A Travellerspoint blog

Hanoi and the beautiful Ha Long Bay

Mystical Ha Long Islands and Motorbike Madness in Hanoi

overcast 15 °C

We flew into Hanoi from Hoi An with no problems at all! Worth the £60!
Hanoi appeared to be the cultural capital of Vietnam! Despite the city now being very built up, it still has old french colonial buildings and the old quarter definitely has a definite charm. A great place to explore on foot, so we started with a stroll around the lake...
Temple in the middle of the lake..

Old Quarter, with its busy streets and markets

Statues and Memorials

Next stop the Hoa Lo Prison... Yes Terry loves his History and Prison Tours!!! This prison was used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. Also known as the "Hanoi Hilton", the prison was demolished during the 1990s, though the gatehouse remains as a museum.....

After a long day of exploring the city (old and new) we relaxed with a coffee in a cafe, taking in the buzz and culture of the city... and watching the chaotic traffic as vans, cars, bikes and pedestrians fought it out on this roundabout!!

Ha Long Bay
Usually we manage to pick out good hostels but this particular one was horrible. The staff (Tony) pretended to be your friends whilst ripping you off on a Ha Long Bay tour. Needless to say we didn't book our tour with them, but with the lovely Anna, in Anna's Booking Office.

Ha Long Bay Island Boat Trip
3 days 2 nights for $85 per person including all meals and accommodation.

Our Lovely tour guide 'Dinh' picked us up from the travel agent at 8am before a 4 hour bus journey to the port.

Once at the boat we took a short speed boat ride to our 'Fantasea boat'. Our boat was lovely, nice dining area, good bedrooms and even a sun bathing deck (shame there was no sun)....

We took a slow ride through the bay whilst a huge and delicious lunch was served before we stopped at our first point: the cave..

The cave inside was massive... and in true Vietnamese style every shape in the rock was named after something...
Guess what this one was....??

The view from the caves was amazing..

Back on the boat, we studied some of the magnificent scenery.... thousands of beautiful limestone islands.. until we got to a look out point... After climbing the hundreds of steps - the view was well worth it... (just a shame the sky was so grey - not quite the postcard perfect picture but with a more mystical feel)..

Close to dark about 4.45pm we got on yet another speedboat which took us to the kayaking station. ..

We kayaked under the islands and around the bays until it was dark..

After a first brilliant day, we showered and had a few drinks, and waited for dinner.
Dinner was something else.... plates and plates of food just kept coming... and the presentation was amazing!

After dinner we drank some more and played a few silly games until bedtime came! We each slept in our private rooms, listening to the sound of the waves of Ha Long Bay..

Next morning, after another magnificent breakfast spread we were taken to the largest of the limestone Islands - Cat Ba Island.
Here we went for a hike up a mountain for a view of the lush green national park.

Dinh, our funny guide!!

After working up an appetite, yes more food! We were taken to our Hotel on Cat Ba Island, checked in and gathered for lunch.

After lunch, we took another boat trip to Monkey Island...

And To the floating Fish Market.

Then we had some free time to explore the island. What better way to do it than to hire a motorbike....
Terry decided to rest up... so Els (from the Neverlands) drove our bike and Ali and Ali (Canadian girls) on the other bike.

We drove up the mountains into the national park where we came to the Hospital Cave..
Vietnamese Soilders were treated in the hospital built inside a cave to hide from the enemy. It was a bit creepy inside...

After the cave, we drove around the coastline to see the beaches..

and returned our bikes just after dark.

That night after dinner we hit 'Rose Bar' for a few drinks.

After breakfast we departed on our boat where we sailed a different route to see more of Ha Long Bay, as well as cook some spring rolls!

Becs in charge of spring rolls....

A great tour, Ha Long Bay lives up to its status as one of the 7th wonders of the world. Just a shame the weather wasn't better for some swimming and sunbathing!

Well Hanoi was our last stop in Veitnam. we wanted to go to Sapa for some trekking but our visa was short on days. So next stop, next country - Vientiane in Laos!

Goodbye Vietnam!!!

