Finally we have found somewhere in Vietnam where people smile back at us, kids wave and giggle when they see us, and people are nice to us! Dien Bien Phu has been a refreshing and awesome way to finish our time in Vietnam. Thankfully there aren’t any other tourists here so the locals treat us like normal people instead of ATM’s.
We spent some time wandering around the local market, went to see the ‘Eiffel Tower’ and also climbed up heaps of stairs to the town monument to get really nice views over the town, rice fields and mountains.
Now we will get the bus to Muang Khua in Laos before heading back to Luang Namtha. We can’t wait!
The above post was written while we were in Dien Bien Phu and our internet wasn’t good enough to publish it…. As if we needed more evidence that it was a good idea to leave Vietnam, 3 times during the day/evening at Dien Bien Phu we told 3 different receptionists at our hotel that we would be leaving at 5am the following morning so we wanted to get our passports back that night. All of them assured us that would be no problem, we could collect our passports at 10pm or just before 5am when we were due to leave. Luckily, at 10pm Dre went and retrieved our passports. The next morning at 5am we went to check out and the entire place was deserted. No receptionist to be found, no security guard, we couldn’t find a single person. This would have been OK if we weren’t locked into the grounds of the hotel! We walked around the grounds trying to find a way out and the big gate at the entrance had 3 massive padlocks. Eventually we realised that the only way out was to scale the fence keeping us in – it was either that or be stranded in Dien Bien Phu for another day. So we literally had to escape our hotel. We broke out over the filthy fence and ended up with a fair bit of black dirt on us. We didn’t care though, we practically ran to the bus station and jumped on the bus that would lead us back to the safe haven of Laos.
We were very lucky on our last day to be given some advice from our favourite dinner guy “Little Man” to walk up to the helicopter landing pad from WW2. Apart from it being a grey day, it turned out one of the best things we done in our entire 2.5 weeks here. We had extensive views over Lan Ha, Ha Long and Cat Ba bays which was so beautiful!
It made us comment to each other yet again about how there seems to be Vietnam, and then Vietnam which the locals think the tourists want to see. This particular walk is only about 30 minutes from the centre of town and is totally spectacular, but it’s not advertised anywhere at all! We only found out because Little Man had walked up there himself and recommended it, which is crazy since it’s pretty much the coolest thing we’ve done on the island (apart from the Ha Long cruise).
The same goes for food. Every day we see Vietnamese eating amazing looking foods, with many vegetables and fish, but you just cannot order that stuff on menus. They have a very limited range of Vietnamese food that some powers that be must have decided foreigners would like and it is very much foreigner food. In light of that, we were estatic when Mr Tuan, our hotel manager invited us to dinner with him and the hotel owner for our last night, since we had already stayed with them for 18 nights so they wanted us to have a farewell dinner. Real food! How exciting. In every place we’ve been in Vietnam there are always a few people in town that go out of their way for tourists and try to make up for all the other people who are unfortunately doing their best at scamming tourists. Mr Tuan is definitely one of them and we have been so lucky to stay with him and have him look after us. When we arrived for dinner, which was an awesome, delicious fresh fish and vegetable hot pot, Mr Tuan also brought out a bottle of french wine for us. We were pretty pleased about this, and then when it progressed onto honey liquer shots we just went along with it. Before we knew it we were all having a great time and lets just say the restaurant was very vocal with the four of us laughing and talking. It was a really good night and made us feel good about having been on Cat Ba for so long. Vietnam really does have some amazing people and the views here are definitely worth seeing in everyones lifetime! Our photos of our last day in Cat Ba are here.
The past week or so on Cat Ba island has seen us celebrating a fair bit! We have accidentally become sort of like travel advisors for other distraught travellers who have made it through the gaunlet to Cat Ba. As we mentioned before we came here via Halong Bay so were very lucky – it seems the stories of why not to come via public transport were true and heaps of people arrive here in not-so-happy states. The upside of this for us is that we have made quite a few friends here!
We have spent a lot of time on the beaches, and coastal cliff walkway and have also motorbiked around the island and visited the national park again also. We really have been very lucky to stay here for a couple of weeks and getting to see the beautiful bays of Ha Long, Bac Bo and Lan Ha and Cat Ba every day.
Our time in the National Park was particularly fun because we were the only ones in the spot we chose to hang out in and there were millions of butterflies around us so it was really cool. We took the bike on the path that was meant to take us to the lake in the park, funnily enough though the neither the map or the guy we rented the bike off mentioned that after a few km’s the path became stairs – not so bike-friendly. It turned out to be a really nice afternoon though to just sit amongst the trees in the sun for a while and also ride along the pretty coastline.
One crazy phenomena here is that because it’s the middle of winter, there is a lot of mist/fog/cloud around and it means that most of the time you can look directly at the sun and it is sort of just like looking at the moon – not bright, and ranging between white and dark red depending on how high it is in the sky. The photo above was the last sunset for 2010 which was pretty cool!
