The 4 of us set off to Ba Vi National Park which was a 1hour, 45 minute journey from our hotel in Hanoi.
The views once we got out of Hanoi were pretty spectacular. We were in rural Vietnam and heading towards the hills and mountains of the National park. So far so good, it was shaping up to match Yosemite National Park! The weather was also amazing.
When we arrived we had to buy tickets for about £3. Our driver then drove us up to the top of the National Park which took another 30 minutes. The place was absolutely huge and there was a single road (dirt track in parts) leading to the top. There were a lot of tourists that had hired scooters/mopeds to drive around the National Park. It looked cool but I didn’t want to risk it with being in a foreign country, driving on mountain top roads and probably not being covered by my travel insurance.
We eventually reached the top and were told it’s a 30 minute hike up to the main point so we began to walk up. It was very cold at the top and the hike reminded me a bit of the Inca Trail in Peru.
At the top there was a temple and a memorial to Ho Chi Minh. It was cool to see and there were also a few viewing platforms where you could get an amazing view over the National Park. However, for me personally it did not live up to my expectations and it definitely didn’t compare with Yosemite.
I found that a lot of the key parts at Ba Vi National Park were difficult to get to, not really well signposted and quite disappointing when you finally got there. Parts of it (especially the road) still seemed to be under construction.
On our way back down we stopped at a “waterfall” as it was explained to us. But it was no more than water trickling down some rocks. It was the least inspiring waterfall you have probably ever seen.
A slightly disappointing day all round but I guess you have to go and see these things to realise if you like them or not. This time, it didn’t work out.
We went back to the hotel to run round the market stools one last time before our final night out in Vietnam. A few people were leaving the group tomorrow so it will be a big party tonight.
In the morning we set off on our trip back to Hanoi. It was a 4 hour bus journey and by this point we were becoming pretty immune to these types of journeys. I’m never going to complain about a long journey when I’m back in the U.K. again… 4 hours is actually nothing!
Once we got back to Hanoi we arrived at the hotel in the early afternoon but had to wait a short amount of time for the rooms to become available. While doing this, our CEO took us on an orientation walk of the city. Hanoi was just as busy as Ho Chi Minh for traffic but it seemed to have more variety about it. I thought Ho Chi Minh was a very cool city but there was something very different about Hanoi which I liked. Not sure exactly what it is but I think it was just the variety available.
We took a walk down to the nearby lake which was amazing. The views were really cool and there was so much going on around the lake! It was buzzing. Whilst walking about you could see a stage being set up next to the lake for live music, there were people practicing their English with the local tourists and there were plenty of market stools for people to pick up gifts and haggle some more.
Across a very small footbridge there was another Temple which you could go over too. At night the bridge lights up red and it looks amazing next to the lake. I managed to get a sunset photo of it (which is now on Instagram).
In the evening we went for dinner at a local restaurant recommended by our CEO. We sat on the second floor and the table had a lot of different notes under it from other travellers and groups that had also been there. It felt right to leave our own note for the table. I had to think on the spot and come up with a random letter/note on behalf of the group.
About 8-10 of the group went out after dinner into Hanoi. I was tempted but my body just can’t handle that many nights out anymore. I knew the following evening was going to be a big one for drinking because 4 people were leaving the group and a few were joining. I wanted to save myself for one big night out so I chose to go back to the hotel and have a chilled one. Some would say that’s boring – and I’d find it hard to disagree ha.
Tomorrow morning 4 of us (Sean, Maxime and Alena) are off to Ba Vi National Park which I’m excited about. The photos online look amazing and it’s highly rated. When I went to the US a few years ago I went to Yosemite National Park and it was incredible. Hopefully this one can provide a similar experience. Let’s see!
As mentioned on the previous post… we just had the 3rd out of 4 sleeper trains. It doesn’t need any more explanation. Not the best experience but on the upside I managed to sleep and there was no mouse!
We went to the hotel to drop our bags, freshen up and re-pack for a day at Halong Bay. This place was one of the main reasons for me choosing this tour. Unfortunately the weather was a bit cloudy – but you can only control the controllables. Let’s enjoy this!
