Last stop in Vietnam; Ho Chi Minh

Arrived into HCM on an easy 4 hour bus that dropped me at the bus station right in District 1. On the short walk down a few streets to my hostel I immediately knew I was going to like HCM. It doesn’t have the same chaotic charm as Hanoi but it’s close. Street food at every corner, little alley ways filled with beauticians and massage parlours and the usual noisy but entertaining traffic.
My hostel ‘Vintage’ was right on the busy Backpacker Street where at night it was packed with blue and red plastic chairs on the street selling really cheap drinks. I pocked the right spot! 😉

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Blending I'm with the traffic

I had an explore around the surrounding streets, got a Vietnamese ice coffee and enjoyed some people watching. I got some local Hu Tieu soup for dinner and met my friends for some cheap GnTs on the street where you can equally meet locals or tourists.
I had as usual read a lot of travel blogs before arriving and they all raved about the street food. So we decided to a mix of a food tour and sight seeing the next day as we still had the bike.
We tried some delicious food. Banh Cuon is one of my favourite dishes to date!

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Pork dumpling heaven!

We went to the War Remnants Museum because it was close and we were so happy we did! We ended up there for over 3 hours, it was very intense and moving. Made me want to learn more about the war.
Dinner was another blog recommendation which was also amazing!

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Bhan Thit nuong

Il be rolling home at this stage! Too many good food to try! We popped into the markets on the way home but we were fairly tired at that stage so we saved it for the next day.
We booked into an early half day tour of the Cu Chi tunnels. I’m very wary of tours and try to avoid lately but the museum made me want to see them even more. I’m so happy I went. It was amazing to see the intelligence of the Vietnamese to build these unbelievable tunnels with built in kitchen and ventilation etc. We got to walk through some Aswell I don’t know how they lived down there for.do long.

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Getting into a tunnel

We gave the market a second chance after the tour and its actually a very good market and I practiced my bargaining skills hard here. As it was Danas last night before flying home we went to the Saigon skydeckfor a look. Very fancy so we didn’t stay but very nice view. I went on the hunt for salsa but unfortunately it was cancelled. Really missing my salsa fix lately!
My last day in HCM was pretty hectic as I had organised to visit the International School at 8am. I observed some classes and met the staff, such an amazing school! Made me really think about Vietnam as a place to work.
By the time I got back I had just enough time to sell my helmet and find delicious Street food for our last Vietnamese meal 😦 Going to miss the food big-time! Don’t feel ready to leave Vietnam at all but has to be done. Next stop…Cambodia!

Next stop Dalat

The next leg of the journey was quite a long one by bike so I left Nick off and I hopped onto a 12hour night bus from Hoi An to Dalat. I majorly regretted it. I was sitting behind the bus driver who smoked the whole way, beeping the deafening horn and talking loudly to some locals at the front. Even a sleeping tablet didn’t put me out! To make matters worse we got to our half way stop (Nha Trang) at 4am and they threw us off the bus to sit on a footpath for 3 hours to get our connecting bus to Dalat!!  To top it all off the road from Nha Trang to Dalat would have been beautiful by bike but by minivan it was windy and sweaty as hell! Safe to say I was very happy to see Dalat!

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Biking around Dalat

I had booked a hostel called Dalat Family hostel because I had heard such great things and I wasn’t disappointed. An American girl I met on the bus and I arrived to big kisses from ‘Mama’ and she immediately starts cooking dishes upon dishes of food for us for free! By the time we checked in I had to sleep off the food coma and sleepless bus journey.
Nick arrived shortly after so we got straight on the bike, after a Vietnamese coffee ofcourse,and went for an explore. 
We decided to go to the Datanla Falls. The waterfall itself is nice but not too impressive but the best part is the looging you can do to the bottom and back up. We sped down as fast as we could and got our money’s worth. It was great craic! 
We got back just in time for family dinner at the hostel which happens every evening. Mama and her team cook up dishes and dishes of food that everyone shares and puts in their small bowls with rice. The food just keeps coming and is followed by huge banana pancakes that are to die for! Once again major food baby after it. The food is too good to resist. They also do cheap cocktails which is a rarity in Vietnam. We all sat around and chatted and drank before going to the 100rooftops bar which is an amazing bar built lie a maze  with little tunnels and cubby holes everywhere. A must see! The owner is so nice aswell.

