Vietnam: Son Tay – An older and quieter version of Hanoi, featuring Thao Vien Resort

Being in the city for a long time, Hanoi gave me nerve. For those who have lived in Hanoi, you know what it is like to be in this city – pollution, traffic, noise… It exhausts me every now and then (actually most of the time). Surprisingly, just about 40km north west of Hanoi, Son Tay is a small town right next to Hanoi but it would give you a different atmosphere. Something old, something new, something very familiar but somehow so different.

An hour away from Hanoi, I arrived in Son Tay and breathed the new air. How crazy it could be when this town is so close to the city but it showed me such a big change. People still speak with the Hanoian accent, around town looks very much similar to Hanoi but a bit older, but there is no noise, there is no honking, and the air seems fresher and clearer.

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First checked in in Thao Vien Resort, a change already hit me. The scenery is set up in a traditional Vietnamese way with a touch of the countryside’s vibe. Palm trees grow everywhere, thatching huts are placed along the resort and some are on the water which look very dreamy, and staff dresses in the traditional way. The heat of the summer day following the warm breeze zigzagging through a row of weeping willows started to hit me. I sat down on the bench and looked out to the pond. Cricket was chirping which completed the picture of one of those summer days. I finally escaped from the noise of traffic and the city’s life to be out here cuddling myself up in quietness.

I came to Son Tay without knowing anything but maybe it was a good thing. That late afternoon, I took a drive to the centre to visit the Ancient Citadel which people had told me to check out. A canal runs around the area which reminded me of Utrecht, where I used to live in The Netherlands. That image just caught my eyes which made me feel like Dejavu. People were having their afternoon run along the canal and some were chilling on the pavement playing chess. The Ancient Citadel seems like to be placed on an island where the area is relaxing playground for locals. It somehow still got its solemness. What is most solemn is the flagstaff standing high with the flag of Vietnam.

Son Tay does not have much to offer but somehow this place seems so peaceful. It got something so alike to Hanoi but quieter, cleaner, people are way much friendlier. I couldn’t believe that those changes could be so big even though Hanoi and Son Tay are literally next to each other. Two cities, two different images. For a day get-away from Hanoi, Son Tay could be a great place to be.

 

Vietnam: Cruising through Halong Bay | My ideal romantic trip

For most travellers, they come to Vietnam to cross one place off their bucket list – Halong Bay. That tourist attraction has got so much attention from all over the world by not only its place in UNESCO World Heritage List, but it is also just truly a treasure of the world. Its beauty is incomparable and its uniqueness is far beyond to describe. To you, it is a place you wish to come to see with your own eyes; but to me and to Vietnamese people, it is a pride to call it ours. The image of Halong Bay was just a blur through my childhood’s memory but I reckon it was a pretty beautiful memory. That memory led me back here to pay a visit once again, and one more time witness one beauty that was created by the mother of earth on the land I call home – Vietnam.

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It was supposed just to be an unintentional experience with a cruise but everything stayed on that boat stupendously gave me what is called the best of its offers. Staggering on water in the middle of February was certainly not a great idea. The cold got to me harshly or it might have been my not-so-lucky day because the sun was hiding behind the clouds. However, it could not win the sacrificing of people who want to see the beauty of Halong Bay. And it stayed, stood exquisitely and shone by its own. I wondered, how all those nearly 2000 islets could stay in one place for centuries and if they chose to park themselves here or the mother of earth chose them to stand exactly where I was standing at that moment. On that deck of the boat, I was standing next to a man I briefly knew but we had something in common – we were on the same cruise and sharing the same view. May he has had a different thinking than mine but nonetheless, I wasn’t sharing that view alone.

