us feel back at home and we made mental notes to visit the one in Hanoi once we were there. But you can read more about that later.

It was a hot day and the beer didn’t quite quench our thirst. So naturally, we moved on to a pub with dozens of draft beers and ciders. The selection was amazing and I would have stayed there all day if it weren’t for the words “coconuts by the river.” Another wind-through-the-hair ride later and we were relaxing by the river drinking fresh coconuts that cost less than a bottle of water in China. Perfection!

We couldn’t have been happier about our deliciously relaxed day, but Angela wanted to knock it out of the park (more like universe). Sushi. Our second-to-last stop was a food street where we ate ALL the sushi. It was the first time that I ever tried sea-grapes that look like seaweed caviar but are 100% vegan.

Finally, the sun was setting and were were full of all our favorite foods. We drove into a more traditional area, pulled up a few tiny plastic stools and ordered a bucket of beer. The price for eight bottles of beer in a bucket full of ice? Less than $10. The elderly man trying to say hello from a nearby table and toasting us? Priceless.

Okay I lied, we stopped at one last place on our way to our hostel. A cute pub with an old cutesy VW minibus as the bar and I had my favorite cocktail: a white Russian. We sipped and thought about our day. It wasn’t a typical sightseeing day but we saw what locals and expats do for fun. Plus we got many mini history lessons from the back of the motorcycle.

Thank you so much Angela, for our first and best day in Vietnam! Here’s the video version of this amazing day.

Lee Backpacker’s Hostel is Cheap & Perfectly Located, but Don’t Stay Here…

Hostels are great if you want to save money, meet fellow travelers and have friendly staff give you secret tips about a city. Ho Chi Minh is known for it’s crazy parties and Lee Hostel is in the heart of party central. It’s also by far the cheapest hostel in the city center. But those are the only good things I have to say about it.

Our main complaint was the attitude of the staff. Hostel World advertises the hostel as having lockers, which they do. What they don’t offer, not even for sale are locks. Most hostels let you store valuable items behind the counter. Sadly, the staff couldn’t care less where we stored our $450 drone. The conversation went like this…

Isaac: “Excuse me, could we please buy a lock?” we asked the young man behind the front desk/bar.
Staff: “No, we don’t sell them,” he replied in a careless tone.
Isaac: “Could you please look after our bag for us?”
Staff: “No.”
Isaac: “Do you know where could buy a lock then?”
Staff: *blank stare, no response*
Isaac: “Do you have any suggestions?”
Staff: *no response*
Me: “This is a $450 drone, can you at least point us in a direction where we might find a store that sells a lock?”
Staff: *no response*

Isaac ended up walking down the street and finding a lock, with no help from anyone at Lee Hostel. Although we were frustrated with them, we had never been rude. But when we said goodbye (in a friendly cheerful tone, I might add) at checkout the next day, a completely different staff member completely ignored us.

In addition to not proving lock for the lockers the rooms didn’t lock and the staff didn’t even check if people walking in and our were guests. But the lack of security and staff rudeness weren’t our only issues with the hostel. The beds, even in a slightly pricier four-bedroom dorm were hard as rocks.

Yes, I know all about hard beds in Asia. I’ve slept on many firm beds in China that weren’t exactly comfortable but also didn’t have me waking up in the middle of the night from back spasms… the Lee Hostel beds are probably the hardest beds I’ve ever experienced. I slept much better on the cold floor of Hanoi airport.

I’m not even going to mention the creaky wobbly bunk beds that shook when anyone in the room breathed, or opened the door or even just thought about rolling over. We stayed in a 12-person room in a hostel in Mui Ne and the bunk-beds there absolutely fine.

I guess I’d still recommend this hostel if all you want is a cheap place to (not) sleep for the night. Or if you’re planning on partying literally all night… because even your passed-out-from-being-drunk body would not appreciate the harder-than-concrete mattresses. How does waking up hungover AND covered in bruises sound?

Oh, and don’t get too excited about the free breakfast that they advertise. It’s just a gross bun that doesn’t even taste like bread. I made the mistake of offering it to a homeless dog. The hungry dog sniffed it, sneezed and looked at me with extreme offense.