Posted by becs and terry 01:12 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hoi An

Waist high in water!!

rain 25 °C

So we had been in Nha Trang longer than planned to avoid the storm from the Philippines. That had hit Vietnam 2 days ago and we thought we were safe to head north.... What we weren't told is that 60% of our next destination was under water.....!

As we waited for our bus in Nha Trang, a brief but heavy down pour fills the streets with ankle deep water in a matter of 15minutes...

Nevertheless our bus still left at 7pm as scheduled. All appeared fine! The bus was meant to take 12 hours - a sleeper bus so one would assume when you wake up at 6am the next day in the daylight you have almost reached your destination..... WRONG. Instead we had been parked up on the side of a road since 3am and there was no sign of moving......

The drivers spoke as much English and we spoke Vietnamese and didn't try to communicate what was happening..... all we could do was wait! There were rumours between different buses as to what was happening.... the most likely being that we were stuck between two flooded rivers - and the buses wouldn't try to go through the water until it lowered to below waist height - it was now chest height! The rumour also was now that Hoi An was 60% flooded and many Hostels closed due to this.

After 12 hours at the side of the road... suddenly at 6pm we started to move... very slowly through the flooded roads and villages..

travelling in the dark through a meter of water..

We finally arrived in Hoi An at 1.30am ( 31hours in all). Instead of the usual pestering by taxi and hotel staff as soon as you step off the bus.... it was ghost town. 3 bus loads of tourists were left to wander the streets all looking for accommodation for the night in a town where everything appeared closed! After being refused by 2 hostels we finally found a hotel with a spare room.... we finally got into bed around 3am.... phew!

Next morning we moved to a cheaper hotel and decided to explore as much of Hoi An as we could get to.
We hired bikes to sight see the places than weren't under water!

Flooding blocking off major roads and closing shops...

The Vietnamese dot miss a money making opportunity - Charging Tourists for boat rides...!

Japanese covered bridge

Washed up debris on the beach..

The riverside

Terry found a new girlfriend...

Because of the floods tours and trips had been one the whole cancelled... so we looked around and decided to part take in a cooking course. The cooking lesson was $30 but you got taken to the local markets to purchase the ingredients first, then got on a rowing boat through the water coconut trees to an island where we learnt how to cook 4 different typical Vietnamese dishes before eating them!

First a trip to the local markets.... where our 16yr old guide talked us through what we were buying and how to tell if the produce was fresh and good quality... from here we brought all the meat, prawns, vegetables and herbs..

Then we got on a rowing boat and were rowed by an old lady to the Island... rowing through the water coconut trees..

The Island.

Terry helping to prepare the Rice Milk..

W were each giving a cooking station...

Each dish was demonstrated to us by our guide 'Mo'. And then it was our turn!!!!

Fresh spring rolls (fresh salad, prawns and pork wrapped in rice paper). With a tangy peanut sauce.
Becs turned out not too bad..

Terry's didn't last long!

Vietnamese sizzlingly crepes ( rice milk, meat, shrimp , bean sprouts served with salad..
Becs looking the part...

Terry's excellent pancake (before being devoured in 3 bites)!!

Beef Vermicelli salad with a delicious sauce


And last of all the famous Pho (beef noodle soup)

With extremely full tummies we headed back to our hotel. The cooking class was a great way to learn about Vietnamese culture, and it was really suprising how simple and easy some of the sauces were to make. Might need some practice before we cook for friends at home though!!

With the water levels still a threat to the roads, we decided not to chance getting caught in the floods again and booked a flight to Hanoi - our next stop!

Posted by becs and terry 23:07 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Nha Trang

Lots of fun to be had at Beach, Mud Spa and Vinpearl Waterpark...

semi-overcast 28 °C

So after being delayed a day due to the weather we did indeed manage to get on the bus to Nha Trang the next day. Must have been fate as it was on this bus we met some new friends who in the coming week we were to have some good times with...
Nha Trang is known for it beach and party atmosphere.... but really there are only a handful of bars and lots more restaurants geared for Russian families on holiday here.
We arrived late afternoon so after checking into hotel we found a nice little local restaurant for dinner..

