A Travellerspoint blog


Ha Long Bay

Dirty, hectic, rubbish - clean, relaxing, stunning... 2 very different days!

We had to choose between Sapa and Halong Bay as our final destination in Vietnam because of our China visa. We went to Halong Bay for two nights on a junk boat. You read endless reviews about Halong Bay being cheap, dirty and touristy and yes, in parts, it is. Our first day on the boat was disappointing. We were herded from one thing to another, reaching a very dirty beach that was packed with tourists. The day wasn't helped by me not feeling very well either. Fortunately we had a really good second day, opting to spend the day on a smaller boat that found some quiet spots for us to enjoy a swim, sunbathe or kayak at our leisure. We were surrounded by stunning limestone mountain scenery that Halong Bay is most famous for and got to appreciate why its considered a highlight of Vietnam. Jason said it was one of his favourite days so far; he was jumping off the boat into the sea, kayaking around to see the wildlife (which included eagles and langurs) and of course topping up his tan. I still wasn't feeling well but enjoyed scenic snoozing. We had a nice small group of people on our boat and enjoyed spending the evening with three Parisians; two of them in theatre production and the other an orchestral conductor. They were fascinating.

An Australian couple we met were left disappointed after their trip to Halong Bay because they chose to have an overnight stay on Cat Ba Island rather than the boat stay we did. I think it involved more busy tourist attractions and a timekeeping guide to race you through your day. There's definitely positive and negative experiences to be had at Halong Bay. You have got to be careful what you book.

We've loved Vietnam and will definitely be back, but for now it's another new county...China!

Posted by bloorsontour 08:55 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)


Semi organised chaos

large_DSC_0808_1.jpgDSC_0822_1.jpgDSC_0816_1.jpg1BE1EB1F2219AC6817F7F391FB0F8545.jpgDSC_0824_1.jpgDSC_0792_1.jpgDSC_0795_1.jpgDSC_0802_1.jpgDSC_0787_1.jpgDSC_0783_1.jpgHanoi is the capital of Vietnam. Again we'd heard mixed reports about it, but we liked our brief time tthere.

There's a very busy backpacker area with lots of souvenir shops, cheap bars and street food. We enjoyed a papaya and pork salad and also a beef BBQ grill with zesty dipping sauce. You can easily spend a day getting lost in this old quarter and sampling local foods. We also wandered around the rich French quarter with its posh shops and restaurants, visited the Vietnamese cultural museums and another prison museum too.

Locals flock around the lake in the evening. It was nice to just sit and watch it unfold; people practicing ballroom dancing, joggers, weird & wonderful gym routines (including balancing on your head right by the waters edge), kids roller blading and local students wanting to practice their English. We ended up with a group of students around us asking about England, the government, our travels, just so they could practice speaking English. ==Your heading here...==

Posted by bloorsontour 08:40 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi Comments (1)

Phong Nha caving

The Tu Lan cave system, spectacular!


Phong Nha was a trip based on a recommendation from another backpacker, Nickie, so we had high hopes. It didn't disappoint! We went on a two day caving trek in the Tu Lan cave system.

The first day consisted of a hard trek/climb/scramble over rocks and through jungle to reach our evenings camp site. I can honestly say, at times it was the hardest thing I've done (Sophie typing). It was mosquito infested and the humidity made the inclines really testing. The reward at the end was a campsite by a natural waterfall and pool, to which the whole group dived straight into. We also had our first taste of caving. Pitch black, head torches on, bats swooping down to mosquitos in your headlight and wow!!!!!! A scene like I have never seen before! You float and swim through cathedral sized caves that's formations are unworldly. Truly breathtaking.

We had an evening feast of BBQ pork, morning glory greens, tomato chilli tofu, fried rice, egg noodles, omelettes, loads! Of course, they also open the local rice wine too. Then to a night in a hammock in the rain with a plastic sheet over the top, where I became an evenings feast for mosquitos. I woke up with 7 bites on my face...not impressed!

Day 2 involved lots of cave swimming around the Tu Lan system. One of its rock formations made it to the front cover of the National Geographic magazine and photo of the year. Our photo doesn't quite look the same. We had a brilliant couple of days led by Oxalis trekking and would like to come back to do their Hang En trek to spend the night on a beach in the middle of a cave. Oxalis are also the only company to trek to the biggest cave in the world, Song Doong (?spelling), but there's an 18 month waiting list and $3000 price tag to do this.

