Travelling and Training: Vietnam
In the Spring of 2015 I went travelling and below are some tips for those wishing to maintain their gains (made on the Bulking Bible for me)keep their training up whilst abroad, as well as some hotel, eatery and activity recommendations. Please see part one of this Travelling and Training series regarding preparation for travelling South East Asia.
Golden Sun Villa Hotel (located in the Old Quarter):
We chose the cheapest room with a double bed, kitchenette and bathroom. It was safe, clean and ideal after the long plane trip and to acclimatise/recover! It had a massive clean bed, safe, air conditioning, desk, tea, coffee and some nibbles.
The breakfast was very good; omelette, fruit, yoghurt, cereals. The staff were all incredibly friendly and helpful too, no matter what time of day it was.
This was well equipped and very cheap with a hefty 50,000 VND (roughly £1.50) entry fee.
It was well equipped with a floor for weights, another for cardio and another for classes. Some pieces of equipment were a bit sketchy, but simply use some common sense when lifting in gyms that have questionable servicing! It had 2 squat racks and dumbbells up to 45kg, showers and changing facilities for both men and women.
I did a full upper body workout here, and you can see exercise 1 here and the full session in the subsequent posts.
The Green Mango restaurant was fantastic- ask to be seated in the garden as the plants and fairy lights are very cool, and you feel miles away from the noisy, crazy streets. The street food on offer is also great and very good value.
I ate at two places I wouldn’t recommend; the main Pho chain and ‘BBQ Chicken’. The Pho chain served something which resembled uncooked, poor quality chicken, and the latter was expensive and terrible.
We used Hanoi as a base to travel to Bai Tu Long for cruise with INDOCHINAJUNK. It’s a lot less busy than Halong Bay (as seen on Top Gear), but slightly pricier. We did the 3 days and 3 nights option, and it was more than worth the money, although be prepared for lots of seafood!
The museums and monuments are all worth walking around to go and see- just be prepared to wave away lots of people offering rides and services!
The Vin Com Megamall also had a lot to do, such as a waterpark, bowling, shopping and loads of restaurants. Obviously there is other things to do, but if you have to kill time this is an easy option.
We were told to use Hanoi Taxi Group cabs (blue and red colour scheme) which were on the whole very reliable and cheap. Be prepared for some shocking driving and wear a seatbelt!
From Hanoi we then got the (9 hour sleeper) train to Dong Hoi, and then a taxi to Phong Nha where we were staying briefly for the jungle/cave 2 day and 1 night trek. Set alarms on the train as the announcements are very dodgy, and also be ready to be stubborn with the train guards who will demand money for showing you 3 yards to your room and poking your bedsheets.
Destination: Phong Nha
We stayed at Phong Nha Farmstay which was great. It had live music, barbecues and a mix of local and western staff. The rooms were basic but ideal for a few days- the pool wasn’t too great, but it wasn’t the right conditions for swimming to be honest.
There were also two adorable dogs- Salt and Pepper– who were permanently running around and up for a wrestle.
There was a small selection of weights available for use, but I didn’t opt to use these. They were outside round the back of the hotel, so out of the other guests hair if you did fancy getting (more of a) sweat on.
I didn’t do any training over the 3-5 days we were here as we were either cycling, walking or on a pretty exhausting trek.
The servings at Phong Nha Farmstay were good and reasonably priced. Not as cheap as the cities, but there wasn’t anywhere else to eat!
We also ate at a place called ‘The Pub with Cold Beer’, which had a great view and the freshest chicken you’ll likely ever have…
The Tulan Jungle/Cave 2 day and 1 night trek was fantastic and a real experience I’ll never forget. The food provided was plentiful, and the team leaders and helpers were equally good. You sit around a fire drinking what can only be described as moonshine listening to the waterfall under the starriest sky you’re ever likely to set eyes on (I got an A* in English GCSE creative writing). You do sleep in a hammock in the middle of a pitch black jungle, but just ensure you get first dibs on the middle hammocks so the people on the outside get eaten by monsters first.
The cycle on free bicycles from the hotel to find ‘The Pub with Cold Beer’ was an activity in itself; carrying bikes across rivers, cycling miles, following a useless map and eating surrounded by dogs and cats. There was also an eco-friendly wild boar retreat that sounded worth visiting.
Paradise cave and the other large caves are most certainly worth visiting. They have lots of steps of course, but the rock formations are incredible.
We got both motorbike and van taxis recommended by the hotel. These were great, but hold on tight on the motorbike option! I had never been on the back of one of these and was convinced I was going to sleep off the 400 year old Honda many times.
Destination: Hoi An
Nova Villa was just outside the old town, so slightly cheaper and more modern compared to others but again exactly what you needed to relax and feel safe for a decent price.
We also got mugged whilst out and about in Hoi An, and the Nova Villa staff were massively helpful in helping us sort ourselves out and call the UK, and the head manager even came to the police station on her day off and shouted at the (oh so useless) police force who dragged out our statement needed for insurance purposes about 3 hours longer than it needed to.
Son Phong Gym was very cheap and owned by a former pro bodybuilder. Again it was little rickety, but ideal for a workout or two after one of the local super-strong red bulls, coffees or both. We went here twice, and I broke down my workouts into a push and a pull session. You can see the gym here.
It cost around £1.70 to get in, but I feel like the person hanging around the entry just made this up on the spot. It is closed between 10am – 2pm for some reason, but otherwise open 6am – 8pm. This was full of young guys doing sets of biceps in between posing in the mirror whilst wearing jeans and flip flops. They weren’t intimidating, and may copy your workout if you have any form of muscle mass.
