At Home in Ta Phin

Good morning again, Sapa! After getting terrorised by bugs the previous night, I woke up in a very blissful holiday mood, and was gloating over the fact that we still had 2 full days amongst these beautiful mountains. The day before, we zipped past massive trucks and lumbering cattle on our bikes to chase waterfalls, and today we were going to hop on the bikes again, and ride to a little village to stay a night with a local family.

The view from our porch.

We had a bit of time before we headed out of Sapa town, so we explored the area and discovered more quaint cafes and a local wet market off the main road.

The kind of wet market I grew up with.
Had breakfast at a casual eatery at the end of the wet market.
Mel and Peishan with a loquacious local who used to be a tour guide, and knew enough english to help us place orders.
Mel and Peishan with a loquacious local (extreme right) who used to be a tour guide, and knew enough English to help us figure out what to order.
My strangest meal in Vietnam consists of rice noodles, to be dipped in a soup that was at room temperature, and extremely sweet.
My strangest meal in Vietnam cost USD1.4 and consists of rice noodles, to be dipped in a soup that was at room temperature and extremely sweet.
Parisian-inspired cafes were everywhere.
Parisian-inspired cafes were everywhere, and we took a quick post-breakfast drink before heading to our bikes.

The plan now was to follow Vuong, the same tour guide we had the day before, to a village called Ta Phin, which was about an hour on bike from Sapa town.

Elated to be back on a bike.
Obligatory shot with my ride.
First scenic stop of the day.
First scenic stop of the day.
One of the villagers trying to get her cattle off the road. She was shouting and even threw a rock at it. Eventually Vuong helped her out and the stray cattle submitted.
One of the villagers trying to get her cattle off the road. She was shouting angrily and even threw a rock at it. Vuong helped her out eventually.

I always thought hopping on and off tour buses for scenic stops was a tiring affair. Getting on and off a bike is so much better.
I always thought hopping in and out of cars or tour buses for scenic stops was a tiring affair. Touring with bikes are so much easier.

The best memories of riding around Sapa has got to be having the view unfold at each bend, and seeing Vuong, Peishan, and Rachel riding the winding roads in a line in front of me. We had to go off road for a while, and riding over the rocky, pothole-ridden dirt paths with bikes that have close to zero suspension was rather painful. It rattled my bones and I’m glad I didn’t fall off the bike.

IMG_1458 copy
Vuong then showed us this pretty cool ruin of a church that was built by the French and destroyed by the Chinese when they bombed the area.
Wedding photoshoot potential.
Got wedding photoshoot potential right?
Puppies everywhere!
One of the many sleepy puppies we came across.
Us, bikes, and nature.
Happiness is having a bike in a place with such gorgeous views.
Approaching Ta Phin!
The road into Ta Phin village, home to the Dzao and H’mong tribes.
First of the many, many gorgeous views this village presented us.
First of the many, many gorgeous views this village presented us.
The hut on the right was our home for the night.
The hut on the right would be our home for the night.

Vuong left us with our host, Ta May, the lady of the house. Homestays are a common tourist thing to do, and we paid USD50 in all for our stay, including the bike rentals. Food was also provided by the hosts. We arrived around noon, so while Ta May prepared the food, we headed out again to explore the idyllic town. Its stillness was a drastic contrast to Hanoi’s chaos, and I found myself subconsciously moving a little slower to align my own tempo with this lazy village.

I’ve watched many documentaries of places like these, and it was quite surreal to experience it first hand. I felt like I was either on a voluntary mission, or part of a documentary crew who have come here to do some research on the locals. There were many kids running around without pants, clusters of women sitting around small shacks that sold groceries, and old ladies wearing traditional tribal costumes wandering around carrying both an infant and a basket of handicrafts. Even though we were the only tourists around, they weren’t too persistent in selling those souvenirs. Lucky us.

A mischievous kid and a nonchalant calf.
This calf remained completely nonchalant even as the kid yanked its tail with brute force.

Out of curiousity, we decided to explore Ta Phin Cavern. We took our bikes because we didn’t want to be late for lunch. When we approached, one of the guys said that there was no charge to enter the cavern, but we had to pay him a fee to look after our bikes. Fine. Then another old lady approached and said we needed torches for the cavern too. Fine. So we rented one from her and another from the bike caretaker. USD1.9 for two torches between the four of us. I was already very annoyed at the way they surprise us with fees, so I was quite insistent that the old lady not follow us in, lest she insists that we pay her later.

