The first impression
Vietnam is absolutely an amazing country. However I was expecting them to look after better of their ocean. But still the nature and mystery of Asia are still waiting for you.
Visa process is easy for most countries. You can apply online for invitation letter. It is around 11 usd and takes 3-4 days. Process is very easy you can work with that company: firstname.lastname@example.org. Send them email. They will get back to you straight away. Provide them easy documents and pay via link which they send to you by credit card. After 3 days you will receive a document that you must show it in the Vietnam Border.
1. Hanoi City,
Once i landed to Hanoi Airport the visa process took almost 1 hour. There as shuttles to the city center just outside of the airport. The cost is 5 USD but you have to wait till the vehicle is full. The journey takes around 30 mins to the city. The first impression of mine was there was no Asian vibe as the other Asian countries do. It was a messy city. The first thing I noticed was the scooters has only one side mirror. In the first place I thought they are all stolen but it wasn’t the reason. The reason of why they remove them off is, they ride it so close to each other in the city; there are many of them but the roads are tight. Therefore there are accidents all the time mirror to mirror. =)
Where to stay...Anyway, I meet with my friend Annie in Truc Lam Hotel. It was an extremely clean place and in a good location. Also it was in very good area to reach the night life. However, it was little bit expensive absolutely not for backpackers. We have paid 45 USD for one night. If you want to stay in Hostel with all other backpackers Pho Hang Chieu is the street where all the hostels and entertainment places based. Normally I didn’t stay in an expensive hotels but my friend was there only for couple of days. So I made it up to her.
The City...I always look for water where ever I go and the city has also a big lake just in the center. And a coffee shop that you can enjoy drinks just middle of the lake. Also there is a Path to there you don’t need to swim :) if you walk to the other side of the lake you think like you are in Paris. Actually I am not kidding. This part of the city is under the influence of French architecture: Luxury coffee shops, Famous designers, Opera house and restaurants… and also the roads here are completely different than the other side of the lake. I felt like I got through to another word after a point.
After some French Vibe we decided to go back to the Asia vibe; to the other side of the lake. It is possible to see coffee stores everywhere. 1000 kind of coffee you can taste and buy from the shops. I bought Luwak Cofee. Actually I had doubts as the price of it was 15 USD/100gr. I paid 45 usd for 100gr in Bali. So I still don’t know if that one is the original. But the taste was good.
(Daily) tours from Hanoi...We were planning to go to Halong Bay in the next day and book our transfer to Cat Ba Island. Also daily/2 days tours are available but we preferred to do our own tour and paid 15USD to transport (return trip) for each. Here you can reach the tour guys phone. He is very helpful and smiley. 0084934594870. Journey takes 3 hours in total. Bus and ferry service….
2. Cat Ba Island and Halong Bay
We booked a room from Cat Ba central hostel. The Hostel was not so good but we had not many choice. And we were there just for Halong Bay. Cat Ba should be used only for accommodation. There is absolutely nothing to do there. There only a beach (cat co) but it is not the place spend the all day. It is so crowded and partly dirty. After one day trip to Halong Bay, you can carry on yours traveling to other destination.
We bought the boat tour from the hotel which was 16 USD each. Halong Bay Boat tours one of the things you have to do in Vietnam. The nature, people who live on the ocean(floating villages), kayaking through the caves, it is absolutely worth to pay 16 USD for the tour. All I was surprised is how the Vietnamese people not take care of their ocean some parts were so dirty…
The boat comes back to the Cat Ba Island around 5 Pm. We stayed the night because it was late already to take any bus back to Hanoi. If I had a chance to go Hanoi back I wouldn’t have stayed in Cat Ba Island one more night.
We came back to Hanoi and stayed one more day and Annie back to USA the next day.
3. Ninh Binh
How to go...I did a big mistake and bought the ticket from a tour agency. I paid 30 USD. Once I arrived to the train station I realized that the train tickets are sold in counter for 15 USD to Ninh Binh. So you do not have to rush or stressed to find a train ticket, just go to Hanoi station and buy your ticket there. There is different type of railroad cars. If you buy the cheap one which is kind of 8 USD your journey will be without A/C. and you believe me you wouldn’t want it. That heat and humidity with 2.5 hours... I cannot imagine it. But still visited their car and I see how people were losing their self because of the heat. This is not a joke.
After 8 hour Journey I arrived to Ninh Binh. In the first place I feel like; OK! Where the hell am I? It was just an ordinary town. But next three days all my thoughts had changed.
Where to stay...Once you get off from the station a lot of taxi drivers offer to you a ride. My hostel was in Tam Coc Area where 15 mins from the station is. I stayed in Tam Coc river view homestay. I think this is one of the best places you can stay in there. Also you can use the bicycle of the hotel for free or you can rent a scooter in very reasonable price (it was 4 usd for one day)
Tam Coc is a very small Village there is almost nothing to do in the evenings beside couple of backpackers Hostels give small parties. In the other hand people stays in Tam Coc because it is close to sights. After all day sightseeing the best thing would be in that small town is having 2 pints of beers and go to sleep to wake up fit for the next day adventures.
Sights in Ninh Binh
Trang An (Tam Coc river tours):
After 20 mins ride from our hostel I was in Trang An. I didn’t book any ticket from the city because I had been informed that the tickets are sold in the tour place.
