I should say that the highlight of this getaway was spending the night in Halong Bay. Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi were also exciting, but it was my first time to sleep on a boat, and not a moving one this time. I slept on moving ferries during overnight trips in the Philippines.
We rode a van from Hanoi to Ha Long. I couldn’t remember the exact location but we passed a bridge. It was not near. I took several pictures along the way but most of them were lost. There were already many tourists waiting at the wharf. After several minutes, our boat was ready. The cruise was composed of different nationalities.
The bay was calm. That was our first day in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Several isles started to grew bigger from where we were. We then stopped at Bo Hon island to explore caves. Stalagmites and stalactites greeted us once inside. They were lit with multicolored lights. We also explored the other chamber, which was bigger.
Some people stopped at Cat Ba island to spend the night there. Most of us remained on the boat. It was not scary because there were other boats near where we spent the night.
The next day, we saw more limestone isles and karst formations. We also passed by some floating fishing villages. We stopped in one village to kayak. It was quite a foggy day.
Part of the cruise was meeting different people from other parts of the world. It was a great experience. The moment we saw familiar isles on our way back, it was time to bid farewell.
Outside Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh, I saw a statue located in the roundabout and took a picture. I found out later it was that of a Vietnamese hero, Tran Nguyen Hai. We could have visited other places in HCM, but we needed to catch a flight to Hanoi that day. The latter was our next destination.
A sister of two of my companions was based in Hanoi. We stayed with her and she took us to some cultural sites around the city. The first stop was Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. It was worth the visit. Both indoor and outdoor exhibitions were culturally enriching.
The indoor exhibition showcased smaller models of houses, several artifacts and traditional practices like weddings.
The outdoor exhibition showcased replicas of several traditional Vietnamese houses. We explored most of their interiors. It was a relaxing experience. The stilt house below was my favorite.
I was also able to take a picture of a very long dragon boat. After the outdoor tour, we decided to eat traditional Vietnamese food near the entrance of the museum.
Most of the pictures taken during this trip were lost after my old laptop was reformatted. Good thing I was able to save some pictures. This getaway was part of a backpacking trip with friends for almost two weeks. We packed only the essentials to avoid checking in baggage. We rode a bus to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) from Phnom Penh, our last stop in Cambodia. We stayed in Vietnam for six days. We arrived late afternoon on the first day and flew to Bangkok from Hanoi around 9 AM on the sixth day.
Tourist visa was not needed for Filipino passport holders to enter Vietnam. After our passports were stamped in Moc Bai (see Lonely Planet’s Vietnam map), we road the same bus and arrived in HCM before evening. We did not book any hotel or guest house beforehand so it took us some time to find one that was cheaper and near the city center. That was one of the lessons I learned from this trip – book in advance especially during peak season or at least research about hotels or guest houses and take note of their names and contact info.
We stayed within the tourist area. We woke up early the next morning and after converting US dollars to Vietnam dong, we ate breakfast. We withdrew US dollars in Cambodia because it was the more convenient currency to use. We wanted to shop but we had no idea where to go. We did not plan to stay longer in HCM so we did not do thorough research. It was a mistake.
We just walked to where our feet would take us until we reached Ben Thanh Market. We did not do a Hansel and Gretel to find our way back. Just kidding. But yes, we were still able to collect our things back in the guest house hours ahead of our flight to Hanoi.