I want to travel up the country from HCM to Hanoi on the inner western road (the Ho Chi Minh Trail, essentially), popping in to the coast along the way. Has anyone traveled up this road? Any advice?
Mmmm ... Tricky. This wasn't even possible when we first visited Vietnam and by all accounts it's still pretty tough. From what I can find it seems about the only way to do it would be by motorbike tour, even if you dobthis independently:
http://asiancorrespondent.com/visitedplanet/through-the-highlands-on-ho-s-trail-vietnam-blog-spot-13 or http://www.motorbikevietnam.com/hochiminhtrailride.htm
I certainly don't know of any travelers who have had either the time or the will to try this by public transport. Let me know if you do! about 10 years ago
I did this trip just over 2 months ago. One word for it - AWESOME! I did it on a motorbike but if you wanted a truely 'local' experience then public transport (not what you'd call it though) is one option. For me, the motorbike was the only way to go - as long as you have prior riding experience. Vietnam is not the place to learn:)
Yok Don (near the Cambodian border) is a fantastic national park, and from there you can follow the border road north (Road 14 from memory). There are so many villages to stop in at along the way. Nothing touristy - just pure local flavour!
If you're game, there are a few places you can cross into Laos as you head north. Just be really nice to the Border Guards and they'll let you pop in for a few USD$. about 10 years ago