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Rooftops Bar

Canyoning is the big thing to do in Dalat but it’s very expensive and I have already done it in Equador so I gave it a miss. We went for an explore of another waterfall called Tiger waterfall which is a neglected but beautiful waterfall just outside the town. We went to the flower garden and the Buddha got some good Pho Ga and then did some repairs on the bike before another huge family dinner at the hostel again.

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Tiger Waterfall

I felt that two full days in Dalat is enough especially if youbhave a bike to explore. I really enjoyed my time there especially because of the hostel. Dalat itself is quite hard to navigate around but again the people are very nice.
Next stop Mui Ne and this time I’m going by bike! 🙂

Time out in Hoi An

After two long days on the bike we decided Hoi An would be a resting spot for us and our sore bums! Unfortunately for us accommodation here is quite expensive because hostels aren’t allowed here so it’s all guesthouses and homestays. We were also quite a long walk away from the old quarter or the centre so we were dependant on the bike a bit.
On first impressions Hoi An looked like just another Vietnamese town packed with tailor shops, street food, tourist shops etc but a stroll through the old quarter at night changed my mind completely. It is definitely touristy but it’s hard not to appreciate the old style buildings, colourful lanterns everywhere and the night market across the bridge is brilliant for souvenirs without being crowded.

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Japanese covered bridge

Our second morning we took the bike to the beach. There are two and we were told An Bang beach was the best. I was pleasantly surprised by the beach. Sea was a little rough but the beach was clean and we found a little laneway further down the beach where a woman let us park and have loungers for free and sold us cheap beers. What more could you ask for?! Before coming to Vietnam I heard mixed reports about the Vietnamese people but I honestly have only found them to be so friendly and helpful.
We took a drive to the other beach for a nose and it was an eerie feeling. It was like a neglected tourist area with half built buildings and a sand bagged beach. We stuck to the 1st beach for the next few days.
We found a cafe that did amazing Cafe Sua so that was frequented daily and we also found a great Street with the famous Banh Mi Queen (for Nick) and various Street food stalls for 20000dong (for me!) Perfect lunch spot.

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Not sure what it is but it tasted good!

Hoi An is famous for its tailoring so I felt the pressure to get something. Unfortunately I’m at the very end of my budget so it was tough to come up with something I could afford. There are literally hundreds of tailor shops so it’s a bit overwhelming. We eventually decided on a shop that seemed the cheapest and most helpful. I couldn’t get anywhere near what I wanted but I eventually decided on a smart jacket which was measured and tailored to me over two days. I was disappointed to realise the lining wasnt included in the price but the jacket was made very well and I’m happy with it.

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Lanterns at the night market

By night we ate cheap local food at the night markets and drank cheap fresh beer for 4000 a glass! That’s less that 20cents I’m not a fan of beer but at that price is drink anything!  We met up for drinks with other friends we had met at a local hostel and the pubs were good by the bridge but we’re expensive.
Overall I really liked Hoi An but as a backpacker it’s hard to fully appreciate it as it’s an expensive place by backpacking standards. It’s different from other places I’ve been in Vietnam so definitely happy I made a stop here.

Hello Haivan Pass!

We were both so excited about biking from Hue to Hoi An. We got up bright and early. Dropped our bags to a transport office nearby, sat down to our free breakfast of omelette and mixed fruits and planned out the route.
The drive towards the pass was really interesting. We passes through lots of small fishing villages and rice fields where we could just see all the Vietnamese hats peeking through the long grass. We passed plenty of colourful graveyards and temples. There was always something to look at.