Paloma cruise was the Halong cruise I chose to be on, a 4-star cruise that I had not expected to stay on (because I am a budget traveller) but was a good choice. Maybe those $50 cruises could also do the work but I was not a backpacker on this trip so why didn’t I go for something more luxurious and relaxing for change. I got myself checked in a beautiful cabin with a lounge and a wonderful view from my bed. Imagine waking up with a thought that I was lost in a painting but just a bit more real. Gotta say, a bit of luxury did feel really good. Also, it could have been an ideal romantic trip – a beautiful night on a boat and being surrounded by hundreds of limestones, amazing Vietnamese dishes served throughout a day, cruising through caves and islands, enjoying the sea in the middle of the bay and finding yourself sharing all that with the one you love. I certain that I will do that once again because it sounds like a dream, my dream.


 

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Vietnam: Hanoi and The People

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I used to live in this city, where you can find tons of interesting things that you can never find anywhere else. In which I find the most compelling must be the Hanoian people. There is a great variety here. People say Vietnamese people everyone looks the same. Take a look closer! The exotic Asian look might blind you but you will see they are different in a certain point.

If you have known, Asian loves to have ‘white’ skin. I mean, they prefer to have a lighter skin than a dark brown skin. Vietnamese people do have this favour too. The reason is simply about the way they want other people look at them. Light skin – ‘you work in an office, have a good job’; Brown skin – ‘oh, you must work really hard either on a field or always on a go’. It sounds quite funny but yes, that’s how they think. However, somehow it actually describes part of what they do. If you observe closely on each person pass by, there are women carrying big packages on a bicycle, old men trying to sell lotteries, men in suits, etc. This is what I mean with being different in a certain point. Hanoian (or Vietnamese people in general) work really hard. Everyone has their own businesses. Besides the higher social class with suits on, Hanoian people could be in a really low position. Some lucky ones have a job owning a shop, or driving taxi. Some actually work days and nights but only have the wage even less than a low position officer. Sometimes I wonder how they can handle everything in their lives with such a small amount of money.

Let’s get back to the jobs part. There are various jobs in Hanoi that you can’t imagine that they are even exist. I couldn’t tell them all, but I gotta say, thanks to them we have all the abilities to fulfil our needs while either living or travelling here.

About Hanoian people – I see ‘us’ in different perspectives. As a Hanoian born, allow me to use “we” in the following lines. There is a contrast between Hanoian before and now. What I learned about Hanoian people – as down to earth, kind, warm hearted, caring for each other – were way before the time I was born. I mean, I don’t say we are not like that. We are still warm hearted people and very hospitable. However, there is a certain extent, we have changed. I think, we only see this change through tourism. Tourists find Hanoian people are not as friendly as Saigon people. I have to admit, I see the same thing. I cudgel my brain about how much Hanoian people have changed. Looking around and I realised, the huge amount of people that we normally communicate with in Hanoi is from the rural area. As my perspective, they are less likely educated and they are quite aggressive in getting money. I’m not saying they have made Hanoi change that much but it gotta be one of the reasons, doesn’t it?
‘Do you know corruption is also one of the reasons?’ – T. asked.
After 3o minutes explaining, I got lost in the whole complication of Hanoi’s problems. Saigon is more developed than Hanoi. Its tourism is way ahead of us, thanks to the French reign. Therefore, the people there have a higher ability to earn more money and develop the city in any dimension. Somehow this leads to being more friendly in the South of Vietnam? I can’t tell but it really makes the people there happier and more relaxed in making money. In contrast, people from Northern Vietnam are more hostile in earning a living.

In my heart, I know we are great people. Because of some circumstances, we have to work hard for our livelihoods. And that’s what is all about. We could be someone sitting along the road with some small wooden chairs trying to sell tea or snacks, or carrying yokes around the city… I know that everyone all over the world has their own difficulties in living but I really admire Vietnamese people and how hard they work to afford a tough city life. Even though how fast the city has developed, Hanoian people still keep their own tradition and culture. In the end, everything I have mentioned comes from culture. And they are making the culture and profit us as travellers to see and understand a country better.

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Vietnam: Saigon

Found myself in a café where there were quite many young Vietnamese people hanging out. Around me were different kinds of people but they all came here with the same purpose – have a cup of coffee and hang out with friends. And me, sitting alone with a cup of coffee and a note-book.

