International Wanderings: Vietnam – Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Sapa and Hoi An

Hi all,

Sorry for the lack of posts lately; we’ve been very busy celebrating my brother’s birthday, visiting my Granny in the hospital, school, and well a bit of fun at the Canucks game on Thursday night as well.

I am so excited to continue this series of posts. This trip was so amazing, definitely some of the best times of my life thus far. I know we all are so different and have different priorities and what not but when someone tells me they don’t have any desire to travel and would rather just save their money, I really do feel sorry for them. Traveling is the most eye-opening experience! I’ve been fortunate enough to do a reasonable amount, but I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I’ve seen enough. To experience another culture is the most wonderful thing.

Ok, on to Vietnam. We flew with Air Asia from Bangkok to Hanoi, Vietnam. I cannot begin to explain my excitement over the fact that I was going to get to see Shawn! Meanwhile Sue felt the exact opposite as we had just left some great new friends behind, and unlike me, she didn’t know any of the people we were meeting in Vietnam. I’ll do a whole post on traveling with friends vs a boyfriend vs solo, there’s lots to discuss!

Anyways, we touched down in Hanoi and took a shuttle to the Hanoi Backpackers ORIGINAL location as per (what I thought were) Shawn’s instructions. Turns out that they were at the Hanoi Backpackers Downtown location. Oops. The management was happy enough to change our room to the other location and Shawn and our friends actually walked over and those nice guys even carried our backpacks for us (Sue’s was fairly light, but I have a tendency to ALWAYS over pack sooo mine was a littttle heavier… ahem, ok A LOT). We stayed in Hanoi for just one night because we were leaving for the Hanoi Backpacker’s Ha Long Bay and Castaway Island tour in the morning. I cannot recommend this wild and crazy tour enough if you are single! I cannot recommend staying away from this tour enough if you are in a relationship!!! I repeat, if you are in a relationship STAY AWAY! There are plenty of other tours of Ha Long Bay that will most likely be more to your liking. This cruise is a riot and gets pretty crazy some times! You leave from the hostel first thing in the morning and a bus will take you to Cat Ba Island where you will depart on this fun little boat. We played a ton of drinking games on this tour, one being that if you said the word ‘mine’ then someone could call T-E-N on you and you had to do ten pushups (I actually got quite strong in this trip!) (also, I just realize this actually has nothing to do with drinking but most of the time we were drunk so I’m just going to leave this…), another being the game, Buffalo, where if you took a drink using your dominant hand then someone could yell ‘BUFFALO’ and you would have to finish your drink. On our way to our destination island, the boat stopped and we all paired up and rode kayaks around the most beautiful islands and scenery! I few times we had to travel through caves to get to hidden gems, these were so incredibly beautiful! Then, back to the boat for a few jumps off the top and then of course – more drinking! We then were on our way to our final destination, Castaway Island. This island is owned by the Hanoi Backpackers Hostels so it was totally private. They plan it so the two nights over lap with another group so your first night you are the newbies, and then your second night you are the ones welcoming the next group.  It’s customary for the welcoming group to do something to make the newbies feel slightly uncomfortable – this usually involves nudity and maybe a mandatory shotgun of a beer. Can you sense a theme yet? Nudity and drinking, maybe? Most people on this trip were single and so they were all fully embracing this whole tour, and that was awesome for them! But for Shawn and myself, plus our two other couple friends from Canada, we were at times slightly uncomfortable. But only at times, during the days you can go rock climbing; tubing; wakeboarding; play volleyball; borrow the kayaks; or just you know, drink to your heart’s content. Over all, this tour was incredibly fun – I’d definitely say be ready to drink and party when you’re here!

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The beautiful view oh Hanoi from our hostel window. I wish I had taken more photos of this beautiful city, but unfortunately I did not and we left so early the next morning.

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These glorious hats were enforced on the cruise! Well at least for the beginning of it.

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Ha long bay kayaking! Shawn was an excellent partner! Mostly because I just reclined like this for the majority and worked on my tan… while he worked on his muscles! Yay Shawn!

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See, kayaking through hidden little caves!

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It was like really, really beautiful.

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Ryan and Ashley, good friends of ours from Campbell River. Ryan and Shawn have played hockey together since they were little, so it was really cool to explore a new country with some familiar faces.

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Yaaa, he’s the best. And the view! What a view!

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Castaway Island beach. What a dream!

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Ash rock climbing one afternoon. So much more difficult than it looks!

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And there was like a lotttt of drinking. Pinkies out always.

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Leaving Castaway and back to reality… well backpacking reality soooo not reality at all..

