Vietnam: Halong Bay

From Hanoi we went to Halong bay on one of the ‘2 day, 1 night’ organised sleeper boat tours. We paid $69 USD each for this. It included; bus transfers to and from Hanoi, one night on the boat, one breakfast, two lunches and one dinner, entry to the cave, pearl farm and kayaking. The boat we were on was called ‘Golden cruise’ and was classed as deluxe. The quality of the boat and food was ok, it’s hard to tell without having seen the other boats! But we would advise go for the best standard you can and then try and haggle to the price you want. Looking back we may have paid a bit too much but we would do it again, it’s a really fun trip. Try and get to know the people on your boat, and take advantage of the free beer! We got chatting and completely forgot and then the free beer hour was up.

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The kayaking was my favourite part, we went through a little archway into a secluded bay and saw a load of monkeys 🐒 swinging from the trees 😄.

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Back on the boat we also did a mini cookery lesson, making spring rolls :).

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We arrived back in Hanoi about 1800 and went straight back to our travel agent to book a tour to Sapa. We’d heard some good things from other travelers so wanted to fit it in.

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Vietnam: Sapa

Our agent got us on a bus that night which left at 2200, getting us to Sapa at 6am. Arriving in Sapa was a little stressful as we realised when we had got on the bus the night before we gave in our whole ticket for the trip which the bus driver then ‘couldn’t find’ the next morning. We called our travel agent who told us to go into the hotel next to the bus stop. They were really helpful and called our guide to come and meet us. There were a few of us in the same situation who had all given tickets in so if you do this make sure to get part of it back off the bus driver! A guide turned up and walked us about 20 mins to a hotel where we had some breakfast. We waited around a bit longer and a local Sapa lady called Zing then turned up saying she was now our guide for the two day trek. She was very sweet, only 19 but seemed much older! She was 7 months pregnant with her second child and managed to walk faster than any of us with a mountain 🐐 like ease.  We left our main luggage at the hotel and packed a small over night bag to take with us on the trek. If your doing this in March make sure you have a raincoat, decent shoes and long trousers.

Once we were walking we were joined by about another 8 Sapa women.  Who were just as fast and agile regardless of age or footwear (flip-flops).

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We walked down the valley side and back up again through some stunning scenery until we reached two villages, we had lunch in the second one.  At this point all of the Sapa women descended on us with their souvenirs which was mostly ‘silver’ jewellery. Stand up for yourself and try not to be taken in too much, they will all tell you how they need to feed their families etc.The lunch was great with spring rolls, sautéed meat and vegetables, rice and noodles – we are almost pro chopstick users now (practice makes perfect as there is often not standard cutlery available).

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After lunch we trekked a little longer to the homestay where we all slept in one big room on mattresses on the floor, it was actually pretty comfortable and not too cold as there was a curtain to drape around each mattress. We helped cook dinner with the family which was a variety of Vietnamese dishes, and they tried to get us to do karaoke afterwards. We were a bit of a shy group and only Sam  (an English guy) and two of the Vietnamese girls did it. More gin needed I think!

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The next day we trekked for another couple of hours and then got a bus back to Sapa where we were catching the afternoon bus to Hanoi. We got to Hanoi about 2200 and crashed into bed.

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Vietnam: Saigon/ Ho Chi Minh City

The first night we arrived we decided it was time for a drink as we hadn’t had one in a while…anyway a few Long Islands later we were both extremely worse for ware and have vowed not to drink again 🙏. Local Vietnamese spirits are lethal!

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The next day we made it across the river to Dani’s friend Clair’s flat. She lives on the 29th floor and has stunning views over the city, after a tough day nursing deadly heads this was a glorious feeling! We bought ourselves copious amounts of crisps and pot noodle.

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So the main (tourist) things we did in Ho Chi Minh were the war remmenants museum and a day trip to Cu Chi tunnels. The war museum is a must if you’re there, it’s only 15,000 dong and gives an interesting account of the Vietnam with some really eye opening photography.

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The Cu Chi tunnels we are not so sure on, it was what felt like a really long day with not much time actually at the tunnels. It was over a two hour journey from HCM. It was good to see the surroundings and try to understand what it must have been like but it was quite pricey ~180,000 dong (bus and tunnels entry fee) and a long trip, the museum in the city centre was much more informative and you could get a much better feel of what really happened. The Cu Chi tunnels tour was interesting but much less informative…if you have a penchant for small spaces though you’d love it! you get the chance to crawl through one of the tunnels, Danielle got half way before freaking out, but I couldn’t even go in 😦

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Whilst staying with Claire she took us to two lovely restaurants, one aimed at the expatriates; pretty classy food with a price tag to match. We had a lovely ‘English style fish and chips’ which was perfect after being away from home for so long! The other one was a Thai restaurant.

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Phnom Phen to Siem Reap

On the way we stopped a couple of times for rest breaks (no WC on the bus). There was a huge storm as we were driving with lighting strikes causing fires on our route.

