Vietnam – think global, drink local (bia hoi)

Hey hey hey,

After another 1300 km of crazy bus drives, seeing wonderful nature, trying amazing food, meeting new friends and drinking hectoliters of Bia Hoi in North of Vietnam, we arrived to Laos.

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3rd week route took us from Hanoi (B) to wonders of Halong Bay (A – 5 h bus drive) to mountains of Sapa (C – 14 h bus drive) and our next country to explore Laos – Luang Prabang (D – 36 h bus drive).

HANOI

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the country’s second largest city. Its population is estimated at 7.5 million. As the capital of Vietnam for almost a thousand years, Hanoi is considered one of the main cultural centres of Vietnam, where most Vietnamese dynasties have left their imprint. Even though some relics have not survived through wars and time, the city still has many interesting cultural and historic monuments for visitors and residents alike.

We stayed 3 days in Hanoi. What to say about Hanoi – crazy traffic, Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, cheap and good street food and the cheapest beer in the world Bia Hoi. We found very nice guest house (Lucky guest house ) with very friendly staff that was very helpful and helped us with organisation of Halong Bay tour and bus ticket to mountain area of Sapa.

I would say that Hanoi is a bit less impressive and modern than Ho Chi Minh, but it has special charm that we couldn’t find it in HCM – specially the old part of the town. The Old Quarter maintains the original street layout and architecture of old Hanoi. Each street has merchants and households specialised in a particular trade, such as silk traders, jewellery, etc. Local cuisine specialties as well as several clubs and bars can also be found here.  And lets not forget about the famous fresh beer Bia Hoi (the cheapest beer in the world) that we took full advantage of it with our Argentinian friend Julian – we send special love to him  for sharing a great part of Vietnam trip with us.

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HALONG BAY

Imagine 2000 or more islands rising from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin and you have a vision of breathtaking beauty.

Thanks to our friendly guest family from Hanoi, we booked a 2 day – 1 night tour with a  cruise ship to see this UNESCO’s wonder of the world.We took a 4 h drive by bus from Hanoi to Halong bay where we boarded an exclusive cruise ship with 15 other people from all over the world.

On the first day we visited a cave that would be wonderful if not full of hundreds of people standing in the line to see it as well. At this point I have to say that every year 7 million people visit this area, so you can imagine the number of cruise ships that are in the bay. To avoid that kind of traffic, people recommended us to take your own excursion from Cat Ba island, which is the same impressive and less crowded – well for next time we will know :). I have to point out as well that the food that our ship crew prepared us was amazing considering that everything was cooked on-board. As I mentioned before we shared the cruise with 15 other people, all amazing individuals and at night after the dinner we all got fashionably drunk, sharing our individual stories, squid fishing and dancing. Just imagine a German couple, Swiss guy, 3 French girls, 1 Scottish, 1 Argentinian, 2 Irish and 5 British cougar ladies and you will get the picture.

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The second day after just 3 h of sleeping and pretty big hangover, we had a chance to do kayaking around the bay. Wonderful experience with beautiful cliff islands and quiet nature. After the lunch we headed back to Hanoi for our last night before taking a sleeping bus to Sapa.

SAPA

The town overlooks a valley of cascading rice terraces, with mountains rising above on all sides. Views of this epic scenery are often blurred by thick mist rolling across the peaks, but even if it’s cloudy, Sapa is still a fascinating destination, especially when local hill-tribe people fill the town with colour.

We  stayed in Sapa for 3 days. For the first  two days we took a trekking tour with a local guide around nearby mountains and rice fields. The tour consisted of 12 km (1st day) and 5 km (2nd day) walk with a home stay with local tribes.  We took an organised tour with a group of 11 people and it was very nice, just let’s say you should not wear flip-flops if you go for a mountain hike… some people did which really slowed us down. So considering that it’s probably a better idea to  hire your own guide if you’re plannig to go to Sapa, you get more personalized and local experience.  We actually have a phone number to our guide, Son, she was just amazing, definitely the highlight of the trip.. Let us know if you’re interested 🙂

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Last day of Sapa we went on another hike to nearby waterfalls and then took some time to relax and went for a very cheap 1 h foot massage. Definitely needed one before the 30 h bus drive to Laos that was waiting for us. The bus experience to Laos was an adventure and a half, with missing the bus, working for food, bribing the custom officers… but more about it in next week’s post. BTW my ear infections got cured thanks to Vietnamese public health system 🙂

In the end I would just like to resume our amazing 3 week travelling throughout Vietnam in few lines, with some facts and personal opinions;

Facts:

– 650 eur of costs per person

– 9 different Hotels

– aprox 4000 km of roads

– aprox 90 h of bus drives

– no food poisoning

– free internet everywhere (bus, hotels, restaurants…)

– seeing numerous temples

– snorkeling at beautiful coral reafs

– hectoliters of Bia Hoi

– buying cheap clothes

– discovering amazing Vietnamese cuisine

– meeting new friends on the way

TOP 5 of Vietnam

1. Food

2. Hoi An

3. People of Vietnam

4. Sapa

5. Cheapest beer in the world – Bia Hoi

WORST 5 of Vietnam

1. Bumpy roads – long bus drives

2. Bad English of Vietnamese

3. Too many tourists in some places

4. Hard bargaing

5. Traffic in some cities

Love Maja & Andrej

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