Halong Bay, Sapa and Dong Hoi

Hello everyone,

Sorry that this blog post is again so long. I’m will try to improve. This is what happend the last days:

I booked a 3 day tour to Halong Bay at the Hostel in Hanoi. Halong means descending Dragon. The bay is full of little, completely untouched islands with huge rocks on them. We took the bus from our Hostel to Halong City to take the boot from there. On the way I saw a lot of flooded rice fields and also factories of Panasonic, Canon and Foxconn. We were a group of about 20 people. Most of them were couples. Once we arrived at the boat, we checked into our rooms there. I shared a room with the only other guy that came their on his own ;).

The first day was amazing. We had good weather. The scenery was unbelievable beautiful and I tried my best to capture it with my camera. We saw a lot of other tour ships on our way. Halong Bay is probably the main attraction of Vietnam. On the way we did a lot of activities. We visited a cave, went hiking, swimming and kayaking. It was so much fun! We also got spoiled with great lunch and dinner. At the end of this day the crew tried to make us sing karaoke. Not many people were interested and even those who where didn’t find much songs that they knew. So I had to help out and I made a great performance of “Land down under” and “Stille Nacht” ;). After that the room was empty pretty quickly and I followed the others to the rooftop of the boot ;). It was dark, the crew continued to do karaoke on their own for at least another hour and we enjoyed the view of the bay at night while drinking a few beers and talking to each other. After that we went to bed and slept very well :)

On the second day it was rainy and misty. We went to Cat Ba Island and took the bus to the nature park there. It was closed because of the heavy rain. The administration said that we can not enter because it’s to slippery and dangerous. So the bus went on to the hotel. During the day the weather improved and we took the boat to Monkey Island. Monkey Island is known for, you probably guessed it, MONKEYS! But when we arrived there we didn’t see any. So a few of us went hiking. The path was super steep and very often is was more like climbing than hiking. The ones of us that only brought flip flops went back as it was just too difficult for them. After an half hour hiking we were exhausted and relaxed in the water. While we cooled down in there, we noticed that a crowd was gathering around a tree. So we went out of the water and a few monkeys sat there. People feed them cookies and someone even gave them a can of Fanta. It was fun watching them as they ate the food very human like. These monkey weren’t shy at all. We were all standing just about a meter away from them. I took a few pictures and made a video. Later we left and went back to the hotel. We spent the night together in a nearby bar. We found the bar cause staff put a flyer on our hotel dinner table. The bar claimed, I quote, to be a “great place for foreigners”. So we just had to go there :D

The last day of the Halong Bay Tour wasn’t very exciting. We were all dropped at our hotels. I waited a few hours at the hostel and then I took the night train to Sapa. Sapa is a small town in the north of Vietnam. It’s a famous hiking place. It was so much cooler there, we had only about 20 degrees Celsius. After 2 months of hot weather I really enjoyed this climate. I remember someone saying “I missed being cold”. So this night was the first night I slept without an AC, but with a blanket since a while.

The next day I meet a few Australian guys that I knew from the Hanoi Hostel again in Sapa. They were planning to hire a motorbike and to discover the area. Me and 2 others decided to go with them, as we didn’t had better plans. I actually didn’t want to drive. But everyone told me that an automatic motorbike is super easy to drive and that there would be no reason for me to be scared of that. I decided to do it and we left. And yeah, they were right, it was surprisingly easy.  The first place we went to was a waterfall. When we saw the waterfall we stopped and parked our motorbikes. The way we chose to walk to the waterfall was super steep and soon turned out to be the completely wrong way. So we went back and discovered that the actual way to the waterfall was just around the corner at the road we were coming up the mountain. This way was much easier to walk up and we got a beautiful view of the waterfall :). Now we were hungry. So we went back to the motorbikes and drove down the road in the hope to find a restaurant. We found one after about an half hour of driving. Now we felt stronger again and went on our way to the next waterfall. This one was much nicer and bigger. All the fog made it feels like we’re in a tropical jungle. Just that it was way too cool for that. Then we decided to go back to the hotel. On the way back, I fell a bit behind and after a while I couldn’t see any of the other motorbikes anymore. Then I suddenly saw them again at the side of the road, standing there. I stopped and they told me that one of them fell. The motorbike slipped on a piece of mud on the street and the boy and the girl sitting on it fell with it. They both had wounds on their elbows and knees. The locals guided us to a pharmacy nearby. We bought some disinfect there and used the bandage of my first aid kit to take care of the wounds. So this day was the first time I drove a motorbike and also the first time I needed to use my first aid kit.

