Boats and caves with Skippy

Is it Ha Long Bay or Halong Bay?

Either way, what a beautiful place. We only had a couple of days in Hanoi, Vietnam and there’s so many appealing ways to spend your time there so it was hard choosing. We spent one of our valuable days on a day trip to Ha Long Bay and I’m so glad we did. When we first arrived in the country at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi there were several stalls where you could purchase day trip tickets, accommodation and onward travel. Very convenient- maybe a little too convenient so we thought surely everything must be overpriced. Because we were extremely short on time and wanted to do the day trip to the Bay the next day we decided to take a chance and book through the agents there and hope we weren’t getting ripped off!

I think our spontaneity paid off as we got a super day out. The total cost per person was £35 which compared to other prices that we had seen (£100+) for the same kind of itinery, it was a bargain. We were picked up from our hostel at around 8 in the morning as it took 3ish hours to get there with a short stop halfway. What was brilliant about the trip was our tour guide, Skippy. He was so enthusiastic, even early in the morning, and tried his best to get us asking questions and introducing ourselves to the rest of the group.

We arrived at the port and boarded the boat which would take us to the Bay, where we could take pictures and have a wander round the deck. The weather was very misty and drizzly that day and although it would have been amazing to have sat in the sun and admired the view, it still looked stunning.

image

Skippy and the locals that worked on the boat served up a massive lunch for us all and it was lovely. A mixture of seafood, meat and local dishes which were all tasty. I even tried some food that I hadn’t eaten before which I was quite happy and proud of. Nobody could quite believe how much food we were given. We shared a table with an older couple from Manchester, UK who were very nice and interesting and they had traveled a lot.

The next part of our day involved exploring some of the caves by either a boat rowed by the locals or a kyack if you weren’t bothered about getting wet or lost (or if you’re a bit more adventurous than us). We went for the first option! It was so relaxing meandering through the ocean and admiring the natural beauty of the Bay.

image

When we were back on our boat I thought we would just head back to the port but there was one more activity for us. It was such a packed day for the price we paid. Skippy took us to the biggest cave in Halong Bay called Paradise Cave and we went inside which was our first time going inside a cave of this size. It was massive. And Skippy knew so much about how it was discovered and lots of other facts about it that I actually learnt a lot.

image

I’m not usually one that enjoys a tour guide kind of situation but he was so knowledgable and just such a nice guy that it made the day even  better. What we both would have loved to do if we had longer in Vietnam is go on a tour that lasts a couple of days. You get to camp out on the beaches at the Bay or stay on a boat and if you have the blessing of the sun I’ve heard it’s an incredible experience.

In a nutshell, if you’re ever in Hanoi, make sure you go and see Halong Bay.

Two words: travel insurance

Everybody has experienced that feeling of excitement before a holiday or an event to the extent they count down the months and days. This is definitely how I felt about leaving for Asia and when it was around 4 months until we left I started making lists (love a good list) of things I needed to sort out/pack for my journey.

On my list albeit not at the top (which I majorly regret now) was travel insurance. To me travel insurance was that thing you know you need to get but don’t really understand it so you put it off and then google it and just go with the flow. Me and my boyfriend (mainly him not me I admit) did lots of research into which was the best travel insurance on a budget. But we just didn’t understand what we were looking at and what to look for.

We ended up going for insurance from Boots. They were rated in the top three best travel insurance plans (this is in the UK) had loads of positive reviews and are a well established company. From what we could understand they covered what needed to be covered and it was a good price.

WORST DECISION EVER. And I mean the worst. If anyone reading this needs travel insurance never buy travel insurance from Boots. We found out the hard way unfortunately.

When we were in Koh Tao we decided to rent a scooter so we could get around cheaper and easier. It was 400 baht a day (I think) so £6. Which is ridiculously cheap for the amount of miles you can do. There are hundreds of travellers riding scooters on the island because of these reasons. We had a great couple of days exploring the island and beach hopping in the beautiful weather. We understood that the roads were dangerous on the island mainly because of other drivers but it was a risk we were willing to take at the time and I personally had that ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude even thought I was a nervous passenger.

Well it did happen- to my boyfriend. To cut a long story short, he popped out on a 2 minute ride to get some drinking water for us and had an accident. Not his fault as somebody else was pretty much driving on the wrong side of the road and he had to swerve out of their way. He hurt his ankle/leg really bad. There was basically a hole at the top of his ankle where the scooter had ripped a chunk of flesh out. It was gross.

