One month in South-East-Asia
Last November, the months of planning and anticipation came to an end. Our backpacks were packed, the boarding passes printed, and we couldn’t wait to sit on the plane to South-East-Asia. My parents gave us a lift to Zurich from where our flight to Hanoi started.
We had already our first little adventure at the airport when I left our passports on a table in front of the security check. Luckily we could pick them up at the police station of the airport a few minutes later. From that moment on, documents and valuables were Fabian's responsibility, and we were glad we are always too early and had enough time to catch the plane.
When we arrived in Hanoi, we had a little culture shock, thousand motorbikes that constantly drove from all directions over crossroads, whole families on the same bike and mopeds that transported big tv screens, chickens, and all the other things I never thought could fit onto a motorbike. The sky was grey from the pollution, more litter than grass in the houses' gardens in the city, and on every corner was someone cooking and many people sitting on tiny plastic chairs. Besides hotels and tourist information, barely anyone spoke English. After a few hours of walking through random streets, we got used to the chaos and started to see the beauty of Hanoi. The many colors everywhere, for instance, and the street food is delicious and super cheap. And till the end of the day, we even dared to walk over the streets.
The next day, we took a bus to Sapa. After six hours we arrived in the mountain town, in the north of Vietnam. We had a homestay booked for the next two nights, and a man who spoke just a few words English was already waiting for us. Over an hour on muddy dirt roads, we drove in his car further and further into the fog. Finally, we came to the basic house where we spent the next days. It was raining the whole afternoon, so we just made friends with the animals in the garden, and hoped for better weather in the morning. When we woke up, the fog was gone, and we could see the amazing view over the rice terraces and the mountains around us.
We got a great breakfast with fresh fruits and pancakes and started our guided hike. A young woman showed us the hidden paths around the rice fields, led us to ethnic villages, bamboo forests, and a beautiful waterfall.
The fog came back in the afternoon, and we have been happy that we started early in the morning and could enjoy the great views.
It was storming and really cold the next morning. We haven’t been prepared for 0° Celsius in Vietnam, a good moment to leave Sapa and travel south. We took the bus back to Hanoi, from where we started a three-day-sailing tour in the Ha Long Bay the following day.
The last days have been rainy down here as well, and so the air was clear, and we could enjoy the blue sky and warm sunshine over the amazing Landscape.
We could see all the stunning rock formations that stick out of the blue seawater on a sailing boat. The rugged islands hide a lot of special places. On our first day, we explored the secret cave and hiked to Tiptop Island's top from there. We had an amazing view of the many little islands and the most beautiful sunset light.
We spent the night on the boat. We had a comfortable cabin and even a little balcony where we could watch the changing colors of the night sky.
Early in the morning, we explored the rock islands and the turquoise blue water with a kayak. It was wonderful to see this amazing landscape from near.
Then we saw the traditional floating houses. In this area are the whole villages built on the sea. Some of the houses even have little gardens and pets on their self-built home islands. Most of the people here live from fishing and fish farms. Even the grocery shop is on a boat and comes to the floating houses, so they do not have to go on land. I could never imagine living like the people here, but it was super interesting to see.
The main reason why we booked this tour was the stop on Monkey Island. We really wanted to see the cute monkeys in nature. As soon as we have been on the island, we started looking for the little guys. It didn’t take long to find them. They have been near the kiosk, from where the tourists fed them all the time. Because of that, they got pretty aggressive. If someone does not want to share their cookies with them, they can even jump on you and steal the whole package out of your hand. We went for a quick swim before we had to get back on the boat, and one of the monkeys wanted to take our backpacks. When we tried to shoo him away, he did hiss on us and ran after Fabian. The monkeys look really cute, but after all, they are wild animals.
Our last stop of the day was a small island near Cat Ba, where we stayed for the night.
On the next day, we drove almost directly back to Hanoi.
Spontaneous, we decided to drive to Ning Bin the next morning and take the night bus to Phong Na Ke Bang from there.
Ninh Binh must be amazing in the summer months when all the rice fields are green and yellow. But also in winter, it is definitely worth to stop there. Especially the view from the top of the Dragon Mountains was fascinating.
We learned how to make traditional spring rolls for lunch, and after the tasty self-made food, we did a boat tour through the beautiful landscape.
An old Buddhist temple was our last stop in Ninh Binh.
After hours of waiting, our bus finally arrived and picked us up. The night busses in Vietnam are pretty comfortable. Instead of seats, you have small bunk beds, and everyone gets a pillow and blanked. Of course, you can’t compare it to a hotel bed, but we think it is super practical to sleep during the long bus rides, and you can save a night these ways ;-)
We arrived in Phong Na Ke Bang at four o clock in the morning. Luckily our homestay host picked us up. We could even book a tour for the same day at night. After two more hours of sleep, our Adventure Cave Tour started. We got told that our good hiking boots are not good, and they give us their own shoes. Apparently, plastic sandals are better in Vietnam than expensive hiking boots. After a few kilometers, we got used to the new shoes, and they are ok to walk in and perfect for the river crossings we had to do.