As we took the first few steps down into the cave, it became apparent that this was not going to be quite the walk in the park we expected. The entrance led down quite quickly into a cold, dark, and slippery pathway, and Rachel decided to sit this one out as it was quite claustrophobic. The old lady, however, just kept on following us even though I told her not to. “No pay, follow, no pay,” she insisted.

After a few minutes though, I’m glad she followed us. HAHAHA. How arrogant we were. It was pitch black inside, and we would have no idea how to navigate it if not for her directions. It was a pretty damn treacherous route too. We had to cross a path that was no wider than the width of my foot, and while it was solid rock on one side, the other side was a drop into a dark 2m hole. We had to climb up and down small ladders, duck walk through some passages, and curved our bodies to fit through certain openings, with nothing but the light from 2 torches and the old lady’s weak handphone light. We nicknamed her Gollum because she was really small and leathery-looking. She also walked barefoot and navigated the place with such agility and nimble manoeuvres. Every time we looked to her for directions I half-expected her to give us a riddle to solve.

We were totally not prepared for this adventure at all, but it was damn fun. We had the option to carry on walking deeper into the cave (it seem to stretch on quite a bit further), but with muddy butts, hands, and piping hot lunch awaiting, we headed back. And because we emerged unscathed, we felt obliged to buy one of her souvenirs (bought the bag that’s hanging around Peishan’s neck in the photo below) to thank her.

Us and Gollum.
Us and Gollum.

And now for lunch in the comfort of our “home”.

Ta May's in her open concept kitchen.
Ta May in her open concept kitchen.
The Vietnamese love their veggies.
I really enjoyed this meal. It reminded me of my mum’s dishes.
Before we promptly wiped out the food.
Before we promptly wiped out the food.

With our stomachs full, we headed out again to explore the rest of Ta Phin village. Get ready for a photo spam!!!

Green greed rice of home.
Green green grass of home.
Felt guilty being an intrusive tourist, snapping pictures of everything, so I kindly asked these ladies for a shot and they gladly obliged.
Felt guilty for being an intrusive tourist, snapping pictures of everything. So I kindly asked these ladies for a shot and they gladly obliged.
Trespassed the school to enjoy this adorable performance.
Trespassed the school to sit in on this adorable performance.
Are we in Canada???
Are we in Canada???
We walked over to the next village and I fell in love with this fella.
We walked over to the next village, where I met and fell in love with this fella.

Bottomless kids.
Peishan didn’t get the bottomless memo.
Perfect colours.
Sigh… What an amazing place.


Reached this patch that was perfect for jumping shots just in time to catch the golden evening sun light.
Reached this patch of grass that had a perfect backdrop for jumping shots.



Exhausted from all the jumping.
Exhausted from all the jumping.

I really, really enjoyed doing absolutely nothing in this village that had absolutely nothing for you to do but soak up the beauty of the majestic mountains that enveloped the village. This is what I travel for. To find peace, away from everything that would remind me of Singapore — shopping, crowds, and cities. The grass is really greener here.

We got home as the sun was setting, and took our showers before settling down for dinner. Ta May’s home, although not modern, had a super clean toilet that looked out of place with the rest of the home (in terms of aesthetics, not cleanliness). It was clean, odourless, fitted with a heated shower and toilet bowl. It’s great because even though I want to experience what it feels like to stay in a village, I’m quite particular about toilet hygiene. I’m sure the non-homestay homes around the village weren’t installed with a toilet like hers.

Dinner was a very indulgent spread made up of chicken, pork, long beans, tofu, and potatoes, shared between the four of us: Ta May, her husband, and son (he was such a looker). Before we dug in, her husband, who couldn’t speak English, poured us all tea cup servings of rice wine and gestured us to drink up. I took only a sip because it was NASTY. Peishan said it tasted like Tequila. It tasted like fiery poison to me. Throughout the meal, we watched incredulously as Ta May’s mister shove down about 5 bowls of rice, and about a dozen shots of the wine. He was pretty dazed towards the end of the meal. The food was really good, and Ta May and her family picked very little from the dishes and ate lots of rice instead. Felt a bit pai seh, but showed my appreciation by eating 2 bowls of rice and eating twice the amount I usually do.