We went straight to the nearest hospital which was luckily only 2 minutes away, ironically he drove us their on the damn scooter. There was an English consultant there who asked pretty much as soon as we got there if he had insurance and I explained he had. Anyway to cut another long story short:

  • We stayed in hospital for 3 days and he had surgery to close the wound.
  • During that time the hospital was in constant contact with Boots regarding our claim and they were unsure we were going to get it for several reasons.
  • We couldn’t leave until the hospital bill was paid either by Boots or us (the hospital didn’t care who paid).
  • They took my boyfriends passport to make sure we didn’t leave without paying.
  • Boots finally agreed to pay our claim- happy days.
  • We left hospital and had to return every day for a wound clean and bandage change.
  • They found an infection in his wound because the doctors didn’t remove the dead flesh properly (brilliant). We were readmitted to hospital for another 10 days.
  • It was bad.
  • Boots would not pay for his second visit because they are greedy mother truckers. And so was the hospital but I’m not going to get into that.
  • So the co-owner of the hospital told us we had to pay. Our bill was £20,000+ but he ‘kindly’ wanted whatever we could pay him.
  • In a nutshell, it was all very dodgy and we needed to leave!

gross

Boots use another company to actually deal with people’s claims called Infinity. They RARELY pay out and will find any legal loop hole not to. It’s disgusting. We shouldn’t have had to go through the stress and worry that we did especially my boyfriend who was in so much pain.

We learnt our lesson the hard way, big time. If you’re clueless when it comes to travel insurance ASK somebody who understands or has experience with it. This accident cut our travels short by only a couple of weeks luckily. However, my boyfriend had to have further surgery and spend a minimum of a month recovering when we arrived in Australia due to the horrendous healthcare he received in Thailand.

My tips: have good travel insurance and if you really want to risk riding a scooter, BE EXTRA CAREFUL.

Rant over.

Also sorry about the gross picture haha.

Vietnamese paradise

One of my favourite places in Vietnam was Hoi An. We happened to visit just before their New Year so lots of preparation was being made for their celebrations. I must say, they put England to shame! The magnitude of colours and materials that covered Hoi An was amazing. Their high level of attention to detail and traditional style oozed elegance and charm that only the locals could achieve. However, from what I’ve heard it’s not just this time of year the place looks this wonderful and that is part of its magic.

2
Hoi An, Old Town

1

Old Town

We found it relaxing and easy to spend time just sitting by the river in The Old Town and soaking up the atmosphere. I loved walking alongside the river and watching the locals at work on their boats. At one point the port was one of the biggest in that area so it has a center spot in their history. There are loads of boat trips you can take which we didn’t do unfortunately. But the tickets are so cheap and from my experience in other Asian towns you learn lots and it’s a great way to see the place. Whilst in the Old Town it’s worth visiting any temples that you come across, albeit they are mostly small but still beautiful. There are also lots of cafes and restaurants that sell traditional Vietnamese food and food specifically from Hoi An.

3

Bicycles

We stayed at a hostel called Nature Homestay. I would highly recommend this hostel! The room was massive, clean, was in a great location, fair price and had free bicycle hire. We ended up using the bikes so much more than we thought. At first I was apprehensive as the roads are choca from vehicles (mainly scooters) and I’m not a confident rider but I’m so glad I tried it! We managed to get to so many places we wouldn’t have seen and for free. It definitely made such a difference to our experience of Hoi An and I recommend it to everyone (who can ride a bike).

bike
Cycling around the paddy fields

Shopping and markets

There are sooo many shops and markets in Hoi An. I thought the markets were very similar to the night markets in Thailand which literally sell everything and are never ending. You can spend hours looking even if you don’t intend to buy anything. And then when you do, you’ve got to haggle which I couldn’t get used to. Vietnam is famous for their tailors which are crazy cheap. I didn’t buy any tailored clothing or shoes but their shops always looked full of people choosing materials and the materials are beautiful. I think it’s something I would have been more interested in if I were on a holiday and not backpacking.

Beaches

While we were in Vietnam we got unlucky with the weather which meant we didn’t have a full on ‘beach day’. I’m a massive beach fan! Growing up near beaches has meant I have to get a beach fix every now and again so I was excited to find out we were just a short bike ride away from one where we were staying. We didn’t have time to check out any others but if I ever go back I would love to visit more and hopefully it would be sunny.

