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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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Hoi An, Old Town

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.