This is the real Vietnam. Forget about the beaten track from Phu Quoc to Hoi An and Ha Long, forget about 12 hour bus rides and forget about spending half of your trip reading Lonely Planet planning tomorrow. To see the real Vietnam, the Vietnamese way, there is one thing to do: Hit the road.
I usually only concentrate on writing restaurant and hotel reviews, but this is an exception.
My partner and I have never before experienced such super-close up impressions of a country. Our Easy Riders Leo and Jack took us on a 20 days ride from Mui Ne in the south to Sa Pa in the far north ending up in the beautiful, busy Ha Noi. On our way we hit the Ho Chi Minh trail, and learned so much about food, culture, agriculture, traditions, different ways of living, politics, history and a lot more. We were taken to local restaurants, we met people who never in their life had seen foreigners, and we saw breathtaking nature of many kinds.
We had stops in Da Lat, Pleiku, Hoi An, Khe Sanh, Ninh Binh, Son La, Sa Pa and many other nice places. We did three different homestays, stayed in ok guest houses (most with wifi) and some lodges on the road. We met so many nice people on our way, and got as close to Vietnam countryside as possible as a tourist.
A long trip like this might be expensive if you're on a budget with your backpack in SE Asia, but it's still worth it. We would never had the chance to see these places, eat this food or meet these people without Leo and Jack. We were not traveling too low cost and had both time and money for 20 days, but you will see a lot in a week as well.
If you consider a long trip (most people do two or three days in the Da Lat or Hue area), we recommend you to do some homestays. The one near Da Lat is not the best, but the one in Sa Pa is really authentic and special. A homestay gives you a good impression of the real way of life. For a long trip, we also recommend to do two nights some of the places you stay. It gives you a bit time to breathe. We also recommend to agree on everything in advance, such as what you should pay and not, where to go when, how the itinerary is planned etc. ATMs were available most of the places, with a handful of exceptions. Remember that traveling in the south is cheaper and that this area offers the best cheap eats, but apart from being more expensive, the nature in the north is a must see in Vietnam.
It's also a good idea to ask your guide/driver about everything, like traditions, food and what to expect. The easyrider is there for you, and is helpful in getting you to know what Vietnam is all about. You might also tell the guide/driver what you like, what's your interests etc, as this can contribute to make the tour perfect for you.
If you want to stop for photos, shout out, and if you are wondering about plants or strange trees, ask. We did a lot of stops in farms, fields and production facilities.
We don't know about other guides/drivers, but Leo and Jack; Thank you very, very much. Our Vietnam experience hadn't been the same without you and your 20 days of guiding. One day, we will be back, and I hope your bikes are ready for us again.
PS: This review is written several weeks after the tour, not on anyone's request.Contrails Cooperoslo, norway