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Southeast Asia "When I go on Japanese Airlines, I really love it because I like Japanese food." - Phil Collins


VIETNAM | Friday, 3 January 2014 | Views [346]

So it has been over a month since my last update, sorry everyone! But don't worry I've been keeping a journal to show people so all is not lost :) 

This was written a week ago... --> now in the south but "We are now in Northern Vietnam, after spending a couple weeks in Laos which maybe I'll recap here eventually!  I'm currently writing this on Cat Ba Island while bundled up in full sweat gear under a somewhat flimsy duvet, because it's freaking cold here!  (And the past few weeks of our trip have ranged from somewhat chilly at times to 'I'm unprepared for this weather with just my sweatshirt and leggings"). But I still can't complain because we were thinking of going north to Sapa which was highly recommended but then it snowed there... And this is still probably warm compared to Jersey!  Anyways, we've been in Cat Ba since December 20, but we got here fairly late that day so there's not much to tell about then, other than we had some great Pho with vegetables at a little local spot

December 21
We signed up for an all day kayaking excursion around the various bays and islands here and started nice and early at 8:15am and it was still quite chilly.  We took a traditional Vietnamese junk boat out to the first kayaking spot, Lan Ha Bay, where our guide Rose showed us around the super calm water and various islands.  We first stopped at a little beach and skipped rocks like the children we are, and then checked out a 'shipwreck' which was just a boat made out of concrete that had washed ashore/sink (not surprising that a concrete boat wouldn't fare well?). Then Rose mentioned that she wanted to try and find a hidden lagoon and of course we were on board, so we all paddled our way around nooks and crannies in the massive rock mountains looking for any openings.  We soon found it and venture through the slit until our kayaks could go no further and then we jumped out into the water (knee deep and  surprisingly warm for how freezing the air was) and checked out the lagoon.  It was pretty cool, a secluded area surrounded by rock walls, with one side having a little cave/beach and the other some more water and rocks (sounds a lot less cool than it looked haha).  After checking that spot out for a bit, we returned to the kayaks and continued on to a bigger lagoon that was very pretty with water even calmer than the bay and a traditional fisherman pulling in his net.  It would have been an awesome spot to swim around but unfortunately we were way too cold for that so we just floated around and took pictures until we returned to the boat for lunch. 

Our next stop was a short boat ride away that put us closer to Halong Bay.  Here we had more people join our kayaking crew and we all set off for another beach and under some fun cave-y archways.  After the beach we all went off in separate ways for some solo kayaking and Hila and I found another cool lagoon!  We headed back to the boat and at 4ish the boat headed home.  On the way, we saw another boat parked near some rocks and people were making a fuss and then we realized it was because there was as family of endangered langurs sitting on the ledge!  It was so awesome that we got to see them since they are really rare and only like 65 exist today! And we saw 5 including 2 babies!  After all the  excitement we made it back to shore where we had dinner, played some dominoes and retired early.

December 22
Today we shared a motorbike and explored the island some more!  We stopped at the local market and picked up some fresh fruits and veggies for the ride and then head off to the national park.  We first stopped at Hospital Cave and were led on a quick tour through the various rooms carved into the rocks that were used to house Vietnamese soldiers during the war.  We saw where Ho Chi Minh slept and the pool and cinema areas as well.  We almost had to pretend we were Canadian when the guide asked where we were from but he got distracted and never asked again ;)

Back on the motorbike we went until we got to the national park entrance!  There we paid our entrance fee and stated our 40 or so minute trek to the peak/viewpoint.  We decided to count the stairs and got to well over 500 until we gave up, unable to classify what rocks on the vertical climb counted as steps anymore!  At the top, the view was really cool of all the mountains around us and a town in the distance.  It was even cooler from atop the rusty, rickety tower labeled 'Danger No Climbing' where we had a complete 360 view around!! Sorry mom and dad... We made it back down safely obviously and munched our snacks before snapping more pics and heading on the journey back!  Eventually we got to the motorbike and then ate at a great local spot called 'Mr Zoom', where we also had dinner and breakfast before leaving on the 24th!

December 24
Made it back to Hanoi where we were staying one night before venturing off again somewhere new.  We celebrated Christmas Eve with some new friends we met on the bus ride home, Andrew and Eliza.  Dined at a local spot that literally only had 9 menu items (mostly fried) but was constantly packed.  We ordered a bunch of things and shared them all with our duty free wine that was delish!  Then we joined everyone - locals and tourists - in celebrating Christmas Eve with drinks and silly Santa gear.

December 25
Slightly hungover with time to kill before our bus at 7 pm to our next destination, we wandered Hanoi some more before catching a $5 movie at the Vincom Theatre :). At 7pm we boarded our lovely sleeper bus to Phong Nga.  It was 3 rows of almost completely reclined bunk beds with 2 aisles separating them.  Quite cozy for us short people, but I imagine not as comfortable for others.  We ended up getting separated and I had a top bunk window bed in the front of the bus with 3 hilarious British people who kept me thoroughly entertained until the bus went lights out at 9pm... Don't be fooled, lights out did not mean sleep seeing as the ride was quite bumpy and the horn was in CONSTANT use, as is customary throughout Vietnam.  I managed to get a few hours of sleep though until we were thrown off at our stop at 5:30am- I can't even get started on the logic behind that - but we called the hostel we wanted to stay at and they eventually picked us up.  Our whole point of getting to Phong Nga was to check out some of the incredible caves that recently (2011) opened to the public, so when we were told the tour we wanted to do was every other day meaning leaving right now or in a couple days, we chose now! 

We booked a full day tour to two caves with swimming and trekking and lunch.  We went to Porcupine Cave as well as Red cave, with treks through rice fields, tall wheaty looking fields, up and down jungley mountains and of course through the caves.  We learned about the different formations in the caves and how various floods affected them and we got to take a freezing swim through Porcupine Cave to our lunch spot!  The day was really fun and quite tiring so we passed out early at about9pm...


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