Vietnam: Climbing The Mountains of Sapa

After returning from Ha Long Bay to Hanoi for the night, we woke up again at 6.30am to leave to Sapa. A six-hour bus journey into the mountains takes you to a hotel for a one-night stay. However, the bus was incredibly cramped as we were stuck right at the back where its almost like mattress. If you are going to take a bus to Sapa from Hanoi make sure you are one of the first ones on so you can guarantee yourself a comfy seat in a normal sleeper seat.  The hotel we stayed at was amazing and for us very luxurious. Staying in a 6 bed room where only the three of us stayed, meant that we had lots of space to just chill out and have a good nights sleep. The hotel offered a motorbike rental scheme, which we decided to take advantage of and visit some waterfalls, as well as Sapa’s breath-taking mountain range views. Note if you are renting bikes in Vietnam (or most countries in South-East Asia), please be careful when riding as the roads are crazy and the rules most Westerners have grown up with do not apply. One of us was forced to fall off a bike when a lorry decided he didn’t want to wait any longer to pull out in front of us, but luckily escaped with no injuries. It was a shame we couldn’t say the same about the bike!

The next day a local guide came to our hotel and took us to the starting place of our two-day expedition through the mountains. The treks last most of the day but we did have some free time to swim in the river and grab a bite to eat. The trek is phenomenal and give you the opportunity to see Sapa in its true glory. Some of the sights were memorising, and quite frankly out of this world. There aren’t any hotels or hostels in the mountain ranges of Sapa, so your only chance of a bed for the night is a homestay, provided by the locals who live there. After finally reaching our home stay late in the day we got food and got to know the people we trekked with better. The locals who host you are really friendly and make you feel very welcome. They serve some western food but mainly Asian cuisine. They also offer rice wine, which if anyone has ever tasted before it is something to miss.  I would recommend getting an early night however, as you will be trekking again all day until you come back out of the mountains and get another six-hour bus journey back to Hanoi.

After trekking for 6hours, mainly up steep hills and then back down steep slopes, we eventually arrived at our tour guides home where his family served us dinner before we left for our coach back to Hanoi. The hospitality of the guide and the locals were more than we could ask for and really added to the whole experience. By the time we got back to Hanoi, it was late at night and as we had to get up early to leave for the Buffalo Run we decided to get an early night and go to bed.

View the rest of our Vietnam pictures here.

2017:  A Year for Travelling

2017 has been an amazing year for the three of us. Travelling for 40% of the year and visiting 13 different countries has made 2017 the best year of our lives to date. This blog post will look back at everywhere we have been and what made it so amazing.

In February, we travelled to Krakow as a group of 8. This was the biggest group of people that we have travelled with and it lived up to all expectations. Some of the best highlights of Krakow were visiting Auschwitz and the salt mines. Although very sobering, Auschwitz was an incredible place to visit and you felt a sense of disbelief at walking around and listening to the tour guide. Should you get the opportunity, we would highly recommend visiting Auschwitz as it’s an incredibly important historical place. Additionally, going in the winter where it was -8°C allowed us to at least experience some of the weather conditions in which the prisoners had to work in, the difference being we had appropriate winter clothing. A truly reflective experience.

The salt mines were also incredible. We weren’t expecting much, but it really blew us away. I remember us walking through and we came to a chapel completely built out of salt. The architecture involved was mesmerising and anyone who is thinking of going definitely should! Obviously with Krakow comes great nightlife, and it didn’t disappoint. The hostel, The Little Havana Party Hostel, made sure that we all had a great time with its constant free drinks and games.

After Krakow, we travelled to Iceland. We knew that Iceland was going to amaze us, but it was better than we could have ever imagined. Renting a car really did give us the flexibility that made our trip so great. Picking a couple of highlights from this trip is just too hard. From snorkelling in Pingvellir national park, to the Blue Lagoon and seeing Geysers erupt. Honestly, Iceland is one of our favourite places and it is up there with one of our best trips. I think what made Iceland so good for us is that it felt for the first time that we were travelling properly. We had learnt so much from our other trips that now we had learnt enough to feel that we were doing things right.

Why people should visit Iceland is that it genuinely has everything you could want to see or do. Whale watching (although we didn’t see any whales) was a wonderful experience seeing the number of dolphins and sea life that we did. Being able to experience the Northern Lights in the most amazing way was truly an experience that we will never forget. Iceland had so many highlights that it should be at the very top of everyone’s bucket list!

