A Cave on my Tour of Tam Coc
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I rented a motorbike from my homestay and arrived at the pier around 7:00am to catch a boat around Tam Coc. It costed 270,000 Vietnamese Dong because I was the only person in the boat. It was great starting in the early morning because I got some great photos of the rice fields and surrounding limestone mountains. Additionally, I got some great reflection shots of the water. I found it really interesting that the boat driver used his feet to paddle the boat forwards. I didn’t see too much wildlife, just some goats.
Trang An Landscape Complex is a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is composed of spectacular limestone karst peaks, approximately 8 caves, and archaeological traces of human activity from over 30,000 years ago. The two hour boat trip was 200,000 Vietnamese dong and well worth it!
When I was leaving Trang An, I put my key into the keyhole of my motorbike, and it got jammed and would not start. I noticed that someone had purposely put a twig in the keyhole. Earlier, I had decided that 15,000 dong for parking was way too much and had just parked off the highway instead. I suspect the parking attendant or an accomplice of his had put the twig in my bike. After unsuccessfully removing the twig, I called my homestay and they came to pick me up in less than 20 minutes. They also took care of replacing the lock which I greatly appreciated. I learned my lesson that in Vietnam, one should always use parking facilities.
Cycling by Rice Fields Towards Bich Dong Pagoda
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I took a ferry and bus to Tam Coc and arrived at Tam Coc Homestay in the late afternoon. It is in the middle of beautiful rice fields away from the main town.
I grabbed a bicycle and headed to Bich Dong Pagoda which is a charming three tiered cave pagoda. Hardly anyone was there.The scenery in the area is stunning and I’m glad I decided to stay in Tam Coc instead of Ninh Binh.
Filming “A Summer in Vietnam” on Cat Co 2 Beach
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Today, I met the film crew at 7:15 am at Cat Ba Beach Resort on Cat Co 2 Beach. An amazing 5 star resort on the furthest beach from Ca Ba’s city center (a 20 minute walk). I met the Assistant Director, Viet, in a hotel lobby a couple days before and he invited me to be an extra in the German film “A Summer in Vietnam”. I would be playing the role of a tourist.
I brought a couple changes of clothes with me with no logos, got free breakfast, and started my day by relaxing on a beach chair. It was fun but also a little boring. Two other people from Vancouver were also extras along with several other Vietnamese people. We pretended to play in the water, read magazines, talk in resort’s restaurant, and walked around to create movement in the scenes.
It was fun and I would definitely try it again! I received $30 USD as well as free breakfast and lunch. If I had more time, I would have stayed longer to do more acting there. The German cast and Vietnamese film crew were lovely.
On a side note, I have met four other people from Vancouver in the past two days which is crazy!
Cat Co 1 Beach
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The weather seemed to be cooperating again, so I walked to the three popular beaches in town with Baptiste. All three beaches are within walking distance of the main street of Cat Ba and are located next to each other. It was lovely to relax, read, and spend some time practicing yoga.
Hiking Through the Jungle of Cat Ba National Park
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Finally, some nice weather appeared!
Baptiste (who I had met the day before on our tour of Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay) and I decided to go hiking in today in Cat Ba National Park. Again I booked my tour AliBabas for $18 USD which is a great price. I really want to see the endangered Cat Ba Langur, but I wasn’t lucky enough. There are approximately 60 left in the world and all of them reside in Cat Ba National Park.
The four hour hike was mostly through a paved trail in the jungle until you get to the mountainous section which is a little scary. The path becomes spiky rocks for a couple kilometers. Although we didn’t see any animals, our hiking group saw incredible spiders, bugs, red crabs, caterpillars, and heaps of butterflies.
We stopped for lunch at a “remote” village called Viet Hai. It resides in a large valley, but it seemed quite the opposite of remote. It seemed to be flourishing with new construction and a growing community with its own tourism. After lunch, we continued our hike along the roadway passing cattle and goats as well as banana, lycee, and mango trees.
I didn’t know that a boat trip was also included in the tour, so that was great! The weather was gorgeous and we ended up going to Monkey Island again. This time, I got all the way to the top of the mountain and was able to take some amazing photos!
Kayaking with Ella in Ha Long Bay
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Elle and I booked our tour of Ha Long Bay, Lan Ha Bay and Monkey Island through AliBabas Tours for $16 USD.
