Vietnam – Exploring from the Amazing North to the South

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After Laos we entered Vietnam, two weeks travelling from SaPa to Ho Chi Minh in the south. For us UK Nationals we need a visa in advance. We had this. Yet, it didn’t stop us from making an error. We got to the airport to fly from Laos to Vietnam two days before our visa started. Luckily, for us, the airline spoke to the embassy and we were allowed in. It just meant we had to leave two days earlier. Result. As a traveller, you are always booking buses or flights so little errors like these will crop up.

Flying into Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi was a busy and stressful city which I don’t really enjoy on the whole. So, we found a ride out of the city on a sleeper bus. These are common in Asia. You get a little coffin-like bed for the night. Perfect if you are my friend’s height at 5 foot 2, you fit right in. I struggled at my height of 5 foot 5. So, any taller… I wish you luck. However, night buses are great as you save on accommodation. Perfect for the budget backpacker.

Hiking… The Reason We Are in Sapa, Vietnam

I was not expecting it to be so cold in SaPa. It was very cold. Also, foggy, you couldn’t see more than 15 feet in front of you. I was here to hike however my friend wasn’t down for this. Luckily I found another traveller who wanted to do the hike. So, the next day we set off. It was as if we set off into the abyss. The fog was still strong. The hike was an easy one but very slippery in places. It wasn’t long before we reached our first village where we had lunch. This village was home to The Black Hmong Tribe.

After a Tasty Lunch…

Rice Fields in SaPa, Vietnam, South East Asia
Rice Fields in SaPa

We visited a school on the way to our homestay. A homestay is staying at a local’s house for the night. We were staying with the Zai Tribe. The school was fun and all the children got distracted from learning and ran outside to greet us. Our homestay was basic but felt homely. The family were great hosts and very welcoming. Our dinner was cooked on an open fire and the little girl kept us entertained with a game of monsters and drawing.

The Second Day of the Hike

The conditions on the trail were a lot worse. As we made our way through the bamboo forest. It felt like we were basically skating on clay for three hours. It was an adventure but it did wear thin towards the end. Luckily for me, I didn’t fall. Although, there were many near misses. Even one with the guide catching me. The guide is from the local Zai Tribe and she was fantastic throughout the trip. This is a great experience with the locals to learn about the two tribes.

Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island

In the famous Halong Bay, again the weather impacted this experience as the fog was still out in force. Although, it gave off a magical feel as we went across the water to Cat Ba. An island where we rented a scooter and explored. The views throughout the day were breathtaking. I was always at the back, driving slower to be able to take in the surroundings more. We decided to hike to the peak of some mountain on the trip around the island. The hike up was a little tough in places but rewarding when we got the view at the top.

Te Back of the Cat Ba Ferry with views of Halong Bay in South East Asia
The Foggy Halong Bay

Also, here we had to do boring tasks such as laundry. However, this time around this was a major inconvenience because it meant all our warm clothes were sent for washing. Speak about bad timing. All your warm clothes in the wash when it’s cold. The joys of travelling with the bare minimum. You don’t get the luxury from a wardrobe but I don’t care. I kind of enjoy living out of a backpack. It feels like part of me at this stage.

The Town of Ninh Binh

We only had a day here. Basically, we caught a night bus in and caught another out the same day. During the day we rented a scooter to visit a national park. Renting scooters is the easiest way to explore around South East Asia. The trip today was about roughly a 45 km drive north. So maybe an hour but this is Vietnam. We found the national park we were looking for after 3 hours. It was a great park once there. Full of plush green forests which you can drive around… well some of it. So, we did. As we rode our scooter down the road, out of nowhere a dog appeared. This dog must have thought we were dinner because it chased us down the road relentlessly. Wow, this dog was so quick and had plenty of stamina. It was trying to bite my ankles so I had to use the selfie stick to keep it away. It followed for sometime before finally giving up. When I tell the story, I say it was a wolf. It’s way more dramatic.

Again, on the way home, we took a three-hour detour. Don’t ask how we did it but we did! Luckily, we came across a random place which had petrol or we wouldn’t have made it. This is the joy of travelling, finding your own path. Once we took our sunglasses and scarf off. It still looked like they were on as the rest of our faces were black. Oh well… another fun day out!

Another Night, Another Night Bus…

The Inside of the Phong Nha Caves on a River in Vietnam
Inside Phong Nha Caves

This time the bus was very late. However, we are used to this by now. Phong Nha was our choice of destination this time. This area had massive cool caves to explore by boat. So, we did just that and these caves were magnificent. Well worth a stop by. It was a good day exploring and we were finally back in the sun. That night… yep, you guessed it. Another night bus. However, this one was different. Different because instead of being late… it just didn’t turn up at all. After, finally getting our money back a group of us made different arrangements to get to Hoi An in the morning.

My Favourite Town in VietNam

We spent a good few days in Hoi An. It was super relaxing. We stayed at the Sunflower Hostel which included the best breakfast of all the hostels, ever. Here, we hired bicycles and slowly explored the beaches, old city, rice fields, and the Japanese bridge. It was nice to change the fast pace to a slow one. This town is famous for making clothes to order. So if you want to pick up a nice dress or suit made to your measurements this is the place to do so.

The Last City was the Capital of Ho Chi Minh

Firstly, we tackled the sombre side by visiting the war museum. This was an eye-opening experience to learn about what Vietnam had to go through with the Americans and the effect it still has on the Nation today. For me, I went on a day trip to Cu Chi Tunnels, again another eye-opening sombre experience. History is sometimes a challenging subject to learn because you can’t help but think about how can people be so cruel.

The Chinese New Year…

The streets lined with moped's ready for the Chinese new year fireworks in Ho Chi Minh, South East Asia
Blocking Traffic for The Fireworks

This was an amazing experience to be part of welcoming the Chinese New Year in Asia. Everyone filled the streets on foot or on their scooters. Traffic was at a complete standstill as roads were fully blocked. We were all waiting for the fireworks display over the river. Still to this day, I would say it’s the best fireworks display I’ve witnessed. The fireworks made shapes like smiling faces and love hearts! I had never seen them before and haven’t seen them since. What a way to end an incredible Vietnam backpacking trip.

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