Vietnam: Part 2
Traveling in SEA is extremely cheap which is why it’s such an ideal place for backpackers. We spent our first half of the week exploring Saigon in southern Vietnam and spent the last half in northern Vietnam. Our flight from south to north was only an hour and cost us about 30 dollars one way.
We left Ho Chi Minh City and landed in Hanoi around midnight. We booked a hostel in Hanoi for one night and booked this shuttle service to Ha Long City first thing in the morning.
Day 1: Hanoi-Ha Long City/Cat Ba
We woke up at 5:45am courtesy of our shuttle service to go to Ha Long Bay. We originally booked a hostel in Ha Long but met some travelers in Ho Chi Minh who insisted we stay on Cat Ba instead so we cancelled our hostel and redirected ourselves.
The shuttle to Ha Long from Hanoi was about 2.5-3 hours. Once we arrived, we took a taxi to the Ha Long Harbor where we found the ferry that went to-and-from Cat Ba Island. The ferry leaves at 9am, 11am, and 3pm daily. It’s kind of hard to find on the internet so we weren’t exactly sure prior to arriving at the harbor. We took the 11am ferry which was about a 45 minute trip through Ha Long Bay. The ferry was so neat. All of these motorcycles and scooters arrived and drove onto the ferry (apparently biking around SEA is the cool thing to do).
When we got to Cat Ba the gates opened and all of the motor bikers zoomed off. The not-so-cool kids (aka us) took a bus to Cat Ba city center.
Nicole, Lauren, and I immediately fell in love with this side of the country within the first few minutes of being there. The air was crisp and fresh, unlike southern Vietnam. And the limestone formations were incredible. I guess it’s safe to say we’re not really city people and are definitely drawn to the nature aspect.
We checked into our hostel on Cat Ba around 1pm then explored the beaches around the island. It was such a nice change of pace to be in sleepy town after all the cities we conquered.
When we were done lounging on the beach we caught a breathtaking sunset.
After sunset we went back to our hostel to shower and eat dinner. The food was notably better than souther Vietnam IMO, but we’ll come back to that later.
When we finished dinner we checked out the only two bars on our side of the island (which were wildly out of place). Both bars were filled with black lights and techno music which didn’t exactly seem right for the beach town vibe. None the less we played an endless game of beer pong with other travelers before going to bed.
Day 2: Cat Ba Island
At 7am we booked a half day private boat tour around Cat Ba. This was one of my absolute favorite things we did.
Our guide took us through the bay where we saw a lot of fishing villages and the incredible limestone formations up close. We stopped at a small beach across from Monkey Island where we found an abundance of shells. Obviously we collected as much as we could carry in our pockets before heading to Monkey Island.
Lauren and I forgot to take our shoes when we got off the boat to explore Monkey Island, so we only made it half way up the hike since the rocks were sharp. Plus, we weren’t sure if we could make it down safely if one of those crazy monkeys started chasing us. In any case we still managed to get some pretty good views.
After Monkey Island we headed back to Cat Ba to grab lunch. This is where I start gushing about the food.
First off, Cat Ba is known for their seafood. I tried to order crab and oysters the previous night but was told that the food is so fresh that they don’t keep it longer than a day and they would get it from the market in the morning.
So for lunch, I knew exactly what I was going to get. I ordered steamed crab in lemongrass with lime chili dipping sauce and grilled oysters with butter and garlic.
I’ve never experienced better seafood. My mouth is watering as I write this. AND to top it off, it didn’t cost more than 10 dollars. Beer included.
Meanwhile Nicole had the best pho of the trip yet and Lauren ordered a delicious white fish and spring rolls,
Once we finished our lunch we had some time to kill so Lauren rented a scooter and drove Nicole and I around the island before catching our ferry back to Ha Long City.
From here we took our shuttle back to Hanoi where I would spend my last few days.
Day 3: Hanoi
Hanoi is by far the city of choice in Vietnam. The entire feel of it is completely different than Saigon.
While there are still a TON of scooters, it’s a lot less intimidating to walk around.
The streets are filled with boutique coffee shops and beer gardens. There are rooftop lounges with giant lanterns and fresh street food around every corner. Hanoi is also backpack central. Seriously. Every block there are massive markets selling every backpack and shoe imaginable.
Unfortunately Lauren had a minor set back and was out of commission for the first half of our day so Nicole and I walked around the city.
First we went to the Hoan Kiem Lake. We made an attempt to go the previous night because the lake is completely lit up. However we got there just as the lights were shutting down.
In my opinion, the night time view is preferable, but it’s still a nice sight during the day.
When we were done shopping the street markets, we met up with Lauren and ate lunch at The Lantern Lounge. The food was absolutely amazing and the plating was phenomenal.
After lunch we went back to our hostel to say our goodbyes for a few weeks. Nicole and Lauren continued on to Thailand and I made the journey back to home sweet Hawaii.