The time has come for my last ride with TukTuk🛵. It took me 3 days ago from Can Tho in the Mekong Delta to Sài Gòn (or Hồ Chí Minh as the city is now called).
I didn't want to drive directly into the city. I wanted to fully enjoy the landscape and the ride with TukTuk one more time. For this reason, I made a detour via Ben Tre and My Tho. I chose routes that led me through tiny villages, small roads and wide rice fields. The trip was fantastic.
Watching the country and the people->😍
After an approx. 5h drive I had almost made it. I reached a road marker which told me that there are only 35km to Sài Gòn. Unbelievable. There was a time when I was more than 2'000km away from the city. And now, only 35km🙊 I found a bench just next to the road marker. I sat down to collect myself for the trip to the huge city.
Yes, I admit it, I had quite some respect of the fact do be driving to Sai Gon. After all, 8.6 million people live in the city 😳
Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnamese Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh) is the largest city and economic center of Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City received its name in 1976 after the reunification of North and South Vietnam. The city is renamed after the North Vietnamese head of state Ho Chi Minh, who died in 1969. The old name Sài Gòn is still widely used in Vietnam, especially for the urban core.
Ho Chi Minh City, with the exception of the core city, has no contiguous urban area, but is - with its rural settlement structure dominating outside the core - rather comparable with a small, densely populated province.
Slowly slowly I continued my ride. And suddenly they appeared, the first skyscrapers of Sài Gòn 🙊 I followed the route of Google Maps at a leisurely pace. But suddenly I noticed that I only had about 10% battery life left on my phone. And my powerbank was also empty. Nnnoooooo. BUT so much can be revealed, I made it 😅
To be honest, I didn't think the traffic in Sài Gòn was bad at all. I may have got too used to the Vietnamese traffic 🤔
On my first day in town, my goal was to sell TukTuk. I spent $850 on the purchase. My goal was to get the $700. I had already advertised TukTuk a few days ago on the Internet. In fact, one Vietnamese had expressed interest. After a test drive the motorcycle was too expensive for him. So I went on to "Tigit Motorbikes". This is the company from which I bought TukTuk in Ha Noi. They offered to buy TukTuk back for $450. I was still hoping to get some more money though. So I drove all over the city looking for motorcycle shops. I just crossed a crossroads when a local came buzzing from the left and shouted to me if I wanted to sell the bike. I said yes and so we stopped at the roadside. At the beginning he only wanted to give me $300. However, I realized that I wouldn't get more than $500, and so I stuck to my $500. To my surprise the guy told me after about 20 minutes of haggling that it was ok. He would give me $500 right now if he could have the bike immediately. Without thinking too much I agreed. And there it suddenly hit me. I had to "say goodbye" to TukTuk here and now. My journey is now over 🙊😢
The last 3 days I explored Sài Gòn. I visited Walking Street, the "Coffee Apartment House" (which is a residential house with countless small coffee shops), the War Museum (another very emotional experience), the Ben Than Market and much more.
Yesterday then I had a special date. I met Ryan from the USA again. When I was an exchange student in Indiana (USA) 20 years ago, Ryan and I were at the same high school. He's a chiropractor now, lived in China for the last 3 years and now in Vietnam since a few months. When I was sure that I would visit Sài Gòn, I wrote to him and after 20 years, we met again on the other side of the 🌎. And yes, he is a super great guy but unfortunately I don't have a Chance being a girl🤷🏼♀😉
Sài Gòn is a great city. But I like Hà Nội better. Sai Gon is rather a business city. Modern and without the many streetfood kitchens at the roadside. Hà Nội is however crazy and loud and has many narrow streets. In every free corner there is something to eat at the roadsideThis is missing here. For me the city is too organized and too pretty.
And now my last evening in Vietnam and my beloved Southeast Asia has come😢 I have travelled more than 5'000km alone on a motorbike in Vietnam. I was able to see places I had never heard of before, enjoy the best cuisine in the world and get to know hospitality that is second to none. The impartiality and openness with which travelers and locals meet is great and will be something that I will miss dearly when back in Switzerland.
I could not have chosen a better country to end my incredible journey. Vietnam has exceeded my expectations. Without doubt my new favorite country ❤️🇻🇳 (sorry Indonesia🤷🏼♀)
And now I will probably have to attend an integration course in order to being able to live back in Switzerland 😒😬
Tomorrow I will fly from Vietnam to Switzerland via Peking.
After a not very relaxed night in Cu Chi (my room, as well as the whole hotel, were incredibly dirty. I even slept in my sleeping bag😖) I drove further south yesterday, into the Mekong Delta.
I absolutely wanted to visit the Mekong Delta, because it fascinates me a lot. Only the name "Mekong" has something captivating about it.
I had in mind that the trip will be about 70km long. In the end it was 170km long 😂 Oh what are a few kilometers more🤷🏼♀
For my stay in the Mekong Delta I chose the Nguyen Shack in Can Tho. This is a very simple Eco Lodge, situated at a small stream of the Mekong. An incredibly sweet place with lots of cats and dogs and very nice girls running the place.
After arriving at the place yesterday afternoon, I just drove through the Pampa with TukTuk. I was too tired to go on a big discovery tour.
