After a hot 48 hours in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia (which was amazing despite why we ended up there), a 3 hour flight to Da Nang, and a 1 hour wait at our hostel, we were finally reunited with Hayden!
I laid down some rules after the boys had their warm embrace. Rule 1: you have 48 hours free rein (aka drinking) after that, we’re real people getting down to the travelling thing we are here for! Rule 2: I am cutting either the hair or beard. Rule 3: I am the boss... (I am still trying to get them to adhere to that one).
And so the drinking began... we quickly learned the Vietnamese word for cheers, and it’s an easy one, “zooooooo!”
Da Nang is a city in central Vietnam, its mostly only used as a pass through to Hoi An and that’s exactly what we did. The next morning (the boys moving a bit more slowly), we taxied to Hoi An, the ancient town famed for being an UNESCO heritage site. We were dropped off at the door of Miss Ly’s restaurant; the oldest and most well known family-ran restaurant in Hoi An. The original Miss Ly was over 90 years old, she sat right outside the kitchen peeling sweet potatoes. Her daughter was now running the restaurant and cooking for the guests.
Hoi An is BEAUTIFUL! There is something magical about the small town; it is covered in colourful lanterns, European influence on top of ancient Chinese architecture, and the pedestrian streets filled with people along the canal. The town itself dates back to the 15th century with some of the original wooden structures still in tact and so it all comes together to create an unique charming little town.
Here are are some pictures of Hoi An, although I could write 1000 words to describe it:
But the most important picture of all, is this quintessential photo of Hoi An which showcases the two besties modeling their new matching yellow watermelon shirts:
Hoi An is also the starting point to motorbike the Hai Van Pass through to Hue. We were fortunate to find a company that would take our big bags and we jumped on our first motorbike tour of Vietnam! (For those who may not know, Vietnam is a cyclists/motorcyclists dream - many, many tourists come to Vietnam specifically to ride the entire coast of the country.)
The total trip was 123 kms and took 4 hours from start to finish.
At the end of the Hai Van Pass we got onto Highway 1 to get the rest of the way into Hue. This wasn’t at scenic and peaceful as climbing the coastal mountain. Let me paint you a little picture... going from winding roads, switch backs to climb up the mountain range, pine trees that made the air smell so vibrant and fresh, descending into little coastal towns with white beaches... to a big highway, full of big dump trucks, cargo trucks, trucks carrying obese pigs, local buses, tourist buses, cars and motorbikes speeding past you.
*Reminder: this is our first time on motorbikes in Vietnam, especially on a highway. We (as in Carter because I am certainly not driving one of these things) don’t know the local road etiquette yet. Does a honk mean “Hi there, coming around the corner, just want to give you a heads up!” Like it does in St Lucia? Does it mean “I don’t want to startle you but I am coming up behind you!” Like it does in the Philippines or does it mean “MOVE!!!!!” As it means in Vietnam, which we were about to learn. So when a transport truck is coming toward us and a tourist bus is coming up behind us honking, where does that leave us? Carter pulled to the side of the road but maybe not quickly enough for the bus driver’s liking (or EXTREMELY bad timing) because as the completely-packed-with-tourists bus drove past us, the toilet trap door was released out onto the road... and out BLASTED all the *god knows what* for the on board toilet RIGHT onto the ENTIRE front of Carter (yep, face included). The shitter ain’t full anymore, Cousin Eddie. I have never seen someone pull over so quickly and have certainly never heard the high-pitched screaming that was coming from Carter before... “Ahhhh!! What is that.... Ahhh!! OMG! It’s S***!! It’s S***!! Hayden! Haaaaaydeeeen, pull over, pull over!!!!” I couldn’t stop laughing ONLY because he blocked it all from hitting me so I came away unscathed, thank the freaking lord!!!
Shortly after that debacle, we drove into the city of Hue. Hue was much less beautiful than Hoi An but just as interesting. We spent an entire afternoon walking around the Imperial City which was formed in the 1800s and used to house Emperors and Dynastys until the mid 1945 when the last Vietnamese emperor abdicated and the communist government was established. Other than learning some interesting historical facts about Hue and Vietnam as a whole, we didn’t spend much more time here.
Phong Nha was next on the list, so we hopped on our first sleeper bus and made our way North! We claimed the back of the bus which was private, spacious and unfortunately right beside the washroom where a local lady ended up puking all over. Yay. (Side note: Asians do NOT care about bodily movements, if you have to puke all over the toilet, or spit onto the ground, or continue to puke into a bag and leave it in the aisle - you go glen coco, you do what you gotta do!) If you haven’t noticed, we’re on a pretty great bodily fluid hot streak... =|
Phong Nha is a small town on the outskirts of Phong Nha Ke-Bằng National Park. This stop was all about nature and getting into the mountainous landscape. We decided to forego an organized tour (as we try and do whenever and wherever we can). Our plan was to get to Son Doong Cave, the biggest cave in the world! So much so that it has its own climate, river system and and jungle within it! We were ready to take on this beast! Wrong. Apparently only a certain number of tourists can do expeditions within the cave; it’s a cool $3000USD for a 5 day trip and oh ya, it’s already fully booked for the next year! A little deflated but also optimistic that maybe we’d be back to take on Son Doong, we rented motorbikes and we were off the our first stop! Here are some of the views we saw along the way:
Our first stop was Paradise Cave. Okay,, so it’s a little less impressive than Son Doong but still, Paradise Cave has been the biggest cave we’ve ever been in to date. We climbed down 100-ish steps to the bottom of this massive 31 km cave! This cave holds the record for longest dry cave in Asia, and so, we walked... and walked... and walked. We were fortunate to get there before any tour busses or other tourists got there so other than a couple locals, we had the cave all to ourselves. This is amazing for two reasons: the first, getting a tourist attraction to yourselves almost never happens so we cherish it when it does, and two, if we weren’t walking and/or talking the silence within the entire cave was almost as beautiful as the cave itself!
We made our way to Ninh Binh, next, another town known for the amazing landscape and natural attractions around it.
And just like that came December 15th, what a glorious day! As the birthday girl, I woke up to breakfast in bed (it was already included with our hotel room but the in bed part was pretty nice & thoughtful!) Carter had somehow managed to sneak away and buy me a present. This is extremely hard to do when we have literally been spending 24/7 together. So I was really surprised to unwrap (aka open a plastic bag) to a pair of socks and slippers! I know what you’re all probably thinking..”so romantic???...” Well, in our next blog you’ll know how useful they came in!
Also, a super big heartfelt thank you to all of those who signed a birthday card for me in advance! It was so nice to wake up and be able to read all the wishes from my friends and family back at home xo A bigger thank you to Jen for knowing my love of cards and thinking of this idea!
After breakfast we hopped onto our motor bikes and went to Trang An to do a river boat cruise. This was an amazing experience, we got into a private paddle boat with just us three and a guide. Our guide took us up the river through beautiful scenery, through 8 caves and around the river for 3 kms, all of which took 2.5 hours.
We maybe would have been quicker to finish but Carter took the reigns on paddling for a bit, and well, let’s just say he wasn’t as efficient as the guide..
After that we went to climb Mua Cave & Dragon Mountain. It was a fairly easy climb compared to some of the ones we’ve done but nonetheless, the view of Tam Coc River and the rice fields were breathtaking. It was a bit overcast so the pictures don’t do it justice but here they are:
After the days adventures, we boarded our first train of Vietnam towards Hanoi!
Carter Bender & Brittany Wilson left Toronto, Canada to travel the world. Where will they be next? Follow their #cbwtravels blog to find out!