Our recent travels brought us to Vietnam. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen some photos of our adventures here and there already. It was our first time in Vietnam and we had no idea what to expect. We did know we wanted to visit certain places and so we started our journey in Hanoi, took some short trips to the countryside of Ninh Binh, spent a day in Ha Long Bay, before we took off to Danang. In this post, I’ll show you some of the wonders we encountered on our trip. May this post inspire your next travels. Let’s go!
1. Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh is a two-hour ride from Hanoi. We rented a private cab that picked us up from the hotel and took us to the countryside of Ninh Binh. In the Ninh Binh province, we visited Hoa Lu. Hoa Lu was the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th century. Hoa Lu was home to the first two imperial dynasties of Vietnam, the Dinh and (early) Le dynasties. In Hoa Lu, there are many temples still left from the dynasties.
From Hoa Lu, we started our biking trail to Tam Coc, also in the Ninh Binh province. The trail went past local villages, many rice fields and limestone mountains. We had been told that unfortunately the rice fields had just been harvested. Too bad because I was hoping to get some shots of the vast rice fields of the Vietnam countryside. Nevertheless, it was a scenic trail never to forget.
After the biking trail, we went on a boat tour on the Trang An river in Tam Coc. The tour took about three hours and takes you along a trail of scenic limestone mountain ranges, valleys and to the many grottoes in Trang An. We were told that you’re not allowed to row your own boat unfortunately. The river is quite big and when the sun goes down, for safety reasons (poisonous snakes, insects), all visitors must return before closing time. We didn’t mind not rowing ourselves at all. Our ‘captain’ was a lady in her fifties, who takes tourists on the river an impressive seven times a week (one boat fits six people – imagine how hard it must be).
This photo shows one of the many temples on the riverside. The temples are a tribute to old emperors of Vietnam. Around the temples you’ll find a lot of koi fish swimming around. For the koi fish, every stop where people can get on or off is a chance they’ll be fed – at this temple we found a whole school of koi fish swimming for food!
Stunning decor designs on the doors of the temples. The temples used to be in bad shape but were recently renovated. Temples are different from pagodas – in temples, people are worshipped whereas in pagodas, people come to pray to the gods.
Going into the caves, you can see the limestone mountains up close. Some caves were so low in height we had to really duck to not hit our heads on the low cave ceiling. Rowing in these low caves was hard so we had to sometimes push ourselves forward from the ceiling.
2. ha long bay
Probably one of the most visited places in Vietnam – Ha Long Bay. Ha Long Bay had long been on my list of things to see in the world and I was glad we got a chance to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site in the Quang Ninh Province. It was a two-hour ride from our hotel in Hanoi. Instead of going with one of the tourist tour operators, we decided to rent a private boat to discover Ha Long Bay. It was definitely the highlight of our entire Vietnam trip. The limestone islets (of which there are about 2,000) stretching over an area of about 1,552km2 under a clear blue sky and on crystal clear waters… it was breathtaking. We spent the entire day just boating between the islets, leaving behind the rest of the world.
Ha Long Bay is home to four fishing villages: Cua Van, Ba Hang, Cong Tau and Vong Vieng. Combined, they form a community of around 1,600 people living on Ha Long Bay. The villages are set up on a fleet of floating houses and are sustained through fishing and marine aquaculture.
3. Danang, My son and hoi an
On the last part of our Vietnam journey, we found ourselves in My Son in the Quang Nam province. My Son is a cluster of Hindu temples constructed somewhere between the 4th and 14th century by the kings of Champa. The temples are dedicated to the god Shiva. A large part of the site was destroyed by US bombing during the Vietnam War, but still it is regarded as one of the foremost Hindu temple sites in Southeast Asia. My Son is often compared with Borobudur in Indonesia and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Initially we hadn’t planned on visiting the site but when we had one extra day left in our schedule, we decided to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site. My advice is to go as early as you can as the park gets crowded with visitors at 10am already!
If you’re planning on visiting Vietnam, definitely take out more time than we did. We stayed there for a week and it wasn’t nearly enough! Our last days were spent exploring Hoi An by bike. We rode through the small villages, the countryside, the busy streets in the city center and the beachside of Hoi An. It was above thirty degrees that day so I only managed to shoot photos when we were in cooler spots.
About a twenty minute drive away from our hotel in Danang, was Marble Mountains, a cluster of five marble limestone hills. The hills are named after the five elements. On top of the mountains are several Buddhist pagodas. We didn’t climb the mountains – instead I took this photo at dawn. I thought the silhouette made for the perfect ending of our Vietnam journey.