Vietnam was right at the top of our list of places to visit (mainly due to that great Top Gear special, we all know the one), and so we decided to give ourselves more time here so we didn’t feel we’d missed too much out. It’s such an amazing place with such a variety of things to do though, that three weeks was not enough, and we definitely want to come back again.
We flew into Hanoi, and spent one night there before catching an overnight train to Sapa (it felt like luxury after the overnight buses of Thailand), which we absolutely loved. It was totally unlike every place we’d been so far; we felt rain for the first time in about 6 weeks, had to layer up against the cold, and could barely see because of the fog. That, coupled with the copious amount of mulled wine we consumed, made it finally feel like it was actually Christmas time! The best thing (aside from the mulled wine) was the trekking tour we did through the rice paddies and ‘minority villages’ surrounding the area. The scenery was amazing. Although the hassle at the end was REAL when the local women who had been guiding us were insistent that we had to buy something from them, we were happy to hand over some of our dong given the fact they’d prevented multiple falling into mud/down hill disasters #foreverclumsy.
After Sapa we returned to Hanoi for the Christmas celebrations, where we managed to find a turkey dinner (!!) and enjoyed far too much free beer on Christmas Eve. Maaaybe wasn’t the best idea though, as our hostel’s bar crawl caused the first casualty of the trip, Amie’s phone (RIP). Shout out to Central Backpackers who were so helpful in coming to the Police station with three very hungover gals to file a report on Christmas day, and were super patient when we decided to change our Ha Long Bay plans. They made a pretty stressful day a lot easier!
We spent Boxing Day checking out a few of Hanoi’s sights, then headed on the Ha Long Hideaway tour (but stayed on Monkey Island) organised by the hostel, for 2 nights and 3 days. Again it was such a contrast, with it’s ridiculously blue water and floating islands, and it might not have been overly hot, but it was just what we needed after the craziness of Hanoi. We jumped off the boat into the sea, kayaked, visited some floating fishing villages where the fish were as big as small sharks (srsly), played too many drinking games, hiked to the top of Cat Ba Island for some inSANE views, fed mischievous monkeys, met some lovely people and rock climbed Monkey Island. Here’s a nice lil photo montage:
After a fantastic three days around Ha Long Bay/Cat Ba Island/Monkey Island we all headed back to Central Backpackers, and then the 3 of us immediately caught our first Vietnamese sleeper bus to Phong Nha. These have gotta be the strangest buses we’ve ever been on. The seats recline back so that you’re almost horizontal (which is so much better than an ordinary coach), but the colourful lights and loud techno music give them a bit of a night club sorta vibe. Here’s Anna rocking the totally legit Chanel blanket we were given:
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is a Unesco World Heritage site, with huge cave systems, mountains and underground rivers. Phong Nha is a really small town (it doesn’t even have a supermarket), but everyone was really friendly, and it was a great place to spend NYE at the Easy Tiger hostel. The highlight was 100% the tour we did to the Dark and Paradise caves, on the back of some Easy Rider’s scooters. After donning some lovely life jackets, harnesses and helmets over our swimming costumes (we’ve really never looked better) we entered the cave through Vietnam’s longest zip line, and floated about in a cavern filled with thick, gloopy mud. So weird, the mud is so thick that you can’t sink, any fast movement would just flip you over so you were bobbing on the surface. Not sure if we’ve ever laughed so hard! We were then able to jump on another zip-line over the river to clean all the mud off, and Amie & I attempted the obstacle course above the water. We both failed, miserably, whilst Anna peed herself from laughter. The Paradise Cave was completely different but equally amazing and absolutely huuuuuge. Pictures can’t really do it justice!
So much to write about and that’s just about half our time in Vietnam done. The next blog post will be up soon….definitely.
A & K