Sometimes a good photo is all about the place and time, and has little to with the photographer or their equipment – as is the case here. I snapped this picture out the window of a speeding van with my broken down Samsung Galaxy S3 one sunny morning leaving Da Nang, Vietnam. It is also the subject of my most popular tweet to date on Twitter (small victories). Da Nang was lovely because we had the place to ourselves. It was a slow city, and our first real taste of the beach on that trip.
Only a week and a half left in beautiful Vietnam before we pack up our bags and head for the equatorial warmth of Indonesia. After our time in the relative cool of Northern Vietnam, moving south down the coast has been a welcome change! Especially for us Canadians who are coming from -30 degrees Celsius in Ontario.
Exploring Cat Ba Island and Ha Long Bay
After a second stop over in Hanoi, we turned our eyes slightly southward – towards Ha Long Bay. Although we didn’t move very far in terms of geography, I would say that Ha Long Bay is one of the “sights of Vietnam”, if you will. Looking around on the internet, many people say that a visit to Ha Long Bay is one of the highlights of their trip here! Others will tell you that it is overrated and not great. So we decided to check it out, and find out for ourselves. Ha Long City was the first stop on the Ha Long Bay leg of the trip, and honestly, I wouldn’t go back there again if the opportunity presented itself. The western part of the city (Bai Chay) is mostly a tourist city, populated with restaurants, hotels, convenience stores and other businesses of that nature. When we arrived, the place seemed pretty dead and the vendors seemed hungry – for business. It was a weird vibe in the town, so after walking around for a while we took a city bus over the bridge to the eastern part of the city (Hon Gai). Food, people, traffic – all of the signs of a normal city! Just not where we were staying.
Our minds made up about Ha Long City, we decided pretty quickly to move on to Cat Ba Island, of which we had only heard good things. The island lived up to its reputation and we spent the next two days exploring by foot, by motorbike and by kayak. Highlights included a visit to Hospital Cave, hiking Ngu Lam Peak, and of course kayaking on Ha Long Bay itself. More about this leg of the trip later! Cat Ba was beautiful, and we made the most of our time there despite a “wasted” day in Ha Long City.
Stopping over in World Heritage Site, Hué
Finally headed for the south! We hopped on a bus/hydrofoil boat/bus combination from Cat Ba Island that took us through Hai Phong and half way down the Vietnamese coast to the UNESCO designated World Heritage Site of Hue (pronounced “hway”, according to Lonely Planet and about half of the people we meet). That is to say, 18 hours later on a bus with no washroom and no WiFi (WeeFee?) we arrived in Hue. Slightly cranky, and slightly tired but happy to be moving.
The city was the imperial capital of Vietnam from 1802 until 1945, the end of French colonial rule in Vietnam. It is the home of the ancient Imperial City, which you can visit for 105,000 VND, and a good stepping off point if you want to visit the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone) ~70 km to the north. Although we only spent one night in Hue, the Vietnam Backpacker’s Hostel was a fun time (free beer hour on Sunday’s!) and we tried some local specialties.
Da Nang – A Developing City by the Beach
Although many people seem to skip Da Nang, we loved it and were happy we stopped there on the way through to Hoi An. Out of a full bus, we were the only people besides two other backpackers that got off in Da Nang. The first night was accommodations in the Da Nang Backpacker’s Hostel, which was clean and new, but offered an extremely relaxed vibe with not a lot around in terms of things to do. The next morning we did our research and set off across the city in search of the Sea Wonder Hotel, rumored to have fair prices, good service and closeness to the beach! Hallelujah!
And so finally, we had our first beach day. And yes people, it was glorious. As glorious as I always thought a beach in the middle of January would be. Mountains are nice, but “we are beach people”, as one of travel mates happily pointed out as we soaked up the rays on that first day. I couldn’t agree more!
With a week and a half left to explore Vietnam, upcoming stops include Hoi An (current location), NHA Trang, Da Lat, Mui Ne and Ho Chi Minh City. Although we have given ourselves a month to see Vietnam, it hasn’t taken us long to realize that it is just enough time. We all want more, and already I am thinking about coming back to this place – despite not having left yet. I won’t lie and say I’m not homesick, because I am. But that doesn’t change the fact that Vietnam is unforgettable.