Vietnam Trip 2015 – Ninh Binh

When I was doing research on nature excursions in the north, I saw gorgeous photos of hikes next to lush green rice patties in Sapa and people boating on deltas through the rice patties in Ninh Binh.  However, I found out that November isn’t the best time to see rice patties since they will be yellow and harvested.  Luckily, there is still plenty of pretty scenery to see in November around Ninh Binh.  So we opted for a scenic hike at the Mua cave and a boat ride through limestone karsts and caves of Trang An.

A bus picked up our large group of eleven and drove us two hours south, escaping the busy city of Hanoi.

First stop- Mua Cave. There wasn’t anyone else around as we walked towards the cave except for a few chickens.  There were a lot of pretty trees and this bridge.

500 steps doesn’t sound like a ton, but when they are super steep and it’s 80+ degrees out, it’s tough!

View along the way. There’s the bridge we walked by.

Made it to the top! The view of the Tam Coc rice patties and limestone karsts was so nice and I liked that there weren’t a lot of other people around.

Grantland going back down the stairs.

After lunch, we went on a boat ride through Trang An. People call Trang An “Halong Bay on land” because you get to go through the limestone karsts and see them up close. When I was doing research, I noticed that a lot of people commented on how Trang An isn’t as touristy as other areas such as Tam Coc. Because of this, we didn’t experience anyone pushing for us to buy things. I’d recommend going here for sure. We booked our Mua Cave and Trang An tour through Vietnam Awesome. Yes, it was indeed awesome! har har ..

About to go into one of the caves.

It had just rained the day before, so the water was high this day. Because of that, we had to duck quite a bit in some of the caves. Unfortunately my camera is bad with low lighting photos, so I didn’t get any good photos inside the caves.

Pit stop so Grantland could go to the bathroom. Each boat is rowed by a woman. A small Asian woman. They must be so strong to be able to row up to four people for two hours! This type of work for sure deserves a tip.

We encountered these men along the way. I think they were making sure there wasn’t any trash or anything on the water.

The men were rowing their canoes with their feet! I saw some women doing it too but mainly when they were in the caves and less visible.

The group! We met Tony’s two friends and hung out with them in Hanoi and Halong Bay. We also all met Petra through Tony who was traveling solo at the moment while her friends were still on their way. And then we met up with James from Cal Poly and his girlfriend. It was fun hanging out with everyone!

Next up, Halong Bay.

(Also, I’m figuring out how to customize this WordPress theme so that my photos captions look more like captions that are directly under the photo and not just regular text.  If I use the caption code, it’s too small.  Can I edit WordPress themes?!  And then when I change the permalinks to text, my blog dies, but I think Grantland can fix this one (:  Oh yeah and how do you have the shorter blog posts that people can click to see more?  And lastly, I’m not sure if my photos take forever to load, but maybe there’s an easier way to put photos from flickr onto WordPress. Guess I should look into plugins. #noob #halp)

Vietnam Trip 2015 – Hanoi

Wow, I haven’t updated my blog in a while!  I’ve decided I want to post about my recent trip to Vietnam so I can remember all the details later on.  This trip meant a lot to me as both my parents are from Vietnam and I grew up with some Vietnamese culture, however, I’ve never had the opportunity to visit the motherland.  When I started to plan this trip, I thought about also visiting bordering or close-by countries such as Thailand or Hong Kong. But after doing research, I found out that Vietnam itself already has a lot to cover.

Get ready for a lot of food pictures!  (I used my old and refurbished Nikon J1 and shot on JPEG Normal, so the quality is not so great)

We traveled from North to South, so our first stop was Hanoi.  First things first, we checked off some food and coffee off our list.

Bun Cha is a Hanoi dish of grilled pork meatballs over vermicelli.  I don’t know what’s in the broth, but it was really good.  (And yep, I really did bring my own disposable chopsticks!)

Fresh pressed sugar cane juice.. without ice just in case!

So many flowers on her bike.

Unique to Hanoi- egg coffee. Egg yolk+condensed milk+coffee. The small cup is served inside a bowl containing hot water to keep the drink warm.

I really liked the iced version of the egg coffee.

With the crew at Cafe Giang! Small but cute space with lots of natural lighting and plants.

I was having camera issues this day, so this one’s from my iPhone 5. So blurry lol. Banh cuon- ground pork inside a thin rice flour wrapper with fried shallots on top. It was really good.

This was at the Temple of Literature and also from my iPhone 5. A lot of students had just graduated and came here to take photos. So cute.

Banh mi! Out of all the Vietnamese sandwich places we tried, this one was my favorite.

Something about the baguette was to die for! I got the combination: pate, BBQ pork, and ham.

This was one of the places Anthony Bourdain visited in No Reservations, Cha Ca La Vong. Fish gets cooked right in front of you with turmeric and dill. You eat it with vermicelli and fish sauce or shrimp paste (which is soo smelly but I love it). I personally didn’t enjoy the fish here because it was really chewy. And the prices are pretty high compared to other hole in wall shops. But it’s a dish unique to Hanoi and I’m glad we tried it.

Really good popcicle from Kem Trang Tien. I think this is taro flavored. Some of the other flavors included green bean and rice (lol).

Night stroll at the park next to the lake.

Fried eel noodle soup.

I already love Vietnamese yogurt but when we found this Vietnamese yogurt and COFFEE combination, Grantland and I were so happy.

At Cafe Dinh where the yogurt coffee is from. They also serve egg coffee here.

Tropical smoothie at City View Cafe. Great place for views of the lake and getting videos of motorbike traffic.

You can see women selling snacks, fruit, souvenirs, etc. everywhere on the streets. This was taken while we were having beers at Fat Cat Bar in the alley of hostel bars. It gets super fun (and packed) at night.

There were actually a ton of locals out, not just backpackers.

Even kids were out hanging out at the bar…

Fresh squeezed (green) orange juice! From the ground. In a plastic bag. My dad freaked out when I showed him this photo haha.

Fresh fruit.

Near West Lake.

We saw a lot of people eating from this street vendor across the street from our hotel and finally decided to try it on our last night. It’s spring roll wrappers that are cut up with soy sauce, a mix of dried seafood, beef jerky, herbs, and quail eggs. I’ve never heard of this and still don’t know what it’s called, but it was one of my favorite things I ate on the trip. (Even though I bit into the spiciest pepper I’ve never had and was dying for 20 minutes) Edit: I’ve been told that this is called banh trang tron!

Dry pho which reminded me of my favorite from Ha Nam Ninh in San Francisco. (Go eat there and order #25 dry!)

9 person cyclo race. Luckily I didn’t have a complaining biker Susan’s or Grantland’s haha.

Overall, I loved the old charm in Hanoi. Although it’s also a big city, it’s not modern like Saigon and I liked that we got to experience a more old-school, conservative town. Everyday we’d walk through small streets that sell different categories of goods. For example, one street only has motorbike part shops, and the next street over sells only baby clothing and supplies. There was a street with only Christmas and holiday decorations, and then there was the street with all the fake Nikes and Adidas shoes.

Next up I’ll post about our day trip out to gorgeous Trang An!