A Travellerspoint blog

Traveling by road

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Whether in Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam the requirements for driving are the same: a loud horn to use as much as possible, an ability to do multiple things at once whilst driving including using and talking on the phone and trading instructions, no hesitation in making any move you wish to make irrespective of whatever traffic is around you- including traveling in the wrong direction if that gets you to where you want to be quicker, and a calmness to not be hassled by whatever craziness is going on around you.

And whilst riding a motorbike you can transport anything regardless of the weight, length, width or height including live animals.

Posted by advb4dementia 08:58 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

The BEST egg coffee

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We would not have found Dinh cafe if not for specific directions.
A small sign in a bag shop facing the lake advertised its presence. You walk through the shop, down a dark corridor, up a set of dusty stairs then along another dark corridor to a small tobacco stained second floor room. At the far end of the room is a set of windows that open out to a tiny balcony overlooking the lake, and it is here we sat in tiny stools that we had THE most AMAZING egg coffee for just 17,000D. It was sweet, thick and creamy - like eating tiramisu flavoured custard with a shot of strong black coffee at the base. Others we have tried have been double the price and nowhere near as thick and creamy. We have definitely been spoilt.

Posted by advb4dementia 08:56 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Ha Long Ba & Cat Ba- 2 nights/2 days- "AMAZING!!!!"

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With just a backpack the journey to Cat Ba started with the overnight sleeper train back from to Lao Cai to Hanoi - this one wasn't as good as a cabin/beds were positioned over the carriage wheels resulting in a very noisy and disturbed night.
On arrival at Hanoi station we were to be met by our driver for the 2 1/2hr trip to Haiphong, however we didn't realise there were multiple station entrances/exits and we were waiting at one whilst he was at another. Eventually we found each other and set off on our road trip which turned out to be a little longer than expected due to a massive traffic jam caused by a farmers protest blocking the road and as a result we only just made it to the ferry station and into the hydrofoil to take us on the 50 min journey to Cat Ba. On arrival we were met by Houng (our tour guide who sent us off for much needed coffee and breakfast before boarding Dai Duong 09, the name of the boat which would be our home for the next 2 days.

Loved loved loved the overnight boat tour- everything about it was awesome. We were upgraded from the original boat we had booked, which had looked great, but this one was wonderful with a large upper deck with dining table and sun loungers and individual ensuite cabins which contained a double and single bed and big windows to take in the views and we lay in bed at night with the curtains and window open to sleep by the moonlight and take in the views.

Whilst in Hanoi we had met a Russian named Yuri who said the landscape was "just amazing", and he wasn't wrong. Halong Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site containing over 3000 limestone islands rising from emerald green waters of the Gulf of Tonkin and it is breathtakingly beautiful.

The weather was also a highlight because it was overcast and raining when we arrived on Cat Ba, but when we boarded the boat the rain and stopped and soon the sun was shining.

The rushed journey from Hanoi to Cat Ba with no opportunity for a toilet stop, or grab a coffee or something to eat.

On the sleeper train to get cabins/beds in the middle of the carriage as they are quieter than those at the end which are over the wheels.

We choose an overnight boat tour from Cat Ba rather than Halong Bay as it was quieter and less touristy. We headed initially into Lan Ha Bay passing floating villages - each home with their own fish farm and dogs to ward off the birds, and stopped at one to buy fish for dinner. We then moved on to Halong Bay where we anchored for the night having stopped off a few times to swim and kayak through caves into beautiful lagoons and there were lots of opportunities to just chill and soak up the sun.
The second day started watching the sun rise over the islands, and after breakfast we headed off for more kayaking through caves and lagoons. Then onto a deserted beach to kayak, swim, snorkel and just chill before lunch, with more of the same after lunch. The beach had a cave with a small temple in it, and as we waded in the shallow waters we were surrounded by lots of small fish nibbling our feet.
After an afternoon of relaxing we docked at 5pm and was escorted to our hotel for the night, and after dropping of our bags headed out to explore the town.