There was this smell of burning plastic on the bus and then we stopped!

Broken down!!!!

A little panic swept over us….but about an hour later, and one very soggy driver we were back on our way. He had to get under the bus in the pouring rain…didn’t quite get that picture but this one is him at the back trying to fix it at first!

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We were exhausted when we arrived in Siem Reap and pissed off as usual as the driver refused to let us off where we asked (he let all the locals get off outside their doors) and drove us to a tuk-tuk station. Anyway in bitterness we decided to walk instead of paying someone which took us about an hour as we got soooo lost! we were staying in siem reap pub hostel which is really nice but hard to find, its down a little muddy dirt track, just about wide enough for the tuk-tuks.

Crossing the border – Vietnam to Cambodia via bus

We booked our bus ticket through a travel agent (Long Phuong) which is on backpackers road almost nextdoor to a great little cafe called the Luke’s cafe.  They were very professional here with excellent English and gave us a great price for the Cu Chi tunnels (check out our Cu Chi page) and a bus ticket to Cambodia (520,000 VND for two people both trips)

We left Thao Dien Pearl 10:30 am and got a taxi to Long Phuong, this took about 30 minutes as the roads were pretty clear.

We waited for transport to the bus station which drove us 10 meters down the road to the bus station… It was pretty hilarious!

Got on the bus which was half empty,  lots of boxes at the back as usual as they use it as a parcel service too.  Got in our allocated seats and off we went.

Everything was running smoothly until the bus driver wanted money for visas and our passports. We handed over our passports as we thought maybe we all stay on the bus and the the police need to check the passports from the driver…anyway we then realised we’d been had as he then started to ask for money for the visa…more than the price the boarder control actually ask for.We had a bit of an argument with him at this point and asked for our passports back as we realised at boarder control you have to get out of the bus anyway as you have to go through security etc. He then refused to give our passports back and said if we didn’t pay him he’d drive off without us. The queue at boarder control really started to build up now and we were panicking. Luckily a local spotted the situation and came over to help….he obviously wanted money too but much less than the driver. So we paid him and he managed to get our passports off the driver and take us to the front of the queue. So in the end it was us waiting for the driver and the rest of the group! He wasn’t happy about us getting back on the bus but eventually gave in.

Anyway a few lessons learned ;

  1. Do not give anyone your passport!
  2. Always carry american dollars when going in/out of Cambodia (we didn’t have any which meant we were close to not getting a visa, luckily a nice Canadian guy on the bus had some extra and swapped some dong for us!). In Cambodia they only accept american dollars.
  3. Have a budget for money that you just have to pay to avoid stress….the saving of a few dollars probably wasn’t worth the massive argument and hassle.

 Hong Kong 

We arrived early am into HK airport and got the express train ticket into central station, this was super easy; only  24min journey and cost us $170 for two people (I think single tickets are $100 so you get a bit of a discount on a group ticket). From there my Dad met us and we got a taxi to Wan Chai where we were staying. This was $40 and took 10 mins.

Travelling around HK is really easy. Get an Octopus card ($50, with $41 plus any leftover travel credit is refunded when returned) and top up whatever you like. Octopus is accepted on buses, trams, ferries, trains and even lots of shops in HK! We put on around $150 for the 5 days and we went everywhere including on the fast ferries.  A tram costs about $2.5-$3.5,a bus $3.5-$17 and ferry $17-$22. The journeys are split into zones so the further you go the more expensive it is. Also you pay a much higher cost to go to the touristy areas.  The city is so easy to navigate as a tourist. Most journeys co-ordinate around central station and the central piers.

Day 1

On our first day dad took us exploring the city on the trams, sit upstairs and it’s great for sightseeing! We then met uncle Johnny in the eve who was arriving from India after a 3 week ashram stay. Needless to say we had an interesting dinner catch up with all our different travel stories and 13 years since we had last seen each other! Eating is an interesting experience. There are very few, if any, traditional western Chinese or HK dishes.  A standard dish is chicken feet, tongue n cheek (haha), pigs trotters… the list is endless. We stuck to the basics of steamed rice, BBQ ribs,  sticky rice… they also give you copious amounts of Chinese tea for free which is great.

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Day 2

We can call this skyscraper day. Firstly we  went up the tourism centre which is free and has a bit of an exhibition about HK whilst you look out from the 50th floor.

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Next we caught the tourist ferry ($100, you can get the local one) which has a tour of the harbour and stops around HK.

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We got off in Kowloon where you can go into the Ritz-Carlton hotel and get the lift to the 1ooth floor where there is a (very expensive) restaurant and a fantastic looking tea room. At 3pm you can go up to the 118th floor where there is a beautiful open air bar as it is the very top of the hotel.  There is a closed lounge too as it can get a bit chilly.  The bar is fine just to walk into but the restaurant will need a reservation. It’s a stunning hotel with amazing views of the skyline, and you will pay for this through your food/drink consumption. So we took a few photos and left!

