After spending four days in Ninh Binh for Christmas we took a sleeper bus to the Indo-China mountains, also known as Sa Pa. Sleeper buses are freaking amazing and we should have them here in the UK. The beds are comfortable and my inner child joyfully enjoyed knowing I’m sleeping comfortably on a bus! Imagine if we had sleeper buses from Scotland to Cornwall, and you’d wake up to your destination!
Sa Pa was a place Jon really wanted to get to, considered a very special place by travellers because how many people can say they’ve visited the Indo-China mountains? Due Vietnam being a very long country, the weather tends to differ all year round depending where you are. For us traveling in December, the south of the country was beautiful and hot but the north was bitterly cold, even colder than the UK. We were not fully aware how cold it would be or that in Sa Pa, no hotel that we found had central heating which made our stay feel even chillier.
Ninh Binh, AKA: Tam Coc, was a favourite destination of mine whilst in Vietnam. When tourists say they are staying in “Ninh Binh”, they’re actually residing in Tam Coc, which is a small town situated within the city of Ninh Binh. Ninh Binh itself is run down and doesn’t have much to offer so when booking accommodation, be careful you don’t choose a place within the city and miles away from Tam Coc. There are plentiful places to stay within Tam Coc, again we simpley arrived and shopped around for best price when bartering with hotel owners. There was one particular owner whose hotel we liked but was fully booked up. Not wanting to lose customers he asked us if we minded staying in his second hotel which so brand new, he hasn’t finished it yet and didn’t have regular staff either. We said yes for a bargain price which included breakfast and it turned out to be a beautiful hotel too. Motorbike rental was also offered.
Cat Ba Island was one of the highlights of our Vietnam/Cambodia trip. It was another place we discussed possibilities of living, me as a TEFL and Yoga teacher and Jon running adventure photography tours. We were in Cat Ba during the low season so the downside to this place during the high season is the night life. This is a party island for young backpackers. This island has everything a fun loving backpacker needs: cheap accommodation like hostels, adventure activities during the day and clubbing by night.
There was much to do during the day on this island and because it was the low season, thankfully the evenings were quiet! I was still getting over my cold from Hanoi the day before so spent most of the first day in our hotel room whilst Jon booked himself on a day trek through the national park- Cat Ba’s beautiful national park is home to 32 types of mammal, including most of the world’s 65 remaining golden-headed langur, the world’s most endangered primate. There are some good hiking trails here .
We landed in Hanoi after a short flight from Siem Reap in Cambodia, only due to a change in climate (its very warm in Cambodia and the North of Vietnam in December is colder), I got sick, it was a normal cold that hit me like a tonne of bricks so I spent a full day in bed being watched over by our lovely receptionist who kept coming to my room to make me lemon tea. Jon went out on a walking tour as I didn’t want him to miss out. For this part of our trip we were only in Hanoi for a day because we were to head out to Cat Ba island for a few days and then onwards to Ninh Bình for Christmas eve, Christmas day and two days after then Sa Pa as the grand finale. We were to finish our Vietnam trip back in Hanoi for two days before flying home. So essentially me being ill during this one day pitstop in Hanoi didn’t really matter because I knew we’d be coming back anyway.
After a few days wandering around Ho Chi Minh city and getting over any jetlag. We booked a day tour along the Meekong to cross the boarders into Cambodia. It was off season when we did this but its pretty easy to book and most hotels in Vietam are also set up as tour companies too, all varying in price so I advise you shop around and barter for a price you are happy with.
Ho Chi Minh or Saigon as it is also known was our first destination in Vietnam. Our over all plan was to travel up from the South of Vietnam, hop over to Cambodia and from Cambodia fly to the North of Vietnam to end our trip. The reason being was because during our time out there, the middle of Vietnam was flooded and it was monsoon season plus I really wanted to see parts of Cambodia. We were in Ho Chi Mihn for two days before heading out to the Meekong.