Having just had a wonderful time in Halong Bay and Sapa I arrived back at the hostel in Hanoi.
Normally i’ll try and post lots of pictures on my 100 days of Asia tour…
Unfortunately, for the next 3 days I had contracted the dreaded man flu, so I did virtually nothing other than pray I wouldn’t need an operation, amputation, or to be repatriated back home with a hero’s welcome back. It was so bad that I changed my dorm room to a private room and got through multiple toilet rolls from constantly blowing my nose. Travelling didn’t get much tougher than this.
My visa for Vietnam expired soon, and I had an onward flight to the PHILIPPINES!!
When I originally decided (all that time ago…) to hand in my notice, quit my job and travel, the Phillipines was the #1 place I wanted to go. I had heard so much about the golden beaches, island hopping and the lovely people. So I was so excited to fulfil that part of my dream.
But Vietnam was such an amazing place and it was a little sad to leave.
This was the first foreign country I had ever spent about a month in and it felt like a sense of achievement, travelling all the way from down south in Ho Chi Minh to the northern heights of Sapa.
Perhaps I say this everywhere, but I had met bucket loads of friends that I know i’ll be bumping into in the future. One great thing about Vietnam is that everyone is either going North-South or South-North, and well, when you make friends with people going the same direction, you tend to bump into them quite a lot, even if you’re not travelling with them.
Funny locals – from the staff at hostels, the tour guides we had in Sapa and Halong Bay, the people in restaurants.
I only left with 2 main regrets:
I never drove a motorbike. I’m sure it would have terrified me but hey there’s no fun in your comfort zone!! I did go on the back of one briefly though.
The Karaoke in Hoi An was shut when we tried to go and I really wanted to do Karaoke with locals in Asia. Spoiler alert: I did manage to do this in the end later in my travels!!
So in the evening of Day 68/100 of my travels, I headed to Hanoi airport to get a flight to Manila, where I would then connect on to Cebu.
Despite the flight seemingly not listed on the flight board, I did find the check-in desk and my flight did in fact exist.
In fact, when I checked in, it turned out that someone on the Halong Bay tour was also getting the same flight, though was taking a different onward flight. Was nice to bump into him though.
And that was that, one overnight flight to the Philippines and farewell Vietnam… for now.
An overnight stay in Central Backpackers Hostel in Hanoi, and straight out for another tour. This time, Halong Bay.
We set off by bus with some other people from the hostel and then the hilarious Vietnamese tour guide with strong British accent (he said he learned English through British TV shows..) got to work. He made us go around the bus, introducing ourselves and then getting the bus to give each other a nickname, mine being Colossal Chris which was quite safe compared to some.
And then when I turned around, someone recognised me. It turned out Ged and Natalia, a couple that had stayed with me in Da Lat were also on the tour! Traveller circles are very small it seems.
Anna, Mel and Angella that i’d known from Hanoi and Sapa were also coming on the tour which meant I wasn’t completely friendless.
We got on the boat and relaxed a little on the top deck where there were deckchairs and table football, getting to know one another.
We were then got access to our rooms which were actually quite nice. I was sharing a room with Anna the blonde Australian.
And then whilst eating lunch, there was plenty of time to load up on some pictures of the mountains at Halong Bay…
We passed the mountain that the 200,000 dong bank note has on it at one stage so I took a quick snap.
In the afternoon we got an opportunity to go kayaking which was AMAZING.
Okay… one caveat, me and Matthew who was the guy partnering me in the kayak weren’t very good at steering, but we had the muscle to make it go really fast haha.
(Images taken with my old crappy HTC One as didn’t care if it got destroyed by water)
And then after jumping off the boat a few times when returning, showering, I got ready for an evening which of course was drinking with the others on the top deck.
Probably the best party card drinking game has to be Kings Cup / Ring of Fire when you have a group of people so we played that.
Whilst drinking away, another boat moored up next to ours and was full of South Americans. So they hopped onto our boat and joined the party. I don’t think i’ve ever seen such a high level table football game. It was intense. I didn’t even know you could do half the things they were doing. The Vietnamese crew onboard had practised most days for about 3 years that they had run this tour so were complete experts.
And, after drinking some more, I eventually headed to bed.
The next day we didn’t do much other than chill some more on the boat, have some lunch and head back to Hanoi. So I took in some last views of the beautiful mountainous scenery and planned my next adventure.
With my new friends from Hanoi, we booked a tour through our hostel with some others to trek in the beautiful mountainous countryside of Sapa.
