You may wonder - Asia again after being in Japan, Singapore, Bali,
Gili T. and Philippines within one year only?
I say - why not? So far, I have only good memories of my previous trips in Asia and the sentence "same same but different" is very true when you travel in Asia and experience the difference of every country, sometimes of every region.
Anyways, there are enough reasons to go again and again to Asia and after one month of enjoying the beauty of Switzerland and different European citytrips, it was time to head east.
After a long but enjoyable flight with transfer via Hongkong we first became Millionaires by going to the ATM, although we are currently only Vietnamese Dong Millionaires it still feels good :)
We found our driver pretty quick who brought us to our hotel in Hanoi, which is located in the middle of the old centre. If you ever make it to Hanoi, I can highly recommend the Emerald Holiday Hotel (there are two, the Holiday is the real one :)). Super
friendly people helping you whenver required, the rooms are great and the location is cool being there where the Hanoian life happens - in the streets of the old center.
As we were tired our first day or afternoon in Hanoi covered basically the following:
On the next day we were heading to Halong Bay, where a post will follow when you scroll down well as for our day trip to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc in the area of Ninh Binh.
Returning from Ninh Binh, we spent time at the nightmarket, met a guy from Columbia the third time by coinsidence (story will follow later) and enjoyed the street which was blocked for the traffic around the lake.
Today we are heading up north to SaPa for some Trecking days :) - stay tuned!
One you're in Vietnam I guess it's a must to see Halong Bay which got named as one of the 7 new nature world wonders. You can imagine, Halong is therefore a very popular place for tourists and you get many options to see it on a one day trip or on a trip with some nights on a boat. We decided to book through the hotel the option for 1 night on the boat and with the company Swan Cruises.
We got picked up in the morning in Hanoi where we had to drive 4 hours to the harbour were we soon got on our boat which was a pretty one, not too big, not too small. In total we were 11 guests who turned it into a relaxed atmosphere. I guess there are different options when going to Halong Bay. Actually, we were not on the boat who is going to the famous, crowded Halong Bay itself, but to Bai Tu Long and if you ask me, the scenery is not much different and it was worth having the bay almost for us :)
Ater a yum 7 course lunch we did some kayaking and had a swim afterwards at one beach which was fun. Back on the boat and after a shower we enjoyed some drinks on deck before we had another yum 10 course dinner and a final schlummi on deck. Some people tried to fish some squids but without that much success.
Next morning we got up early for a Tai Chi Lesson on Deck while the sun was rising up the sky - beautiful! We then relaxed, visited a cave, enjoyed the scenery and were watching some Cooking Decoration Demonstration before heading back to the harbour, forgetting our bank card at the ATM :-) and heading back to our lovely hotel in Hanoi where we enoyed another great streetfood (Pho) and had an early night.
Halong is defintiively worth a visit and I can really recommend the tour with Swan Cruise!
As we knew that we had two more nights in Hanoi before taking the nighttrain to Sa Pa, we thought we could fancy another day trip. Checking the options we decided to go to the Ninh Binh Area, where you can choose between different trips, we booked the one where you visit Hoa Lu, you do a boatride at Tam Coc and afterwards a bicylce tour.
On the bus again, our firt stop was at Hoa Lu, the former capital of Vietnam. You can see two castles of the former kings there and it was interesrting to hear who killed whom within the king family - but to be honest it was not too much of a highlight for me comparing the casltes I have seen in Japan.
Having a lunch at a buffet place (another indicator that you must have chosen a very, very touristy trip) where the food was average and nnothing special, we enjoyed a 1.5 hours boatride through Cam Toc where a Vietnamese Women was steering our boat mainly by her feet! It was fun and relaxing, a beautiful scenery. Tam Coc is famous for Goat Meat and on the way we have seen many goats in the grass or along the street - on one side happily alive, on the other completely grilled and ready to be eaten. Was a bit special to see this kind of streetfood :)
Unfortunately the rice fileds have been chopped already by that time, I can imagine that the landscape would be even more stunning when surrounded by blooming (no idea if you can say that :)) ricefields. But anyways, it was fun and relaxing. On halfway, other boats try to sell you food for yourself or if you refuse they force ou to buy for the person steering the boat. We resisted and returned happily back by tipping 1 USD per person (this is what we got informed before as an appropriate tipp) and our women waved happily goodbye as well.
Then it was time for a bicycle ride around town which was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it a lot. Also here, the scenery was still beautiful but I recon it is more interesrting to see when you see farmers at work on the ricefields.
