#willsbergtravels took an unfortunate (and unintentional) 1 year hiatus but on our comeback we went big. This time with matching t-shirts and a trip to the other side of the world!
Backpacks in tow, we took Vietnam by storm, or it took us by storm – at least for the first day or two.
12 hours in Hong Kong
Hong Kong was all about making the most of our 12 hour layover, and also trying to combat the jetlag. We landed at 5am and after clearing customs, changing our clothes, and checking our bags we left the airport around 830am. After converting some money and trying to find exact change we hopped on the public transit and hoped for the best. After transferring buses we were on our way to the Big Buddha! We arrived to the area as it was opening up for the day so there weren’t many people around which is always ideal. 268 steps took us up to some beautiful (albeit, smoggy) views of the Buddha and its Six Devas.
We wandered around the grounds admiring the beauty of the Po Lin Monastery and the Grand Hall of 10,000 Buddhas. The detail of every square inch of the hall was absolutely stunning but unfortunately photos were not allowed. We took a short walk down the “Wisdom Path” and then exhaustion started kicking in. We slowly made our way back to the bus transfer point, found a grocery store for a quick dinner, and then headed back to the airport to catch our connecting flight to Vietnam.
I thought I had lost my travel partner as we arrived in Hanoi and climbed 6 sets of stairs to our hotel room as she faded behind on the staircase. But we both made it and we very quickly fell into a deep slumber, on the hardest mattresses ever, which we would come to find out was the norm.
And then we hit the ground running… at 1200pm..
We wandered around the streets of Hanoi taking in the sights and smells and quickly figuring out how to cross the roads in a Frogger-like manner. We ate fresh pineapple and weird doughnuts and saw a very neat Water Puppet show with local music and instruments. I would recommend checking this out and then popping around the corner for some very cheap food on fun little plastic chairs.
Hanoi has a unique vibe, it was very smoggy, but the people were kind and the hustle and bustle was fun to immerse yourself in for a day or two. Turns out it is also the cheapest – buy all the cheap souvenirs and knockoffs here!
Ha Long Bay, Cát Bà Island
After a scene straight out of Taken we arrived safe and alive to our boat which would be home for the next 24 hours. We opted for a 2 night/3 day tour after hearing multiple reviews from various people about the actual length of the tours. We got settled into our room and shortly took a kayak ride through some caves and stunning landscape of Ha Long Bay. We quickly made friends with The Polish 5 while jumping off the side of our boat and shared some laughs and drinks throughout the next 24 hours. Watch out for the cost of drinks, they will gouge you, but like everything else you can barter and bargain yourself a good deal. The next day we floated around for the morning and the sun managed to break through for all of 30 minutes before we docked and said our farewells to The Polish 5, and our German friend Lucas.
Unfortunately it was quite rainy during our stay on Cat Ba Island but we ventured out on a small boat and sailed through a small fishing village as we made our way to Monkey Island while sporting our matching raincoats (unlike the shirts, this was unintentional). We did a small hike, which turned a little bit more into bouldering, saw some monkeys, and made our way back to our hotel. We spent the next morning at Cát Bà National Park climbing/bouldering to the top for some beautiful views from the highest and most central point of the island.
After packing up our van we headed for the ferry, and with some previous convincing from our Polish friends we decided to venture South rather than North.
Ninh Bình, Tràng An, Tam Cốc
We made a most luxurious bus trip (seriously, it was like a fancy tour bus that I could full stretch out on) to Ninh Bình and quickly hopped a cab out to our cute little homestay in Tràng An. Down a winding dirt road filled with potholes it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, so peaceful and quiet, until the Karaoke started up next door at 10pm sharp. We spent a few days here where we rented a motorbike and scooted all over town seeing different views, climbing up lots of steps, learning how to make Egg Coffee, and running into Lucas (see earlier) on multiple, unexpected occasions.
We had a small run-in with our scooter and a flat tire but was quickly fixed up by a one-legged, peddle-bike riding, mechanic and sent on our way. The language barrier may be strong but that doesn’t dispute the fact that these are kind people. We spent a full morning boating around Tràng An where we ducked low to go through lots of little caves and helped paddle along with our tour guide who also spoke zero English as we took in more jaw-dropping scenery.
After stocking up on Banana Pancakes and Dragonfruit we packed up our bags and headed out to see what adventure lay ahead of us in terms of the night bus. And boy, it did not disappoint, Canada could take a leaf out of their book, these sleeper buses are brilliant. What’s not brilliant – the honking that promptly began at 5am. Tip for the future: Go to sleep early so that by 5am you have gotten all the sleep you need. And don’t be alarmed when they drop you off in a field, tell you to wait there for 2 hours, and then leave. They will return, and they will take you to your destination.
Da Nang, Hội An
We arrived to Da Nang, got off our bus, found wifi, and booked our hostel for the next few nights. A little alarmed that we were the ONLY people to get off the bus, wondering if Da Nang was going to be a mistake.
Tiff and I arent huge planners, we like to fly by the seat of our pants, but this trip was even more unplanned then usual. On multiple occasions we rocked up to a new town with the need to find wifi to book a place to sleep. This just makes it even more of an adventure and leaves space to change your plans to meet up with new friends.
After getting settled in and sunscreened up we headed out for the beach (finally) in search of the Polish 5. On this mile long beach we somehow stumbled upon them first thing and spent the afternoon enjoying our new friends, cheap beer, and the sun (also, finally). We discovered bánh mì (Submarine sandwich, with mystery meat, $1) for supper which quickly became a staple food over the next few days and enjoyed a very hot evening singing along to the guitar on the hostel rooftop until the wee hours of the morning.
We explored around Da Nang, making our way to Han Market which has been open since the 1940s and out to the Lady Buddha overlooking the city. And of course, spending more time enjoying the sunshine and pristine beaches in our bikinis.
One evening we took our motorbike down to the charming, but very crowded, town of Hội An. We walked through the pedestrian streets lit up by lanterns with plenty of custom dress and suit shops to fit all your shopping needs. Walking along the river on one side we were harassed to take a boat tour and upon crossing the bridge were further harassed to come in for the 3 for 1 drinks. At some point we continued the game of Wheres Waldo and found Lucas again and after a lovely evening we made the trip back to Da Nang and shortly said our farewells to Vietnam.
The journey home was quite the trek, purchasing full fare tickets to get back to Hanoi (which magically never got charged to our credit card, call that a win), running through the Hong Kong airport, sleeping in the Boston Airport, and finally arriving to Halifax after an attempted 12 flights in a mere 60 hours.
Vietnam, like every country I’ve visited, holds a special place in my heart, with amazing memories and great new friends.