At the harbour we had our own private boat which was pretty nice. On the route out into Halong Bay they served us with A LOT of food for lunch. We were all absolutely stuffed after eating it.
The amazing part is once you get past the harbour area you are free to wander around the boat. A few of us sat outside at the front just watching the world go past. You get lost in the moment a bit because it’s so surreal you are sailing through Halong Bay one of the modern natural wonders of the world. Even with crappy weather it was still an amazing place!
Pictures can’t do it justice. It’s one of those places where you just have to see it while your own eyes.
Once we reached a certain point in the Bay we moored up and got to go in 2 man Kayaks. I shared a Kayak with Helena, a girl from Glasgow, and we had a good laugh! Kayaking around Halong Bay will take quite a bit of beating… we went into small coves and around the edges of caves and rock faces which again need to be seen with your own eyes. I couldn’t possibly write anything here that gets close to explaining how amazing it was!
After finishing Kayaking we went to one of the main caves in Halong Bay which has loads of natural shapes carved into the rock faces (e.g elephants, monkeys, dolphins etc). It was really impressive and absolutely huge cave!
It was a fantastic day and if only the weather was a bit better it probably would have been a day to compete with the moment I reached Machu Picchu in 2016.
Once we got back to the hotel I decided to take it easy in the evening and I went to dinner with one of the girls in the group. The rest of the group went for some street food.
All in all a good day!
Day two in Hue and the sun is shining. We managed to hire a bicycle for the day for 30,000 VND (Vietnamese currency) which is about £1. Not bad at all! The bikes weren’t amazing and they had a basket on the front which was a bit embarrassing but whatever – just gotta embrace the experience ha.
We set off cycling towards the Imperial Citadel which we visited the day before because it was next to the river and had some pretty spectacular views. One of the most exciting parts about cycling about was avoiding near death at almost every turn. The traffic and road system in Vietnam is very different to what I’m used too and it’s a constant game of human frogger and Chicken whenever crossing a road or turning.
At one point we crossed the bridge going over the river next to the Citadel and stopped at a red traffic light waiting to turn left (across the traffic). There were 6 of us on bikes. We were surrounded by about 30-40 mopeds/motorbikes and several cars waiting to also do the same thing. When the light went green there is no other word to summarise what happened than absolute chaos. Two mopeds crashed in front of me, I nearly got run down by a taxi and one of the girls behind got cut up by a sea of motorbikes. How we made it across the road in one piece I’ll never know but it saved me from a call to my travel insurance company.
The river road was really nice especially in the sun. We took a right turn down a side street and ended up in some more rural villages. This is what I really wanted to see! Something different from the chaos of a big city. The villages were incredible. It was like we had just entered a film set and we were riding through it. There was a lot of farm land and we saw so many wild animals roaming around. The cost of £1 to hire these bikes was definitely worth it… just for a few of these experiences.
After going through a small village we turned back on to the river road which eventually took us to the Pagoda, one of the oldest and biggest in Vietnam. It was pretty spectacular and good to see for free!
We had another sleeper train in the evening so we had to be back to the hotel for 4/5pm. Our last stop was a coffee shop along one of the rivers in Hue. The view was pretty cool, the coffee tasted good and we had a good laugh.
It just goes to show sometimes the best days are the cheapest. You just need a small plan, a license to explore and an open mind in terms of finding places and potentially getting lost.
So here we are. Time for our third sleeper train. We managed to get an upgrade to first class this time which should make a big difference. Hopefully I can get some sleep otherwise I’ll be a miserable ba%!?rd in the morning.
I really liked Hoi An. It had a lot of character to it with the detailed architecture, colourful streets, an abundance of market stools, tailors and coffee shops and also the local icon – lanterns… plenty of lanterns.
It would have been nice to have spent one more day in Hoi An because it was one of my favourite places. But hey ho, this trip is designed to show you a small bit of everything so it was time to move on.
We got on the bus for a journey to a city called Hue (pronounced ‘Hway’) which used to be a very important city strategically and politically.
The bus journey was like many of the others – long and painful. However, most of us had a hangover from the night before which is entirely self inflicted but didn’t help us to enjoy the journey. Fortunately no one was sick on the bus!
