Travelling from Hoi An to Sapa, the beautiful Vietnam

March 31st, we are in beautiful Myanmar with some time left to relax and update our blog before we return to our home Sanuk in  New Caledonia.

Flashback to our arrival in Hoi An, Vietnam, somewhere in February 2018. After 5 days on a motorcycle it was time to relax and enjoy the old city. The ancient town Hoi An is a UNESCO world heritage site since 1999. In the 16th and 17th century it was a major trading port where Chinese, Japanese and Dutch businessmen did their trading.

Hoi An was beautifully decorated with lanterns everywhere.
Many of the old houses have a little patio inside, away from the many tourists, a quiet place to have a cup of jasmine tea in a serene setting.
The architecture of the old houses were influenced by the many Japanese and Chinese traders at the time.
While we were there, the Vietnamese were preparing for TET which is their New Year. It is a 6 day celebration of eating, inviting family and friends, telling stories of the past year and being together. Before the festivities everything needs to be cleaned for the new start.
Stefan (center) joining some young Vietnamese in their celebration of the arrival of TET. It brings good luck to toast with a foreigner.
Hoi An at night. Little boats in the river with lanterns, many tourists (also Vietnamese) to enjoy the restaurants and shops along the river.
One evening we went to a water puppet show. It only lasted about 50min but is definitely worthwhile as it is part of Vietnamese culture.This ancient art originated from the farmers who worked on the paddy fields in the countryside. During times of flooding, the farmers would entertain themselves and their families by performing water puppet shows out in the fields. The puppeteers stand in the water during the whole performance.They depict Vietnamese rural life with traditional music.

We rented a motorcycle and went to My Son (also an UNESCO heritage site), Da Nang city and a day on the beach in An Bang to relax.

We arrived at My Son in the afternoon and there were not too many tourists. The ruins were beautiful with the surrounding jungle.
My Son is also called the Angkor Wat of Vietnam. It is a cluster of Hindu Temples built between 4th and 14th century by the Kings of Champa. A large part of the temples were unfortunately destroyed by US bombings during the Vietnam War.
About 70 temples remain. Italy and Japan funded the restoration and maintenance of the site through UNESCO.
The famous Dragon bridge in Da Nang, built in 2013. It is a special sight but even more so at night when it is beautifully illuminated.Unfortunatly, we only stayed for the day.
Danang is mostly a resort city with lots of Chinese tourists enjoying the beaches. 2018 is the year of the Dog.

After our 5 day stay in Hoi An we took the train to Hue. We visited the beautiful Imperial City (UNESCO heritage site) and 3 of the 7 Imperial Tombs from the Nguyen Dynasty (UNESCO heritage site). The tombs are more like mausoleums located along the banks of the Perfume River. The Nguyen dynasty was the last Vietnamese dynastie (1802-1945).

The Vietnamese buy and burn a lot of incense in the temples.
We visited the Royal Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc. It took 3 years to build from 1864-1867.
Royal tomb of Emperor Tu Duc. He died in 1883. Although he lived together with about 100 wives and concubines he did not have any children.
Tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh. This one took 11 years to be built from 1920 to 1931.
Imperial tomb of Khai Dinh
A statue of Emperor Khai Dinh on his tomb. He died in 1925.
Imperial tomb of Minh Mang.
The imperial tomb of Minh Mang. He was the second emperor of the Nguyen dynasty and reigned from 1820 till his death in 1841.
The pagoda of the Celestial Lady in Hue. It was built in 1601 on order of the Nguyen Lords.
A moment of relaxation in the Imperial City of Hue.
The old reds and golds are an ideal backdrop for taking pictures.
The imperial city of Hue is a walled palace within the city of Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. Building started in 1804. The city was made an UNESCO site in 1993. The buildings suffered a lot from cyclones but also from the fighting during the Vietnam war.
We rented a car and driver to go to Bach Ma national park. Bach Ma mountain is 1450m high and early in the morning we ended up above the clouds.In the park there are several hiking trails.
We hiked about 15km in the park not so much but challenging at times and the trail indicators were most of the time missing.
The scenery with the emerald colored lakes was really stunning!
The end of the walk is on top of the waterfall. We definitely enjoyed this walk very much.

From Hue we travelled to the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park with its 300 caves. We visited 2 caves, the Phong Nha cave and Paradise cave.The park was listed in 2003 as a UNESCO heritage site because of it’s geological values. The largest cave in the world was discovered here in 2009. It takes 4 days hiking in the jungle to get to this cave and costs about 3000USD pp for the trip. Places are limited and you have to book more than a year in advance.

Phong Nha cave is 7.729m long and a 14km long underground river. Tourists can only visit the first 1500m.
Paradise cave is 31km long, it is the longest dry cave in Asia. It was opened in 2010. We went early in the morning and there were hardly any visitors.
31km long Paradise Cave, but only 1km is open to tourists.

From Phong Nha we travelled to Ninh Binh and visited Tam Coc, Van Long nature reserve and Cuc Phuong national park. The nature was really beautiful here. Unfortunately the weather was always overcast and at times rainy.

