Thoughts on Northern Vietnam

It was a fantastic ten days in Vietnam; I should be more precise North Vietnam. From what I’ve heard, the South is different. The northern part has different landscapes such as mountain and rice fields in Mai Chau, plateau and river in Ninh Binh, or limestone karts in Halong Bay. Visiting Northern Vietnam will satisfy all tourists – from the adventurous to the organizer travelling travel agencies.

The people are very relax and calm. As a solo traveller, people were very friendly and always happy to help me; several times I was just sitting on the Hoan Kiem Lake quay, and will randomly have small chats with locals. I also find them very stylish, for example, because of pollution they often wear a mask when on motorbikes. Outside of Hanoi, people use the ugly green medical-like mask, in Hanoi folks design their pollution mask matching it with the jacket they are wearing.

Food is fantastic, although I have been disappointed by the Pho. By disappointed I mean, I though they would all be fine, but some were below ok. Regardless, I had several dishes, springs rolls, egg rolls, salty peanuts, some veggies dish as well, and of course RICE! You’ll have plenty of it!!

My few cents on tourism, It is well developed in Vietnam, not as much as Thailand though. But I strongly recommend, especially when traveling solo or within a group of adults to do all your trips/activities by your own. Try as less as possible to book with travel agencies, they often impose they schedule, and you may feel like you’re not really on vacations. I remember meeting a group of tourist mentioning they went to Halong Bay with a travel agency, and the agency only let them swim for twenty min, by the way, they were coming from Denmark.

In any case, Vietnam should be in your list of countries to visit; you won’t be disappointed. The country has it all to make your stay memorable.

Bon Voyage!

Destination Vietnam | What to do in Cat Ba town?

Cat Ba is well-known for being a stop over when visiting Halong Bay; however, the island has way much to offer. I looked forward to visiting its main city, Cat Ba town, before heading back to Hanoi.

Cat Ba town is a touristic town with three beaches, Cat co 1, Cat co 2, and Cat co 3. Cat Co 1 is where any tourists can go to chill on the beach or swim in the South China Sea. The sand beach is nice but nothing especial. It’s probably the most popular beach.

Located North East to the former, Cat co 2 is a beach but also has small bungalows to rent. It is an excellent alternative if you want something different from a hotel and a few meters from the sea. Price might slightly be higher but still reasonable; you still can negotiate though. Of course, you can also go there just to enjoy the sea.

Cat Co 3 is the beach of the Cat Ba Sunrise Resort – not the most exciting one. I suggest Cat Co 1 or Cat Co 2 for fun. The good thing about the beaches is they are all link, there is road connecting the beach with of course a fantastic view of the bay. checking the beaches, I went to Cannon fort, a fort built to fight enemies during wars. It’s on a peak at 177 meters high offering visitors a chance to see old bunkers, tunnels, and helicopter landing stations. The fort also offers stunning views of Cat Ba Island, its coast, and the limestone karsts in Lan Ha Bay offshore. To get there you can rent a scooter, a taxi, or if you are a warrior and not afraid to suffer the heat and perspiration, you can walk. Regardless, the reward is great, you will be able to see the cannons, underground tunnels, gun emplacements, helicopters,  and sublime views. A small museum, part of the tour, showcases the Russian/communism propaganda, as well as the military equipment, and conditions of the army back then.

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It’s fantastic; it is a must see if you are staying in Cat Ba town for more than a day. Look at this again!

After visiting Cannon fort, I went back to the hotel for shower and food. I took the bus back to Hanoi where the next day I was flying back to Singapore.

Destination Vietnam | Cat Ba – Halong Bay tour

8am the minibus picked me up and with fellow tourists we headed to the Ben Beo boat station. From there, you get to your boat and the cruise start. The day cruise consists of different activities.

After an hour ride on the bay with a fantastic view, the first activity is kayak. It lasted for 45 min, and we were free to go anywhere we wanted. It was very nice; I paddle through the limestone karts, went under the cave with the kayak, and also swam.

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After the kayak, we all had lunch in the boat. The food was the same as in any tourist attractions in Vietnam: spring rolls + peanuts+ omelets, + vegetables, and my favorite…rice. Yes, you will have a lot of the latter while traveling in Vietnam.

After eating, we were headed to a cave under one of the limestone karts. It was pretty cool but nothing amazing (maybe because I have seen this before). Although it was dark, I managed to capture few pictures.

Back on the boat, the last ride was to the Monkey Island; well, to see Monkeys…

In this island, you first climb the mountain to supposedly see monkeys; don’t expect to see any up there, you rather will have an excellent view of the island and the bay. You eventually see monkeys back on the beach. They are just waiting for you to buy food at the local shop and snap it (and scare the shit out of you!) That was awesome! But you have been alert! At this stop, you can also swim, but very few tourists did.

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We were back to Ben Beo boat station around 5pm.

The daily trip is good, of course sometimes it gets boring, but I highly recommend. It’s a great alternative to the two-days/one-night tour offered by travel agencies. For similar scenery and activities, I paid considerably less. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be with cool tourists, and you’ll have the chance to converse and share travel stories/tips, etc.

Destination Vietnam | Cat Ba Island

My first impression of Cat Ba Island was of a ghost city. I was there in October in the shoulder season. Streets were empty with nobody to see in restaurants/shops, and if you add a grey sky to that, you can easily see how it looked a dark place. Although my first impression wasn’t far for the truth, I realized that I arrived in mid-afternoon where most of the tourists are on various tours or activities offered from Cat Ba Island. Later in the night, the town was suddenly live.

I was starving, thus looking for a spot to eat. While walking in the main street, fronting the sea, there were only two restaurants with few people inside. I decided to check-in at one of the two, the Oasis Bar. I tried the spaghetti Carbonara; the dish was good especially since I previously only had rice my entire time in Vietnam.

After eating, I had to look for a place to sleep. Since it was the low season, there was an abundance of free room; I negotiated the price down quite easily. I stayed at a hotel for 6 USD a night which included a private room with double bed, a TV, a shower, and as a little bonus a Sea view. Don’t get excited the room was just ok, few stains on the sheets, the TV signal was shaky, internet wasn’t working, but well, I didn’t care about those things. In any case, when it comes to accommodation in Cat Ba Island there is everything for everyone, from Luxury resorts with private beach to backpacking/guesthouse hotel. Just keep in mind to Negotiate!

After eating, finding a place to sleep, I was looking on what to do for the next few days in the island. In Cat Ba Island itself there is not much to do, people come here as a cheaper alternative to the various Halong Bay boat cruise tours.

I found a day tour that included Halong Bay, Monkey Island, snorkeling, kayaking, etc.  Stay Tunes to hear more about the tour.