HALONG BAY 119 120

It was an early start for us and a very rushed breakfast before our Halong Bay tour arrived and hurried us on to the bus. After a long drive down to the coast and then a boat, bus, boat journey, we finally arrived on Nam Cat Island.

It was like a little slice of tropical paradise as the boat pulled up to the rickety jetty. The island is tiny, with just one place to stay. And the resort is made up of lots of little wooden bungalows with a bar / restaurant in the middle. It’s a bit dated to say the least, with a pool table that’s probably the worst I’ve ever seen (lumpy balls and wooden cushions) but the setting is just too beautiful for it to matter. We spent the day relaxing on the beach, swimming and kayaking. Me and max saw two big jellyfish, which put us off swimming for the rest of the afternoon! We got to see the most amazing moonrise over the Bay, and then had a big buffet for dinner.

We had an early start the next day and set off straight after breakfast for a boat trip around Lan Ha and Halong Bay. It’s one of the most spectacular places we have seen on our trip, with hundreds of rocky ravines and lush green islands. It’s a shame that the water is so polluted with petrol from the many boats that pass through, and rubbish from the locals and small floating, fishing villages.

After our trip through the bay, we docked next to a big cruise ship and boarded it along with all of our luggage. We sunbathed on the top deck and enjoyed the view before heading down to the restaurant and taking part in a cooking class. We got to make our own fresh spring rolls, stuffed with noodles and salad and then had lunch on board. We sailed back to the port and after a long wait in the boiling hot bus station, hopped on our coach back to Hanoi.

Once we’d arrived back in the city and checked in to our hotel, we headed out to explore. We had dinner at the Hanoi Social Club and planned how we would spend our final few days in the city.

Our little island getaway on Nam Cat

Moonrise over Halong Bay

Halong Bay

Kayaking around Nam Cat

TAM COC 117 118

After a bumpy nights sleep on the overnight bus, we rocked up in Tam Coc at 4.30am. We walked through the town in darkness before finally finding the hotel and collapsing onto the sofa. Of course we couldn’t check in this early, but it did mean that we were able to watch the sunrise! Our hotel is right on the river, so we were able to watch the most peaceful start to the day, with boats floating by and locals washing in the water.

Luckily at around 7am some staff arrived to work, and we were able to check in straight away, and get breakfast! After we’d eaten we were in dire need of a nap, so we escaped the heat and chilled out in the room until lunch. Owen and I went for some food at Chookies beer garden and then for a wander around the town. In the afternoon we had planned to hike to Hang Mua, but minutes before we set off by bike, the heavens opened. They stayed open well into the night, accompanied by lighting and the loudest thunder I have ever heard. You could feel it through the floor and it shook the whole room and rattled the windows! We ate dinner at the hotel as it was impossible to venture out, and watched a movie with a few beers.

By the morning the rain had finally stopped so we made our way to the town to take a boat trip down the river. The way the locals row the boats here is incredible – using their feet and riding it like a bicycle! They literally go all Day long without a break, and must have the strongest leg muscles. The journey down the river was so beautiful, you’re surrounded by lush green mountains and deep, dark caves. There’s also mountain goats all over the place and even bats and birds in the caves.

Once we’d sailed back into town in the afternoon we headed back to the hotel to pack up our stuff. We ate lunch at Chookies again and then boarded our bus to Hanoi. We arrived in the evening and the three of us checked straight in to our teeny hotel room. For dinner we ate at the Green Farm restaurant and ended up being coaxed into leaving trip advisor reviews for a free matcha green tea creme brûlée (which wasn’t worth it btw).

sunrise in tamcoc

Ladies rowing with their feet and selling snacks

River journey

PHONG NA 115 116

After an early 6am start, we got on our bus to Phong Na and arrived there just before lunch. We checked into our hostel – only after realising Owen had booked it for June, not May! Luckily they still had our room available so we dumped our stuff and headed straight out. We had lunch at Bamboo Cafe and a wander around the town before heading back to the hostel to chill – it really is too hot here to be out in the sun in the afternoon, the locals think you are crazy if you are! In the evening we went to Easy Tiger for dinner and drinks and played a few games of pool with some English guys that we met.