All in all, it was a lovely datrip. I would say not a must, but a can-do if you have time :)
Back in Hanoi we enjoyed a little bit of Shopping, tried the yum famous Vietnamese Sandwich Banh-Mi and when we had dinner at another streetfood place (hotpot) we have met by coinsidence a guy from Columbia who was on the boat with us in Halong, booked the trip to Ninh Binh (with another company but we have seen him at ever stop) and enjoyed a nice dinner together before it was time to say goodbye as he was heading to Japan next and we ere enjoying an icecream at the lake. This is one thing I really like whenh travelling - you are not the only one with the same ideas and route in mind and it happens regularly that you meet people again at another place.
As the streets were blocked for traffic around the lake (this happens every weekend) we enjoyed a walk there and had a yum icecream before it was time to bed.
We enjoyed our (second) last day in Hanoi first with another Coffee try and went to the Dream Beans Coffee (it was mentioned in the first Hanoi Section) where we tried the famous Vietnamese "Pinh" Coffee as well as the Eggcoffee - and guess what? I liked both! Will Vietnam make the impossible happen and I will become a coffee drinker after being more than 30 years resistant? As I count that still as a try, I have to see what the future days bring :) After we had another yum Banh Mi, did some trainspotting at the trainstreet and went for another massage, an apero at the lake and another time to Bun Bo Nan Bo.
Then it was time to go to the trainstation where our superfriendly hotelstaff escorted us :) and entering our 4 dorm cabin on the way to Sa Pa. We had experience with nighttrains in Thailand which were so good, that we hoped to experience the same here. Hum, well... I would rank Thailand's nighttrain still on top although it was not too bad, very bumpy, one guy was snoring heavily but I was prepared and got surprisingly a lot of sleep whenh we were bumping into direction Sa Pa. At the trainstation Lao Cai (actually I didn't realize that we were so close to the Chinese Border now) we got transferred by bus to Sa Pa, which took another hour I think. On the way up we could had a glimpse already at the many and huge rice terraces and I got excited.
Arriving at the hotel we had breakfast before it was time to the first easy trekk of 6 km which brought us to the village CatCat which was a great start to see how people live in the mountian where different ethnic minorities 8e.g. Hmong people) are living. The climate is colder and they also get snow in winter. In other words, completely different than to the bustling life down in Hanoi. But it felt good breathing mountain air again and it was a lovely start although the weather was cloudy and foggy. You can do some great shooping up there as well, specialized in (fake :)) clothes you mainly need there like rain jackets and warm clothes, trekking shoes etc.
After an afternoon coffee and tea (tea for me :)) we enjoyed a yum lunch and had an early night as we were still tired from the night train and wanted to be ready the next day for the longer hike.
Early morning, I started like a Vietnamese, with a yum Noodlesoup for breakfast :) We got then picked up by our guide for the next two days from our Hotel (Eden Boutique) and the group of other tourists, around 12 as well as a group of HMong Women who joined us for the hike. We were talking with them what we could as many people up in Sa Pa don't even speak Vietnamese and learn English from tourists only(Where you from, Whats your name, How old are you, How many kids you have). What really amazed me is that the women wore sandals only and we with our trekking shoes and sneakers were struggling heavily along the slippery way across the ricefields and I was incredibly thankful that ChuChu (the name of one women) helped me and gave me a hand where needed to make it safely to the villaage. Also today the sun didn't want to come out, it wass foggy, most of the fields were chopped but when a landscape can impress under these conditions, I don't want to know how it looks like when you have perfect sight to the fields in shiny green or yellow.
ChuChu showed me also how to get the blue colour out of the Indigo plant which they use for inking their clothes and is the reason why many HMong people usually have at least one blue coloured hand :)
When we arrived at the village, we got overwhelmed by the inhabitants, kids and women came to us, all trying to sell us some handmade things. As I felt I want to give ChuChu something back for the great help during the hike I bought something from her and resisted then the very active girls and women for the next 15 minutes :) Somehow it was fun to see it, but I can also understand when people get annoyed. However I made the experience if you still act friendly, they will accept your "No" sooner or later, sometimes rather late :).
After lunch, our guide showed us also the production of the HMong clothes before we were checking in at our homestay for tonight, the Tavan Ecological Homestay which was super releaxing and had a delicious dinner afterwards. In Sa Pa you generally get always rice, veggies, chicken, pork, fruits for dessert and here we got additionally yummy sweetpotato fries and salmon as well.
Tired from the intense day where we had to concentrate where to step as it was slippery we went to bed early - on the next day aonther trekking for about 7 km was awaiting us...