The Karst mountains of Ninh Binh and the freshly planted rice fields. This is also called the Ha Long Bay on land…
Planting rice is mostly done by women. It takes 3-4 month for the rice to ripen and before it is ready to be harvested.
View from our motorcycle. We rented a motorcycle for the 3 days we were there and it really is the best way to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
The past four months we have been living on flip-flops and were not really prepared to do this muddy walk but it worked out fine in the end.
Van Long nature reserve has fewer tourists than Tam Coc and is as beautiful.
We did a boat ride in Van Long nature reserve and even in the fog it was still kind of magical.
Planting rice in the mud.
More rice fields and Karst mountains in Ninh Binh.
The grey-shanked douc langur. Vietnams langurs are some of the most endangered primates on earth, living on the brink of extinction. We visited the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre in Cuc Phuong and saw they were in good hands. They are truly beautiful animals.

After our days in nature it was back to city life and we took a mini van from Ninh Binh to Hanoi. We stayed 4 days in Hanoi, visited many nice museums and went for one day to Halong Bay. In Hanoi the weather was warm but overcast.

We visited the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and were amazed at the long lines of Vietnamese eager to see their once revolutionary leader. The embalmed body of “Ho” is preserved in the cooled central hall of the mausoleum. Two months of the year the mausoleum is closed because the body is sent to Russia for maintenance and touch up work. It is forbidden to take pictures of ‘uncle Ho’.
Halong Bay, after seeing Ninh Binh and Van Long nature reserve we were disappointed. There are many tourists here and of course we did not have a blue sky…

After 4 days Hanoi we decided for a trip to Sapa. We took the bus early in the morning to arrive at lunch time in Sapa. We had a quick lunch and left for a 2 day trek in Sapa valley with the Sapa Sisters. We were lucky, the skies were blue and it was around 24 Celsius, ideal for walking. The scenery was gorgeous but here again,  many, many tourists and souvenir shops.

No rice yet, the rice is planted in May and is harvested in August-September.
The still muddy rice terraces, spring was just in the air and workers started to clean up the rice fields.
The most beautiful time to come is in definitely around August-September when the rice is yellow.  Still, even with the mud it was special.
Sapa valley is close to the Chinese border.
Many ethnic minorities live in the Northern Region of Vietnam. The “Mon” are one of them.
Most of their colourful traditional clothes are made by hand.This is a woman from the H’mong tribe.
Souvenirs for sale to the many tourists.
Rural Vietnam, little boy with his bowl of rice.
Woman from the Red Dao tribe. Once they are married they have to shave their facial hair. Because this causes now a lot of young women to leave they are more liberal about this rule and only require to cover the hair with a red scarf.
A little girl from the H’mong tribe in Sapa Centre. The children are used to sell souvenirs to tourists and work long hours.
Three little H’mong girls at the end of a long workday. We saw many of the children still selling souvenirs late at night. While having dinner in a restaurant we saw many Vietnamese tourists giving them food instead of buying a souvenir.

After Sapa we decided to go to the Sunday market in Bac Ha, about 70km away from Sapa. We managed to rent a motorcycle for 3 days and off we were. The road was long but the scenery gorgeous and fun. We arrived at Bac Ha Market around 11AM and there was still a lot of activity. It was fabulous to see all the women in their traditional clothes. Apparently only in the highlands of Vietnam the ethnic minorities still wear their traditional clothes at home, the market or on the farm.

Bac Ha Market, H’mong woman.
Bac Ha Market.
Bac Ha Market, H’mong woman.
Bac Ha Market, H’mong woman.
Bac Ha Market, H’mong woman
H’mong woman.
Bac Ha market, H’mong girl.
We used the afternoon to discover the area near our homestay, Cho family.
Cho himself, all exited because he gets to guide us on a 4 hour hike.
The scenery during our hike.
A 74 year old H’mong woman returning from working on the field.
More rice terraces.
Waterbuffalos enjoying a mud bath
Spring is in the air!
Scenery during our hike in Bac Ha.

We enjoyed our 2 days in Bac Ha, and could easily have stayed a couple more days to explore. We had a wonderful homestay with a fabulous Mr.Cho who was an excellent guide but also a good cook! It was so nice to end our trip in Vietnam with Sapa. We took the night train (was perfect) back to Hanoi and left the next day for Myanmar.

Our 5 weeks in Vietnam were really great. Although we liked the Vietnamese food after 5 weeks we did get a little tired of the Asian cuisine but in Hanoi we did find a very good pizza place. :-). I would definitely recommend travelling to Vietnam but do it from South to North and visit Vietnam before Myanmar….

2 thoughts on “Travelling from Hoi An to Sapa, the beautiful Vietnam

  1. Blij te horen dat jullie ook naar Sapa zijn geweest …. schitterende streek en zo vriendelijke mensen je ben overal welkom …. wij kijken met heimwee naar jullie foto’s , dat was een van ons mooiste reizen

    1. Sapa was voor ons zeker één van de hoogtepunten. Het was dan ook leuk dat dat het einde was van onze reis. We hebben enorm genoten van die 5 weken. Zet Myanmar maar bovenaan op jullie reisplannen. De mensen zijn zowaar nog vriendelijker, het is hier nog zeer authentiek alhoewel het snel zal veranderen…
      Groeten Ilse en Stefan

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