Today, however, I got up at 05:00hrs. At 05:30hrs we left from the lodge with a boat and 3 other girls to visit the famous Mekong Floating Market.
Here, the locals sell their goods like fruits, meat, vegetables etc. from ship to ship. A wonderfully colorful hustle and bustle. We were told that the market is getting smaller though year by year, as people go shopping in malls these days.
In the middle of the market we had a bowl Phở. The broth/soup with pork meat was cooked and prepared by a woman on the small boat. I was fascinated. In Switzerland cooks have a huge kitchen and don’t manage to cook food of such flavors🤔
There we sat in the wooden boat at 06:00 in the morning. With our bowl of Phở, dazzled by the rising sun, we watched the colorful hustle and bustle. What an experience❤️
After visiting the floating market, we visited the market on land and next the rice noodle factory. This was particularly interesting as I had no idea how they were made. Rice noodles are made from rice flour and are indispensable in Asian cuisine. We were also allowed to try our hand at the production which was quite funny and we had the possibility to try a specialty of the region....frog legs. But I didn't dare 🙈😅 You know; Cindy and Frogs🤯
Then we went back to the lodge. After we arrived there, we enjoyed breakfast to afterwards grab some bikes, freshly strengthened. Next on the agenda was a bicycle tour. Again us 5 girls together. First, we made a stop at a school. There the Vietnamese school system was explained to us. Situations in which one again becomes aware, of how privileged we are in Switzerland😕
We also visited a Buddhist monastery, a pottery and a rice factory. Two great trips that gave us the opportunity to learn more about the country and its people.
On the way back we just managed to reach the lodge before the big rain hit us 😅
In the evening I had dinner together with Leah from the USA and tomorrow we both will travel on to Hà Nội.
From Đà Lạt, my journey took me over the QL20 to Cat Tien, at the border of the Cat Tien National Park, the day before yesterday.
The Cat Tien National Park is one of six biosphere reserves in Vietnam recognized by UNESCO and a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor activities. The park protects one of the largest areas of tropical lowland rainforest in Vietnam and is home to rare fauna and flora as well as animals such as Asian elephants, sun bears, gaur and a variety of smaller mammals.
Since I don't have much time left in Vietnam, I decided to just stay one night here. I chose the Green Bamboo Lodge, located directly at the Song Dong River. A simple accommodation, in harmony with and in the nature. It sounded great..... 😏
When I arrived at the lodge I was again very warmly welcomed. The nice girl at the reception immediately led me to my bamboo hut. The hut was cute. Built exclusively from bamboo sticks (see pictures).
I lay down on the bed after my arrival. I was doing some work on my computer when it happened. In the corner of my eye I saw that something fell from the ceiling outside on my terrace. I also heard the noise. A loud "dung" 💥. Somewhat afraid I crept to the "window" (or hole in the "wall") to see what it was. I couldn’t see anything laying on the ground. Strange. I was sure something had fallen down. I slowly opened the door and sneaked onto the terrace to look. I was standing on the terrace, but I didn't see anything. 🤔Hm. Between my feet I looked at the floor through the bamboo poles. At that very moment something was moving directly under my feet. This something turned out to be a (huuuuuuge) snake🐍 . I was close to a heart attack 😱🤯 Holy freaking sh*" Completely freaked out I ran to the reception and asked for a room with brick walls 🙈😅 Fortunately the young lady at the reception was very understanding and said she didn't like snakes either 😁 Until that very moment, I had thought, that I would be able to cope with snakes. Well, you can only say once you experienced it 🤷🏼 It turned out that I can NOT handle snakes 😂
After dinner, on my return to the (brick) room, a frog was sitting in the room. I can't cope with frogs any more than I can with snakes. It was a not very restful night 🙄😅
In any case I drove on today to Củ Chi today. In the afternoon I visited the Củ Chi Tunnels.
The Củ Chi tunnels are a tunnel system in which the Vietcong were hiding during the Vietnam War from 1960 to 1975. The first tunnels of Củ Chi were built in 1948 during the war against France to protect weapons, supplies and people. In the 1960s the Vietcong expanded the tunnel system massively (to Cambodia) in size and depth, until it finally grew to a total length of 200 kilometers on three levels. Under the ground entire cities were built with schools, hospitals, offices and sleeping accommodations. The underground buildings were connected by tunnels about 80 cm high and 60 cm wide. The entrances were flap doors camouflaged with grass and leaves. The entrances were also secured by simple but effective traps such as bamboo spears. The district was the base camp of the Vietcong during the Tet offene. Through this tunnel system, the surprising and quickly led attack on Saigon with the short-term occupation of the US embassy by the Vietnamese liberation movement had been possible. The Tet offensive is regarded as the turning point in all historical investigations of the war. Until 1968, the American public was led to believe that the war would soon be won. By the short-term occupation of the American embassy by the Vietcong the public and above all the press became attentive to the American war. From this point on, the anti-war movements in America were grouped together and contributed to the end of the Vietnam War.
The tunnel system had 3 floors. The top one was 3-4 meters underground. The second floor was 6 meters underground and served as shelter for children, elderly people and injured soldiers. The lowest, 8-10 meters underground, housed hospitals and other sanatoriums.