And met our new Irish friends for a few drinks...
Sean, Cieran, Brian and Terry...

Becs Sarah (Brian's girlfriend) Sarah (Brian's sister) and Cathy (not Irish but Jamaican)

Living up to their reputation the Irish are crazy!!

Becs cutting some shapes on the dance floor...

So we spent a few days on Nha Trang relaxing on the beach and chilling out.... The beach tended to be lovely in morning until about 2pm when it clouded over and got a bit windy.
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Nha Trang also has Vinpearl Land. Vinpearl land is built on a island about 3000meters from the manland of Nha Trang. Not only is it a 5 star resort with a beauitful beach, it also has a waterpark, an amusement park and an aquarium.

You can get to the Island by ferry, but the best option is the cable car crossing from the mainland. At 3,320 meters its a Guinness record!

For $25 you can spend the whole day at the park, using all the facilities for free. What a great day out we had....

Cable Car....
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View of waterpark...

Great view of the mainland

view from VinPearl

We took the Alpine Coaster for a better view...

And then headed to the water park.

After spending hours at the water park, we were exhausted from climbing stairs and speeding down flumes. The park was actually really good. It had a great variety of flumes and slides, with and without rubber tubes, a wave pool and lazy river.

After a spot of not so great fast food, we headed to the aquarium.... which was only small but surprisingly good!

There were some really weird, some pretty and extremely large fish, as well as sharks, turtles, eels and, things that we had never seen before........

outside the aquarium - dolphin training...

As the evening set in, we went to the theme park for a few rides including the dodgems, swings, roller coasters, some horrible up-side-down ride and of course a rodeo....

The cable car lights up at night - looking like lots of little Eiffel Towers. Really pretty.

Needless to say with so much packed into one day we had dinner and a quiet night!!

Although the weather here in Nha Trang had been good, we were well aware of the possibility of storms and bad weather coming from the Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan, the biggest storm recorded, hit the Philippines, completely wiping out towns, killing thousands and destroying everything in its path... and it was heading towards northern Vietnam. As our route was to head north we decided to wait in Nha Trang a little longer than planned to wait and see if it was safe to continue our planned route.

So as it happened we were still in Nha Trang to celebrate Sarah's 27th birthday.
The 8 of us decided to have a relaxing day at a mud spa - Thap Ba Mud baths (http://www.thapbahotspring.com.vn/hotspring/)
Not really sure how to describe this weird experience...
First of all we sat in a bath full of mud... Yummy!!

Then you lie in the sun until it dries before washing it off under some jets - you feel a bit like a car in a car wash!
Next you have a warm mineral bath.. before relaxing in different temperature mineral pools... and a few small waterfalls..

After a day of bathing in mud Sarah's birthday night out was Fancy Dress. The theme - street vendors - mimicking the hundreds of Vietnamese people selling just about anything on the streets and beaches !

We made sure with the hotel staff that this would not be offensive to the Vietnamese people and were reassured that 'anything goes in Vietnam... it will be funny'. It sure was!
Happy Birthday Sarah..
In our baskets... cigarettes, massage leaflets, water, beer, plastic toys and toiletries!

The girls..

The boys...

The street vendors...

We headed to the bars, where everyone... locals and tourists alike loved our theme!!

Posted by becs and terry 00:07 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Da Lat

Canyoning in the amazing waterfalls of Dalat

Đà Lạt is located 1,500 m above sea level in the southern parts of the Central Highlands region. Becs had been drinking Da Lat wine since we got to Veitnam so we guessed there were vinyards as well as coffee plantations and some fantastic countryside. What we hadn't counted on was the heavy downpour of rain. .....

Apparently one of the best ways to see Dalat is by Easyriders- not sure what put us off the motorbike tours but probably a combination of the heavy rain and also having already spent a few days touring on the back of a bike - we were kind of 'over it'...

Instead we did a little on foot, a little on tandem bike and a little canyoning!
The first afternoon the weather was lovely so we walked around the city to the Crazy House, Royal Palace and central Markets.

The Crazy House
Hằng Nga guesthouse (known as the Crazy House) has been designed and constructed by Vietnamese woman architect.

