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
Feb 15: Day 6: Hoi AnHow this day is planned (my worst plan ever) .. Below 2 paras - Not necessary to read..Check out from homestay in morning.. keep backpack there.. go to Ba Na hills in the morning.. Go to My Son.. roam in Hoi An more.. have dinner in Hoi An.. at late night take a Xe Om and go to railway station to catch 3.00am train to Dong Hoi.What really happened: Checked out from homestay in morning.. kept backpack there.. went to Ba Na hills in the morning.. didnt go to My Son.. roamed in Hoi An more.. came back to homestay at 5.00pm.. asked them about ways to reach railway station.. they said only taxi.. no Xe Om available.. no bus.. But the taxi was costly.. So next best cheap option, go to Hoi An bus stand by taxi and catch 6.00pm bus from there to Da Nang.. I reached Da Nang railway station at 7.00pm.. Duh!!! I have a train at 3.00am.. What to do these many hours!! An hour later, I packed myself with water, chips, bananas, cake from the railway shop.. I found a charging point.. A cozy place to sit where it wasnt that cold.. and thats it Youtube!! Free railway WiFi.. Spent all the time watching some funny stuff.. I call this: Improvisation and learning!By the way, BaNa hills was cool.. It had horrible rains.. but lot of fun to ride the Yamaha through it.. very scenic, less traffic.. There is a mud bath castle kind of thing here. No idea what that is.This route: https://goo.gl/maps/CfzxwnRgK3S2
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.
An Bang Beach
After resting for some time at the hotel, we took a cab to An Bang Beach, about 5km from Hoi An. It seemed like everyone in Hoi An has descended there. Considering the low season and how small the town is had not expected to see such huge crowds. It is a mystery how the beach was still so clean. Unless you are really keen on beaches, would recommend tourists to avoid An Bang.
My Khe Beach
Next day, We hired a 2-wheeler to enjoy the city. We experienced little rains and dense clouds but we were enjoying. The look and feel of every city in vietnam was different in its own way. Danang is a blend of gleaming new modernist buildings, clubs, pagados and beaches. The famous attractions in da nang are Lady buddha, The marble mountains, My Khe beach, Museum of Cham Sculpture, Hàn River Bridge, Novotel hotel and Novotel Danang Han River Bridge. The city is fully lighted at night making it really beautiful.
Cat Ba National Park
We arrived at Hon Gai pier at around noon and then transferred to the cruise ship. After we checked in, we were served lunch. We were pleasantly surprised with the wide variety of veg food. Some time after lunch we reached Cat Ba national Park area where we got off for kayaking and swimming. After getting back to the ship we cruised to the overnight anchorage. Scenery along the way is simply breathtaking. In the evening there was a spring roll cooking class. After the class we made our way to to the top deck to enjoy the fantastic sunset. At night some of us tried squid fishing, only a couple of guys were lucky enough to catch some.Day 5 : Ha Long Bay Next day we got up early for a Tai Chi class at 6:30am. Breakfast was served at 7am. After the amazing vegetarian food the previous day, breakfast was a let down with hardly any edible veg options. At 8am we transferred to a small boat to visit Sung Sot Cave. After spending an hour there, we came back to the ship , freshened up and checked out of our rooms by 9:30am. At 11am the lunch was served. Second day was somewhat rushed - my only complaint about the cruise. But I guess they had no option as the next group was to come on aboard at noon. At 12 we disembarked, got on a bus and headed back to Hanoi. We reached Hanoi Symphony Hotel at around 4:30pm.In the evening we made our way to Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. Water puppetry is a traditional art form of Vietnamese. The theatre is located near the Hoan Kiem Lake. Everyday they have five shows - of one hour each. The ticket is priced at around USD 5. There are 10-12 performances showcasing local culture and customs. There is an orchestra which plays typical Vietnamese musical instruments. The singing is in Vietnamese language but they provide a brochure with explanations - quiet helpful. There are four sacred animals in Vietnam - Turtle, Dragon, Unicorn and Phoenix. Most of the Vietnamese outside the big cities are engaged in fishing and agriculture. The performances show all these aspects and more. The story of Hoan Kiem Lake is also told in one of the performances.Day 6: Hoi An
It was a long track, and the visibility was getting worse because of the abundance of water vapour in the air. This in turn made the paths extremely slippery, even though we were geared in our sport shoes. Some paths were clearly strewn with stones which were supposed to allow our soles to have a better grip, but the rain effectively had us walking with zero friction. Needless to say, tripping and falling down the slopes were so common - sometimes even falling down in the midst of helping another person up! Good hiking shoes are so important, lesson learnt. Unfortunately for me, I learnt it the hard way. While crossing the Thác Tình Yêu stream (translated as: stream of love), I missed my footing whilst hopping from rock to rock and fell in. If you look at the next picture closely, there were yellow and black sea snakes in there, thank goodness I was completely oblivious if not I would have struggled more. Because it was winter in Vietnam (the trip was done in December), the stream was freezing cold and made me drenched from head to toe - even my coat was soaking wet so I was pretty much wet and cold for the rest of the journey. My sister, being my sister, just stood at the other end and laughed. And of course, I became the bane of my mum's jokes from then on too. The Thác Tình Yêu (cascade of love) waterfall is a long tedious trek away, but it was definitely worth the deal for it was really breathtaking! My iPhone doesn't do it justice to capture it in its entirety, but it does bring out the essence of its natural rustic charm. I imagine that in summer time, the locals would like to enjoy a refreshing dip in the waters and