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We made many stops at beaches along the way. We stopped at Lanh Coc beach for lunch but ended up eating in the town because prices were crazy at the beach. I had a disappointing chicken soup and then we were back on the road again. This was where the pass started. Immediately it was beautiful we were both surprised. A well kept wide road with stunning coastal views all the way

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One of the many views on the pass

We made it to the top to see the bunkers, have a drink and chat to some locals trying to sell us souvenirs ofcourse! Then it was time to make our way down the other side of the pass, still with beautiful views.
Our only disappointment was how short it was. It only took us about an hour, taking our time and taking pictures. Hearing all the hype beforehand we thought it would be longer.
Saying that by the time we got to The Marble Mountains we were feeling the tiredness and moreso our backsides were feeling the pain of two days solid on the bike! Marble Mountains were very mediocre and majorly touristy. The dragon bridge In Nha Trang however was very impressive!

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From Nha Trang it was a short 40minute drive into Hoi An where we eventually found a homestay (Accommodation is expensive and not central here!) collected our bags and found some good local streetfood to finish the night off 🙂

Biker chick time! Phong Nha to Hue

This had to be a separate post due to the unexpected eventfulness of the trip. I was so excited to be able to do part of the Vietnam trip by bike as it’s a common thing for travellers to do and it’s meant to be amazing. I feel like I’m missing out on the buses. Most backpackers buy a bike at the start and sell them at the end but my budget wasn’t flexible enough for that and I was nervous of having enough time to sell it. Lucky for me my friend Nick offered to take me on his bike. I couldn’t let that opportunity pass me! I bought a helmet and paid for my bag to be taken on a bus to Hue.
We got off to a late start due to unplanned repairs on our friends bike. We set off eventually and the road was immediately beautiful. The National Park is huge and the roads were perfect for driving.

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Taking a break to admire the view

Our plan was to go off route a little to see old war tunnels so we trusted Google maps which brought us down a road that doesn’t really exist yet. We came to an unfinished bridge but the workers confidently ushered us to take the dirt road beside it which we soon realised was flooded! Nicks bike was no problem but Andys Honda Win struggled. We were delighted with ourselves when we got both bikes and luggage across but that was only the start of it!
We came to bridge after bridge all unfinished and the dirt roads got worse. Andys bike eventually gave up and some workers helped us fix it again. It sounds like torture but it was so much fun! It was like a challenge to find some decent road.

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One of the many unfinished bridges

Needless to say when we did eventually find road we hours later we decided the tunnels were not going to happen and we needed to get moving to make Hue before dark.
We stopped for some much needed water and energy drinks and it was straight back on the bikes to hit the highway all the way into Hue.
We arrived filthy, hungry but hyper from the day to a small guesthouse where our bags were waiting for us. I took a very long much needed shower before exploring Hue a little.
I didnt see much of Hue but it seemed like a nice city with lots of street food and friendly people. I managed to fit in the famous Bun Bo Hue (noodle soup with pork and crab) it was really good.

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Learning some Vietnamese!

Phong Nha

Sleeper bus wasn’t as comfortable as usual but wasn’t too long at least. Arrived into Phong Nha at the very awkward time of 4.30am but luckily they give a dorm room in the price of the bus so I could lay my head down for a few hours when I got there.
Once I was someway alert I met up with my friend Nick for some exploring on the motorbike! I’m turning into a proper biker chick  all I have to do now is learn to drive one myself! 🙂
We took a route recommended by a worker in the hostel, that most don’t do because it’s more off the beaten track. Nicks bike is a dirt bike though so it’s well able for it! The scenery around here is beautiful. Lush, green, dense forest and huge bridges, buffalo swimming in the rivers and again friendly locals waving as we pass by.

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Surrounded by green!

We found The Pub with Cold Beer which I had read about, you can order your own lice chicken and kill it yourself but I decided against it and just went for a safe beer! We also found a Wild Boar Eco Farm where we met the owner Cuang who sat with us for hours teaching is Vietnamese and even came swimming with us in the river!

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Selfie with Cuang at the Eco Farm

We drove through the National Park for a while and it was beautiful. A bike is definitely needed here to properly explore. We had some local pork noodle soup for dinner which was delicious and so cheap. Food in Phong Nha was a huge improvement on Tam Coc!
The main hostel here is Easy Tiger but very expensive so we stayed across the road but the Easy Tiger bar is really good with live music and cheap happy hours so we spent our nights there socialising with all the other backpackers that gathered in the same place nightly.
Phong Nha is known for its amazing caves. They all have a hefty entrance fee so we decided to choose one. We picked the Dark Cave because it sounded the most fun. Three of us drove our bikes through more gorgeous scenery to get to the dark cave. We ziplined into the cave and then walked through mud that got up to my chest and then swim out to wash it all off and finish off with a kayak back to another zipline. It was a great day, so worth it! We took the long scenic route home through the National Park. Landscape is amazing!