We were done by about 9pm or so, and there was no other entertainment… So we went to bed. I’m still very amused by our sleeping area, because it resembles a bangla quarter. A very clean one. I’ve never slept in a place like this, but somehow I didn’t feel out of place at all. I think it has to do with the fact that everything felt clean. It even felt cleaner than our rooms in Tulip Hotel in Sapa.

Fit for tourists.
Our luxury Bangla suite.

I slept fairly well that night, up till about 5am when the roosters started crowing… and crowing… and crowing. They wouldn’t stop, and by then the pigs (the sty was about 4m away from our sleeping quarters) awoke and snorted and grunted to add to the whole cacophony.

We had to head back to Sapa town in the morning with Vuong, so we just whiled around and drank tea while we waited for him. I was already missing Sapa by then.

The washing area.
The washing area.
Just like a museum.
The kitchen. It was like walking into a museum.
Us with Ta May (in red).

Sped out of Sapa with a heavy heart, and on our way back, Vuong told us a dodgy story about the police charging him taxes for bringing us in, and that we had to fork out USD1.4 each to pay him back. It’s not a lot of money, but I just hate the way they go about doing it. He might be telling the truth because he has been good to us so far. But I was still suspicious and not very happy.

The way back to Sapa town felt a lot faster. After a quick shower in the hotel, we were on our way again towards the train station (to head back to hectic Hanoi). On the winding way down from Sapa town to the station in Lao Cai, we got views that were much more magnificent than the ones we got on our way up because this time, we were facing the mountains of China, and they just blew my mind. There was no start or end to that range of peaks, and it went on into the horizon forever. Too bad the Chinese aren’t the most pleasant people. If not China would definitely be on my travel to do list for its epic mountains.

And this is the end of my week-long North Vietnam trip! I spent about SGD800 including the air ticket, which I think is pretty decent for 7 days of adventure. Despite Hanoi’s nasty traffic and the dodgy Viets all around, Sapa made it all worth it. We had a great time thanks to the few nice ones we came to know, and I’m so glad I finally got to experience Vietnam, after pining for it for almost a year.

Hope you guys enjoyed reading about it too!


Biking around Sapa

It’s about 6am and we’ve arrived in Lao Cai! It’s the transit town where tourists hop off the train and into a bus heading towards Sapa. The overnight train that took us from Hanoi city centre to Lao Cai was excellent. A return ticket was USD58, and we had the standard 4-bed cabin to ourselves. Clean, cosy, and comfortable, it was the perfect virgin night train experience for me. I really loved getting lulled to sleep by the train’s gentle rocking.

Happy campers.

It was a good decision to book the first leg of our Sapa adventure in Hanoi because the moment the train unloaded its sleepy backpackers, we were swarmed by persistent touts. Since our next transport was already settled, we could ignore all that and make a beeline for the guy holding up Rachel’s name. It was quite a messy situation. And at 6am, groggy despite the excellent sleep we got on the 9-hour train ride, the last thing we wanted to do was haggle with the locals and still end up getting ripped off.

The meandering bus ride up into the mountains gave us a spectacular preview of the region, and I was surprised by how vast the mountain ranges here were. I didn’t expect to see peaks in South East Asia that could compare to those in Europe, and that got me extremely hyped up thinking about the 3 days that we were going to spend here.

Just to give you an idea how up north Sapa is in Vietnam.

Yet again, we were faced with another mix up. Back in Hanoi, the tour agent secured rooms for us at a place which Rachel remembered to be Mountain View Hotel. Unfortunately, the receipt we got for our reservation involved half-illegible scribbles, so we couldn’t confirm if that was indeed the hotel which was promised. We were a bit unsure, but the staff of the hotel we got dropped off at confirmed our reservation, so we just accepted it. Our suspicions were only confirmed when we got back to Hanoi on the last day of our trip. It seems that the middle man made some private arrangements of his own, and we ended up staying at a hotel different from the one that the travel agent reserved for us. (Travel lesson: Always double check your receipts and call the agent up once you smell a potential scam coming.)

Oh well… That’s Vietnamese coordination for you. The hotel we got, Tulip Hotel, had spacious but subpar rooms with large toilets, and the staff weren’t the friendliest of the lot. At least we had a nice big porch with a heart-wrenchingly gorgeous (but slightly obstructed) view.

As with sceneries that impress with its scale, photos don’t much justice.
Got the porch to ourselves.