For the next 2 days I had booked a hiking tour with home stay. Claire, my ex roommate from this Hostel did it before and liked it. I walked with a woman from the H’mong tribe. The H’mong people are a minority in Vietnam. They only have a few villages around Sapa. They look very different from regular Vietnamese people. They are excellent hikers and offer private tours to earn some money. My guide was called Sah. She was 34 years old and gave birth to a baby just one month ago. She carried it on her back. We walked a few hours from Sapa to her village. The first 2 hours it rained cats and dogs. The way was very muddy and I nearly fell a bunch of times. Sah, who is much smaller than me, had to hold me a few times. When we arrived at the village, my shoes were soaked and fully covered with mud. She walked the whole way with plastic sandals without even slipping once. At her house I met her husband and her other 2 sons. They cooked over fire a delicious meal for everyone. I was told before by other travelers, that a lot of rice wine will be consumed over food. This turned out to be right, about every 5 minutes her husband wanted to drink a shot of rice wine with me. When food was finished, we had also finished a bottle of rice wine :)

The next day I felt surprisingly ok, despite all the rice wine of the previous day. We started walking the way back to Sapa. On our way, we saw a Vietnamese guy on a motorbike falling. Luckily I had a bandage and a disinfect with me. I told my guide to tell him that I can help him. I took care of his wounds on leg and knee. Even though he didn’t speak a word English, I clearly saw that he really appreciated what I did. After all this hospitality that I got, it felt got to give something back. This was the second time within 3 days that I took care of the wounds of a motorbike accident. I ran out of bandage now and I need to buy some new soon.

When I arrived in Sapa, I took a sleeping bus to Hanoi. Once I arrived there, I booked at my old hostel a sleeping train to Dong Hoi. Around Dong Hoi is a national park. The park is famous for its huge caves. The day after I arrived there, I did a tour to two of these caves. The first cave we entered in a boat. It was light out with colored spotlights. It looked beautiful! I took some long exposure shots there.

That’s it so far! Enjoy the pictures!


Halong Bay

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Sapa Waterfalls

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Sapa Hiking

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Dong Hoi

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Jaipur and Hanoi

Hi guys :)

I’m in Vietnam right now, eating water melon at the hostel :). Here is what happened the last days I’ve been in India + the first days here in Vietnam. Again this is going to be a long post. Sorry but I just need to write down the crazy things that happened in this short time.

After I got my Vietnam visa in Delhi and with it my passport back, I was able to leave Delhi. I only had a few days left. Maxi left already a few days ago, so this was the first time I traveled on my own in India. I needed to find a place that wasn’t to far away and from which I could easily go to Mumbai, to fly to Vietnam from there. Kamalini, a friend from Pune recommended me a few places to me. I choose Jaipur. So I booked a bus from Delhi to Jaipur and the next morning I found myself on the way :)

The bus dropped me about a kilometer before Jaipur. He told me to take the rickshaw from here as the bus continues to another destination. So I took the rickshaw they provided me. Raja (Raja from Rajasthan as he introduced himself), the rickshaw driver tried very hard to become good friends with me. He showed me a little book where former customers made entries about their experience with him. They were written in a lot of different languages. All of them were really positive. I really wasn’t sure if he is to trust or not. I did the mistake to tell him that I don’t have a hotel booking yet, so he brought me to a hotel of his choice. Which was nice, but I knew there were cheaper places available. He suggested that we could go for drinks tonight. When I was at the hotel I tried to find out if there is a known trick with that. Apparently it happened to a few tourists in Jaipur that they were invited from rickshaw drivers for drinks. At the pub they got offered gems or other things that were clearly faked. They were told that they can sell them for 10 times more in their home country. When Raja came back to pick me up I told him that I won’t buy anything and that this won’t work with me. He said that we will drink at his families home and that they are poor people and don’t have anything to sell. He seemed to be really offended by what I said and for some reason I decided to go with him.

The evening turned out to be really nice then. We bought beer at a shop. He bought it for me so that we could get local price, not the tourist price. Then we went to this families home. All his relatives lived in small houses close to his home. He said “This street is my families street”. The young guys played cricket together and I watched. Later I joined the game. After it got to dark, we started to split into small groups and talked. Later he invited me into his house to eat dinner with him. I meet his wife there, he said he got married to her when he was 12 years old. He also had a son which seemed to be disabled. He said he loves him so much. After we eat he brought me back to my hotel.