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That evening we went for dinner at ‘Kams roast goose’. Every night there was a huge line for this place and we waiting about an hour for a table (luckily they give you a ticket so you can go off and come back—danielle and I went for a cocktail).

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Surprisingly we had roast goose! We also got noodles, rice and some roast pork. I thought it was amazing, best food we’ve had all trip. Danielle and Johnny quite liked it too but dad hated it and went for McDonald’s afterwards, each to their own! It was quite pricey so make sure everyone in your group is prepared to try something new before you go.

Day 3

Today we took the bus from Wan Chai to Repulse bay which takes about 30mins. Here there’s nice little harbour to walk around and a beach. It was a bit cold for sunbathing but we had a lovely walk.

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We spent most of the evening in the electronics shop which is right next to Wan Chai station. It’s two floors of madness and you can get lots in there for hours, which we did! And for the next couple of days. I’m not really sure how many bargains there are but if you know about technology and how to barter this will be the place for you. If your happy to have a second hand or refurbished phone/laptop then these are much cheaper than market price. Anything brand new seemed to be the same price as home.

Before going home we had to try the famous egg waffles. Although they look completely different to your average sweet waffle they taste pretty similar, due to the little bubbles they are a bit crunchier and taste slightly like coconut.

Day 4

Lantau island. Unfortunately the cable car wasn’t running so we took the ferry from central pier and then a bus on the other side. Took about two hours altogether. Definitely worth it if you have the time. There’s a little village for souvenirs, a Buddhist monestry and a massive statue of the laughing Buddha which was built it 1993.

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It’s worth buying a carved charm on a tassel. They were cheapish and came in beautiful boxes with the meaning of the carving on. We looked everywhere for some others but never found any 😞.

Day 5

A day of walking!

Today it was time to do some exercise and walk to the top of the biggest hill in HK called mount Victoria.  We typed “the peak” into google and off we went. After hiking along some really beautiful pathways we were nearly at the peak… and then we passed it. We were so 🤷‍♀️ confused and looked at google again and only then realised that there were two peaks, one called the peak which seemed impossible to get to and the other the actual Victoria peak which is not called the peak, doh.

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We found our way out of the jungle and got on a bus 🚌 which took 15 minutes to get there, we were so glad to have made the effort as it was an amazing place.  There was a plaza which we explored, we found another McDonald’s, it had an outdoor eating area with the most amazing view (you also paid for this as it was 2x the city price).  We then trundled up to the top floor to a viewing dec where the view was just magnificent, higher than any of the buildings we had been in due to it being on the mountain (big hill).

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There was another viewing platform with a 360 degree view however you had to pay for that. In this building there was a really funky 3D walk through gallery where you could take photos for free. We then plucked up the energy to talk the last 15 minutes to the very top, obviously going the wrong way so it actually took 45 mins.  After all this we got back on the bus to the city.

Before we went to the hotel we ended up at the computer shop again 😍. After leaving with nothing but joy we headed to McDonald’s (staple food of the week).  This time it’s because we wanted to try the purple ice cream, it was sweet potato flavour.  We decided to go for 1/2 vanilla, 1/2 sweet potato 🥔 just incase it was overpowering. It was surprisingly good for about $27 or 27p, McDonald’s was v.cheap.

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Day 6

Chinese Las Vegas : Macau!

We caught a ferry to Macau which cost $… for a single, it’s cheaper to book both together but we didn’t know what time we wanted to come back.  Don’t forget your passport as this is China 🇨🇳… super exciting!!!!

The first thing you see off the ferry is a huge bridge which joins the island to the mainland, it looks like a big white squiggle in the foggy air.  Then you get on any of the free transfers, just pick a hotel and off you go! The hotels were amazing, just like being back in Las Vegas, they filled the sky and had vast grounds full of fountains and gardens.

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We went to the Venetian which was a bonus as we missed this one in Vegas.  Just like the other it has the canal through the centre where you could take a gondola ride.  The great thing in here is that they were fantastic opera singers which performed for everyone lining the banks.  This place was so big it was hard to explain, floors of slot machines, video poker and video roulette, then a huge shopping mall which was double the high street price.  Then finally a food court which was great… finally found some sweet and sour, yum! On the way out (if you could actually find it) there were small stages for entertainment like singing, violin players and magic shows. They were really good 😊.

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We left here and went to the Wynn to see the fountain show just like at the Bellaggio in Vegas. It was really beautiful, another huge hotel and casino where Jonny couldn’t resist the allure of the poker table. Whilst he was playing the big boys game we went for a drink in a really nice bar before heading back on the 45 minute ferry to HK.

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Day 7

Walked to the train to go home.  Again this way a super easy trip. We even had time to get a refund on our octopus 🐙 cards before leving the station.

Bye bye Dad, Johnny and HK. On to Vietnam.