After spending a whole month in An Bang we kind of moved around a bit.
We first went to Hue, not that far from An Bang (only four hours on the sleeper bus from hell – it wasn’t that bad but smelled really awful). Coming from the beautiful Hoi An and the Care Bear world that is An Bang, Hue wasn’t that impressive. It’s a city, kind of like Ho Chi Minh City, but on a much smaller scale. People are welcoming but not too friendly. The good thing about Hue though, were all the restaurants. There are loads of restaurants and cool cafes, and many different food options, which after nearly five months of Asian food, you kind of appreciate. So we had Italian food, we had Australian sandwiches (didn’t know it was a thing either), veggie burgers (which were heaven), but not to disappoint we still had a bit of the local food too (fried noodles, phos, etc).
Other than eating we rented bicycles and went on a ride to the Imperial City and the outskirts of town to visit Hue’s famous Pagoda (great views) and the Emperor’s Tombs. The only thing was, it was soooo hot (sooo hot) that we only managed to visit one of the main tombs. Oh well, it was still fun (and we managed to compensate a bit for the food we’d been eating).
We then moved on to Da Nang. Given that we had our next flight from there we thought it would be nice to stay for a couple of nights and visit the city. We heard it was really touristy, but we actually really enjoyed it (and didn’t think there were that many tourists, other than the buses that stop for pictures at the beach). It’s kind of like a little Miami (OK, very little, but still) – the beach is really nice, with a great boardwalk along it and at night the bridges light up in the most spectacular show! It was a good pit stop. (And we had a massive chicken pho, it was delicious! Winning!).
Haiphong to Cat Ba
Next up on our itinerary was Cat Ba. We wanted to visit Ha Long Bay, but most cruises and hotels were really expensive, and as we started considering alternatives we heard of Cat Ba. It’s a favourite for backpackers and when you meet other travellers and start sharing places to go and what to see, Cat Ba will definitely come up. It came up in a conversation with one of our expat friends, the very drunk one, who also told us to fly to Haiphong instead of Hanoi because it’s cheaper and much closer to Cat Ba. She failed to mention or we failed to realise that even though that’s true, there are far less transport links from Haiphong than Hanoi. I kid you not. It is easier to arrange for a hotel pick up and transport all the way to the small island from the capital, than from Haiphong, which is like, 30km away. Mental. I know. Our first hotel tried to charge us $66 for it, which is absolutely ridiculous, particularly when we were paying $16 for the hotel. (We obviously cancelled the hotel and booked another one). Anyway, we found a company that did the transfer between Haiphong centre to Cat Ba town, so we got a taxi front the airport and headed to their HQ. ‘The next bus is at 2pm’ (in FOUR hours). Fine, we’ll wait, We found a mall, a small cafe and just waited there.
We finally got on the bus, that rode only for 20min. Then we had to transfer all our bags to a small boat on a very dodgy pier (I honestly thought our bags would fall) and 20 min later we were doing the same thing again to another bus. Finally, what felt like 400h later, we arrived.
Cat Ba and Ha Long bay
Cat Ba is a small island, it’s main town, Cat Ba town, is not that pretty, it’s a bunch of hotels, fishermen’s houses and restaurants. It’s basically three little streets that you can go up and down in half an hour. It does have three beautiful beaches (Cat Co 1, 2 and 3), however when we were there it was proper cold, so no beach time.
We booked a day boat trip to go around Cat Ba and to Ha Long bay. It was absolutely stunning. The landscape is magnificent, and even though we felt like the oldest people in the world (everyone in our boat was like 12) we had a great time. We met two Iraqi boys that were absolutely hilarious. Lunch time was particularly funny. We were at the same table as the Iraqis, a British couple and an American girl. Everyone was talking about their travels and how long they’d been in Vietnam, or just travelling, we said that we actually only had one and half months to go. The British girl asked us how we felt about that and we were honest and said we actually had mixed feelings: ‘as much as we are enjoying and are sad that it was coming to an end, we are really glad that we’re heading back. There’s just things we miss’. And she went ‘I hear you! After two months I was really missing my bed, and the food, and it’s the little things you know? Like when you get to a hotel and the pillow sucks, and you’re like ‘man I miss home’’ we all laughed and one of the Iraqi boys says ‘Two months?! after two days I missed my family and my mum’s cooking! I spent the whole year saving for this trip and we get here and all I want to do is go back home!’ Haha!
Our last morning in Cat Ba we still went for a long walk – there’s a little path way between Cat Co 1 and 3 and it’s stunning. As usual, no one is there, pretty much just the two of us walking around and the landscape is gorgeous. We also decided it was a good idea to climb all the way to the highest top, to visit the island’s Fort and check the view. I mean it was fun, but we kind forgot it was a travelling day for us, so probably shouldn’t have exhausted our legs but oh well, only live once and all that…
We got a bus from Cat Ba to Hanoi and this time we were super excited because we were going to take the ferry, meaning we could just sleep all the way through. Uh, not really, you can’t stay inside the bus during the ferry ride for some reason. (Probably health and safety, given how close to the water the cars have to go to enter and exit the ferry). hey, but at least this time we didn’t have to carry our luggage out and in again.
We got to Hanoi, a city we had zero expectations about, and met with our friend who’d been there for a while. Actually she was partly responsible for the ‘zero expectations’ because she’d been texting me how dirty, and gloomy and horrible Hanoi was. But as it turns out, we actually enjoy it. (Much to do with the expectations of course, if she hadn’t told us that it was horrible we’d have bigger expectations and then would hate it. Haha, what is life, huh?). But yeah, it is proper dirty. We stayed in the Old Quarter, which is absolutely mental. I mean on the same sidewalk you’ll see all sorts of things: motorcycles parked, people cutting meat, people eating, people washing the dishes.. it’s just mental. But its chaos is kind of funny and absolutely worth seeing.
On weekends they close some of the main streets, around the main lake, for people to walk around, reads ‘doing photoshoots’, which are absolutely worth watching. It’s one of those places where it’s worth grabbing a drink or an ice cream, find a good park bench and just watch the people. (which we did). Honestly, priceless.
After hopping around we decided it was time to stand still again and we picked the island of Phu Quoc as our next (and probably last) destination.
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