In April we planned some small trips to Edinburgh and Dublin. These trips were planned as we wanted to go somewhere in the Easter holidays, and it would be our last trip before our Asia trip. In Edinburgh, we visited the dungeons, the castle and Arthur’s seat, as well as drinking enough alcohol to last us a lifetime. Like in Edinburgh, we also drank far too much alcohol in Dublin. Dublin’s bars are a crazy and surreal atmosphere of beer, fun and laughter. One highlight was in a pub on the Dublin pub crawl, where a couple from Barcelona started Irish dancing and the whole pub went crazy for it. We also stopped off at the Guinness Brewery where, you guessed it, Guinness is made. This was actually a really cool experience, not only for the free Guinness but also learning how it has been brewed throughout its history.

Our Asia trip began in Hong Kong. At the time only two of us started the trip together as the other was volunteering for 5weeks in Cambodia. Hong Kong was our first experience of Asia, and its safe to say it only got us more excited. The favourite bit of Hong Kong was completing the Dragons Back Trail. Whilst hiking through the jungles and mountains of Hong Kong, we saw some absolutely stunning views before finishing at one of the best beaches we’ve ever seen. This is something that anyone visiting Hong Kong should put right at their top of their to-do list. Other memories of Hong Kong include going to see the Big Buddha, and to get to it we took the longest cable car journey in the world! Also walking down to Star Ferry Pier where we took a boat tour of the harbour to see the city all lit up of Hong Kong. We thought Hong Kong would just get us used to the culture without changing too much from England. However, it got us so excited for the rest of the trip that we instantly fell in love with HK.

Malaysia is really where we started to do all the typical travelling stuff. During our 9 days stay in Malaysia we met so many people from all over the world, many of whom we still are in regular contact with. The people we met in Malaysia were amazing and really made us have an awesome time! One person, we’d like to give a big shout out to was the hostel rep, Kat. Kat was the hostel rep for the pub crawl which happened 5 times a week and was the reason why the pub crawl was so fun. Unfortunately for you if you’re thinking of visiting, she no longer works at the hostel, which is a big shame for anyone who is wanting to visit Kuala Lumper. Not only did she make sure everyone was so drunk that it was impossible not to have a good night, but she also made me meet my current girlfriend. So, it’s safe to say that Malaysia really was incredible. Activities that added to our wonderful experience whilst in KL was visiting the elephant sanctuary and the Cameron Highlands Tour.  The elephant sanctuary was fun and interesting to go and see. It gave us an educated insight into the torture that so many elephants experience all around the world, but particularly in Southeast Asia. Visiting the Cameron Highlands, where we saw stunning mountain ranges and learned about the history of the tea plantations there, which date back to the British Empire. This was something quite different than we had ever done before and found it surprisingly interesting. Both activities are something that we would highlight as things to do in Malaysia. Before we started our trip, I didn’t really want to go to Malaysia that much compared to the other countries, but I can honestly say that Malaysia has a place in my heart.

Moving onto Cambodia where we spent the next two weeks soaking up the sun and experiencing the Cambodian culture. Staying in Phnom Penh for around a week, we visited many of the temples and took a bike tour around some of the islands that surround the Cambodian capital. The highlight of Phnom Penh was learning about the Khmer Rouge and the genocide that happened around 40 years ago. As we mentioned in our article, we were frustrated to learn about the genocide in depth, which we previously knew little about. This genocide was beyond horrific, as it affected every Cambodian family and still effects Cambodian life today. Visting S21 and the Killing Fields was a solace moment for the both of us, something we can only compare to Auschwitz. Even if history does not interest you, this is so important to learn about as it really widens your eyes to the horrors that took place so recently.

Our 2nd week in Cambodia was spent in Siem Reap where we later met up with Max and met some of his volunteering group. Obviously visiting one of the world wonders, Angkor Wat, was a phenomenal memory that we will never forget. Although it wasn’t the best sunrise we could have had, it was still a magical moment and feeling around the place. Its quite surreal that Angkor Wat was built so many centuries ago, and is still standing today in all its glory. What we loved about Siem Reap was that it had more of a travel scene compared to Phnom Penh.  The more relaxed, party-like atmosphere created a great buzz where it was easy to have fun.  A couple of activities we enjoyed were driving quads around the countryside, and riding motorbikes around the city which were amazing and something that everyone should do when visiting Siem Reap! Something we loved about Cambodia was the hospitality of the people. They always made you feel so at home and always made you laugh and have the best time possible. We have so many memories of Cambodia and Cambodia really added a lot to our trip.

