Seren del Grappa

Panoramic mountain views

Seren del Grappa is a gorgeous Italian village located in the province of Belluno, in the Italian region of Veneto. The small village is located near the sacred mountain, the Monte Grappa. Three battles were fought here during world war one.

A visit to this pretty village, will provide you with an authentic local Italian experience. The locals are very friendly and helpful. The homemade food is amazingly delicious – I had the best Italian meal of my life here. Seren del Grappa is a great place to explore  history and the natural reserves by hiking the many trails, either by foot or by bike. The views are just gorgeous.

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Two days in Seren del Grappa

My boyfriends grandfather  was born and grew up in Seren del Grappa. We were visiting Venice, which is located 70 km away and his mother asked if we could visit this small village. So we decided to go. We took a train from Venice to Feltre a hill town located 7.4 km from Seren Del Grappa. The train journey was really nice and quite picturesque, with the ice, snow and mountain views. From the Feltre train station we took a local bus into the small village of Seren Del Grappa.

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So now we had arrived, with no plan! His mother had given us the name of the bed and breakfast that her cousin owned. So we walked around the village until we found it. We walked in, and started to talk to the man and women at the desk. Luckily there was a man who could speak both Italian and English who was able to translate between the two parties. Next thing, they were greeting us with big hugs and kisses, as his grandfather was a well know and respected man. The family put us up for night, and made us the biggest and most delicious authentic meal. The warm welcome and generosity was a true indication of the people in this village.

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We spent our time in Seren Del Grappa, connecting with the family and friends and then exploring the gorgeous mountains. The mountains are just so pretty here! The hiking trails are very enjoyable. Other points of interest include the thirteenth century church of San Siro and scenes from the world war one battles that occurred at Monte Grappa.

The trip to Seren del Grappa, was really enriching as it provided an insight into the small village life of Italy. I have visited some of the big cities in Italy which are gorgeous, but this was a nice change, and we didn’t run into any other tourist! A very memorable trip.

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Rome

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Roma

Vibrant in art and culture, and showcasing a creative imagery into the past, Rome is an intriguing and breathtaking city to explore.

Rome is located in the central Italian peninsula on the Tiber river, 24km inland from the Tyrrhenian sea. Rome is the capital city of Italy, and also the capital of the Lazio region. Rome is also the most populated comune in Italy. With twenty eight centuries of history, and as one of the oldest continuously occupied sites in Europe, Rome showcases a rich history in amongst the now cosmopolitan and happening city. Rome is truly, a magnificent city to explore and to absorb the dreamy atmosphere.

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The city of love

This was my second visit to this charming city, and I would come back again! As we were based in Dundee   Scotland, we found cheap flights from Edinburgh (around $20 USD)! Only a three hour flight. So took the opportunity to travel to Italy and explore.

We found a cheap(ish) backpackers hostel to stay in, which was located in the city center. An ideal location so we could just walk around and explore. We were here for six days and five nights before flying to Venice.

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The eternal city

Walking through Rome provides a glimpse into ancient times. I was truly in awe walking around and visiting the ancient ruins. Rome is a very special place where you can feel and view history. Here is a list of the best ancient landmarks to visit when in Rome!

  • Pantheon: An ancient pagan temple, that has since been converted into a church. This is one of Rome’s best preserved monuments.
  • Janiculum walk: A beautiful walk through the hills, and when you reach the top an impressive view overlooking the Roman skyline.
  • Circus Maximus: An open field with ruins. This was once, one of the largest sporting arenas in the world!
  • Roman forum: A true glimpse into ancient rome. With ancient ruins linked to the former emperors. These ruins illustrate 900 years of history!
  • Piazza Navona: A breathtaking piazza containing three gorgeous fountains.

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Roman Colosseum

In addition to the ancient landmarks highlighted above, a trip to Rome would not be complete without a visit to the impressive Colosseum! A well preserved piece of history, and a major tourist attraction in Rome.

The Colosseum, also known as the Flavian amphitheater, is a huge stone amphitheater built between AD 70-72 by the Vespasian emperor. The Colosseum was used for four centuries! As the site of gladiator combats between men and other animals. The largest amphitheater in the Roman world, the colosseum could seat more than 50,000 spectators! The preservation of this ancient site began in the 19th century. kinsideold

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Highlights and must sees

In addition to the ancient sites must sees, here are recommendations of other points of interest that we enjoyed.

  • Trevi fountain: A well know landmark. A gorgeous 18th century sculpted fountain.
  • Spanish steps: 135 steps which are located between the Piazza di Spagna (at the bottom) and the Pizza Trinita dei Monti at the top.
  • Capitoline museums: A complex of art and archeological museums.
  • Pincian hill: Wander around the pretty gardens.
  • Visit the Vatican city:  The headquarters of the Holy Roman church and one of the world’s smallest sovereign states. The Vatican city became independent from Rome in 1929. Inside you can visit St.Peters Basilica, the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.
  • Get lost. Just rome around Rome and explore your surroundings.
  • Indulge in Italian food, coffee and wine!

