'No way' North Vietnam

Trip Start Apr 16, 2013
Trip End Dec 20, 2013

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Sunday, July 14, 2013

As our plane descended into Hanoi the view out of the window was a treat; Paddy field clad landscapes with lakes and surrounding green mountains.  We looked down on bright lego houses, beautiful scenery and the locals working the land in their pointy 'Rayden' (mortal combat) hats.  What an introduction to a stunning country! We spent three days in the capital visiting a few temples, museums and a prison whilst dodging motorbikes which gave us a great introduction to the country and it's complex history.  We dived stomach first into the local cuisine, enjoying delicious fresh noodle soups and fresh (rice paper wrapped) spring rolls.


A bumpy overnight train took us to mountainous Sapa, where we met many local Hmong women selling their beautiful textiles in full traditional tribal dress. The views were absolutely amazing and we loved watching the clouds from above coming up the valley and engulfing the town.  We trekked down the valley one day with a couple of local ladies as our guides which gave us great insight to local village life.  We stayed at a brilliant guesthouse who invited us for a family meal, and sat as the sole guests around a big table and were served 2 ducks served 4 ways, they used everything including the quack and bowls of congealed raw blood (which luckily we weren't expected to eat!) Jim was given a shot glass and fed 15 shots of rice wine, apple wine and vodka. It was a great night.  Laura carried Jim up the street to go and get pudding afterwards as we hadn't eaten much of the duck.  On our descending journey from Sapa we saw two overturned trucks (one sadly a beer truck), scary.

Back in Hanoi we had arranged to meet Eugenie and Pierre, a couple we had met in North Thailand in the bamboo nest. We had a lovely night catching up and sharing stories, they have done a similar loop of SE Asia to us but the other way round.  We discovered that by chance they had booked the same cruise to Ha Long bay as us which was great news.

Ha Long bay

After doing a lot of research we booked a 2 day, one night cruise aboard the Treasure Junk to see the natural wonder of Halong Bay.  We were pleased we had spent a little bit extra using the rest of the gift from our work friends (thank you so much) for a journey through 4000 unbelievable and spectacular karst limestone giants rising out of the ocean.  On our way to Ha Long city the weather was awful and we were told of the passing typhoon which worried us somewhat. Luckily the weather turned out gorgeous as soon as we touched the ocean. During the trip we went kayaking, visited a beach and a floating village, sun bathed on deck, energised with sunrise Thai Chi and ate like kings - 6 courses for every meal! There were a few moments we'll never forget, like sitting together right at the front of the boat sailing through the epic landscape watching the magnificent scenery pass us by. It was amazing and we didn't want to leave.  It was brilliant to share the adventure with Eugenie and Pierre too, sitting out whilst we were anchored with a few cocktails and beers chatting as the sun set and the stars came out. Bliss.Sadly we had to say goodbye to both Ha Long bay and Eugenie and Pierre as we made our way further down the coast.

Hue (pronounced Hway)

We trained again overnight to the city of Hue, being woken at 5am by the 2 Asian businessmen in our 4 berth cabin playing what we think was the Asian version of the Archers blasting from their iPhone! The city was OK, we spent some time exploring the gorgeous ancient citadel and cycled to an 8 tiered pagoda.  On our last day we rented a scooter, which was brave given the crazy traffic. It was fun and exciting driving Vietnamese style, even with a few screams of terror and a couple of wrong turns.  The best thing we did in Hue at Laura's suggestion was book our journey to Hoi An by motorbike!

We were picked up at 9am by Mr Tien and Mr Dong, who amazingly strapped our fatpacks to the back of their Honda 250cc cruisers before revving up the engines and whizzing off.  We stopped at a few sights along the way including Elephant Falls for a swim and had an amazing seafood lunch; BBQ squid is a new favourite. We rode through beautiful Vietnamese countryside and up and over the famous Hai Van mountain pass (Sea of Clouds) made famous by Top Gear's Vietnam special. It was great fun on the bikes, high fiving as we passed one another before leaning into massive hairpin corners and stopping every so often just to take in what we were seeing and experiencing.  Eventually we arrived in Hoi An and said goodbye to our happy biker guides.

Hoi An

Vietnam had proved to be an amazing country so far, providing some of the most memorable experiences of our whole trip.  How could it get better? Set on the banks of a tidal river, with beautiful beaches a bicycle ride away, Hoi An combines everything good about Asia with everything good about France.  The sleepy old city has beautiful ancient yellow buildings with shutters on the windows linked by bicycles and fed by patisseries. We loved it there.  Hoi An is famous for tailoring and so we both got measured up, got some inspiration from the internet and our English style guru (Jackson) and put our tailors to task. We ended up with some beautiful tailor made clothes but said goodbye to them immediately as they sped away in a box precariously balanced on the back of a scooter ready to spend 3 months sailing to lovely England. We hired bikes 4 days in a row, lazily pedaling around the town or to the beach. We have eaten beautiful food such as white rose dumplings and bahn mi baguettes and drunk 25p a pint bia hoi (local beer). After 4 nights we said goodbye and hopped on an overnight bus.
As we write this we are venturing towards south Vietnam and look forward to what else this brilliant country has to offer. 
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