We then took a short stroll through Sapa town. It’s a sleepy town filled with massage parlours, shops that sold proper trekking gear, motorbike rental agents, and many European-styled cafes. We ended up getting lured into a cafe that offered an English breakfast set for VND70,000 (USD 3).

A hearty breakfast washed down with a potent Vietnamese coffee.

Out of a couple of motorbike rental shops we checked out, we sealed the deal with Vuong Tu Mobike on 4 Muong Hua because the guy, also called Vuong (he says he’s not the boss though), was friendly and not too hard sell. With him as our guide, we would be exploring the area by visiting a couple of waterfalls, and other scenic stops along the route were promised. The package, which included our masculine convoy of 2 autos and 2 semi-auto bikes, as well as the tour guide’s fee and bike, cost USD60 in all.

The local disguise.

None of us have bike licences, but that didn’t matter because they don’t bother checking. The ride within the town centre was a bit scary because of the traffic, but we were soon out in the hills, and the only distractions were the beautiful views that unfolded with each turn. I’ve been driven around winding mountain roads with gorgeous views all around, but riding through it was completely different. A friend once told me that his best travels were those done on a bike because you were physically enveloped by the scenery, and I couldn’t agree more. It was a thrill unlike any other. Just thinking of the cold wind’s touch while zipping at a very responsible speed around nature makes me yearn for more.

I remember catching sight of the first waterfall as we came round a bend, and it was so gorgeous I couldn’t stop myself from exclaiming into my face mask. It was so beautiful I could cry. We stopped to get a closer look at the Silver Waterfall, but it was honestly much more beautiful from afar.

Silver Waterfall up close.

We left our bikes again to see another waterfall, and in order to arrive at Love Waterfall, we had to follow Golden Stream. Whoever named these attractions had an accidental sense of humour, and we acknowledged it with our immature sniggers.

Vuong leading the short trek towards Golden Stream.
I never bluff you.
Us on the Golden Stream.
The gushing grandeur of Love Waterfall, which was about six storeys tall.

The water was damn cold, but we came waterfall-hunting with the mindset of swimming in them, so we took a plunge.

Pei Shan’s expression said it all.
Tourist shot! And evidence of Rachel choosing to remain dry.
Our lunch shack.
Had a simple yet filling meal made up of bamboo rice and skewered meat.
A scenic stop.

This scenery wouldn’t have looked out of place in Australia or England.

We headed back to Sapa town at around 4 or 5pm, and was a bit bummed that we had to return the bikes right after the tour even though we were charged for a full day’s bike rent. But I had such a fantastic time already that it was really no biggie. A 1.5hour massage was next in line, and mine included a soak in a hot herbal bath before the Thai massage — and it only cost VND250,000 (USD12). Then we wolfed down some really decent lasagne and pasta for dinner at one of the many Italian restaurants around.

One thing interesting about this town in the middle of the mountains is that it’s so connected. Just call up the networks in the middle of the road, and a long list of wifi connections appear. The best part is most of them don’t password-protect it. I Whatsapped this interesting observation to Sis and she replied, “They’re communist what. I guess they believe internet should be for the people too.” Communism connectivity FTW!

It was only when we were back in our rooms to rest for the night that we realised that it didn’t have air-conditioning, or even a fan installed. Mel and I shared a room, and we decided to leave the door open to let the cool air in. We also let the bugs in that way, and we had to battle a cockroach with slippers and hair spray before shutting the door… Until we realised what our cheesy-looking bed veils were meant for.


So we put our trust into our nets, and left the door wide open and fell asleep listening to bugs buzzing around and hitting the walls. It reminded me of camping in school.

The next day, we continued to experience Sapa through a homestay in a secluded village. Here’s a preview of the spectacular views we got there…

Ta Phin village.

Hello Ha Long Bay

The trouble with the internet is, I knew exactly how Ha Long Bay would look like. I was already mesmerised by all the images I saw of it on the web, and have been yearning to go — although it was really Top Gear’s Vietnam motorbike special that put Vietnam at the top of my travel wish list.

Back in Hanoi, we signed a tour with Dugong Sails, one of the many three-star boats that looked alike in the brochures available at Sinh Cafe. The 2D1N cruise cost us USD65 each, and it included meals, kayaking, and cave visits (and swimming too, but it was unfortunate that the local jellyfish decided to visit Ha Long Bay at the same time as us).

