Tag Archives: caves

Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 1

Riding a motorbike the length of Vietnam is becoming a popular way to see the country. After hearing about a fellow traveller’s motorcycle adventure from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City I decided to do it. So I bought a scooter in Hanoi and prepared for an adventure that would take the better part of three weeks.

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Here’s a brief breakdown of my trip…

Day 1 – Hanoi to Ha Long Bay – 167km
Ha Long Bay is a tourist destination not traditionally part of the Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City route, but I added it anyway. It would give me a chance to test my scooter over long distance.

The main highway is well maintained and once I was out of the super bustle of Hanoi it was even relaxing. With my speed averaging between 50 and 60 kilometre per hour, a good speed without pushing the scooter, the trip took about 5 hours. With a terribly sore arse and only 5km short of my hotel I discovered I had a flat tyre. A friendly local offered to fix it for me for US$5.

Later, after checking into my hotel I went for a ride to have a look around the city and book a cruise.

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Day 2 – Ha Long Bay Boat Cruise
It was a misty, overcast day for my cruise. But being the middle of winter all is forgiven. Ha Long Bay means literally ‘descending dragon bay’ and has around 1600 limestone monoliths scattered around it. While it was chilly out on the water and the skies grey, the views were still amazing. Mist hung around the monoliths giving the bay both an eerie and magical appearance.

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The tour took us to some interesting places and we got to walk through the depths of Thien Cung Grotto, a large touristy cave system where many sections were lit up in colours.

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We also visited a floating village, a fish market and a pair of small monoliths called Fighting Cock Rocks, which from certain angles look vaguely like a pair of chickens fighting.

Day 3 – Ha Long Bay to Ninh Binh – 175km
On several occasions during today’s ride it threatened to rain, but other than vaguely spitting, nothing came of it. Today, when my arse began to get sore, I stopped and got off the bike for a bit. Five minute every hour seemed to work well.

I arrived in Ninh Binh on time and after settling in the hotel, I headed out to explore. I found a place called Bich Dong Pagoda, which is a buddhist temple set into the side of a limestone mountain.

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I followed a path into the cave, up a long set of stairs to a higher cave and a shrine, outside and up another set of stairs to another building which offered great views. A thin trail lead up around behind this building and ever curious, I had a look. Thirty minutes later, I’d climbed the jagged rocks of the mountain and stood at the top looking out over monoliths surrounded by wet rice paddies.

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Day 4 – Ninh Binh to Thanh Hoa/Sam Son Beach – 64km

The weather has been overcast for much of my time in Vietnam, clearing up a little in the afternoons. Today, however, I awoke to blue skies. This decided my next stop. The beach. The ride was barely longer than an hour and as I arrived in Thanh Hoa, I discovered the huge Thien view Truc Lam Ham Rong temple and pagoda on a hill.

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Then when I was settled into the hotel, where beyond the word ‘hello’ no-one could speak English, I was back on the bike and rode the 13km out to Sam Son beach. While the skies were bare of clouds, the beach was virtually empty. Winter. I rode around the Sam Son area for some time, discovering a large portion of the beach front is a construction zone. Dozens of brick buildings are in the process of being demolished, likely to build more resorts.

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Day 5 – Thanh Hoa to Hong Linh – 174km

Today’s five hour ride was fairly straightforward. In the small town of Hong Linh, I arrived at my hotel to find the years had not been kind to it. Seven years ago, a flood struck the town, possibly flooding the lower levels and killing the hotel’s business. After settling in, I took a ride around town and stopped to admire the local catholic church.

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Compared to the rest of Asia, Vietnam has a lot of churches. You can see their spires as you approach each city and town. In comparison, there are very few buddhist temples, although most houses still have shrines.

Vietnam North1

In Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 2, I travel into Central Vietnam and explore the areas struck hardest by the American War.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Vang Vieng, Laos – Impressions

Vang Vieng was little more than a staging post Vientiane and Luang Prabang until the US airforce built an airbase there during the Vietnam War. Since the war the town has attracted backpackers who have flocked there as a site of adventure.

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Four hours by bus north of Vientiane, Vang Vieng is nestled on the Nam Song river surrounded by mountains. It was perhaps the second worst bus ride of my travels but on arrival it felt glorious to be in the mountains again. But even though Vang Vieng is only 234 metres above sea level, the days are cooler and the nights often chilly. It’s the first time I’ve had to wear long pants in Asia.

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Vang Vieng has a reputation. The New Zealand Herald once suggested, “If teenagers ruled the world, it might resemble Vang Vieng.” And I would have to agree with them. Vang Vieng’s target audience seems to be backpackers in their 20s.

Wat That?
Well duh, it’s a temple. Wat That is one of five such temples in town in the typical Laotian style.

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Pha Poak Mountain
Not far from town is a small rocky hill which gives great views over the larger mountains and a panoramic view across the town. While on a casual stroll around town, I followed a sign across the river and through a set of fields to the hill.

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I hadn’t intended to climb anything as I was only in flip-flops, but since I was there I climbed it and indeed the views were superb.

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Tubing
Take a large tyre inner tube, a backpacker and a river, and you have tubing. An idea formed by the locals who organised themselves into a cooperative business involving more than 1,555 households. Tuk-tuks drop groups ten kilometres upstream where they launch into the water and drift their way slowly back to town a handful of hours later.

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While the views are amazing along the way the scenery isn’t the only drawcard. At various points along the river, locals have set up river bars for tubers, throwing out ropes to drag them in. Along the river there are other adventures to be had, trekking to caves, zip lining and other such activities.

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Unfortunately, the safety levels are fairly low and 22 tourists were killed during 2011 on such tubing trips. Supposedly safety measures have been better implemented since then. and while it has reduced the deaths, they haven’t stopped entirely. I chose not to do the tubing, instead choosing another method to float down the river.

Kayaking
As part of a full day tour, I kayaked with a group along the river. Unfortunately because it’s dry season the river was low, so we only kayaked for about 6km instead of the usual 15km. I managed to get a solo kayak to myself and this allowed me more freedom.

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The views of the river and surrounding mountains were marvellous. A little way along, we started encountering the river bars and stopped at one for a beer.

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Then it was back in the water and paddling along through brief periods of rapids and slow patches. On my smaller solo kayak I was able to quickly paddle back up the river to some of the other kayaks, spin around and paddle backwards, or just drift sideways. It was a lot of fun. I found that many of the more dangerous swings and other activities had been closed.

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Wet Cave
I did end up on an inner tube at one point. As part of the kayaking day tour, we floated into a low-roofed water-filled cave with head lamps on.

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The water was quite cold, but I quickly became accustomed to it. The cave was perhaps only 50 metres long with a loop at the end.

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Elephant Cave
Perhaps one of the smaller of many dozens of caves in the region, we went to a cave where elephants used to sleep when it rained. When humans moved to the area and planted crops, the elephants ate it all, so the locals were forced to move the animals. The cave is now a buddha shrine.

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Overall, Vang Vieng is a peaceful little town on the backpacker route. It’s just a shame that the backpackers are often attracted here more for the partying aspect rather than the adventure, but thus is South-East Asia. If I had more time, I would have hiked through the mountains for several days. Perhaps another time…

Next I head north for my final Laos destination, Luang Prabang.

The Long Trail Wanderer