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.

Chiang Mai & Pai: Hidden Gems

After spending three nights in Bangkok, we had caught up on sleep and felt refreshed. Because we went back to Koh Tao to do our diving course and had to be back in Bangkok to fly to Tokyo four days later, we decided to take a flight to Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand.

Limited on time, we knew that we had to make the most of what little we had in the north. Throughout our travels, we had heard many stories about Pai and how we HAD to go there. As the saying goes “All roads lead to Pai.” Making sure we arrived in Chiang Mai early to have the most time possible, we wasted no time in getting on the sightseeing. We checked into Chiangmai Gate Capsule Hostel, which we would highly recommend. The hostel is cheap, around £4-5 a night, and the woman at reception was incredibly helpful. The hostel offers a huge range of tours and activities that the lady will book for you, often as discounted prices, and if you booked through her the lady gives benefits such as free accommodation for one night. She even included breakfast when the tour was leaving early! We booked an elephant sanctuary tour and our bus to Pai with her, and we couldn’t help but leave a 5-star review. Our only regret is we cannot remember the lady’s name!

Hostel

After checking in, we went to get some food at a place called ‘SP Chicken’. This was recommended by our dive instructor Jason, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. He told us it was some of the best chicken he had ever had, and soon it would be some of the best we ever had. Remarkable prices and great taste, it made the 30minute walk from the hostel worthwhile. We then decided to start visiting the temples which are located all over Chiang Mai. We first visited Wat Chedi Luang where we were impressed with the architecture of the building as well as the amazing paintings inside. However, this did have a ‘No women allowed’ sign, which we didn’t know about beforehand, so make sure you research places before you go! Nevertheless, it did not put us off from going to see another temple, where we had to take a taxi truck up the mountain to go and see it. Wat Prathap Doi Suthep has to be one of the best temples or religious buildings that we have ever seen. Honestly, we cannot stress just how amazing this temple was. It was made up of many gold buildings and amazing paintings throughout the entire site. A little tip, don’t pay for the lift to the top from the bottom. They advertise that there’s a lot of stairs but it’s not worth paying for the lift. During the night time, we decided to check out Chiang Mai’s night market which was surprisingly much better than we anticipated. Stalls, food, and entertainment everywhere really made the market have a great atmosphere for everyone to get involved in.

The next morning, we woke up nice and early to meet our guide to take us to the elephant sanctuary. After about an hour and a half bus ride, which we shared with people from all over the world, we finally arrived. After having a brief introduction and an explanation why there is a need for an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai (there are many), we got to feed the elephants with bananas and sugar cane. After having fun feeding all the elephants we had to make our own scrubbers to clean the elephants. This ended up the staff getting everyone drenched and turned into a massive water fight! We then had lunch and bonded with the rest of our group before trekking to a waterfall where we all swam. The highlight of the day and there were many, was white water rafting down a river which was an incredible experience. The entire day put on by the elephant sanctuary was amazing and we would highly recommend visiting. Unfortunately, none of us remember the name of the sanctuary but if you do stay at the hostel it is the one advertised. However, the day wasn’t over yet! We asked the hostel where we could eat good Thai food. She recommended We’s restaurant, which was around the corner from our hostel. We decided to eat the Khao Soi, and what a good decision it was. A traditional Northern Thai dish, the Khao Soi was ridiculously cheap and probably the best food we had had all of the trip, which is saying a lot as we had great food in every place we visited. We would 100% recommend trying Koh Soi at We’s. We liked it so much we tried going back the next day, but it was closed. After eating some of the greatest food we have ever tasted we ended the night watching Thai boxing. As someone who hasn’t watched much Thai boxing, it began quite slow and laboured. Before it stepped up and really got intense with one fighter having a bloody nose and being knocked down three or four times before finally winning.

The next day we again had to wake up early to catch our bus we arranged through the hostel to Pai. Taking around 2 hours to get there we arrived at our hostel, The Famous Circus Hostel. This hostel is the definition of chill. It had its own pool, overlooking a phenomenal view of the mountain range, as well as hammocks around the courtyard for you to just chill and watch the world go by. After checking in at midday, we quickly hired some motorbikes so we could ride around and see all the amazing sites Pai had to offer. We started by seeing some incredible waterfalls before seeing the white Buddha. One of the funniest things was when we visited the hot springs. We were not aware that there were two different types of hot spring; one for people to bathe in, and one in which you can boil an egg. To our demise, we sat in the wrong one for way too long. What is supposed to be a relaxing and soothing activity turned out to be quite painful – a mistake we only learned about when we got back to the hostel and don’t want you to repeat! After emerging very red from the spring, we travelled to Pai canyon where we saw spectacular views of the countryside and its mountain ranges. Pai has some wonderful views, and if the waterfalls don’t win you over then the views from Pai canyon will!

