In April, in between travelling up and down the UK for work, I boarded a plane that would take me to Asia. For the first time in my life! The destination was Vietnam – or Việt Nam, another one of my “always wanted to see”-places and it did not disappoint. But let’s get to that later…
I travelled with my friends Louisa, Petra, Kathrin and Elaine – neither of us has been to Vietnam before but also neither of us had had enough time to properly research all the places we could visit in this extremely long country. We all had some places in our heads that would be a nice-to-do but other than the first 2 nights in Hanoi, nothing was planned, let alone booked. I’ve never travelled like this before but having experienced backpackers in our group, I didn’t worry about it.
So the first destination was Hanoi, the capitol of Vietnam. When we arrived, we had been up for over 24hours – I couldn’t sleep on any of our flights so I was relatively knackered. When we arrived in Hanoi, everything seemed a bit too much at first – too many cars and motorbikes, too many peple, too much noise. However, it was only early afternoon so we set out to explore the Old Quarter and check our food options. During the next day I got used to the sounds of Hanoi a bit more. More exploration had to be done, and more food to be eaten. Oh, the food!
We spent 2 days in Hanoi before flying south to Da Nang, which is about halfway down the coast, in order to get to Hội An. All of us fell in love with this beautiful place the moment our taxi pulled into the lively old town. The law forces shop owners to have lanterns outside of their houses, which gives Hội An a wonderful calm and colourful flair.
After Hội An we travelled back north, taking a night train from Hanoi to Lao Cai to get to Sa Pa. Sa Pa did not impress us at all, it feels like a European Ski resort so for our second night we chose a homestay in the middle of the beautiful and famous rice terraces, rather than spending another night in a hotel in town. Our host “Crazy John” took us on a 19km trek through the rice fields, where sadly my camera died. It had started to act up before I even came to Vietnam and the heat probably took all life out of it. So from then on I had to rely on my phone for photos. Picture a sad Anja…
Anyway, after Sa Pa we once again travelled to Hanoi. By now I was a lot more accustomed to the vibe of the city and I started to enjoy the buzz around us – although it may have been the lack of sleep as well, that got me in a trance-like state. Or maybe it was the delicious Vietnames coffee, who knows…
Next stop should have been Ha Long Bay. However, on April 1st a new law had been introduced that would prohibit tourists to kayak in the bay or even swim there. So we decided to book a different tour to Bai Tu Long Bay instead, which was about one hour further north and just as beautiful as Ha Long Bay. Bonus was, we were the only boat in the bay and when we got the kayaks out there was a calm and quiet that was amazing. Our boat took us through hundreds of little islands to our home for the next 2 days – Đảo Quan Lạn. The island isn’t very big either. It stretches out over 15km and basically just has two places with population – the harbour in the north and a small town in the south. People don’t speak English, there is no ATM, there are loads of hotels (all empty) and we only saw one car (they mostly use motorbikes, bicycles and tuk tuks). We spent our two days exploring beautiful, empty beaches, eating and just chilling out as hard as we could 😉
After this rather relaxed (maybe a bit too relaxed) experience we once again headed back to Hanoi for a last day in the capital before we had to fly back home again.
The trip was amazing – we’ve seen so much, ate so much and walked a lot. Vietnam really impressed me with its uniqueness and it was definitely a great first Asia experience for me. Can’t wait to explore some more bits of this foreign continent in a few months.
Since coming back from Vietnam I posted quite a few photos on Instagram – along with some more stories about the trip and the places we’d seen. Have a look if you want to read more about it.