Yay, finally the sun was out - at least a little bit while we were walking across ricefields and terraces, the way took us to bamboo forests and along the way we have seen a lot of animals like waterbuffalos, pigs, dogs, chicken, aand, *scarymode-on" a snake! That was creepy but she made her way very fast and disappeared too soon for a picture - or maybe I was just too surprised to react fast :-) We were also crossing waterfalls and there were some challenging steps to do, felt a bit like beeing a Ninja Warrior :) Although shorter than the walk yesterday, I enjoyed it more as we could see a lot of the fantastic landscape and it was a fun way to trekk which we finisheed just before it starterd to rain :)
The bus took us back tu Sa Pa were we enjoeyed another yum lunch (chicken with lemongrass honey sauce oooh my god), I guess I ate too much as I got asked if I want some more :) , refreshed ourselves, did some final shopping before heading down to the trainstation for dinner and a night ride back to Hanoi. This time with less sleep and Hanoi welcomed us with colder weather and rain in the early morning.
Before heading to the airport at 4 pm for our flight to Hue, we visited the Dream Beans Coffee again where I found my favorite: Coconut Coffee - oh my god! As I had the real need after the trainride to go there, I think I have to admit that Hanoi made the impossible possible - I enjoy Coffee drinking now - at least in Vietnam :). As the weather was not too well, we decided to go to the prison museum also known as Hilton Hanoi. It was very interesting to get the insighs about the war. No doubt that Vietnamese had to go through a terrible time or the hell on earth, it still made me smile how the museum is set up. There were the very very bad French on one side who did terrible things to the inhabitants of the prison (it was really creepy to walk along the different cells and I don't want to imagine how people had to suffer there. On the other hand, there were the Americans who got imprisoned there and got treated like in a hotel by the Vietnamese and didn't feel like beeing imprisioned :) Anyways, we can all be glad and happy that war is over!
After that historical lesson it was time for - guess what? - yes another street food (the list of must-eats is just too long) but there was one I definitively wanted to try: Chac ca thang long - a special fish menu and it was incredibly delicious!
After another massage we said goodby to Hanoi. Our flight brought us to Hue, where we got picked up and driven to the Riverside Villa Resort. Unfortunately, heavy rain started and we made it completely wet to the next restaurant we have seen and got recommended by the hotel - the restarurant Risotto and the name says it - after more than a week with delicious vietnnamese food we enjoyed our Risotto and Pasta with a good glass of wine - where the wine was more expensive than the dinner :), electricity cut because of the heavy rain was included but made a romantic athmosphere and we have fallen asleep while listening to the rain back in the resort.
The day started as the night was ending - with rain. I do not complain, we knew that in that part of Vietnam the rainy season has started and we had to probably deal with it. But once it's here and it doesn't seem to stop, you send some prayers up to the weather god :)
Wise people say, there is no bad weather only bad clothing and as we did some shopping, equipped now with rain jackets, we were ready for the day and decided to do a tour with a driver who brought us to the hotspots of the city:
Another plus is when you're here during rainy season and during rain! :) there are not as many tourists as usual and it is pretty relaxing too.
Back in the afternoon and starving we decided to go to another, local restaurant the staff recommended to us and made our way to Hanh restaurant. I decided to go "for the menu" and got 5 different local things to try for less than 4.- - it was once again, super delicious.
For the rest of the day we spent some time writing these blog entries (I was waayys behind, only had Hanoi Part 1 so far) and will do another rain-dance to find a good and dry place for dinner :)
I like when you can combine a trip to another city with some sightseeing. This is common in Asia and therefore we have booked a private driver who brough us to Hoi An but included some stopps on the way as well which were very cool:
After this half day trip to Hue we checked in in the most luxurious hotel we had during Vietnam - Lasenta Boutique Hotel with a great infinity pool with panoramic view to the ricefields.
The Old Town of which Hoi an is famous for had us in the evening. The set up is very romantic and touristy, but I really liked the lights of the laterns on the river and the restaurant and bars where you could enjoy the view. Very crowded as well, but as the traffic gets blocked every night until 9.30 pm it is still very relaxed and we could savor a delicious dinner at Cargo Club.
On the way back a beer at the hill station saved us as we were escaping (once again) from the pouring rain :).
The day after we decided to start easy and lazy - we slept in, had breakfast and did then a bycicle tour around the old town, found a lovely photographer museum who is spezalized in portrait pictures of vietnamese people - I loved it! and were cruising around the rice fields. Although the people are friendly here as well, at the first day I was slightly disappointed compared with what we had experienced before.
Was it because of Hoi An being a Hotspot for tourists? Did I set my expectations too high as I heard so many good things about the town? Time to stop overthinking about, we went to the Coral Spa for a leg and foot massage and there it was: The super nice people providing a super service and beside that, it was probably the best massage we had in Vietnam (although the ones in Hanoi weren't bad either).