Despite repeated attempts of the American armed forces they did not succeed in destroying the tunnels - neither by flooding, nor by strong bombardment with B-52 bombers, nor by introducing poison gas into the plant. According to an American commander, the destruction of the entire tunnel system was not possible due to its depth and extent. Of the estimated 18,000 resistance fighters, one third were killed in combat. The tunnel inhabitants had to endure constant attacks from poisonous snakes, rats and other vermin. Also the enormous heat in the whole tunnel system was a big problem.
Today it is possible for visitors to view a 90 meter long section of the corridors specially enlarged for western tourists to 1.20 meters high and 0.80 meters wide.
After I had unloaded my luggage in the Homestay, I drove to the tunnel area. The drive led me past rice fields and with bright yellow and pink flowers lined streets. The idea, that exactly here, only 50 years ago ruthless war had ruled, was a strange feeling.
Arriving at the site, I was asked to wait for more guests. When a group of about 15 people was together, the walk started. This led us through the forest, past termite mounds and bomb craters. The entire forests in the region is still very young. Everything was destroyed by the war here and there have been no more forests in the area. The many termite mounds were camouflaged ventilation techniques for the tunnel system. If you take a closer look at them, you can see some holes in the hills. But the Americans didn't notice this, because it was so well camouflaged.
First, we were shown a black/white film about the tunnel system and the Vietnam (or as the Vietnamese call it: American) war. Unfortunately, I didn't understand anything, because the quality and the sound were very bad😒
After the movie we continued on foot through the forest until we arrived at a staircase which led into the underground. Time to descend. I dared. The tunnels were super narrow. The first one, which led us into a larger room that served as a meeting room, was fortunately not too long. Afterwards however, it went into the long tunnel. I, as one of the last of the 15-person group. Now imagine, you are about 6m underground. In a tunnel which is just 1.20 meters high and 0.80 cm wide. The air is stuffy. I couldn't go forward, because about 13 people were in front of me. They stopped again and again to take selfies, and I couldn't go back either, because there were people behind me. My heart beat faster. My pulse….racing. I got dizzy. I just wanted to get out of there.
I couldn't understand all the Koreans, which were taking one Selfie after the other. This is a place of war and no place for selfies 🤯 I was about to freak out. I couldn’t take it anymore. So I shouted loudly through the tunnels: "Stop taking Selfies and move! I want to get out of here!” I don't know, we were in the tunnels for maybe 5min., but these felt like an eternity. Really bad.
The thought that the people lived here, the original tunnels were even narrower and smaller, is unimaginable.
On my arrival back under the open sky my hands trembled. It took me about 10min. to calm down.
What I don't find nice is, that you can shoot weapons from the Vietnam War on the premises. For a little money you can buy bullets and try out the weapons. I don't think it's a respectful thing to do at such a place.
The whole area is nicely designed. But in my opinion, Cambodia has achieved a much more respectful way of handling it’s history with the Tuol-Sleng-Genocide-Museum.
But that is just my opinion 🙏
From Hoi An, I drove the last 3 days via Kontum and Buon Ma Thuot to Đà Lạt . The distance from Hoi An to Kontum was rather long with 300km, but the road was fantastic. Pretty much all of those roads were brand new and for at least 30km the road was just straight leading through huge tobacco fields. The traffic was also reduced, wonderful.
But then on the other hand, the road on day 3 from Buon Ma Tuot to Dalat was terrible. I was quite happy, because the trip was only 200km long. But I needed much more time because the road was very bad. At this point I was deep in the countryside, somewhere in the hills. I had to concentrate so bad whilst driving, to avoid the countless potholes. I wasn’t very successful at this, since the potholes were so numerous. That's why my butt hurt accordingly after just half the ride 😓 Yes, I cursed. Loud and in Swiss. It was super exhausting. All the more since the traffic increased steadily, but the road remained just as bad. Much dust was whirled up by the many trucks and I don’t even want to start talking about the exhaust smokes of the trucks and cars 🤯
I was incredibly relieved when I arrived safely at Đà after 6 hours of crazy driving.
The small mountain town Đà Lạt lies on approximately 1'500 meters in the southern part of the central highland directly at the Xuan Huong lake.
Đà Lạt is known as the "City of Eternal Spring" thanks to its mild temperate climate. It was founded in the early 20th century by the French and still today many buildings remind of the colonial past of the city. Because of the romantic lake landscapes and the Xuan Huong Lake, the small town is very popular with Vietnamese wedding couples and is the most popular honeymoon destination of the Vietnamese.
Đà Lạt was officially founded in 1912 by French colonial rulers. They loved the city and its surroundings because of the mild climate. Above all the upper class of Saigons built here their weekend villas and old age rest seats, which constitute today still the charm Đà Lạts.
During the Vietnam War Đà Lạt was the site of the only nuclear reactor in South Vietnam and a military academy. The city remained largely unaffected by the destruction of the war.
When I arrived at Đà Lạt I felt the difference in altitude. I was glad to have long trousers and a warm jacket with me 😁 It was fresh.
Since I was quite exhausted from the journey, all I did for the rest of the day was taking care of TukTuk (oil change and washing it).
