Disclaimer: After spending approximately six days on and off writing this latest (and very far behind) blog post, my delightful phone decided to erase the entire thing about 5 minutes before I was ready to publish it. I think it was my best one yet so I’m really disappointed but here is my attempt at re-writing it! Hope you enjoy – sorry if it’s lazy! I’m over it….
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So the time had finally come for me to leave Hoi An and continue my trip north, flying solo again. My next stop along the way was Hué and there is only one way to get from Hoi An to Hué properly and that is by motorbike. Given my dramatically increased tendency for stupid accidents on this trip (and lack of ability to actually ride a motorbike), I decided against hiring my own bike to ride on a long, winding, remote mountain road by myself. This is where I met Tué, my easy rider and all round legend. He picked me up from my hostel and simply laughed at my enormous backpack. I was worried for a split second that it wouldn’t fit on the bike with me as well, then I remembered that the Vietnamese have an unfathomable ability to cram obscene amounts of people and things onto 1 motorbike. We left Hoi An early in the morning and made for our first stop along the way just outside Da Nang – Marble Mountain. A beautiful mountain with lots of temples and caves and even more steps. It is surrounded by shops selling huge marble statues although I’m told the marble is actually imported from China.
After an hour or so wandering around the mountain top and clambering through a few caves, we got back on the wrong side of the road to drive out of Da Nang as today just so happened to be the day half the road was closed for an Iron Man Race. I was hot on the back of a motorbike yet these people were voluntarily running, biking and swimming in this ridiculous heat. I became a one woman cheerleading squad on the back of the bike, shouting out for people as we drove past. They must have thought I was completely bonkers!
Our next stop was a tiny temple on the beach, built in on an old fishing boat. It is customary for the fishermen to come here each morning to pray and make offerings before heading out on the water for the day. It was really beautiful and quite quirky too!
We left behind the temple to embark on the part of this journey that I was most excited about – The Hái Vân Pass. Made famous by the Top Gear Vietnam Special, this incredible stretch of road is one not to be missed. Although relatively short compared to what I was expecting, the views and the road itself did not disappoint. Steep hills, hairpin bends and views to die for, literally and metaphorically if you’re not careful. Each time we stopped and locals would ask where I was from, their response would be “Ahh – Top Gear!”
Once we made it safely out of the Hái Vân Pass, Tué drove us to a beautiful lagoon with a perfect strip of sand against a mountain backdrop! Tué insisted on a selfie with “his queen” as he had been referring to me as all day!! I could get used to this! 😂
Picture taking complete, out next stop was lunch – a local variation of Pho – which set me back all of 85p for both of us!
We carried on our journey through a small fishing village and my chariot dropped me right to the door of my new hostel, The Lantern House Hotel in the ancient city of Hué. I wrote off the rest of the evening in preparation for adventures tomorrow at the now infamous “abandoned water park.”
Shortly after (a really delicious) lunch I hopped on a bike and headed out to the waterpark. I ended up getting ever so slightly lost and going in a side entrance but it actually worked in my favour as I managed to get in without having to pay! The water park is sat on the outskirts of town and around a beautiful lake. It was somewhat eerie walking around the place as there were very few people there save for a bride and her photographer having wedding pictures taken and a few locals! The main attraction is the water dragon, out in the middle of the lake, housing a viewing platform at the top in the dragons mouth and an aquarium underneath. The aquarium has been smashed to pieces and now resembles what can only be described as a room full of broken coffins – it looks so creepy as it was so dark in there even though you can’t see it in the picture. The only bits of glass that remained in tact was the aquarium tunnel where the fish would obviously swim over the top of you. In tact even though someone has clearly tried very hard to smash it as it is full of bullet holes!!
Next we found the water slides and the kids pool – surrounded by a now entirely black lazy river rumoured to have crocodiles in it but we didn’t see any… The slides were somewhat questionable but I hoped for the best as I walked all the way down them anyway!
Suitably creeped out, I headed back into town and treated myself to some of the best Mexican food I have had! Random but totally worth it!