I guess the house reminded me or a cross between Alice in Wonderland, a giant twisting tree and a theme park! The building is unusually shaped and is based on nature and the environment.
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There are cave shaped stairways, unevenly shaped windows and rooms and branch-like structures that "grow" along its walls and rise above the roof into the sky -which you can walk up - giving fantastic views of the city.

There are spiders webs, and themed rooms such as the eagle and bear room.
Apparently its a guesthouse - but in the rooms we saw no evidence of people staying here and lots of building work still being carried out as the tourists come in the view the house.

The architect produces paintings, and hires non-professional local craftsmen to transform these into structural elements.

We also took a tandem around the lake and to the City of Flowers...

Feeling in need of some adventure we found a tour agency and booked in for canyoning the next day!

Our 2 Groovy Gekko Tour guides pick us up from our Hotel at 9am - along with another girl Nina from Argentina. The bad news - it was raining heavily, the good news there were only 3 in our group so not too much waiting around and wet suit jackets to keep us warm!

In 15 mins we arrived at the mountains and hiked another 15mins to the first waterfall. Before our first abseil we practiced down a a small hill. The guides were brilliant. Very good English and explained everything really well.

Abseil 1 - (18 meters - dry rock)

A confident Terry went first ....

Followed by a slightly more cautious Becs...
The thought of the cold water was more scary than the abseiling!

Next up Free Jumping

Abseil 2 (15 meters - dry rock)


And then water sliding - basically sliding over the rocks down small waterfalls!
2 lots - the second a bit steeper and a bit more bumpy..




We stopped for a 20min lunch break before our first wet abseil down the middle of the waterfall (25 meters)



What Becs didn't realise was you had to jump the last 4 meters!

Free jumping (a bit higher)

Last Abseil (number 4) - the washing machine. Only 13 meters high but you practically lower yourself into the centre of the waterfall, jump in and hope your life jacket pulls you up the other side - it did really feel like getting sucked around like a washing machine!

Could see anything from the top...

Like a true gent Terry tested it out first..

And then Becs

20 min hike to the top of the mountain and we were done! After nearly 6 hours, we were cold, tired and wet through, climbing, jumping, floating down the river and abseiling down waterfalls. What a brilliant day, even with the rain!

We paid more with Groovy Gekkos than some of the other backpacker tours, but our guides seemed much better than some of the others - as other groups kept coming over to us and trying to listen to our instructions! And no other group had wet suits! At $32 - worth every penny!

We had booked a bus out of Da Lat for the following day - but the storms and rain continued overnight and our bus next day was cancelled... we were stuck in a city up in the mountains until the roads were fixed! The is a storm brewing in the Philippines - possibility effecting central Vietnam but that's a bit more north. So we are sitting here as we write this - hoping we are on the bus tomorrow!

Posted by becs and terry 06:35 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Mui Ne

Sun, Sea and Sand dunes

sunny 28 °C

So after the chaos of Saigon it was nice to be heading the Mui Ne for some rest and relaxation on the beach!

We managed to find another bargain room when we got off the bus. $10 US a night for double room ensuite, TV, hot water and AC.
We spent the first afternoon walking up the beach, and found a nice local restaurant on the sea front for sunset beers and dinner later that evening...

Next day we were up quite early, spending the morning at the beach.... Becs floating in her rubber ring..

That afternoon we took a tour to the sand dunes..
First stop the 'Stream' to see some sand formations..

Wallking Barfoot upstream..

Different sand colours and formations...

Sinking sand..

Next stop the view of the fishing village..

Driving in our 4x4 we thought our driver might take us onto the sand dunes...

but when we arrived we could only go by foot - or hire a quad bike...

The sand dunes went on for miles...

Last stop was the red sand dunes for sunset...

and what an amazing sunset..

Mui Ne is a nice little seaside resort, mainly geared around tourists. It just as one main street that runs parallel to the beach where all the accommodation, restaurants and tour agencies. The beach is 11km long and one of the better Vietnamese beaches we have come across so far.
enough of the sun, sea and sand - next stop up to the mountains!!

Posted by becs and terry 22:30 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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