Today, after being a bit recovered, I headed out to explore the town. With TukTuk I drove all over the city and admired the French colonial villas. These are beautiful. However, it is noticeable that unfortunately there is not enough money around to sustain them.
In the afternoon I visited the flower park🌺 of Đà Lạt. Đà Lạt is also known as a city of a thousand flowers. The flowers bloom here the whole year due to the climate. The flower park in Đà Lạt is currently the largest flower exhibition in Vietnam, with hundreds of varieties of flowers. The park is about 7000 square meters large and lies at the end of the Xuan Huong lake.
The park was really beautifully designed. With a fountain, small waterfalls and the most diverse flower arrangements, flower fields and sculptures. I spent about 1h in the park. I admired the flowers, took a lot of pictures and bought flower seeds. Mom we will grow some Vietnamese Chilis in your garden 😅
Đà Lạt was beautiful, but not quite as I had imagined. Since the city is considered a city of flowers, I expected flowers everywhere. Unfortunately, this is not quite so.
But it was lovely visit anyway.
After I had cured my upset stomach (the homestay mom cooked something that my European tummy did not agree on🤢), my next bigger goal should be Hội To.
Hội An is a town on the central coast of Vietnam, known for its well-preserved old town with numerous canals. The colorful history of the city is reflected in its architecture. To the style and epoch mix belong Chinese shophouses and temples in wood construction, colorful buildings from the French colonial period and the typical Vietnamese narrow town houses with their artistically arranged facades. Hội An also impresses with its streets lined with lanterns, which create a particularly colorful picture. Unique.
Hội An does not have a train station or an airport. The city can only be reached by road.
Since 1999 the old town of Hội has been honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
To reach Hội An I chose the Ho Chih-Minh-road from Phong Nha. This because it was supposed to lead through wonderful landscapes.
First the road led me deeper into the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. This was spectacular. The road, very curvy, without any traffic. I was practically on my own. The landscape, incredible. Karst mountains, dense jungle and endless views.
I spent the night in a small town called Khe Sanh. The overnight stay was....soso. When I arrived in Khe Sanh, I had to realize that nightly rates are far above the Vietnamese average in this town, with rates set a $8.50 (I normally pay a maximum of $3.-) per night. There were also no hostels. I found a room for $5 after all. However, this was in the cellard of the hotel and it indeed looked accordingly 😬 I told myself to just close my eyes and suck it up for the night 😅
Yesterday morning I hit the road at 06:30hrs. Again over the Ho Chih-Minh-road (QL14). The road was great. No traffic, through small villages, along the Laotian border. After 110km I decided to leave the Ho Chich Minh road and cross Vietnam via the QL49 road to Hue.
This allowed me to cross the Hai Van Pass between Hue and Da Nang. The route from Hue to the Hai Van Pass was anything but relaxed. I was again on the QL1A Highway. The traffic was crazy. I had to have my eyes everywhere. Very very tiring.
The Hai Van or cloud pass forms the natural border and weather divide between north and south Vietnam. It is about 20 km long, reaches a height of 496 meters and leads over the foothills of the Truong Son Mountains, which reach to the sea. From the highest point there is a panoramic view over the ocean, to Đà Nẵng and the peninsula Son Tra. Often, however, the pass is covered in clouds.
Due to its high strategic importance, this place was also heavily contested during the Indochina War. On June 24, 1953, when a train with two locomotives was driving on an arched bridge, the Viet Minh blew up a bridge segment. Both locomotives and 18 cars fell almost 20 meters into the depth. More than 100 people died.
The pass was also hotly contested during the Vietnam War. At the top of the pass there are ruins of French and US-American bunkers.
The pass road is very nice to ride on a motorbike. On the left side the South Chinese Sea and on the right side the mountains.
At the bottom of the pass the weather was nice and the sun was shining. The higher up I came the cloudier the weather became. And.....suddenly it rained 🙄 Oh man. However, the rain has calmed down again with my arrival in Da Nang.
To save time I drove directly to Hội An. My bum really hurt again 😬
After I had settled into my Homestay (Bana Home & Spa), I explored the city in the evening. Oh Boy....I didn't expect the crowds that awaited me in the city.
The old town of Hội An is small. But it is being overrun by tourists (like me 🙈). It was super noisy, music from everywhere, street vendors who tried their best in selling souvenirs, scents from the countless streetfood stalls and super noisy Asian tourists. I was overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle (and the 300km driven today).
Completely exhausted I headed back to my homestay.
This morning I got up well rested, ready to discover Hội An once more. Since the traffic in the small town is crazy, I decided to order a Grab. That way I also didn't have to worry about "TukTuk" getting “taken from me”.
The old town of Hội An is beautiful. Small streets lined by bright yellow French colonial buildings. The houses and also the streets are ALL decorated with multicolored Asian lanterns and flowers and trees. I could hardly get enough of all the colors.
Without a doubt the old town of Hội is the most beautiful old town I have ever visited (without the hordes of tourists).
Besides the colonial buildings and the lanterns, the city is also known for its affordable and skilled tailors. In the old town you can find tailor shop next to tailor shop and here you can get suits, stunning evening dresses or anything else tailor made for a small price.
During the day there are hardly any tourists in the streets of the old town (too hot). But as soon as the sun goes down and the lanterns are illuminated, this changes dramatically.
