So excited to go back to Bangkok

5 June 2014

We set an early alarm to give us enough time to head out for one last breakfast at our favorite pho shop before we headed back to our hotel to catch a cab to the airport for our flight to Bangkok. After three weeks in Vietnam we officially have a love/hate relationship with the country. While there are many great sites, beautiful scenery, great food and some friendly people, we left with a feeling that this was one of our least favorite countries so far. While we did encounter a lot of friendly people the overwhelming impression is one in which you are treated simply as opportunity to make money (there is no walking down the street or through a market without being attacked by the ever popular ‘you buy something’ with crappy shirt shoved in your face) or be scammed. It’s a constant battle in every transaction to make sure you’re not being charged too much, receiving back the proper change and constantly being on guard to other scams. It’s unfortunate because it takes away from a country that on the whole has a lot of amazing aspects.

In searching for flights to our next destination, Hong Kong, it ended up being the same price to fly to Bangkok for a few days before flying onto Hong Kong so we decided to make a small detour back to what has been one of our favorite destinations of our trip so far. Needless to say we were excited to get back to Bangkok and bask in the warmth and friendliness of the Thai people.

Had a good laugh at this donation box in the Vietnam airport. Amy's parents would have been able to claim a good portion of these funds.

Had a good laugh at this donation box in the Vietnam airport. Amy’s parents would have been able to claim a good portion of these funds.

After we arrived and dropped our stuff of at the hotel we set out to explore the city and of course get a massage to help our muscles recover from our trekking in Sapa as well as our not too pleasant blind massage. Walking thru Saraanrom Park to Wat Pho was a nice reminder of how lovely this city is, with people exercising in the park and a feeling that you didn’t have to constantly watch your back or have someone try to sell you something. After we found lunch, one of the spots we enjoyed was closed so we found something else close by, we made our way to Wat Pho for a nice relaxing massage. If I haven’t gotten the point across before, well then maybe when I say that the massage therapists at Wat Pho should officially be renamed to miracle workers, it will do the trick to describe why it is worth the time to come here. Plus there is a really rad reclining Buddha here that tourist flock to see.

IMG_1616

Our “best of tour,” as we like to call it, would not be complete without daily stops for toast. After our much deserved toast at Mont, we began our walk back to our hotel. As we passed by an older gentleman he said a few things in Thai to us and bowed with a big smile. I could only assume that he was very thankful we were visiting his city. You can tell that tourists aren’t making their way to Bangkok right now as many of the street vendors around the tourist sites are gone, but in contrast there are plenty more in the schools and markets which worked out well for where we are staying. And on the topic of safety in this marvelous city, with the protestor camps cleared out of the government buildings, the razor wire gone, streets open and traffic flowing to us the city felt even safer than our prior visits.

And of course our evening wouldn’t be complete without visiting the local street food stall across the street for some pad kee mao, and then heading down the street for some coconut rice balls.

IMG_1618

The chef’s (yeah, we like to think it’s that fancy of a dessert) at the coconut rice ball stand recognized us from our previous time in Bangkok a few weeks ago and we managed to communicate in broken English and hand gestures to each other that we were back for a few nights and would see them each night to get our daily intake. All in all I think we had a great welcome back day!

Today’s Travel: Hanoi to Bangkokvia VietJet VJ 8911

Accommodations: Feung Nakorn Balcony. Our second home; we really do love this place are very happy to be back. There really is something to be said for knowing your surroundings.

All Vietnam has to offer

4 June 2014

With our last full day in Vietnam we decided what better way to spend it that visiting the man responsible for so much of what happened in the country, Ho Chi Minh. We grabbed a taxi at our hotel and soon we were on our way to the mausoleum. After a few extra turns and blocks traveled to boost the meter, our taxi driver then drive a few hundred meters past the entrance. The Vietscam just continues and while I really didn’t think it would be bothersome as after all it is just a dollar or so, but the constant nature of it all really does wear on you. We walked back to the entrance and made our way into the queue of people to start the long procession towards the mausoleum. It was odd as we weren’t expecting that large of a crowd, but the place was absolutely packed and not with tourists, but mainly with locals coming to pay their respects.