Our hike led through a valley, where we could watch the indigenous people cultivate fields with water buffalos, from there; we walked into the jungle, crossed a few rivers, and hiked past beautiful waterfalls until we came to the entrance of the cave. Our lunch was already prepared for us when we arrived there.
Strengthened after the tasty food, we made our ascent to the upper entrance of the cave. We explored some of the amazing corners of this remote cave and made our way down to the 60 meters deeper bottom. Many ladders made the way down easier for us. And then we jumped the last meters from a cliff into the underground river and swam out into the daylight again. The whole day was super amazing and adventurous.
Our next stop was in the city of Hue.
We strolled through a traditional market in the morning and visited the citadel and some of the tombs.
One of the highlights of our Vietnam trip was Hoi An. We loved the charming flair of the city. Colorful lanterns in every street, cute little shops and markets in the old city, and palm trees at the river banks. Especially in the evening, when the sun sets and the lanterns are lit everywhere, the whole town looks like out of a fairytale. As soon as it gets dark, the small alleys are getting lively. Several night markets, street food, and live music at every corner and rivers are small paper lanterns with candles floating.
Close to Hoi An in the middle of a Jungle, you can find the old Hindu sanctuary, My Son. Most of the buildings got destroyed in the war, but the remaining ruins are still important, and we could imagine how fascinating this place must have been many years ago. The statues, ornaments, and temples are still beautiful, and no one knows today how the ancient people built them.
Another 14 hours in a night bus led us to Dalat. An idyllic town that is surrounded by mountains. We did a tour of the countryside, and Fabian could test some of Vietnams culinary specialties. Our first stop of the day was a coffee plantation. They also produce the most expensive coffee in Vietnam here, Weasel Coffee. Weasels eat the coffee beans, digest them, the poo gets dried, the digested beans are washed, roasted, and grounded. If you like coffee, this should be really special. I don’t drink coffee at all, and Fabian also doesn’t know much about it, so it wasn’t that exciting for us, but still interesting to see and try.
At the next place they produced rice vine, that was really nice. And on the same farm lived hundreds of crickets, and yes, they farm them to eat them fried. I didn’t try any, but Fabian said they tasted like crisps.
The huge Lady Buddha Statue was impressive. In the middle of coffee plantations was this amazing temple. There was also a big white happy buddha, a golden buddha, and thousands of other statues.
Our last stop of the day was the Elephant Falls. They are beautiful but for our taste a bit too touristy.
From Dalat, we traveled east to the beach town Mui Ne.
Where we watched the sunrise from big dunes.
In the fisherman village close to the town, where so many seashells. We wanted to take them all home, but the smell kept us from filling our backpacks…
The Fairy Stream is another unique Landscape. It is a sweet water spring that flows into the sea. The little river remodels the sandy ground into amazing sculptures. And the red and white sand make a pretty cool play of colors.
Our last main stop was the Mekong Delta. It is difficult to reach these southern places with public transport, so we decided to book a three-day tour from Ho Chi Minh. After the long bus ride on the first day, the locals welcomed us with traditional music. After that, we floated in small boats to a small factory, where we learned how to make traditional rice paper for spring rolls and rice noodles.
We started the next day at the floating market. Local traders sell and buy vegetables, fruits, and other stuff from their boats. Every boat has a stick with some pieces of fruits or vegetables on the top. Everything that is on the stick is sold on the boat.
On the boat tour on the Mekong river, we came across some local houses that have been built directly at the river.
We drove to a bird reserve in the afternoon. There we had another boat tour through the incredible landscape. Some rivers are completely grown by water plants, and on both sides are trees growing out of the water and reflecting in the calm water. This tour was definitely a highlight of our time in Vietnam.
On our last day, we visited a village of the Cham Clan. The ancestors of these people built the My Son sanctuary we saw a few weeks earlier. Today they live on houses built on stilts here in the Mekong Delta, so they are safe from floods.
After that, we took the bus back to Cho Chi Minh, where our flight to the Philippines started.
We got used to life in Vietnam after the first few days, and this colorful country inspired us a lot. The landscapes are so diverse and beautiful, the locals lovely and hospitable, and the food was amazing (especially if you like rice and spring rolls ;-) ) traveling with public transport is super easy and uncomplicated. We also enjoyed that it was possible to book everything spontaneous and last, but not least, Vietnam is super cheap compared to Europe.