Sapa was located a little further north from Hanoi, so the tour started with an overnight sleeper bus to Sapa, leaving on the evening of Day 61, so that when we awoke in Sapa, this was the scene awaiting us…
The first day of our tour was a 13km trek through the countryside, reaching a homestay in the midst of Sapa, before another shorter day of trekking, returning back to Hanoi in the evening.
We were guided by a group of local women in traditional dress. They were lovely and amazingly fit at the same time – one of them did the trek whilst carrying a baby the entire way!
And so there were about 20 people in our group from the hostel including Anna, Angella and Mel that i’d already met. But there were some other awesome people I got to meet also…
There was a group of American girls with a guy that were all friends or family. The guy was training to be a Doctor so instantly got the nickname of Dr Karl and the girls were all a great laugh. They seemed to like my British humour too!
There were some other American girls travelling alone, one of which had been working as a teacher in Vietnam.
Oh and there were a couple of Dutch guys that had been travelling for 11 months! This was their final stop before going home which was kind of sad for them. Again, amazing laugh and we were constantly joking around.
The trek brought some AMAZING VIEWS but don’t take my word for it. Just look below…
The trek itself was quite long and ended up destroying my Vans shoes i’d taken along. At one point I managed to step into a mud puddle which completely buried my feet. Oh well.. Mel had managed to slip down a hill, rolling down it but luckily was OK.
A lot of the local children were quite friendly, but i’m glad I wasn’t a girl during the trip. Local children had made these little bracelets and were constantly trying to sell them to the girls in our group.
Eventually we made it to our accomodation overnight. We were in a giant barn conversion, sleeping on little mattresses with mosquito nets over us.
When our group got there, we chilled, had some beers, played some cards and just chatted really. As the evening went on, we took it in turns to have a shower, had some group dinner, and then the power went as there was a storm so we all huddled together in the barn.
Before retiring to bed…
The next day we trekked our return, a much shorter 4km or so where we were taken to somewhere to have lunch before being told a van would take us to the nearby town.
The van soon collected us to to the town to have a few hours of free time before we would get our return bus to Hanoi. Me, the Dutch guys, and Dr Karl decided to check out a café with quite some view, and sit back with cake.
And then our time was up, we headed back to the coach station, narrowly avoided missing our bus and were returned to the hostel in Hanoi where I had an overnight sleep before my next trip, this time to Halong Bay!
To get to Hanoi from Huế I bought a train ticket from baolau.vn. Then it was a case of enduring a 12 hour train journey that set off around 6am heading all the way to the north.
I actually bought myself the best ticket you could which was a 4 bed soft sleeper compartment. It’s not bad for Vietnam but don’t expect amazing luxury… Someone had already been in my bed before me and I saw a couple rats scuttle across the floor at one stage. Also, I’ve refrained from posting a picture of the toilet onboard (great views for everyone outside)!
Still, I got to Hanoi train station in one piece and having endured enough crappy taxi drivers thus far, I decided i’d rather walk for 30 mins through Hanoi to get to my hostel.
I arrived at the huge Central Backpackers Old Quarter Hostel and having checked in, I noticed that at 7pm, confusingly everyone seemed to be in bed?? It certainly made it awkward to find out which bed was mine in darkness, and there wasn’t much space for my bag. Being me, I decided i’d put my bag down in the room and come back later… I was HUNGRY.
Food in Hanoi
I fancied a treat so went onto Tripadvisor and basically looked for a near-ish restaurant that had high reviews. I ended up at a one called Red Bean. No doubt I probably should have been slightly better dressed than the dirty stained clothes i’d travelled in for about 2 months, but hey, I had the money to pay and they didn’t say no.
It was good but pricey of course. Still i’m a sucker for expensive food.
Whilst i’m speaking food, here are some awesome places I ate whilst in Hanoi…
Only a few minutes walk from the hostel, a little stall sells Banh Mi (a traditional Vietnamese Sandwich Baguette). Take away or eat on the little stools, with free bananas and iced tea. All for under £1.
This one comes with a massive caveat – which is i’m sure this is a great place to eat…if you can find it. I was highly advised this place by Lorna and Johnathan, my friends I met in Hoi An. Twice I searched for it using GPS to no avail. But if it exists, i’m sure it’s excellent. The images (one of which i’ve shamelessly stolen below) are just the definition of food porn.
Okay so weirdly enough in Vietnam i’d already had Mexican food in both Ho Chi Minh and Hoi An, but you know, you can never have enough Vietnamese Mexican food haha. It’s actually run by a few foreigners, with a cheap but small and tasty menu of items and a nice vibe. I went in the day but i’m sure it heats up more in the evening.
