Travel,  Vietnam

Vietnam – Part 1

November 2019 – time for another trip. This time Vietnam was up. Our plan was to fly in at Hanoi airport and depart from Ho Chi Minh / Saigon. The trip was a real challenge, not being allowed to rent a car meant travelling by public transport and exploring by motorbike. Officially I was not allowed to ride those either since those are often 150cc and you need a motor drivers licence. Fortunately nothing bad happened. 

Travelling by night train and bus was a real adventure. Although it will take a while before we choose another country where we can’t drive our own car, the trip was still another good one, very exhausting but again a lot of fun!! 

Ninh Binh

Immediately after arriving at the airport we were picked up by a minivan to transfer us to Ninh Binh, one of the most beautiful places to visit in Vietnam if you ask me. The minivan was a luxurious one with massage seats….very nice after the long flight and it didn’t take long before we were both napping in the back. Our Homestay was at one of the lakes in Tam Coc, a small tourist town. We had such a lovely cabin and the owners were really friendly & helpfull. They had motorbikes and cycles we could rent and breakfast was lovely.

We only had a few hours of daylight left so we decided to rent bicycles that day. From the taxi we had spotted a resort close to our homestay which appeared to be abandoned. Of course that was the first thing we checked out before cycling on. It was indeed abandoned but when we were photographing we suddenly saw a woman coming from one of the buildings. She was the ‘owner’ and we could stay to photograph…but we did have to pay. She only charged 50.000 Dong (€ 2,00) so we payed her and went on with our explore

After this stop we rode our cycles to Bich Dong Pagoda. Here we immediately learned a hard lesson in ‘be careful or you’ll get scammed’. Parking your cycle costs money, we knew that but the man at the entrance quickly applied the 10.000 / 100.000 dong scam. Fool us once, but from now were had our guards up…this wouldn’t happen again.

I was looking forward photographing the pagoda because I had seen pictures of the entrance gate with a whole lot of water lilies in the water and I was so stunned about it. The deception was pretty big when we arrived and there were no water lillies, just their remains. But still the decaying gate was still worth it. Main struggle I had was trying to take a photo without tourists walking or standing in the way.

That evening we had dinner in a small restaurant in Tam Coc where I had my very first bunch of Vietnamese Loempia’s and a lovely noodle soup. 

Next morning we got up early and rented motorbikes to drive to the Hang Mua Caves. Not to visit caves or the kitsch park with lilly pond, but to climb 500 steps to reach the top of the mountain for a stunning view of the area and photograph a dragon statue. 

Prior to travelling to Vietnam we had climbed 500 steps close to home (in Landgraaf next to Snow World) to get a little bit of a work out done. Well, those steps were nothing compared to the ones at this mountain. All uneven stones and steps and even if it was still early in the morning, it was already bloody hot. It took us quite some time to reach the top and there we found out that you had to climb some spikey rocks to get at the same level as the dragon. It was nerve wrecking standing up on the high rocks but I am glad I concered my fear and took the shot.

After the decend we went on a boat tour on the Ngo Dong River. The boat tour was longer than excepted, about two hours we explored the area with our guide. You float past limestone karts peaks and through low caves. Everytime one would be extremely low our guide kept saying ‘get down get down’. One of the few English words she knew. We decided to rent a private boat instead of sharing one with two strangers.
The tour was quite impressing and the landscape was amazing!

After the boat tour it was time for some exploring. We had found a school online which had been build but never actually been used. We had no idea if it would be worth a visit but we gave it a try. While riding out motorbikes away from the touristic parts, we realized that people were a lot friendlier and more helpful here. This is the Vietnam that we wanted to see. Not the money-crazy-tourist-scamming people that we had met so far. We were riding in the street behind the school but couldn’t find a way to reach it. Immediately a man came up to us. I showed him the newspaper article and he pointed at a very narrow alleyway and gestured that we had to go that way. We rode closer and there another man nodded and pointed to the alleyway. When we got to the front we realised that the building was an emty shell. Not worth a visit unfortunately. But the drive out in the country side was so relaxing that we weren’t very sad about it. On the way back we took some time to take pictures before heading back to the Home Stay. Our plan was to reach it before dark, but we failed at that. This would be the only time we would ride motorbikes in the dark. Vietnamese traffic during the day is scray…in the dark it is terrifying!

Hanoi - 1.0

The next day it was unfortunately time to head back to Hanoi. Here we would spend one day exploring the city before heading to Halong Bay. Our hotel was in the heart of Old Town. It looked nice but my room was a bit disappointing. The window was boarded up on the outside. Probably because there was a construction site next to our hotel. The bathroom had a leaky ceiling and wasn’t very clean. Not a place I would recommend to others.

In Hanoi we mostly used the Grab app to get a taxi. Super easy, no haggling…you know what you pay and won’t get scammed. First stop was a small anbandoned waterpark & ferriswheel. 

Next up, train street. We had read online that the main one was closed to the public now.
Thanks to too many tourist standing on the tracks and quickly snapping an insta-pic right before the train would pass them. Fortunately for us, there was a small part where the restaurants were still open. It was quite the experience. When the train would come, all the seats and tables were taken of the track and once the train had passed everything was placed right back.

After trainstreet we headed towards Turtle Lake. On one side was a massive Korean Festival and the roads were packed with people. When the evening fell the Turtle Tower on the lake lid up but so did the festival in the background.

Close to our hotel we found a lovely restaurant: Gecko Café where we had a good meal and a few local beers. The waiter spoke English pretty well and service was good. If you’re in the area I would recommend this place. We liked it so much, that we ate here again when we got back from Halong Bay and again the last evening in Hanoi, before we went on the night train to Hue. More about that part of the trip in the next few blogs!