For my dinner today I chose "Pho Xua". A tiny restaurant in the traditional style without any of that fancy stuff. Simple plastic chairs, wooden tables and great food. I ordered "Pho La". Rice noodles with beef stock, thinly sliced beef, soy sprouts, spring onions, peanuts, roasted onions, vegetables and chili. Oooohhhh- that was one of the best dishes I have ever eaten in my life 🙊😍 The tastes of the various ingredients💥Food porn right there🍜 And all that for $1.90.
I LOVE VIETNAM❤️
Meanwhile I am in the small town of Phong Nha. Phong Nha is located pretty much in the middle of Vietnam and, fortunately, has not yet fallen for mass tourism. Not yet. This seems to change slowly though.
Also known as Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, the place is mainly about one thing: caves. In the national park around the small town there are countless caves. I reckon there are many more still undiscovered.
I was looking forward to visiting the biggest cave in the world here. The Son Doong Cave.
Son Doong was discovered by a man named Ho Khanh. He had discovered the cave by chance around 1990. Ho Khanh was not aware of what he stumbled upon and forgot about the cave. Only many years later did he tell Limbert, a cave explorer, about it. After a long search the men found the entrance again in 2009 and measured the huge cave.
Son Doong alone measures 38.5 million cubic metres. The cave is 8.9 kilometres long, the deepest point is 490 metres below ground. The highest caves roof is 200 meters high 🙊
After every rain season a river flows through Son Doong cave. Sand remains where the river has passed. That's why the Son Dong Cave has several beaches. Moreover, the cave is so big that it forms its own clouds and has its own climate zone.
The impressive natural spectacles in the giant cave also include two jungles. The cave expert explains that the river water has hollowed out the limestone more and more and so the cave became bigger and bigger. At some point the cave roof could no longer bear its own weight and collapsed. From the mixture of high humidity, light from above, darkness from below and a huge amount of ancient bat poop, the jungle was finally. Since the ceiling of the Son Doong collapsed in two places, there are two jungles today.
Dimensions I can hardly imagine. That's why I wanted to visit the cave. Buuuuut 😅.....
(I recommend you to search the cave on Google. The pictures are incredible.)
Since the cave is still not properly explored, the tour operator Oxalis is the only company that owns the rights to visit the cave. Only since 2013 visitors are allowed to see the cave. The only possibility for visitors is to experience the cave on a four-day tour with Oxalis. Due to the rainy season, tourists can only visit the cave from the beginning of February to the end of August. The spots are very limited, as only 10 people per group and 1 group per tour are allowed. For a tour including five nights in a tent you pay 3.000 USD-Dollar. The waiting period is approximately 1.5 years. 😱
Yes. I hadn't expected that 🙈😅 It's a little bit beyond my budget😬
But fortunately, there are a number of caves in Phong Nha. Instead I decided to visit the Thiên-Đường cave (or Paradise Cave).
During the first expedition in 2005, researchers estimated its length to be less than 5 km. In May 2010 researchers stated that the cave had a length of 31 km. This makes it the longest dry cave discovered to date in Vietnam, possibly also the longest cave in Asia. Visitors can walk 1km into the cave.
I got up very early today. With TukTuk I drove into the national park. Through valleys covered with dense jungle.
Shortly before reaching the parking lot of the cave, the rain suddenly set in. Nnnoooo. But then, I would be in a cave 🤷🏼♀
Arriving in the parking lot, I knew I wouldn't be alone. There were actually already about 7 coaches parked. Despite the early hour. At the entrance I had the choice to be chauffeured by an electric car, together with the asiand tourists, to the cave or to walk. I chose to walk. Through the jungle the way led steadily upwards. It was oppressively hot. After a good 2km I reached the path, which all visitors had to walk up. This led again approx. 800m steeply up the mountain. The high humidity made my life difficult. When I arrived at the cave entrance, I was dripping wet. I was looking forward to the cooler cave.
The entrance is a steep wooden staircase which seems to lead into a black hole. Once my eyes had become accustomed to the light, an unbelievable picture offered itself to me. Giant stalactites and stalagmites (no idea which ones are which 😅). A wooden path led me 1km deep into the cave. I was impressed by the sheer size and the beauty. The colors and the shapes. Incredible. I have never seen anything like it before. Of course, we have caves in Switzerland. But in comparison they are a chicken pee🙈😅
After 1km the jetty came to an end. I had to turn around and walk back the same way to the entrance. The difference, however, was that I now had to avoid whole hordes of Asian tourists. Ladies in plastic slippers and even high heels. How the heck did they manage to walk up here 🤷🏼♀️🤦🏼♀️
It got, with the crowd of people, pretty loud in the cave, too. Besides, most of the visitors just looked at the phone instead of enjoying the cave 😒 Annoying humans.
After the impressive visit of the Thiên-Đường cave I spent the rest of the day in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. I enjoyed the stunning views of the karst hills and took looooads of pictures.
At the end of the day, as usual in Vietnamese homestays, there is a family dinner together with the owners family and the other guests🍜 A lovely way to end a beautiful day in an even more beautiful country.