Now the three of us were finally together, Vietnam was our next stop. The next 17 days were hectic but probably the best 17 days of our lives. It’s going to take some trip to beat our experience of Vietnam. Starting off on Castaways Island in Ha Long Bay, we spent two nights here partying with about 100 other people. On the second day you get your own private party boat where you tour Ha Long Bay and have a mad party at the same time. Other activities you can do in your time here include kayaking, rock climbing, tubing and wake boarding. If you choose to visit this place just expect to have a crazy time! After our mad adventures in Ha Long Bay, we travelled from Hanoi to Sapa where we spent the next three days trekking in the mountains. The North of Vietnam is stunning, and the view in the mountain ranges are phenomenal. If you enjoy trekking, then you will absolutely love Sapa because some of the walks, mountain views and scenery are out of this world. This just added to the Vietnam highlight reel and really was one of our favourite things we did our entire Asia trip. Rounding off Vietnam with an absolute bang, was spending a week doing the Buffalo Run with some of the best people we’ve ever met from all over the world. Starting in Hanoi and finishing off in Hoi An, the buffalo run was a weeks long adventure down the east coast of Vietnam. Attempting to replicate Top Gear’s Vietnam Special (in reverse), we completed the Hai Van Pass in army jeeps from the Vietnam war, learnt a lot about the war and Vietnamese culture, played plenty of volleyball, as well as seeing some of the most beautiful beaches all with the best company. As you can tell, we couldn’t have enjoyed Vietnam more if we tried.

Now we were halfway through our Asia trip we flew to Thailand to spend the next 21 days, island hopping, drinking and spending our time relaxing with the most amazing views to look out. Starting off our trip island hopping through the islands of Phi Phi, Samui, Pha Ngan and Koh Tao, we enjoyed 10 days of absolute madness. Ranging from the mad parties on the beach, to spectacular waterfalls and completing our diving licenses, Thailand really couldn’t get much better. Or so we thought. After completing our diving courses, which we all agree was one of the best things we have done to date, we really thought that the rest of our travels in Thailand couldn’t be beaten. However, we were so wrong. After stopping over in Bangkok for four days, we travelled north to the city of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai was incredible and stopping at the elephant sanctuary where we fed and cleaned the elephants was really enjoyable. After the elephant sanctuary took us on a trek to see some waterfalls and later gave us the amazing opportunity to do river rafting, we all agreed that Chiang Mai was one of our favourite places. From Chiang Mai, we travelled to Pai, where our hostel had a pool that overlooked the mountain ranges of northern Thailand. Renting a motorbike and driving around the countryside, seeing waterfalls, canyons and fantastic views, Pai was a place which we never wanted to leave. Unfortunately, due to time constrictions we only spent 48hours there. Nevertheless, we all agree that we will return to Pai as soon as we can.

Japan was our next stop on our travels. Although we visited Toyko for two days the main point of our Japan trip was to attempt to climb Mt Fuji. During our time in Fuji, we stayed at a brilliant hostel, K’s house, which was very relaxed and chilled out. If you choose to climb Mt Fuji, you’ll find this is exactly what you’ll need afterwards. We really enjoyed walking around all the lakes and looking at all the mountain views from our hostel. At the hostel, we met a traveller called Andy who made the trip to the top with us. The climb itself which took over 24hours straight to ascend and descend was probably the physically hardest thing we’ve ever done. However, it was by far one of the most rewarding as it was an amazing feeling reaching the top and then being back at the hostel again. Even though we weren’t overly keen on Toyko, we loved our time in Fuji and we really want to go and visit other Japanese cities such as Osaka and Kyoto. Our short stay in Japan really made us get the Japan bug, and Fuji was one of those places which we really do like.

The last place on our itinerary was India. When we were travelling to India we all couldn’t believe just how quickly the last 3months of our trip went. But we were determined to make the most of our last 17 days. While we had a difficult start In India (getting scammed in Delhi), we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Agra and it was just what we needed. Needless to say, seeing the Taj Mahal at both sunrise and sunset was an unbelievable experience and one we won’t soon forget. The architecture and level of detail put into the interior decoration is absolutely incredible. However, India gave us many problems that we just didn’t encounter on the rest of our travels. One major problem was our train was somehow delayed over 8hours. This significantly cut our time short in Jaipur, where we only got to see some of the attractions like the Amber Fort. We ended our trip in Goa, visiting the amazing town of Hampi along the way. Hampi, like Pai, was just an incredible place that is hard to explain to people that have never been. All we can say is that these places are a backpacker’s heaven and anyone wishing to visit these places will truly be mesmerised by them. Unfortunately, we didn’t have long in Hampi either as we had to head back to Goa to catch our flight back to the UK. During the last few days in Goa, we booked a resort which was close to the beach, so we could just relax and look back on what an incredible time we had. Everyone says you experienced a once in a life-time trip, and travelling around for so long has all got us in agreement, that we will  make it not a once in a life-time trip!