The next day I wanted to discover the city on my own. I noticed that the cities major attractions are all close to each other in a central part of the city. So I took a rickshaw that brought me into this area. Big mistake, a lot of people tried to sell things and small tours to me. I couldn’t even walk for 5 minutes without someone bothering me. I went to a sight that astrology instruments that an emperor used to study the stars. It was really hard to understand how you could use these things and whey they are useful. Maybe you just have to know a bit about astronomy to understand it. After I got out I went with a rickshaw driver who offered me to bring me for little money to a much more interesting sight as he said. He brought me to the water palace. A small palace build in the middle of a lake. I took a few pictures of it and went back to the rickshaw. Not sure if he told me before that he brings me to other places as well, but now he said he wants to bring to a place were elephants are for no extra money. I agreed and we went there. When we arrived there I was allowed to touch the elephant. This was really cool. I’ve never been that close to an elephant before. They are really huge animals. I looked into his eye from about an half meter away. This really touched me. They wanted to me to ride on the elephant for about 1000 rupees (about 15$), but I refused. When I went back to the rickshaw he said he brings me now to a factory so they can show me how they make cotton. I felt I knew whats coming now and I was right. They showed me a bit about how they make their cottons and then I found myself in a shop. I took at least 10 minutes till they let me go. The rickshaw driver brought me back to where he picked me up and I paid him.

From there I wanted to walk to the next sight. I walked down the street and suddenly a man came to me. He seemed to be really excited and just asked me if I can write. I was so surprised by this question that I couldn’t ignore him and said yes. He said I need to write a letter for him. He brought me in a backyard and started dictating the letter. It was a love letter. And a really good one, I had to smile very often while he dictated the text. I asked him why he wants me to write this, cause his english seems to be really good, also he noticed when I did small mistakes. He said his english is good but he is does a lot of spelling mistakes and his hand writing is horrible. After we finished the letter, he said he would like to do something for me as well. I asked him if he could show me this little temple that was just next to us. He did that and asked what he could do for me now. I said I’m hungry and if he knows a good restaurant. He started talking about a place in Jaipur where I could buy cheap souvenirs and they would have good food there as well. So we went there, he even paid the rickshaw. Once we arrived, he brought me to such a fabric as well… I got out very quickly this time. He brought me as promised to the restaurant directly after. It was a good and cheap restaurant. I tried “gatta masala”, a dish which Kamalini recommended to me. It was great and I really enjoyed it. After I finished, the guy asks if I wanted to go for drinks. After the food I was in good mood again and agreed. He said he could buy a beer from a shop and we could drink at a friends shop. This friends shop turned out to be this cotton fabric we’ve just been to. A lot of these guys there talked really good english and they loved to tell me about the history of India. After one beer they tried again to sell things to me. After a long discussion about how I feel about all this and him telling how much he needs money to keep up his business and they finally got me and I bought a cheap scarf. A bit later I went with a rickshaw back to my hotel.

The next day was my last day in India. Raja showed me a few sights. Before he had to promise to not bring me to any shop or factory :D. He did that but he asked for a lot of money for it. The sights were nice, but nothing really mind blowing. I was at: The Albert Hall (a museum), the Monkey Temple and the Amer Palace. At the end of the day he brought me to the airport. I did 3 flights in a row. From Jaipur to Mumbai, from Mumbai to Hong Kong and from Hong Kong to Hanoi. As I arrived there I was very happy that the embassy wanted to see a hotel booking and that I had something. They picked me up at the airport and I immediately went to sleep.

At the evening of this day I walked with Marco, a german guy I meet here and just arrived to, through the city. It’s a beautiful city with a lot of Asian flair. A lot of motorbikes are on the street, much more than real cars. The streets are much cleaner than in India. The prices are higher unfortunately.

The next day I went with a few people from the hostel to a nearby temple. After what Jan told me in Delhi about lenses, I wanted to try out my 1.4, 50mm lens again. The pictures I took got really good. If I manage to get through Vietnam without getting anything stolen, I will invest a bit of money into lenses. It seems to be really worth it.

That’s it for now. Congratulations if you read it till here. Now enjoy the pictures :)

Cricket with Raja’s family

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Ammer Palace, Jaipur

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Cotton Factory, Jaipur

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Elephants, Jaipur

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Water Palace, Jaipur

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Albert Hall, Jaipur

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Monkey Temple, Jaipur

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