The first solo trip since Ecuador in 2017. Oh boy, I was excited to be exploring on my own again!
One word to summarise my holiday to North Vietnam – cold.
Travelling at year-end, people warned me about the cold in North Vietnam during the winter season. That said, I was not expecting it to be THAT COLD! The cold was even an unexpected one for the locals.
Checked the weather forecast a few days before my holiday and the temperature was between 13°C to 16°C. When I arrived in Hanoi, the weather plunged to 10°C and it dropped to 9°C with an overcast sky the following day!
Shops that were selling winter wear, such as North Face (imitation or not) were seeing a spike in their sales during that few days from these unprepared travellers who turned up in their summer clothes!
I had Vietnam’s signature, the chaotic traffic that welcomed me to the Old Quarter. For a moment, I felt like I was “out of practice” crossing the traffic. It took me a few road crossings to get used to crossing the roads slowly and confidently.
The cold did not deter me from exploring this chaotic capital! My utmost priority apart from food hunting was to visit the mausoleum to see the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh. I thought to be able to see his body was kinda cool and now I have checked it off my bucket list.
It was awesome to reunite with friends from #soyeleasia. There was plenty to catch up on. It was great fun for them to guide me to all the delicious food, impressive temple of literature most of all, allowing me to get the adrenaline rush commuting in the most local way possible – on a motorbike.
Sapa, located at the mountainous north of Vietnam was colder than Hanoi because it was further up north and at a higher altitude. When I arrived, it was between 2°C – 3°C. To top it off, it was wet and foggy too.
I had an initial plan to wing Sapa, meaning I would get myself on a one-way sleeper bus there. I would get myself a guide and look for homestay accommodations once I arrived. However, I was advised against the idea as there will be a lot of locals celebrating their new year in Sapa.
Looking back, I am happy I heed their advice and went ahead to secure my tour before I leave for Sapa. I encountered people who were unable to get bus tickets back to Hanoi in time which means it ended up affecting their forward plans. There were also people who overpaid for their tours or somehow their tours or accommodations were not well-coordinated.
Like all other years, I spent my new year overseas. Unlike all other years, instead of choosing to be in the city where I could countdown on the streets with fireworks, this time I chose a low-profile way of welcoming the new year. No fireworks, no big celebrations. I was nicely tucked in my mattress with 3 layers of duvets fast asleep when the clock stroke 12.
The wet and muddy hike with visibility of less than 50m was definitely memorable. It was not the most ideal time to hike but at least there are no lurking mosquitoes ready to suck my blood.
If hiking in Sapa was considered roughing it out, the cruise out to Halong Bay was definitely a luxury.
It was wonderful to be able to relax, enjoying nature’s beauty and going for activities such as visiting the oyster farm, kayaking and exploring caves.
With many different nationalities of travellers on board the cruise, I could activate my multilingual “ability” speaking all the 3 different languages to people. It was a good way to work on that part of the brain.
Despite the fact that certain parts of Halong Bay can get very touristic and crowded, this UNESCO World Heritage is definitely worth checking out for its stunning nature, interesting formations of limestones and the emerald green water.
Travel period: 29 December 2018 – 6 January 2019
City/ Towns: Hanoi, Sapa and Halong Bay
Overall expenditure was under S$900, S$877.81 all-in to be exact with the breakdown below.
Personal/ Services: S$35.95
Tours/ Activities: S$423.20
My accommodation looked grossly cheap because it was only the cost of my 3 nights in Hanoi. Those accommodations in Sapa and Halong Bay were covered under the Tours/ Activities as they were part of my tours.
The main expense for this holiday was the 3D2N all-inclusive Halong Bay cruise, it costed more than my air tickets. But hey, no regrets!
Sharing a meal together with the local home-stay family in Sapa was something that warmed my heart. The food was simple yet delicious, definitely the Asian taste that I am familiar with. We also had some home-made wine which well, you might have guessed, kept me happy too!
I caught the flu bug days before I went on the holiday and being sick on a trip is not the best condition one would hope to be in. That did not stop me from eating anything and everything. I only had to be mindful of using the communal or another set of utensils to get food and one set for eating.
Spending the new year of 2015 in the South of Vietnam, a summer getaway to Central Vietnam in 2016 and now with North of Vietnam under my belt to begin 2019. I can now say I covered most parts of Vietnam.
There is no secret that Vietnam is my favourite country in South East Asia with friendly locals, delicious food and the fact that I blend in quite easily.
Despite covering the major regions, I know there are so many places I have not explored such as Phu Quoc, Mui Ne, Dalat, Hue and many more! Most importantly, I do not want my relationship with delicious pho and banh mi to ever end!
I don’t know when I will go back again but I am definitely looking forward to the next time!
Before I sign off, here is a simple video I made for the holiday. Enjoy!