If you know me at all, you’ll know that I’m constantly worried about upsetting people and never give bad reviews. If you find me on TripAdvisor you’ll see that I rate almost every place I visit with five stars. I’ve given five stars to hostels that didn’t provide free toilet paper and even a few that had giant cockroaches crawling over my free breakfast.

Summary: don’t stay at Lee Backpacker’s Hostel. There are so many better places to chose from, just read some reviews on TripAdvisor or Hostel World. The great thing about Vietnam is that you don’t need to book accommodation in advance and you can haggle for everything, even hostel prices!

How to (Affordably) Leave Ho Chi Minh Airport at 2 AM

After successfully saving $20 by haggling for our visas (don’t try this at home, kids) we were positive we could get a fair price for a taxi to our hostel. We were originally supposed to arrive early enough to get a 20,000 Dong ($1) shuttle, but then our plane got delayed… several times. Making us arrive four hours late!

Unfortunately, it’s a universal rule that airport taxi drivers are horribly selfish people who will happily pry hundreds of dollars from of your tear-stained jet-lagged fingers. I might be exaggerating… but it sure doesn’t feel that way when you’re sleep deprived and an angry smoke-breathing taxi driver yells obnoxious prices at you.  No, we yelled back, we will not pay 450,000 Dong ($20) per person when you know it should cost $7 total.

We didn’t want to give up just yet and found a driver who agreed to charge us a very fair 100,000 Dong ($5). He took us through a dark empty parking lot to a regular car with no taxi signs on it. After living in China for a year, being human trafficked and having our organs sold didn’t even cross our minds. Unmarked cars are known as reliable and cheap transport options in many Asian countries.

Just as we fastened our seat belts, the driver’s supervisor appeared out of nowhere and claimed that we need to pay 400,000 Dong just to leave the airport! Sighing, we took our bags out of the taxi and decided to walk out of the airport on foot. Luckily, we didn’t have to go far. We did have had to illegally cross a busy highway and then stumble over an overgrown muddy strip, but it was worth it.

It’s only about 500 meters total to the closest sidewalk where it’s easy to hail a regular cab that won’t overcharge you just for being near an airport. If we had known better, we would have waited for a smaller cab of a specific color but we were desperate to get to our destination. We payed 250,000 Dong ($11) for the 15 minute ride and our driver pretty much gave us a mini tour along the way.

Just to summarize, that 5 minute walked saved us 700,000 Dong ($30). Add the $20 we saved on the visa and that’s $50 extra that we could spend on the more important things life. Like all the spring rolls two people could possible eat in three weeks!

Haggling for a Visa at Ho Chi Minh Airport

Our plane was scheduled to land in Ho Chi Minh at 10:30 PM and we were planning on taking a low-cost shuttle to our hostel. Unfortunately, we were flying from China, so naturally, we got in at 2 AM.

We had filled out our visa papers in advance and we only had carry-on luggage, so all we had to do was pay $25 each for the visa fee. Although we expected to haggle with the drivers for the price of a taxi ride, we did not expect to do it with the border police…

Since the exchange rate for dollars is pretty horrible in Asia, we decided to pay the fee in CNY. The officers looked up something on the computer, nodded at each other and typed 500 into a large calculator. Our jaws dropped to the floor because 500 CNY is almost $75. Defeated, I was ready to hand over the cash when Isaac spoke up.

Isaac: “No, that’s too much, $50 is 330 RMB.”
Officer: “Go to the exchange office then.”
Isaac: “Come on, it’s 2 AM, I don’t want to go to the office.”
Officer: “Then pay 500.”
Isaac: “I’ll give you 400.”
Officer: *stink eye*
Isaac: “Here’s 400″ *hands him 400*
Officer: *accepts money and gives us our passports”
Me: “Run before he changes his mind!”

I don’t know how common this is and I definitely wouldn’t recommend trying it. We probably got lucky because it was 2 AM and the officers wanted to get to bed as much as we did. We did not arrive in Vietnam with the intention of underpaying for the visa and probably risked deportation for arguing with them.

We were also told in advance to bring the exact change in US dollars. The issue was that the exchange office in China also charge closer to 500 RMB instead of the fair 330. The reason the guards asked for so much in the first place is because they themselves will have trouble to get a fair exchange rate. Anyway,  haggling for our visa was a fascinating way to start our trip to Vietnam!