Wednesday, 10 September 2014


Halong Bay Vietnam
Halong Bay

Vietnam was one of the countries that we spent the longest in, just behind Thailand. I suppose the main reason for this is that we had to arrange to get our visas ahead of time when we were back in the UK and visa was the most expensive from our travels around Asia.

During our time in Vietnam we travelled from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the South to Hanoi in the North stopping at a few towns along the way. Overall we spent a little under the 30 days our visa entitled us to in Vietnam. 

Starting in Saigon, we spent one day walking around to all the sights of the city including the War Museum, the Ho Chi Minh Palace, Notre Dam church, the Post Office and to some of the markets. While we were here we stayed at Diep Ahn Guesthouse, where the owner Anh, gave us a recommended route to walk to see all the sights which was really useful. One day we did a day trip to the Mekong Delta which included seeing some of the locals floating markets and seeing how some of their local snacks are made. I can't remember exactly what they were but one was a coconut candy and another was a sweet rice paper which were both delicious.

On our last day in Saigon we took a half day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels which were impressive to see. There is a 100m stretch of tunnel that has been widened for the average Westerners build with exits every 20m. I managed the first 20m before needing to get out, I actually freaked out just as we got in the tunnel but with tons of people behind me I couldn't get out. I always knew I wasn't keen on confined spaces but this time I was panicking and trying to get out as quickly as possible. Even when I think back about the experience I feel a little funny. After our half day trip to the Tunnels we had a few hours to grab dinner and to have a quick shower as we had booked ourselves onto a sleeper bus to our next destination - Nha Trang.

Nha Trang is a beachy resort, full of bars to visit. We weren't so much there for the bars, I wanted some beach time! In the evenings the beaches would have locals coming with their children for a swim as well which I thought was nice to see. We didn't stay long until we were on another sleeper bus to Hoi An.

Hoi An is a coastal town that everybody should visit when in Vietnam, it is a UNESCO Heritage town with some truly spectacular buildings. It is also beautiful by night, some buildings are lit up in different colours, there are little lanterns floating down the river and lanterns hanging in trees and overhead. Hoi An is well known for tailoring so we decided we wanted to have something tailor made as well - Danny had a suit and I had a playsuit made. It was quite a fun experience! Hoi An also has some lovely local food, there is an abundance of good restaurants and you can also get cooking classes.

After Hoi An we spent a couple of days in Hue - not a stop everyone will make but it has some significant sites from the war. There is a Citadel there that is now in ruins for a large part with beautiful gates riddled with bullet holes. You don't really need long in Hue, but there were some nice restaurants there as well. After a couple of days in Hue we booked ourselves onto a sleeper train to Hanoi. I was really excited about this as I had decided a long time before that I wanted to experience a sleeper train during our travels round Asia and the time was finally here!

I actually managed to get a decent amount of sleep while on the train, getting up once to go to the bathroom. We shared our cabin with an elderly Vietnamese couple who spoke no English. We tried to communicate a few times with them trying to ask where we were from, unfortunately they didn't understand. They were very nice though, and were letting us know when we were close to arriving in Hanoi so we could get our things together.

Once getting into Hanoi station we took a taxi to our hotel. We'd gotten in to Hanoi pretty early so we couldn't check in, but we were able to go to the small dining room at the back of the hotel to have some breakfast which was much needed. Once we were checked in, we were given a map of Hanoi with recommendations of where to go, things to see etc. We were only out for a couple of hours before we had to run back - the heavens opened and did not stop.

We got absolutely drenched. There were a couple of days where it absolutely hammered down with rain, which as it turns out was the back end of a cyclone. We tried to brave the weather one of the days with waterproofs etc, but we ended up seeking refuge in a café overlooking Hoam Kiem lake for a couple of hours before plucking up the courage to get back to the hotel again.

We had been planning a trip to Halong Bay which looked touch and go because of the weather, but fortunately we managed to time it just right and went for a two day one night trip. We booked the trip through our hotel and went for a mid-range offer. We were picked up early by a bus which was already pretty full and were driven to Halong City before being registered and boarding the boat. The first day it was still a little grey, but it was great to be there. We sailed out to the caves where there is a 'surprise'. After the caves, we had time to kayak around the bay which was great to get closer to some of the rock formations.

After kayaking, we took off to where we would be mooring for the night and having dinner. Before getting ready for dinner we all changed into our swimwear to have a little swim, and to watch the gorgeous sunset. That evening was really fun, we had a good dinner followed by playing Uno with the others on the trip and also trying our hands at fishing - none of us caught anything but we weren't using bait so it's not surprising really.

The next day we were taken through some of the little islands on our way back to shore. We were very lucky as the storm seemed to have well and truly cleared which resulted in blue skies and sun. I am so glad we got the opportunity to visit Halong Bay, it was truly beautiful.

Once we got to shore, we got back on a bus and were driven back to Hanoi. We spent a couple more days in Hanoi with some warmer weather, we visited the Water Puppet show which I would highly recommend to anyone who visits Hanoi, the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum which I found a little creepy - you go into a dimmed room and shuffle round Ho Chi Minh's embalmed body. In all honesty, we spent a little bit too long in Hanoi, we should have organised our days better so we could have fitted a trip out to Sapa as well - something we will definitely do when we go back.

After our time in Vietnam came to an end, we flew back to Bangkok to get ready to go down for some Thai Island hopping - the main beachy part of our travels! 

Kate x

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