A constant line of people, this line was just a constant stream of people the whole time we were there

A constant line of people, this line was just a constant stream of people the whole time we were there

After walking in a constant line of people for about 20 minutes we finally made our way up to the very basic and plain building (gotta love communist architecture) and finally made our way inside to where the body is kept.

IMG_1592

It was a surreal experience walking around the body and seeing several older people who bowed down as they walked in front of his body, it also appeared that is was part of many kids summer time activities as there were lots of families. Once inside the room, you make a quick lap around the body spending maybe about 15-20 seconds inside before you’re quickly back outside and making your way to the grounds where he lived while president.

IMG_1578

IMG_1584

IMG_1587

Obviously some very important goldfish

Obviously some very important goldfish

IMG_1599

For lunch we successfully located Xoi Yen the sticky rice place we tried to find yesterday and enjoyed a filling and ribsticking lunch.

DSC_1216

DSC_1221

Afterwards we headed not surprisingly to Cong Caphe to drink the delicious Vietnamese coffee and watching the traffic go by. It was only our first day in Hanoi where we did not spend time here just watching traffic and drinking more coffee than any one person should. But with the heat and only a handful of sites to take in it was the best place we found to spend our afternoons. After enjoying a few cups of coffee we decided to switch beverages and made our way to a local Bia Hoi joint for some fresh beer. We sat down and started enjoying the refreshing cool crisp beer alongside some boiled peanuts and fermented pork.

IMG_1607

We had another Vietscam experience as we went to pay and after attempting to overcharge us we had to sit there and add up item by item how much we should owe before the guy finally agreed that we were right. For our last diner we made our way to what has become one of our favorite dishes of our entire trip Bun Bo at Bun Bo Nam Bo.

Best item being carried by a motorbike: What appeared to be a mobile garden store – a few trees and some small plants, a runner up goes to the bicycle which was a mobile cleaning store.

DSC_1214

Today’s Travel: A taxi ride to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and a walk back to the old quarter

Accommodations: Hanoi Garden Hotel

City Life

3 June 2014

We arrived back into Hanoi on the overnight train from Lao Cai at about 5:00 in the morning.

IMG_1569

 

Thought we bought a bottle of Aquafina, turns out we were just duped by the similar logo

Thought we bought a bottle of Aquafina, turns out we were just duped by the similar logo

Since we were right around the corner from the bun cha place we found after we visited the Temple of Literature we decided to see if they were open for breakfast, but unfortunately was closed. Instead we enjoyed a walk from the train station, thru the market that was just beginning to set up and towards our hotel for Pho at one of the stops on our food tour. For 6am we were astonished that only a handful of Pho places were open and almost every shop was closed including all the coffee shops. It was the first time I actually felt I could look up at the trees and building architecture without fear of walking into people sitting at a sidewalk restaurant, parked motorbikes which causes you to walk in the street creating a new level of aversions to cars, bikes, motorbikes and other pedestrians. Even with the early hour and the slow pace we were walking we still managed to be drenched in sweat from the already sweltering temperature.

It's before 6:00 and its already this hot

It’s before 6:00 and its already this hot

While eating our Pho a gentleman struck up a conversation with us asking if we liked our Pho and was very happy to see us eating Pho for breakfast.

Breakfast

Breakfast

Just when you think you want to get out of the country you meet someone like this guy and your perception of the people is once again flipped.  After enjoying our bowl of noodles for breakfast we made our way back to our hotel to shower and rest for a while before continuing our day.

DSC_1208

For lunch we tried to search out the restaurant Xoi Yen and their famous sticky rice topped with your choice of different toppings, but the map we were using (cough, cough Lonely Planet) led us down a few random alleys which just went by doorways to homes, lost and after walking half way around the block we found ourselves in front of Bun Bo Nam Bo, so we could not resist giving up our search for their tasty Bun Bo for lunch. We then spent some time wandering around medicine street which was close to our hotel before we of course made our way to Cong Caphe for some delicious Vietnamese coffee to help us enjoy a nice relaxing day after having hiked so much for the past several days.