There's plenty of tourist caves to visit in the area if you don't want to trek. Paradise cave is beautiful and even though there's a lot of local tourists there it can't distract from its impressiveness. We hired a motorbike for the afternoon and took in the scenery and stopped for an iced coffee or two.

Next stop....

Posted by bloorsontour 06:48 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Hoi An to Hue via Danang

A motorcycle adventure over the Hi Van pass


Motorbikes are the way to get around Vietnam. So far we've seen 3 pigs, a fridge and another motorbike being carried (not all on the same bike!) We decided to get involved and took a 2 day trip which includes the Hi Van pass, made famous by the bafoons from top gear.

On the first day we travelled to Danang via a few beaches and monkey mountain. The mountain used to be an American base and is on the peninsular of the bay and the city. We wound our way around the mountain on our bike, getting higher and higher up, just hoping that our bike would make it up the steep inclines. At the top the views were incredible! I hope the photos give youan idea.

We headed into Danang to experience riding in a major city, which was a lot easier than expected. Just forget everything you know about traffic rules, remember that priority is given purely on how big you are. The only problem was Sophie on the back, she continued to squeak at every passing bike!

We struggled to find somewhere to stay, it was fully booked with local Vietnamese on their holiday. During the day the beaches were empty but then at 5 o'clock it was jampacked with locals. Luckily we found a really cheap and clean room next door to a fab local street side restaurant. Beer was cheap and the seafood was amazing. We had jumbo prawns with chilli dip, BBQ fish with a chilli & lime dressing, rice crackers, salad and peanut clams. Delicious! Our table was the cleanest there; the Vietnamese etiquette seems to be to put all left over cans, shell, bones, food onto the floor around them. It was a tip by the time we left.

Day 2 was the highlight of our road trip. The Hi Van pass is a beautifully scenic stretch of road that winds its way around the coastal mountains between two cities. You pass plenty of other bikers all wanting to get a glimpse of the views; turquoise water, city scapes, beaches, mountains, it had the whole lot!

It was so hot! We got a little sunburnt from the last stretch of biking and Sophie's nose now resembles Rudolph! When we arrived in Hue we quickly found an air-con superstore to cool off a grab some food. Bliss!

There was more to Hue than we were expecting, but unfortunately we only had time for an afternoon there. We wandered around the old citadel that until recently housed Vietnamese royalty (but the war changed this) and took shelter from the sun in various temples and museums. There's a nice riverfront too lined with restaurants and bars. A nice afternoon was finished with a glass of local wine on the balcony of our room in the evening (a little rough in taste but nice nonetheless).

Posted by bloorsontour 06:39 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Hoi An, Vietnam

Lanterns galore


Hoi An is an historic trading port and is packed with history, you just have to look beyond the souvenir shops... there are a lot of tourists, but for good reason - its pretty stunning. We rented bikes and did some exploring. We cycled around the old city, popped into some museums, temples and historic homes. Then window shopped in the numerous tailor shops (there is absolutely no room for anymore clothes in our bags).

The weather was roasting, so we managed to get some beach time. Bang An beach was a perfect beach - the best we've found on our travels so far. A stretch of white sand and little beach cafes that were a welcome find to our cycle to the beach front.

At night time the old quarter is lit up with colourful lanterns on the river and around every building. It's very busy with tourists around by the river front but its easy enough to find a secluded spot for a nice meal. There are loads of posh restaurants to choose from, which of course are way outside our backpacker budget.

We found a restaurant out of town - Baby Mustard. They had a huge herb garden and amazing food! I went for a Thai style shrimp soup and slow cooked pork in a clay pot. Sophie sees food as a competition and thinks she "won" with the mackerel steamed in herbs and spices in a banana leaf.. They also offer a cookery class here but unfortunately we had to leave the next day so couldnt do it. We're already decided that we will come back to Vietnam and take things much slower next year,so we plan to be back at Baby Mustard then.

There's so much more to do in the area here that we didn't get chance to see; Cham Islands, My Son Temple, cycling tours to villages and markets. We will be back. But for now it was time for our road trip on a motorbike!

