Vietnam · 10 Days · 38 Moments · December 2017

27 December 2017

It’s rainy, muddy, and cold in Sapa today... this calls for some relaxation recovering time from the long motorbike ride, train, and trekking. We stumbled across this little cute coffee shop, ZDao, while looking for an authentic Vietnamese sandwich where we discovered that they serve specialty coffee. We tried both beans from Ethiopia and Vietnam. Quite different but a nice surprise. 😋

26 December 2017

As recommended by ‘The Rough Guide to Vietnam’ travelling book, we stayed at the Cat Cat View hotel in Sapa. It was not the cheapest nor the fanciest hotel but it has one of the best view of Fan Si Pan mountains. We chilled out next to this warm fireplace in the evening.... Sigh.... how refreshing, romantic, and at ease!
Short Sapa trekking...

24 December 2017

The end of our Pu Luong tour ended with the Xuan Hoa hotel invitation to their son/grandson 2years old birthday party. It was personable, genuine, and amazing. The family is very passionate in what they do and great at it. Highly recommend it! On our way to Sapa stopping at Hanoi midway.
Day 3 Pu Luong tour... Mua Cave...
Day 3 Pu Luong tour... Trang An
Day 3 Pu Luong tour... on our way back to Ninh Binh to Trang An

23 December 2017

Day 2 Pu Luong tour... more pics along the way to our next Homestay
Day 2 Pu Luong tour. Our second home stay. Featuring our private bungalow and natural bathroom. This homestay was awesome. Very cosy with an awesome view in the morning. We felt extremely grateful waking up like this !
Day 2 Pu Luong tour... more pics along the way to our next Homestay In order to irrigate the rice paddies on the top, water needs to be transported from the river to the rice via a system that grab small amount of water and drop it into a pipeline to the rice paddy
Day 2 Pu Luong tour... more pics along the way to our next Homestay Roads were tough and dangerous. The Adventure was dirty but very amazing. Riding through those mountains make us feel FREE. A deep sense of freedom overwhelmed us as we took a new veered and discovered another scenery that took our breath. Our guide had full confidence and trust in us, even if we didn’t. We realized that trust build actual self-confidence.
Day 2 Pu Luong tour more scenery en route Roofs are made with palm leaves by interlacing the leaves together to create a robust structure. Once again, everything is made with what is available. This made us think: “why do we have so much stuff ?”, so much waste ? What about enjoying the lifetime of what we already have ?
Day 2 Pu Luong tour... rice mill machine, scenery of rice patties, caterpillar 🐛 nurturing, trekking down a steep road..
Day 2 Pu Luong tour.. back on the motorbike.. en route scenery

22 December 2017

Day 1 Pu Luong tour... finally reached our Homestay! First word that came to mind in describing this Homestay is minimalist. The first pictures are beds with mosquitoes net hanging over them. Second and third picture is where this lovely grandmother made us food. Fourth picture is most amazing... baby crib. Fifth picture is our dinner which includes “puppy-cue” we purchased earlier that day. It was chewy in which texture and smell is very similar to veal. Last three pictures was our view from our bedroom.
Day 1 Pu Luong tour... more beautiful scenery while trekking to our Homestay ...
Day 1 Pu Luong tour... more beautiful scenery while trekking to our Homestay ...
Day 1 Pu Luong tour... more beautiful scenery while trekking to our Homestay
Day 1 Pu Luong tour... more beautiful scenery while trekking
Day 1 Pu Luong tour... we’re off the motorbike now to trek on foot for approximately 8km. Along the way, we met and played soccer with the cutest kids. They were simple with no toys such as toy trucks, Lego, etc. They used what they found outside and made it their toy. The soccer ball was a plastic hard ball. There is no problem of kids hooked on TV or iPads here. Going back to basic is a good thing indeed to find happiness.
Day 1, Pu Luong tour... Special request from our tour gang... “puppy-cue”. In North Vietnam, only certain areas and region are known to serve dog meat. Our guide informed us that these dogs meat are typically purchased from Laos as oppose to random Viet stray dogs. Such a cruel thing to eat given that dogs are typically great pets. To make the situation lighter, we named it “puppy-cue”! As part of the adventure, we went with the flow. Eek! Guess it will be part of our dinner tonight.
Day 1, Pu Luong tour... The buffalo help the Vietnamese transport goods as well as to plow rice. In Vietnam, a buffalo is considered as an asset with a worth of approximately $1-2k. Along the way, we also noticed that a lot of the villagers, particularly women used their forehead to carry the weight of goods (typically around 10kg) by strapping a piece of fabric across their forehead that had been attached to the woven basket where they placed their goods.
Day 1 Pu Luong tour... more beautiful scenery along the way...
Day 1 Pu Luong tour, stopping off to fill up on Petrol... this is our Pu Luong tour gang.... in this picture is our tour guide, Tuan (son of Xuan which is the owner of Xuan Hoa hotel). It’s a family business and he is awesome. We met Garrett Bruno (the one with the triangle hat) serendipitously. Tuan has told us the night before he had a guest that will be travelling with him to Pu Luong and asked us to come along. We hesitated and was going to do our own tour in the morning the next day. The next day, Garrett was late for breakfast 20 mins and we came down from our room the same time Tuan and Garrett was getting ready to leave. We then decided within 5 mins to follow them on this three days and two nights Pu Luong tour. It was one of the best decisions we’ve made.
Day 1 Pu Luong tour... buffalo walking along the road, something you don’t see often 😂 and more scenery en route...
Cellophane or Glass noodle production.... As part of our three days and two nights Pu Luong tour, we stopped by this little village to learn how glass noodle was made. Glass noodle came from the root cassava where it was heated at a high temperature to soften the meat of the root. Once soften into a liquid base form, they spread it over a flat surface similar to how crepe is made. The lady then hang this wet crepe flat noodle on a bamboo stick and further hang to dry. Once dried, she will slightly wet the flat noodle so that it would be easier to put it through a machine to cut it into strings. The strings noodle were hung to dry once again before packing. A bag of 80kg worth approximately $20. So much labour and effort for so little return. These glass noodles can be found in spring rolls (fried egg rolls).
Day 1 Pu Luong tour... our first meal with buffalo meat wrapped in leaves grown in the village and more scenery en route to Ban Do village to our first Homestay.
Sugar cane syrup... As part of our Pu Luong tour, we stopped at this sugar cane syrup ‘factory’ where we had the chance to try fresh sugar cane syrup. It was amazing how not much was needed to produce this and how the used sugar cane leftovers were used to keep the fire going. First of all, the sugar canes are harvested manually by hand pickers with the helps of buffalos. Then, the sugar canes are introduced into a mechanical machine in order to extract the juice out of the canes.. after the sugar cane juice need to be heated at higher temperature to avoid bacteria development as well as increasing the sugar content. To maintain the heat, the sugar canes residual are burnt below the tanks of sugar cane syrup. From time to time, the foam is scooped to preserve a rich sweetness. Finally, the sugar cane syrup is put aside before packing. Not much was wasted. A 50kg bag of this syrup cost the equivalent of $10 which is shocking given the hard labour and effort put into it.
Day 1 still of the Pu Luong tour... stopping off for some dragon fruits with red poppyseed meat and village pineapple where you can even eat the core.... Along the way, we’ve captured some moments of how goods were transported and village scenery.
The beginning of our Pu Luong tour on a motorbike following our tour guide from Xuan Hoa hotel where we took a chance and decided within 5 mins to go on a three days and two nights tour. We took only a couple shirts and toiletries and hit the road.... it was a start of an amazing rich journey. The first pass was the pineapple field...