First of all there are 2 routes. The 1st route more likely for cave lovers (8 caves to getting through) 2nd route is, you still have 4 caves and plus Skull Island. The tickets 200 dong (8 usd) and it is better you buy a hat. Because you will have 2.5 hours trip under the sun. Whatever tour you take I am sure that you will enjoy the view and nature for sure. And also one of the best points of the toure is the Skull Island Movie set. The part of the movie has been shot in a small island in Tam Coc River. You will find a chance to see the set with this tour.
This is one of the MUST DO in Vietnam.
Okay it wasn’t that easy to climb there but it is totally worth it. It is again in 20 mins riding range from the hostel area. The entrance is 8 euro. First you need to climb 400 steps to reach the top. Therefore it would be better to do it with sport shoes. Don’t forget to buy water from the market in the entrance you will need it. The view on the top is one of the best view that I have ever had. So don’t be lazy and burn some calories
Okay But why is it called Mua Caves? It is all about to climbing 400 steps. No….! Once you come back to the entrance there is a hidden cave with a natural pool. The water is so cool especially after that effort.Some people can scare to get in but it is totally safe.
Simply there is nothing to see there. Just a small temple and wide field with old marbles... Nothing very interesting... Do not spend your time for it.
I also share the sightseeing map below. I had no time to visit all of them but I believe that the most interesting points are Mua Caves and Tam Coc River.
I packed my stuff and get ready for Phong Nha…
4. Phong Nha,
As I say always get the train tickets from the stations as I headed to Phong Nha by train and it was 8.30 minutes journey, you can see the train schedule from that web site: https://vietnam-railway.com/train/route/train-from-ninh-binh-to-dong-hoi
Where to stay... Despite the sights are in Phong Nha I preferred to stay in Dong hoi where I got off from the train. It is a beach side small Vietnamese village. And 1 hour ride from the sights. Therefore many backpackes prefer the stay here instead of Phong Nha. But also there are some people who were staying in Phong Nha which is not a bad idea.
I had no idea where would I stay in the town but I found it quickly: Buffalo Pub and Hostel. Nice, clean, and smiley employees...
The next day i rented a scooter with a guy I met in the hostel and we shared the cost. It was 1 hour ride to Phong Nha National Park. This is one of the most important and beautiful National park of Vietnam. The tickets are sold in the counter and it was about 15 USD which is little bit expensive for Asia but it is worth to pay that.
The Tour starts with a boat tour. After 40 mins sailing in the river, it gets in a big cave and also it sails 20 mins in the cave (Phong Nha Cave). There is a 19km underground river in the cave and it is remarkable. The boat dropt us off in the cave and then we trekked in it. I can say that it seems like an old ottoman palace with the lightening (you can see it in the below Photos) if you like the combination of rivers and cave, that tour is just for you.
That day was very hot and I feel very tired. Once I finished sightseeing in the cave I got out bought a cold coconut and chilled out on a hammock while I was waiting the group.
On the way back to hostel, our tank has run out despite the display was showing quarter full tank. The scooters are not good as good as in Thailand so be careful when you pick them up in the first place. Check the tanks physically. Any way we had to walk 5 km to ask some help and one of the village people helped us out by pushing our scooter with his foot while he was on his own scooter to the closest petrol station XD it was a crazy experience but we had no choice as the weather was going to be dark in 1 hour.
The next day I was feeling really tired and chilled out in the hostel however my friend went back to the same area to discover some other place, however he had a bad scooter accident and injured very badly without life risk. However he needed to be operated and it was not a good idea to make it in Vietnam. The next day he back to Singapore and his traveling was over in that point L therefore, if you are a rookie scooter rider you have to be really careful when you are riding it. in Asia they do not check if you have a scooter license or not. They just want to make money and rent it to you no matter what. And most of the people are riding in that way. I was also one of them but I was super careful and never act like I was experienced. Do it slowly and easy. Otherwise you might pay it with your life.
I booked my night bus to Hanoi via my hostel. Next stop is SAPA village. I will visit the village of Hamong people.
5. Sapa(H´mong people)
How to go... The Buses are departing from Hanoi city you can easly find a ticket from any travel agency. The journey takes around 5 hours.
Sapa was one of the favorite places of mine during the Asia trip. First of all it was good to have a break of hot and humidity weather even it was for couple of days. It is in northern Vietnam close to China border.
What to do...The area is perfect for hiking lovers; hills, villages, natural tracks… there are various hiking routs through the local virgin villages. You can take a tour from the city center or your hotel.
Where to stay... I stayed in Fansipan Terrace Cafe and Homestay which was on the edge of a cliff with a beautiful view. I woke up with a view of Fogy Mountains. It is better to have look from the below photo.
H`among pople...I was there to see the H´mong people and I did my own tour instead of take one. They are living in Cat Cat Village. It is only 20 mins walk from the center of Sapa. Entry fee is 50.000dong (2 usd). You will have 2 km. path getting through form the village, waterfall, river and nature. Also you can do shopping in the village some ethnical handmade staff from H´mong people. This is how they are earning money.
Once i arrived their village I felt like I was in Smurfs village. Everything in the village was handmade: Bridges, windmills, roads, power plant… it was like an unreal world. I share the pictures below.
For the night life an eating; I cannot say that there were so attraction places for night life but I can guarantee it, you will eat good food. I suggest you to go to Good morning Vietnam restaurant. They have proper chef for traditional Vietnamese food. After the dinner you can go to Duong Cau May road for bars and enjoy your night in a small bar. I can say that it is safe even it is late midnight. After we get pissed we ate in a place ´´choose and grill yourself´´ where can be found any place in the center.
Sapa was my Last destination in Vietnam. I took an early bus from SAPA to Hanoi Airport and took the flight to Cambodia.
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