Hanoi

 

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Backpacking journey through Vietnam

After a week in Bangkok, Thailand, we flew (only a 1 hour and 50 minute flight) to the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi. This was the start of our six week backpacking journey from the North to the South of Vietnam. Hanoi, was out first introduction to this amazing country. As one of the most ancient capital cities in the world, we found the city quite charming with its mix of Russian, Chinese and French influencers. With its rich history, culture and charming atmosphere, Hanoi was the perfect introduction to Vietnam.

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Old quarter

We stayed at a guest house in the old quarter  (the Hoan Kiem district). This district is considered to be the busiest in Hanoi and the most popular district with tourists. Plus, the old quarter is the oldest developed area in Vietnam! I found wondering through the streets of the old quarter to be rather charming, as you can witness generations of Vietnamese life. Strolling through the ancient commercial streets is a must do in Hanoi. Street food and street artists are prominent. Each street was unique and provided a different glimpse into the local way of life. I always find that just roaming the streets, with no plan is the best way to gain a sense of any of the locations that I visit, and the best way to find hidden gems.

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Highlights and must sees

  • Hoan Kiem lake and Ngoc Son temple: We found ourselves relaxing by this lake on most days of our trip. It a a calming place to rest from  roaming around the hectic streets. The lake surrounds the gorgeous Ngoc Son temple.
  • Ho Chi Minh museum: An informative museum dedicated to the late Vietnamese leader; Ho Chi Minh.
  • Ho Chi Minh mausoleum: The final resting place of the revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh.
  • Temple of literature: Visit the country’s oldest University! Although this historic site of education was destroyed during a war, restoration work is ongoing to retain this 1,000 year old temple of education.
  • Thang long water puppet theatre: Watch a traditional performance at this gorgeous theatre, seeing this performance was one of my favorite nights in Hanoi.
  • Dong Xuan Market: Shop and bargain hunt in Hanoi’s largest indoor market! Even if you don’t like to shop, walking around this market is amazing to just take in the city’s atmosphere.
  • Vietnamese coffee: Try the local coffee at one of the numerous cafe shops around the city, it is strong and delicious!
  • Binge on street food: Try the local street food, there are many options in the old quarter and around the Hoan Kiem lake. Full of flavor and so cheap.
  • Nightlife: Experience the laid back Hanoi night life, cheap beer bars on street corners, to fancy cocktail bars in the French quarter.

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 Trips from Hanoi

For the beginning of our backpacking journey of Vietnam we based ourselves in Hanoi. From Hanoi we were able to take three trips before heading south.

  1. A day trip to the stunning  Tam Coc, Ninh Binh
  2.  Three days in the magical Ha Long Bay
  3.  Four days in the breathtaking Sapa

From Hanoi, we continued our journey south along the coast, next stop Hue 

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Ayutthaya

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A day trip from Bangkok

Ayutthaya lies 80 km north of Bangkok and makes for the perfect day trip (or longer) from the busy city. The history of this place is spectacular. The historic city of Ayutthaya was founded in 1350 and was the second capital of the Kingdom of Siam. The city was attacked by the Burmese in 1767 and burned to the ground. The city was never restored and is now listed as a UNESCO world heritage area.  The Ayutthaya historical park is an archaeological site, which contains the remains of historic statues, Buddhist temples, monasteries and palaces. Visiting Ayutthaya was a highlight of our travels to Thailand.

 

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Getting there

There are various ways to commute to Ayutthaya from Bangkok.

  • Car/taxi service
  • Bus
  • Minibus
  • Boat – For a boat trip, you will need to book in advance. This method of transportation would also be for a longer trip, as it will take at least a day to arrive!

We chose to take the train service. This seemed to be the easiest and most cost effective. The train departs from Bangkok’s Hualamphong train station, and provides a scenic route. The journey will take anywhere from 1.5 hours to 2.5 hours depending on the service. The cost of a second class ticket (a carriage with A/C) will range from 245 – 345 Thai baht ( $7-$11 USD). The cost of a third class ticket ranges from 15-20 Thai baht ( 50 – 65 US cents). I found the train ride to and from Bangkok, to be relaxing and a nice break from the hectic city.

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Getting around

There are various modes of transportation to take you around the historical park.

  • Tuk-tuk
  • motorbike
  • mini bus
  • Songteow
  • Cyclo
  • Boat

We chose to rent bicycles for the day, to ride around the historical park on our own self guided tour. Renting a bike will cost you 40-50 Thai Baht  ($1.30-$1.60 USD) for the day.  It was easy to find places to rent bikes, pick up a map of the park and get going! We felt this was  the best way to see this historic city, and we were not disappointed. The ride was easy and we were able to explore a lot of ground, cycling between the ruins and taking in the beautiful sights. If we had been there for at least another day, I think a boat journey around Ayutthaya would have been worthwhile. Overall a trip to visit this historic park is recommended, being surrounded by the city’s history was an extremely fulfilling travel experience.

 

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Bangkok

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Bangkok, crazy, chaotic and absolutely fantastic! I have visited this wonderful city twice, and would go back for more, given the chance! This city is amazing to explore. Culturally rich, friendly locals with a great city vibe. There are many different areas of Bangkok to explore, gaining varying experiences from each.  In amongst the craze there are many hidden gems. From Royalty, temples, markets, canals, shopping, street art and a vibrant nightlife, this city has something for everyone. The food is also wonderful; local, fresh and healthy.