After we got back to Hanoi from the cruise, we hopped on a train with our little group of 8 Canadian friends, plus a few others that we had met on the cruise, and were on our way to Sapa, the land of rice fields! This was our recovery trip from the cruise, this trip was a lot less drinking and partying and lot more marveling at the beautiful country that we were surrounded in. This tour was also organized through the Hanoi Backpackers Hostels, the Sapa Homestay trek. We spent the first night on an overnight train which was actually very comfortable! We arrived in Lao Cai very early in the morning and all of us groggily got off the train and stepped into the van that drove us to the town of Sapa. From here, we spent most of the day trekking down to the bottom valley that is surrounded by the beautiful rice paddies. We eventually made our way to our homestay where we had a delicious meal cooked for us, complete with the area’s famous Rice Wine (this stuff is nasty, like dirty tequila-vodka tasting – I think some people did actually like it though, so to each their own I guess!). We spent the evening playing cards and consuming a few more beers. The next morning we continued our trek, which brought us to a beautiful waterfall, and eventually a nice swimming location down below. It was so hot and humid that it was glorious to take a dip in this – albeit dirty – refreshing water! We then started to climb back upwards toward the town, eventually we stopped at a small little restaurant for lunch in a village about half way up our climb and much to our enthusiasm, we found a mini van waiting outside to take us the rest of the way up! Once up to the top we were able to use the showers of a hotel and walk around the town a bit to explore what Sapa had to offer and grab a bite to eat. Then it was back into the minivan to Lao Cai and onwards to Hanoi via our night train again.

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Our first over night train! Featuring: Lauren (blonde, front left) – I actually went to middle school and high school with Lauren, but we never got to know each other until this trip and now I love her, we talk quite a bit when we’re both at home; Ryan – Shawn’s good friend and hockey teammate for years; Sue – one of my good friends from Uni and the only person not from Campbell River lol; Dustin (Top bunk) – Shawn’s BFF since kindergarten; Shawn – well the love of my life, of course!; Me! – See my about page if you feel the need; Michael – Lauren’s boyfriend and another hockey player from CR.

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Trek begins with our guide as we wander through the morning market in Sapa

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We stopped in at an elementary school once we reached the village at the bottom of our trek. These kids could not get enough of the camera, so cute!

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Don’t want to fall into the rice paddies – you’ll sink quite a few feet. Luckily none of us did! Just look at that precision!

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The work this guy did was incredible! Can’t believe all of these amazing statues and figurines are carved by hand!

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Relaxing and playing pool at our homestay

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Beer and Cards – Kings I believe was the game.

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Day 2 of our trek!

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Taking a much needed dip in that refreshingly dirty water! All the girls posing

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And Courtney decided she just needed to put me on her shoulders!

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hunka hunka burning love! In Sapa once we returned and showered!

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Ryan and Ash while we looked for a good place to eat some delicious food.

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Sapa streets – I think Lauren looks just adorable in this photo!

Once back in Hanoi, we quickly said goodbye to our friends that we had met on the cruise and on the trek as well as our Canadian friends, Ryan and Ashley, as they only had a few days left in Vietnam before returning to Vancouver. We then managed to get tickets on a train leaving soon for Hoi An, our next destination. This was May 16th, 2013. I remember exactly because it was my 22nd birthday. By the time we reached Hoi An it was already past midnight, so yea I spent my entire birthday on a hot stinky train. Not exactly how I had imagined, when I had thought about spending my birthday in South East Asia, but nothing really is as planned when backpacking, so oh well! We spent the next day looking at tailors in Hoi An (this is where you get all your Vietnamese tailor made goods! Tailors are every where in this city!), then on to the beach, and eventually out for dinner and to party to celebrate my birthday! These guys made it the best birthday, even if it was the day after! We ended up at a bar called Volcano Bar, this place had all you can drink for $5! You just need to keep your glass with you, and have a stamp on your hand. The city of Hoi An was probably one of my favourite destinations, maybe partly because it was where we spent my birthday, but also partly because we didn’t have any trips or tours planned, we just scootered around and took in the city. We spent a total of 4 days, 3 nights here. I probably could have spent longer, but I think it was enough to really get a sense of what this city was about.

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Shawn and I celebrating my birthday with a beer on our 17 hour train ride to Hoi An

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This guy was pretty cool, he bought Dustin some corn and paid for him to try all the traditional Vietnamese fare the train offered

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In Hoi An, it was soooo hot that we all crowded in to this ATM box while Sue used it because it was the only available place with AC!

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Scootering around!

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Lovely beach in Hoi An!

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The whole group relaxing at the beach, we had no idea the boys were doing this behind us lol

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And cause the beach day was so hard, we had to spend the late afternoon taking it easy by the pool

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Birthday dinner with the best crew!

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At Volcano Bar… please attribute all one-eye drunk photos to the fact that it was $5 all you can drink. ALL YOU CAN DRINK.

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View from our dinner one night on the river

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Cao Lau – A dish only found in Hoi An. The noodles have to be made using water from an undisclosed ancient Cham well (Or so Wikipedia tells me).

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Lauren and Mike looking dashing on their scooter!!

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Unfortunately the only photos I have of the city are from the back of Shawn’s scooter – but I loved this city so much that I still wanted to include one in this post.

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The boys all got tailor made suits while we were here! Stay Classy, Hoi An.

I was hoping to get all of Vietnam in one post, but I think it’s going to be just too much so I’ll leave it here and continue on in the next post with Nha Trang!

xoxo Alice Rose

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4 thoughts on “International Wanderings: Vietnam – Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Sapa and Hoi An

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