Only about a 2 minute walk from the hostel!
I got talking to a lot of people in the hostel. 3 of the girls in my hostel had only recently arrived and so I chatted to them and they ended up being my friends for about the next week of my travels.
The first girl was a blonde Australian called Anna. She was travelling around Asia for a little while before heading to the UK to work for 5 months, and then going off to South America. I befriended her when she arrived at the hostel and we had some drinks at the rooftop bar. We had some drinks, talked for ages, and then someone at the hostel said there was a bar crawl so of course we couldn’t say no to it!
We went with lots of other people from the hostel to a bar and started drinking the night away.
And then the place was shut by the police around midnight – apparently there’s a curfew for bars in Hanoi. No problem though, our bar crawl took us to a secret bar in a building that served alcohol and had a party past the curfew.
The next day me and Anna went with a couple of other girls from the hostel to the Museum of the Revolution. The other two girls were travelling together at the time. Mel was a ginger lady from the UK who was with Angella, a Canadian of Korean heritage. They had been speaking about travelling via the lonelyplanet forums and had never met until they started their travels together.
Of course, being terrible at planning, we all headed out to go to the museum which ended up being closed at lunchtime hours. So we sat on some park benches, waited a bit and finally entered.
The museum itself is quite big but not that interactive. It’s mostly lots of artefacts on the walls which doesn’t massively float my boat but at least I could say i’d done something in Hanoi right.
Remember this note?
Well I’m pleased to say in the evening I managed to catch up with Lorna and Johnathan, two awesome people I met in Hoi An. We had some drinks and food at a little pub style place in Hanoi before they headed back home and I headed to my next destination…
So how do you sum up Hanoi?
Well I think the picture I took above sums it up pretty well. I started off not liking Hanoi that much as I prefer smaller and quieter places than big cities. It’s bustling with motorbikes everywhere and constant activity, little stalls and all kinds of ways to spend a few dong (if you’re brave you could buy some raw meat in that picture, kept in 30 degree heat on the streets of course). By the end of my time in Hanoi I actually kind of liked it, for a city it’s very unique in it’s offering.
I felt a little sad at leaving Hoi An but there was so much more of Vietnam to see, so I continued my travels going from South to North , by taking a 3 hour bus journey to the ancient city of Huế (pronounced Hway I think?).
I didn’t stay long but it made a little stopover before the long journey to Hanoi. In heinsight, I shouldn’t have bothered with Huế – it was a big disappointment from the heights of Hoi An.
The bus came to pick me up in the morning. Interestingly enough the boyfriend of Kimmy, one of the receptionists at my Hoi An hostel was a worker for the bus company so saw me off. He’d come to the dinner we’d had on the previous night so he already knew me.
I got off the bus at Huế and made my way down a side alley to the homestay I was staying at, and it was a lovely little place. It was like a mini hostel run in the house of a small Vietnamese family. They welcomed me in when I arrived, sat me down and gave me a drink and some fruit before showing me to my bed.
I started to chat to one of the English guys there and we went out to find some street food. Soon enough whilst sitting on our tiny plastic stools a couple of English girls came to sit and eat with us. One was staying at our homestay, and another was working for an international charity and had just arrived.
After our food, we went out in the evening and had some local beer before retiring to the homestay to sleep.
The Imperial City
Huế was the capital of Vietnam from 1802-1945 and the main attraction is the old Imperial City…
And without doubt it was majorly disappointing.
As always, it was blazing hot as I walked for around 30 mins to get to the city.
Eventually I got there and had to pay a pricey 150,000 dong (~£5) entrance fee.
Sure there were some nice pictures there to be had, but there was no real information about what you were seeing. I honestly couldn’t tell you anything about the place other than it was an old citadel in nice looking gardens. It’s like having 3 blind people staring at a picture in an art gallery guessing what the picture depicts.
So without further ado, here are some pictures I took of this ‘Imperial City’:
In short; there isn’t much to do in Huế, if you go, stay at Huế Happy Homestay, and don’t stay for long – 2 days was more than enough here.
Waking up on my sleeper bus journey from Da Lat, I arrived in Hoi An at around 6am, ignored the locals trying to charge me to take me to my hostel and walked the 15 minutes using Google Maps.
Once at the hostel, I sat down and chatted to another girl that had just arrived from a sleeper bus, and one that was leaving early for her next destination.
And I met some of the lovely staff at Phuong Le Villa.