Ending the day with a delicious, but pricey dinner (but it was worth it :)) at Mango Tree I had the feeling that the relation between Hoi An and me got better and I was positive and curious what the next days will bring as I have booked a cooking class for the next day :)
New day and sunshine is back - finally! At 8.30 we got picked up and welcomed by Huynh and some bycicles, as we decided to do a cooking class combined with a bycicle ride as well as with the boat. By meeting Huynh, I knew already it will be a good day. After 10 mintues on the bike, I heard a noise which didn't sound too good - I got a flat tire! No problem, as I drink coffee now we stopped for a coffee :) and she called a guy who replaced the bycicle int he meantime before we continued. First stop was at the herbs and vegetable garden - very impressive to see where the ingredients are growing we eat daily and it feels so good eating local and fresh food everyday and I have my deepest respect for the farmers working on the field so hard for an incredible low income. On the way passing ricefields, fishermen we have seen a guy on a waterbuffalo. First we thought by coinsidence but this was all organized by Huynh, and so we got the chance to ride a waterbuffalo who was walking then into the ricefields :)
Continuing our ride, we stopped at the local market to buy the ingredients we needed for the cooking class later. I love the market life anyways and Huynh shared some interesting insights about fruits and herbs I have never heard as well as how to see if something is fresh or not. Curious fact: Some vegetables (more expensive) are imported from China but uf course we only chose local Vietnamese ingredients including fish, chicken, pork, shrimps as well. On the way to her house we got an introduction about watercoconuts and once arrived for a refreshement - we still didn't start cooking. Now it was time for a boatride :)
So we jumped into this fun round bamboo-waterbuffallo-poo boats where we stopped by close to a fisherman who must have suffered a lot from the war hearing about his life and the reason why he has now one foot only :( He welcomed us with a smile, showed how to through the fishernet and we could try it too. On the boat we also did some crazy circles before we caught some crabs (and of course relieved them afterwards) It was a lot of fun and slowly I got hungry, time for cooking aand I can tell you, we cooked a lot like
And as a super surprise Huynh organized a pre-birthday cake for Beat - that was amazing. Sadly we had to ride back and I enjoyed talking to Huynh who speaks so well English (all learned from tourists) which is not that common here. Hearing where she's coming from, building up her business and living her live impressed me a lot and I wish her all the best. If you ever make it to Hoi An a Cooking Class with Huynh and the Coconot Fragrance is a must and I would do it anytime again!
Later on we had to bring our laundry to a laundry service (Hanoi Laundry, was very good and cheap a well :)
And I had to go to another fitting as I decided to get some clothes (if business wants me back after my sabbatical :)) for work and we enjoyed a poolseession with happy hour, a yum dinner at Nanh's kitchen and had a stroll in the old town.
A visit at the My Son (you pronounce it mi son and has nothing to do with a "son" :) sanctuary was on our list as well. As we couldn't go as initially planned because of full bookings (seems to have a lot of tourists from israel who chartered some tours) we decided to do the sunrise tour. We got picked up at 4.30 am (!!!!) at the lobby and it was about a 1.5 hours drive. On the way ( I almost missed it) we could see the sunrise and we arrived at 6 am at the sanctuary to get in. The sun was up at that time but the morning light was doing a great job for the surrounding and the atmosphere. It was very impressive to see what ancient people have built and we visited some towers and temples - most of it rebuilt. Guess why? Yes there was this useless war and some B52 bombers destroyed a lot. You can still see the craters and can only imagine how huge the damage must have been, not talking about the costs to reconstruct and protect it - thanks to Unesco a lot has been restored and work is in progres - might be that you see even more in the future. Time passed quickly and after two hours at the sanctuary we went back to Hoi an by Boat and stopped on the way at a small villiage, which is specialized in creating art and sculptures of wood. It was very impressive to see that this was all handmade and not made in China in a big fabric hall as I was partially assuming - but my luggage doesn't allow more souvenirs and after a snack back in town, we enjoyed some relaxing hours at the beach before we had to pick up our freshly washed clothes from the Laundry, enjoyed another great massage at Coral Spa and had the last yum Pho at the restaurant little Faifo where the people were superfriendly as well.
Although I was not that amazed by Hoi An at the beginning, it got me at second sight and thanks to the great time with super people I can say that Hoi An was defintiely Love ase well - sometimes you just need to look twice :)
The next day was time to say goodbye. I am leaving Vietnam to continuing my adventure in Indonesia. It was very hard to leave this amazing country and I am sure I will have tons of Flashbacks to that time which will make me smile when thinking back.