Three days ago, I arrived here in Ninh Binh. The trip led me from Moc Chau 186km far to Ninh Binh in the south of north Vietnam 🤓. Because it is incredibly hot at the moment (due to the humidity felt temperatures of up to 49 degrees), I left my homestay already at 06:30hrs in the morning.
I was very excited about Ninh Binh, as it is sold as the dry Halong Bay.
Ninh Binh is a small province in the north of Vietnam and is about 95 kilometers away from the capital Hanoi.
Through the whole region there are beautiful and huge limestone rocks scattered, which shoot out of the ground like mushrooms.
Most of the rocks are surrounded by gigantic rice fields, small rivers meander through the middle of nature and if you want, you can sail through the incredible landscape with a small wooden boat. A real nature- dream!
The city of Ninh Binh is not worth mentioning (no offence😬).
The selection of great and inexpensive accommodations in the region is somewhat overwhelming. I had a hard time choosing🙈. But then I opted the "For You Homestay" in Trang An because of the great location and the corresponding ratings. The Homestay is situated in the middle of the limestone hills, very idyllic at a small lake. Awesome. Unfortunately, the first 2 days in Ninh Binh were quite rainy. It is not much fun to explore the surroundings in that kind of weather, even if it is that beautiful.
Yesterday the weather was a tiny bit better. That's why I decided to take the chance and do a boat trip on the Tam Coc river. I decided for Tam Coc over Trang An, because the Tam Coc river tour should lead past more water rice fields.
With TukTuk about 10km from my homestay, I arrived in Tam Coc. I knew about the many Asian travel groups who enjoy the tour and so I drove there early in the morning to avoid such😬 This worked out wonderfully. At 08:00hrs I stood in front of the ticket house, all alone. The ticket for the 2h trip cost me the equivalent of $11.50. As soon as I bought the ticket, I was already hassled into the boat. The rowing boats are designed for about 4 persons + the helmswoman. The helmswoman sits in the back. She supported herself with her arms on the boat and paddled with her feet. In socks. As bizarre as it is funny. I caught myself again and again, how I peeked in the back, in order to watch her. 😁
Out of the village, after a few not very nice concrete bridges, less than 300 meters from the boat harbor, we (my helmswoman and I) were already surrounded by high karst rocks, as I already know you from Halong Bay. But this time I was on a river instead of in the sea, which is why Tam Coc is also called dry Halong bay. And yes, it was very similar. Instead of the vastness of the sea, I was surrounded by green marshland.
Once again it was very impressive. The silence, the height of the rocks and all the lush green. Countless croaking frogs, duck families lay in the reeds or crossed our way in a long row. The beauty of nature - incredible.
Then, directly behind a river bend, the first cave. Wow. The cave was so long that I only saw the exit once we reached the middle of the cave. It was pitch dark in there. Only my helmswoman, who steered the boat safely through the darkness, and me. Low was the ceiling and full of stalactites. I could touch them above me without any problems, even had to duck my head slightly to avoid hitting my head against the ceiling.
I was very lucky (or just super planned) because we were alone most of the time. We were met by more locals than tourists. Here and there residents were at work, picking rice from the water fields and transporting greens with their boats. Great, great, great! I love such moments.
While watching the high rocks I thought about how many caves and grottos are still undiscovered here. High above or even under water🙊
We passed through a total of three caves. From the outside I never thought we would ever get through there; they were so low. A narrow, dark opening that seemed to lead into nowhere. But there was actually a way through, and we ended up in a small lake where a floating trader was already waiting for us.
We drove back the same way, but it was still great and again impressive. And now, the tourists came towards us. They were quite a lot too. One boat after the other came towards us. Chinese, who can be recognized immediately by their bright orange life jackets and who photographed me joyfully. Seems like I was lucky with the time, because if we had driven in a convoy behind dozens of other boats, it would not have been so spectacular.
Unfortunately, I was completely soaked on arrival back in the boat harbor. On the way back it rained the whole time 😞 I was sitting in the boat without an umbrella, though with a rain jacket and trousers. In the rain.
On my arrival back in Tam Coc I snatched TukTuk straight away and drove directly back to the Homestay. There I spent the rest of the day due to the rain.
I hadn't slept much the night before 🙄 You remember..... Spiders, vermin, frogs and so on. That's why I got up with a rather dizzy head. I had agreed with the "Homestay Mom" that I would eat my breakfast at 08:00hrs. Usually I would eat breakfast at 07:00 a.m., but I wanted to be nice and adapted to her schedule. At 08:00hrs nobody was around. I waited and waited. Finally, at 08:40hrs the neighbor appeared, who prepared the breakfast for me 😏 That’s why I was only able to hit the road around 09:00hrs 🙄
Yesterday the drive led me over the QL32 heading south-east. After a good 37km the road made a strong left turn and led straight to the north and steeply uphill. I was about to cross the "Khau Phạ Pass" (1200-1500m.ü.M).
The view over the valley from the top was fantastic. The road led me through beautiful rice growing areas like Ban Don, Son Luong and Ban Cai.
Unfortunately, I couldn't really enjoy the ride and the views. On one hand it was brutally hot and on the other I was just too tired.
I decided to stop the trip for today after 96km and stay overnight in the town called “Nghia Lo”.
