Hanoi and COVID -19
So, this is a different post today as I wanted to write about our experience over the last few days. Unfortunately, after Vietnam was cleared of COVID- 19 it raised its ugly head again over the past few days, primarily from tourists from the UK from a recent flight into Hanoi.
This has therefore affected our trip massively. We arrived in Ninh bihn to hear a lot of the town has already been quarantined. We had planned to stay here for 5 nights and were super excited at the prospect of long lies, long walks through the incredible Kaarst mountainous landscapes and swimming in the pool I have been so excited for! The following morning we awake to messages that half our group had been stopped by the police and were unable to leave their hotel. The next kicker was that 1 of the girls on our bus was also on the flight which carried a covid-19 positive passenger. Therefore, they were unable to leave, and we were told we had to go to where they are staying and join them in quarantine.
Luckily, 5 of the passengers were on a boat trip, we were in a separate hotel and by the time we all collected ourselves the police had closed down the hostel and wouldn’t let anyone in. We had managed to escape and could at least make it to Hanoi where we would stay in isolation for the next few days and await their results.
After uncertainty and many worried emails frantic google searches and a few cries, we decided regrettably so to cancel the rest of our trip and come home. I was beyond devastated; I still am now as I continue to type this post. For me Northern Vietnam was going to be the highlight of our S.E.Asian trip for me and now since the past few days of bad news, worry and ongoing anxiety, we both feel the best option right now is to cancel.
It's a weird feeling and it has never made me miss home more, I understand what real panic feels like in a situation which I have no control over. I have felt helpless the past few days, emotional, scared and uncertain of everything and who to trust - not to mention having this longing feeling to get back to NZ and start fresh. Maybe now is the right time.
I am writing this based on our experience of Hanoi the past few days and I can tell you, it’s the worst place we have been. The panic has swept the city. Police have closed many hotels, attractions, restaurants, bars, cafes and the atmosphere here is disastrous for tourists. We have heard of hotels refusing UK passport holders entry, daily police checks, and hour long interrogations. We have certainly tried to make the most of it, but unfortunately it has been increasingly difficult and we just want to go home.
What I do want to touch on is how amazing the Vietnamese working in the tourism industry have been. Despite the risk that every traveller is causing right now, we have never felt more welcome (not in local supermarkets or away from the tourist area) but in our last hotel here, we felt safe. I managed to cancel each and every accomo for the next 2 weeks and our cruises, buses and tours, pretty much cancellation free. Everyone understand how awful this situation is and the response support I have received had been outstanding.
I love Vietnam and despite the issues the government is doing what it can to protect it's people and to that I am truly grateful for. We are of course caught in the crossfire but understandably so and we respect the wishes of the government 100%, despite it being an incredibly nerve-wrecking time.
This was my experience and I hope it doesn’t deter anyone from visiting this simply beautiful country. It truly is amazing, and we can’t wait to return in the future once the Covid-19 scare has been eradicated.
For now, it’s trying to get a flight home and start again!
After the cave we checked into Thao Ngyuen homestay which has to be of the of the best we have stayed in recently. Big TV, spacious room, brilliant balcony and killer sunset views. It’s costing us about $20USD a night but it’s worth it. We ate that night in ‘Capture’ restaurant which for International Woman’s day served us free beer and all pizza’s were $5. I had a veggie one and I swear to god, it was the best I have ever had. Maybe because I was exhausted and craved carbs like no other, but it was fucking delightful!
We had 1 free day here so after waking up early, getting on with work, interviews for Leo and some breakfast, we headed off to explore Bong Lai Valley. Unfortunately, after hopping on the free bikes from the home stay we realised that it was literally 36 degrees outside, and this bike trip could be a bloody disaster. Overall, we cycled 23km, sweated through all our clothes and got pretty toasted. It was beautiful however as we were able to follow the trails that were pretty bumpy on the bike, while saying hello to all the villagers and enjoying the green countryside. It is truly filled with peaceful scenery of the mountains, but after 2 hours we were too exhausted to do anything and made our way back.
A restaurant that was perfect for lunch was ‘Veggie Box’ and we highly recommend it. It was so good actually that I ordered lunch and then 2 different drinks, all mega healthy and delicious and for $5 pp - perfection. The afternoon was spent at the pool and then for sunset we made our way to the rooftop to watch the perfect sunset over the Kaarst limestone mountains with a cold beer! It was simply idyllic.
Hue and Phong Nga’s Paradise Cave
So, Hue has never been a favourite of mine in Vietnam – for me it’s another busy city with not a lot of charm or places to see. However, we were there for 1 night to break up the drive so we managed to explore what we could along the way.