The following day (OK, afternoon) I dedicated to culture and headed over to the Imperial City, on the banks of The Perfume River. It was the former imperial city of Vietnam and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I left that afternoon in the bus to Phong Na for some caving adventures! I got off the bus around 11pm and got straight into bed in my clothes to avoid being that dorm room douchebag as everyone else was already asleep! I had grand plans to do absolutely nothing tomorrow apart from chill out and make some plans for the following days!
Whilst sat having breakfast I bumped into some people I had met back in Nha Trang and they were heading out to Phong Nha Caves in a boat. FOMO kicked in and within 20 minutes I was showered and ready to go. We cruised down the river and into the cave itself and after about 30 mins we were kicked out of the boat to have a wander round. It was very beautiful but had absolutely nothing on tomorrows adventure!
The following day we headed out into the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park to check out the infamous Paradise Cave & Dark Cave.
Paradise Cave was our first stop after a steep climb up some 300 odd steps. The cave is named so not only because it is so beautiful but because of the constant cool air that comes from it – like natures air conditioning and just what you need after that climb. Sadly I have no photos on my phone from inside the cave but suffice to say it was very beautiful. Our next stop for the day was Dark Cave. The name is as it says on the tin. Very dark, a lot less pretty and full of mud – which is great one one thing – mud baths! We kitted up and ziplined over the lake to get to the cave entrance. A short swim and a fairly dangerous climb over some rocks we arrived at the mud bath! One of the strangest and best experiences ever. As you step down into the water, your feet sink into the mud a good 12 inches and as soon as you let your body weight go, the water floats you up as if you were in the Dead Sea – and you have zero control over it! My new cave companion Ceri & I made sculptures in the walls and got suitably covered from head to toe in mud! On our way out of the cave, we slid down a mud slide and into the “clean” water to rinse off! We then had a kayak to get us back to the water park on the lake where we could zipline into the lake and various other things!
After a good bucket shower we had a few runs and headed back to our hostel as I was leaving tonight! Ceri and I went for some delicious pizzas and beer before my night bus to Tam Coc. I was dropped off by the bus at 4am in middle of nowhere and had to find my way to my hostel with no real idea where I was going as it was pitch dark, and i am still lugging round my excessively large backpack. I walked down a long dark path to my hostel and arrived to find the owner sleeping outside awaiting my arrival. I dived into bed as I had every intention of getting up at early to do the boat tour I had specifically come to do. When my alarm went off at 8am, I was met with torrential rain. Realising today was now a total write off, I switched off my alarm and allowed myself the day to do nothing. Cabin fever soon set in so I ventured out to buy bus tickets for the morning and realised I lived in actual paradise.
A lot of hostels in Vietnam offer a “Family Dinner” and although it was expensive I decided to get on board. For 100,000VND i had more food than I could ever possibly eat and the owner kept insisting on us drinking his entire supply of “happy water” – AKA rice wine. That stuff has a kick. Feeling more drunk that I should be i took myself off to bed where i had a fight with the stupid woman in my room who refused to have the air con on despite the fact it was 12038345 degrees in there. She slept with the remote under her pillow. I wanted to punch her in her sleep but I resisted….
I left Tam Coc at 6am to head to our next island destination, Cat Ba, a small-ish island near Ha Long Bay. We were on the bus for a couple of hours when we pulled over to the side of the road, each handed an envelope from the lady bus conductor and told to get off the bus. We were in the middle of no where with no idea what was going on. I opened the envelop to discover it was full of cash and no explanation. Before I had time to question it further, a local bus pulled alongside us and we were unceremoniously dragged aboard the moving bus with our bags. The local bus drove us into Haiphong with several very near miss crashes where we were again dumped outside a cafe and told to wait for the next bus. No idea of how long or what bus it would be so we just had to wing it. After multiple coffees, a bus pulled up and we got on hoping for the best. A ferry and another bus later we arrived in Cat Ba and checked into our hostel where we had treated ourselves to a private room with a queen size bed each. We changed and headed out for our first night in Cat Ba – little did we know what we were in for. I had my first glass of wine in as long as I can remember at the Oasis Bar and then we moved onto to drinking rounds of 10 beers at a time 5,000VND each with the Canadian boys – who still have a lot to answer for….! The first night ended in a lost pair of flip flops, lectures on littering in the sea (where said flip flops ended up), 1 failed skinny dipping attempt (because we couldn’t find the sea), a new Apple Music subscription thanks to my stolen fingerprint and a #bigstep.
