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Location 47, 48, 49, 50: Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay & Dong Hoi, Vietnam

VIETNAM | Friday, 12 August 2016 | Views [331]

Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay & Dong Hoi - Vietnam:

The first few cities in Vietnam were filled with a lot of moving around the northern part of the country.  My friends Zubin and Victoria joined me in Hanoi, so it was a welcome change to the daily solo travels.  In Hanoi- we went to the Vietnam Prisoner's museum to get an understanding of how US soldiers were treated in war prison, it was an interesting depiction of prison life during this time.  Often times in museums like this it is hard to gauge the accuracy of the history, but from what I saw it seemed that soldiers had a relatively peaceful (as much as possible) experience in the Vietnamese war prisons.  While in Hanoi I also dealt with my first bit of food poisoning, luckily it was short lived and after about 4 hours it had finally subsided.  I still don't know what brought it on, but I was glad when it passed.  We also went to Literature Temple, which is Vietnam's first national university.  It had a nice garden to walk around in and brief descriptions of the structure's history.  The day before Victoria arrived, Zubin and I walked most of the Old Quarter making sure we saw all the city had to offer.  We then spent the morning bargaining tour prices for our next two excursions.

Once Victoria arrived we began our two mini trips, in order to cover as much territory as possible.  The first 3 day trip we took was to Sapa, in Northern Vietnam. The night buses are really brutal for anyone taller than 5'10, so we opted to take the night train.  We got picked up from our hostel at 7pm and headed to the train station, we boarded at 8pm and rode through the night to Lao Cai.  Lao Cai is the closest train station to the town of Sapa, so once you arrive you need to take a van the 30 kilometers to the mountain village.  The train coach we were in was structured to hold 6 people, essentially two triple bunk beds.  We had a friendly Korean girl, who taught us a simple drinking game and then a Chinese woman with her young daughter.  We stayed up for a few hours chatting and then called it a night around midnight.  At approximately 4:30am we were woken up to yelling that we had made it to our stop.  We grabbed our backpacks and waited at the train station for further direction.  Unfortunately there had been several mudslides that had damaged the short road into Sapa, so we were forced to take the long way, which was ravaged by giant potholes, flowing water and many turns.  What was supposed to be a 40 minute ride ended up being over two hours, so when we arrived we had time to quickly change clothes, eat breakfast, and repack our backpacks before heading out on the 4 hour trek.  The H'Mong people are the inhabitants of the village we were trekking, so we had these woman guide us along the path through the jungle and rice terraces.  I have done several long hikes before on this 4.5 month journey, but watching these woman traverse the hillsides, while helping us navigate our way was really incredible.   They wore only flip flops, while us Westerns wore hiking shoes or Chacos.  Luckily, our group was quite small, so we were able to take our time and rest when we needed to.  We eventually made it to the homestay, where we slept for one night.  The woman running the homestay spoke little English, but she did a great job providing meals and comfortable bed pads for us to sleep on.  A second group of travelers met us, so in total there were 15 of us staying with her and her family. The host and her husband cooked us a great meal and than force fed us "happy water"(rice wine shots) till the entire group was nice and social.  We spent the night playing cards and just hanging out.  In the morning we took the road to a waterfall that we could swim in and then from there we got a ride back to Sapa, to catch our ride back to the train station.  We weren't trekking with our big packs, so once we returned to Hanoi we had about 3 hours to swap out our trekking clothes for fresh ones to take with us for our 2 night Halong Bay tour.

The Halong Bay tour was definitely a highlight because of the social dynamic it included.  The way the tour worked was the three of us, plus 22 other backpackers were loaded into, buses, boats and dorm rooms where we would spend the next couple days together.  En route to Halong Bay, the company operating the first boat had engine issues, so all 26 of us were confined to a small cabin under the boat deck where we melted for the next 90 minutes.  It got a bit tedious as people began to yell at the guides, but we eventually did make it to Monkey Island.  Upon arriving we were given a nice lunch and then we loaded into a boat to go cliff diving, swimming and kayaking.  It was brutally hot in Halong Bay, so the swimming portion was a great relief.  Victoria and I were paired up for the kayaking portion and within 15 minutes the back end of the kayak started to fill with water.  As we struggled to keep afloat it became apparent that we were not going to be able to make it back to where the boat was anchored.  We managed to flag down a local fisherman to tow us back, but we ended up falling out of the kayak 300 meters shy of the boat.  We climbed into his boat (slicing our toes and hands on his engine) and he delivered us back to the group.  Between the cluster at the boat dock and the kayaking mishap I was ready to go back for the evening.  We spent the night on the mountain top bungalows hanging with the other travelers and drinking beers.

The second day of the tour was a biking, hiking and swimming day.  Most of the group headed back to Hanoi because they had signed up for only one night, so the three of us actually had a tour guide and entire boat to ourselves for the whole afternoon.  We headed to Cat Ba Island to do a 40 minute bike ride into a local village and from there we did a one hour hike through the jungle.  Similarly to the day before it was extremely hot, so once we finally made it back to the boat we were allowed to swim while they prepared us a great lunch.  We arrived back to Monkey Island around 3pm and then started getting to know the new arrivals.  We had dinner and played cards the rest of the evening and then made the 4.5 hour journey back to Hanoi the next afternoon. 

Once we arrived in Hanoi we collected our big bags and repacked the laundry we had washed.  We had about 5 hours before we had to board our next night train to Dong Hoi (currently here), so we grabbed some dinner and just hung out at the hostel we had stayed at previously.  We scored on the transportation front and managed to get 3 sleeper beds in the 4 person cabin.  The ride to Dong Hoi was close to 10 hours, but after being on the move so much the last 6 days we all slept soundly through the night.

We pulled into the train station, in Dong Hoi, around 7:30am, so we grabbed a cab to our hotel and relaxed for a few hours.  Between Sapa and Halong Bay we shared a room with 45 other people, so it was great to have our own space for a couple nights.  We took a shower to rinse off the residue of Halong Bay, ate breakfast and then headed to the beach.  Dong Hoi is literally a ghost town, not including us, there were 4 other people on the entire beach.  The weather was perfect and the sea was a nice cool temperature, it was honestly a perfect day with the exception of the jellyfish that ravaged my right leg.  I broke out with red inflammation all over my ankle and knee cap, but after loads of vinegar, sand and ice massages, the stinging finally subsided.  We took a cab into city center where we drank Bia Hoi (fresh beer - brewed daily, but never actually goes through the fermentation process) with locals, and ate the cheapest meal I've had in SEA.  The three of us each had a bowl of noodles and I ordered "Nem Lui" = which is basically vegetables and chicken skewers wrapped in rice paper.  The entire meal totaled 55,000 Dong or $2.50.  The rain picked up, so we called a cab and headed in for the night.

On day 2 of Dong Hoi we each got massages at the largest resort in the city.  It was a nice thing to do after several prior days of activities and stiff beds.  Overall Dong Hoi was a quick retreat from the all the movement leading up to it.  I officially have one month left in Asia, so need to make the most of it!  We board a minibus to Hoi An tomorrow, till next time.

Neill

See photos here.

Tags: beaches, trekking, vietnam

 

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