On route we were driving through cliff/mountaintop roads which provided amazing views. We stopped near the peak which was cool but unfortunately in this area there was a lot of cloud and fog so we could not get any photos. The views on the way up were spectacular but it’s difficult to get a good photo through a bus window.
Once we got to the hotel in Hue we went for lunch while we were waiting for our hotel rooms to become available. Everyone was feeling pretty drained from the night before so it was a pretty low key lunch.
After getting in to our hotel rooms a few of us decided to wander around the town and see what we could find. We went to the Imperial Citadel which was pretty cool. The architecture was impressive and the citadel still looked grand, even though it was old.
Dinner was very low key. We stayed at our hotel, had a pretty light meal and called it an early night. I think I’m getting too old for drinking… the hangovers just destroy me now.
Tomorrow we are planning to hire some bikes and go on a tour around Hue by ourselves. I’m looking forward to doing a bit more exercise! Let’s hope the weather holds out.
Definitely feeling much more fresh on day two in Hoi An! In the morning I went for some coffee and a bite to eat in the town which was cool. It’s pretty chilled and the Vietnamese coffee is amazing!
Once we got back to the hotel we were given a set of push bikes to go on a cycling tour around the town. As mentioned in my last post we did this in India and it was really cool.
The weather wasn’t too bad for the cycle tour and we set off at around 2pm. The tour was due to last a few hours and included a water buffalo ride. I used the GoPro strap again which worked well before but it was a bit of a pain because I needed to continuously hold the GoPro facing upwards.
We saw so many cool sights on the trip and went to different farmers villages. As part of the trip we stopped at a village and met one of the oldest couples in Vietnam. They have been married for 70 years and the women’s smile was beaming when she came out of the house. They were quite iconic in Vietnam due to a famous photographer taking their picture a number of years ago and it becoming one of the popular postcards. It felt like a privilege meeting them.
A bit further down the road we stopped so people could ride on a water buffalo if they wanted. The buffalo was 26 years old and a female. It was very docile and used to humans. They are impressive creatures but you wouldn’t want to get hit by one at any speed because it’ll probably kill you. It was a cool experience.
After this we carried on for another 30 minutes or so and then went to a small river where we were able to get into some floating bamboo baskets and row around the river. It was very chilled and the sort of experience you’d be looking for on a trip to Vietnam.
We got a bigger boat back to the mainland for dinner in the evening. Our CEO had organised a table for us at the local street food market. The food was incredible and the inevitable happened… a night out. Again, we all drank way too much and it got very messy. It was a fun night out tho!
Big hangover to follow.
At around 4pm I left the hotel to wander in to town and have a look around. It was a pretty cool town with traditional architecture. I wasn’t overly keen on wandering too far since I was still recovering but it was good a bit of the town.
For the rest of the afternoon I sat in a coffee shop to book some more flights and hotels/hostels for the rest of my trip. I also managed to FaceTime my family back home which was good especially after a month!
In the evening me and one other member of the tour group went for dinner down by the river in Hoi An. We were both feeling like we needed a rest from the big group so it was nice just to chill.
We went to an Irish bar called the Dublin Gate. We didn’t choose it because it was an Irish bar but we chose it because it looked amazing from the outside. It was lit up like a Christmas tree and had live music. Also, you can’t really go wrong with an Irish bar – let’s be honest.
It was a nice chilled evening and actually quite nice to have one day off from being in a huge group. It sounds antisocial but being in a large group for one month solid does take a toll eventually.
On the walk back to the hotel we got to see the old town lit up at night. Hoi An is quite known for its lanterns and so it was nice to see the place at night – it looked impressive!
Tomorrow we are doing the cycling tour around Hoi An. It’ll be good to do some exercise for a few hours and see the sights. The cycling tour in India was good fun and this should be just as good!
We had a chill out day in Nha Trang which was nice. I spent most of it doing “life admin” like booking flights and putting together a plan for Thailand. It felt nice being able to organise myself for the next step of my journey.
For the afternoon we spent a bit of time on the beach before wandering back to the hotel to get on the bus for the train station. We have another sleeper train… this time for 11 hours and taking us to Hoi An.