We spent our second day on a tour of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. We were in a group with an Irish couple, two danish girls and 3 Americans (Texans to be precise!) and had the loveliest Vietnamese tour guide. We started the day at the botanical gardens, where we trekked 3km through the bush to find Thac Gio Waterfall. The waterfall was amazing and the wildlife there was incredible, I’ve never seen so many butterflies in one place! We saw a couple of HUGE spiders too, but let’s just pretend that didn’t happen!

Next on the trip was Paradise Cave, which at 31km long makes it the biggest in the national park. It was discovered in 2005 so is relatively new too, and only the first kilometre is open to tourists. After paradise cave we went for lunch at a local restaurant, and all shared some amazing Vietnamese food before heading to Hang Toi, otherwise known as the dark cave. We changed in to our swimming stuff and got given life jackets and helmets with head torches. You start off by zip lining (the longest one in Vietnam) across the lake, finishing at the mouth of the cave. We then explored deep inside the cave, which has no light in it at all apart from our torches. We made our way through long winding tunnels until we came to a pool water in a sort of clay pit. We all swam and had a mud bath (which is supposed to be good for your skin!) and then made our way back out to the entrance to wash off in the fresh water.

After leaving the cave we kayaked back across the lake and spent the rest of the afternoon at this crazy water park. There’s literally no health and safety here so we were zipping across the water on zip lines and watching people hurl themselves in off this huge metal swing. There was even a high ropes course over the lake which Owen and max managed to get about half way across before falling in – it was impossible!

We headed back to the hotel and then spent the rest of the evening with the people we were on the trip with. We went for dinner at the bamboo cafe (where the rich Texas guy paid for all of us!) and chilled out at the hotel before our bus arrived. We got the sleeper bus north to Tam Coc, which was actually really fine! The bus has three rows of beds on two layers and everyone just squeezes in and tries their best to sleep while the driver swerves all over the place.

At the waterfall

Inside paradise cave

It’s tricky to swim with life jackets and helmets!

kayaking

Inside the mud bath

HUÊ 114

After packing our stuff and having a quick breakfast at the hotel, we left early for Huê. We’d hired a driver to take us there and make some stops along the way too, first up was marble mountain. Marble mountain is a set of 5 limestone mountains in Danang, each topped with pagodas and marble statues. The five mountains are named after the five elements: Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire) and Tho (earth). Mt. Thuy is the highest, and we made it to the top after climbing up what felt like a thousand steps in the boiling hot sun. The views of the beach and surroundings were great, but it was a hard climb! Next on the tour we stopped at Đầm An Cư, which is a large lagoon just off the coast. The water is really clear and so still, and you can see thousands of oyster shells that have been fished for here. We got a bit ripped off after being charged a dollar to take a photo on a wooden raft though! Our journey to hue took us through the Hai Van Pass, where you get the most amazing view of the mountains as you drive along the stretch of highway. We arrived in Hue in the afternoon and headed straight out to get some lunch. We had some tasty veggie burgers at the Nook Cafe, and then set off to explore the town. In the Vietnam war Hue was the site of one of the longest and most terrible battles of the war, and much of its architecture was destroyed. Still standing is the imperial city, thick stone walls surrounded by a moat, which house pagodas, temples and a replica of the Royal Theatre. In the evening we chilled at the hostel bar and played some pool, before having a vegetarian feast for dinner at Madame Thu’s. We had a few beers at a rooftop bar next to the hostel which had a great view of the busy street below. One of the statues from marble mountain Hai Van passDam an cu lagoonAt the entrance of the imperial city

HOI AN 111 112 113

We had another morning filled with traveling today, as we packed up our stuff and headed to the airport to catch our flight to Danang. As we only have 2 weeks in Vietnam we’re missing out a lot of the south and flying halfway up the country so we can make the most of our time in the north. We arrived in Danang after lunch and then had an hour or so drive to Hoi An before checking in to our hotel. We stayed at Hoi An Life Homestay which is an amazing hotel run by the loveliest family – it even had a pool!

