Published: October 20th 2009October 17th 2009
Oh my oh my, this place is beautiful!
So where did I leave off last time I wrote in this blog? Oh right, the night before getting into Vietnam. Well, we got up fine and got on our early bus out of Phnom Penh. The bus ride was about 6 hrs and the funniest part was when we hit the border. We think they like to screw around with tourists, mainly because we were the only white guys on the bus. So they took our passports when we got on the bus and when we reached the border crossing we figured they would give them back to us but no. Everyone on the bus got off, got their bags and went into a little building where the bus guy gave all our passports to the customs officer. We quietly waited our turn as the Vietnamese passengers went through first, then the Cambodian, then the guys with the giant air conditioning units that arrived after us, and then finally our names were called and we successfully made it into Vietnam! Hurrah! After a dropping our bags on the unmanned x-ray machine we were looking to hop right back onto the bus
Deep down you know you are.
and get going; however, we were not allowed onto the bus. The bus guy pointed to another check point down a ways where we had to take our passports to be shown once again. So we walked over there, passports in hand, and a bit confused. Our confusion grew as we were immediately told to go to another check point a bit of the ways down. Luckily we were shown the way deeper into Vietnam so we weren't too worried about denied in. At the third checkpoint Kif showed his passport and both of us were allowed to walk a couple meters more down the way and wait for the bus to pick us up, which it did.
We could immediately tell we were in a richer country than Cambodia since the houses were in much better shape, a lot more commercialized business areas and nicer cars lined the roads on our way to Ho Chi Min City. Once we got there we had some lunch at a restaurant/bar, shot some pool, and had a couple of beers before heading off to the airport to fly to Haiphong. Haiphong is Vietnam's third largest city and is a gateway to
We couldn't escape the vendors!
Halong Bay and Cat Ba island. Halong Bay is home to the stereotypical beautiful landscape that most people know Vietnam for, it has 3000 islands, untouched beaches, and a laid back touristy atmosphere. When we got to Haiphong's airport it was dark and raining and all we wanted was a place to crash for the night before setting off to Halong Bay. At Haiphong's airport we met two other sort of confused travelers; Stina and Marie, two girls from Stockholm who had just flown in all the way from Sweden so it was their first day. With the same rough itinerary we shared a cab and got a place to crash for the night and made plans to find our way to Cat Ba island together in the morning. The trip to Cat Ba became an adventure in itself as we were out on the streets of Haiphong staring intently in our Lonely Planet books for a way to the island when a girl on the back of a motto stopped and asked us if we needed any help. We think her name was something with an S but she was very helpful and told us of a way to
the island that was a bit out of town and that we needed a taxi there but she would help us get there and follow behind us. We agreed and piled into a cab and off we went to this ferry port. After the first set of lights we lost the girl and the motto we were on and with our luck the driver spoke no English what so ever, but in true Kif and Max fashion we went with the flow to see what would happen. Little did we know it would take us down a pot-hole filled dirt road by the petroleum and chemical plants of Haiphong. With the thoughts of being robbed and ditched on these dirt roads as we bottomed out hitting a pot hole Max's prayers were answered as in the rear view mirror we saw our savior lady on her motto. We approached a tiny little concrete building with some ferry looking boats tied to a small dock, hurrah we found it! As we got there our savior lady on the motto managed to flag down a boat that had already left port to come back and let these four tourists on it for
Very cool place, wonder if they get out much?
the trip to Halong Bay.
The ride was quick and on the other end we were met by a bus which took us to the town of Cat Ba. beautiful, small island resort town with thousands of fishing boats in the pier. After some food we booked a little bungalow on a beach not too far from the city where mainly honeymooners, couples, and two dumb kids from Canada stay. It was very beautiful and so we took it easy, swam and relaxed. Along with the Stina and Marie was booked a two day, one night Halong Bay cruise for the next day to take us around the 3000 islands to swim on remote beaches, kayak, and see a fishing village. For $55/ person we were in for a true treat and if anyone of our readers find themselves in Cat Ba, do this trip!! We were the only four people on our boat and our boat reminded us of Sea Shell's diving boat except the downstairs had four beds and a kitchen, and upstairs there were lounge chairs and a table for four to sit and eat. The weather more than complied as it was sunny and beautiful
Delicious delicious crab and fish dinner.
for our two days of cruising around paradise. We cruised up and picked up some kayaks, went to a secluded (but dirty) beach to swim, we got to go kayaking around the islands. Now if the pictures don't do it justice, this trip sort of reminded me of Peter and my trip up the Sonjefjord in Norway, the islands were very steep and tall and covered in greenery and this stretched for kilometers. So we sat on the sun deck and got a little browner. The meals we were served on this trip were phenomenal as well. We got fresh veges, steamed rice, springrolls, fish, squid, and for dinner we took the option of eating some freshly caught crab ($3 each!). It was incredible! After dinner we were offered to enjoy some Happy Water with our boat captain Phi. Happy Water which translates to rice wine, was strong, strong like schnapps and Max and I took up the offer and our glasses were refilled more than twice. We were also taught how to cheers in Vietnamese. "Mot! Hai! Ba! Yo!" echoed over the quiet Bay that night and we hit the hay a bit earlier than expected.