Rounding the year out with returning to Thailand and visiting Bali in early November was an awesome feeling. Visiting my girlfriend that I had met in Malaysia during my Asia trip, and now visiting her some months later was a strange moment. During our time in Thailand, we visited the markets in Bangkok, as well as eating lots of Thai food. We left Bangkok to fly to Bali for the next five days where I had my first luxury holiday without my family. Usually, we are used to hostels but this time we stayed in a 4-star hotel which had its own pool and a shuttle taxi to its private beach. Although in Bali we mainly relaxed while only seeing a few of the things that Bali has to offer by hiring a motorbike, the trip made me want to visit Bali again and see it properly. The Indonesian people reminded me a lot of the rest of the  Southeast Asian people, very friendly and very kind. Finishing our travels in Bali really topped of our 2017 travels and got us excited for what’s to come in 2018. Although we only have two trips planned as of now, (Norway in January and Lisbon in April), we are excited to see what the future has in store!

 

Vietnam: Hanoi and Ha Long Bay

After the three of us had finally met up in the final few days of our time in Siem Reap, we were ready to start Vietnam together. After waiting for more than an hour to get our visa sorted in the airport, we were finally ready to set foot into Vietnam. Side note: If you are from the UK and are travelling to Vietnam for more than 15 days you will have to pay $25 for a visa.

Before we started our Asia trip, we had researched what were the best things to do in Vietnam. We found 3 activities which looked awesome; trips to places called Ha Long Bay and Sapa, and a weeklong venture called The Buffalo Run, which takes you down the coast from Hanoi to Hoi An. We did all of these with a group called Vietnam Backpacker Hostels, who organise various expeditions as well as running five top quality hostels in different cities in Vietnam.

Our adventure started in Hanoi, where we had one day to spend before heading off to Ha Long Bay. We stayed at Downtown Vietnam Backpackers Hostel and we would highly recommend this hostel for anyone looking to have a good time (particularly a good night). What made this hostel so good is that they made it easy to organise different trips to anywhere in Vietnam. They made your stay convenient as well as fun, with a happy hour of free drinks and a great pub crawl.

sapa walk

During our one day stay in Hanoi we went on the free walking tour that the hostel offers. The free walk was okay, nothing special, but it was free and it was a way of experiencing the city quickly. The tour was also a good way to meet some people before we left to Ha Long Bay. During the night time, we went around Hoàn Kiếm Lake which is where Hanoi comes alive. Here, there are plenty of street performers and games for everyone to get involved in. We partook in and won a tug of war consisting of over 50 people! When we got back to the hostel the free pub crawl was very tempting, however, as we had to wake up early for Ha Long Bay we decided to give it a miss. Nevertheless, we would recommend this bar crawl as so many people said they had a great time and an easy way to find all the best bars and clubs.

The journey to Ha Long Bay wasn’t the shortest of our travels; the two buses and two ferries took about five and a half hours in total, setting off at 6:30am. Luckily, Vietnam Backpacker Hostels include a breakfast with your stay, and are up to make it before this time. The difference with booking your Ha Long Bay trip with VBH is that you get to go to Castaway Island. Here, you can explore the bay as well as have a continuous three day/two night party (if you survive through it all!). This is a must do! Not only do you get your own private island, but you can participate in activities such as rock climbing, kayaking, wake boarding, and high-speed tubing.  However, if filming with a go-pro do be careful whilst doing these activities. We give this warning as unfortunately we lost a go-pro whilst kayaking and lost 3 weeks-worth of films on it (most of Ha Long Bay). Regardless, we couldn’t let this get us down as you’re constantly meeting new people and having fun in so many ways that you soon forget about all your problems.

Additionally, the second day on the Island you get your own private ‘sightseeing tour’ (read: booze cruise), where you start the day with a shotgun and end the day wasted.  The booze cruise was so much fun and all three of us had such an amazing time. Being able to tour Ha Long Bay, with people from all over the world with a beer in your hand made you realise just how luck you were. The only down to all of this was as you can see by some of our pictures the weather wasn’t always amazing. So at the beginning of the day there was no sun and one of us decided to go on the cruise with no top on. Literally the minute as the boat lifted its anchor, the sun came out meaning that by the time we got back to the Island, someone was extremely red and blisters were already forming. Nevertheless, being able to kayak and jump off the boat into clear blue water around Ha Long Bay was an awesome experience and it is something that every traveller coming to Vietnam should check out. There is a lot of drinking, but the islands of Ha Long Bay are genuinely incredible to see. We met a lot of amazing people, some we would later meet again in Vietnam, and it was an experience that we will never forget.

View the rest of our Vietnam pictures here.