Saturday, 31 May 2014

Goodbye Vietnam!

After two relaxing days in Hanoi, we left for to Halong Bay which is another spectacle in Vietnam. It is a UNESCO world heritage listed natural wonder that  includes 1,600 islands forming a magnificent seascape of limestone pillars. We booked a two day tour through our hotel. Our junk boat from the White Dolphin Cruises turned out to be quite fancy. I would advise booking a tour with a reputable company as there has been incidents of sinking boats in the past. 

Ha Long Bay

After lunch on the boat, we visited a floating village by kayaks where the whole community leaves on water. They have their own floating school and market and live without any contact to the land.  It was incredible to see this kind of lifestyle. If you easily get seasick, this village is definitely not an option for you.

Kids from floating village
Kayaking around the limestone rock formations was a unique experience. You can easily lose track of time in these serene waters. When we got back to the boat, the food was almost ready. During dinner, we met our new friends, Marie from France who lives in Hong Kong and Ajit from India who lives in Singapore. They gave us excellent tips for the countries we will be visiting next. It is amazing to see many people leaving their homes behind to follow their dreams in different countries. I feel that we live in a global village where anywhere can be home. 

The sleep quality on the boat was better than expected. We managed to get a decent 8 hours of sleep. It was beautiful to wake up on the quiet waters of Halong Bay. After a guided tour of the Sung Sot Cave, it was time to head back to the mainland. Overall, the trip was very quick but spectacular. Although it is very touristy and crowded with many junk boats, Halong Bay is still a must do in Vietnam.

Dinner with Ngoc and Ha
Upon returning to Hanoi and picking up our luggage from the hotel, we went straight to the train station to catch an overnight train to Sapa. If you travel a long time, it becomes essential to consider opportunities such as overnight buses or trains that saves time and money. On the train, we met a nice couple from Hanoi, Ha and Ngoc who got married a couple of days ago. They were on a short honeymoon. Next evening, they invited us for dinner and prepared delicious authentic Vietnamese culinary. It was great to meet this lovely couple. We still keep in touch with them and recently, Ngoc happily told me that they are expecting their first baby. They were thrilled to share this wonderful news. I wish them all the very best for the future.

Sapa is located in the northwest of Vietnam and is famous for its’ stunning natural beauty. It is home of various ethnic minorities such as H’mong, Dao, Tay and Giay.

Children of Sapa
During one of our treks to a nearby village, we met Sam who became our tour guide for the next day. She was a young mother of a one year old baby. She carried her on her back all the time which is a tradition. To get extra i income, these ethnic women try to convince you to do a tour with them. Hiring them as guides really helps these minority groups and you get to find out about their lifestyle as they often take you to their villages. It is always a good idea to have some food with you, such as nuts if you visit these small villages around Sapa. You come across to many children and it makes their day when you offer them something to eat. Please keep in mind that there is no dentist in these villages, so natural food only! 

Trekking with our guide Sam started early. We walked through rice fields, hills, and visited 3 villages along the way. She was carrying her baby on her back all the time, amazing strength! She even cooked lunch for us at her home. Sam lives in a very basic hut with her husband. No toilet inside. They use open fire to cook. Seeing their simple life style helped me to put things in perspective and I felt very grateful with what I have in my life. When we finished the tour around 3:30pm, Alex and I were exhausted and took a moto-taxi back to our hotel.

Our guide Sam
Sapa looks similar to Dalat, as they were both set up by the French, but it is much smaller. If you like trekking, it will be your paradise. We spent 4 amazing days in Sapa and did some incredible hikes.

Another point of interest in this lovely town is the ethnic market, where different minorities dressed in traditional clothes sell handmade souvenirs. It is a good way of passing some hours in Sapa and learning about the ethnic cultures. Once again it was time for us to leave this magnificent nature behind to go back to Hanoi for our last day in Vietnam.

Sapa Ethnic Market

Our last day had a relaxing start but a hectic end. We spent most of our day in Hanoi markets, organised a taxi through the hotel and were ready to leave to the airport in the afternoon. A couple of minutes into the ride, Alex realised that she did not have her passport. It is common practice in Vietnam that hotels keep your ID until you check out. Immediately we returned to the Rising Dragon Hotel. Unfortunately, they did not have it as they took copies of our passports. Alex panicked. She opened her luggage in the middle of the sidewalk to find it. Then we realised that she forgot to pick it up when we left Sapa. Now, Sapa is a 9 hour train ride from Hanoi and there was no way we could have made it to our plane. On top of everything, the phone number of the hotel was not listed on the net, so we could not reach them. Meanwhile, Alex was thinking of catching a train back to Sapa while I would catch the plane to Hong Kong to avoid buying 2 more tickets.

The staff at the Rising Dragon Hotel were very helpful and managed to find the number of the hotel in a random website. When we called, the owner said that he had sent her passport to a travel agency in Hanoi, which luckily was close by. We managed to get it quickly and made our way to the airport. It was very stressful but we made it on time. A piece of advice if you ever go to Vietnam, try not to let hotels keep your passports to avoid unexpected surprises.

Vietnam is a beautiful country with warm hearted, friendly people. It is very diverse and has lots to offer to any traveller. Thank you Vietnam for the hospitality and the wonderful experiences. We loved it! 

Breakfast at Rising Dragon

No comments:

Post a Comment