DSC_1209

DSC_1211

Today’s Travel: A nice morning walk from the train station to our hotel and out and about town in search of new foods.

Accommodations: Hanoi Garden Hotel

All good things must come to an end

2 June 2014

*Full disclosure: I have written and re-written this entry a few times. While I loved most of the experiences we have had in Vietnam, there were some days where I just wanted to pack my bags and get the hell out. This evening was one of those where I was completely over just how difficult it is to travel here and wanted to be back in the land of smiles.

Waking up around 6:30 because the sun began to beat thru the room, I had a feeling it was going to be another very toasty trek. After another big breakfast of banana pancakes (really a thick crepe) and honey we set out on our short trek thru the valley and over the ridge line to the village of Nam Toong.

This is what happens when you reach the end of your wardrobe and your jackass husband likes to document how ridiculous you look

This is what happens when you reach the end of your wardrobe and your jackass husband likes to document how ridiculous you look, never fear these were left behind at the homestay

Even though toda was just a half day trek it was by far the most brutal portion or our 3 days. The constant uphill hike combined with the heat and humidity of the lower elevation resulted in us dripping sweat like never before. Adam was actually able to ring out his shirt and have a stream of sweat come pouring out of it.

DSC_1200

DSC_1201

Once we made it to the Nam Toong village we hung out on the steps of the elementary school for a few minutes to cool down. Don’t worry we weren’t creepers hanging out at a school, it is summer break so the kids are all running thru the fields for the next three months enjoying their holiday. After catching our breath and cooling down as much as possible we made our way back down to the river to cool down and do a little laundry local style to try and get some of the sweat out of our clothes. Soon we were on our way back to the homestay to pick up our bags and meet our transport that would drive us back to Sapa. Once we arrived back in Sapa we made our way back to Sapa Lodge where they were nice enough to provide us with a room for free for a few hours so that we could shower and relax before heading back to Lao Cai to catch the night train back to Hanoi.

We had a great time in Sapa and on our trek. It was a highlight of time here and one that we will never forget. However back at the train station we had the rude awakening of being back in the country that is always looking to scam you. First we walked to the train station following a few people from our mini bus. When the driver simply walked up to a women and exchanged tickets we were highly suspicious of this process and decided to head back to the ticket office highlighted on the ticket reservation slip we were given. It really makes no sense that we were not issued tickets when we bought tickets, but merely a reservation slip. But I guess there is no chance for others to make a profit if things were so direct. Back at the ticket both we were led by another woman back to the station and told to take a seat. After sitting for a while and both becoming hangry we decided to walk back to the lady that led us here and ask again to exchange our reservation slip of tickets. She finally led us to the lady we had seen earlier give our driver tickets (oh, the irony was not lost on us!) and at this point we were once again haggling to get what we wanted. In the end we were both too tired and hungry to haggle further to simply get the tickets had paid for without spending another $5 to get the ‘deluxe’ cabin. So we gave the woman 100,000 dong and got the upgraded ticket. Plenty annoyed at what had just occurred we took a quick walk around the square adjacent to the station and finally settled upon the western looking place since that was the only place with patrons. After venting our frustrations and expecting just a blah meal, we were served a decent western version of Vietnamese food. It seemed like the crappy experience of the last 30minutes was finally turning around.

It was then time to board the train and it turns out the additional $5 got us a sleeper car with a comforter, a more plush bed but a weaker air condition system. There was no middle of the night wake up to find my jacket because I was freezing on this train. Being in the upgraded cabin, this time our bunk mates were a young couple from Canadian who had been in the country for a few days and had another 4weeks of travel. As we were discussing our travels and our gripes with Vietnam you could see that they might have felt the same way about the scams that set you back a few dollars here and there and when we talked of the neighboring countries and how warm and welcoming we found the before there, you could see that maybe they were already making assumptions that all of SE Asia was like this. As I drifted off to sleep I wondered if we were too harsh in our criticisms of Vietnam but that is just another reason why everyone should have their own experience and travels as we all have different perceptions  and reactions to events.