After a week of travelling alone, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) was my final stop in Vietnam. It was a huge difference coming from Dalat to HCMC. From a place with a little cold draught and quiet alleys to humid and noisy Saigon. This city has a great amount of traffic on the road every day and night. Somehow, it gets even more crowded in the evening, especially District 1. D1 is the centre of Saigon that you can find a lot of backpackers around this area. Yes, I am included. The city seems never sleep in this district.

Walking around the city in the extreme heat, I passed by most of the main attractions. What actually worth a visit must be the war museum. An exhibition demonstrates the story of the Vietnam war. Looking through all the photos, you find sympathy. There is a heartbreaking array of photographs that bring you back to time. Mixed feelings in different visitors but they leave with something to think about. Night life in Saigon is crazy. I don’t have to mention the traffic but the amount of people going out is massive. I hid myself from the crowd by going up to a rooftop bar where are few steps away from the backpacker’s area. You are gonna love the view. The light is on and brings the city a spark at night. It is actually the highlight of my stay in Ho Chi Minh city.

I was in the rush so did not have the time to do any trips outside the city. But you are here, don’t miss the boat trip on the Mekong Delta or a trip to Cu Chi tunnels.  DSC_0507

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Vietnam: Easy-rider On The Go

It was a spontaneous trip that was recommended by some people I met on the way. It was worth the fear being ridden on a motorbike. You get a chance to have a better view of the surrounding and feel like having a real adventure. If you are a backpacker, I think you should take a trip with an Easy-rider to experience the real Vietnam.

The trip I took was to the elephant waterfall. With $25, i was taken to many places along the way – to flower farm, mushroom farm, chicken village… Silk factory is quite interesting. Out of curiosity, I finally knew how silk is made. There, i saw the cocoon and how they make silk from those cocoons. How fascinating is is that a cocoon is able to produce kilometres of silk string. The whole process is demonstrated in the factory.

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We moved on to the coffee farm where they plant several kinds of coffee trees. Our guide introduced us all of them and even showed us the process of making weasel coffee. I had heard about it before and found it kinda disgusting. However, after seeing it myself how it is made, I dared to take a try. Surprisingly, it tasted not bad at all, even good. I enjoyed it even more with a magnificent view from the balcony.

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After visiting some places, we got to our main destination – the elephant waterfall. The waterfall is not really special to me since I have seen some better. However, it was quite a trip to get closer to the waterfall. If you visit, I would recommend you to wear shoes and old clothes.

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It got more interesting on the way back. I was terrified a bit sitting behind my easy-rider. He went really fast and tried to avoid all the big busses from both directions. The fear was shown clearly on my face. The rider told me – Sometimes you have to take a risk for an adventure. We went up on the hill and to the Tuyen Quang lake where it is said that you can find all the romance here. After that, our last stop of the trip was Linh Phuoc pagoda. I was stunned by its architecture. The whole place is decorated by ceramic mosaics made from deliberately broken crockery. Every single detail is so beautiful.

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The trip is really worth to try when you are in Dalat. And there is no better way than taking an Easy-rider. If you can drive a motorbike, you can take the trip yourself too. However, I would prefer to go with a local to know better about places I go.

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Vietnam: Coffee Village (Làng Trung Nguyên) @ Buon Ma Thuat

Buon Ma Thuat is not popular among tourists. I have asked some travellers in Vietnam and no one has ever heard of this place. There is a direct flight from Hanoi to Buon Ma Thuat that takes 1 and a half hour. I randomly picked this destination but there is no regret. The town itself doesn’t have any special attractions. Mostly they are 1-2 hours away from Buon Ma Thuat. For example, Buon Don Village – famous for its elephant races and the suspension bamboo bridge. However, you do not know that Buon Ma Thuat is actually the centre of the coffee making.

