A Travellerspoint blog

Goodbye Vietnam

We've explored big cities, small villages, high mountain communities, and incredible seaside resorts. We have travelled on horrendous buses, comfortable trains, and exhilarating bum-numbing motorcycles. We’ve slept in rooms like concrete bunkers, rooms with full cable TV and balconies, and a beautiful room floating amid Ha Long Bay. We’ve eaten some of the most disgusting and most delicious foods, and admired certain foods which we were too afraid to try :). We’ve ventured out of our comfort zones, mostly voluntarily but sometimes forced, and loved every minute of it. We’ve been ripped off bad, and struck incredible bargains. But most important we’ve created incredible memories that will last a lifetime and had a ball creating them.

Vietnam was an incredible country. There is so much history and culture and the people are more than happy to indulge curious tourists with tales of adventure and hardship.
We’ve spent a month here but instead of feeling like we’ve conquered a country it’s like we’ve just been given a small taste of a cake that is much bigger than we ever imagined.
If our experiences in this country are any indication of the things to come in the future countries we visit it’s going to be an amazing trip!
Thank you Vietnam, see you later.

Our next country is Laos, as we fly from Hanoi to Luang Prabang.

Total Spending for 4 weeks in Vietnam inclusive of everything = $1,644

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 00:26 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Ha Long Bay - Happy Belated Birthday Kirby!

sunny 27 °C
View Travels on KyleMac's travel map.

After a lazy day back in Hanoi it was off to Ha Long Bay for three days to celebrate Kirby’s (belated) birthday.

Ha Long Bay is absolutely amazing! Thousands of Islands (some not yet named) erupt from the turquoise ocean straight into the sky, creating an inspiring, looming, panorama that insists awe and admiration.

Our boat was called Calypso; it is a beautiful big junk with three levels.

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The first level was accommodation, our room was beautiful with dark stained wood furniture, a big ensuite (with a shower window that looks straight out into the stunning bay), and A/C. The best room we have stayed in all month haha.

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The second level contains the cocktail bar and restaurant.

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The third level is a sun deck with comfy deck-beds and a 360 degree view of the stunning bay.

The meals on board were excessive to say the least. Every night we would be treated with a 5 course culinary feast, some of the best food we have had all through Vietnam, and most definitely the best decorated – I had never seen a carrot turned into a flower before. We also did two fun cooking classes on board during the afternoon as the sun was setting.

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We were treated with a tour of Amazing Cave; a huge limestone cave that is responsible for many legends and tales and revered by the local people of the bay as a spiritual place. Some of the caves around the bay were used during the Vietnam War as Viet Cong hospitals, hidden deep within the Islands there was no way they would be discovered by the Americans.

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That afternoon we lounged up on the sun deck drinking delicious cocktails and watching the sun set deep into the turquoise waters, sometimes it’s hard to believe that you are actually experiencing this!

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The second day we left the main boat and took a smaller speed boat around to Lan Ha Bay just off Cat Ba Island. Here we swam, kayaked and admired the surrounding seascape. After a kayak tour we were left to do whatever we wanted. Some people decided to just sit at the bar and drink, while others tested their ‘backflipping’ abilities off the roof of the boat. Kirby and I decided to go exploring a bit more and headed off in our kayak in search of some adventure. We found a small uninhabited Island and explored the half-flooded cave for treasure, unfortunately after 10 meters it got too tight to continue and we never found any riches.

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The local people who inhabit Ha Long Bay live on floating houses and pontoons. They are sustained through fishing and aquaculture - clams in sand box farms. Most of the people (and their dogs) will never set foot on dry ground as they are born and die in their pontoon villages.

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During the night back on the Calypso we spent time fishing for squid, unfortunately there were only small ones around, but still fun :)!

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^^ Kirby squid fishing
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The next day we hung out on Titop Island – after a gruelling climb straight up to the top you can enjoy 360 degree views of the Bay.