We spent the afternoon chilling before borrowing bikes from the hotel and heading into the town. We ate at a cool little veggie restaurant and then set off on foot to explore the rest of the town and night markets. It was the Buddha’s birthday, so the streets were packed with people and performers. We ended up watching the funniest street game, where you had to wear a blindfold and try to smash a hanging pot with a stick – sort of like a piñata without the sweets! We found ourselves in a Mr. Bean themed bar which was really odd! And had a few drinks in there before calling it a night.

We spent the next morning swimming and sunbathing at the hotel – trying to top up our tans before we head back to England! We borrowed bikes from the hotel again and cycled to An Bang beach. The water was amazingly clear and cold, perfect for cooling down after a boiling hot bike ride in the sun! We got some beers from a bar and chilled on their sun loungers before heading in for lunch (and taking a break from the heat!). We chilled at the beach all afternoon and then headed back to the hotel once the sun had started to set. In the evening we had dinner at cafe 43 before heading to a rooftop bar to spend the rest of the night drinking £1 cocktails!

On our last day we decided to head into town for some lunch after spending the morning by the pool. We wanted to show max how great Banh Mi was so we headed to the Bahn mi queen to see if it really was the best in Hoi An! This is where the day went downhill slightly, as we all ordered veggie ones but were half way through eating them before we realised it was meat and not tofu!! The boys carried on eating theirs but I felt sick straight away so couldn’t eat even though she offered to change it to a veggie one. Still, I made it almost 2 months without accidentally eating meat haha!

As we hadn’t seen the town by day yet, we went for an explore after lunch. The shops and markets were still as busy as they are by night, and we spent the afternoon checking out all the fake gear that’s so easy to come by here. We escaped the heat with some afternoon smoothies, and then headed back to find the bikes and cycle to Minh Hien restaurant, where we were doing a cooking course that evening.

We got to choose 4 dishes from the menu, and then got taught how to prepare and cook all of them. We learned how to make a mushroom sauce too, which is the base to loads of Vietnamese meals. Our teacher was so lovely and an amazing cook! He made everything look so easy, and the recipes were really quick and simple to make. We had the best time learning how to make authentic Vietnamese food, and it tasted so amazing. The dishes we cooked were fried eggplant, a vegetable curry, Hoi An sautéed veg noodles and a lemongrass and chilli stuffed tofu – this one was my fave! We feasted on our food and had a couple of beers at the restaurant before heading back home to chill for the evening.

Lotus flowers on the river for the Buddhas birthday

Lanterns at the night market

The finished dishes from our cooking class

You can see the French influence on the buildings in Hoi An

So many cute dogs in Vietnam!

The mr. Bean bar

HO CHI MINH 108 109 110

After a slightly dramatic morning; a lost (stolen?) wallet and having to fork out an extra $150 for our luggage, we finally made it to Vietnam 🇻🇳.

By the time we got to our hotel it was early evening, so we headed straight out to get some dinner and a few well earned beers! Our hotel is right next to the ‘backpacker strip’ – Bùi Viện. It’s kind of like a South East Asian version of the strip in Kavos; tons of bars and promoters offering buckets of cocktails and laughing gas filled balloons… just like being 18 again! We had dinner at a place called healthy farm, where you choose all of the ingredients you want (noodles, veg, tofu etc) and then they prepare and cook it right in front of you. It was only about £4 for both of us plus a drink – so cheap!

