Our next stop was Vietnam… well, with a stop in Bangkok to get our Vietnamese visas. We decided to stay at the Vie again, partly because it was central to everywhere we needed to go and we deserved to be spoiled after Nepal! We were also able to spend an evening with Ben since he lived close enough to come into the area.
We arrived in Hanoi on a Friday evening. We had heard so many bad things about taxis in Vietnam that we had decided to pre-book a ride from the airport to our guesthouse. After clearing immigration we went to the ATM, which was challenging, got our sims and headed out. The ride was waiting and we had a long, but nice ride to the hotel. We got our rooms and went out into the chaos that is Hanoi!
It was amazing and we loved it. There was a big night market and the whole area around Hoan Kiem lake was closed to traffic so people could walk around it. There was an electronic dance party hosted by the German Embassy, areas for kids to play and drive little electric cars, stalls selling items, people putting on displays and anything else you could think of! It was also packed but so much fun. We wandered around then headed back up beer street where people were trying to get us to come into bars. It was packed with little tables, stools and a crush of people.
We spent a couple of days enjoying walking the area of Old Town, drinking coffees, cheap beer and eating amazing food while determining what we wanted to do next.
Cat Ba Island
We booked a trip to Cat Ba Island, leaving the following day. A small bus picked us up, then took us to where we transferred to a larger bus. The trip was a few hours and we stopped at one of the big highway stations for a rest break. When we got to Hai Phong we had to transfer to a ferry, it was a little chaotic but we made it to Cat Ba. Where we got on another bus and headed to the accommodation. We stayed at Le Pont Hotel where we had a great room for $9, including breakfast. Arranged a day trip to the Lan Ha Bay area with Cat Ba Green Trail Travel. They picked us the next morning, then we headed to the boat. Our guide, Tahn, was awesome. He joked around, kept everything and everyone organized along with providing some great history of the area. Part of our trip was a kayaking tour through one area, which in my usual style I handled like a champ. Really, I didn’t, Paul even said I would try the patience of Jesus (and he’s not religious!) to which I responded that maybe he had never kayaked either! It ended up being really fun and we headed back to the boat for lunch. It was a huge seafood spread and was delish!
People had the opportunity to jump off the upper deck of the boat into the water, which Paul did several times, even encouraging a girl from England who wasn’t comfy with heights to jump with him. Her husband had gone before she was ready, turns out it was a good thing because he got stung by a jelly fish… luckily no one else was badly stung. After that it was a switch to a small boat to get to monkey island where we were warned not to pet the monkeys… so the guy who had been annoying most of our group immediately tried to pet a monkey and was bitten. Little bit of karma. Paul climbed up Monkey Rocks, I choose to wait at the bottom… a good choice because it got sketchy quickly.
We found a good restaurant that night, had a nice chat with the owner who had been to Vancouver. The following day we rented a scooter and drove around the island, going to Hospital Caves and a few other places. We were going to go to the National Park but it was very expensive. We headed back to Hanoi the following day.
Ha Giang Loop
We spent a week in Hanoi, finding more excellent food and coffee while planning a trip to the Ha Giang area of Northern Vietnam. We couldn’t decide if we wanted to go on a trek in Sapa or do the Ha Giang motorcycle Loop. We had a rough start when the bus that was supposed to get us to Ha Giang ended up breaking down so never came to get us. Lily Travel, who we booked with, arranged a separate pick up and got us onto another bus. It was a local sleeper but we had good seats and it was comfortable. We arrived in Ha Giang and arranged our rental at QT Motorbike and Tours. We left early the next morning and immediately got stuck in traffic… the amount of trucks, scooters, large cars and transport trucks here was almost unbelievable. We had an amazing 3 days out on the scooter! The scenery went from rainy, fog enshrouded mountains to sunlit valleys, villages and towns back to farms. There were some incredible stops… we “informaly” crossed the border into China, went to some monuments, did some off-roading because the map took us the wrong way and eventually made it back. A lot more happened over these few days including a festival at a school, a minor accident (that could easily have been serious), being lent a hair dryer to dry off because it had rained so much and loads of good food but those are other stories. Ha Giang was a highlight of our time in Vietnam.
These few photos don’t do this justice, so check out the album. We headed back to Hanoi to plan our next part of the trip. We found Dream Beans Coffee which was amazing. Tuan and his wife, Huyen started their own coffee shop and made delicious coffees… we went so often that Tuan and Duh, his friend/employee took us out one night for beers! It was a lot of fun. We were lucky enough to meet up with Flo, who we met in Nepal, and his girlfriend, before we all went in opposite directions.
Our next adventure was a caving trip to Hang En cave in Phong Nha province, the 3rd largest cave in the world. From Hanoi station We took an overnight train and car to Phong Nha. The town itself was nice, lots of good food and nice places to stay. After arrival, we popped into the Oxalis office (who run the official cave tours) to register and find out what we needed to do. Our trip to the cave the next day was a day of trekking, crossing rivers and a lunch stop in a small village, where I promptly wiped out and had a muddy arse for the rest of the day. Then to the cave, where we had to raft over to where all the tents were set up. We had a great supper and with rice wine then slept in the cave. The next morning after a great breakfast, we headed on the tour through the cave before hiking out. The hike out was intense… across rivers, up hill through the jungle, leeches, heat and everything in between. When we got to the top, they made everyone strip down and do a leech check before we were allowed on the bus. I had a massive one on my leg and Paul had one on his foot, and all the guides were laughing and pointing, surprised we didn’t freak out. It was a great experience and another highlight… Vietnam has been amazing so far!
