We got off to a bit of a bumpy start in Vietnam. We took the bus from Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City, a last minute add-on to our trip. We originally planned to go straight to Phu Quoc, the southern island known for producing fish sauce, but we heard bad things about the only bus company that would go directly there. We decided to take the opportunity to see Saigon, where Mary's family was living before they came to the US after the Vietnam war.
We spent our day in Saigon touring around. The city was very busy, with lots of its famous crazy traffic. It was really hot, but we had a nice day walking through town. We went to the Reunification Palace, the market, and sightseeing around town.
The night before we were scheduled to head to Phu Quoc, Mary got horrible food poisoning. She was feeling somewhat better by morning so we decided to still go, but in the midst of getting to the airport our phone was stolen out of Kendra's pocket. The good news is, Mary fully recovered in Phu Quoc. We don't have a phone anymore, but it hasn't been too much of a problem so far. Phu Quoc was a nice place to relax, rest, and recover. There was really nothing to do but sit at the beach- which was perfect for us!
From Phu Quoc, we flew to Hanoi. We stayed in the old quarter, which was full of backpackers, shops, and street food. Everyone had told us Saigon was crazy and busy, and we were expecting Hanoi to be much slower paced, but it was really busy too. In the center of old quarter is Hoan Kiem Lake and a park, which was really lovely.
The highlight of Hanoi was the water puppet show. It was all in Vietnamese, and even Mary could only understand parts of it because the northern Vietnam accent is so thick. Still, the show was really interesting and the narration wasn't necessary to understand most of it.
From Hanoi, we booked a cruise to Ha Long Bay. We took a van to a boat, and spent one night on the bay. It was fun to be on a tour and meet some interesting fellow travellers. We've met a lot of people along the way, but this was the most concentrated amount of time we spent with a group. It was really diverse. There were people from all over Asia and Europe, ranging in age from 22 to 83!
The area was beautiful, but we were a little disappointed in the water. It was fairly murky and polluted. We had heard this was the case, so we weren't surprised. We had a fun time kayaking, and seeing a huge cave on one of the islands.
After our night on the boat, we spent a night on Cat Ba island before heading back to Hanoi. The island was lovely, and we got a room with a view! We had a good time, but there was not much to do, so we decided to only spend one night.
Cat Ba sunset.
When we headed back to Hanoi from Cat Ba, we decided to take a last minute trip to Sapa, the northern mountain area of Vietnam. We had been thinking it would be too much to squeeze it in, but we heard such good things about it from the others on our cruise we decided to make it happen. We arrived back in Hanoi around 4 p.m. and booked an overnight bus to Sapa. We are so glad we did!
The overnight bus arrived around 4 a.m., but the bus driver let us sleep until close to 7. When we woke up we were in a different world. It was much cooler, and there was a beautiful lake with fog rolling through, and mountains all around. Sapa is advertised as the place where the minority groups of Vietnam live, mostly the Hmong people. On the night bus we made some friends from Israel, and we decided to explore the area together. We rented some motor bikes and drove up to the waterfalls and through the villages.
One of the best parts of Sapa was talking to some of the Hmong people and learning about their lives. Sapa is advertised as a place to meet these minority groups, but they are treated pretty badly by the people there, who are all making money off of their presence and culture.
After our trip to Sapa, we came back to Hanoi for a couple of days and treated ourselves to the Sheraton. It has been so nice to sleep on an American style mattress after days of sleeping on little boats, busses and local hotels! It is also interesting to see a different part of Hanoi- away from all the backpackers and the sales culture that has developed around that kind of tourism. The Sheraton is only a few kilometers away, but it feels like a different city. It is very quiet, more of a family area. It has been nice to rest up before our next stop... Singapore!