After dinner we headed to The View, a rooftop bar at the top of Bùi Viện. We had a few beers and a great view of the busy street below. After we finished our drinks and started to head back to the hotel, I hear ‘daisy!’ being shouted from behind us, so we turn round and there’s a couple of my friends from uni – talk about a small world! They are living and working in Ho Chi Minh for the next couple of months, and have both been travelling around SE Asia since last year. We arranged to meet up for dinner, drinks and a catch up tomorrow.

After breakfast at the hotel we set of for our first day exploring Ho Chi Minh. We walked to the Notre Dame cathedral and checked out the old post office next to it. We had an ice tea at a cafe on Nguyen Van Binh, also known as book street cause of the many book shops and stalls on it. It’s a quiet street where mopeds are banned, so the locals like to hang out the at the weekend for a bit of a break from the busy city.

I’d read that if you’re in Ho Chi Minh then you can’t leave with out trying a bahn mi, so we decided to find somewhere cool to have one for lunch. Bahn mi is a small baguette filled with meat or tofu and salady bits. It was first made over a hundred years ago when Vietnam was part of the French colonies, and then made a popular street food in the 50’s. We ate at My Bahn Mi and had the most amazing tofu & mushroom pate filled baguette and some French fries. I can’t wait to find somewhere in London that sells them so we can eat them when we get back!

We spent the afternoon wandering around the shops and checking out the central Square before heading back to the hotel. In the evening we went up the Saigon Skydeck in the bitexo financial tower. On the 60th floor of the skyscraper they have the Heineken experience, pretty similar to the one in Amsterdam, just much smaller and a faster tour! A bargain though as you get 4 free beers and an amazing view of the city by night. As we were up there a crazy storm started outside, with thunder, lightning and about a months worth of rain it seemed! By the time we headed back to the hotel (by taxi otherwise we might have got washed away) the water was running through the streets at about knee-height and the rain was still pouring. We had to wade through the streets to get to the hotel door and I dread to think of all the gross things that were floating in the water – especially as we saw a HUGE rat yesterday!

We dried off and had a couple of beers at home while we waited for the rain to ease off and drain away before we headed out to meet Sam and Nem for dinner. We ventured out and waded through the street to meet them at Cafe Lam, where we had dinner. It’s a great little place to eat, so cheap and the portions are just huge! Only downside was that because the roads were completely flooded, all the cockroaches were seeking shelter just like we were. So we spent a lot of the evening tying to squash them! … it’s crazy how travelling makes you so much less squeamish about these things – if you were eating in a restaurant in England and saw a cockroach you would run a mile and refuse to eat, but here you just get on with it! After dinner we went to this cool bar that was only accessible through the kitchen of a little cafe, and up about 7 floors to the roof. There’s no way you’d know about it unless you were with someone who’d been before, or if you’re invited by a local apparently! It was just like being in someone’s living room, and we spent the whole night there catching up about our travels, uni and what we’ve all been up to since graduating. They even had a tv with fifa!

On Sunday we decided to treat ourselves to a proper English breakfast – we did miss the royal wedding, AND the FA cup final yesterday after all! We went to this cool little cafe called bookworm, where they do loads of English grub with a whole load of vegan / veggie versions too. We had a fry up and played a couple of board games and chilled there for the morning while we waited for max to arrive!

We went back to the hotel to wait for him and then, when he arrived we took him on a little tour of Bùi Viện. We checked out a few of the shops and then went back to healthy farm again for lunch. It started to rain again in the afternoon so we went to get some frozen yogurt and spent the rest of the day filling eachother in on what we’d been up to since we were last together in NZ. For dinner we went back to cafe lam (max wanted to try it after we told him how huge the portions were, and how cheap it was!) and then he went back to the hotel to catch up on some sleep after 2 days of travelling. We went back to the bar from last night and met Sam, Nem and their friend Matt for a quick drink before heading home too!

Bahn mi

Skydeck view

Vietnam square

Personalised beers

Fry up at the bookworm

Wading through the flood