Monday, May 20, 2019

Vietnam Diary - What to do in Hanoi

Hey there, guys! It's been a while. I really wanted to finish my Vietnam posts this past weekend but I spent some time with my sister on Saturday and then our terrace was renovated as well. So we had to clean up yesterday because our home got a bit messy. Anyway, new week, new post!

What to do in Hanoi

The last stop of our Vietnam trip was Hanoi, the country's capital, where we stayed about three days. We had lots of time and spent most of it just chilling at our homestay, the Dreamcatcher Homestay, and doing some sightseeing. Hanoi is smaller than Ho Chi Minh (where we started our trip) so two days is really enough to see most of it. We spent our first day just walking around and exploring the city. I especially loved the old town, even though it was pretty packed and noisy. We visited the Hanoi cathedral, the Hoan Kiem Lake Park, the Dong Xuan Market, the old town and lots of narrow alleys, little shops and cafés. My favorite café was by far The Note Coffee, a cute and colorful café that is covered in sticky notes that have lovely quotes and short messages on them written by locals and travellers from all over the world. Miguel and I had a yummy matcha latte and chocolate egg coffee that were both served with a wonderful note from the staff. Of course we left a little love note too ;-)

Hanoi is a shopping paradise for those looking for some souvenirs, local food and traditional Vietnamese products. There was an abundance of stores selling Vietnamese coffee, pottery, hats, clothes and other wonderful things. We bought a beautifully painted traditional hat for our memory wall at home and some other souvenirs. I also got myself a beautiful basket bag. If you're into hardcore shopping visit the Dong Xuan Market. I personally got a bit crazy there, living a more minimalistic lifestyle I felt quite overwhelmed by all the mass consumption and millions of products offered there. Nevertheless, I think it's a great place to go for shopping fans and bargain shoppers. I simply prefer shopping at smaller stores.

At night we visited the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. We had gotten tickets earlier in the afternoon for a 7 pm show. It was really nice to sit down and lean back after a long day of walking. The show lasted for about an hour and was a fantastic and entertaining mix of traditional live music and singing accompanying the water puppets' fun performances. We were looking for an authentic and traditional experience to finish our trip and were surely not disappointed by this show!

Stay tuned, my next and last Vietnam post is coming up soon!

Enjoying a matcha latte at the Note Coffee

Vendors at Dong Xuan Market

The water puppets at the Thang Long Theater

Monday, May 13, 2019

Vietnam Diary - Cat Ba Island and Halong Bay

Happy Monday, my friends! I hope you all had a good start of the week. What have you been up to this weekend? I've pretty much stayed at home because we're currently doing some renovation on our terrace that needed to be prepared. Furthermore, my dad is here in Mallorca so I'm spending some time with my family. Enough said, here's a new post about our trip to Vietnam.

What to do on Cat Ba Island

Today's post is about Cat Ba Island, our last stop before Hanoi where we would end our trip. We chose to stay on Cat Ba Island because we wanted to see the famous Ha Long Bay and the island seemed to be a good option to spend a few days in the area without having to book an expensive bay cruise. Although the weather wasn't too good we were very happy with our choice. Cat Ba Island is quite small but there are lots of things to do. You can choose between various boat cruises, go hiking, visit a natural reserve and try yummy food at loooads of different restaurants. As many other places in Vietnam we had visited before, Cat Ba Island was 'under construction'. Many hotels and restaurants are currently being built there so we were lucky to catch the island in a 'still bit more virgin' state. 

On our first day we just walked around a bit to check out the area, had some heavenly dinner and booked a boat cruise for the next day. One place you should definitely check out for breakfast is Casa Bonita which you can see in the first two pics. It's a lovely multilevel café that serves delicious bowls, all kinds of avocado toast and other healthy breakfast options. We also tried their tea because it sounded so good on the menu and we were surely not disappointed. It's made with fresh ingredients like lychee, jasmine flowers and nectarine, sooo delicious!

Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay Boat Cruise

Our second day was all about exploring Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay by boat. We booked a tour with Cat Ba Eco Tourist the night before. A day cruise from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm cost us only about 14€ per person and we were super happy with our organizer because they held all their promises. We got picked up at our hotel around 8 am and were then brought to a ship waiting for us in a small harbour. We were lucky with our group of about 30 people, it was a nice mix of fun and relaxed tourists of all ages and from different countries. The tour mainly consisted of cruising around different areas of the two famous bays, visiting floating villages, stopping here and there for swimming and snorkelling, a surprisingly very tasty and elaborated lunch, a kayak tour and a visit to Monkey Island. I mostly enjoyed the kayak tour because we had the chance to get around by ourselves and explore. Also, the water was super calm that day so it was easy for us to paddle around the huge rocks that disappeared in the mist, a truly magical setting. 

I've read thousands of things about Halong Bay before (about rip-offs, horrible cruise experiences, tourist masses etc.) and have to say, I was very happily surprised that our cruise didn't come close to what I had expected. There were only very few other tourist boats, so no annoying noises or crowds, the food on our boat was excellent, the staff was nice and the little excursions we did were fun and exciting! In addition, the whole tour was topped off with breathtaking natural surroundings, what more can you ask for? All in all the thirty of us spent a fantastic day on our cruise ship, and we even went for dinner with a French couple we met on the boat. Thank you, Vietnam, for another magical experience!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Vietnam Diary - Bai Dinh Temple and Trang An Boat Tour

Hi there, everyone. I hope you all had a great start of the week with little stress and more fun and relaxation. I just got back from a short trip to Germany and finally have a new post for you about our second day in the beautiful Ninh Binh.

Bai Dinh Temple

We started our second day in Ninh Binh quite late since we were a bit exhausted from the night before that we spent on the train. We left our hotel around 11am or so to go explore the Bai Dinh Temple that our hotel had recommended. Since we hadn't seen any bigger temple in Vietnam until then we decided to give it a try. We passed loads of green fields, watched a few locals while they were working and some peaceful water buffalos grazing on that misty morning. After a 20-minute scooter ride we finally reached the entrance of the temple complex where we had to park our vehicle to walk the rest. The moment we reached the site I was totally amazed by its size and peacefulness. 

The Bai Dinh site is a multilevel complex of Buddhist temples on Bai Dinh Mountain and offers a wonderful cultural but also spiritual experience. You can admire large well-maintained gardens, a tall pagoda, a bell tower and various temples there. The latter are home to numerous impressive, beautifully carved Buddha statues that are visited and worshipped by spiritual tourists who bring offerings of all kinds. I was also astonished at the number of golden Buddha figures adorning the endless staircases that led up to the temples. My boyfriend and I spent several hours at the temple complex because it was so huge and I wanted to see every little corner of it. Visiting Bai Dinh was by far our most beautiful spiritual experience in Vietnam. I felt so connected to the people visiting the temples as well as to their religion and felt so peaceful and grounded simply looking at the Buddhas' happy faces. I recommend this site to any Vietnam visitor, just the sizes of the complex and the Buddha statues are already worth a visit!

Trang An Boat Tour

After exploring the Bai Dinh temple complex for a few hours we headed to the area of Trang An to take a boat tour there. We chose this tour because the boat excursions in Tam Coc seemed to be much more touristy and more crowded. We opted for a three-hour boat tour that would take us through various caves and stunning nature. And we were not disappointed. For less than 10 Euros per person we had a fantastic time with our Vietnamese captain and another Slowenian visitor who shared the boat with us. The landscapes of the Trang An area are simply breathtaking and have an even more magical feel when it's misty outside. Huge mountains arise from the river, covered with plants and trees. The sky seems to touch the water while the fog creates an absolute silence. The caves you pass are long and dark but totally safe and well equipped with several lights so you can admire the rock formations. All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our boat excursion in Trang An (despite some other noisy tourists occasionally passing by our boat) and it left us so tired that we only had a yummy Banh Mi sandwich that night and went off to bed...

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