Exploring a cave
Good thing we only had one flashlight.....
day we were treated to much of the same and then some. The first highlight was that the vendors we thought we left on land had followed us as an old woman in a rowboat came up with her boat filled with pop, cookies, chips, beer, and whatever goodies you would need. Truly hilarious. Our second treat was kayaking through caves that lead us into a huge lagoon where all we could hear were the birds and our paddles hitting the water. We spotted a second cave which, with some negotiation of the kayak, led us into a smaller lagoon and we felt truly alone in this paradise. It was absolutely incredible. Now the fishing villages we passed through were also unique, like the landscape. They were little floating houses which had small little fish farms around them. Most of these houses had dogs as pets which would run around on the planks and bark at the neighbouring dog which it would probably never get to meet. Don't worry, some of these houses had the luxury of satellite tv as we saw a dish on one of the houses. After more basking in the sun and reading books between our
Notice he has a knife, although this was not the one that bit Stina.
huge meals we were dropped off by a pretty big cave. This one wasn't carved out by the ocean like most of the ones we saw but was 10 meters above and was about 50-60 meters deep. Once we dropped off the kayaks our final stop was Monkey Island, which turned out to be our third highlight. This one was more horrifying than the first few highlights since when we got there we were told we had an hour to look around, we were there for 10 minutes. We were unluckily dropped off there at the same time as an Asian tour group. Now this island, coincidentally, is inhabited, by monkeys. Now the Asian tour group decided it would be great to feed these curious creatures food. As the monkeys got closer and closer they seemed to get more and more brave, taking food directly from peoples bags and hands. We felt uneasy and were about to leave when out of the blue a large male monkey b-lines it for Stina's shin and attacks. We book it for the beach and asses the injuries, two scratch marks (didn't break the skin) and a bite mark just underneath Stina's knee (bleeding,
View of Cat Ba Bay
View from our hotel room, our $8/night hotel room.
broke the skin). So we called a trip and made it back to the boat to perform some cut cleaning and disinfecting while searching the Vietnamese language section for the word doctor. Luckily we made it back to Cat Ba very quick and were met by a motto which took Stina to the doctor for some Rabies shots.
All in all, a great trip, though unfortunate for Stina since she was also the victim of kicking a sharp rock when swimming and cutting up her foot. She's a tough cookie and we hope they have fun in Sapa.
After our boat cruise we took it easy that night since Max and I planned to go off to Hanoi the next day. We said our goodbyes to the girls and headed to bed after dinner. The next morning we took the ferry and were conveniently dropped off at the same ferry port as the one we got to Cat Ba from where a bus was waiting to take us to Haiphongs bus station. Once we got on the Hanoi bus there we realized the bus system in Vietnam is very much a jump on, jump off system as people just
waved the bus down and jumped on or yelled to be dropped off along the way to Hanoi. The bus never really truly stopped, it rather slowed down to walking speed so people could get on and off it. But we made it to Hanoi.
Hanoi is the big city in northern Vietnam, having some 3.5 million calling it home. It's a big city, lots of traffic and lots of motorbikes. Now what did we do here? Well, not much to be honest which seems to be a theme for us when we hot big cities. We find a place to live, make it our base, and walk around from there taking in one or two of the sites that Lonely Planet recommends us to see. So after we made it to Hanoi we shared a cab with a french couple to the Old Quarters of Hanoi where the streets are full of people, vendors, and the stores sell anything and everything. After some hotel shopping we settled on one and confirmed something we had been questioning throughout our trip. You see, when we get shown places to stay we are walking up at least 4 or more flights
Exercising on the streets of Hanoi
These photos cost us $3 in bananas we had to buy!
of stairs. Our theory is this is done on purpose, so when see the room we're too tired to care and we'll take the room regardless of if it costs a couple bucks over our price range. The room here cost us $12/night which is still very cheap but we were aiming for like $8, but I guess this one had satellite TV, a bathtub with hot water, AC, and a balcony so it wasn't too bad. After finding splurging on a place to stay we decided to go big on dinner as well. So we went to Avalon restaurant which was a fancy restaurant over looking Hoan Kiem Lake to have dinner. Max had Rib Eye steak and I had BBQ chicken which we washed down with some fancy beers. Our meal cost us $30 combined and that is only because we decided to go to an ice cream place for dessert after. We told you there was reason for you to be jealous! We were productive our next two days here walking around exploring mostly the Old Quarter of the city. We also went to see Van Mieu, the Temple of Literature, which was built in the 11th
View from rooftop restaurant
We had our fancy dinner with this view.
century and was Vietnam's first university. It was very peaceful and beautiful.
Our plan now is to head down to Hue or Hoi An and then down to Nha Trang or Mui Ne. But with our planning who knows! The weather should co operate, we think, and so we have a bus ticket down to Hue tonight, speaking of which, we have to run and catch.
Kristoffer and Max
What we learned in Northern Vietnam:
- Happy Water is hard to drink even though it's water
- Monkeys are best seen from a distance
- Exploring caves might not lead to treasure but to beautiful lagoons
- Matthew McConaughey is a man to worship, we do
There are more photos below