Probably the best day of the tour so far – plenty of activities!

For various reasons we decided to organise our own thing in Viên Viang. There were a number of companies offering essentially the same tour but for varying prices and so we opted to try and save some money.

Most of us signed up to do a day tour of the elephant cave, water cave (via tubing), kayaking and then go to the blue lagoon. Some of the other lads chose to also do the zip lining which looked cool!

We set off at 9am in a truck which had kayaks strapped to the roof. It was very cold! Considering only a few weeks ago we were in Cambodia which was extremely warm… here it was really cold, especially in the early morning and evenings.

Once we arrived at the place we had to walk about 10 minutes to reach the water caves. The elephant cave was on route but I’ll be honest it was pretty underwhelming. It was just a mini cave in the rock with a few statues and monuments in. I was expecting something much more grand.

We reached the watercaves and began getting into the rubber rings for tubing. The water was absolutely freezing but the experience looked cool so we all had to man up and get on with it. You entered a really small cave and had to use the ropes laid out through the cave to pull you through. I’m not sure how big the cave was but it was anywhere between 500-1,000 metres. It seemed to go on for ages but I’m not sure if that’s due to the distance or the fact it was absolutely freezing and it made it a much tougher experience. All good fun though and I managed to get some cool GoPro videos (although most of it is in pitch black darkness).

After finishing tubing through the water cave our guides cooked us lunch. We took about 45mins to 1 hour for lunch and then went to do kayaking afterwards. It was a short 20 minute journey in the car to the place we start kayaking. The weather was amazing and even though the views in Halong Bay were spectacular, this had the potential to beat that for a kayaking experience.

It didn’t fail to deliver. We were kayaking down a river with incredible views. On the right we had hilltops which looked amazing in the sun and on the left we had local villages and huts on the river. The water was a really clear blue colour and we spent about 2 hours in the kayaks. It was my favourite experience of kayaking not just on this trip but so far in my life.

Our final stop was a small bus journey away to a blue lagoon. This was a small pond which had places you could dive in. There were shops near by so people used it as a popular chill out spot. By this point I’d had enough of getting wet and cold so I decided to just chill in the sun. Some of the group went into the water and said it was warm and a lot of fun.

Considering we had taken bit of a gamble by doing our thing it had paid off incredibly. I think most of us agreed this was probably one of our favourite days on this tour. It was a lot of fun, the weather was amazing and everyone had a great time.

Another good day all round. Probably the best one of our Indochina tour!

Welcome to Laos – the final country on this tour!

We were all nursing a hangover and sore head. The morning and early afternoon was time to recover from the night before.

We set off from the hotel at around 1pm to head to the airport and catch a flight to the capital of Laos, Vientiane. After our final goodbyes we were on the bus.

Once we got to Laos, we were taking to an amazing hotel. It felt like a 5 star hotel and was definitely more luxurious than what we had become used to on the trip so far. It was a nice way to start off the next leg to our trip.

After a quick chill out and shower our CEO took us to a local restaurant for dinner. The food was really nice but I think a lot of were struggling with the hangover.

I’ll keep this post short. Tomorrow morning we have a 4 hour bus journey to Viên Viang. Back on to the bus again!

We all hate goodbyes… but it has to happen eventually

We had to say bye to 4 of the group. Maxime, a girl from Belgium, had been with the group since the beginning so we were losing one of the originals. Fabian, Alena and Mateo had joined us in Ho Chi Minh and had quickly become a big part of the group. They were all great fun!

It’ll be sad to see them go but it always happens eventually.

The night started with dinner at a local restaurant which was good. We then went to a few bars, one including a backpacker hostel, which played amazing music and had drinking games. This gave me a taste of what was to come in NZ and Australia if I’m staying at backpacker hostels. The only downside to this place is that the music was turned off at 11.30/12 midnight which was disappointing. It felt like the night had only just got going before we had to move on.

After this we went to a few more bars, had a few too many drinks and my credit card made an infamous appearance but not to buy jaegerbombs… this time it was Mai Tai’s. I don’t know why I do it sometimes – it never ends up working out well.

We got home around 2.30am and went to bed. It was a heavy night of drinking and it felt like a good way to say bye to 4 great people.

Not looking forward to the hangover tomorrow.

Ba Vi National Park

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.

Back to Hanoi

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!

What we’ve all been waiting for… Halong Bay

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!

Tour De France around Hue

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.