The following morning I woke up with a blinding hangover and a missing pack of Oreos… Ceri & I had a much needed beach day, when we eventually found the beach about 15 minutes walk away from our hostel and no more than 5 minutes away from where we gave up looking last night. Still failing to adult. Lucky for us the beach was beautiful and pretty much empty. For a lazy day at the beach it was eventful – Ceri punched a jellyfish and I shouted at a perv who was taking photos of Ceri on the beach. We also tried unsuccessfully to rescue a dying frog we found. After all that hard work, we walked back to our hostel to shower and reward ourselves with some more 5,000 VND beers. The night ended in much the same state as the night before, only this time I was wearing my Hoi An special jumpsuit so required extensive assistance every time I needed a wee – less that ideal when ordering rounds of 10 drinks at a time….
Day 3 in Cat Ba was a total write off. Lucky for us it was pouring with rain so we didn’t feel too guilty about staying in bed for most of the day, apart from venturing out once to eat carbonara. A day indoors served us well as we had a long day the next day for our Ha Long Bay adventure.
We were picked up early in the morning and taken to our boat – The Red Coral. We spent the morning cruising through Lan Ha Bay and stopped off in a quiet bay where we were turfed out in our kayaks to go exploring. We kayaked around the bay, though the cave and out on the “open” ocean. It was really beautiful and the views were incredible. After lunch, Ceri and I spent an age jumping off the side of the boat whilst everyone else wandered around on the tiny beaches nearby. Seems I have lost my ability for the perfect swan dive, but I’ll keep working on it. We cruised around Ha Long Bay for the afternoon and visited the floating villages. Our final stop for the day was Monkey Island, which as the name would suggest, has monkeys living there, although they appear to be horribly abused by ignorant tourists forcing them to drink beer out of cans and goodness only knows what else. We did a spectacularly dangerous hike up to the highest point of the island and the views were totally worth it. Thankfully, no one died. After another long day, we decided to treat ourselves the only way we know how – with our final night out in Cat Ba. We ate, we drank, we got asked to be TV extras and said our final goodbyes to Oasis Bar. Their takings will be significantly down now that both us and the Canadians have left. Next stop – Hanoi.
Another bus – ferry – bus combination and we arrived at our hostel in Hanoi – Downtown Vietnam Backpacker Hostel. Probably one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in yet. We ventured out for a coffee and ended up bumping into the Canadians (again) and going to get terrible and expensive massages together. What followed was a surprisingly tame night, especially where this hostel is concerned. I did, however, get another piercing, on a whim. Sorry Mum!!
Our first day in Hanoi consisted of a slight detour to the Sheraton to collect my long awaited debit card and then trying to be cultural by going to the Hoa Lo Prison – known historically to be one of the biggest and highest security prisons in Indo-China. It was terrifying to walk through the cells and see where the prisoners were held, and also how they escaped through the sewage tunnels.
History and culture done for the day, we headed back to the hostel for one of the infamous nights out….or in as it was for the most part. Covered in UV paint and glow stick necklaces we went hard on the happy hour espresso martinis and in true Johnson style we danced on the hostel bar. This came in extra handy when the barman shouted “The floor is lava!!!” as we were already safe! After being kicked out of the hostel, we ventured about 50 yards down the road to a club and things got messy in there too. My Havaiannas broke (again) and I had to be carried home to the hostel because it was dirty outside and the floors were being cleaned inside.
I woke up in the morning to find that Ceri had got married too – and I didn’t even get invited!! #Bigstep without me Ceri – I’m disappointed!!
We did some life admin on our final day in Vietnam as we were both super sad to be leaving! We had our final Pho, changed up our money and generally mourned our soon-to-be loss of Vietnam. We were also exceptionally sad about the fact we had a 23 hour bus ride to Laos ahead of us….