A blog from my friend Hannah on Danang, Vietnam in CultureTrip!…Enjoy!

https://theculturetrip.com/asia/vietnam/articles/danangs-golden-bridge-hands-and-other-structural-marvels/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=091118community&utm_content=091118community%20CID_46a26962557b99bb130c68e36769469d&utm_source=newsletter&utm_term=Danangs%20Golden%20Bridge%20Hands%20and%20Other%20Structural%20Marvels

Phong Nha, Vietnam

Caves, bats, jungles, mosquitoes, sweat, trekking, swimming, and hospitality—if these make your ears whistle with pleasure, Phong Nha, Vietnam is the destination you want.  Besides being home to the largest cave in the world (Son Doong Cave), it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site with hundreds of caves and, well, too many other things to list here (just click on that link).  I’ll write briefly about my three day experience in Phong Nha, which took place during July 2018.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about Ha Giang where I utilized Flamingo Travel for booking accommodations, transport, and a tour, they were also able to book me an overnight train from Hanoi down to the city of Dong Hoi.  They also recommended a place to stay—Phong Nha Farmstay—who will arrange to pick you up from the train station (approximately 40 minutes away from the train station in Dong Hoi).  I want to take this moment to say how much I enjoyed the hospitality at the Farmstay. The entire staff was incredibly nice and accommodating (they will set up all the tours you may want during your stay, which should be NO shorter than three days, four nights).  I especially enjoyed how Hien and May indulged my warped sense of humor, banter, and evening drinking (which some may describe as overconsumption). I’d venture to say they’re almost as cool as me. 😉

I took a one day trekking and cave exploring tour, which was helmed by the wonderful Phuong from Jungle Boss Tours.  The tour included Paradise Cave, a trek through the jungle, lunch, a visit to a sacred temple, a 600 meter swim in the Tra Ang cave, capped off with a beer on the ride back to the farmstay.  If and when I return to Phong Nha, I will book a longer expedition, but I think the one day tour is a good start and not too physically strenuous.

The other free day I had (the first day there was a rainout), I visited Phong Nha Cave, which is accessed via dragon boat.  This was heavily populated with tourists despite the heavy downpour. The cave itself is beautiful and well worth a half-day visit if you need to fill some time.  Unfortunately for me, because of the rain, many of the other caves in the area were unavailable. So I suppose my piece of advice is to plan accordingly, i.e. avoid rainy season.  

With respect to clothing and shoes, bring items that you may not wear ever again.  Also, I highly recommend a waterproof bag for your trek in addition to a must-have mosquito repellent and adequate sunblock.  The farmstay does provide overnight laundry service, which proved quite helpful. However, my shoes (already hurting and not quite recovered from Ha Giang) took another environmental beatdown.  

The last highlight I will mention is a large dinner that the farmstay and their excellent chef puts together once a week at a very reasonable cost.  Because of the number of drinks I consumed, I can’t recall how many dishes were served, but I do remember the entire meal giving my taste buds “palategasms.”   Also, the co-owner Ben from Australia (don’t hold that against him) bought me a glass of wonderful rice wine, so of course, he gets a shout-out from me.

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Phong Nha, Vietnam has something for everyone and will satisfy the person looking for extreme adventures to the person seeking a more relaxed vacation destination.    

JDR

Ha Giang, Vietnam

There are many “must see” places to visit in Vietnam as natural beauty is ubiquitous throughout the country; however, in my opinion, the one area that everyone should visit is the mountainous region of Ha Giang, a.k.a. The Northern Loop.  The awe-inspiring views that you will witness very well may change your human existence.  Below, I will provide a few details about the trip including contact information for the travel agency I utilized.  

There are various options for reaching the province of Ha Giang so I won’t go into all of those particulars.  I was recommended a travel agency by a friend who has been living in Vietnam for a number of years. The travel agency is called Flamingo Travel.  The owner’s name is Hung and he and his staff were extremely helpful (their main operation is located in Hanoi; although they do have other locations in Vietnam).  There are a few different options for the Northern Loop: You can rent a motorbike yourself and explore on your own, you can rent a motorbike with a tour guide and explore the loop for a few days (including off road trails) or you can rent a motorbike and tour guide as an easy-rider (meaning you sit on the back of the motorbike).  You should choose the option that best suits your adventurous self; however, unless you can speak Vietnameses, I HIGHLY recommend hiring a tour guide as you can easily get lost and very few people speak English in this region (there are quite of few people indigenous to the mountain towns who don’t speak Vietnamese).

The wonderful folks at Flamingo Travel will accommodate whatever option you’d like to choose.  They will set up your bus ride to and from Ha Giang and book your homestays at the various check-in points throughout the loop.  These homestays usually include dinner and breakfast options. Typically, I’m a hotel guy, but these homestays provided a more authentic experience (especially after the 10th shot of homemade rice wine).  

The travel agency will also provide rain and motorbike gear for your trip.  A bit of advice, I’d recommend you bring shoes that you’ll no longer want after a trip as they will get rained on, extremely muddy, and very likely, ruined.  Depending on the number of days you choose for the trip, bringing the right amount of clothes could be a challenge, but some of the home-stays do offer laundry service (I recommend you ask the staff at Flamingo what you should bring).  

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I chose the easy-rider option for my trip and although being on the back of a bike wasn’t ideal physically, the ability to gaze at the magnificent natural beauty without having to pay attention to the road was worth it for my first trip (if taking subsequent trips, I’d definitely rent a motorbike, but plan a longer trip so I could make more stops).  My tour guide’s name was Thang (you can check out his great Instagram account @thang_pham_van_ which is full of amazing photos from the various tours he gives in Vietnam) and he is more adventurous than I am, which normally might worry someone like me, but the routes and detours he took were well worth the physically soreness that accompanied the sometimes bumpy and broken roads (and the occasional riverbed crossing).  He’s done the Northern Loop trip hundreds of times, but he was obviously still entranced by the landscape (it’s refreshing to see someone enjoy their job that much).  

You’re going to meet locals.  You’re going to drink lots of rice wine.  You’re going to get dirty and wet and rained on.  You’re going to be sore. You’re going to eat the amazing local fare.  You’re going to stare at scenery that you’ll attempt to capture with a camera but the pictures won’t do this magnificent terrain justice (although I tried my best).  But most important of all, you’re going to feel peace and awe and stillness and fresh air and wonderment and fulfillment. My advice: Go visit this area before the tourist get a hold of it.
JDR

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“A GUIDE TO BALLIN’ ON A BUDGET IN SINGAPORE”

If you’re interested in visiting Singapore (especially on a budget), please read my friend’s excellent travel blog by clicking on the following link –  HowFarIllPho.com

Hannah also has an assortment of other posts about Vietnam, which all are well written and informative.  I’ll be posting her blogs from time to time and I may even write a travel blog or two when I’m in the mood.