A scenic cruise and hill tribe treks in Northern Vietnam…

From Hanoi we travelled to Halong Bay, along with our friend Drew, for the start of our 3 day cruise on a junk boat. As Halong Bay itself has become extremely touristy (sometimes with over 600 tourist boats in the area at once), we instead opted for a slightly more expensive option and took a boat to neighbouring Bai Tu Long, where only a handful of boats are allowed to go. Bai Tu Long is stunning, with over 1600 limestone karst islands, with sheer tree covered cliffs. Once aboard the junk boat we were treated to a 9 (!) course lunch whilst we cruised through the calm waters. In the afternoon we did some sea kayaking and went for a slightly bracing swim! That evening we had a very special 12 course meal served inside a cave, which was incredibly atmospheric. Later on, the boat cruised further in the dark, as we sat out on deck watching the huge cliffs appear out of the darkness as we passed by.

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On our second day we did some more kayaking through the picturesque karst scenery. This time we kayaked inside a cave as well as to a lagoon. We also visited a local fishing village and a pearl farm, where we saw a pearl being extracted from an oyster. The next day, we returned to Halong Bay and then travelled back to Hanoi, stopping off to see a traditional water puppet show on the way. When we reached Hanoi, we went straight to the station and got on an overnight train to Sa Pa. This time we were lucky and got a really comfortable cabin all to ourselves, with soft mattresses, a tv and even our own pairs of branded slippers!

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We arrived in the mountain town of Sa Pa early in the morning and spent the day walking up a steep hill called Ham Rong. Sa Pa is right in the North of Vietnam, just a few kilometres from the Chinese border and is home to the local Hmong tribes who still wear their traditional dress. On our second day, we did a full day trek with our guide Mao, up and down some fairly steep terrain to visit a number of Hmong villages and also to see the stunning rice terraces which swept across the valley. The scenery was amazing and we saw lots of local people in their traditional dress, as well as lots of roaming livestock, including pigs, goats, cows and buffalo. On the trek we found out that eating sugar cane can be very dangerous; as first Drew chipped his tooth on a piece and then Alex managed to drop and damage the camera whilst trying to take a ‘selfie’ of himself eating some!

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From Sa Pa we took another sleeper train back to Hanoi. After arriving at about 5am we went to visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. His body is surprisingly well preserved and it apparently gets sent to Russia each year for ‘maintenance.’ It was a strange experience visiting. The guards are very strict and you are not allowed to talk, you have to keep walking and you must have your hands by your sides. We had just a couple of days exploring the city, including the Old Quarter and the Hoan Kiem Lake. Sadly Drew left us to fly home to New Zealand, but we also had a fun night out with some other friends Sophie and Seb, who are currently living in Hanoi. The following day we took a flight to our next destination, Laos…

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