Patricia had picked up the hire a car last night which was our cheapest option and equaling the price of one person on the airport transport bus. We arrived at the airport at 730am, quickly dropped off the car and made our way to the terminal, checked in and passed through immigration and waited for our Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur. We had paid the $30 extra each for seats in the quiet section which gives you a little more room and quiet, to our surprise and good fortune the section was half empty so we both got to have three seats to ourselves to stretch out and relax for the 8 hour journey.
We landed in Kuala Lumpur with a couple of hours until our next flight to Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam. Our connecting plane was delayed 20 mins, which we started to panic about as we had a connecting flight in HCMC. We landed in HCMC and quickly made our way from the international to the domestic terminal for our flight to Hanoi; phew our next flight was with Vietjet was delayed too. Our 11pm flight, finally departed at 1120pm and we landed in Hanoi at 110am, passing through the arrival hall we searched everywhere for an ATM or money changer, nothing to be seen, as we only had Australian dollars and ATM cards. The hotel was supposed to send us a taxi that was either not there or we couldn’t find it. We stepped outside the airport to a warm and sticky 32 degrees and found a bus which was $3 each to our hotel and asked the driver if we could pay once at the hotel, he said ok. The bus was finally full and took off doing the rounds of dropping people off and we were the last, the bus driver parked the bus got out and pointed down a dark alley way. Patricia and I both thought the same thing, this doesn’t look safe. The driver walked us to the hotel which was located at the other end of this dark little alley.
Patricia spoke to the hotel staff member about paying for the bus, thankfully they paid and we had to owe the hotel the money. By this time it was 330am we had been on the go for nearly 24 hours and very tired.
We slept till 7am, just a 4 hour nap, our hotel The Dahlia, were doing renovations and it was a bit noisy. Breakfast was included which was yummy and served by the lovely staff. Time to explore Hanoi, at the end of the alley we found St Joseph’s Cathedral, we walked a few more streets and found a small shop selling mobile phone sim cards, we paid $8 for 30GB of data for 30 days on the 3G Vinaphone network. We kept walking and ended up at Hoan Kien Lake we walked around the lake having a look at the old bridge and temples in the middle of the lake. The heat of the day was getting hot and humid we stopped at a cafe for a coffee and ice tea. After we had rested and cooled down it was time to explore more of the ancient city, we soon discovered streets selling the same thing, one street sold silk and silver and another medicine and so on. Lunch time and we found a small shop selling banh mi or Vietnamese roll, which was nice but lacked the flavor we were accustomed to back at home. A few more streets and we found ourselves back at the lake and we decided to take the electric car tour around the old quarter of Hanoi which cost 300 000 dong, we thought it was a good way of exploring this part of town. After the tour we got the driver to drop us off at a fresh beer street to have a few well-earned beers, the thermometer had hit 43 degrees and the humidity was just as high.
We headed back to the hotel for an afternoon nap and to cool off from this crazy heat.
We had dinner at a rice paper roll place across the road from the hotel, they make their own rice paper and some yummy fresh rolls. After dinner we headed back to the lake to find the walking street night markets, we wandered around for a while and watched a few street performances before heading back to the hotel for the night.
Breakfast time and today we discovered it’s all you can eat deal, the polite friendly staff just kept offering us food and drinks.
Then we walked a couple of kilometers to Aprons Up Vietnamese Cooking School. We were greeted by our teacher called Lucy, after the introductions, the class set off to the local market which was a couple of kilometers walk and the temperature was rising rapidly. Lucy explained a few things about Vietnamese food and culture, and also purchased some ingredients for our class. Then it was back to the kitchen to start our cooking class which lasted about 4 hour, the class was good and we learnt about Vietnamese food culture and history and skills to expand our cooking ability’s, we received a cook book and the cost of the class was $32 per person.
We headed back to the hotel to relax from the 40 degree heat and to recover from our food coma. Late afternoon, we headed back to the lake for a walk and managed to get a few sunset photos. We headed back to St Joseph’s Cathedral and to Marilyn’s restaurant; we sat on the 2nd story balcony enjoying a meal with a cold beer watching life pass by.
