Saturday, May 25, 2019

Vietnam Diary - Train Street in Hanoi and Vietnam Tips

Hello there, hope you're all having a fantastic weekend so far. I took some time today to write this last blog post about Vietnam. It's always a bit sad for me to stop posting about a place I've travelled to because it feels like I'm still there while posting about it. However, I'm also looking forward to posting about things I do here on Mallorca again so here's my last post about Vietnam with more travel tips and recommendations.

Last Day and Train Street in Hanoi

Our last day in Hanoi was a pretty quiet one. We started our day with a fantastic breakfast at the Hanoi Social Club. After having mostly rice noodle soup for breakfast during our three-week trip we were looking for some more European breakfast on our last day. I'm so happy we found the Hanoi Social Club, a super cozy café hidden in a side alley where you can enjoy avocado toast, yogurt bowls, porridge and other delicacies. 

After indulging in our breakfast we went for a little town walk, bought some more souvenirs for our loved ones and went back to our homestay to relax for a bit because at 3 pm we wanted to check out a special place in Hanoi.

One great attraction in Hanoi that is very popular on Instagram is the so called 'train street', a narrow residential street with houses on both sides and a railroad track running right through the middle. It was the last thing on our list that we wanted to see before leaving Vietnam so we got there around 3 pm. The train street is located between Le Duan and Kham Tien street near Hanoi's train station Ga Ha Noi. The exact lane the train passes along is called Ngo 224 Le Duan. Twice a day, at 3.30 and 7.30 pm, you can come watch and feel the force of the train passing through the narrow street only a few centimeters separated from your body. A real wow experience that makes you gasp, I highly recommend it! Be careful though, do not take any risks crossing the railroad tracks while the train arrives to get a great shot. That's simply stupid and dangerous.

What I loved most about Vietnam

To finish this last post I've included some details I loved about Vietnam and also added some travel tips below for those who'd love to visit the country one day.

One thing I loved most about Vietnam, besides its amazing nature and culture, were the people. The Vietnamese are very friendly and humble. With tourists they are more reserved, almost timid, rather than annoying or aggressive like in other countries I've travelled to. The locals were always very helpful and even though most of them didn't speak English we always found a way to communicate with them.

Another thing I utterly enjoyed seeing was that men and women seem to be equal in this country. I saw both women working on the street and fields as well as men carrying babies and watching their kids or cooking.

I also really loved exploring the local markets, their sounds, the lights, the smells, snacking on street food (each place had its own typical delicacy) and shopping artisan souvenirs.

Another thing I enjoyed when travelling through Vietnam was the sense of safety. I didn't see any police in none of the places we had visited and it made me feel like the police was simply unnecessary. Our own experiences just confirmed this feeling. We didn't have any issues with robbing, harassment or scam during our trip.

Last but not least, I adored the spirituality of the Vietnamese. When visiting the country for the first time one thing will immediately draw your attention. People take off their shoes when entering a home, which I think is a beautiful gesture of respect. I asked a local why people don't wear shoes at their and other homes and was told it has a spiritual rather than a religious meaning. If you travel to Asia for the first time, like me, you will also notice all the little temples and Buddha statues that people decorate their homes with. A very special experience for me was also the visit of the Bai Dinh temple complex. I was truly astonished by the huge temples, pagodas, Buddha statues and the devoted people bringing offerings and praying in peace.

Transportation in Vietnam

We used so many different kinds of transport in Vietnam and were happy with all of them. From scooter and bus to bicycle, boat, ferry, plane, train, taxi and private car, we really tried it all. Vietnam is a very well organized country and we never had any problems when getting from A to B. Most often our hotel's or homestay's receptionist booked our bus, train or ferry tickets as locals get them cheaper.

The scooter is the most common transportation in most Vietnamese cities. We rented an own scooter several times and always felt very safe driving around. Local people are honking all the time but don't worry, they're just announcing their presence. The traffic is incredibly well coordinated, everyone is cautious and friendly. We haven't seen anyone angry or shouting at other people for crossing their way. The scooter and car drivers simply make their way through the crowd bit by bit and somehow it works, the traffic flows.

I have listed some helpful transportation websites for you below:

What else to see in Vietnam

Here are some more great things to see in Vietnam that we had on our list but left out because of lack of time:
  • Red sand dunes in Mui Ne
  • The Hai Van pass and abandoned waterpark in Hue
  • Ban Cioc Waterfalls
  • Sapa
  • The Golden Bridge near Da Nang: After finding out the bridge was part of an amusement park and also located way farther out of town than we thought we decided not to visit it because we didn’t have any spare time. It must be a great photo spot but during our last travels I’ve learned that I’m not going to see places only because they look cool on Instagram.

I hope you find this post interesting and helpful. I warmly recommend visiting Vietnam and spending at least three weeks there to experience different parts of the country as the climate, landscapes and culture change so much from area to area. All parts of Vietnam we have visited were incredibly beautiful, exciting and unique. Travelling to Vietnam was such an enriching experience, it has broadened my horizons in many senses and taught me that there are millions of different humans, lifestyles and cultures on this amazing planet. And I can't wait to get to know more!

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!

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