Eating and drinking:
Before boarding the boat we had breakfast at The Green Mango, at the suggestion of the tour operator, and provided mainly western food which was quite pricy but OK and much needed at that point.

All meals were provided on the boat and included fresh fish and seafood. Lunch consisted of cockles, large prawns, calamari, stir fried peppered beef and rice, followed by fresh lychee. Dinner was marinated oysters, crumbed fish bites, spring rolls, whole fish, stir fried tofu, stir fried morning glory and rice followed by watermelon. Breakfast was fried egg and toast, pancakes with banana and honey, yogurt and apple. Our second lunch provided another whole fish, calamari, stir fried pepper chicken, crispy pork, stir fried veg, calamari and rice followed by something resembling a nasi pear. Snacks of mandarins and prawn crackers were served during the day.
The boat provided water, tea and coffee and had soft drink, bear and wine available to purchase or allowed BYO for a corkage fee.

Bahia cafe in Cat Ba had great strong smooth Vietnamese coffee but the egg coffee, whilst tasting good, wasn't as thick and creamy as the one at Dinh cafe Hanoi and more than double the price. We returned the next day for another coffee and banana pancake before heading for the boat and return trip to Hanoi, and their Vietnamese coffee is certainly what they do best.


Dai Duong 09 The boat was our home for 1 night and was just awesome with its large double bed next to full length windows providing the most amazing views

Nam Phuong Hotel- basic back packer hotel. The bed and pillow were hard, but the room had air con, a fan and great views of Cat Ba bay and for just one night it was adequate. The rock face created the rear wall of the corridors on each floor and the top floor provided the most amazing panoramic views of the bay.

Boat Tour: http://www.catbaventures.com/

Posted by advb4dementia 08:52 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Ta Van & Sa Pa- 2 nights/3 days -magestical

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Our journey to Tavan started with packing a backpack (for our 6 day trip there and onto Cat Ba) and catching the overnight sleeper train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, then a transfer from the train station via Sapa on a twisty road up the side of a steep mountains - which was a little scary at times when overtaking slow trucks resulted in driving at the oncoming traffic. Our homestay was located on the side of the valley amongst the rice fields and we arrived just in time for breakfast.

Tavan, the home of the Giay hill tribe people, was quiet and peaceful but the impact of tourism evident with the number of locals offering homestays and lots of small scale construction by local tribes people. Sapa by contrast was chaotic with a mass of buildings squished along the hillside and huge construction by the Chinese and Vietnamese.

The peace and tranquility at our homestay and the views from our wooden bungalow accommodation set amongst the rice fields looking out towards the valley.

The cockerel that woke us up in the early hours of the morning and the hard bed đŸ˜œ

Arrange an escort to the train station and platform to ensure you get the correct location as trains depart from different areas.
Try to get cabins/beds in the middle of the carriage as they are quieter than those at the end which are over the wheels.

Overnight sleeper train from Hanoi to Lao Cai - we booked a 4 berth carriage on the Sapaly train and was really impressed with how comfortable the beds were and with the help of ear plugs, and the couple of beers the boys bought from a lady outside the train, we slept for most of the journey. We arrived at 6.30am and were met by our driver who took us to our homestay in Tavan.

We went for a couple of short treks around Tavan village, stopping occasionally to buy from the Hmong, Dao and Giay women, eat from food stalls, drink local beer and wine, and watch in amazement as motorbikes passed us by with everything handing from the back: piles of bricks, wooden planks and a full sized live pig in a basket. We came across a ceremony involving the sacrifice of a pig and chicken for good luck for the rice harvest. The boys also went for a couple of trail runs up the steep mountainside.

A soak in a Red Dao herbal bath and massage was just what we needed to relax, and to sooth Johnny's aching legs after his earlier run up the mountain.