Our Ha Long Bay experience started out pretty shit. It took a painful 4-hour bus ride (we were promised that it would be 3 hours) from Hanoi’s city centre to the harbour. We were baffled by how slow the driver was going at, and when we asked him why he couldn’t speed up, he just said that there are traffic police around. This was a fine example of the shifty, undecipherable Viets I mentioned earlier. Motorbikes and trucks were zooming past us on the roads, and there we were, forced to watch the outside world crawl by while we impatiently anticipated the grandeur of Ha Long Bay. Plus, there was another not-so-short wait at the pier after we got off the bus, ugh.

We’re finally on the waters!
Feigning excitement after we realised there was none of the deck chairs that were advertised in its brochure at the tour agent. (Sent for repairs, says the boat’s tour guide. Untrustworthy Viet #4.)
Our honeymoon-themed room.
Our tour guide spoke great English and was rather friendly.

There are over 2,000 of these little islands spread out over the waters, but it’s officially recorded as 1,961 as a way to honour the year that the Viets lost their revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh.

This isn’t our boat, but this was the typical mid-range tourist boat like ours.

After a tasty lunch consisting of generous portions of fish, stir-fry veggies, tofu, Thai-like pancakes, and rice, we hopped off the boat and onto a floating fishing village to get into our kayaks to explore the area.

This view just reminds me of Jurassic Park.
This is the opening of a cave, from which we would later get an elevated view of Ha Long Bay,
Stepping into Sung Sot cave.
Sung Sot cave is also called the Surprising cave, so this is Mel and I reflecting its sentiments.
It’s the largest and most wondrous cave I’ve been in. It’s also pleasantly cool inside.
Just to give you a scale of the cave.
Bird’s eye.
This was the view from the cave opening, but a much more gorgeous view awaits us on another island.

Island hopping stop number 2 is Titop Island, where we had the option of swimming at a Sentosa-like beach, or scale over 400 steps to get a 360-degree view of Ha Long Bay. We decided to put our calves and butts to the test.

Are we at Rio de Janeiro?

Holiday bliss.

Caught the sun going down as we head back to our boat for dinner.

Dinner was as yummy as lunch, and we ascended to the open deck to lie on our backs and enjoy the stars after wiping out our food in minutes. I wished that the boat continued cruising through the night though, because one of the best things about cruises is going out to the deck at night, and letting the wind tangle up your hair while hearing the waves crash against the sides of the ship. It was disappointing that all the tourist boats at Ha Long Bay whiled away the night anchored to a spot.

There were not many stars that night, but we managed to spot 2 shooting stars. It was really nice and peaceful, and we chatted all the way to bed time. Sleep was great for about two hours, before the blood-sucking sinister little bed buggers launched their attack on me. I thought it was my hives acting up at first, until I felt a bite and saw a black, tick-like bug crawling away. I squished it and stained the sheets with my blood. I managed to fall back to sleep, but woke at the break of dawn because of the itch. I drew back the curtains, and the second that light came through, the little bastards disappeared. Sneaky little assholes. I lost my bed bug virginity on this one bed (all my friends weren’t as lucky), and ended up with countless bites all over my body which itched intermittently over the next two days. I was just damn unlucky. Please don’t let it change your impression of Ha Long Bay cruises because this is an isolated incident. But bring a spray if you’d rather have a peace of mind.

Day 2 at Ha Long Bay started with a simple breakfast, and we got duped into paying an extra USD5 each to do an optional boat ride to see a “cave”. It was the shortest, most un-scenic tourist boat ride of my life.

The shot which cost USD5 to capture.

After that silly boat ride we were comforted by a good lunch spread. I have to commend Dugong Sails for having consistently good food. The boat then took us back to the harbour, and after more tiresome waiting (spent the time getting to know the other tourists on board), we started on the dreadful return bus ride to Hanoi’s city centre.

The missus of this endearing Canadian-French couple we met on board gained four adopted daughters at the end of the trip.
These 3 Swiss girls are devoting a whole month to Vietnam.

We got the same driver, and he continued to drive at a lighting speed comparable to Usain Bolt’s best records all the way back to Hanoi. This time round, they filled the mini bus to its full capacity, so it was a stuffy, claustrophobic ride. When we got back to Hanoi, there was only time for a quick dinner, a bath (we got a room at Queen Hotel at a discounted rate to use their showers), and then Tony our booking agent escorted us all the way to our sleeper train which will take us to Lao Cai. It’s from there that we will make our winding way up into the mountains, to my favourite stop of the trip — Sapa.

