Kayaking and spelunking

I’m labeling this past week our “adventure week.” We’ve just finished the northern half of Vietnam and it’s possible that this’ll turn out to be my favourite part of our entire trip (though, of course, I can’t be sure for another few months!).

After we left Hanoi, we headed down south to Cat Ba Island. All of the tour companies will tell you the best way to see the karst outcroppings is to take a one- or two-night cruise through Halong Bay, but we’re convinced our way is better. Most of the cruises are overpriced and full of people. We talked to some who’ve experienced them and heard that you see more boats and people than the nature around you (though we have heard good cruise stories as well).

Instead, we made our way to Cat Ba Island, and with the help of Asia Outdoors, went kayaking through Lan Ha Bay instead. Lan Ha Bay has the exact same scenery as Halong Bay (we looked across the channel to double check haha) only the karst formations are closer together – meaning most large ships can’t make it through the area.

We spent the day kayaking through deserted enclaves and swimming in hidden grottos, with a delicious lunch on the main boat tossed in the middle. We had four other kayakers with us when we went (our guide said it was the smallest group he’d had all season), and there were hours when we didn’t encounter a single other person. It was so serene. At the end of the day, I was tempted to ask our guide what qualifications I’d need to do his job – anything to stay in the area. But Chandler quickly reminded me of what we had next – Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park…and Paradise Cave.

Lan Ha Bay 1Lan Ha Bay 2Lan Ha Bay 3

Before we continued our way south, we had to pop up for another night in Hanoi. We made it back to our hotel (Serenity), and they gave us a free upgrade for staying with them a second time (in case you’re keeping count, this is the second time we’ve gotten a hotel upgrade on this trip!). The room was even bigger, as well as nicer, but came with even more stairs to climb – we got a workout every time we left or returned!

Fun fact: the Vietnamese people that I’ve met so far have easily been some of the kindest people I’ve met in my entire life. Less fun fact: Vietnamese tourism companies in Hanoi are among the most corrupt I’ve encountered in my entire life.

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Good Morning, Vietnam

Ok, in full disclosure, I haven’t actually watched Good Morning, Vietnam yet…but know that as I type this, I’m also downloading it, so I should be watching it in the next few days.

You can currently find me on Cat Ba Island, but yesterday, and the three days before that, were all spent in Hanoi. Chandler and I have decided to take it even easier (three weeks in and we’re already getting lazy), but we’re still seeing so many incredible things.

We spent our time in Hanoi around Old Quarter, just wandering about. We saw countless women on bicycles, selling everything from vibrant flowers to meter-long cucumbers to fruit we didn’t have names for (now we know we prefer longans to rhambutans – they’re easier to eat!). We passed by St. Joseph’s Cathedral, wet markets and dry, restaurants, bars, and boutiques. We even found 25-cent beers, which did more for Chandler than it did for me (mixed drinks still cost anywhere from $2-4).

Flower CartSt. Joseph's CathedralHanoi Market25 Cent Beer Continue reading

SE Asia Itinerary

Because my boyfriend and I don’t know how not to plan…and because I knew everyone who reads my blog was dying to know…here’s our SE Asia itinerary. The real itinerary took months to plan…I’ll give you the highlights : )

Qatar:

  • Doha – Al-Corniche, Souq Waqif, and the Museum of Islamic Art

Museum of Islamic Art

Thailand:

  • Bangkok – Banglamphu neighborhood, Siam Ocean World (I’m dating a guy obsessed with aquariums – who knew?), and SHOPPING…hey, I’ve spent the last two years in Ethiopia
  • Koh Tao – Scuba certification and beaches!
  • Phetchaburi – Tham Khao Luang Cave and Tham Khao Bandai-It Monastery aka bats, bats, and more bats
  • Kanchanburi – Death Railway Bridge aka Bridge Over the River Kwai (which we all pronounce incorrectly, thanks to Hollywood)
  • Bangkok (again) – Ko Ratanakosin and Thonburi neighborhoods for the Grand Palace, National Museum, the Amulet Market, and countless stunning wats (temples)

Koh Tao, ThailandWat Arun, Bangkok

Vietnam:

  • Hanoi – Water puppets (can’t wait to find out what exactly this is), Women’s Museum, Hoan Kiem Lake & Temple, Temple of Literature (because how could two people as nerdy as me and Chandler not go?), Old Quarter, and the Perfume Pagoda
  • Halong Bay – Kayaking, rock climbing, and island exploration, especially Hang Trong (aka Drum Grotto) and Dao Titop
  • Phong Nha-ke Bang National Park – Paradise Cave, Phong Nha Cave, and the Nuoc Mooc Eco Trail (wanted to see Hang Son Doong, the world’s biggest cave, but it costs about $3,000 and only 200 people can enter each year)
  • Hue – Imperial Enclosure and the Royal Tombs
  • Hoi An – Historical Old Town
  • Nha Trang – Louisiane Brewhouse and the Oceanographic Museum. Can you tell which of us chose this town? : )
  • Mui Ne – This stop was all me though, motorbiking through sand dunes
  • HCMC – Jade Emperor Pagoda, Fine Arts Museum, and the Tao Dan Park
  • Can Tho – Phong Dien Floating Market

Halong Bay, VietnamPhong Nha Cave, Vietname Continue reading