Happy new year! The first post of 2016 will be a summary of the highlights of my trip to Southeast Asia during the Christmas holidays. Yes, after having had the inexplicable urge to visit Southeast Asia – especially Cambodia and Vietnam – I finally went to both countries! So it became the final trip of 2015 and the first of 2016, with new year’s eve spent on an overnight train somewhere in northern Vietnam. What an experience!
The 14-day trip started in Cambodia, where my friend and I went from Siem Reap (Angkor area) to Vietnam, where we travelled to the cities of Hoi An, Hue, and Hanoi, ventured into the mountainous villages of Sapa, and spent a night on a cruise in Halong Bay. Here are just a few highlights from the too many precious memories that could be elaborated in one post.
33-degree heat wave in Cambodia
Ta Prohm temple
Deep in thought? Nah, just avoiding the heat in Baphuon!
When I was preparing for the trip, I failed to realize that while the weather could be too cold, it could also be TOO HOT. I certainly packed plenty of clothing for the expected wet and wintery weather in northern Vietnam, but neglected that in Cambodia, it was going to be 33 degrees Celsius. Ouch. Imagine walking through ancient temples through the scorching heat for a whole day – I was burnt to a crisp! Still, wandering in the Angkor temple complex and soaking in all that vitamin D that I had been deprived of in Glasgow was certainly the first highlight and a warm beginning of the long trip!
Cycling in Hoi An
Cua Dai beach
Cycling around Hoi An
Tra Que vegetable village
Tra Que vegetable village
Hoi An is a quaint little place full of charm and appeal, but its surrounding outskirts are also worth a visit if you have access to a bike. And we did, thanks to our hotel! Initially the thought of cycling didn’t even enter my mind, but when given the option I thought, why not! The place is small enough and cycling 4 km to the nearby beach seemed like a leisurely activity under the not-as-hot-as-Cambodia heat of 25 degrees. What a relaxing ride it was, passing by Cua Dai and An Bang beach and the vegetable village of Tra Que. In hindsight, the traffic was merciful in comparison to that in Hanoi…!
Sapa trek in rain, mud, and sweat
Slow and steady up the slippery muddy hills
Foggy, rainy, muddy in Sapa…
Local H’Mony ladies
Let’s continue the trek
Rice terrace in Sapa
The highlight of the highlight must be Sapa. Trekking through the terrace fields in the mountains and valleys in northern Vietnam with a group of people…in the rain! Oh, those slippery downhill slopes were brutal. If you thought you were going to complete the trek with clean shoes, think again. It’s a constant battle with mud and we were not going to win. Knowing this, the native H’Mong ladies from the nearby villages came to our rescue and held onto our hands tightly as we stepped into the mud – in exchange for us buying their goods at lunch break, which was well worth it! Also, my super sturdy water-resistant shoes saved my life – thanks, mom! The 12-km trek into the hidden villages through tiny winding paths and the occasional steep climbs definitely took all the stamina and perseverance from all of us, and by the time the trek ended, I wasn’t sure if I was drenched in rain or sweat…!
Homestay in Ta Van village
Adorable host lady
Eating with local Dzay family in Ta Van village
The magical teapot that never runs out of rice wine…
Another shot please – cheers!
At the end of an arduous and exhausting trek, the group was glad to be around the warmth of a fire under the roof of a local Dzay family, with whom we stayed for the night in Ta Van village. Oh, how good it was to sit around the table, chat and laugh with fellow travellers and friends with a hearty home-cooked meal and pure rice wine disguised as water! Yes, we were continuously downing shots of rice wine poured from either a small jug, a water bottle, or a teapot, so the unsuspecting would have easily been fooled. Such good company and our host was an adorable little lady who insisted that we all drank more wine. Glad to oblige, my friend!
Taichi on a boat at 6:30am in Halong Bay
On the cruise
Taichi for noobs
Taichi for noobs
Not exactly a fan of waking up in the morning but the thought of doing taichi on a boat as the sun was rising intrigued me. And what’d you know, I’ve always wanted to learn taichi, so even if I had to drag myself out of bed, I was in! Of course, it was only a short demo from the taichi master, imitated by 15 or so people who had no idea what they were doing but had heck of a fun time running out of space and bumping into each other. Who would have known that my first exposure to taichi would happen in Vietnam?
Street food hunt in Hanoi
May and Annie with food tour guide Chili
Cafe trứng (egg coffee)
Bánh tráng trộn (rice paper strips with dried meat, quail eggs, and a bunch of other stuff)
Bánh cuốn (steamed rice pancakes)
Chè sen (sweet lotus soup)
Annie and May with food tour guide Chili
Annie and May during street food tour
Didn’t think I was going to leave Vietnam without trying some authentic street food in Hanoi, did you? Of course we’ve had our fair share of pho and spring rolls, I wanted to try those random foods that you see at the stalls on the side of the street. We sat on tiny chairs to ate sweet lotus soup, went into a hidden alley to try rice paper rolls, and entered the most legit “hole-in-the-wall” place I’ve ever seen to try…egg coffee?! This wouldn’t have been possible without our adorable local food tour guide, Chili, who was definitely a pro at what she does! I left the country full, satisfied, and with no regrets 😉
Meeting the locals
Sapa trekking team at homestay in Ta Van
May and Annie with restaurant owner Minh in Hoi An
May and Annie with hotel staff in Hoi An
Annie and May with hotel staff in Siem Reap
Annie and cyclo driver in Hanoi
Annie with tour guides in Hue, Tam and Duan
The cute Hanoi tour guide, Tien
Cuong the Sapa tour guide
Cooking class in Hue with Miss Thuy
I think the most cherished moments that I experienced throughout this trip were those spent with the local people that I’ve met, hearing their stories, learning their culture, living in their homeland. It’s my original purpose of going to Southeast Asia – to see, to hear, to feel the PEOPLE that make this place such a special place on Earth. What these people have left in my life are voices, memories, laughter, insight, inspiration, and most of all, love. Thank you.
Looks like you really had a great trip! I’ve tried tai chi once, it felt really good but maybe it’s still a bit too slow for me – give it a few years and I’ll be really into it, hehe.
I do hope I get the chance to actually learn it sometime, hehe 🙂
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I’m going to travel through Vietnam later this year and this provided some excellent inspiration, thank you! 🙂 I was considering hiring a bike too, I did it in Chaing Mai and it’s such a nice way to explore a place.
Enjoy Vietnam! Biking is great indeed, as long as you get used to the insane traffic 😉