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I made it!

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Biking back from the cave

We booked our bags onto a bus so I could ride on the back of the motorbike to the next stop, Hue. We went to a local restaurant to try some local dishes like corn sticky rice and flat shrimp dumplings. All delicious! Followed by a few happy hour drinks ofcourse. Be rude not to!

Tam Coc (Ning Binh)

It’s with a heavy heart I leave Tam Coc on yet another night bus. Comfy though I have to say.   Tam Coc was such an unexpected surprise. I hadn’t heard much about it because a lot of people skip it and because the bus stops in Ninh Binh, which is just a busy town built around a main road, people don’t realise Tom Coc is only 10mins drive away.
I found a place online that was a hostel/homestay called Bamboo homestay. It was perfect location. 5mins walk up a lane surrounded by green paddy’s and mountain views. I was in love straight away. Coming from Hanoi this is bliss!

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Walk down to hostel/homestay

The staff were so friendly and showed me a map and where to go. My friend was arriving later by bike so I went for an explore of the town. The town itself is quite small with a huge beautiful wharf in the middle where tourists take boat rides down the river. The town is pretty empty and quiet most of the day as most tourists only come on day trips. So between about 1 and 3 the place is full of tourists on bicycles and on the boats but after that it’s back to peace again.
Restaurants are always pretty empty and the owners can be annoying trying to lure you in. The only negative I have is the food. Goat is famous here but so expensive. I had a goat noodle soup was fine but goat was minimal. I definitely wouldn’t be coming here for the food.
What I would be coming for though is the scenery and landscape. Just out of this world! When my friend got here on his motorbike we had a Vietnamese ice coffee with condensed milk (yes I’m now addicted!) and set off exploring. Every road had mind blowing scenery and everywhere we went we were greeted with smiles and waves. People are so friendly here!

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Top of Mua Cave steps

Within minutes we saw numerous wild goats, cows, buffalo and people working on the land. There’s so many hidden stairs cut into the rocks and mini caves. You could spend days discovering new hidden gems.

We were so excited about what we saw in our first evening, we got up early the next morning for our free (not so good) pancake and set off the the Mua cave. It’s pricey to get in (100,000) dong but the steps are worth a look. Built into the side of this huge rock formation. It was 500steps to the top. The view is nice but I found the steps even nicer

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Mua Cave steps

After the cave we went on the famous boat trip down the river. We opted for the shorted one of 1and a half hours and we’re happy we did. 3 hours would have been too long. Seeing the man row the boat with his feet and going through the caves was worth a see.

After some fairly disappointing lunch we continued to explore and ended up down dirt roads built into lakes and finding more and more beautiful, peaceful, untouched my tourists places. It gets pretty hot here so we took a breather with another coffee before heading to Bird Valley. It’s a nice Park with an entrance fee! But with what’s going on outside the park scenery wise there’s no need to go to the park. We did see a stunning sunset though from a very steep bridge in the park.
Back to town for another average soup before buying my first bottle of wine in a long time and having a few very chilled glasses at the hostel. Nothing much happens here at night which was fine by me. Needed the break!
I was getting the night bus today so me and Nick went for another explore to the original capital and Ninh Binh nothing too exciting there just a badly needed Atm. My friend Nick left early to get to the next stop Phong Nha before dark. I chilled out with some more coffee and job hunting at some local cafes. Now here I am on the night bus only an hour late and hoping il sleep so I can make use of my day tomorrow in Phong Nha.

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Very steep bridge!