Lost in translation: As we drove back to Lao Cai the American girl who sat next to the co-pilot was making small talk and asking various questions every now and then. This brought on one of the best lost in translation moments we have heard. Girl: “How many water buffalo does each family have?” Co-Pilot: (A very long pause) About 30 million. Girl: You could hear a slight smile in her tone as she tried to simplify her question. While the question was never understood, so we will never know, both Adam and I were clearly laughing in our heads as we both just gave each other a look that said it all.

Today’s Travel: Ban Ho to Nam Toong with a swim in the river on the walk back to Ban Ho (approx. 8km), a ride back to Sapa Town, a mini bus ride back to Lao Cai and the night train back to Hanoi

Accommodations: King Express Night Train.

More trekking please!

1 June 2014

Our second day started out with a meal that could have fed a small village. As it was Sunday morning most of the family left for church, but the eldest daughter stayed home to feed us and some of the local kids. As we were eating too little girls maybe one and a half and three intently watched us as we ate from our large stack or crepe like pancakes, either really interested in us or our food. When the daughter saw these two she led them into the kitchen and soon I could soon see them sitting on the floor eating rice with the owner’s dog intently watching knowing that soon they would walk off and the rice that was spilled would be his. I could only assume that the pup must have gotten in trouble a few times in his life as he stayed outside watching them and the food on the ground until they left.

After our leisurely breakfast watching the fog roll in and out of the valley and the neighborhood kids run about in various groups from house to house it was time to start the day’s trek.

About 10 minutes into our walk, our guide realized she had left our registration papers back at the guesthouse. And with the family, whose home we had just stayed at, preparing for a big party they had turned off their phones. The government here is super strict with permits and registration at guesthouse so after a few more phone calls, and Adam and I just enjoying the views, our guide arranged for the permits to be sent to the village we were heading towards and we were once again off.

As we made our way up and down the hills of Ta Van (I think) we encountered a handful of other tour groups. Having only seen two other groups yesterday it was a bit of a shock but after about 2km the groups veered off in one direction and we headed towards the other. Of course our route included more walking along the rice terraces.

DSC_1089

DSC_1092

DSC_1102

It's really cool until you they're all there snacking on poo

It’s really cool until you they’re all there snacking on poo

DSC_1112

Luckily today they were less wet so I wasn’t creating mini avalanches and crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t stomp into the water soaked fields. I guess all those years of H.A.R.D center gymnastic have paid off! We enjoyed a long downhill section, except for my toes which were not a big fan of all the downhill walking, until we reached the river bed. Then it was time for some more uphill adventures. But unlike yesterday which included lots of shaded routes, we were baking in the mid-day heat. While the heat wasn’t as extreme as other treks we have been on, or just average days we have experience here in SEA, but the humidity today was overwhelming.  After an adventure thru some corn fields and along a nice easy trail, I think our guide could tell we were hot as we were all sweating profusely. We pulled up at a small shaded store and grabbed some seats to cool down and rest for a few minutes. Soon we were back on our way making our way down the valley. Over the past day and a half of trekking we’ve been slowly descending in elevation as we make our way down the valley and the changes in topography, crops, temperature, and rainfall have been quite evident. After about our first 5kms this morning, gone were the verdant green rice fields as they were slowly replaced by either corn or rice fields dried up waiting for the monsoon rains to start. Also as we’re now lower and out of the fog which seems to hang around the higher elevation, the sun was at its full effect baking both the soil, and us.

DSC_1113

DSC_1114

DSC_1119

DSC_1122

A hemp field which the hmong tribes use to make all their fabrics

A hemp field which the hmong tribes use to make all their fabrics

DSC_1126

DSC_1134

DSC_1151

After making more progress throughout the day, we came upon a view of a wide open valley floor off in the distance which Mao told us is where we’d be spending the night.

