Hoan Kiem Lake
'Lake Of The Restored Sword' or the Hoan Kiem Lake is one of the most scenic spots in Vietnam. Closely knit with its mythology, with a nice story about how the lake got its name (in the 15th century during the Ming Chinese invasion, general Le Loi was presented with a holy sword. With the help of this sword he expelled the Chinese from Thang Long, present-day of Hanoi and proclaimed himself as King Le Thai To.), this place is also a spot for most public celebrations in Vietnam. Situated in the Old Quarter this lake is a great place to stop by and gain a foothold in Hanoi. Much of the city's culture, fashion and food surrounds this lake.
Born out of continuous tectonic orgies spread over millions of years, Ha Long Bay is one offspring mother Earth should be proud of! This limestone karsts jigsaw is Vietnam's prized heavyweight boxer that knocks everything else out and has single-handedly catapulted the country into travel bucket lists around the world. It's famous and it's crowded. Rightly so. The best way of banging the bay is getting yourself on a junk boat and spending a couple of days exploring the many caves and kayaking in the waters followed by scrumptious meals and late night revelries. Oh, and don't forget the sunsets you'll witness.
Sung Sot Cave
As you can see, Pete is rather enjoying the chaos, but I’m finding the beeping and the difficulty of crossing the road a bit overwhelming! Last night was also the start of the ‘Autumn Festival’ in Hanoi, a special celebration of the seasons especially for kids. This meant the streets were absolutely chocca block with people, jostling against the bikes for space! I got a bit stressed out by the heat and the inability to move, but it was cool to see. There were three caves in total, each one bigger than the last. The final one was like an enormous hall with a curved ceiling – stalagmites and stalactites everywhere, and rainwater running down the walls. It was absolutely incredible – and from the outside completely invisible! It was such a great surprise.
Lan Ha Bay
Second Day As the day breaks, you are invited to join a Tai Chi demonstration taking place on the top deck of the vessel. Enjoy a buffet breakfast on the main vessel before being transferred to our day-boat, Paradise Explorer, which will take you to Bai Tu Long Bay, one among the many wonderful natural wonders with beautiful islands and long, white-sandy beaches. Winter Program (Oct 1st - Apr 30th) The winter will see you land on Cat Ba Island, the largest island in Halong bay, to explore by bicycle or motorbike and visit a local village. After transferring to Cat Ba, enjoy a gentle cycle or motorbike ride along a stunning coastal road before turning inland to snake through rice fields surrounded by dense jungle. 5km inland, stop at Viet Hai Village to take in the tranquil atmosphere and beautiful surroundings. Our guide will explain about life on the island and you will have the chance to visit the local school and chat to the friendly and welcoming villagers. Return to the Explorer for a well-deserved lunch. Summer Program (May 1st - Sep 30th) The summer means a visit to Vung Vieng, one of the largest floating villages in Halong bay, a ramshackle collection of buildings that include a school, museum and almost a hundred dwellings where the fishermen and their families reside all year round. This unusual way of living only on water and in relative isolation has encouraged a completely unique culture not seen anywhere else in Vietnam. Transfer from the Explorer to a small rowboat to quietly paddle through the village and interact with the locals who reside here. Stop at the largest floating area, which contains the small school and museum where you can learn about everyday life in the village, how this unlikely situation came about and why the locals are fiercely protective over this unique way of living. Then, row to Tung Sau pearl farm and discover the intricate methods of oyster and pearl cultivation.
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/
Around 5pm we took a cab toWest lake, the largest freshwater lake in Hanoi. There are many historic places of interest around the lake including the oldest Vietnamwese Pagoda and one of their sacred temples. Some of the biggest hotels in the city are also located near the lake. We walked a bit around the lake and then settled at a small cafe to enjoy the sunset. After the sunset we walked a bit more and went into a small pub called 'Red River' . It had a unique concept of serving only drinks while one can order food from other nearby restaurants. They provided menus of different restaurants to us. After dinner we headed back to the hotel for an early night as we had a early start the next day.Day 4: Ha Long Bay
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.
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.
Cat Ba Island
To move further away from the flocks of tourists, Cat Ba Island is your place. It is the biggest island in Ha Long Bay. This island is famous for its National Park, which is abode to the highly endangered Golden Headed Langur. This place has a few caves which you can explore with the help of a local guide or buy a map and explore some through the woods yourself. You will find rocky cliffs along the coastline and some small fishing villages. This can be an excellent way to interact with the locals and get to know their culture and simple lifestyle. Some parts of the island are considerably deserted and are ideal to get out the explorer in you. You can also indulge in some rock climbing activity.
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.
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
Cat Cat Village
One of the trekking highlights in Sa pa would be Cat Cat village (pronounced as 'ca-aht ca-aht village'), a village formed in the mid-19th century and houses the Mong ethnic tribe. This is only 2km away from the central town, but requires some intensive walking. You can easily pick up a map from any hostel reception, or you could hire a local guide - the latter is advisable as there are no proper pathways and the fog makes the visibility very bad. Along the way, you can catch the French exisiting hydro-electric power station next to the Cat Cat waterfall. The ethnic tribe takes pride in their traditional handicrafts such as cotton tree planting, weaving and bracelets, which have been preserved through generations. They also had a show performed for visiting tourists (unfortunately yes, they have succumbed to tourism as well) which features a unique cultural tradition specific to their people called the keo vo (wife pulling) festival.