Vietnam- 1st stop Hectic Hanoi

From leaving my hostel in Vang Vien and arriving to my hostel in Hanoi, Vietnam the journey was 30 hours! To be fair the actual sleeper bus was very comfortable and I slept no problem. It was more the mini van, hour tuk tuk and the very angry bus staff that made it a not so pleasant journey but saying that I would do it again. It was definitely worth saving the money by not getting a flight.
I had been warned about the traffic and chaos of Hanoi but nothing can prepare you for it. Scooters,cars,pushbikes,motorbikes you name it all clamouring for space on the narrow roads. I found it fascinating to watch and crossing the road was like playing Russian roulette with scooters.
My hostel ‘Hanoi Rocks’ is right on market Street and I knew the minute I stepped into the hostel it was party central. Bit too party for me but good to meet people and the air con and free buffet breakfast was amazing!
I reunited with a friends I had left in Luang Prabang and met more ofcourse. An American guy in my dorm brought me for my first Pho experience. The famous Vietnamese noodle soup. Honestly it was very similar to the Laos noodle soup. Laos should get more credit for their soup!

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Pho Bo

I had a wander around the weekend night markets. Well when I say a wander I mean a penguin shuffle through the crowds! Had a few happy hour drinks and caught up worth my friends before heading to bed.
The hostel runs a free walking tour in the morning so I jumped at the chance, I miss my walking tours! Met loads of new people staying at the hostel and it was a great way to see the city especially the Old Quarter. The lake in the centre is a nice break from the mazes of little streets jam packed with traffic and overloaded ‘shops’. We were also brought to the oldest coffee shop in Hanoi upstairs jn a bag shop with tiny tables and chairs and cheap, delicious coffee. I had the Vietnamese coffee and I was on a coffee buzz for the whole day!!

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Rocket fuel!

We finished the tour on food alley, you can guess what happens there! After that was few of us from the tour decided to check out The Woman’s Prison. It was interesting and made me want to read up on my Vietnam history. Had some more cheap noodle soup for dinner it averages about 30000dong for a soup which is about 1 euro.
Next day I brought a few of my friends to the coffee place. I got the egg coffee, coffee with egg white on top, it was so good! We went to a nearby bar with a great balcony to watch the madness of the city and had some cheap GnTs. I met two American girls who were going to Cat Ba island by bus so I booked a bus with them because most people get the two day tours which sound really good but way out of my budget! After an unusual lunch on food alley of jellied everything topped with condensed milk, sounds horrible but was actually good, we packed up and booked hostels and all that boring stuff. More street food that night, this time another famous local dish of beef noodles. Really good and cheap!
We went to the water puppet show that night which is one of the must dos supposedly. It was good and definitely different but wouldn’t say a must see!

That ended just in time for happy hour at the hostel so we had a few over some card games and the usual midnight feast of corn on the cob for 20cent 🙂
I can’t believe how much I liked Hanoi. Every time I left the hostel I discovered a new Street or new alley selling something different. The people are very friendly and even though it’s busy it doesn’t feel unsafe or scary. I would gladly go back again but maybe to a more relaxed hostel.

Chilled out in Cameron Highlands

I had planned to stay 2 nights in Cameron Highlands but the minute I arrived at the hostel I extended to 3 nights. I got the very comfortable 5 hour bus from KL to Cameron Highlands and then a 15 minute walk outside town to Dnative hostel.

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I was meeting up with some people I had met in Melaka and KL who were already there. After checking in we went to town for food. There was so much Indian food so I was a bit apprehensive as I usually hate Indian but I was told to try a Thosai and this changed my mind! After this we ate a lot on this town as the food was so cheap and tasty, I tried lots of new things and am loving the food now!

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We chilled out by the bonfire at the hostel before getting an early night as we had a big day the next day.
We decided to do Trek 1 which is the toughest trek but most fun and not too long. It was tough but great craic. It was like an obstacle course climbing up hill over tree trunks and shabby ladders and climbing ropes up muddy hills. I’m not into treks but I loved this one.

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On the way down we passed the beautiful tea plantations. Unreal views!

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We stopped in at the tea plantations for a cup of tea and a much needed rest. When we made it to a near town we hitch hiked back to Tana Rata. I never hitch hike but it’s common practice here and people are unbelievably friendly here. Again that night after some more tasty Indian we had a few drinks by the fire with the owner of the hostel who by the end of my stay wanted me to stay as a volunteer. Not going to lie I was tempted!
We organised a tour for the next day with Frank who works in the hostel. We went on a tea factory tour, had strawberry juice at a strawberry farm, saw cool creatures at a butterfly farm and did an hour forest walk/hike to finish the day.