Super excited to have our own cabin in this Harry Potter-like train experience.

Deciphering Hanoi

There’s something you should come to accept as a tourist before you venture out of the airport in Hanoi: you’re going to get ripped off and there’s nothing you can do about it. All the street hawkers will engage in a short discussion amongst themselves before charging you double of what the locals pay, and taxi drivers will quote you ridiculous prices like VND200,000 (USD10) for a 3 minute ride (just don’t settle for the first available option even if you’ve managed to haggle it down to a fraction of the initial offer).

Another thing about the Vietnamese is that they’re much like the Chinese — the smile vanishes instantly once you reject their offer. We met some really friendly and helpful ones, but generally, I get the sense that they’re only interested in what’s in the tourists’ pockets.

Our week-long North Vietnam trip began in Hanoi, and the plan was to book the Ha Long Bay cruise and train to Sapa once we were there. We checked into New Vision Hotel in the old quarter, which we paid SGD11 each for a comfortable and clean family suite. The hotel’s great, except for the hotel staff’s hard selling of the Ha Long Bay packages. WARNING: Do not get any tour packages from hotels. We wandered out and found a branch of Sinh Cafe, which Rachel read was reputable, and got quotes for the boat cruises from Tony Sang, the hotel manager cum Sinh Cafe booking agent (he’s located at 116 Hang Bac Street). We were taken aback by how much more the hotel staff offered us. More than twice the amount if I can remember.

Meet Tony Sang, our friendly tour organiser.

So we settled our Ha Long Bay cruise and night train to Sapa with Tony because we liked that he wasn’t too pushy, and continued exploring the meandering streets of the old quarter. It’s my first time in Vietnam, and Hanoi struck me as a quainter cousin of Bangkok and Jakarta.

I was especially surprised at how charming the old quarter was. (I recommend that you just stick to this area if you’re in Hanoi because we stayed at the French quarter on the last day of our trip, and besides the handful of surprisingly European architecture, it was completely underwhelming.) Much of the old quarter’s landscape was pretty much like other South East Asian cities — messy two- and three-storey shophouses packed together on either side of the narrow streets, with big, tangled bunches of power lines inches from the facades. But this area’s charm lay in the foreign influences sprinkled around, from European-style cafes with alfresco areas where chairs face out towards the streets rather than around the table, to hints of Roman, Chinese, and other chapalang architecture everywhere.

Trees and power lines merge with the facades.

For lunched we popped into New Day restaurant for some local food, and the meal sparked off my trip-long love affair with deep fried spring rolls and freshly-dripped Vietnamese coffee.

Full and contented, we continued to walk the streets. The constant beeping and horning was nerve wrecking at first, but it soon faded into the background like some erratic elevator music after a while.

Besides the Eastern architectural influences, they also had pubs and restaurants that matched my formed-by-documentaries impression of South America. We stumbled upon this charismatic little place which had bar seats packed into its narrow balcony, and its’ here that we took a short break, enjoying the free wifi, sipping our drinks, and looking out into the chaos of the streets.

A few moments of solace away from the streets.

And it’s dinner time! We all love a bit of street food, so we picked one randomly and we were very happy to do the “eat like the locals” thing, hovering over small tables on small stools inches from the main street and at the same level as the vehicles’ exhaust pipes. But you simply can’t visit a South East Asian country and not eat their street food. Our meal added up to VND160,000 (USD8) in all, which was all right for Singaporean standards, but too pricey for a street hawker. We soon learnt that special tourist rates for street food was the norm. We figured it out when we saw the locals forking out lesser dongs for the same dishes.

Hanoi was charming, but I felt like there was nothing much more to discover after a day in it. It’s great that it’s not very touristy, but that also makes communication difficult, which often leads to a feeling of untrustworthiness towards some shifty locals. It’s not a terrible place, but I wouldn’t recommend a long stay in Hanoi. Just spend an afternoon exploring the old quarter and its streets lined with unattractive apparel shops, titbit stores, and coffee bean retailers, and pack up and head out of the city’s bustle.

We were bound for Ha Long Bay the next day, and here’s a preview of our half-scenic and painfully slow bus ride there.

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