Where To? Vietnam
How long? 3 Weeks
Thoughts: So much beauty in the world!
It was sad to say good-bye to Hoi An with all of it’s magic, but there was so much more of Vietnam to see and my 1 1/2 months wasn’t going to stretch forever. I set off with my new-found travel Buddy, Wallace, who, in true Brazilian style, was “fashionably” late. And by “fashionably” I mean he was still trying to put his shoes on whilst half walking, half running to the minivan that would take us to our sleeping bus.
Brizz, our newly recruited “tri” to our “trio”, was going via the Marble Mountains to then meet us in Hue.
So first impressions of Hue, it was okayy. After all we’d seen and done, hue was just a city. That’s not to say it did not have it’s own charms and character. Sadly we didn’t discover some of this until the last day. Still, I recommend a visit but make it a short one – there’s so much more adventure awaiting in the upcoming cities.
So, What’s in Hue
Hue does have a lot of history and culture, whether it’s Night Markets by the river selling street food or Museums and Tombs. But there are a few things you must see and I have made a list below.
I highly recommend a visit to the following:
Thien Mu Pagoda
Ho Chi Minh’s Home
Phong Nha – Kẻ Bàng
The three of us decided to take a day trip to Phong Nha from Hue, but upon arriving in the jaw-dropping beauty of Phong Nha, we seriously regretted leaving our bags behind. I highly recommend that you stop here for at least one night.
The first thing you notice arriving in Phong Nha is the luscious green mountains that are abundant in the area. The colours are so vivid, that they look like you have upped the saturation on your eye settings to the max. The water was a dreamy green-blue hue that shimmered when the sun hit it. Running my hands through the water as my tour boat cut through the water, it felt cool and inviting.
It was all I could do to stop myself from diving straight into its beckoning waves, but I was there for another reason… The Phong Nha Cave!
The national park is a protected area for all of it’s natural beauty and one of the things it’s known for is its large network of caves. Home to the largest cave in the world (Hang Son Doong), you have a number of options to consider if you wish to visit. Tours are offered in the different caves available to the public and the one I visited was so large that only a small section of it is available to public exploration. I was told by my guide that you can hire kayaks to go exploring and camp overnight on the sand banks inside (definitely a must next time).
To enter the cave, we took the motor boat along the Chay river and upon entering the cave, the motor is turned off and they navigate through the cave by paddling. The tour guide gave historical insight into the caves and the people who used to inhabit them, as well as technical knowledge on its formations, the stalactites and stalagmites, and the sand banks on the inside of the cave which are rare and unusual.
Then we were dropped on one of the sand banks to make our way through and see, up close, the amazing formations.
It’s easy to see why we kicked ourselves for not spending more time there, especially when our return bus journey wasn’t as smooth as we’d hoped…
There was not a single hand free as we clutched the seats on the journey back to Hue. The driver clearly thought he was on a dirt road racetrack as he took us over pot holes, ruts and bumps at about 80 MPH, beeping at anyone who got in his way.
The whole bus was holding on for dear life as each bump sent our bums a good 3 inches off our seats. Of course, there were no seat belts. And if there were, they wouldn’t work.
Needless to say, two hours from our destination, there was a loud bang followed by the floppy sound of a deflated tyre. I don’t know why we still acted surprised as if we didn’t see that coming. But we were tourists, and I guess we assumed that this guy knew what he was doing driving a tour bus like a formula 1 race car.
The driver stopped, looked at the tyre for 30 seconds and then decided to shrug his shoulders and carry on driving. Because, who carries a spare tyre in a tour bus? And a wheel is a wheel, tyre or not… right?!?!
It was probably another half an hour of the sound of flop… flop… flop… before the driver finally found somewhere that could replace the tyre and by that time we were ready for a break!
Let’s just say, we got the real Vietnamese experience!
Brizz and I braved the night bus, not having been put off from the Phong Nha bus experience, whilst Wallace opted for the luxury of a night train to arrive in our next destination. Hanoi was a large city with so much going on, street vendors filled every gap in the walkway, infant animals played around at your feet and of course traffic made up 90% of the noise and air pollution.
What’s in Hanoi?
The charms of Hanoi included awesome markets (including one night market selling the cheapest clothes in all of my travels), great eating spots, free beer at most hostels and for the history nerd; museums (and there is yet another Ho Chi Minh museum here). It’s worth also mentioning that some eat Dog here, so expect to see some things you may not want to see.
As I found with Hue and Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi is yet another big city and within itself there are a few places of significant interest (you may count the Old City Gate and Water Puppet Show in this). I only stopped by a couple of famous spots; the Ho Chi Minh Museum & Masoleum (which I admit, I couldn’t bring myself to venture inside of – but there were markets outside which I certainly enjoyed), the Opera House and the One Pillar Pagoda.
Hanoi is the point in the north of Vietnam that connects you to all of the main places of interest; Phong Nha, Ninh Binh, Sapa & of course, Ha Long Bay.
Hạ Long Bay
One of the 7 natural wonders of the world, Ha Long Bay stretches as far as the eye can see with absolutely stunning scenery. The waters are a luminous green-blue colour whilst thousands limestone islands stand dotted about the bay. These islands have been sinking over thousands of years due to the high calcium content that means it easily erodes and they are also home to rainforests and wildlife making it hard to differentiate from paradise.
Our boat tour was around 6 hours as we weaved through these awe-inspiring islands, drinking beers and dancing to Brizz’s favourite song, Despacito (no sarcasm there…). Everywhere we looked brought the same response; wooooowww! It didn’t matter that the clouds were looming over us, hiding the sun, in fact it added a mystery to these islands (and meant we weren’t dying of heatstroke as we hung out above deck).
Following the tour, we stopped in a beautiful area to Kayak through mini caves full of bats and around hidden enclosures surrounded by these islands. I would like to say Kayaking was a team effort, but it would be a lie. I put my feet up and relaxed as my Kayak partner did all the hard work… but what else are men for? (Thank you Rajin!)
We also dived off the boat to swim in the refreshing waters, I may or may not have screamed like a little child on the first jump…
As part of the tour, we spent the night on a private Island where we ate drank and partied, (okay I slept… after being attacked by a murderous GIANT insect that I did not recognise and recruiting a male to fight it off – thank you Mark).
A Word of Warning to my Girls
Things kicked off the next morning when I was informed that one of the boys tried to get into bed with my friend & I. Thank God she was awake to deter him, but this is where I say girls, be careful! He did approach her that morning to apologise saying he was drunk and just got the wrong bed but girls, be so aware – even on an organised tour! And if you can, make sure you have someone you trust with you in shared dorms.
But don’t worry mum, I’m safe and nothing happened!
Climb Every Mountain
So, after all the drama, it transpired that an organised hike up the Island’s mountain was taking place for those who wanted to join in. If I’m honest, I really couldn’t be bothered, but I did it anyway and I’m glad I did!
At the top of every mountain is a view that takes your breath away, and in this case, it was a birds eye view of Ha Long Bay. The view point was difficult to get to as you had to avoid a big hole in the rocks where you most certainly would find tropical creatures if you fell in. And for some reason, there was a dog there who no one seemed to know whose it was. But it was worth it!
After a seriously rocky boat taxi (I was already planning for survival if the boat capsized) and an over-packed bus journey, we made our return journey. I can certainly say that Ha Long Bay definitely deserves it’s spot as one of the 7 natural wonders of the world!
Sadly, after these adventures, the Travel Trio finally had to part ways saying goodbye in Hanoi. Wallace was off to meet a friend in Bangkok before travelling in Japan, and Brizz was off to the Philippines.
As for me, I was going to Sapa!