Hanoi

Vietnamese new year, or ‘Tet’ as it is more commonly known, we celebrated in Hanoi, which proved a great way to see-out this memorable country.

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A basket of oranges ready for decoration:

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The lake where the fireworks display took place (unfortunately haven’t any photos of the display):

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Vietnam is an attractive country brimming with character and charm and will certainly live on to be an unforgettable slice of our travelling trip.

Next stop: Laos.

Halong Bay

Rather than visiting the bay off our own backs, we decided to bite the $105 bullet and take a 3 day tour from our hostel in Hanoi. The running of the tour was poor but thankfully failed to take away from the beauty of our surroundings.

Peering from our boat window at the spectacular rock formations in the sea was quite an experience:

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As part of the tour we also got to go cycling on Cat Ba Island:

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One of the highlights was staying a night on this remote island:

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Paradise Caves

Our friends at Jungle Bar provided us with 2 motorbikes to rent for the day between the 4 of us. We rode through some excellent scenery on our way.

Entrance to the caves cost as little as 80,000 VND, which is astonishing value for money, converting to £2.50.

Thien Duong/ Paradise caves were, in my eyes, the most fantastic and prodigious wonder we had encountered on our trip to date. The following photos do not do it enough justice:

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Out and About in Phong Nha

On our last day in Phong Nha we decided to venture out of the main town and through some of the villages. I can’t express enough how enjoyable an experience it proved to be. Every few steps we took there was another call of ‘Hellooooo’ from some direction. Everyone was happy to see us, greeting us with big smiles and warm waves.

The most adorable umbrella sharing friends:

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Casually cartwheeling towards his sister:

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Misbehaving for the camera:

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So happy to see the photo:

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The cutest little sisters:

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Going in for a high-five:

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They haven’t quite got the hang of photography yet in Vietnam:

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How to get to Phong Nha Caves (Vietnam)

DSC_1024The magnificent caves of Phong Nha were our next planned destination. Information on getting to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park seemed to be pretty scarce online and unless you were willing to fork out a fair bit for accomodation by booking a room in the popular farmstay via telephone, it was looking more and more undoable.

We decided to ask our hotel in Hue whether they could help and fortunately enough they got in touch with Thanh Dat hotel based in Phong Nha, who offered us a room for a very reasonable total of 300,000 VND a night (the room cost to be split between 4 – with two double beds). We heard this could have been even cheaper if turning up on arrival.

Thanh Dat is in a great location in relation to the caves. The hotel has hot water and free wifi and the rooms are more than fine for a night or two nights stay, providing you’re not a ‘fussy’ traveller.

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The hotels details are as follows:

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So here’s a short and simple guide on how to get to Phong Nha caves/Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park from the city of Hue.

1) Book accomodation at Thanh Dat hotel / turn up early to the town so you can book accomodation on arrival elsewhere (there are a few other hotels in the area which also can’t be found online and it’s a very small town so you can get dropped anywhere and still be in walking distance of them)

2) Book a train from Hue to Dong Hoi. This should cost no more than 250,000 VND and takes between 3 and 3 1/2 hours on average. (Dong Hoi is the nearest town to the caves)

3) Prebook or hail a taxi to pick you up from Dong Hoi train station to Phong Nha (this is a 45 minute to an hour journey) at an unavoidably high cost of 400-500,000 VND – we prebooked a taxi through our hotel in Hue, Lam Bao Long Hotel. Alternatively wiki travel has some other suggestions for getting there.

4) From Thanh Dat Hotel it is a 400m walk to docking area where you can purchase tickets for a boat which will take you to and through the cave, stopping off at 2 different parts of the cave to allow for exploration and photos. By boat is the only way to get inside the cave. You can share boats with other tourists (up to 14) which considerably drops the price of the tour and they leave fairly often. One boat costs 300,000 VND.

5) Purchase your ticket for the cave at the same window for the price of 120,000 VND

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The boat trip is short but fun and things start to get pretty exciting when entering the mouth of the cave. The engine is cut and you are left to admire the natural wonders which now surround you, with only the sound of high falling water droplets and tender paddling.

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Despite the arguably overly-artifical lighting, the caves remain a glorious experience:

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Hue

Hue was a good chance to rent mopeds for the first time in Vietnam. We rented two from our hostel and rode to the surrounding sights of the city:

Our 100cc/110cc beasts:

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A quiet beach we stumbled upon:

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…Which we agreed would be a fitting setting for our group photo haha:

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A Pagoda just outside of the city:

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Impressively tall monument we spotted en route:

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One of the main reasons I would recommend renting mopeds, aside from their ease of use, is for the hilarious road users and obstacles you pass along the way. Which for us included motorbikes with entire families crammed on, chickens crossing the road, both drivers and passengers carrying the most awkward of objects and a motorbike with a basket full of live ducks attached to its side.

The rest of our days in Hue were pretty chilled – a bit of wandering, some nights out and a little sight seeing:

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Amusing Dragon boats:

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Spectating at an intense local game of boules:

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A tank outside the military exhibit:

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