Amazing Halong Bay

 
I was so excited to get on that bus that would drive us about 4 hours to Halong Bay. It expected it to be my highlight of the whole vacation. The girl from Ho Chi Minh and more people from her hostel were on the tour as well, we were a nice group of people so I was sure it would be a great couple of days on a boat in the bay.

Due to my past experience with the Mekong Delta tour I was a little anxious how this tour would turn out but believe it or not, we got exactly what we paid for!

upper deck

upper deck

our nice little room with a private bathroom

our nice little room with a private bathroom

Halong Bay Diamond Rock

Halong Bay Diamond Rock

We stayed on a really nice boat for about 24 hours, cruised around Halong Bay, visited the Thien Cung Cave (now I’m not so sad about having missed Paradise Cave any more!), saw the biggest floating village in the bay and later stopped for kayaking, swimming and jumping off the top of the boat (5+ metres). We spent the evening chatting and listening to loud music in the disco light of the bar, enjoyed the clear and starry night (I wished I had my tripod for taking a photo of that AMAZING sky…) and got up for the sunrise at about 5am which unfortunately happened behind clouds.

selfie time!

selfie time!

Halong Bay Sunset

Halong Bay Sunset

Halong Bay Sunrise

Halong Bay Sunrise

Additionally, we had a great tour guide, explaining us a lot about the history of the bay, Vietnam and the stories of the cave (it got found by accident by a fisher man who escaped his boat from a storm and climed up the stones) and in general was very eager to keep us entertained by singing his favorite American songs and making jokes. He even brought pot to the boat and told us about his experience in prison when he was younger since he once was caught with pot on a boat and had to stay in prison the minimum of 2 years. He shared some stories about the people he shared his big room in prison with and seemed a little surprised that none of us were ever in prison?!

in the Thien Cung Cave

in the Thien Cung Cave

amazing Halong Bay

amazing Halong Bay

So in conclusion I have to admit that this tour was definitely worth every one of the 51 USD I payed for it and was a great highlight to end my travels in Vietnam. I’ll be boarding my plane back home to Germany in about 5 hours this afternoon and spent the morning trying to visit the Ho Chi Minh Museum, Mausoleum and Palace but no chance. I got there as early as possible right after it opened (7.30am) but the queue was already going through the whole place inside and all the way outside on the street around the corner. I would have to wait at least 2 hours to get in – no way! Therefore I went to the Literature Temple instead, which was smaller than expected but very nice and taken care of.

Literature Temple

Literature Temple

The students would sit on the turtles for studying

The students would sit on the turtles for studying

Time to go home now! 🙂

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Hanoi – prison, puppets and a few temples

After arriving in Hanoi in the morning, I met up with one girl I met in Ho Chi Minh and someone else from her hostel. We started and will end our trip through Vietnam on the same days but were one completely different schedules and plans. It was interesting to catch up on what had happened to the both of us since we last saw each other almost 2 weeks ago!

After getting some pho we went to the Hanoi prison Hoa Lo which served for multiple things during its existence. Once used for pottery crafting it was later turned into a prison, not only used by the French but later also used by the Vietnamese itself. Of course, also the war with the Americans was mentioned: some pilots bombing Hanoi in the 70s were put in there as prisoners but actually treated very (!!) well, according to the photo documentation in the museum. 

It was however very creepy to see a lot of dolls in the cells to show how the prisoners were kept in there by the French.

Hanoi Prison Hoa Lo

Hanoi Prison Hoa Lo

After the prison museum we went by a close temple, the Quan Su Temple.

Quan Su Temple

Quan Su Temple

We then parted and I went to walk around the lake, where I passed a small square with loads of children playing, roller blading, skate boarding, just having a good time. After sitting there for a moment to watch I left to go into the Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain) on the island in the lake. It is a very small temple but it got quite some history to it. The lake is the lake where emperor Le Loi returned the sword to a turtle (golden turtle god) and therefore the name of the lake has been changed from Luc Thuy (green water) to Ho Hoan Kiem (lake of the restored sword) or Ho Guom (Sword Lake). Therefore, in the temple is also a massive turtle statue behind glass.

children playing

children playing


view over the lake

view over the Ho Hoan Kiem lake


incents

incents


elder locals meeting by the temple for gambling

elder locals meeting by the temple for gambling

After I finished with the temple I went to the close water puppet theatre and was just in time for one of the performances. It was a very cute and nicely done show with 14 scenes selected of over 400 scenes that were used to play, accompanied by traditional live music and singing. Also the story about the sword being returned to the turtle in the lake was one of the shown scenes.

agricultural scene at the water puppet show

agricultural scene at the water puppet show

 

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5 hours in Hue

I had a stopover of about 5 hours in Hue before my next night bus would take me to my last city stop, to Hanoi. I decided to use that short time to go visit the forbidden city within / and the old king’s city.

I met a lot of other backpackers from previous’ stays in Hoi An and Nha Trang, it’s really nice to see familiar faces again. 🙂

Hue was sadly the city I was glad I could leave again so quickly. People were damn rude everywhere and the city itself had absolutely no charm at all. I liked walking through the ruins though even if I felt like burning in the sun with hardly any shade anywhere except for a few connecting isles. 

Hue - the forbidden city (kinda nothing left...)