The citadel/Imperial palace is probably the most famous things to see and do within the city centre so we walked around there for the afternoon before making our way back to our accommodation. The food scene here is pretty good however and if you are looking for a well-made Western Coffee then 100% go to ‘Highlands coffee’ – a little pricey, ok in fact A LOT pricey, it’s worth it. For dinner we ventured to Madan Thu after reading some brill reviews and we have to say, they were correct. We loved all the sharing style tapas dishes we ordered and they even bring you free green tea and fruit! Winning.
If you are looking to travel through Hue for longer then I would recommend checking out the below as this will really help you decide what you want to do, as we were exhausted we did next to nothing.
Now, we arrived in Phong Nga and headed straight to the Paradise cave. Only about 25 minutes from the town, and through some incredible landscapes we arrived at the entrance of the National park. You then have to walk for about 15 mins and then climb about 500 stairs but the scale of the cave reaching 72 m and 150 m wide is breath-taking and by far the most spectacular cave we have ever witnessed. Upon entry we could feel the cathedral-like magnitude of the place as you descend into the cave via a wooden staircase.
The Paradise Cave is tastefully lit up, so we were able to investigate in details some of these ancient rock formations. The wooden walkway built above the cave floor meant we could literally reach out and touch them…obviously we didn’t, but what I am getting at is you could.
Read on for Phong Nga's town chat...
Hoi An - the city of Lanterns
Hoi An has always been my favourite destination in Vietnam. I remember this town from 6 years ago as it was graceful, historic and filled with incredibly picturesque architecture. I was praying it would still be Vietnam’s most atmospheric and delightful town, the way I remember it.
Spoiler alert – IT IS! The town reflects a fusion of indigenous and foreign cultures (principally Chinese and Japanese with later European influences) that combined to produce this uniquely beautiful ‘’instagram friendly’’ town.
We booked 2 nights at ‘9dream hostel’ a small family run business which has next to no rooms, cost about $20NZD a night but was brilliantly situated and clean, spacious and everything we needed. The best thing about this hostel is that it’s balcony overlooks a busy street which is great to people watch but it is also quiet, AND it is also directly across from Bahn Mi Queen – THEE best place to get Bahn Mi in Hoi An for sure!
So pretty much this town is incredible, and for walking around its brilliant. I wouldn’t say that during our time here we did anything spectacular as for us we just love to explore.
A few things/ places that we would recommend checking out while here are:
Japanese bridge: Everyone was rabbiting on about this bloody bridge, so we hunted it down and decided to check it out. A little history behind this is, in the early 17th century the Japanese settlers built it to make it easier to do business with the local people in the residential area. Later the Chinese and Vietnamese continued to restore the bridge and built a small temple, dedicated to the God of the North. Throughout the centuries the bridge became famous for its supernatural powers and it is still a sanctuary for the local people. For us, it was nice, but incredibly busy, hot and near impossible to take any pics.
The Ancient town: Here is where the magic happens. On one side the areas is protected as it’s UNESCO world heritage so no loud music can be played and the area is peaceful and intriguing to walk around. Whereas on the other side of the bridge you will be overwhelmed with the old town style building but mixed with vars, restaurants, live music and many street sells. It’s also where the night markets are held.
So … I won’t gush to much over this location but I fucking love it! We arrived so late last night as we may or may not have had a small Coronavirus scare on the bus and spent the afternoon waiting at the hospital so when we arrived at night, it was hard to tell if this place would be any good at all.
WELL … I can tell you now, waking up this morning to the sound of crashing waves, the smell of sea air and a view to die for – it is worth it! We are staying at ‘The Haven’ and because I wanted to be fancy I booked a double sea view room. It works out about $30USD a night which is pricey but at this stage in the trip, I don’t really care too much, and after sleeping on what felt like a concrete slab for the past 2 nights – arriving here was refreshing to see a proper bed which was like lying on tiny marshmallows : BLISS!
We woke up for sunrise and then strolled along the long stretch of sandy beach while the tide was out. It was peaceful as not many people had woken yet and we were able to watch the local fisherman bring in their overnight catch. We then enjoyed breakfast on the veranda of the adjoining restaurant and with unparalleled views of the beach and ocean, it was the perfect spot to chow down on fresh fruits, muesli and an UNSWEETENED coffee (I was in heaven as anyone who has been to Vietnam will understand that every coffee comes pre-sweetened which first thing in the morning is spew inducing)
Dalat is sooo good it deserves 2 posts! From the amazing Maze bar, we visited the Lihn Son Pagoda to reconnect, get some fresh air and meditate in the beautiful tranquil surroundings of this temple. Linh Son Pagoda is located on top of a small hill overlooking the city and was built in 1938 but not fully completed and opened in 1940. It’s free to enter and great if you are looking for some peace and quiet.