The sleeper train was not as nice this time. We were in second class as opposed to first class which we had for the first train.
A few of us decided to sit in one of the cabins and watch a film. I got to see the film Sully, which I had never seen before, and I have to say it was incredible!
It was all going so well until we heard a massive scream from one of the other cabins a few doors down. It was one the girls in our group.
A small mouse was roaming free in the carriages and obviously some people are not the greatest fan of small creatures. It was impossible to catch the mouse so we had to move a lot of the bags we had with food. There were also a few bugs crawling around like mini cockroaches so I helped to get rid of them. I missed the end of the film though which I was a bit gutted about. Guess I’ll have to watch it on dvd another time!
When we arrived in Danang station we had to get a connecting bus to Hoi An which was about 30-45minutes away.
This is the first morning where the lack of sleep, travelling, constantly being in a big group and probably a bit of homesickness were affecting me. I just needed a few hours to chill, alone.
After breakfast I took myself away from the group, went back to the hotel and got a few hours of sleep. It made a big difference.
Now that I’ve recovered let’s see if I can see a bit of Hoi An…
The sleeper train wasn’t too bad. I was expecting a lot worse!
Once we got to Nha Trang we went for some breakfast whilst waiting for our hostel room to become available. The only downside to this type of travelling is not being able to shower for a few hours in the morning after wearing the same clothes all night. It’s a feeling I personally hate… but when there’s no choice there is little you can do.
We were all planning to do the boat cruise which sounded like fun. We got on the boat around 9.30/10am and it turned into a bit of a party boat.
At first, we were snorkelling and jumping off the boat into the water. But it was not long before the alcohol was out and people were making cocktails. I’m all for a few drinks but this was too early for me and also we weren’t in Magalluf so I wasn’t overly keen on a party boat. With that being said, we all got involved with it and had a bit of a laugh although people got drunk pretty fast.
We stopped at lunch for the driver and his crew to cook us a BBQ lunch. It was pretty good but there was way too much food! None of us could finish it.
In the afternoon we stopped at a beach area but it was not the classic beach. It was very rocky and not the type of beach you’d imagine in your mind or see in a magazine.
One of the positives to this beach area was that they were running water sports. I went with one of the girls in our tour group to do paragliding… another bucket list item completed!
Paragliding was good fun but it was quite short. We only got 2,000metres. You go up in the air quite high but it really hurts if you’re a guy. The straps supporting all of your body weight sit on the inside of your thigh so you can only imagine the pain (if you’re a guy).
Even though we’ve had a lack of sleep it’s been an eventful day. Glad I got to tick another item off the bucket list but wasn’t overly keen on a party boat. Ah well, can’t have it all!
In the morning a small group of us went to see the Cu Chi tunnels. These were a memorial of the Vietnam war and contained some of the tunnels used by Vietcong soldiers in the war to avoid air bombing but also move around the area undetected. The tunnels were very narrow and we were told these were actually widened twice for tourists to visit.
The tunnels started pretty narrow but you could still crouch and walk through them although it made your legs ache pretty quickly. There were 4 parts to the tunnel and after each part there is the opportunity to exit the tunnel if you wanted to. I decided to stay for all 4 parts and by the end it was pretty narrow. I had to crawl on my hands and knees to get through.
It was a good experience and again another one for the bucket list. One of the other bucket list items I managed to tick off whilst at the Cu Chi tunnels complex was firing a real gun. It cost about £18 to fire a gun with 10 billets. They had all sorts of different guns ranging from an M16, AK47 to M1 Garand. As appealing as it was to go for the M16 or AK47 I decided to go old school and choose the bolt action rifle, the M1 Garand.
I have never fired a real life weapon before and never intend to but on a secure shooting range I wanted to give it a try.
The recoil on the gun was incredible. I wasn’t expecting it to recoil so much but it did. Bucket list item ✅ and I’m glad I did it!
In the evening we had our first sleeper train of the Indochina trip… we were travelling from Ho Chi Minh city to Nha Trang which takes about 9 hours.
The trains were much better than what I had experienced in India. You had two people per side on a bunk and it was much cleaner and more spacious. So here we go…