I'm on a bus to Hue at the moment. Since I wrote last I've crossed just about halfway through Vietnam, slowly making my way south. A group of the worst kind of British 20-somethings are on the same bus as me and a baby in front of me has been crying for about an hour. Luckily 'Buena Vista Social Club' is playing in my ears and drowning out the noise.
Anyway here's what you missed since the last check-in. Honestly, it isn't much: I've been feeling the consequences of travelling in the rainy season and as a result, have had some forced (and probably much needed) lazy days. I spent two more days in Hanoi before continuing on. The first of the two days I spent with Jannah, Jordan and Eden, walking around Hanoi and in the evening going to Train Street to see the train pass by twice. We all ended up falling in love with an adorable baby and her grandma, who we spent a good 30 minutes playing and sitting with. We ate a late dinner and went back to play cards at the hostel.
Picture: Jordan, me, Eden, Jannah & Rose
The following day Jannah and I said goodbye to Eden and Jordan and went to an incredible cooking class together. Our teacher, Mai, was a sweetheart, I got to make delicious vegan versions of everything and she taught us everything worth knowing at the market tour before the class began.
Jannah and I completely stuffed ourselves and spent the rest of the rainy day talking in the hostel. In the evening we went to Manzi Art Gallery in a newer part of Hanoi
and then to Unicorn Kafe to drink sugary drinks, have fun and talk.
Much later we headed back, got a late dinner and watched a movie together. It was such a fun and cosy girls night and even Steven couldn't persuade me to join his pub crawl instead.
The next morning I (sadly) hugged Jannah goodbye and hopped on the bus to Trang An, about 3 hours South. It was weird leaving Buffalo Hostel that by now felt so homey - the staff knew me by name and I always ran into people I knew, daily having a little chat with Steven or Tammy. I got dropped off at Green Mountain Homestay around 1 pm in the middle of nature.
It was a very idyllic place and after relaxing a little I jumped on a bicycle and explored the area close by, cycling to the ruins of ancient capital Hoa Lu. There wasn't much to look at so I spent the rest of the afternoon reading and relaxing, a woman named Eileen joining me for dinner.
The following day I had planned to spent outside on a boat tour and hiking up a hill, but neither happened since it rained and thundered all day. Instead I read for a while, before being swept into games and talks with a group of travellers also hiding from the rain at the hostel.
It was a nice way to spent the day and I almost accepted their offer to jump on the back of Lucas' scooter and go with them to the hill for sunset. But the thought of mixing an inexperienced driver, water and gravel didn't really appeal to me and I instead chatted to a Swiss guy, Matt and a Belgian guy, Bernard in the hammocks.
At dinnertime, I joined an Israeli guy, Jonathan at his table and quickly befriended the rest of the odd group: Canadian Robert and his friend Marvin as well as a very drunk Scot named Ralf and his French girlfriend Camille. Matt and Bernard later joined us for a family-style dinner. Within hours we were all apart of the "fam" - very drunk Ralf had by now thrown up over himself from the bowl of rice wine I'd given him and Marvin had managed to slip in said throw-up. We had a hilarious evening none-the-less, for a night playing a very dysfunctional, though loving, family. And the food tasted much better shared in good company. My last day in Trang An I finally managed to do the boat tour that I had initially come for. We all set out on bicycles around 9 am and soon sat down in two different boats paddled by Vietnamese women. I spent the next three hours being paddled around with Bernard and Eileen, on the way passing through three caves and stopping at three temples as well as the Kong: Skull Island movie set.
It was a nice trip, without being mind-blowing, and there was definitely quiet moments of beauty and idyll when we weren't surrounded by 10 other boats.
I cycled back, ate lunch at the homestay and watched the downpour from a hammock together with Eileen and Matt. And in the evening I said goodbye to everyone and boarded the sleeper bus to Phong Nha together with Jonathan, Matt and a super sweet German girl, Birgit, that I had also been talking to since meeting her on the first day at Green Mountain Homestay.
We arrived in Phong Nha at 4 am and made our way to the outdoors hammock house at the back of Easy Tiger hostel, where we slept for the rest of the night.
I woke up at 7.30 am, checked in, got sorted and went to the orientation talk at 9 am with Birgit and Matt. I got delicious vegan pancakes for breakfast at the vegan cafe down the street and then spent the day in a hammock with Matt and Birgit since it was once again raining all day. It was the first time in my five months of travelling that I actually needed to pull out my fleece jumper to keep warm.
Birgit and I went for a walk through town in the pouring rain and got completely soaked. Later, Birgit, Matt and I went on a much more pleasant walk when it had stopped raining and ended up sitting and talking for hours at Coffee Station (that had incredible coffee).
We went for a delicious dinner down the road in the evening, Birgit and I sharing vegan dishes (since she is also vegan).
Yesterday I was up early, joined by Birgit for breakfast at Coffee Station. Around 9.15 am we hopped on the back of our easy riders' scooters and made our way along Highway 20 and into the national park.
Our first stop was Paradise Cave, where we walked straight and then uphill for a good while to get to the opening of the cave and by the time we reached it, we were sweating from the exercise and humidity. Inside, the cave was massive and looked completely otherworldly. We walked 1 km into the cave on the wooden walkway and up and down lots of stairs.
It was a beautiful cave and worth the work-out. Two hours later we were back on the scooters continuing our loop of the park and made a quick stop at the 8 ladies memorial cave and temple.
The further into the national park we drove, the more beautiful and wild our surroundings became. Our last stop was at the Botanical Garden. And the leisurely stroll to a touristed waterfall we had imagined instead turned into a long and hard jungle trek completely alone. The lady at the ticket booth told us the "walk" would take 3 hours, but we did it in 1.5 hours. We climbed up rocks, crossed streams and carefully made our way down steep muddy paths.
Most of the time the path wasn't much of a path and we were completely immersed in nature. And even though both Birgit and I got absolutely eaten up by mosquitoes (I killed five mosquitoes at once off one leg at one point) and were sweating profusely, the hike was a definite highlight. The waterfall we had to climb up was beautiful and having all the wild nature to ourselves was incredible.
Back at the hostel I jumped straight in the pool and relaxed there until it started raining again. In the evening Birgit and I took Bernard (who had just arrived that morning) to the good restaurant from the evening prior. I socialised a little back at the hostel and caught up with Matt (who had been on a group tour all day), before saying goodbye and goodnight and heading to bed early.
And now I'm here, on my way to Hue that is just about 3-4 hours south of Phong Nha. And revived from the days of relaxation I'm ready to (hopefully) explore Hue and afterwards Hoi An. I'm feeling calmer and happier than ever, having reached a point of not getting FOMO if I take some alone time or go to bed early. If I find good people to spent my time with that's amazing, but I also don't need to and I don't mind saying no to social things anymore. I really feel good and stress-free. And I keep meeting the sweetest people everywhere I go. If the sun would just shine a little and the rain would hold back it really couldn't get much better.