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Published: April 1st 2015
Where to start. An exciting, beautiful, social, alcohol-soaked, turbulent, confusing, adrenaline-fuelled past few weeks.
Sapa was pretty but it was covered in thick cloud, preventing me from seeing very much. It was cold too. On clearer days you can observe stunning layered rice paddies amongst mountain scenery. I did get to see some of it on a trek I did which went through some local ethnic villages.
After sapa I travelled via a bus-boat combination to cat ba Island. From there I went on a two-day boat tour to halong bay as well as other better-preserved bay areas. It was fantastic. We kayaked around the karsts, through cliff-caves, in stunning hidden lagoons, and between islet-beaches in the open sea. We saw monkeys in the trees on an island and heard their calls. I shared a boat with a Canadian couple, who were cool. At night the boat was anchored in the bay and we slept there. The food was outstanding. The sea was cold but I jumped in anyway.
From cat ba Island I made my way back to Hanoi. I met some nice girls on the bus there. I stayed in a party hostel called Hanoi rocks
and got drunk with some people I met at the hostel to celebrate st Patrick's day (at least that was my excuse). I went to an Irish bar with an Australian couple and someone who worked at Hanoi rocks.
I arranged to get the bus from Hanoi to a small coastal town called dong hoi, from where I would then catch a bus to phong na, where the corresponding national park is located. On the bus I met a cool girl called Alice. We travelled together to phong na. On arrival I immediately booked a tour to the local caves and was on the minibus 20 mins later. I visited paradise cave (which boasted impressive stalagmites and stalactites and a magnificent sense of scale) and the dark cave. The dark cave was fantastic: we ziplined, swam to - as well as inside - the cave and kayaked on our way out to another zipline from which we plunged into the bright blue stream. The path inside the dark cave became progressively muddy until we were all submerged in a thick mud bath inside the earth. I got drunk with Alice and some others in the party hostel that night.
The next day I cycled up steep inclines to the botanical gardens and along the turquoise river. I got drunk again that night, with Alice and some guys she had met on her tour.
The following morning I tried riding a scooter under Alice's supervision but I royally sucked at it and almost crashed so I opted not to join the others on their moto expedition and hired a bicycle again instead. I cycled a great distance through the local area amongst more beautiful scenery. Most of the local people have not seen many westerners in person so I got a lot of attention in these areas. People would shout hello on every street. In particular, children would hold out their hands to me and say, "Money." At one point some kids got hold of the back of my bicycle and would not allow me to continue as they tried to open my pocket and carried on asking for money.
That night Alice and I made our way to hue. The following day we explored the city and the citadel where emperors had resided prior to French colonialism. By the evening the guys had made their way down and we met up with them for a night out. We partied in a few clubs and I got very drunk and exhibited disinhibition.
The following day was a bit nuts, and I still can't believe we did it. Alice and I had booked respective buses for 1pm to hoi an. In our drunk/hungover state, we decided that it would be perfectly plausible to embark on a tour of the tombs by motorbike at 11.30am. So I jumped on the back of Alice's motorbike and we zoomed to the tomb touted as the most impressive. We zipped around that for 20 minutes or so then made it back for 1pm with only minutes to spare.
Hoi an was a gorgeous town, especially at night. It is quaint and it has a peaceful river flowing through it. Colourful lanterns add an enchanting vibrancy to the town in the dark, and in the day it was restorative to watch the sun glistening on the water from a cafe. Alice and I cycled around local temples and partied with the guys when they arrived a day or so later.
Alice and I then travelled to nha trang together, where we stayed for three nights. We chilled on the beach and I swam amongst the waves, some of which were quite tall. The sea was warm yet refreshing. This relaxing time was more than welcome after the heavy previous nights. That didn't stop us from getting hammered on one night in nha trang though. It was a party resort after all.
After nha trang Alice and I got the bus to dalat. The others were there already. We stayed at Dalat Family Hostel. The idea behind the hostel is that the staff regard you as family, and so they wash you with kisses and hugs upon arrival. To be honest I found it all a bit contrived but I didn't want to be a bitter fruit. We went out that night and I got drunk and a bit sad about something unfortunate.
The following day we went canyoning. This was not only a highlight in Vietnam for me but a major highlight of my entire trip so far. My aim going travelling was always to push my comfort zones, and canyoning provided that in spades. I abseiled down a waterfall before jumping backwards into the pool 7 metres below; slid down naturally-formed slides into plunging water; did the melodramatically-named (but still terrifying and adrenaline-fuelled) 11 metre 'death jump' into a waterfall pool; and lowered myself by rope into the strong currents of the aptly-named 'washing machine waterfall' before being (mercifully) spat out from beneath the surface of the water further along. It was utterly brilliant and it put a few hairs on my chest. And no it wasn't safe.
That night I kept it quiet and walked around the very large lake in town.
Now I'm on the bus to mui ne. Alice and I have parted ways because she is working to a stricter timescale than me so she has gone further south direct to Ho Chi Minh. Hopefully our paths will converge in future.
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