On our final day in Pai, we watched the McGregor-Mayweather fight with locals and other visitors of the town. One benefit of the time difference was that we got the fight at about 10am local time, so didn’t have to wait up until the early hours of the morning like we would have had to in the UK! The atmosphere was buzzing in all the bars and it was amazing to be in there. After the fight, we had some time and petrol left, so we rode around Pai for a while and just took in all its spectacular scenery. Something we all agreed on, we wish that we had more time in Pai because it truly was an amazing place, with so much more to offer than what we saw. We spent just over 48 hours in Pai but could have easily spent a week. It’s definitely on the list of places to revisit. Later that afternoon we headed back to Bangkok to get our flight to Japan, where we would attempt to climb Mt Fuji.

View the rest of our Thailand pictures Here

 

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.

 

Iceland: A Traveller’s Utopia

After wanting to visit Iceland for a number of years, finally having the chance to visit was a great feeling.We were incredibly excited to see what all the hype was about and to see some stunning scenery. However, we were simply not prepared for the awe-striking geography that was on offer!

If like ours, your stay in Iceland is short, then Reykjavik is a good option to base yourself from. Reykjavik is a beautiful city with stunning coastline and picture-esque mountain ranges. As we only visited Iceland for four days, Reykjavik allowed us to have a good base that was reasonably close to many of the places that we wanted to visit.  Although Reykjavik is expensive, it has so much to offer. One major activity we did in Reykjavik was Whale Watching. Although it cost us £80 each and unfortunately, we did not see any whales, we did see plenty of sea life which included lots of dolphins! We also visited the Viking Museum, where we dressed up and played Vikings.

The number one thing that we would recommend and is something that we adopted on our recent trip to Norway, is to rent a car at the airport. Not only does this save you money by not having to use expensive tour operators but it gives you so much freedom. By hiring  car, you can easily explore Reykjavik as well as seeing all the best places nearby. Why hiring a car is so important in Iceland is that most of the places that you will want to see are outside the capital. Pingvellir National Park should definitely be high on your list of places that you want to go and see. The park has so many activities for all kinds of travellers. For those of you who prefer to hike, the park has incredible hiking routes which allows you to see the best views overlooking the park. The park also offers the more adventurous travellers the opportunity to scuba dive or snorkel through the North Atlantic Ridge. At the time we did not have our diving licenses, but we decided to snorkel in 2C fresh glacial water which was an incredible experience, and one that you should not miss out on!

Another top destination which is a must see in Iceland is Gulfoss. Although Gulfoss is quite far away from Reykjavik, its one of the must see places in Iceland. Gulfoss has stunning water falls as well as the famous Geysers. The Geysers erupt every 10 minutes or so and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll see a good eruption. (Unfortunately, we were not so lucky). However, just being able to see a Geyser erupt was awesome and something that we wont forget. Being able to see nature at its very best was really an awe striking moment for us. After leaving Gulfoss, we headed onto see Hraunfossar, which might possibly be the best waterfall we have seen to date. The cool thing about this place is that you can walk around and even on top off the waterfall. The waterfall spans a kilometre  in size and the huge volcano in the backdrop only adds to the incredible scenery this place offers. However, be aware that Hranufossar is far from Reykjavik, but if you can spare the time then definitely go and check this place out.

As most people who go to Iceland, we visited the Blue Lagoon and can say its just as good as it looks on your Facebook feed. Again, having a car really made visiting the Blue Lagoon easy as we could just get up and go whenever we wanted. We booked our time slot in advance and we would recommend you doing this so you don’t have to either wait around hours for a free slot, or have to come back another day and waste time. The Blue Lagoon was a major highlight of our trip as it was surreal to think that we were in a place that so many of our friends had talked about. We spent around 1.5hours here and bought some drinks from the Lagoon bar. But just a little side note, the drinks are very expensive!

As we already headed south from Reykjavik to visit the Lagoon, we continued south to try and visit as much as the south coast as possible. When researching what we should do so we could prioritise the best places to see, many videos just showed us the typical touristy stuff; Blue Lagoon, Viking Museum and Whale Watching. And even though we did do all the touristy stuff and enjoyed it we were so glad to come across a video that showed us the south coast. The geography of this area is truly spectacular. Even though it took around 14 hours to visit all the places and drive back to our hostel, it was one of the best travelling days we have experienced. Our video below will show you the true beauty of the waterfalls and glaciers that we saw. Although the entire Iceland trip was just incredible, we both agree that the last day summed up the main reason why we wanted to visit Iceland. The further east you go down the coast, the more spectacular it becomes. Hidden gems such as Black Sand Beach and Fjaðrárgljúfu are just some of the examples. Words can hardly describe how incredible the south coast is. If you were to take any advice – the south coast is a day worth giving time for!

Finally,  if you go to Iceland in the winter months like we did, then you may have the chance to see the Aurora. Thankfully, we were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights as we were unsuccessful in seeing them for a second time in our recent trip to Norway. The place where we saw the Northern Lights is on the very outskirts of Reykjavik, (Seltjarnanes – where the lighthouse is).

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Aurora

Hopefully, like us you will also see the Northern Lights here. This is quite a common place for people to go and see the Aurora as we found out with hundreds of people sat in the dark waiting for them. You can also download an app that helps you take the pictures of the Northern Lights on your phone as well as apps that help you track it.

View the rest of our Iceland pictures here.