21 December 2017

We just got off an interesting 2 hrs train ride from Hanoi to Ninh Binh and arrived at Xuan Hoa hotel around 10pm exhausted where the host, Tuan, the owner son told us about Pu Luong tour. We thought to do the trip ourselves renting a motorbike and trek though our tour book had warned us a guide is highly recommended. The map below showed our route and different potential Homestays!!! The next morning, we decided within a few mins to join the tour. It was one of the best unplanned decisions we’ve made.
More pics of ‘The Amazing Cave’....
Part of the Ha Long Bay tour, we went to the ‘Amazing Cave’ on our second day there. It is one of the largest cave in Ha Long Bay and it was beautiful indeed. We got there around 8:30am and it was flourished with tourists which made the cave experience less enjoyable as we didn’t have a chance to really soak in it’s true beauty. The cave has been expanded with built in walking lights to accommodate tourists where the cave natural beauty has been tainted.

20 December 2017

Ha Long Bay, known for its majestic view. We took a two days and one night tour with the Kangaroo Cafe for $125/person. Transportation from and to Hanoi was included along with a stop off kayaking tickets, stop at Tim Tok island, and entrance to the Amazing Cave the next day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included. Sitting on the deck of the Lavender Cruise (partnered with Kangaroo Cafe) was amazing as we passed through several sharp icicles rock formation. Words cannot explain its natural beauty. Definitely worth seeing...

19 December 2017

The fourth courtyard is the House of Ceremonies where is displayed ink wells, pens, books and personal artifacts belonging to some of the students that studied at the temple.
Temple of Literature, Hanoi Also called the temple of Confucius, this temple is historically the first university build in the XIth century. The temple layout is similar to that of the temple Confucius' birthplace. During his travels, Confucius use several temple across Asia to teach and spread his wisdom to the pupils. The temple has 5 courtyards. In XVth century, hundreds steles of carved blue stone turtles have been erected to honour talent and encourage study. The Turtle is one of the nation's four holy creatures - the others are the Dragon, the Unicorn and the Phoenix. The turtle is a symbol of longevity and wisdom. The shape and size of the turtle changed with the passage of time.

18 December 2017

Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi After a 2 days trip from London with a layover in Moscow for 24h, we finally landed safe in Vietnam. Shortly after dropping our bags we started to visit the old quarter and stopped by Hoa Lo Prison. Named Maison Central by the French colonialist, Hoa Lo Prison used to hold Vietnamese prisoners, particularly political prisoners behind independence movements who were often subject to torture and execution. Rapidly, the prison started to be very crowded. Initially, the Prison was able to hold a maximum of 450 prisoners. After some renovation in the beginning of 1910’s the Prison expanded to hold 600 people. However, by the 50’s the Prison held more than 2000 people !!! During the Vietnam war, the Prison used to hold American Air Force POW. As a result, Americans renamed the Prison Hanoi Hilton. The Prison has been demolished by 80% in the 90’s. Today the museum shows the cruelty and torture that prisoners underwent as well as the poor conditions.
Banh Mi This morning we woke up early. To grasp and experience a big city like Hanoi, starting your day early is the best way to see the locals life. At 7am we hit the road from the old quarter where we are to the French quarter. During our long walk, we stopped at several street food spots to “eat like a local” and stumble upon a wonderful, yummy and busy “Banh Mi” place. Originated by the French colonialist, Banh Mi is a simple sandwich with pate, salads and butter. All made fresh, Banh Mi is a excellent snack. Because of their popularity, this place create a small traffic jams of motorbikes stopping by to get their morning sandwich.