You can see exercise 1 of our full body workout here.
For having an absolute feast post-gym look up a little place called Trip Nguyen. The food was great, and I got 3-4 meals at once for under £10. They also did pints of draft beer for 20p- if you fancied it!
Cargo and Cargo Bakery was also a good find with a great view. You may have to book in advance for the balcony so bare that in mind.
The local beaches were cool, just ensure you don’t leave anything in your basket when cycling there along the long road between Hoi An and the beaches as lots of pickpockets on motorcycles prey on tourists here- as we found out.
Getting suits and clothing made here is very easy with an array of very cheap to more high end shops. We opted for the Wall Street Tailors on a recommendation, and everything is still in great condition and yet to fall apart. We also got several pairs of shoes made locally.
The town in bustling at night, and great to stroll around.
You do not really need taxis as everything is within cycling distance- simply opt for good bicycles that have more than one gear if you are looking to cycle to the local beaches.
Destination: Nha Trang
Le Simeole and Hotel Michelia
We stayed at Le Simoele initially that had some character to it, but still dealing with the aftermath of trying to get our currency cards and phones sorted the wifi, noisy destination and lack of staff made us move after 1 night.
We took the slightly rash decision to opt for the 5 star Hotel Michelia. This was a bit misjudged due to the price, but ideal after having been robbed and then nearly kicked off the train arguing with the train attendant who was after an unduly large tip.
NT Fitness in Nha Trang was good, and much more like a western gym. It was also the first one not to have some insane form of music playing! The only downside was the pushy suggestion of Herbalife shakes at the desk. You can see it here.
There was also a gym at Hotel Michelia that was easy to make use of and very well kept. You can see exercise 1 of one of my workouts here.
Go to the Lanterns Restaurant in the middle of Nha Trang. The personal barbecue thing was my favourite, but slightly dangerous!
Bin Mihn was also decent for food and cocktails.
The beaches were very nice, but backed onto the road and were mostly private. This meant the non-private bits were usually in worse condition, and the private bits crammed you in with the solely Russian clientele (who will sunbathe all day no matter how red they go, will wear cowboy hats, will wear speedos and will do impromptu photoshoots) who in Nha Trang and Hotel Michelia seemed reasonably abrasive and intoxicated.
We got a boat to Hon Mieu Island which was very cool and secluded. The only downer was when an out of place party boat turned up with awful music playing and anchored offshore.
Destination: Ho Chi Minh City
We were not here for long as I am not a fan of cities as busy as London, so multiply that by 100 and turn the heat and humidity right up and you’ve got HCMC!
The hotel we stayed at was also not worth going to, and we didn’t go to the gym in HCMC. We mainly came to the city in order to fly to Phu Quoc.
The giant indoor market was pretty cool and had some good jewellery, knock off t-shirts and so on. However, it also smelled of fish and was incredibly cramped, busy and had aggressive selling techniques.
The War Remnants Museum is 100% worth going to see what the country has recovered from, and get another view of the war that happened here. It is very moving and gory, but something I would suggest doing certainly.
The Hungry Pig is a good shop for delicious sandwiches should you have some spare time and be in the area.
Destination: Phu Quoc
Hotels: Hong Bin Bungalows and Bamboo.
Hong Bin was a new development and very cheap. The location wasn’t the best, but the bedrooms, pool, restaurant and views, cocktails and music were all very good. The manager was also young and very happy to help out- even with a leg in a brace and scaling the many stairs with crutches in the heat a couple of times per day!
Bamboo was more expensive and very secluded. It had an amazing location and allowed you to embrace island life. The food was expensive and slightly hit and miss, and I would recommend ensuring you hire some form of vehicle if you are staying for more than a few days so you can go explore.
Bamboo was very expensive, but down the beach in the same location was Vung Bau that was slightly more budget but looked great fun.
Palm Tree restaurant was lovely. I would recommend eating here if you’re in the area.
The night market was also really cool, and had a ridiculous array of fresh foods to choose from for dinner!
The food at Hong Bin and Bamboo was good too should you wish to stay at the hotel for dinner!
Being a beach bum is the main activity here. We chose to cycle to the much publicised Sao Bao beach, which took an absolute age along the main highway- I would strongly recommend getting a scooter instead. The beach was also very dirty, and not like the photos.
Long Beach is the place to be for backpackers, and much better than people make out.
Vietnam was amazing on the whole, and I probably got about 5-8 workouts in over the month we spent there. These were full body or multiple muscle group workouts aiming for 40-70 reps on each body part lifting heavy (between 7-12 reps). I didn’t weigh myself regularly, but held size in my opinion.
I would definitely recommend Hoi An, Bai Tu Long, Phong Nha, HCMC and Phu Quoc to backpackers!
Physique before leaving the UK:
Physique 4-5 weeks travelling:
As you can see I maintained my size gained on the Bulking Bible fairly well, and if anything gained a little body fat over the 4-5 weeks travelling north to south down Vietnam. I was more concerned with maintaining size so took every opportunity to feast on the delicious and very good value food that was readily on offer, and we made our way through the protein bars and cookies we brought that were supposed to last a fair bit longer than they did!
Popping to the gym for an hour really isn’t a big deal so don’t feel embarrassed if an uber-traveller type has a sly dig. It isn’t your job to impress them and I couldn’t give a toss if a chap I’ll likely never see again thinks me going to the gym a few times means I haven’t ‘properly travelled, man’. Enjoy your time away and do what you want to do!