The valley we'd be descending into

The valley we’d be descending into

A few of these and you have a nice blue mouth

A few of these and you have a nice blue mouth

DSC_1163

It wasn’t too much longer before the valley came into clearer view and soon we reached the bottom and arrived at our homestay for the evening. We quickly dropped off our bags and made our way through the town down to a little swimming hole in the refreshingly cool river.

DSC_1168

On our hike down to the river this random dog decided to follow along and walked with us from town all the way to the swimming hole then all the way back

On our hike down to the river this random dog decided to follow along and walked with us from town all the way to the swimming hole then all the way back

DSC_1175

After properly shocking our muscles back into shape with the cold water we hiked back up to our homestay for another feast of a dinner followed up with some homemade rice wine and card games with our guide and another pair of hikers and their guide.

DSC_1182

DSC_1184

DSC_1189

DSC_1191

Today’s Travel:  Ta Phin to Ban Ho via Ta Van, Giang Ta Chai, Su Pan Villages (approx. 18km)

Accommodations: Tay people’s homestay.  This was a much larger homestay with multiple rooms which worked out well as there was another couple and family staying with us this time. Once again we were treated to some great hospitality and more than enough food.

Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads

31 May 2014

We had arranged to do a 3 day 2 night trek through the valley with Sapa O’Chau on their 3 day Muong Hoa trek. Upon arrival at the shop we met with our guide Mao and were quickly out the door and making our way out of town to begin our adventure.

DSC_0904

DSC_0906

DSC_0910

DSC_0913DSC_0917

DSC_0918

For our first day we’d be hiking for about 16 kilometers through a few different villages. It wasn’t long after taking off that we were quickly off the tourist trail and the only people (outside of locals planting the new crop of rice) around. While we were hiking Mao worked to teach us a few basic words in the local Hmong language like: O’Chau (thank you), Chi O’Chau (no, thank you), Nya jon chi jon? (how are you? – this is what their hello equivalent would be) nya jon (good), chi jon (bad), la (rice terrace) and a few others that I can’t remember.

DSC_0919

DSC_0927

DSC_0930

DSC_0934

DSC_0937

DSC_0946

DSC_0954

The kilometers moved by quickly as we were constantly distracted by the extraordinary scenery that was around every bend. We thought that previously we’d seen amazing rice terraces when we were in Bali, but our surroundings here make that seem miniscule in comparison. The rice terraces here are carved into almost every contour of the mountains surrounding the valley and go on for as far as the eye can see. This stunning greenery combined with the sights of the local tribes working to plant this year’s crop made the walk the most enjoyable and easy 16 kilometers you could imagine. As we drove in the day before looking at all the terraces in the distance I wondered how anyone could traverse the hillside and today somehow I was managing to do so. I guess when you are focusing on not falling you don’t quite realize how steep the descent is.

DSC_0965

DSC_0966

DSC_0974

DSC_0976

DSC_0978

DSC_0982

DSC_0983

DSC_0996

DSC_1006

DSC_1013

DSC_1019

Ho Chi Minh = Mr. Sunshine?

DSC_1021

Amy trying her hand spinning thread

DSC_1024

DSC_1027

DSC_1031

DSC_1036

DSC_1039

A few kilometers before we made it to Lao Chai village where our guide Mao lived, her son who was in the fields playing with his friends, stopped in his tracks and ran over to her. You could immediately tell that this five year old was a total momma’s boy and was missing his mom. Lucky for us he began to lead our walk and soon we were balancing on the edges of the rice terraces making our way towards the center of the village. He made it seem so simple and was traversing the terraces with ease and so carefree while I was catching myself holding my breath and tensing up as I didn’t want to eat shit. Kids here seem to be pretty fearless, but I guess that would be normal when this is your backyard. After a few deeps breaths I was able to enjoy the challenge and soon had a big smile on my face. It was fun to explore the hillside thru the eyes of a five year old.

