Vietnam has so much to offer. There were so many highlights of our trip and too many tales to tell so I have picked my most favourite activities to type about.
Our first stop in Vietnam was Hanoi, the nations capital and second largest city. We stayed right in the centre of the Old Town in amongst the hustle and bustle of scooters and street vendors. We were so close to many restaurants and bars and after a day of travelling we made our way for our first Vietnamese Pho and Saigon beer. Excellent start! For us this was the perfect location. We asked for a quiet room and were given one at the back of the hotel which was protected from the noises of the street out front.
Whilst in Hanoi we took a ten minute walk to Hoan Kiem Lake which is right in the centre and a pleasant stroll. We also made a stop at the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi, Tran Quoc Pagoda. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (which was ranked sixth most ugly building in the world by CNN) was another spot to stop off at as we took in the sites of the city.
One place that I found most interesting, though, in Vietnam was Hoa Lo Prison. Vietnam has a crazy history which is noted in this prison. It was a pretty brutal and depressing existence for inmates. The prison was used by the French colonists to hold political prisoners and later for holding American POWs.
Walking around Hanoi you can instantly see the influence the French left behind. The building and streets as well as the excellent bread on offer! I had no idea the bread would be so amazing! I couldn’t stop eating it! 🙂
We spent three nights in Hanoi before making our way to the natural beauty spots of Ha Long Bay. We embarked on the messiest journey ever! We took three buses and a boat but eventually we made it to Cat Ba. This was to be our base for two nights whilst we planned our next steps and book our trip to see the thousands of lime stone islands that make up this natural of Ha Long Bay.
The day boat trip we booked was excellent. Although the weather was cold and a bit cloudy it made the views seem quite an eerie. We visited floating villages as we sailed around the islands and listened about the villagers way of life. I loved seeing how many house holds have guard dogs! We also stopped off for a spot of kayaking which was really fun.The lunch that was provided was wonderful, packed with fresh seafood which was delicious!
After our few days relaxing the next stop on our agenda was Ninh Binh and the small town of Tam Coc for more natural beauty. There were no taxis available to take us from Ninh Binh to Tam Coc so we had to climb on the back of two scooters with our giant rucksacks and belongings to whiz through the streets and in to the countryside. I was a bit scared but survived the ordeal with out injury ha ha! Our hotel was amazing and the staff so friendly. The breakfast was massive, fully loaded with fresh fruit and as much coffee as we wanted! We loved the free bikes, it made such a difference to our stay in this small town.
On our first full day we hired bikes and cycled a couple of km’s up the road to visit Bich Dong temple. We cycled past mountains and paddy fields, water buffalo and street shacks. Such a lovely bike ride. Eventually we made it to our destination. Bich Dong Temple has many layers moving up the mountain. Each level has a new pagoda or shrine to discover. We almost missed a cave that took us around the back of one of the buildings. It led us up more steps through a cave to an opening high in the hills. Once there we climbed some rocky mountain formations which was tiring but once at the top the views were gorgeous. We loved it. After taking in the views and spotting mountain goats we made our way back down to where there was a little lake at the bottom which we walked around. We met a random guy who couldn’t speak a word of English yet he proceeded to unlock a gate and take us (plus two other tourists) in a cave and talk at length in Vietnamese about the rock formations. It was quite funny looking back but at the time a little bizarre!
The following day we cycled what felt like a million miles (but was probably only 3 or 4) to Trang An for a boat tour. We arrived at the ticket booth, parked our bikes and headed over to the chaos with many other Asian tourists to buy our tickets that allowed us access to our little boat. Andy made friends in our boat with a Chinese guy called Kai and the three of us decided because of the bad weather we would do just two hours of the trip. But crazy hat lady sitting behind us wanted three hours. When we left our hotel we thought that the day looked cloudy but OK. As the day proceeded the rain got heavier and heavier! So because of crazy hat lady we gradually got soaked as we rowed through caves and navigated around a land locked version of Ha Long Bay. It was very impressive as some of the caves were so low and tight, I’m surprised the lady steering was able to get us through. We also stopped off at numerous old temples along the way. Each on was very different and very beautiful.
At the end of our trip we climbed on our bikes and cycled as best and as fast as we could in the rain (for what felt like forever) to get back to our hotel for a much deserved hot shower and beer!
After three days in Tam Coc it was time for us to experience our first sleeper bus!