If you have landed to Buon Ma Thuat, visiting the Coffee village is a must. Come here around 9 o’ clock to have a breakfast and a cup of Vietnamese Trung Nguyen coffee. You can actually find the Vietnamese filter coffee everywhere in Vietnam, every café corner. But how great it is to taste the coffee from its origin. Gotta say, I cannot have 2 or 3 Vietnamese coffee a day because it is kinda strong but it tastes absolutely delicious. With a touch of the condensed milk, it makes the coffee have a little taste of chocolate.

The place is surrounded by coffee and tea trees. You can actually pick some coffee seeds to try out yourself. The skin of the coffee fruit is eatable and I tried it – it tastes nothing like coffee unfortunately. There is also a museum that exhibit all the products to make coffee – from drying machine to storages… One guy showed me around the museum and explained me the function of each product. It is quite different from what I have learned but it is nice to know another way of making coffee.

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Vietnam: From Buon Ma Thuat To Buon Don

It was a hell of a ride. With a bus from the centre of Buon Ma Thuat, it takes about 1 hour to get to Buon Don Village. I settled myself in a hotel in the centre of Buon Ma Thuat and directly took the bus to the village. The bus ride must be the scariest one that I have ever had. I arrived safely in Buon Don which was a miracle.

Buon Don is known by its Cầu Treo (the Hanging Bridge/Suspension Bridge) which is made by bamboo and rattan and connected by iron cable and its elephant races which is held every March.  I gave a try crossing the bridge and ehm… I truly need to practice on my balance. The bridge looks quite fragile but it is actually very stable. The bridges are tighten on huge ancient trees that are hundreds years old and grown along Srepok river. It is so calming with the sound of the stream around and being surrounded by nature.

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It is also possible to try riding an elephant here in Buon Don, either around the village or through the stream. However, I refused to take that ride. The elephants look not so happy so I would prefer not to exploit them.

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One thing that you will find everywhere here is Nhà Sàn (Pfahlbau/Stilt House). They are built with wood on stilts. People here believe that they build their houses above the ground to prevent wild animals to get in. The wildness from the outside looks interesting. I could imagine the life in that wooden house must be fascinating – living so close to the nature, feel every single draught…

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If you have more time, try to take a visit in the village to see the lifestyle of this place. People here are extremely kind and friendly. I felt so warm and welcomed. Buon Don is not very popular among tourists but once you are here, you will see another culture of Vietnam. It’s nothing like the city.


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Flying myself to South East Asia for 6 weeks

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I have been planning this trip for awhile. As I am visiting my family in Vietnam, I’m gonna lengthen my stay in Asia for few more weeks to head South West of Vietnam then go on to other neighbour countries. And the exciting thing is, I am going to attend the Chinese New year – Lunar New Year, which is happening on the 19th February.

So here is my upcoming trips in South East Asia:

12 Jan – I am flying to Hanoi, Vietnam. There, I will be staying with my family for one week.

19 Jan – Heading to Buon Ma Thuot by plane (1 day stay). 20 – 22 Jan – to Dalat either by bus or by Easy rider. 23 – 25 Jan – Ho Chi Minh City

I try to manage to travel within Vietnam within one week.

26 Jan – Taking the bus from Ho Chi Minh city to Phnom Penh, Cambodia (2 days stay)

28 Jan – Siem Reab (2 days stay)

30 Jan – Bangkok

3 Feb – Flying to Yangon, Myanmar
I will be travelling around Yangon for 1 week. I think I will probably visit Thanlyin and Dala.

12 Feb – Luang Prabang or Vientian, Laos (I haven’t decided yet where I will go in Laos and if I am going. It will depend on how much I have left if I can afford the flight to Laos)

16 – 25 Feb – I will be staying in Vietnam and celebrate Lunar New Year with my family 🙂

I will make my trip spontaneous, therefore, I haven’t booked any tickets yet. At the moment, I just know I’m flying to Vietnam on the 12 Jan and I cannot wait to see my family again. I also cannot wait to see what are awaiting ahead. This trip I travel on my own so this will be my second solo trip I’m gonna take. I really hope I will see many people on the way. To be honest, I know it is quite dangerous for an Asian girl travelling in Asian countries but I’m sure I will manage everything and everything goes well.