THE WONDER CALLED VIETNAM
Updated: Jun 20, 2021
Have you ever experienced something and immediately told yourself ''this cannot be, this is not happening now''? Well this was Vietnam, for me! And nο, this is not an overstatement.
While reading this blog post, keep in mind that it has been written three years after my journey in Vietnam. Back then I didn't have my website. Maybe, the Vietnam experience was one of the reasons I started thinking about posting my photographs and experiences, which led to this website.
It was mid of August in 2017, when me and my friends Varvara and Costas began our journey to Vietnam. Our pre-scheduled destinations were mainly the following:
Halong Bay and Cat Ba island
Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park
HANOI - THE NOISY CAPITAL
The first impression a person makes once steps foot in the capital, is the view of the tenths of thousands of motorbikes driving on the street. YES, THOUSANDS!!! And the honking horns are unstoppable! Don't worry though, you will get used to it and fall in love with this crazy city and amazing people, immediately.
We landed in Hanoi and used it as our base while coming back and forth to the other destinations in Northern and central coast Vietnam. Overall, we spent 6 full days in Hanoi.
Here are some of my suggestions of places to visit:
Hoa Lo Prison Relic. This one is breathtaking. So much sad info in a couple of hours. This prison turned to a museum dedicated to both French colonist area and Vietnam war (against the U.S)
Beer Street Hanoi (Ta Hien str.)
Cong ca phe, for the coffee lovers and not only. If you like coffee, you will be amazed by this cafe. There are plenty Cong ca phe around Hanoi, so you will find one easily.
Where to stay: Hanoi La Storia Hotel - Cozy little hotel, with friendly staff and EXCELLENT location. We enjoyed it. Check it out.
Tip: A day trip to Tam Coc Area from Hanoi, is a destination you will definitely not regret. It is a must, to go boating in Tam Coc river where you can relax and enjoy the breathtaking scenery. There are various options on how to visit Tam Coc, from many tourist agencies or by public transportation if you are more of the adventurous type. Anyway we had a last minute book around $50 which included mini bus drive back and forth, a lunch , bicycle ride and boat paddling.
SA PA TOWN
The mountainous North of Vietnam. In this part of Vietnam, you can witness a different kind of natural beauty, lot’s of rivers and waterfalls, ethnic minority groups who live up there, outstanding hiking trails and of course, the absolutely once in a lifetime experience of visiting the Fansipan.
Fansipan is the highest mountain in Indochina - 3143 m. What amazed me the most, was the 3 km and 15 AMAZING minutes cable car ride to reach the Fansipan station. Cable car has been opened opened to the public in 2016. Before that, only the brave and athletic went up there by foot and it was taking days to reach the top! The ride with the cable car is something I will never forget. I think it is a definite MUST destination in Vietnam. Hundreds of people visit Fansipan to see the view from the top. Have in mind that the Fansipan station where the cable car stops isn't the highest peak. You need to walk 600 more steps. Find what you need to know about the cable car (working hours, entrance fee etc) and Fansipan in general here..
Note that the whole Fansipan trip won’t take you all day, so you can combine that with other things in Sapa. The helpful staff in the front desk of Sapa Center Hotel (check it out) booked for us a driver/guide for the whole day, which drove us to the Love Waterfall and Silver Waterfall before the Fansipan cable car. Check them out if you'd like. Alternatively or additionally, during the same day, you can drive to different waterfalls or temples and/or cat cat village.
Hiking on Sa Pa outskirts
Guys, there are too many options for Hiking around Sa Pa. Short or long hikes, depending on your preference. Do not neglect going out there. As we moved away from the town center, we were getting closer to reality and the actual way of how locals live. As for the hike, once we began hiking along the rice paddies, believe me: I wouldn't wish to be anywhere in the world. Once again, the polite and lovely staff of the hotel, booked us a car and a guide, who through the short hike for 3-4 hours.
The lady guide was lovely and she explained everything with every detail, especially about the way that locals live up there. Everything was perfect, apart from the fact that during our hiking and our long break for photo shooting, it started getting late, so the guide used a shortcut through a rice field that cost as three super muddy pairs of shoes 🙂 (it was so disturbing, yet so funny).
Nevertheless, the lady guide was very good, polite and always smiling (like everyone else in Vietnam)! Anyway, that's that. It was such a great experience! Weird thing is that I can not remember the name of the village where we hiked, because there were too many options and we just picked a random route for hiking.