Next on the to do list was the Crazy house – similar to the bar of 100 roofs, this was spectacular. The brainchild of owner Mrs Dang Viet Nga, the Crazy House has been an imaginative work in progress since 1990. Hang Nga, as she’s known locally, has a PhD in architecture from Moscow and has designed a number of other buildings around Dalat. I find it hard to describe but when I read up on what lonely planet wrote, it seemed to tick the boxes so I have added it below: ‘’ Imagine sculptured rooms connected by super-slim bridges rising out of a tangle of concrete greenery, an excess of cascading lava-flow-like shapes, wild colours, spiderweb windows and an almost organic quality to it all, with the swooping handrails resembling jungle vines. Think of Gaudí and Tolkien dropping acid together and designing their own version of Disneyland’’
Places to eat for dinner that we would recommend would be the ‘Artist’s Alley’ – the prices were amazing and the food was delicious! We also ate at the wee pop up café in the Crazy House and bought 2 of the best smoothies we have had all trip – each for $1 (and a wee piece of cake too). We also decided to be scum bags and go for a dirty burger at the Aussie Burger place, which was actually outstanding! We both ordered the Vietnam burger, which comes with a thick paddy, on beaut bread but with coriander and chilli sauce – a match made in HEAVEN!!
We are leaving the beautifully cooler temps of Dalat in the morning and heading to Bai Xep, so we shall see how that goes, but it’s a beach destination and my god we are in desperate need of some Vitamin SEA!
Leaving HCMC we hopped aboard a 7 hour bus journey to the mountainous region of Dalat! To be honest I hadn’t heard much about Dalat, apart from it was home to the famous Dantala Waterfalls, but on the trip we would be spending 2 nights here so we were both hoping for something great.
We are staying in Panda House Hostel, which for $8NZD a night for a family suite and ‘semi’ private bathroom (I say semi as for the past 2 days the dicks in the room next to us have been using it and as not a single sausage speaks English here we just have to be quietly annoyed) is actually ok. Well, it’s not great and the beds are a thin mattress on a palette on the floor BUT there is WIFI and a balcony so I guess it’s overall ok.
On the way to Dalat we were able to stop at Dantala waterfalls for a quick leg stretch and to view the falls. I would give it a 6/10 – it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, VERY commercialized the natural falls now have a lot of man made structures nearby including, not 1 but 2 rollercoasters? We decided to walk and the entrance fee is 30,000DONG about $2NZD.
From there we made our way to the fresh city of Dalat, hosting about 300,000people, it is smaller and has a very French charm to it. We instantly fell in love. It’s really beautiful here. Many people call it ‘Le Petit Paris’ and the town even features a mini-replica Eiffel Tower in its centre! Situated on a plateau 1,500 meters above sea level, this retreat town offers a good change of atmosphere with a refreshingly cool climate (about 7 degrees cooler than HCMC)
So, things to do…or more importantly what we did. Well firstly, I was dying for some beautiful breakfast in the morning, so we read about Biang Bistro and headed there. It was wonderful. In fact, I would highly recommend it as the price was great, we had a very western breakfast and the setting was just beautiful.
So, it’s my birthday and we have spent the day crossing the Vietnamese border from Phnom Pehn. I won’t say it has been the most enjoyable of birthdays or the perfect way to spend my 30th, but we have arrived, we are safe and apart from being sweaty messes, we are ready to explore the city.
That’s what I expected to happen when I started writing this blog but that night we went out, had some delicious dinner …AND… I got food poisoning! YAAAY… I think that’s 4 times in the past year and it was bad. Again, no idea what it was from as I loved my dinner but I am literally in bed dying on the day I was meant to be exploring this wonderful city. Fuck you HCMC!
Before I got mega ill however, we did manage to explore just a little bit but an assault of megacity chaos, courtesy of 13 million people and over 7 million motorbikes, we found it to be less than pleasant, in fact I would say that almost all first-time visitors leave feeling disillusioned.
Even though, we didn’t get to experience everything HCMC has to offer, or in fact any of it, we still managed to explore as much as we could. My favourite street due it’s absolute chaos was Bui Vien Street. This is the main street of the so called ‘backpackers’ area’ of Ho Chi Minh City. Here you find a wide variety of inexpensive restaurants, bars, souvenir shops and hotels/hostels. During the day it is fairly subdued and nice to walk down (beware of getting ploughed down by motorbikes) but then at night it transforms into a completely different scenario full of lively bars, street performers, cheap drinks, loud music and parties all night.
Regardless, the highlight of the city for me once I managed to gain control of my gag reflex was seeing one of my best friends from childhood who moved to Vietnam 9 years ago. Despite the city being huge, I suddenly felt right t home again when I was able to catch up with her and her wonderful partner. It’s really not where you are but who you are with, I guess and with that, we had a great time and I can say my Birthday was a success (despite all the vomit)
Hey! I'm Ally. I left the UK in 2011 to move overseas and ended up in New Zealand - my new home. This year we are taking a gap year to loop the world stopping in some AMAZING destinations - and I'm passionate about sharing these adventures with you!