Another day of roasting under the hot Vietnam sun with temps in the 40’s again. We got a Vietnamese grab taxi to take us to Tran Quok Pagoda for 37000 dong then we walked to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, we decided not to go in, as the lines were as long as a drive from Sydney to Perth. Our next visit was Citadel Vestige Site or the Flag Tower. By this time we had walked a few kilometers and just about to have a near death experience, due to the heat. Undeterred, we soldiered on to Hoa Lo Prision or the Hanoi Hilton. After exploring the prison, we headed back to the hotel and just in time the rain started to fall and the temperature has dropped it was a welcome relief.
We had dinner Duongs restaurant in Hanoi, Duong is the winner of Top Chef Vietnam the food and service is absolutely amazing fine dining, and prices matched those of a Thai or Vietnamese restaurant in Australia.
We picked our bags up from the hotel and got a grad taxi to Hanoi train station for 20 000 dong and boarded our train to Sapa
Train Ticket – $100 return for 2 adults in a standard Vietnamese sleeper
We bought tickets online (HERE) a great guide is The Man In Seat 61(HERE)
We arrived in Lao Cai a few hours late, we can only guess the train had made a wrong turn somewhere along the line! We did enjoy our train journey and both of us slept well. The temp was a pleasant 22 degrees which was a far cry from the horrendous 40 degree temperatures of Hanoi. Our journey wasn’t quiet over just yet, we boarded the mini bus for the last stretch of the trip. The bus ride was an adventure, we spent a fair bit of time on the wrong side of the road and over taking on bends and even dodged a few buffalo, 45 minutes later we had arrived in Sapa.
Once we had checked into Botanical Sapa hotel, it was time to get lunch.
After lunch we caught a taxi to Cat Cat Village, the scenery along the way was breath taking, the clouds hugged the top of the monstrous mountain, rice fields clung to the side of the steep hill’s and also filled the valley’s. The trek was well worth the effort with an amazing view on every turn; the temperature in the valley was a little warm and soon raised a sweat on our brow. It was time to spoil ourselves with a massage, dinner and to clink a couple of Hanoi beers together and call it a day.
Bus from Lao Cai to Sapa 30 000 dong each
Taxi to Cat Cat Village return 200 000 dong and entrance fee 50 000 dong each
Yesterday we had organized a day out trekking the Lao Chai and Ta Va villages with our hotel. We were picked up at 10am, drove out of town along the world’s bumpiest road dodging oncoming cars, bikes and buffalo’s. Our trek started off with a few kilometers down a small road which zig zagged its way to the base of the valley, we also picked up a few friends along the way, 4 women from the Ta Va Village. These women wanted to sell us some handicrafts and were also great tour guides. We trekked and chatted, 6 kilometers we passed through two villages, corn, rice and marijuana fields which we were told it was used for hemp for clothing and handicrafts. The trek and the women gave us a great insight in Vietnamese country life.
Once at the end of the trek we bid farewell to the women and slipped them a few dong for being our tour guides, which was very welcomed. We met our driver and off we went again along the bumpy road, through Sapa and out onto a road that was steep and hugged a massive mountain range, we spent half the drive on the wrong side of the road, occasionally overtaking cars, trucks and bikes, often on blind bends and the fog was also getting thick with minimal vision. Thank god we made our destination, to our 2nd trek of the day, we walked to a waterfall which lay in the shadow of Fansipan (Vietnam’s tallest mountain) yep we were high. The trek took us to the magical Love Waterfall which is about 2 kilometers round trip, we basked in its glory of this stunning waterfall, before heading back. Into the car and onto our 3rd trek of the day, or maybe step aerobics, there was 1000s of steps! The Silver waterfall was massive and a delight to see. Back at Sapa we had a well-deserved late lunch and a foot massage to soothe our aching feet. We collected our backpacks from the hotel and bid farewell to the hotel owners. Climbing aboard the bus we left Sapa for Lao Cai down along windy road to Lao Cai train station for our night train back to Hanoi.
Driver for the day $50
150 dong for village trek for two
70 000 dong per person for 1st waterfall Thac Timh Yeu or Love waterfall
20 000 dong per person for 2nd waterfall Thac Bac or Silver waterfall.
Bus from Lao Cai to Sapa 30 000 dong each
We arrived early in Hanoi by the sleeper train from Sapa, lucky for us we had the 4 berth cabin to ourselves. From Hanoi train station we caught a taxi to My Dinh bus station were we bought tickets on a local bus to Mai Chau, which was an interesting ride to say the least, the trip took about 4 hours. All the windows were covered in silver sunshade to help keep the bus cool and didn’t do much for the view. The bus made plenty of stops along the way to pick up and drop off passengers which were all Vietnamese. Patricia and I were the only 2 non Vietnamese. About half way a couple of guys asked for plastic bags (in Vietnamese) and a few minutes later the plastic bags full of urine made their way back to the front of the bus and were tossed out the bus door.