Little did I know at this early stage of my stay that they would be some of the funnest hostel staff of my entire trip. Throughout my stay I was forever teasing Money and Kimmy whilst having beers in the evening. Great fun, more on that later…
Immediately after arriving it was apparent there was a power outage in Hoi An, and with it being really hot outside, I just relaxed for a little while inside, talking to some of the other guests. One of the guys I met was a Palestinian man called Rami who loved Hoi An so much I think he ended up staying for 9 or 10 days? Both being hungry, we ventured out to explore Hoi An and decided to try some of the local food.
At under 30,000 Dong (~£1), it was pretty cheap and filling, and we were certainly the only foreigners eating in this small shop.
All in all, during my stint in Hoi An, this was one of the more normal foods I ate, considering I ate Mexican taco’s, at ‘Hola Taco!’, and the traditional Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich.
In the afternoon I then decided to venture into the old town…
The Old Town
One of the most picturesque places I went to in my travels. I loved the vibe of Hoi An. I loved the little café’s, the charming shops, the river running through, and despite sometimes a large amount of tourists it still seemed relaxed to me.
One thing Hoi An has become particularly famous for is the abundance of cheap tailoring shops. They appear to vary in quality but if you do your homework right, there are some cheap suits on offer. Just don’t go taking ‘recommendations’ from your hostel, taxi driver or basically any local. They’ll be in it for a hefty commission.
I’m actually surprised to say, despite my love of clothes (anyone seen my wardrobe lately?), I managed to avoid spending my money in the tailors. I figured, i’d either have to transport a suit for the next 50 days, or pay postage to send it home. I heard there was a ‘Sea-Mail’ option that takes 3 months to deliver and is cheaper but hey, I don’t want a suit to have a better foreign trip than me!
More images from the Old Town I took…
And at night…
The Hostel and The People
If anyone reading this is going to stay in Hoi An, I highly advise the hostel I stayed in; Phuong le Villa.
Well its quite social but chilled at the same time. The small area near the reception has a bar and lots of chairs and there were evenings where we got all the chairs together and all chatted. I met tonnes of people.
I didn’t hardcore party here (though there were lots of nearby bars to do that), but I had good evenings from eating nice food to going to a pub with fellow travellers and watching the football.
There were 2 English peoples that stayed in my 6 bed dorm that were a great laugh too, I even got a lovely note from one of them left on my bed, so sweet!!
And then there was the staff… 🙂
I was constantly messing with Money and Kimmy on reception, Kimmy insisting everything about the hostel was ‘5 star’. Sweet girls that worked really long hours with only 2 days off a month!!
One of the days they took this picture of me sitting by reception with their hat…
And well, somehow whilst joking around it ended up all around the hostel…
It was printed a few times. Making it’s way into a wanted poster in the hostel. Suddenly I was; ‘Lost – Last seen in Hoi An, May be dangerous! He lost his mind, somebody looking for him’
It ended up printed for the rather confused kitchen staff too. Oh and…
Somehow on the desktop background of the hostel PC?
Having seen the conversation they had about me on Facebook Messenger, and the fact they had taught me that khùng meant ‘crazy’ in Vietnamese, I think they thought I was slightly bonkers…
Undoubtedly they all made my Hoi An stay amazing!
An Bang Beach
An Bang beach is about a 20 minute bicycle ride away from Hoi An’s Old Town. I hadn’t originally been too bothered about checking it out but the opportunity arose when a snorkelling trip i’d been scheduled to go on was cancelled because of the weather. Instead of the van dropping me back at the hostel I asked to be let out at the beach instead!
It wasn’t the best of weather at the time, and I wouldn’t say it was a great beach but I always love walking along the beach.
There was no-one around either so I had some lunch, walked around and when a flag was washed ashore, I just went around writing things in the sand as you do haha.
Cham Island Snorkelling
So after the first day was cancelled due to weather, my snorkelling was rearranged for the following day. I was to be taken in a van to the harbour and then off to explore Cham Island which is not far from Hoi An.
Soon I was chatting away to the other people in the van and my fellow snorkellers. Let me rephrase that, soon I was adopted for the day by a lovely Australian family. There was mum and dad, and I now had a different brother and sister also for the day.
After our guides introduced themselves on the boat, offering free water and snacks, we soon headed off for the approximate hour journey to Cham Island. Aswell as talking to my new family – (‘mum’ was making sure I put on lots of sun cream as it was hot), I talked to a French guy and his Vietnamese girlfriend, and then got my wet suit and flippers ready.
We got to near the island, and were given 2 x 1 hour sessions to swim and snorkel around.