For Dre’s birthday we pretty much just chilled, ate, drank and spent time seeing the beautiful bay. We saw yet another awesome sunset and then went to dinner with some of our new friends Mike (from USA) and Dykla (from Israel) which turned out to be a hilarious and really fun night.
New Years Eve was much of the same, we got our hopes up early in the night because the Vietnamese set up a stage with lights and flags and massive speakers, and at about 5pm started playing some really cool music – like actual western music that is cool and not just the stuff you usually hear in Asia… so we were getting all pumped that we would have awesome music for New Years and were really enjoying listening to it… and then it finished at 9pm! What? – it’s NYE! So many people were mystified as to why it would finish so early, but hey, that’s just part of the fun of being on this crazy continent! We ended up finding our Canadian friends again that we’d met the day before so welcomed in the new year with them and Mike and Dykla. Our hotel showed us the Sydney fireworks on TV and we were sad to have missed them after the awesomeness of last year, but then reminded ourselves that we are here in Asia which is still pretty fun in itself! We are really looking forward to 2011 and seeing more of the world, re-visiting Luang Namtha and seeing our families and friends again. We miss you guys! Our photos are here.
We arrived on Cat Ba Island after our cruise through Ha Long Bay and had to pinch ourselves – we had a huge room with a stunning view of Bac Bo Bay and the sun was about to set! We have been so lucky with everywhere we have stayed and once again we have hit the jackpot.
Our first day here we visited the National Park, and climbed to the top of one of the mountains for amazing views over the karsts both on Cat Ba Island and out into Lan Ha Bay (which has the same scenery and is joined onto Ha Long Bay). About 90% of the island is National Park so we will probably do some more exploring in there over the coming week/s.
We have finally got an amazing running track again – it is a coastal track from Cat Ba town around to beaches Cat Co 3 and 1 (in true Asian fashion, the beaches are named “1” or “2” and are ordered 3,1,2) with stunning views out into Bac Bo and Lan Ha Bays. The sunrises and sunsets from here are beautiful and we already spend most of our time up on the coastal track watching the many sea eagles and changing view.
Cat Ba Island is way more chilled out than anywhere else we have been in Vietnam so far, and this, combined with the views and the coastal track have meant that we have decided to spend Christmas, Dre’s birthday and New Years here. Earlier in the year when Dre said he wanted to spend his birthday and NYE on an island, neither of us imagined it would have views out into the ocean with enormous limestone karsts jutting out right in front of the window of our room as well as 3 white sand beaches that are basically deserted.
There is heaps of seafood here (as expected) including huge 60cm horseshoe crabs, mantis shrimps, and clams which are the local delicacy. You can get snake, seahorse or eagle wine, which is exactly what you think it is – preserved animals inside the jar of alcohol. We have also finally found a good Pho (rice noodle soup) lady at the morning market, still not up to Luang Namtha standards but the best we’ve found in Vietnam so far (and she makes it with shrimps which is awesome!). Our photos of Cat Ba so far are here.
Ha Long Bay throroughly exceeded our expectations. Everyone has seen pictures of Halong before and so everyone knows what they will see. What can’t be anticipated though, is the pristine beauty in the serene silence – the majestic setting is just something pictures cannot capture.
Kayaking around the bay by ourselves and watching the sunset was one of our best experiences to date. Every direction we could see was just karsts, calm water, the ever changing sky, and just the two of us. It was so amazing and we’d do it again in a heartbeat!
We swam in the lovely warm water in the bay, visited the largest cave and walked up high on the island to look down over the bay, and had some fantastic food onboard our boat. We got up to see the sunrise and were just in awe of the beauty for the entire days we were there.
All in all this was an utterly fantastic experience and no words can really describe how amazing it was, so here are a few photos which don’t do Ha Long Bay justice. If you get the chance, you really should see this place.
After our van-train-taxi day we were quite pleased to be back in our hotel in Ha Noi. Even the constant beeping and noise of Ha Noi seemed OK after that. We had planned to spend just a day here but decided to make it two, just to have some time to chill.
The highlight of being here was seeing a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show. It was much better than either of us expected, not only did we get to sit in a quiet hall in the second row (no beeping for an hour was worth the ticket price alone!) we also got to hear some live Vietnamese music which is very calm and beautiful, and see the water puppets. The tradition was invented centuries ago by rice farmers during the rainy season for entertainment. They would make puppet shows in the flooded rice paddies and all the other farmers would come and watch. The scenes depicted all sorts of things – from water buffalo fights, a young couple falling in love, dragons fighting, horse races, rice planting, coconut harvesting and the coming of prosperity. It was very entertaining and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
Now that we know all our local restaurants, coffee places, street food vendors etc it has been easy to navigate Ha Noi and spend as little time on the streets as possible. We went to the lake again, spent a frustrating hour in the post office (doesn’t pay to be a foreigner if you want to get anything done!) and basically just chilled in our hotel. Tomorrow we are going to the famed Halong Bay, and will hopefully stay on Cat Ba island for a while if we like it. We will report back soon :-) Our photos are here.