This blog entry is part of our “Retro Series” in that we go back and blog about trips we have already taken but were to
lazy busy to blog about. This is the third and final blog about our trip to Hanoi, Vietnam.
After touring the city of Hanoi for a couple days, with congested sinuses and pounding headaches, we set off for the quiet solitude of Ha Long Bay a few hours north. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, home to limestone karsts that poke out of the South China Sea and is one of the most sought after destinations in Vietnam. It’s often touted as a “must see” of SE Asia and since we had plenty of time in Hanoi, we booked a two day/one night tour on a Chinese Junk (small wooden cruise ship). Early the next morning we were shuttled off to the remote northeast corner of Vietnam.
The quiet, fresh air was certainly a nice change, although the shuttle bus that carried us to our port was clearly not built for westerners. Along with our fellow travelers from Malaysia, Scotland, Canada and UK, we were feeling a little cramped and thus quite relieved upon arriving where we were able to stretch out again. When we got there we were taken out to our home for the next 24ish hours. Here she is:
Our weather was overcast and gray so the first day our view was a little like this….
And a little of this….
Perhaps it was simply the weather, but needless to say, we felt a disconnect between our expectations and the reality of the experience. Tough critics, I know.
The next day, we visited a floating fishing village nearby where it was amazing to see how its inhabitants lived and worked without much interaction with the outside world. (I mean, besides the tourists they lugged around.)
The coolest thing was that each house was guarded by a dog. Of all shapes and sizes.
Spending the night on a ship was interesting but ultimately we felt it was doable in a long day trip. For the time and money spent, we just didn’t see the value in stretching it out to an overnight event. Plus the food on board the Junk left a few things to be desired. In fact, as we would later find out, it was here I (Dan) picked up salmonella. Yuck.
We met some really interesting travelers on our boat from all over the world, and snapped some great photos over the two days but for the most part the best thing about Ha Long Bay was the respite it provided from the congestion of Hanoi. It was with mixed feelings that we embarked on the 3.5hr, rickety bus ride back to the city for more sight-seeing. The traffic there gave us a new perspective and appreciation for how developed the roads and infrastructure actually are in Malaysia.
After several nights in Cambodia, we flew home to spend one quick night in KL and then flew out to Krabi, Thailand. Both of us have been to Thailand before, (Chiang Mai & Phuket) but we heard that we just couldn’t miss Krabi, so we hit the road again.
We stayed at the Sofitel Krabi, which was quite beautiful, ridiculously gorgeous and very comfortable, even if a bit outrageous on food expenses. It had a beautiful open air lobby that reminded us of the Grande Floridian, which holds a special place in our hearts because, (way back in 2004) we got engaged there. Awww….
While the hotel was beautiful, it was also quite out of the way. Luckily, we found a nice man down the beach that was willing to rent us a motorbike out of the back of his house, and we were off to explore the island. Who says capitalism is dead?!
While the motorbike didn’t exactly match the ambiance of the hotel, (everyone else was rolling up with a private driver) it was a lifesaver because of the freedom it provided. The Sofitel is located on the outskirts of the less developed side of Krabi and while the view of the ocean is beautiful, it’s pretty secluded. Our wheels allowed us to explore much more of the area, gain access to more food choices and to make our way over to the more commercialized area of Ao Nang. There we found a bustling little area of shops, bars, restaurants and longboats galore.
It was interesting enough that we came back a second day to indulge in one of the longboat excursions, that whisk visitors away to a number of different secluded destinations; beautiful islands and coves draped in limestone and only reachable by boat. DiCaprio’s The Beach was filmed at one such exclusive locale called Pi Phi Island. We decided to opt for another choice because rumor has it that Pi Phi’s secret is out and it’s kind of overrun now with tourists. A friend recommended his favorite place in Asia, so with such high praise as that, we selected Rai Lai Beach as our one-day excursion. About a 10min longboat ride from Ao Nang, Rai Lai is a private little cove that is a haven for rock climbers and beach combers. Although it’s just a short beach strip encased by limestone cliffs, there are a couple small hotels there and a little sand strip of shops for food and fun. Pretty impressive considering the only way in or out for guests is that longboat. The water was clear and gorgeous and the cliffs were break taking. Quite a scene, and frankly I wish we could have stayed a night and added some rock climbing or snorkeling to our day of being beach bums.
The rest of the trip to Krabi was very similar. A lot of lounging by the pool or shore with a good book by day, and checking out some new delicious Thai food place for dinner by night. Seriously, the food was amazing. We loved the Coke bottles too. They were the old glass ones and it was cool to see the Coke logo in Thai.
Perhaps some of the best fun was simply touring the area on our own by way of the rented motorbike. Getting lost, finding our way back and stopping here and there for random photos in the countryside proved to be just as much fun as anything else we might have scheduled. Top it off with a little shopping and people watching, and Krabi was a good four nights. Highly recommend you check it out, and if you’re keen to have more of the night life scene, definitely explore Ao Nang. Regardless of your evening plans, you could easily spend a week or two there just checking out different longboat excursions everyday.
It was good thing we rested up because the next stop on our Asia tour was going to test all of our senses for the next week……….
Hanoi, Vietnam here we come!
I am making good to my pledge to go back and blog about some of our adventures that I didn’t quite have time to do in real time. Some of you may have seen pictures on facebook, but I’m going back and adding in the good parts (aka-my thoughts) on the entire trip. I’m going to start working my way backwards, starting with the last big trip we took in December over the holidays. We wanted to do a bit of a “Farewell Asia” tour and hit some of the spots that we hadn’t had a chance to do yet. Using two weeks of my Christmas break we headed out to Siem Reap, Cambodia, Krabi, Thailand, and Hanoi, Vietnam.
The first place we went was Cambodia and out of the three places, it was my favorite without a doubt. It was the poorest country I have ever been to and is recovering from an amazingly horrible history, but the people we met had a quiet determination and seemed so genuinely nice and kind in a way that I’m not sure if I would be if I was in their place.
The Siem Reap airport was surprisingly modern and nice and our driver picked us up right out front, which is always a relief when you are very clearly a tourist in country that is unknown to you. He took us to our hotel, the Golden Temple Hotel. As cheesy as the name is, it was one of the best hotel we have ever stayed at. Not the fanciest, not the most expensive, but the nicest people, a great location, lovely room, spa treatments, THE WORKS! If you are ever in the neighborhood you should forgo the Holiday Inn and stay at the Golden Temple Hotel instead. For breakfast our driver took us to a local hang out for a traditional Cambodia breakfast of meat, rice and some cucumbers on the side.
After breakfast we headed to the temples. Over the next two days, we saw lots and lots of temples, each with their own unique story and symbolism. The coolest thing about them temples is the fact that they are from the 12th century! Having lasted as long as they have, through all the conflicts that Cambodia has had, to still be standing is pretty remarkable. Here are a few of my favorites:
At the end of the day, as we were having dinner at a french restaurant overlooking downtown Siem Reap and we saw the mother of all motorbikes. We have seen a lot of things and people on motorbikes since we have been in Asia, but this was a new record-six people on one motorbike!!! Count carefully! It was the perfect way to end the day.
So, have you ever seen six people on a motorbike? Or, dare I say it-MORE? What is the most bizarre thing you have ever seen being carried on a motorbike, domestically or international?