DSC_1040

But soon enough we came across dad who was on his motorbike. After some very sad face protest, Mao put him on the motorbike and sent him off with dad. There was no need for us to actually understand the conversation that was taking place; body language told us the whole tale. After another 20 minutes or so we soon arrived at our homestay for the night at a local house.

DSC_1043

Pigs at our homestay

Pigs at our homestay

As we were the only guests that evening, the young boy of the household about 6 years old, was eager to impress us. He had his jump rope and was showing off his impressive skills, jumping fast, with one foot and cris crossing the rope; and every so often in a very dramatic fashion taking a rest. This kid is truly a character. After a long day of trekking we were both excited to finally have a shower and enjoy the views from our red plastic chairs.  We did take a short walk down the hill to a plateau to take in more views of the never ending valley and watching as the local kids made their way home from working in the fields.

DSC_1064

DSC_1069

DSC_1070

DSC_1075

Soon enough it was time for dinner. As the young girls of the family began to bring out the dishes I quickly realized that the table we were sitting at which I had assumed was a perfect size for two would be seating 8. As the table was covered in food and we were all gathered around, it really didn’t seem that crowded, cozy yes, but comfortable. And in the back of my head I could only laugh and think of how many homes I have been at where the host says, ‘oh we need a bigger (table, house, etc)’ in reference to gathering around at meal time. While I can say that is not the truth, it is just a simple change in perspective that is needed. A few minutes into our meal, the entire family and our guide made a hastily exit back into the kitchen to gather around the TV. I think the neighbor’s TV was in earshot and they heard something that sounded serious. Adam and I just sat there wondering what was going on. It turns out the skirmish between Vietnam and China over the rights to sea was continuing to escalate. When the family came back to grab some more food, I joked with them that I thought they all got up so quickly because they thought I smelled. After a quick translation by our guide I had everyone laughing. While I thought it was just another one of my stupid jokes, they seemed to find me very funny. I knew I really liked this family! That and the fact that they really wanted to make sure we were well fed. We were served a feast with many great dishes. We did have a great laugh though as after we finished eating we made our way inside and saw in the rafters 5 giant sacks of rice which we then started asking our hosts about. They said each sack is 50kgs (110 pounds) and costs $7 per bag. The best part was that all that rice would only last them about a month or two.

DSC_1076

It was a long day of trekking so after dinner with overly full bellies (I could not say no without feeling rude) we made our way to bed since tomorrow would bring more adventures.

Today’s Travel: Sapa town to Ta Phin via Cat Cat Village, Y Linh Ho Village, Lao Chai Village (approx. 16km)

Accommodations: Ms. Thao Thi May’s Homestay. A very nice home in the countryside, the family’s hospitality was wonderful and the views were amazing. While the beds were simple, just a thin mattress pad on the ground the necessities were provided, a mosquito net and a very warm blanket (I guess it is cold in the winter, after all this the region with four seasons).

A rest between adventures

30 May 2014

We pulled into Lao Cai station early in the morning and quickly located a minibus to take us the rest of the way into Sapa. Once we reached Sapa we checked into our hotel and were looking forward to a nice relaxing day of doing pretty much nothing. Coming off a few days of travel and activities we gave ourselves the day to just relax before we started another few days of activities. For those that haven’t traveled long term, yes you must relax and give yourself a break. It’s not like being a tourist or a vacationer where you can constantly just go, go, go. If we did that we would be burnt out real quick. And when we meet our travelers this is usually a topic of conversation and I have found they are really the only other people who understand the difference. After relaxing on our balcony and napping we made our way to a cute café/restaurant.

DSC_0883

DSC_0891

While they featured lots of local art their menu was very French, read everything had cheese there was entire cheese plate section, so I had to go with the only option available, a hamburger. After seeing so many stories on FB that morning about In-and-Out as it was apparently national hamburger day (didn’t know that was a thing) it was the only appropriate option.