The peacefulness of the location was just perfect to stop, relax and recharge. Lots of time was spent reading, drinking and just chilling.

We spent our last day in Sapa, located in the Huang Lien mountains which includes Fansipan - Vietnamese highest mountain. First we drove out to see Tram Ton Pass and a walk to the Love Waterfall, then wandered around the town passing roasted chestnuts and full pigs on spits, tribes women offering their wares and guided treks around the local villages. Again motorbikes were used to carry everything and anything, including a full sized chest freezer đŸ˜³. The museum provided a great insight about Sapa and the different ethnic minority groups from around the area.

We finished the day in Lao Cai, having dinner at Le Bordeaux whilst waiting for our overnight sleeper train back to Hanoi.

Eating and drinking:
Bamboo bar- we wanted to try dried buffalo but it wasn't available so we settled for Dutch cheese and mustard and spring rolls- strange combination but nice. Later we returned for Dutch hot chocolate with Baileys.

Had to try the local homemade plum and apple wines and have only one word to describe them- yuk

The homestay provided breakfast each day, and we chose to join the family for dinner on one evening and experienced bamboo for the first time- our new favourite dish.

Banh mi (Vietnamese roll with meat and pate) from stall in the village - very yummy.

Le Bordeaux - had a mixture of Vietnamese dishes including stir fried morning glory and bamboo shoots.

Vietnamese coffee with (condensed) milk is our coffee of choice at the moment, sweet and very strong.

Sapaly Train- our accommodation and transport between Hanoi and Lao Cai. We had a 4 birth cabin, which was small but we managed as we were traveling together, however the limited space may be an issue if shared with strangers. The beds were reasonably comfortable and the bathroom remained clean throughout the journey.

Tavan Ecological Homestay- what an absolutely wonderful place to stay. They arranged our transfers to and from the train station and went out of their way to be helpful and meet our needs. Our accommodation were individual ensuite wooden bungalows located on the side of the valley amongst the rice fields. The rooms were basic but clean and comfortable, although the bed was a little hard.

Tavan Ecological Homestay: http://www.tavanecologichomestay.com/
Sapaly Train: http://www.sapalytrain.com/

Posted by advb4dementia 08:43 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hanoi- 1 night/1 day - 8 million people and 6 million bikes

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Hanoi was an assault to the senses with its neon signs, constant tooting of car horns and smells wafting from street food stalls, especially after spending a day travelling through airports. The grand hotel lobby looked out of place down a back street of the Old Quarter, and we dumped our bags and headed out for some Pho from a local street vendor before dropping into bed just after midnight for a much needed sleep.

The big comfy hotel bed
The awesome egg coffee drank looking out to the lake from the second floor window balcony at the hidden Dinh Cafe

Learning the Mausoleum was closed for renovations throughout our stay and we wouldn't be able to see Ho Chi Minh's body.

Trying to dry the wet stinky boots from out jungle adventure before heading off to trek in Sapa.

Change money on arrival as local stalls don't accept USD

Walk through the Old Quarter, past the lake and on to try and find an elusive Cannon camera.

Eating and drinking:
Bahn mi ( Vietnamese pork and pate roll from a local street stall

DIY fresh spring rolls with marinated fish whilst sat at the side of the street

Breakfast at the hotel from the rooftop with views across the Hanoi skyline.

Without specific instructions we would not have found Dinh Cafe which was located through a bag shop, down a dark corridor, up narrow dusty stairs and along another dark corridor to the second floor to drink their awesome and very reasonably priced egg coffee on the open balcony overlooking the lake.

May de Ville Old Quarter - very plush and perfectly located. We booked and extended check out and arranged to store our bags whilst we visited Sapa and Halong Bay before returning back to Hanoi for a few more days. We also arranged our transfer from the airport and to the train station with the hotel.

May de Ville Old Quarter: http://www.maydeville.com/oldquarter/home.htm

Posted by advb4dementia 21:09 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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