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^^ View from Titop Island

After three relaxing days in Ha Long Bay we headed back to the mainland (after a quick stop at a pearl farm).
Our time in Ha Long Bay was amazing and Kirby enjoyed her birthday present. I would definitely recommend Calypso for anyone interested in visiting this incredible bay.
http://www.calypsohalongcruise.com

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 23:12 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam halong calypso ha_long_bay lan_ha_bay calypso_cruiser amazing_cave Comments (1)

Sapa - A Mountain Paradise!

sunny 25 °C

Sapa is a truly enchanting town. It is nestled 2000m above sea level on the steep slopes of north-western Vietnam. The town overlooks an impressive, deep valley filled with cascading bright green rice terraces. We found a beautiful room for $18 that overlooked the valley, although our room was only on the second floor we got a shock when we went out on our balcony and looked down at a 50m drop, apparently the hotel is hanging over the edge of a small cliff.

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^^ Sapa
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^^ The view from our room
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Our first day here we just relaxed and wandered around the quaint markets and sampled some of the local plum wine – delicious but potent, closer to plum ethanol than plum wine!

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^^ Fooling around at the market
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^^ This rooster had it's leg cocked ready to battle me
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^^ Piggy on his way from the market

Our second day in Sapa we set our sights to exploring the nearby mountains and hired a motorbike for $5 a day. After fuelling up we hit the mountain road west of town and found ourselves winding through the steep valleys and gorges, I had to focus on not crashing as the view was so breathtaking. The mist was rolling around the mountain and it made for an amazing ride as we cruised through the clouds on the quiet mountain pass.

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Eventually we started getting a bit chilly riding through the hills, so on the way back we stopped at Thac Bac (Silver Falls). The guard at the waterfall gave us the option of paying full price for a ticket or half price for no ticket, we decided to go along with the bribe and save a couple of dollars. It only took 15 minutes of walking through pristine mountain forest before we reached the stunning waterfall. After admiring the falls we headed off back to town for lunch.

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That afternoon we took the bike and rode south of town along the high ridge above the valleys edge to Ban Ho, a little farming town. The scenery along the way was unlike any other we have seen; children riding buffalo and playing in the fields, women dressed in colourful tribal clothes walking along the road to their villages with their babies strapped to their backs, small waterfalls between rice paddies as they cascade and feed each other with clean mountain water. So much beauty and not enough words to describe them!

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^^ Waiting for the local wildlife to pass
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^^ Beautiful rice paddies
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We had so much fun on our second day with the motorbike that we decided to hire it again and venture even further out of town with a day trip to Ta Phin village, where the Red Dzao people call home. The Red Dzao people originate from China but have been calling Vietnam home for hundreds of years. Before we left we purchased some candy and along the way to the village we handed it out to the children strolling along the road and also those that were helping their parents in the fields. As soon as we arrived in the village we were greeted by five women who were excited to show us around their village. So here we were, in the hills of Vietnam with five local tribal women dressed in their full tribal outfit guiding us around their home, a real treat! They took us to a cave just outside their village where we scrambled around inside as they took us deeper into the mountain and explained that they can use this cave to travel through the mountain, although it takes 3 nights and 4 days to get through to the other side! After 15 minutes we decided to turn back as it was getting fairly hairy, this was not a tourist cave with stairs or rails so we decided to avoid broken legs.

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^^ Red Dzao house
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^^ Exploring the cave

One of the ladies was telling us that her village was actually 3 hours walk from Ta Phin so in order to get her children to school each day they leave at 4am each morning to trek into Ta Phin, it makes you respect your easy education even more.
While we were wandering around the village and surrounding rice paddies I noticed that we weren’t seeing the usual buffalo that most people have around their farm land. When I asked her where all the buffalo were she informed me that there was a terrible winter two years ago and unfortunately all of the buffalo died, so until they save up enough money for new buffalo it is back to the back-breaking labour of hand ploughing the fields.

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After our visit of the village was complete we decided to purchase some hand-made items that the ladies were selling. They were very thankful for us supporting them and also gave us some small gifts for free which was really nice. We gave them the rest of our candy for their children that were currently in school and headed back into town.

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Our last day in Sapa we just cruised around the town on the bike admiring the stunning landscape and peoples that make Sapa such an amazing place. This is definitely one of our favourite places in Vietnam!

