The 14 1/2 hour train from Da Nang up to Ninh Binh was an interesting adventure. We paid $16 US per person for a first class sleeping berth. The berths have 4 beds, and we shared ours with a little old lady who showed us pictures of her family and talked our ears off in Vietnamese (we understood nothing). Then she left and a mother with three children came in and stayed until morning. I awoke to children climbing on my legs and the food cart man offering us breakfast from a plastic bucket. All in all it was relatively clean and somewhat hilarious.
We then took a taxi from Ninh Binh to the quaint town of Tam Coq.
Two days in Tam Coq was not enough to fully explore this beautiful area. We took the three hour boat tour (Trang An) through nine caves and several temples. A Vietnamese lady rows the boat along the river and through caves in the limestone karsts. Sometimes you have to bend down very low to avoid hitting your noggin on the stalagtites.
Goat is a popular menu item and we enjoyed some mouthwatering dishes. That was until we drove by the area on the road where the goats are for sale and lost our appetites for it.
Another must see sight is Bai Dinh, a Buddhist temple and the tallest pagoda in Vietnam.
After goodbye kisses and a care package of pineapple and bottled water from our lovely guesthouse (Lys Homestay) we boarded a bus for the 4 1/2 hour journey to Cat Ba Island. The bus took us the entire way, including the ferry ride for $13 US per person.
We stayed three nights on Cat Ba Island exploring all it’s natural wonders. This incredible view from our balcony treated us after caving and swimming during the day.
We felt like little kids at Christmas when it came time to board the boat that would take us for a two day, one night trip to Lan Ha Bay and Ha Long Bay.
Kayaking through caves into private lagoons, swimming among the behemoth karsts, witnessing the galaxy of glowing plankton at night and feeling like we had a private tour with great friends was one of the highlights of our entire six month journey.
After the cruise was over and one night more in Cat Ba, we made the journey inland to Hanoi. A delightful, rustic dinner of street food in an alleyway with our new friends topped off our Cat Ba Island adventure. Onward bound!
Vietnam lives up to its reputation for sweet people, delicious food and beautiful scenery. Granted there are some places with bus loads of tourists but the culture hasn’t been corrupted by the influx and the locals are still curious and friendly towards foreigners.
Hue is a city of less than 300,000 souls situated on the Perfume River. We visited the Imperial City which is being restored after all the damage that was done in the Vietnam war. You can still see bullet holes in the walls.
On the outskirts of Hue there are several historical sites to visit. We spent a day visiting gorgeous tombs of emperors.
We rented a motorbike for a one way 100 mile trip from Hue to Hoi An with an overnight stop in Da Nang. The company we used (Cong Jeep Adventures) had our backpacks shipped to our hotel in Hoi An so we only needed a tiny overnight bag. We drove over the Hai Van Pass with its twisting roads through tropical jungle and breathtaking views of the coastline far below.
Once we reached Da Nang on the other side we had our first glimpse of Vietnamese fishing boats.
We wondered how the round fishing boats could be paddled in a straight line without going in circles :).
While in Da Nang it’s worth the climb of 300 stone stairs to see The Marble Mountains. There are several caves and pagodas to gawk at. Go early in the morning to beat the crowds and avoid the heat.
The ancient town of Hoi An is an Unesco World Heritage site. At night the streets are closed to motorized traffic and lanterns light up the night with a magical glow. The river seems to glitter with stars from the floating prayer candles you can buy for a dollar.
Back on a motorbike we drove an hour outside of Hoi An to explore the My Son ruins. This temple complex was built by Indian kings between the 4th and 14th century AD. Hindu temples and palace walls are standing next to giant pits where bombs fell during the Vietnam war.
After spending a day at the beach decompressing we boarded an overnight train for the 14 hour trip up north to Ninh Binh for some caves and karsts. Good night Hoi An!