It is with deep regret that this stage covers the closing chapter of my time in Vietnam. I have absolutely loved my time in this country, and although I know I have lots of amazing adventures ahead of me, I was sad to leave this wonderful place, and the people I’d met here too.
We left the adventure in Hue, and from there it was a long bus ride up to Phong Nha. En route, we stopped at the Vinh Moc tunnels, another collection of tunnels created in the Vietnam war, housing an entire village underground, providing protection from the bombs. This time I did walk through them all and it was astounding; they had a nursery which housed the 61 children born underground, medical stations, kitchen areas and spaces for individual families to stay – these were so small, it really makes you question what Harry Potter ever had to complain about with his cupboard under the stairs. Amazingly, all of the tunnels are completely in tact from when they were built, to original size, and lead out to a beautiful beach view. It’s hard to image the area in the middle of conflict now.
When we arrived at Phong Nha it was pretty late and grey, so it was hard to appreciate the amazing scenery we got to see the next morning when the weather had cleared up. However, what did massively lift my spirits when we arrived was the live music they put on every night at a hostel called Easy Tiger – a guest staying there played the saxophone and just jammed for about an hour – he was incredible. To finish off the evening, two local Vietnamese women came and sang along to an acoustic guitar and the saxophonist playing all of the best swing, funky and mainstream music you can think of. Big band, you’d have loved it! The next day we headed to Paradise Cave, which was pretty impressive, and had every intention of spending the afternoon at Phong Nha cave – if we hadn’t somehow got completely lost on the way to the boats, walking 3km in the wrong direction before the people I was with listened to me and turned back. People who haven’t known me for that long are slower to recognise that I’m always right 😉 … I am joking! Although in this case I was.
At this point in my travels, I actually left Stray behind – I’d met some wonderful, funny and engaging people on this tour, but my remaining time in the country had to be spent with the girls I’d met in Hoi An (as much as possible). That meant losing my overnight bus virginity and traveling to Hanoi that night. It was an interesting experience, and arriving to a throng of taxi drivers hasseling you after limited sleep at 6am allowed me to practice that old saying, drilled into me by my mum and child minder as a child – “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.
That first day in Hanoi was spent finding places to eat and watching the traditional water puppet show, which I’m proud to say I stayed awake for 90% of. The theatre was just off of the main lake in the city, and was gorgeous. Our hostel was opposite St Joseph’s cathedral and we were treated to a huge event on our first night there (no one in the hostel knew what it was though; the response I got when I asked was “I don’t know, it’s catholic”)
The next day a friend and I traveled to Sapa, a mountainous region north west of the capital, where we trekked 15km up mountains with a local guide to our home stay for the night. The village tribe we were staying with were called Blackna, and our guide and her family were incredible – so witty, sharp and friendly, it made you feel right at home. The views at the top of the mountain are not given the credit they deserve in my pictures, but you’ll have to trust me; it was breath taking. The evening was spend eating the most amazing food with the family and our group, and playing dress up in my case, where Mai and Mao (our guides) did my hair and clothed me in traditional village attire. I had a great time. The infamous rice wine of Laos made an appearance again after dinner, and an evening of laughter ensued.
The next day, we trekked back to the city of Sapa in the rain, through rice fields, people’s back gardens and farms, past beautiful waterfalls and had to finish this amazing time by getting back on and bus to Hanoi. I did however meet this treasure of a lady on our walk – my joy at her t-shirt says it all.
From Sapa, I headed straight to Halong Bay for a 2 day boat tour around the area. Again, it was stunning. We got to climb up to the most amazing view point, swim in the water and kayak around some of the islands. Luckily the weather held out for us as well, which made it look so much better.
That night on the boat, out manager kicked off karaoke with the help Backstreet boys (excellent choice) and by the end of the night, I’d sung ‘My Heart Will Go On’ (I’m sorry shipmates and Celine!). My final day there started with a tour of what is called the ‘Surprising cave’ and then we traveled back to shore to head back to Hanoi, where I reunited with the girls and celebrated our final day together 😦 We all committed that ‘traveler cliche’ and got peircings. I personally got my nose pierced; so far, no regrets.
That lengthy post summarises the last week in Vietnam for me. It’s such an overview and missed out so many amazing individual events, but without writing for days, I’d never get it into a blog post. I left Hanoi to fly to Bangkok on the 18th May – going back to the start of my trip exactly 2 months after I first arrived. It’s from there that I’ll pick up again next time, and sorry for the lack of photos in the Phong Nha area – I’d recommend Google in this instance!
Until then, keep safe,