Posted by bloorsontour 06:34 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Dalat, Vietnam

Canyoning adventure!

DSC_0133_1.jpgDSC_0141_1.jpg270_DSC_0001.jpgDSC_0045_1.jpgDSC_0069_1.jpgDSC_0072_1.jpgDSC_0211_2.jpgDSC_0067_2.jpgDSC_0091_1.jpgDSC_0213_1.jpgDSC_0059_1.jpgDSC_0221_1.jpgDSC_0215_1.jpgDSC_0050_1.jpgDSC_0046_1.jpgDSC_0114_1.jpgDSC_0117_1.jpgDSC_0093_1.jpgDSC_0094_1.jpgDSC_0096_1.jpgDSC_0100_1.jpgDSC_0087_1.jpgDSC_0078_1.jpgDSC_0086_1.jpgDSC_0070_1.jpgDSC_0076_1.jpgDSC_0189.jpgDSC_0177_1.jpgDSC_0183_1.jpgDSC_0163_1.jpg4AC68BEF2219AC6817E5384498679C5F.jpgDSC_0160_1.jpgWe were arriving into Dalat in the evening and so decided to book somewhere to stay in advance. Camillia Hotel had rave reviews with comments about a communal atmosphere and a characterful owner, Mr Ting...

We arrived and were met by a Vietnamese, somewhat hippy version of Del Boy. Leather jacket, gift of the gab and a greeting of "welcome to our family"... We signed up for a Groovy Gecko canyoning trip, unsure of what to expect and then headed out to the night market for some food. We didn't make it past next door before our first food stop - pancakes with bean sprouts and prawns, a bowl full of herb salad and chilli sauce. Pretty delicious and 15p each. The night market was pretty standard, they really need to diversify their product range, though the minnion hats were pretty cool. We ordered a pork curry and a prawn and garlic curry, which both proved fairly disappointing and cost over 5 dollars - we both wish we'd stuck with the pancakes!

Canyoning, for those that don't know is a combination of walking, climbing, abseiling, jumping and swimming through gorges or canyons. We had a group of 21 people (a big audience for any embarrassing moments). The first activity was to abseil down an 18m cliff into the river below. It was pretty tame and the water wasn't half as cold as expected. After a bit of a walk, we were in an area away from the visitor centre and it was a lot more wild. We were told to lie with our head facing down stream, looking at the sky, as they shoved us into some rapids - very fun! Next was a bit more abseiling practice where we were told to stop jumping like ladyboys... We did some pretty bit jumps down, but the instructors then showed us how it was done, doing the full descent in a single jump.

Next up was abseiling down a waterfall, which entailed getting smashed in the face by water as you tried not to fall over as we were assured getting up would be extremely difficult! I was first up and upon getting to the going where the face became vertical, I was told to jump - the rope wasn't long enough to get to the bottom so that didn't leave much choice... Sophie had no trouble either, but a couple of people had a nightmare. One girl got stuck facing the wrong way and had to be lowered down and then dropped into the water head first - only pride was hurt though.

There were some relaxing moments as we floated down the river on our backs, paddled in waterfall pools and enjoyed a good lunch on the top of a waterfall. The guides were a good laugh too.

The penultimate obstacle was an 11m cliff jump which got the adrenaline flowing. There was a 7m option but Sophie wasn't going to be outdone so she was the first of the girls to do it - unfortunately no picture!

Finally we had a blind descent dropping into raging white water. For a second it seemed that you were being dragged under and then you were spat out looking pretty dazed!

A fantastic day ended with a home cooked meal of lemon grass chicken, soup, tofu, salad, greens and plenty more. It was a nice atmosphere around the table, helped by Mr Ting's "happy water" - 30% rice wine... We met 2 Israeli girls who have offered to be our guides when we are there in September - Tal and Ayelet, we'll hold you to it!