From Cat Ba Island, the tours are much cheaper than going directly from Ha Long Bay. Unluckily, the weather was grey and it rained in the afternoon. Our boat started off by zig-zagging through a floating village which was very spread out and quite pretty. You could see many dogs walking along the pontoons and sectioned off areas for fish farming as well.
In the morning before it rained, we did some kayaking through Ha Long Bay which was very beautiful! We went through two caves (Light Cave and Dark Cave) and found ourselves in several picturesque lagoons. Unfortunately, the water was a bit cloudy so we could see any fish. One elderly woman yodeled like she was trying to speak whale the entire time she was in the cave which made Elle and I laugh hysterically.
After lunch, we went swimming on a remote patch of sand protruding from a beautiful limestone cliff in Lan Ha Bay. It was pretty cold, so I didn’t swim for too long. Additionally, we stopped by a large limestone cliff that our guide climbed up and then jumped off. Of course there was a sign at the bottom that prohibited climbing, but that didn’t stop him.
Lastly, we stopped at Monkey Island which is a beautiful touristic island with one hostel on it. There is a famous hike to the top for a 360 degree view of the area, however it was too rainy and dangerous to climb so we decided not to. As usual on Monkey Islands, (there is also one in Thailand that I visited) the monkeys are quite aggressive and cheeky; steeling food and belongings from dumb tourists who forget that these are wild animals that potentially have diseases.
Entering Hanoi’s Old Quarter
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I arrived at Central Backpacker’s Hostel – Old Quarter at 3:00am and was careful to not wake anyone.
I checked into the same hostel as Ella who I had met on Koh Rong Samloem in Cambodia. We met on the eighth floor for breakfast and it was great to catch up as we gazed out at the amazing view of Hanoi. It was quite chilly and grey outside.
We decided to take our time and explore the city on our own. Elle had already been in Hanoi for a couple days and knew her way around a little bit. Hanoi’s Old Quarter greatly reminds me of a European city with its narrow streets, walkability, and traditional brick architecture.
Josh, an American guy, Ella and I had met while travelling earlier recommended that we go to “Always”, a Harry Potter themed café. After getting lost, we eventually found it and ordered some butter beer! It was lovely and I wish there was a Harry Potter café in Vancouver.
Afterwards, Ella headed back to the hostel and I decided to do some more sightseeing on my own. I walked around the Hoàn Kiếm Lake.
I also stopped by the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. It depicted women’s roles in Vietnamese culture and society before the American war, during the war, and after the war. I’m glad I got the audio-guide to add more context and stories to the artifacts displayed. It was amazing and inspiring to hear how dedicated and tenacious the women of Vietnam are. During the war, one woman would disguise herself as a broom seller to sneak messages to other rebels. The brooms she sold were terribly crafted so no one would buy them which provided her with the perfect cover. Another woman actually acted mentally unstable and as an outcast so no one would bother her. Several teenaged girls who stood up for their rights, were sentenced went to jail and still did not give into interrogation.
A Vietnamese Family Stops to Purchase Bananas from a Street Vendor
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Most of my time in Ho Chi Minh City was spent at my hostel getting things in order for the upcoming months.
I did stumble upon a Sunday night market on Pham Ngu Lao Street which was great! It is difficult to cross roads in the city because of the sheer volume of motorbikes. As a result, you just have to start walking across the road slowly and even-paced. The motorcyclists will just make their way around you.
A lot of meat is made into sausage and other processed meats varieties. I am always a little worried that I’m eating dog.
I met Yến-nhi (pronounced Yenni), an American-Vietnamese woman, in my hostel. We explored the city center one afternoon together. She is also in marketing, so it was great to converse about event planning and business, especially the prices of certain items in Vietnam.
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My friend Ella and I made it to Saracen Bay after waiting for 4 hours for the ferry and trudging though a rain storm. We split the cost of a reasonable bungalow on the beach owned by The Beach Island Resort. After not the best day, the two of us decided to make the best of the evening by getting pina coladas at a bar on the beach. We even got them to play Jimmy Buffett’s “If You Like Pina Coladas” song which made my day!
The following two days, I explored Lazy Beach and Sunset Beach. Both are beautiful and about a 40 minute hike through the jungle from Saracen Bay. I prefer Lazy Beach because it only has one set of bungalows along a section of it, whereas Sunset Beach has many different properties lining the beach. Both are essentially deserted and great for swimming.