The next day we rented a scooter from our guesthouse, Phong Nha Homestay, and headed into the mountains to explore. We did have an engine problem so had to go exchange the scooter and head back out. We went to Duck Stop and Paradise Cave which were awesome. I’m not sure if we’ve ever laughed as hard as we did at the Duck Stop. See the album videos for details. Highly recommend you checkout both. Unfortunately our day was cut short due to the scooter issue but it was a good ride. We really enjoyed our stay at Phong Nha Homestay. A very friendly family run place and they helped us get a daytime sleeper bus to our next stop, Hue.
Hue and Hoi An
We decided to spend a few days in Hue, getting some history. It was also the best place to get a scooter to go over the Hai Van Pass which is between Hue and Da Nang/Hoi An. We decided to spoil ourselves so stayed at the Nam Gold Hotel. It was central, close to the Imperial Palace, food and where we were getting the bike from. We decided to walk to the palace, which may have been a mistake since it was incredibly hot so we were exhausted when we got there! We had a great experience at a Hanh Pancake restaurant where we sampled some local dishes. Then off to Hai Van Pass on the scooter we rented from Style Motorbikes.
Hai Van Pass Photo Album
Hoi An Photo Album
We got our scooter and headed off to Hoi An via Da Nang over Hai Van Pass. The weather was nice when we started but by the time we got to the pass it was raining and cloudy. The drive was okay, but the pass itself was crowded with tourist buses and large groups. We took a few photos and headed off. We had to drive through Da Nang, over the Dragon Bridge… Paul handled everything like he’d been driving scooters for years. It was raining at this point which added extra difficulty but we made it to Hoi An. We only had a few days here before flying out to Dalat. Wasn’t a huge fan of Hoi An, it was okay but rained most of the time and other than shopping and wandering the old quarter there wasn’t much to do. We rode bikes, which is always a bad idea for me. Not sure how many times I almost crashed. We met a really great couple at Halo Homestay, Laura and Jim from Nova Scotia. We spent a couple of nights hanging out with them before everyone headed out.
We had to get back to Da Nang to get a flight but it was raining so much lots of the streets were flooded. Luckily our place arranged a SUV taxi for us, so we were able to make it through. At one point the driver stopped and was really concerned about going through a huge puddle. We made and got to Dalat… which was awesome! We did have a bad taxi experience where the driver tried to rip us off, but our guest house rescued us. WE stayed at the family run Hotel Lalani which was central to everything and a short walk to the awesome Lien Hoa Bakery with it’s fantastic banh mi sandwiches and other tasty snacks. We walked over to the night market had rice pizzas, bbq yams, chestnuts, soups all sitting at little random tables set up along the street. We found another great coffee shop called Manki and we tried several others, even going on a coffee tour of a roastery, La Viet Coffee. Did you Vietnam is the second biggest producer of coffee beans in the world after Brazil?
One night we were invited into a local shop to watch Vietnam play in the footie finals. It was so much fun, they put stickers on our cheeks, gave us a vuvuzela to blow and beer. They even offered to share their meal and wouldn’t let us pay anything. It was a wonderful experience. The next day Paul made me go on a roller-coaster… I shouldn’t have been such a chicken, it wasn’t that bad but you’d of thought I was on a death defying event based on my reactions!
We had met an English couple when we flew into Dalat, and were on the same plane with them to HCMC. We had stayed in an airbnb that was horrible. I was ready to walk away but the location was perfect. We went to the War Museum, some breweries and saw the roof of the American embassy where people were rescued from. We went out with John and Liz, the English couple who are both actors in the London Theatre scene. Vietnam was in the soccer final of the ASEAN Cup so we were out on the streets with thousands of others. It was pretty incredible. Streets were closed off, scooters were 20 across with everyone waving flags, blowing horns and vuvuzelas and any other noise maker. We went down to the beer street and had a few beers which was crazy. The next day we all flew to Phu Quoc.
We had a nice Airbnb here, was a bit off the beaten track so you needed a scooter to get around. We went to beach and hung out for most of our days. We did drive up to the other end of the island where we had to buy lunch to get access to the fancy beach, it was on a private resort. It worked out because they let us spend the afternoon. We ended up having to get a tire repair done, had a flat but everyone was very helpful.
We ate at the Iris Cafe every night, they had the best Creme Broulee I’ve ever had. The first night the lady insisted on bringing two spoons even though I had said I wasn’t having any. So glad she did. We rented sun chairs at Joe’s Beach Bar and went for drink there where we met Liz and Josh from the US. Had a fun night with them. The area is mostly Russian, even had Russian signs and everything! I had the best massage ever on the beach for $11 and I thank the Russians for that! It was one of those really put hard pressure on your muscle type ones… with the added bonus that you get ice cold aloe put on your facial area.
Booked our ferry and trip to Ha Tien then a ride over the border to Cambodia!