The snorkelling itself was fairly disappointing because there weren’t many fish. If you love looking at coral however then this is the snorkel trip for you! The snorkel equipment was also a lot better than the junk I was given in Thailand though this wasn’t much consolation.
I did have fun swimming around a pretty island and jumping off our boat with my ‘brother’.
After some on-island lunch, we were given some free time on the island. So we lazed in hammocks near the beach.
And having had some meaty debates about Australian, American and British politics with the family in the shade, it was time to get the boat back to Hoi An.
Goodbye Hoi An
For all the days I had been in Hoi An, i’d pestered Money and Kimmy on reception at the hostel to take me to some karaoke. I had to let Vietnam hear my not so great voice after all.
It was my last night and so they actually agreed to it. So with a few people from the hostel, we went to the nearby karaoke…
Unfortunately it was closing so my Hoi An karaoke dream was delayed indefinately. Instead, we headed out to get a big group meal and beer. I clung on the back of a motorbike for dear life.
I was really quite sad to see the end to my Hoi An adventure. I mean it didn’t stop me teasing Money by pouring some water on her head at the meal but i’d made loads of friends and I really enjoyed the Hoi An vibe. It’s definately somewhere I hope to return to one day.
Day 49 and time to get a bus from the coastal town of Nha Trang to the mountainous region of Da Lat. People had told me to go there and who am I to defy the will of the people?
An uneventful 4 hour bus journey took place, the most interesting thing being quite a pretty service station stop on the way…
Da Lat was originally developed by the French in the 1900s and is a lot cooler than the rest of Vietnam.
Upon arriving I wondered if i’d been transported back to Britain as it was raining, cloudy and generally miserable.
I found my way to the homestay hostel and checked in;
I talked to a small group of English people that were staying in the room and seemed quite cool, as well as an English guy with his Polish girlfriend, and then later on it turned out all the Australians from Nha Trang were staying here, as was a Dutch guy I met in Nha Trang! I love these moments ❤
The weather didn’t look great but I decided to take a look around Da Lat and see what was going on.
Basically my initial impressions weren’t amazing. Loads of fake technology shops. Like…loads.
Having wandered around the town a little, I wondered why everyone had said to go to Da Lat? So far, I had cold weather, a very odd high street and not a lot else other than some nice people in the hostel. Even looking for somewhere to eat I wasn’t entirely inspired.
I had a great evening though to turn it around. The hostel I stayed at had a group dinner in the evenings which was an awesome way to chat to everyone whilst having some beers.
I started talking to a group of Scandinavian girls at the dinner who told me about a strange bar they wanted to go to. Without much further persuasion I agreed to accompany them…
100 Roofs Bar
About a 20 minute walk from our hostel, we arrived at the ‘100 roofs bar’, which was the strangest bar i’ve ever been to.
You enter a dark maze of many tunnels, many floors, secret rooms and generally odd features, all to try to actually get to the bar without losing your friends.
I’ve got the feeling that allowing drunk people to get lost in a dark and steep maze in search of further alcohol would be banned in the UK with health and safety laws, but it was great fun! So much so, I came back here the next evening with the Aussies to show them it.
The next day…
Well the day after all my Scandinavian friends had arranged to go canyoneering which actually sounded great fun. Unfortunately they’d organised it the night before and well, I’m not that organised so I didn’t go along.
Instead I decided to keep with the strange stuff and go visit ‘Crazy House’.
Basically what it sounds like. A 30 minute walk from the hostel was a very oddly designed house you could go take a look at. They were even building to expand it whilst I was there and it was already HUGE.
And yeah, some exploring of the Crazy House, some lunch, another group dinner, beers, and going to the 100 roofs bar was my day 50. I’d passed the halfway point of my trip!
Where to next?
Yeah that’s right, I took the 750km 16 hour journey to Hoi An which would get me in Hoi An in the early hours of the morning. This would be my first sleeper bus journey!
I ended up getting the bus with some other people from the hostel and shortly before boarding the bus, it appeared a Vietnamese man was having to be restrained by a few others having attempted to stab someone. Maybe it was the right time to escape here after all.
Lets just say it wasn’t the best journey but it wasn’t the worst either. The driver wasn’t a maniac which was good, and we stopped at Nha Trang which allowed me to stretch my feet, get some dinner and board again for the onward journey to Hoi An.
For someone that’s just about 6ft, the seat wasn’t big enough and it meant my feet were all squidged in which wasn’t very comfy but i’ve had worse.
And so I reclined my seat for some sleep, as the following morning, i’d awake in one of my favourite places of my travels… Hoi An.