Once we arrived at Mai Chau bus station, we were lucky enough to have our hotel Mai Chau Valley View across the road. We booked in, checked out our room on the 2nd floor with a great view over the rice fields and a monstrous bed. The sun was high in the sky and very hot, we took a slow walk around town checking out what this small country town had to offer. We grabbed a lunch of Bun Cha (fried pork balls in broth with noodles and herbs) which cost $2 for both of us. Then continued our walk around town, before we knew it, it was dinner time.
Taxi from Hanoi train station to My dinh bus station $10
Mini bus to Mai Chau 200 000 dong for two
With the weather very hot during the day we decided to set out for an early morning walk passing a lake and through many rice fields, watching the farmer harvest their rice crops, thrashing the rice to separate it from the stem, husks and burning off the waste. We walked around a couple of small villages which sold local handicrafts with a lot of home stays that had way too many dogs, this part of town was very touristy and was very busy on the weekend. We made it back to the hotel in time for breakfast.
Later in the morning we went caving with our guide Henry. The cave is called Moluong Cave which was used by the Vietnamese military to store bombs and ammunition during the war. The cave has 4 chambers; the first chamber is massive with a concrete floor. This is now used by the locals to celebrate special occasions. From here we went up a steep steel ladder to chamber 2 and 3, amazed by the formations of the stalagmite and stalactites and all the while bats were flying around our heads. We came to chamber 4 and had to scale down 2 rusty rickety ladders and crawl 5 meters then the chamber opened up, we had to wear hard hats and only had helmet lights to see. At the bottom of the chamber there was a river which runs out and under the road to feed the rice fields. Late afternoon the rain came down so we sat on the balcony and watched the farmer work away in the rain and randomly 5 cows wander down the main street. We had dinner at the hotel.
The Cave Tour cost 100 000 dong each.
After breakfast we decided to do a 5km walk penciled out on a bit of paper, from the hotel owner. We set out with Patricia in charge of the map and headed to our first stop, the local market. The local villagers had lined the pavement of the main street selling their wares and produce, the road was chaotic with cars and motorbikes dodging people walking. We found our turn and left the madness of the market behind. Along the way we saw farmers working the fields and fish farms. It didn’t take Patricia long to find a new friend, a young girl who clung to her and wouldn’t let go. Finally on our way again, a few kilometers had passed and the sun was getting higher and hotter. We stopped for a drink at a small shop, this soon turned into a chat and then an English lesson. We got back to our walk, and yep, we were lost! (This is why we are called the 2 Lost Aussies) I looked at Patricia and said “you have the map” and I got THE LOOK. We met a local who pointed us in the right direction, after a lot of pointing and hand gestures. We finally made it back to the hotel, hot, sweaty and relieved to be back in the coolness of our room.
Later in the day the hotel owner took us for 20km bike ride to his village… we left the hotel dodging cars and scooters, the first turn we dodged a few cows and as we rode through the rice field grasshoppers where flying every which way. Once at his village the ride became more interesting, here we had to dodge scooters, bikes, chickens, dogs, the odd person and a snake with a rather large lump in the center. We made a few stops to learn about the villager’s lives and culture; we also visited a traditional house. We were greeted by an 82 year old woman with red lips and black teeth, from chewing betel nut. We were shown around the home and explained more of the culture and the home the families live in. This was an amazing moment for us and a real insight of these people. The old lady made us tea and we chatted, as best we could. Back on the bikes and we headed back to the hotel and the coolness of our room. The day had been interesting and one we won’t forget. And to top of an amazing day we got an amazing sunset while eating dinner.
We bid farewell to the hotel owner and his staff, and boarded our bus for Hanoi. I’m glad to say Patricia was full of coffee and in a better mood, she could also see out of the window in this bus. The trip was pleasant compared to the trip to Mai Chau and a lot quicker. The only moment of worry was the 6 water buffalo walking up the road in our lane and the two motorbike riders in the other lane. The bus driver chose the motorbikes and they spread and we made it safely through the gap. Phew! We arrived at My Dinh bus station Hanoi and got a grab taxi to our hotel, just in time as it started to rain.
