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.

 

Rome: Vacanze Romane

Famous for its ancient buildings and rich history, Rome is a brilliant city to visit. Its classical ruins mixed with a modern feel allow for a great balance when exploring the city. To put it simply, Rome has everything you could want from a capital city. What drew us to visit Rome was its ancient past and importance on shaping Europe. Obviously, Rome might not be for everyone, but if you’re interested in history, architecture, religion or art then it should be high on your bucket list.

 

Another major attraction for us wanting to visit Rome is of course its one of the major cities in Europe. And Italy as a country is known for many great things, one of them being how amazing their food is. Throughout our time in Rome, we definitely made the most out of being able to eat great Italian food anywhere. You wont be surprised to hear that Rome offered some of the best Italian food that we have ever tasted. . The vast amount of choice on offer is incredible. Pizza, lasagne, pasta, or just an ice cream; there really is something for everyone. Both the quality and quantity of the food did not disappoint.

We started our trip to Rome with visiting one of its main attractions which we are sure you will have heard before; the Colosseum is one of many attractions in Rome that is simply unmissable. The Colosseum built in 70AD is remarkably still standing. The sheer engineering genius of this building is miraculous. The tour provided offers a terrific way to experience the Colosseum as it allows you to walk inside the arena, as well as through the passageways of past gladiators. What struck us about the Colosseum is just how well built it is. It was just incredible to walk around and feel apart of its history and understand its importance in Roman society. What’s really nice about visiting the Colosseum is that If you’re going to Rome in the summer, then there are quite a few nice restaurants and bars along the way that you can relax at before or after your visit to cool off from the burning sun!

Something that we really enjoyed doing was just walking around the city, as we always like to get a feel for it. What’s awesome about Rome is that from just walking around the city, you will undoubtedly come across some of Rome’s other, smaller, ancient ruins. The ancient ruins are scattered near the Colosseum area. As someone with a great interest in History, it was easy to appreciate their significance to the Italian capital. However, if you’re limited for time then you don’t need to worry about setting aside a great amount of time to see these ruins as they’re on the way to the Colosseum. Another famous landmark in Rome you may wish to frequent is the Spanish Steps, however, this area is quite touristy and personally, we think there are better things to see. One of the better things to see without a doubt is the Trevi Fountain. Like most things in Rome, the engineering brilliance of the fountain is something to admire. In the day time it attracts many tourists, so maybe visit in the evening or at night. The area still attracts quite a lot of people but it is a lot easier to get a good photo! We visited in the day and night, and visiting in the night was so much better, especially as it was a lot cooler in the night time, less people and all lit up!

 

Although none of us are religious, that did not put us off going to visit Vatican City. It’s another one of the areas that you must go when in Rome. The tours were some of the more expensive that we have been on, but it’s such a wonderful experience walking around St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. The artistic brilliance of the Sistine Chapel is like no other and blows every other chapel out of the water. What stuck out to us was just the amount of gold in St. Peter’s Basilica. What is nice about visiting a site like St. Peter’s Basilica, is that you do feel at peace with yourself and its nice to just sit down and think about everything. As we had a pretty hectic few days trying to see as much as we could in the limited time we have, we did really enjoy just sitting down and being in an environment that brought us some peace.

 

Depending on the length of your stay, you might want some time out for a day trip to the Italian coast. As we travelled to Rome for four days before moving on to our next city, we decided that we would spend one day at the coast. Waking up early and taking a short train ride to the coast we enjoyed an awesome day at the beach. With temperatures constantly hitting the mid 30s and becoming quite uncomfortable walking in it all day, we decided that taking a short trip to the beach was what we needed. If you’re travelling by yourself or with a small party, then try and take part in some beach sports or make friends! During our trip, we met some people from all over the world and played some beach football whilst also deciding to all go swimming in very active waters. If you do have some spare time then going to the coast is something that would really recommend. Going to the beach was a really nice way to end our short stay in Rome because it was just so hot whilst we were there.

Italian Coast

Something we all agreed on but is something that we expected was that the downside to Rome is it is not a place where you would go for a wild night out. Many cities might focus on both nightlife and daytime activities, but Rome certainly puts more effort in giving travellers a brilliant day time experience. However, the positives of the city definitely outweigh the flaws as there is just so much to keep you occupied. Saying that, we did end up going to an open roof night club, which was the first that any of us had gone to, and it was an enjoyable experience. My recommendation would be, save your money on the clubs and spend more on the food!

All in all, Rome is a great city to go and visit. There really is just so much to experience, historically, culturally and spiritually in Rome.  If you’re stuck on how many days you should give Rome, we feel that going for four days is the perfect amount of time to experience everything that Rome has to offer.

View the rest of our Rome pictures here.