There was too much to do in Dalat. We decided to get an Easy Rider tour rather than getting lost ourselves so that we cram as much into the day. Bombing around on bikes was great fun and we saw all sorts of stuff. Pretty touristy, but that's what we are! My rider was an absolute joker and at our first stop scaled a mango tree to get us something to eat. We also sampled the rice wine - this was fresh from the still and 70% - it brought instant red cheeks! There were also lots of weezles as coffee chewed up and s%%t out is highly prized. For some reason, all the coffee is roasted with chocolate and tastes sweet - not my idea of good coffee... We saw a silk factory which was more interesting than it sounds and a pretty huge waterfall (elephant falls). during our lunch stop my rider brought some florescent yellow "tea" for us to try. It was nicer than the rice wine! After drinking it he took us to see what it was- liquid from a huge jar full of snakes. Apparently fermented juice of poisonous snakes is good for back ache and a man's "strength". "One person drinks, two people happy"...

After a bit more sightseeing, we set off for Hoi An the following afternoon. It is from that 15hour bus journey that I write this post...

Posted by bloorsontour 19:42 Archived in Vietnam Comments (3)

Mui Ne

No photographs; too busy watching The Wire

We headed to a beach resort area called Mui Ne for two nights because I'm still letting my feet recover from the trekking in Cambodia. It's a very long stretch of road with sea on one side and sand dunes on the other,interspersed with huge resorts built right up on the beach.

We stopped a little outside the main strip in a beautiful small family run hotel called Minh Anh Garden Hotel (definitely worth a recommendation). We had a huge room with two double beds in it, endless tea and coffee, tropical fresh fruit and noodles. On our last morning there the owner saw us packing our bags and asked if we wanted an omelette breakfast making... for FREE. Of course we said yes! Then as we were leaving she gave us a souvenir... You'll never guess what it was...a keyring for my collection :-) I was well chuffed.

Ordinarily there would have been plenty to fill our time there; i.e. sand boarding, the fairy stream walk, surfing, sunbathing; but unfortunately it was torrential rain all the time we were there. So instead we chilled at our hotel and caught up on some episodes of The Wire and planned our trip to Dalat (our next stop).

We did however have amazing seafood at Mr Crabs restaurant that consisted of BBQ squid and seafood curry. As well as a glass of red wine at a beautiful boutique hotel called Breeze that sits on top of a hill overlooking the sea (we forgot to take our camera out but the setting was stunning).

It was time to move on from the rainy beach and head to Dalat for some adventure.

Posted by bloorsontour 07:02 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Ho Chi Minh, Saigon, Vietnam

We've got a feeling we're going to love it here


We're in Ho Chi Minh,Vietnam. We arrived here by an overnight sleeper bus, which Jason did most of the moaning on. We didn't get much sleep at all.

J: "what is this, seriously what is it?" The lower 2\3 of the bus were for luggage and we were crammed against the roof of the bus on a semi reclined bed big enough for a SMALL midget.

Anyway, we love it here. I don't think its everyone's cups of tea, but we love the hustle and bustle of the city. It's crazy busy all of the time. We've been stopping in the main backpacker bit which has lots of restaurants, bars, night food stalls and the best fruit smoothie stall we've found. It gets even more hectic at night time when the streets turn into temporary bars and serve tasty treats. We enjoyed the chilli squid with a beer or two.

We got a bit drunk on the first night here...blame two Vietnamese pensioners (if they had a welfare state anyway) for this. We sat down at a cafe for a drink and for some reason the old man by Jason started to top up Jason's glass with beer...continuously. We learnt that "yo" means "cheers". They shared their food and beer with us and we reciprocated with more beer and food, refusing to let them drink us under the table. A few hours later and we had a table full of empty beer cans and they got up to leave. They had bought far more than us, but not content with this generosity, they paid our bill too before we knew what was going on. It was a lovely surprise and a 'welcome to Vietnam'. We think we're gonna like this country.

There's plenty to keep you busy in the day; the usual museums, palaces, shopping activities. We visited the Chinese quarter and walked around most of the pagodas in the area and wandered around the posher side of town to browse in the windows of Burberry, Chloe and D & G. We chose to go to the War Remnants Museum...another grim but 'must-do' experience. The museum has lots of historical information about the Vietnamese war as well as a war photography exhibition that is worth a look. The museum and its exhibitions are harrowing, showing the lives of the Vietnamese after the war and the affects of the Americans Agent Orange toxin.

You can stay in the city a bit longer and take tours to the areas near by, such as the Chu Chi tunnels and national park to see the gibbons. We are only here for three weeks so unfortunately had to leave these out but you can easily fill 4/5days here.

Posted by bloorsontour 06:22 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

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