Too our surprise The Hanoi Chic Hotel was across the road from the cooking school we did earlier in the week. We had lunch there while chatting to Lucy, our cooking class teacher. By the time lunch was over so was the rain, which gave us a chance to pound the pavements of Hanoi.
Dinner time approached and we decided (well more me pestering) to eat at Duongs Restaurant, the food is amazing and the service as good. We ate a small feast and a few beers all for $48 which was amazingly cheap for such fine dinning.
We got up early and by 730am our backpacks were packed and we sat waiting in reception of the hotel for our bus to arrive. Ten minutes later the bus had arrived and so did the rain, it was bucketing down. We ran and got on the bus, and started our rounds to pick up other passengers. The streets had turned into rivers, and it was getting worse. The bus had managed to pick up all its passengers, and off to Halong Bay we went.
We reached Halong Bay about 1230pm, we were quickly ushered onto a small boat and taken to our boat for the cruise (Fantasea). The captain had set sail and off to Sung Sot (surprise cave) we went. The scenery was amazing to watch along the way. The cave was at the top of 120 steep steps, which was an effort in the heat. The cave was massive and the Vietnamese and installed colourful lighting for a little extra touch. After the cave we headed for a sheltered bay for kayaking and to anchor for the night. Dinner was served and we enjoyed a few beers on the front deck and squid fishing till bed time.
We had a decent sleep aboard the boat last night, after breakfast we headed for an Island for a swim and to climb to the top to check out the view. But it seemed Hanoi’s weather has caught up with us and the heavens opened up in a big way. Which didn’t give us chance to do much today except socialize. We reached Halong Bay harbour at 12 and by 1pm we were on a 5 hour bus trip to Ninh Binh to meet up with our sleeper bus to Hue. We reached Ninh Binh at 6pm which gave us plenty of time to have a good feed before our 8pm sleeper bus arrived. The bus was full and pretty comfortable; the only drama was the bus took a big swerve which had us in a little panic for a moment or two.
Buses from Halong Bay to Hue $25 per person.
We arrived at Hue at 7am and wandered off to find our hotel and checked in to Thai Binh 2 Hotel, the hotel was great letting us into the room at 8am.
Armed with another hand draw mud-map (in Patricia’s hands again) we set off to explore Hue, we soon found Dong Ba Market. This place sold everything you could imagine, you could buy a tray full of dragon fruit for the price of one at home. We wandered around for a while and decided to look further afield.
We soon found the Imperial Citadel and paid our entrance fee. Wow this place is massive, and it was good to see our entrance fee was going towards the restoration of the place.
Back to the hotel to cool off and freshen up for dinner, we got to watch a pretty cool sunset over Hue from our balcony.
Imperial city 150 000 dong each
8am we sat in reception waiting for our tour to begin. Two motorbikes pulled up, Patricias face told a very nervous story, I could see her mind working overtime processing being on a bike in this crazy traffic. Cheering, we made it to the dragon boat, which was the first part of our tour. The outline of our tour was to go up the Perfume River to look at the Garden House, Thien Mu Pagoda, Hon Chen Temple and Minh Mang Tomb by boat and Khai Dinh Tomb, Tu Duc Tomb, Royal tea and whisky, traditional conical hat and incense village and Imperial City (which we did yesterday, so we didn’t do that again) by bus.
The tour was great; we enjoyed learning about different aspects of Vietnamese culture. The social aspect was great too, the tour had people from Columbia, Chile and Vietnam and all had great travel stories. Throughout the day we interacted with them and got a few ideas for our next holiday.
We were blessed again with another beautiful sunset from our hotel balcony.
Tonight we had dinner at Mr Cu Restaurant called Mandarin, Mr Cu was a great guy who loves capturing photos of his local area and people and has had two exhibits one in France and one in Italy, his photos are amazing. We chatted for a while about photography. When we paid the bill he gave us a few postcards of his photos to take home with us.
Tour $10 each plus 520 000 dong entrance fee for 2 people
We hired a private car today to drive us from Hue to Hoian, via the Hai Van Pass with a few stops along the way. Our first stop was at a beautiful beach, then we took on the Hai Van Pass which snakes it way around a massive mountain range, the views are amazing over the ocean. We stopped at the highest point to take in the view of where we have been and where we were heading, the lookout was an old American bunker from the Vietnam War.
We reached Hoian late afternoon and checked into The Hoain Golden Rice Villa, and took a well-deserved swim in the pool and chilled for a while.