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That night Chris the owner was cooking a meal for everyone in the hostel and he asked me to help. He taught me so much about Indian cooking and we cooked four delicious vegetarian dishes from scratch.

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Spent the last night chilling with everyone again around the fire. It’s such a relaxed, friendly atmosphere itl be hard to move on tomorrow. Up for an 8am bus to the next stop, Penang.

Cat Ba Island

I wasn’t sure wether to do Sapa or Halong Bay first from Hanoi so when I met two American girls heading for Halong Bay I said I’d join them. When we were booking we were told it’s better to go straight to Cat Ba island as it’s nicer than Halong bay, so we did.
The journey is a bit of a pain. A taxi to a bus, bus to another bus, ferry to another bus. Even though it’s not long It’s a lot of chopping and changing.
We got to Cat Ba about 4pm, so we had enough time to explore. We loved it straight away. The town is big enough for an explore but small enough to not get lost. We ate in a.local mini restaurant which was fairly mediocre and it was obvious straight away it was going to be hard to find cheap food.

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We went on the hunt for the ‘night market’ which is basically just a busy street of local bits and bobs, we found an old lady selling the most amazing veg dumplings for 50c, located some fresh pineapple and went back to the hostel to chill for the night and try detox a bit.
Up early the next morning to hunt down cheap breakfast,not possible! I ended up with a pot noodle and a yoghurt. We walked to Beach 3 which is a gorgeous beach and was so quiet. We rented kayaks from a nearby hostel that drove us on scooters to the harbour where we set off to kayak to Monkey Island. As I was in a single kayak it was definitely a challenge at times, so unfit at this stage! But it was so worth it and only took us less than an hour. The island is very small and had one empty restaurant on it and monkeys, that was it. We climbed (literally) up to the top of the rocks for an amazing view.

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View from the rocks

We had a swim and a bit of a picnic, which was when a monkey robbed our nuts, and an unplanned nap before the tourist boats started showing up so we got back in our kayaks and made our way back. I even spotted some goats scaling the side side of the rocks. Unreal!
We walked back to town and got some mangos and relaxed for a bit before heading out to the ‘cheaper’ street. We came across a vegetarian restaurant, Buddhabelly, that had really good cheap food. So that became our local, which I don’t usually do but cheap good food is very limited on Cat Ba.

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1 euro meal at BuddhaBelly

The nest morning turned out to be a pretty stressful one for me as it was a National Holiday coming up in Vietnam all hostel prices were trembling everywhere, buses to everywhere were full and overpriced so I had to leave a day earlier to have any hope of leaving Cat Ba. I ended up paying way more than usual when I eventually found a bus that wasn’t full to bring me to Sapa but I had to go the same day.
We had planned doing the National Park but with my limited time we decided to rent scooters and go the Hospital Cave and the beaches instead. Hospital Cave was really interesting but would have liked a guided tour but there was nobody there. Still.cool to see though.

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Inside the cave

The scenery driving around Cat Ba is beautiful. So green,I wasn’t expecting it! Beaches 1 and 2 are also really nice beaches aswell and all close together so easy to find. I think Beach 2 was my favourite but all were similar.

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Beach 2

I loved how quiet and relaxed all the beaches were and the whole island in general but I’m sure that would change on the holiday weekend.
We got lunch in the vegetarian restaurant again and I had another solo whizz around on the scooter for a gawk at some other local places and look at the floating villages. Hard to believe people live in such small houses on water!

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The bus picked me up at 4 for the annoying bus to a boat and bus to a bus journey again. While I waited in Hanoi I found a lovely man who invited me to eat duck Pho he was making on the side of the street and while I sat there talking to some friendly locals, he kept topping my bowl up and showing me how to eat it! It was seriously good aswell for 40,000dong (1.80aprox)
On the sleeper bus to Sapa now well fed and ready to hopefully sleep in my top bunk all the way. #positivethinking

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Sleeper bus to Sapa