Hue – the forbidden city (kinda nothing left…)

that must have been the reading area for the king at the time

that must have been the reading area for the king at the time

Hue - old king's city

Hue – old king’s city

grandmother's place

grandmother’s place

one of the many gates

one of the many gates

 

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Falling in love with Hoi An

After yet another 11h bus ride on a sleeping bus I arrived in Hoi An on Saturday morning. It would be my last place having a beach and with the most popular hostel in town being completely booked I decided to stay right at the beach in “Under the Coconut Tree Homestay“. Definitely the right choice! 🙂

After putting down my luggage I went straight to the beach and the view was absolutely amazing. There was hardly anyone at the beach, just a few boats that looked like halfs of coconuts so it was very quite and peaceful and I was just listening to the waves…

Hoi An - An Bang Beach

Hoi An – An Bang Beach

I tried the traditional Hoi An dishes right away at the hotel before leaving with the bike to town:

White Rose

White Rose


Cau Lat

Cau Lat

I enjoyed the 15 minute bike ride to the city very much as it was past a lot of rice fields on both sides of the road and bypassing bikers and cyclists kept smiling. In general, everyone here in Hoi An is smiling at everyone which just spreads such a happy atmosphere everywhere. So I rode my bike to the city, smiling to myself, and went along Tran Phu which is a road closed to traffic.

rice fields

rice fields

The road seems to be made for tourists with loads of little shop houses next to one another, selling souvenirs, clothes, bags and paintings alongside tailors, restaurants and cafés. Hoi An is known for its lanterns and they were hanging in every part of the road and on almost every house. Very beautiful at day and supposedly even more beautiful when lit up at night. The left part of the road is divided by a small river that can be crossed by the Japanese Bridge.

Tran Phu road

Tran Phu road


Japanese Bridge

Japanese Bridge


Hoi An

Hoi An

While riding along the roads in Hoi An, I just couldn’t help but fall in love with the city and its contagious happy atmosphere. 🙂

Unfortunately, when I was having my dinner that evening I fell sick. I could feel my stomach go crazy and major stomach cramps would keep me up all night, including the worst diarrhoea and nausea ever. I woke up with 38° fever and so I had no choice but to cancel my trip to My Son and stay in bed all day. Everyone at the hostel took good care of me, an American teacher gave me some antibiotics and I have brought loads of medications as well. I had a nice medicine cocktail within myself! I spent the day and following night to sweat it all off and I was happy that I was staying in a place without aircon. This place was probably the best place to have fallen sick and to recover from a virus, ironically. I believe the reason for falling sick in the first place was very likely the ice in the Vietnamese coffee after my arrival… So: no more ice in anything for me!

The second day I started to feel much better but I realized that I had to skip Paradise cave and most of Hue and if I was not able to leave Hoi An the following day, Halong Bay may be at risk as well… I didn’t mind skipping all these things too much, I’ll just come back when I continue my travels to Cambodia and Laos some time in the future, but I didn’t want to miss Halong Bay. If I managed that trip I would be able to leave Vietnam without regrets. 🙂

Thankfully, I found back to the old me last late afternoon. I had dinner at the homestay and rented a bike to have a look at Hoi An in the evening as well before leaving for Hue in the early morning hours the folllowing day.

Nobody promised too much, it really was fascinating and beautiful to walk through the streets with all the lanterns lit up and classical music playing from loudspeakers everywhere. There weren’t that many people in the city as well, so I just enjoyed my second and last hour in the city of Hoi An.

Hoi An at night

Hoi An at night


Hoi An at night

Hoi An at night

Today morning I woke up at 5am to catch the sunrise at the beach. I never managed to get up early enough to see a sunrise but people are so crazy about the sunrises right here at this beach that I at least had to give it a try to wake up early. It wasn’t that hard in the end. having slept so many hours during the day the past 2 days and it was well worth it…

Sunrise An Bang Beach

Sunrise An Bang Beach


Sunrise An Bang Beach

Sunrise An Bang Beach


Sunrise An Bang Beach

Sunrise An Bang Beach

 

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Diving Vietnam (Nha Trang)

Being left so unsatisfied with the diving at Koh Tao last week, I was really looking forward to the diving in Vietnam. I initially wanted to go to Hon Ong (Whale Island) but since there is only one resort, and that one on the more pricier side, and the dive centers corrected the wrong advertisement for whale sharks online, I decided to just give it a try in Nha Trang itself.

I booked 2 dives with the Rainbow Divers as they are very present online and recommended in various places. One of the Canadians ended up joining me for the day as he just learned diving a month ago in Koh Tao and fell in love with diving just as I did almost 5 years ago (can’t believe it’s already been that long…).

We had one guide to ourselves who is local and has had already many thousand dives in the area. Since the water wasn’t that warm as in Koh Tao we had to wear a full 3mm wet suit and even though preferred to stay a little further up were the water was just above 22°C. The nice and pretty corals were in the more shallow parts anyways. 🙂

I really enjoyed the dives, there was so much to see and everything was so colorful, especially the corals itself due to being so close to the surface. We did a couple of swim throughs as well and saw a few very surreal things. 

Madonna Rock lion fish

lion fish


Madonna Rock underwater cemetary

underwater cemetary


Madonna Rock bubbling corals

bubbling corals


Mama Hahn Beach nudibranch

nudibranch


Mama Hahn Beach egg cawrie

underwater egg cawrie 


Mama Hahn Beach mantis shrimp

mantis shrimp


Mama Hahn Beach lizard fish

lizard fish


Mama Hahn Beach colorful corals

colorful corals

I don’t know why it is not that known that diving in Vietnam is purely awesome but I didn’t mind as that also meant not too many divers in the dive sites and pretty intact coral gardens. It’s definitely worth giving it a try when in Vietnam!

Rainbow Divers itself are recommendable as well in terms of service during the dives, they took good care of my equipment as well. However, I was very disappointed that I still had to pay the full price even though I did bring part of my own equipment but they insisted of charging the exact same price disregarding whether their equipment was used or not…

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