Dinner time we headed into town, our hotel was a few kilometers from town in a small village surrounded by rice fields.
Private car $50
We hit the streets of Hoian early this morning to explore the old town, river and the markets. Hoian is a beautiful place, a bit touristy and some of the locals didn’t seem to understand the word no or I’m not interested which can drive you a little crazy at times. After our morning exploring I got myself a haircut, beard trim and my ears cleaned (150 000 dong) we then grabbed some lunch.
By 2pm we were back at the hotel lazing by the pool and enjoying the peace and quiet.
We headed back into town for dinner, and walk around the river, which was a hive of activity with a lantern festival. There were boats by the hundreds taking people for rides and lanterns floating down the river which looks great but I think it’s not doing the environment any favors. We finished the evening off with having a few 25cent beers.
Old town fee 120 000 each
We hit the street of Hanoi for a while this morning, for a little sightseeing and shopping. What great shoppers we are buying cooking utensils and a couple of t-shirts.
At lunch we had banh mi from Phuongs, which is a Vietnamese roll, meat salad and herbs. The shop we bought it from was featured on Anthony Bourdain show No Reservations, it kind of reminded me of the Sienfeld episode “The Soup Nazi” the roll was so good and had plenty of flavor.
We spent the afternoon relaxing and swimming, and watched the sunset over this small village community and its rice fields.
Dinner was at Morning Glory, a popular restaurant in Hanoi, we were lucky enough to get a seat on the second story balcony, where we could eat, drink and watch the world pass us by. After dinner we enjoyed a walk around the old town and the night market.
After 18 days of sightseeing and traveling we decided to be lazy. We spent half the day lazing around the hotel. Patricia had organized a new hotel called Long Life Riverside which was closer to town and a massage. At lunch we checked out of our room and the taxi from the spa had arrived to pick us up. The Calm Spa was set back from the small one lane road that passed through this small village; it was surrounded by gardens of fruit, herbs and rice fields. A very peaceful and picturesque setting, Moon (the host) greeted us and introduced us to the other girls, who quickly immersed our feet in a warm bowl of water that contained a handful of herbs. They then presented us with cold face washers to freshen up and herbal ice tea. Patricia and I were already relaxed, we chatted to moon for some time. The other girls had prepared the necessary equipment for our body scrub, wrap and massage. The girls really did an amazing job and both Patricia and I felt very relaxed and rejuvenated afterwards. We chatted with Moon, her staff and the owner of the Red Dragon Restaurant who had arrived with our lunch. It was a gourmet banh mi and smoked duck with salad and tropical fruit washed down with a complimentary glass of red wine, the meal was delicious. Our 2 hour spa treatment had turned into 4 hours, and we loved every moment and made some new friends.
The taxi arrived and we bid farewell, and headed off to our new hotel. We checked in and went for a walk along the river watching the sunset before heading off for dinner at Mrs Vys.
Massage and lunch 1800 000
We got up at 530am and went for a wonder around town for an hour before the heat of the day set in. And after breakfast we hit the streets again for a little shopping and to get one last banh mi for lunch. After our lunch we had a few lazy hours at the hotel.
This evening we had dinner at Cargo, a nice roof top terrace restaurant on one if Hoian’s historical buildings overlooking the river. We were seated next to a Vietnamese guy and an American guy, just as we were getting comfortable the sunset turned a stunning pink and red. And of course half the restaurant shuffled for a better position to capture that magical moment. As I sat back down and showed Patricia the few photo’s I had just taken, the two guys on the next table noticed the photos and our conversation. It turns out Son was a photographer and a guide with Gary his client. The conversation soon took a swing and phones were swapped and photos were shown off. The evening was great talking to Son about Photography and equipment, his photos were amazing and had a great conversation about Vietnam and its beauty
Day 20 & 21.
Lunchtime came quickly and our adventure was coming to an end. After lunch we were sitting in a car heading for Da Nang International Airport, the trip took about 40 minutes.
Check-in and immigration was quick and easy. A few hours later we took one last look at Vietnam as the plane banked right and disappeared into the clouds.
2 hours and 45 minutes later we landed in Kuala Lumpur, a short 3 hour transit and we were boarding our last flight home. 7 hours and 15 minutes later the planes wheels kissed the Sydney runway, on a cool 10 degree morning. We made it through the airport quickly and got our hire car home. And started the last leg of our journey home.
250 000 airport transfer