Hoan Kiem Lake
We stayed in Central Hanoi. So, we got to experience the street culture at its best - from restaurants to tiny street food joints serving traditional Vietnamese food, apparel stores, stationary, tourist markets, etc. It was a colourful experience altogether. A walk around Hoan Kiem Lake will give you glimpses of Hanoi's urban culture.
Myriad forms of geo-diversities, breathtaking natural beauty and an age-old culture have made Vietnam truly fabulous. Apart from the capital city of Hanoi, in and around the Ho Chi Minh city, tourists can enjoy the quintessence of Vietnamese culture. We have Ha Long Bay in our list, often referred as the eighth natural wonder of the world. Million years of environmental changes have given rise to karstification of the land. Travelling through thousands of monolithic limestone islands jutting out of the emerald green silent water, on a traditional junk, is an unforgettable experience. The Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Sung Sot Cave
There are many activities available like excursions to kayaking, squid fishing, swimming at Ti Top Beach or spa on board. We took the chance to visit Surprise Cave or Sung Sot in Vietnamese. I had to walk a good number of steps before reaching this giant cave with me all the while thinking "this better be worth it!". Well, when i reached inside, i will say a definite "Yes!".Once inside, do remember to look up as you will see clear evidence that the cave was once, in fact, in the ocean and the circular formations on the ceiling of the cave caused by the wave movements is all that remains of its distant past. The guide will point out various rock formations that looks like a man fishing, tortoise, and finger - for me, the beauty of this place is the massiveness of the cave as i wandered from one chamber to another. Sure, i encountered many other tourists when i was there but it didn't bother me as the cave was definitely large enough to accommodate boatfuls of us.Pelican serves excellent meals (although no food is available outside of indicated meal times) on board with variety of staples, meats and seafood. I will highly recommend the happy hour where i got 1 for 1 drinks that I was able to bring in for my dinner service.The other highlight for me was the sunrise above the mountains which made the overnight stay well worth it. We had good weather although it still looked a bit misty to me. But that doubt cleared when we heard that the night before our stay was really bad i.e. you cannot see beyond 10m.Thanks to Xing-Asia for making all the wonderful arrangements!
Lan Ha Bay
We had initial hiccups getting a hold of the local currency - the Vietnamese Dong. (A tip for travellers: Pay in local currency. Do not quote/ask in US Dollars). From Hanoi we headed to Lan Ha Bay which is about 4 hours from Hanoi by bus. This is the cheapest mode of transportation to Halong Bay or Lan Ha Bay. (We chose Lan Ha Bay over Halong Bay because it is much peaceful and there's less pollution).
Be awed by the Hospital cave, as the name suggests the cave served as an underground hospital during the war. Even if you have had too much of caves while in Vietnam, you must visit this because of the historical importance it holds. Ticket price is 15000 VND.Kayak your way through the floating village, rest at one of the tiny islands in the middle of nowhere, reach the Lan Ha Bay and click loads of pictures! We rented a kayak on our own as that gives one much more freedom to explore (and adds a pinch of adventure). Renting a 2 person kayak for the whole day would cost you $6 and for half a day would cost you $5. Watching the numerous limestone karsts around there would come a point when your intrepid heart would be tempted to climb one! Rock climbing can be done through any of the operators around the area.An island life is incomplete without its beaches and after all the tiring activities nothing beats a quick dip in the ocean or the endless stare at the horizon. Beaches are accessible by a motorbike.Indulge in some seafood and tiger beer at one of the many restaurants at the harbor, the food is fairly priced with every other restaurant running discounts (and happy hours) post 5:00 pm.There is so much more that can be done at the Cat Ba Island and one can easily spend 2 nights and 3 days here, if you are planning to visit the place for just 1 night I would suggest you to rethink as that would result in missing out on a number of things in the mad rush.The one word that can describe my experience here is- trouvaille (a lucky find) it is not really an extraordinary island and Vietnam sure has places equally breath-taking, but there was something about the experience; may be the impromptu plan with two travelers I had just met a day earlier taught me to trust well or the fact that I learned something new (Kayaking) or it could be the moment when I thought the kayak will crash into one of the karst but I managed my way out or yet it may be that flash at the bay when realization struck that I was actually at a place which I had only seen in movies and magazines. Whatever it may be, the island was a lucky find- one of many.Happy Traveling!This travelogue was first published by https://khyatimaloo.wordpress.com/