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Sukhumvit

For our first visit to the capital of Thailand, we stayed at a guest house in the Sukhumvit district of Bangkok. I loved this district, so vibrant and full of life. The nightlife was amazing, from night markets to classy bars. The shopping was fun, street markets and easy enough to get to the luxury malls to look around. Also, Sukhumvit road is the longest road in Thailand, and one of the longest boulevards in the world, pretty cool. Our stay felt authentic and we were able to hang out with the locals, which is always so fulfilling and gives you a better learning experience about that destination.

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Khao San Road

For our second visit, we decided to stay at a backpackers on the famous Khao San road. Located in the northern part of Rattanakosin. Described as the backpacking hub of South East Asia. It was crowded and full of partying. This was fun to experience for a day or two, however I did prefer our first stay in the Sukhumvit district, which gave us a better feel of how people actually live in Bangkok. I would love to return to Bangkok and have the opportunity  to stay in a different district. Bangkok has 50 districts, and these are split up into 169 subdistricts! So there are plenty of areas to stay in and explore.

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Highlights and must-sees

  • Grand palace – The official residence of the Kings of Siam. Located in the Rattanakosin area (the old city of Bangkok).
  • Wat Phra Kaew – Temple of the emerald Buddha. Located in the Phra Nakhon district (the historic center of Bangkok).
  • Floating market-the closet one is Taling Chan which is fairly small. If you have time and want to travel outside of the city, the top rated floating markets near Bangkok are the Damnoen Saduek floating market and the Amphawa floating market.
  • Yaowarat road – Bangkok’s Chinatown, which is located in the Samphathawong district.
  • Wat Po- Buddhist temple complex located in the Phra Nakhon district.
  • Chao Phraya River – The “river of kings’ that flows through the city. Provides scenic views of the city and you can use boat transportation to get around to the different districts.
  • Chatuchak– a weekend market and one of the largest markets in the world! A popular shopping center for the local people, is now becoming popular with tourists.
  • Nightlife – Bangkok has a very vibrant nightlife. The best areas to go – Sukhumvit, Khao San road and the royal city avenue (RCA).

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Phuket

Sunshine and smiles

Phuket, my first introduction to Thailand and to Southeast Asia. It was a wonderful introduction, such beautiful and friendly people and very helpful. Smiles, great scenery and amazing food. Culture and history, perfect. A great week in Phuket and it is on the list to visit again! Hot weather, sunshine and beaches, a perfect combination. Tasty and cheap Thai food was a definite winner, one of my favourite cuisines and easy to find healthy and vegetarian options. Walking around the streets, chatting to the locals, exploring the markets, spending time on the beach and drinking Thai cocktails whilst enjoying the Phuket vibrant nightlife, is a perfect way to explore the beauty of Phuket.

Highlights and must-sees of Phuket

  • Patong: Beach resort town. It is the center for Phuket’s shopping and nightlife. Beach by day and explore the many beer bars, go go bars and nightclubs during the night.
  • Old Phuket town: Historical part of Phuket with shrines and temples.
  • Bangla road: The heart of Phuket nightlife, music, cheap beer, street performances  and more. An interesting and must do experience.
  • Wat Chalong: A stunning Buddhist temple and considered to be one of the most important in Phuket.
  • Simon Cabaret show: An entertaining and beautiful musical performance, performed by ladyboys.
  • Thai boxing: Exciting to watch live.
  • Phuket weekend market: A maze of stalls to get lost in.

Phuket is located in Southern Thailand, it is a rain-forested and mountainous Island. It is also the largest Island in Thailand! The climate is hot and humid year round. There is a monsoon season from May – October to be aware of. The official language is Thai and Baht is the currency. It is easy to get around Phuket. Most places are walkable, and a great way to explore the streets and markets. Tuk Tuks, and buses are readily available. Plenty of accommodation options. We stayed in a guest house in the Patong region. The local people are very friendly and willing to help. Can’t wait to go back!

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Phi Phi Island

Day trip to Phi Phi Don, Thailand.

A Tropical Getaway

Breathtaking scenery, turquoise waters and stunning limestone formations. Phi Phi island is the perfect tropical getaway. I love hot weather, beaches and remote locations, Phi Phi Island is the perfect place to enjoy nature, relax in the sunshine and to immerse yourself in the water. A time for reflection and relaxation. Whilst I was staying in Phuket, this was a great day trip to explore more of the amazing Thailand.

I made the trip to Phi Phi Don the largest and main Phi Phi Island. The Phi Phi view point was the highlight of my visit, a scenic 20-30 minute hike to the top, located 186 meters above sea level. It is well worth the hike, as the view is absolutely stunning and provides a great overview of the Island. After the hike, Exploring and relaxing on the beautiful beaches is a great way to spend your afternoon. To finish, eating the amazing local Thai food and drinking cheap beers or cocktails at an outdoor restaurant tops off the visit before heading back to Phuket! I would love the opportunity to go back and explore more of the surrounding Islands. Next time I would  take advantage of and enjoy the snorkeling and kayaking experiences.

Phi Phi Island is only a 90 minute ferry ride from Phuket, or a 45 minute speed boat ride! The Phi Phi Islands are a small archipelago consisting of six Island groups. The Islands are apart of the Krabi providence in Southern Thailand. The region of these Islands are a part of a marine national park  The largest Island Phi Phi Don (where I visited) is the ‘main’ Island, it is the only inhabited Island. The peak season to visit is from December to March (dry season). Be weary if you visit during April-November, as this is wet season, where monsoons are likely to occur. These are some of the most beautiful Islands in the world, however they are at risk from tourist leaving their mark. When visiting the Island, do so in an eco-friendly way to ensure the preservation for future generations. Be a responsible guest and don’t leave your mark.

 

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