7

I really loved this place not only for its beauty and the amount of things to do but because of its relaxed, traditional charm. During the evening myself and my boyfriend really enjoyed getting dinner and drinks and just watching the world go by. In the Old Town lots of the restaurants have balconies that look out onto the river and this was really romantic and just reiterated why I wanted to visit Vietnam.

 

12,732 miles and counting

I thought I would quickly just share my adventure so far in the form of maps because I don’t want to ramble on and on ya know. I started in Cornwall, UK where I have lived for most of my life. I feel lucky to have been brought up there as it’s a beautiful place with a relaxed way of living. However, for me personally it has many drawbacks and this was highlighted to me when I went to uni in London for 3 years. But that is for another blog post because I have lots to say on that topic 😉

map

route 1

The route we did around Thailand and Vietnam is a popular one and one I think is great if it’s a first adventure or a solo trip. Although the countries were completely different to anywhere we had been before, it didn’t take long to adjust to their cultures. The fact sooo many people spoke English and there were always fellow travellers doing what we were doing really helped. I’m not saying our time there was plain sailing but it wasn’t as daunting as I thought. And most of our great experiences were made that good by the locals that helped us.

There are so many places/things we didn’t get to see, it would be easy to spend several more months there than we did but due to visas and money it makes it a bit more difficult (as I’m sure lots of people understand).

A day with Magnum

I’m starting off my first ‘proper’ post with my elephant experience because it was so special and awesome.

If any of you have been to Chiang Mai you’ll know that elephant experiences are being sold everywhere, from cheap prices to very expensive. However it’s commonly known that lots of these elephants are treated like circus acts and live in horrible conditions.

My short time travelling parts of Asia taught me how much the locals really rely on tourism as a way to provide for their families. Therefore, people like myself over pay for everything unless you’re a ruthless barterer (which I am definitely not). My view on this is that ultimately I don’t mind paying a bit more than I should, I’m in their country learning about their culture and I want to respect that. Not saying I was constantly mugged off and wasted my money, just that I appreciated what they were doing.

Anyway, my point being these elephant experiences are perfect money making opportunies for the locals so we really wanted to pick the right one. The main aspect being we wanted to visit elephants that were happy, we weren’t interested in seeing them ‘perform’. I love elephants and wanted to meet them in their natural habitat.

We stayed in a comfortable hostel called Finley’s Cottage in Chiang Mai and they suggested we did a half day experience with Woody. Woody owns an elephant sanctuary in Baan Chang (2ish hours from Chiang Mai) and uses the money from the tours to keep the sanctuary running. We took his advice and I’m so glad we did. Included in our package was the return bus ride, feeding the elephants, learning about them, a bareback ride and lunch.

image
Baan Chang elephant sanctuary. Not blessed with the sun but it really didn’t matter!

From the get go we could tell they loved the elephants so much which was amazing to watch and actually a relief we had picked the right sanctuary. We rode a massive elephant called Magnum and he was beautiful. When we were on our little trek through the forest we stopped in a lake so they could chill out and the workers showed us how the elephants liked to be scrubbed and washed. You could really see the passion they had for the animals.

elephant

If you love elephants and want to experience looking after them and see them in their natural habitat I would highly recommend Woody’s sanctuary. The price was also very reasonable which was an extra bonus to our unforgettable day. Definitely one of my favourite memories.

 

 

 

 

“Great travel writing consists of equal parts curiosity, vulnerability and vocabulary.”- Tom Miller

*CONFESSION TIME *

I had allllll the good intentions of starting a blog around 3 months ago. I excitidly (is that even a word) left Cornwall, bag packed, boyfriend by my side, journal and pen poised at the ready to document my travels round Asia. But yeah that never happened.

I knew in my last year of uni that I wanted to travel after I had completed my degree but I didn’t realise how long it would take us to save a decent amount. But we got there! And during that year of saving my passion for travel just grew and grew.

During the 2ish months of travelling Southeast Asia (could have stayed longer, would love to see the parts we didn’t get to) we were so busy exploring and experiencing a culture we’ve never seen before, I didn’t get round to writing down our adventures (partly laziness, my bad).

I enjoyed English at college and weirdly found essay writing quite fun at uni so I thought my travels would provide me with the opportunity to do some travel writing and actually something interesting to write about but that didn’t go quite to plan. So I’m trying that out now I’m in Australia.