Today’s Travel: Lao Cai to Sapa

Accommodations: Sapa Lodge Hotel. Our hotel room was big, clean, and comfortable, but the real reason we had selected this hotel was the amazing view we had from our balcony. It looked out over the valley below and the mountains across the valley to provide some breathtaking scenery.

DSC_0868

View from our balcony

View from our balcony

Goodbye Halong Bay

29 May 2014

We awoke on our last morning in Halong Bay to drizzle falling all around us, which somehow managed to add another amazing perspective onto all the islands surrounding us.

DSC_0783

We truly are lucky that we’ve been able to experience Halong Bay in so many different ways, from clear sunshine, to morning mist, to spectacular sunsets, and everything in-between. On the agenda for this morning was a trip to Sung Sot Cave which is a massive cave complex on one of the islands nearby. This was by far one of the largest caves we’ve been in and was quite an impressive sight, even with some of the cheesy lighting inside.

DSC_0794

DSC_0807

DSC_0803

DSC_0809DSC_0816

DSC_0824

DSC_0828

DSC_0834

DSC_0842

After touring through the cave, we made our way back to the boat to start our long journey back to Hanoi.

After a few hours and a few honks from motorbike’s horns we were back in the city and being dropped off at our hotel so that we could repack our bags for our next adventure of hiking in Sapa. In order to get out to Sapa we’d be taking a train overnight out to a small town called Lao Cai which from there we’d take a minibus for an hour out to Sapa. After finishing repacking our backs and grabbing some dinner we made our way to the train station in Hanoi to hop on our train to start the journey. We were lucky enough to share our 4 berth cabin with a local family, a man in his 30’s, his 2 year old son and, and grandma along for the ride to help take care of the little one. It still amazes me how effective we’re able to communicate with people simply by using expressions, smiles, and hand gestures. I think when we get back if anyone wants to challenge us in a game of charades, we’d be a pretty tough team to beat.

Adam found a new buddy with the two year old, as Adam gazed out the window laying on his stomach on his bunk with his arms bowed out and hands under chin, the little boy looked up from the bunk he was sharing with his grandma and followed suit with his hands on the window. It was just too damn cute! And to all parents out there if you think your kids needs fancy toys to be entertained or comforted, just know that he was also perfectly happy to snuggle with a cup of noodles and his binky to fall asleep. It was insanely adorable to see him snuggled up with the cup like it was the best thing in the world.

Best item being carried by a motorbike: A door. At first I thought the driver just tied down the door to his bike, but as we passed him by I noticed that there was someone sitting behind him holding on to said door.

Today’s Travel: Halong Bay to Hanoi by mini bus, a taxi to the train station and the King Express night train to Lao Cai

Accommodations: King Express Night Train. Back in bunk beds with just enough space for us and our travel companions a family of three, it served its purpose of getting us to Lao Cai while providing a place to sleep.

Taken away

28 May 2014

Today, the local people came and took us away. As a lot of people only do a 2 day 1 night cruise, the main boat heads back to the harbor to drop them off and pick up a new group, while everyone who is doing the 3 day 2 night cruise gets picked up by another boat to spend the day exploring further into Halong Bay. Or as our tour guide told us that morning, we would be picked up and taken away by local people which we got a good laugh out of with the other couple who we’d be spending the day with.

DSC_0639

DSC_0657

DSC_0660

We first stopped at a small bay after about an hour of cruising very slow, for a swim and jumping off the top of the boat.

Halong Bay Jump 1

Halong Bay Jump 2

Halong Bay Jump 3

Then we hopped into the kayaks for what turned out to be the highlight of our time in Halong Bay. We spent about an hour or two paddling around the lagoons and taking in the amazing scenery. The highlight though was kayaking through a cave to get to a giant lagoon which we had pretty much to ourselves.

Approaching the cave

Approaching the cave

Halong Bay 10

Halong Bay 13

Coming into the lagoon

Coming into the lagoon

Halong Bay 1

Halong Bay 2

Halong Bay 3

As if it couldn’t get any better after paddling around this lagoon there was another cave (almost completely hidden away around a corner), that barely had enough clearance to float through, but it opened up into a smaller lagoon (about 100 meters diameter) that had you enclosed on all sides by high limestone karsts covered with greenery.