I found a bed in the lovely "Homestay Binh Nga". The Homestay was beautiful, the owners were incredibly nice, and I was alone there with only a couple from the Czech Republic. The only negative thing was, that the air conditioning in the dormitory, which was located under the roof, didn't work. It was like a sauna. Brutally hot. A few days ago, I was shivering and now the complete opposite 🤷🏼♀😬 I was super excited to enjoy a cold shower. That has been a while (not the shower in general. Just being excited about a COLD shower) 😅
After a delicious bowl of "Bho" for dinner, I went to bed at around 19:30hrs. I opened all the windows in the dormitory, turned on the fan at the highest speed, and passed out.
I slept like a baby. This morning, awakened by the rising sun, I enjoyed my breakfast punctually at 07:00hrs. This is how it should be 🙏😁
I said goodbye to the nice family and drove off with “TukTuk”. My destination was supposed to be "Moc Chau", straight south of my destination today. Was supposed to be 😏 Contrary to the suggestions of Google Maps, I chose the road DT112 as my route. For some reason Google Maps just didn't want to send me over this road. Heck I’m still going for that one. What does Google know 🤷🏼♀😂
First through the valley, past ......exactly, rice fields 😜, the road led then always further into the valley, up the mountain range. After 30km of snake- road I had reached a village with name "Tram Tau". I continued to follow the road. Somehow, I had a strange feeling. I asked Google if I was still on the correct road. Well I wasn’t 🙈 But I didn't notice any other main road. Strange. But I turned around and drove back. Now Google Maps sent me up the mountain via a small path. Very strange. I drove up the mountain for a few hundred meters, but suddenly the road ended. 🤔 I searched for another route. As an alternative, Google Maps sent me over the road I had just been on. No problem. So, I followed this road for about 3km. I came into a tiny village, consisting exclusively of wooden stilt houses, these surrounded by rice fields and hills. Beautiful and incredibly peaceful. Suddenly however, the road came to an end again😳 What the heck. Checked Google Maps agian, I noticed that the road I was on seemed to be connected to the main road DT112 by a tiny road. I found the tiny road. I eventually also managed to find the main road DT112....... 😖 Turned out that the main road DT112 doesn't really exist here yet. It is only a gravel road. A crazy gravel road. In Asia it happens from time to time that main roads turn into gravel roads for short distances. That’s why I figured I would give it a chance and bounced up the road for a little bit. But after about 200m I had to admit that I won't get anywhere here and that the only option was for me to drive the whole way back to Nghia Lo 🙄 This has never happened to me before.
I decided to stop at the "Tram Tau Hot Spring”, that way the trip wouldn’t be completely wasted. "Tram Tau Hot Spring” is a small and super cute hot spring which was transformed into a small public bath.
And then I hit the road again to drive all the way back to Ngia Lo. Now I realized why Google Maps wouldn't send me over this road 🤷🏼♀️😁 It miraculously all made sense now.
Although the Homestay last night was really nice, I booked a room in the "Guesthouse Kim Quy" for tonight. Here I have a single room with air conditioning. This only costs $1 more than the bed from yesterday night🤗
Tomorrow I'll try again to reach Moc Chau. I will probably "listen" to Google Maps tomorrow 😂
Rise and shine early bird 🙌🏼😁 I was ready to hit the road at 08:00hrs this morning. The plan for today was, to leave Sa Pa as fast as possible, just kidding 😅 and to slowly make my way south again.
I hadn't given up hope to find the famous Vietnamese rice terraces yet. Google had raved about a place called "Mam Xoi". Just took a few pictures for me to see and I was convinced. My route today should take me there. And there better be rice growing there☝🏼😆😆
But to get down, I have to go up first. From 1600m to just over 2000m over the Heaven's Gate Pass. Over the pass road I drove a semicircle around the Fransipan mountain. Further down into the valley. Mountains gave way to hills. These are planted with tea plantations. A lovely view. What strikes me is that there are a lot of butterflies here in Vietnam. I already noticed this on previous trips and again today.
Instead of having chills, I was started sweating my bum off. Yup- it was incredibly hot in the meantime. I got rid of the softshell jacket and the rain pants and the journey continued.
After 140km I had reached my destination today, the "Homestay Ngọc Thúy". I reached the place around 14:00hrs. This gave me time to charge the batteries of my cameras, to discover the rice terraces of the region in the afternoon.
And oh boy- I discovered them 🙊😍 incredibly beautiful. The hills were decorated with rice terraces from the river at the foot of the valley all the way to the top. TukTuk had to be strong, and drive me over a 1m wide footpath, steep up to the top of one of the hills. There I was received by 2 older Hmong women. They desperately tried to sell me souvenirs. Without success 😬
After I had enjoyed the great view, I had to drive down the crazy road again. With shaking knees and not looking down, I managed that quite well 😅
I apologize to you for the 700 pictures (so it feels😅) of the rice terraces which you have to endure. But I couldn't stop taking pictures 🤷🏼😍♀
On the way back to Homestay I stopped at the small market in the village. There I became an attraction for the Hmong women. They all chatted at me. They in Vietnamese and I answered in Swiss. Nobody understood anything and yet we all laughed 😁 One of the women immediately dressed me in the traditional clothes of the Hmong women. The dresses are all handmade, dyed and embroidered by hand. Looks really beautiful and colorful.