Halong Bay and Cat Ba island
What a weird, difficult, disturbing yet so AMAZING experience it was. So, me and my friends went from Hanoi to Cat Bà Island by bus, which took us more than 5 hours driving. The plan was to stay at Cat Ba island for 2 nights and explore the famous Halong Bay by cruise day trips. Cat Ba is the largest island of Halong Bay. We got there after a long and bumpy road, being sleepless, very tired, yet very excited! The weather though, was very bad and all the cruise tours have been cancelled! This was very disappointing, you can imagine how we felt! Anyway, we had a reservation at some bungalows that had a pretty little coffee shop with a deck facing this AMAZING VIEW of the port!
We had a couple of beers (maybe more 🤔) and enjoyed this scenery for hours. disappointment went away fast! Such a weird, yet beautiful experience. I guess sometimes unfortunate things happen for a reason.
Anyway, we got to see Halong Bay on another day out of the schedule, but you get the point! Halong Bay which means "descending dragon", is one of the most famous attractions and there is a reason for that. The experience is breathtaking. Thousands of small isles arise from the green color sea in various shapes. I cannot describe how amazing experience it was.
Make sure you do your research beforehand, about how to drive there (either Halong bay shores or Cat ba island) . There are a couple of ways to go there, I suggest you do your homework to be familiar with the prices, BUT you can book last moment in Hanoi (if you're travelling from Hanoi).
Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park
WHAT A PLACE, my friends. WHAT A PLACE! Make sure you have at least two full days for Phong Nha. At least, that's my suggestion. When I will travel back to Vietnam, because I will someday, I will spend more time in Phong Nha.
Phong Nha - Ke Bang is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has approximately 300 caves and people from all over the world travel to explore those caves. Apart from the cave exploration part, Phong Nha gathers hundreds of young people each day and during the evenings, the town center feels like you are in a huge universal party. Especially in Easy Tiger Hostel Jungle Bar. The mood is incredible , with live music almost every night, good food, hostel rooms to stay, tourist desks almost 24/7 and much more.
Me and my friends stayed at Sy’s Homestay, which is an absolute wander and I strongly recommend it. ‘’Sy’’, the owner and his wife made our stay a beautiful local experience. Food is being cooked there, in the backroom and you can actually see the fresh local products cooked there.
It is 1 Km away from the town center and Sy provides a bunch of bicycles to ride your way to the town center across the beautiful rice fields. Guys trust me, the views of the surrounding area of Phong Nha is an experience of its own.
Phong Nha is actually one single cave, which the whole system and area took the name of. There is tons of information about the park that I read before our visit and experienced there, but I will stick to the basics. If you wanna stick to the most ''important'' caves, those are: the Phong Nha Cave - where you experience by boat, the long Paradise cave - which feels like walking to Mars and the Dark Cave. You can find information about those caves in Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park Headquarter. You can just show up on each one, any time and wait for the next group to go with. Now, there are also other caves which you can visit, I suggest you do research depending on your personal likes and needs. Some cave trips are more extreme with options vary from 2-3 days straight and more. Including camping gear, food, guide etc.
I STRONGLY SUGGEST you to try the Tra Ang Cave. It is a half day trip which includes some hiking to reach there. ‘’Sy’’, who I mentioned before, booked for us the whole trip. Tra Ang Cave was discovered in 2014 (go figure), is a 1km cave, where you have to swim the whole way because it is within an underground water system.
If you do choose to book this cave experience get ready for some swimming. But don't worry, each group of people is small for safety reasons, the guides are experienced and you are equipped with life vests and headlamps. It is an once in a lifetime experience guys. I cannot easily explain the feeling we had while swimming in the cave. Unfortunately, I cannot show you, because we couldn’t photograph any of it 🙁
I've been to Vietnam with my friends for 15 days and I know for sure I've experienced only half of the important things I wanted to. We haven't even touched the southern part of Vietnam. Still though, it was enough for me to consider it as the best travel experience of my life. I really do miss Vietnam, a lot. I will definitely be going back , maybe, even more than once. I owe you some information about the food experience in Vietnam which I will be adding later on. I might also add some comments about the history and politics of Vietnam which I consider important on so many aspects and especially on how it influenced modern Vietnam.
That's it guys. That was my experience in Vietnam. I’m really happy I wrote this post and forced my memories back. It was a unique country and a unique travel experience which I hope all of you can experience once in your life. Make sure you check out the Vietnam photographs in my gallery , and subscribe bellow if you like my posts and you haven't done it yet!
Until the next post .. Cheers!