Halong Bay 6

Halong Bay 7

 

Halong Bay 8

 

Halong Bay 9

The feeling of paddling through the cave and then breaking out into the sunlight to be surrounded by the stunning scenery was almost mythical and not something we’ll easily forget.

Halong Bay 4

Exiting the lagoon back through the cave

Exiting the lagoon back through the cave

Halong Bay 11

After finishing kayaking, we pulled up anchor and cruised for an hour or so to another cove for lunch. We had pretty low expectations for what we’d be fed for lunch considering we were on a smallish boat, but we were blown away when we sat down and had a full spread of seafood dishes laid out before us. With full stomachs we made our way up to the top deck for a nice nap in the lounge chairs.

DSC_0690

After waking up from our nap, we made our way through a different fishing village and then we headed on to a pearl farm that’s set up in the bay to see the process of how they farm raise pearls which was quite interesting.

DSC_0674

DSC_0679

DSC_0709

They showed us everything from how they store the oysters to how they implant them with a ‘starter’ pearl which they hope will build up into a bigger pearl.

DSC_0710

DSC_0715

After our adventure here we went back to meet up with our big boat which was now back after picking up a new set of passengers.

DSC_0721

We were luckier with the weather tonight as well as we were treated to an amazing sunset that provided a perfect end to our day.

DSC_0725

DSC_0728

DSC_0740

DSC_0756

DSC_0778

Today’s Travel: Halong Bay by local boat, a stop back at the fishing village, kayaking thru caves and the pearl farm

Accommodations: Alova Gold Cruises

Let the vacation begin

27 May 2014

We started our day with an early morning pick up to begin the four hour drive to Halong Bay. We arrived on our boat, got settled in and then were fed a surprisingly great lunch. After lunch we pulled up anchor at the harbor and started our journey out to the islands out in the distance.

Safety first kids

Safety first kids

DSC_0536

DSC_0541

DSC_0547

Using the boats "gym"

Using the boats “gym”

DSC_0553

DSC_0554

We spent about an hour and a half cruising through some of the breathtaking limestone formations before we reached our first stop for the day, Ti Top Island.

DSC_0562

The island provided an amazing lookout over the bay, and everyone enjoyed taking in the views, made all the more beautiful by the few hundred stairs you had to hike up to reach the viewpoint.

DSC_0567

DSC_0576

After soaking in the view, we decided it was time to hike down and soak in the water to cool down. We then made our way back to our boat for the next adventure, Kayaking. As we were pulling up back to our boat, we had a good laugh as tt was at that moment that I realized the locals really do hustle here as a lady in a row boat pulled up on the side and was essentially a mini 7-eleven, selling everything from chips and cookies, to cold soda and beer. We soon were off on the kayaks heading to a nearby cave to peer into.

DSC_0611

DSC_0596

 

DSC_0593

We forgot our shoes of course but luckily it was more of a look inside the cave stop then a hike/walk. It was then off to the local fishing village which was an odd experience as we just looked into people’s homes as they were bathing their children and relaxing in their hammocks. It was very voyeuristic especially knowing that these people experience this pretty much all day, every day. After paddling around the fishing village we made our way back to our boat for dinner and relaxing for the evening.

DSC_0635

Today’s Travel: Hanoi to Halong Bay via mini bus then onto the tender to the “big boat” and kayaking around the local fishing village

Accommodations: Alova Gold Cruises. While I was expecting something similar to what we had while sailing the Whitsunday’s, on this boat we had our own room with a private bathroom. We can really be fancy here! The room was spacious and clean and the boat and plenty of places to relax and take in the beauty that surrounded us on Halong Bay. Plus the safety instructions provided in our room were nothing short of amazng.

DSC_0588

In case of emergency, give someone a hug

In case of emergency, give someone a hug

Enjoy reading the Passenger Instructions

Enjoy reading the Passenger Instructions