The sun had gone down in the meantime and so I said goodbye and returned to the Homestay. There my two hosts have already waited with dinner. Together we enjoyed a family dinner watching a Vietnamese soap opera. Super delicious food. What was especially funny was, that my host-mom always filled my schnapps glass with rice wine. Until the end of the dinner, we’ve drank 5 rice schnapps 😅
Since I am the only guest in the Homestay today, I was allowed to stay in a single room instead of the dormitory.
I didn't realize that there was a (deliberate) hole above the door to ventilate the room. Since I am in the country side, countless little critters found their way into my room 😬 Fortunately, I found a mosquito net in the room. But what is still stressing me at the moment is the spider in the bathroom, which is bigger than my hand, and the frog which sits directly in front of my room door 😰
Well... I'll try to sleep. With all my unwanted pets tonight.
Good night 😴
Well, the last three days have been a little weird. Why? That's why -> 😉
First, I lay flat the day before yesterday, with 38 degrees fever, chills and dizziness the whole day🙄 The long journeys in the cold and the rain were probably a bit too much 😬
In any case I was well again yesterday and so I was able to hit the road again. From Ha Giang my destination was Sa Pa, in the highlands of Vietnam. I wasn't really sure if I would be able to do this, so I decided to find a place to stay in Lao Cai to stay overnight, just in case. Started in Ha Giang at 08:00hrs, after a super tasty pancake for breakfast, I was relatively optimistic about the weather. After 20min however, all of the optimism was gone. It was pouring down 😔 Fortunately I was in a small town at that time. I was therefore able to seek shelter at a shop and wait for the rain to pass by. After 30min. of waiting, and studying the weather radar, I decided to continue despite the rain. The rain seemed to continue, and I am very well equipped with my Pelerine 🌸 😁
For about another half hour the rain continued. Fortunately, the weather relaxed afterwards. The clouds even gave way to a blue sky.
The owner in the hostel in Ha Giang explained to me before my departure, that I should not drive the short way towards Lao Cai, because the road is bad there. Instead, he advised me to drive the longer way via Vinh Tuy. Yes, quite honestly, the curiosity took over me and so I still tried to drive the shorter way. Hehe. I didn't get far. After approx. 500m on the road, I got super annoyed. I turned around and drove the long way. One should always listen to the locals ☝🏼😅
The road was really good then.
The landscape - beautiful. But not worth mentioning after so many highlights of the last days.
After about 5 hours of driving I rattled past the Chinese border and arrived in Lao Cai. Through the city, which is quite pretty but has no noteworthy highlights, the road led me up the mountains again. This became quite strenuous, because on the way there were numerous trucks and long-distance buses, which climbed up the mountain in a row like snails. Difficult to overtake and incredibly exhausting (not to speak of super unhealthy....) the exhaust fumes which are inhaled when following them.
The higher up it went, the deeper and more impressive the valleys became. After approx. 7h and 263km of driving I actually made it, finally, to Sa Pa.
Sa Pa is a city in the Hoàng Liên Son mountains in the northwest of Vietnam. The place lies on 1600m and at the foot of the 3143 m high summit of Fansipan. Fansipan is the highest mountain of Indochina (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam). A large part of Sa Pa's population consists of members of hill tribes such as the Hmong, Tay and Dao. The climate is temperate, the summers (May to August) are rainy. In winter the weather is quite cool, often foggy with occasional snowfalls. The average temperature is between 15 and 18 degrees Celsius.
I was incredibly excited about Sa Pa. After all, the city should be one of the highlights of every Vietnam trip. Especially because of the rice terraces.
Well- long story short. After the long trip today, I did nothing much after my arrival in the "Odyssey Hostel". In the evening I walked around town looking for an affordable meal. But this is anything but easy in Sa Pa. Unfortunately, the prices here are adapted to the tourist flows. Normally I would pay for a yummy meal around 30'000 Vietnamese Dong which is about $1.30. But here everything was on the menu 90'000 Dong ($3.90) and more. What the heck?!?!?? 😠 But if you search long enough you’ll get there. And so I still found my affordable meal 😏
Today then I have explored Sa Pa and the region again with TukTuk. But this was much less spectacular than expected. I went in search of the famous rice terraces. But unfortunately, I just didn't find them. I can't explain where they hide them 🤷🏼♀😕 Sometime around 15:00hrs, I was so annoyed by the traffic that I drove back to the hostel.
My conclusion of Sa Pa. Not great. Not great at all. The city is weird. There are huge luxury hotel complexes. Tourist shops lined up. The women of the ethnic minorities who try to forcefully sell you stuff. I didn't even dare to take pictures of the women because I was afraid to be asked for money 🙈🙄 The city also seems to be a huge construction site. Construction is going on everywhere. As a result there is noise everywhere. Roads are torn open, dust everywhere. And simply too many tourists (yes, I know I am one myself🙈😬).
I do understand that many people love Sa Pa. Again, people are different and this is my personal opinion. I guess I just prefer the unspoiled, the real country.
I don't want to be rude, but I am looking forward to leaving the place tomorrow 😬