We wandered up to west lake, picked up our first loaf of brown bread in weeks from a French bakery and sat eating banana sambos on a bench! Happy days! Thankfully the French did introduce patisseries while they were here!Another amazing culinary discovery in a land barren of soya products was the humble iced avocado coffee. Vietnam is one of the largest coffee producers in the world and they have their own unique style! Unlike what we’re used to back in Europe with coffee made from Arabica beans, they produce Robusta beans (i.e. the stuff used for rank instant coffee). So their signature coffee is the Saigon coffee; you get a cup with a drip filter that sits on top with the ground coffee inside. Then the water is poured on top and takes about 10 minutes to filter through. Then you get a separate glass with ice and you pour the super-strength tar-like coffee over the ice. At least this coffee was readily available, unlike the coveted civet-cat-poo coffee that we were so intrigued to sample! (FYI this coffee is made from the coffee beans that have passed through the digestive system of a civet cat, giving it some extra enzymes that supposedly make it extra yummy and the most expensive coffee in the world). Unfortunately, our little white faces only drew a load of attempts to sell us fake, over-priced, replica beans, so we missed out.After that we walked along and peeked over a wall only to find kung fu martial arts going down with samurai swords, num chucks and spears!Other dinners we had were in pretty dodgy eateries where we had other Vietnamese delicacies like bun cha (chargrilled pork and noodles) and our fav Vietnamese dish so far bun bo nam (beef, noodles, broth, crispy onions).We visited the prison, built by brutal, oppressive French colonists, which was later used to imprison US pilots that were shot down (including John McCain), who sarcastically nicknamed it the ‘Hanoi Hilton’. It was recently the 60th anniversary of Vietnam’s independence from the French so there was extra exhibitions and it was very interesting to learn a bit about their turbulent and violent history.
Ba Na Hills
Da-Nang which is like a cosmopolitan town of Vietnam is an hours flight from Da-lat . From Da-nang at around 50 km drive are the Bana Hills. The prime attraction at Bana hills are cable cars which holds 4 Guiness world records. The cable ride will take you 1 Km up and is around 5 Km in perimeter. The 17 minute ride up is beautiful and serene and the BANA resort at the top is grand and elegant.
The Paradise cave (opened to public in 2011) can be best reached by a motorbike – a number of options available to rent one in about 100,000 VND- the roads can get slippery due to the rain so make sure you ride around the area only if you are sure of your riding skills. Another cave that you can (and must) visit on your own is the Dark Cave here you zip-line your way inside the caves, get real muddy walking your way through it, wash off in the river and kayak your way out on the land- sounds amazing isn’t it?Other things to do:Apart from the above mentioned caves there are a number of cave system that are not advisable to reach without a tour operator since the park has one of the highest concentration of unexploded ordnance in the world. You can take one of the tours to the Tu Lan cave or Son Doong cave – I recommend taking an overnight tour to these caves as a lot of time goes in hiking through the jungle to reach them also camping in the caves would be closest to a magical experience.The national park has to offer one of the hardest eco trail and a large number of fauna & flora, one can hike their way to a new adventure. And at the end of the adrenaline packed day you can choose to relax by the Mountain River Café, order special chocolate coffee and let the mesmerizing beauty of Phong Nha Ke Bnag leave you breathless.I would love to know about your experience in Phong Nha and suggestions. If you want more information feel free to comment, or write to me.Happy Travelling!This travelogue was first published by https://khyatimaloo.wordpress.com/
Trang An Grottoes
The bamboo boat tour at Trang An Grottoes, Ninh Binh is also a must. While these types of limestone caves are not so uncommon in other places of the world, we learnt, that meandering through the limestone caves on boats drawn by skilful Vietnamese women having a prowess is just thrilling.Vietnam is now a throbbing and fast-developing nation, not a war. The very spirit of the nation, its heritage and culture, deserve a visit.For interested readers, Air Asia (Kolkata only), Singapore Airlines, Malindo Air have direct flights to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi from other metro cities.