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 05:18 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam sapa red_dzao Comments (1)

Hanoi

sunny 33 °C

We arrived in Hanoi this morning around 5am and were greeted with the usual thousand taxi drivers swarming around the bus to take us into the city centre (about 15 minutes drive). We knew the drive should only cost around $3 and we told the taxi driver who was gunning for us that we weren’t stupid and we knew how much it should cost to which he replied with a nod and a smile, so we hopped in.
Twenty metres later the illegal taxi meter was already at $2 so we hopped out onto the busy streets to find a more reputable source of transport. It wasn’t long before we found a more legit taxi to take us the entire way for $3.
The morning was made worse as I was suffering diarrhoea for the first time this trip, although I thought I would get it much sooner than day 22 which is a good thing I guess :).

We were only spending the day in Hanoi before taking the overnight train to Sapa, so we decided to check out the Ho Chi Minh museum.

The museum was not what either of us expected. It was more a trippy, artist’s version of the national heroes life. It is hard to describe, there were bits of factual information describing important key events in Ho Chi Minh’s life which were accompanied by various forms of art, whether it be a painting or sculpture or whatever. It was pretty cool. The best bit was walking around the room that contained all of the messages and presents that various governments had sent Vietnam after they won the war against the West, some interesting countries sent gifts!
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^^ Fruit platter in the Ho Chi Minh Museum
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^^ Metaphors were everywhere
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^^ Kirby with Ho Chi Minh
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^^ Beast in the museum

We also tried to visit the mausoleum to view Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body, but unfortunately it was closed, although still well guarded!

Instead we headed off to Jade Island in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake. The Ngoc Son Temple on the island is small but still beautiful and it holds the remains of an ancient 200kg, 6 feet long giant soft-shell turtle that was once thought to be extinct, although a month before we arrived they had been rediscovered in the lake! (Didn't take photos of it for some unknown reason...doh!)

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^^ Burning incense at the temple
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^^ Lady selling face masks

Before we knew it time was up and we had to head to the train station to catch our locomotive high up into the mountains of North West Vietnam to visit the tribal peoples who call Sapa home.

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 01:43 Archived in Vietnam Tagged taxi museum illegal hanoi turtle ho_chi_minh ripoff rip_off ngoc_son_temple jade_island Comments (0)

Hue

sunny 40 °C

You won’t believe what happened!!
We were all set to catch the overnight sleeper bus from Hoi An to Hue. We were both snuggled up in our little bunks with the laptop between us ready to watch a movie before we tried to get some shut eye, and then we heard something. Kirby and I both looked at each other; we weren’t sure what we had heard. I could see from the stillness of Kirby that she was holding her breath to get a better listen, she wasn’t alone. I too had been frozen into non-respiration at what I thought I had heard…and then we heard it again. There was no mistaking it this time, a thick female German accent ushering the ‘babies’ onto the bus, and with that all thoughts of sleep vanished.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about read this blog entry. To make things worse they were sitting directly behind us. At one point during the movie one of the ‘babies’ ripped the ear phones from my ears, as if I couldn’t hear it’s tantrums loud enough.
Anyway I promised myself I wouldn’t dwell on another hellish overnight bus ride as it’s in the past and I’m sure we won’t see them again, lightning can’t strike 3 times…right?

So we made it to Hue and found a nice cheap hotel, although it turns out that the Sun had also arrived in Hue and brought along its friend Mr. 40 degrees. Thankfully we had air conditioning in the room and so did various bars and restaurants around town.

Hue was the national capital of Vietnam until 1945 after which the Imperial Emperor Bao Dai abdicated to a communist government that declared Hanoi the new capital. The city is home to a massive citadel that occupies a large area on the northern side of the Perfume River. The Citadel is surrounded by a wall 2 kilometres by 2 kilometres, which is then also surrounded by a moat. Inside the Citadel was the Forbidden City where the imperial family called home. Although….you know what’s coming right?.... In 1968 America bombed the shit out of it as a response to the communist takeover of the city. Consequently most of the Citadel’s inner buildings were flattened and what remains today is rubble and grass, however the Vietnamese government has plans to rebuild the Citadel to its former glory.

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^^ Citadel entrance
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^^ Temple inside the Citadel
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^^ Hungry goldfish in the moat
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^^ I was helping the lion do whatever it was doing
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^^ Remains of the Forbidden City
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^^ Horses now call the Forbidden City home

It has been stinking hot in Hue over the last couple of days so we are escaping on the sleeper bus to Hanoi.

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 01:30 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam hue imperial citadel Comments (0)

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