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Rome

Rome is a very special city. Rich in history and culture. A beautiful city to explore and a great highlight of a trip to Europe.

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Oktoberfest

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Volksfeast

This sixteen day festival is the world’s largest Volksfeast – a beer festival and traveling fun fair. The festival is located in the city of  Munich, in the state of Bavaria, Germany.

History of oktoberfest

The origins of this festival goes back to 1810! When the then, Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony- Hildurghausen. The people of Munich were invited to celebrate the festivities in the fields in front the city gates. The festival occurred the next year and has continued on ever since! This year will mark the 185th year of the festival, very impressive. Today, oktoberfest is the largest festival in the world, bringing in an average of six million visitors each year, from all over the world.

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Celebrating Oktoberfest

I had always wanted to visit the famous oktoberfest, and we were able to go..by accident! We had found cheap flights to Munich and just brought them without realizing that the festival would be occurring at this time! Our cheap tickets to Munich allowed us to enjoy the vibrant and spectacular festival. We were based in the city center of Munich and attended the festival on most of the days of our trip, in amongst exploring the sights and beauty of Munich.

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Kota Kinabalu

Gateway to Borneo

Kota Kinabalu also referred to as KK is located on the northwest coast of Borneo, in the Malaysian state of Sabah. Kota Kinabalu, which was once formally known as Jesselton is the state capital of Sabah. The location is an ideal base to explore the northern region of Borneo.

Borneo

Borneo is the third largest (non continental) island in the world. Located in South East Asia, and surrounded by the south China sea to the north and northwest. The Island is divided by three separate countries. Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia. Brunei has the smallest portion of the Island. The Malaysian part of the Borneo is split between two different states, Sabah and Sarawak. The Indonesian state of Kalimantan controls the largest portion of Borneo.

Borneo is a nature lovers playground. The majority of the island is covered by dense rainforest, with a great richness of species diversity. This rainforest is one of the oldest rainforests in the world! Estimated to be 140 million years old. Home to a range of unique fauna and flora, and the center of evolution and distribution of many species. It is understandable that a lot of ecological research is conducted here. With this, Borneo is also home to a number of sustainable, conservation and responsible travel projects. The Island of Borneo is a really unique and magical place.

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Four days in Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu was our first introduction to this amazingly unique island. Spending four days in this city was truly wonderful, the only negative was that it was not enough time! We stayed at a backpackers hostel, close to the center of the city. As we arrived in the afternoon, our first day was spent walking around and taking in the atmosphere of the city. Our first evening was spent at the night market, then on to an all you can eat buffet – and buckets of beers, the price was ridiculously cheap. The next morning, we woke up and started to explore more of the city. In addition to visiting the  sights and attractions of KK, the majority of our stay was spent island hopping, which included snorkeling and hiking adventures.

City highlights and attractions

KK water font and times square

With crystal clear waters and sunny skies the waterfront is gorgeous to walk along. Times square represents the commercial downtown area of Kota Kinabalu.

Sabah state mosque

Located close to the city center, the mosque is worth a viewing. The architectural design is very impressive.

Signal hill observatory tower

Provides gorgeous views of the city at the highest point.

Atkinson clock tower

This is the oldest standing structure in Kota Kinabalu. The towers sits on a hill overlooking the city.

Central market

A vibrant and busy market located on the waterfront. A great place to explore and take in the atmosphere of the city.

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Tunku Abdul Rahman Park

The Tunku Abdul Rahman park is a marine park with a cluster of five islands (Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Sulug and Mamutik) located off the coast of Kota Kinabalu. These islands are easily accessible. The distance ranges from three to eight kilometers off the coast, and you can take a 15-20 minute speedboat ride from the Jesselton point ferry terminal.  Plus, all of the islands are a short boat ride from each other. Island hopping was the highlight of our time in Kota Kinabalu.  We were able to visit many stunning beaches, go snorkeling, hike through jungle trails and see some pretty impressive animal and plant species.

Kota Kinabalu, with its tropical islands and stunning landscape is a nature lovers playground, and is rapidly becoming a more popular tourist destination, due to the city being a cultural hub with natural beauty. Kota Kinabalu was the perfect introduction to the island of Borneo. I am so eager to return and explore even more of the Island. I would love to experience a wilderness trip, absorbing the true remoteness and adventure that Borneo can offer.

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Kuala Lumpur

Muddy confluence

Kuala Lumpur, also referred to as KL by the locals is the capital and largest city of Malaysia. Located close to the center of peninsular Malaysia in the Selangor state. The name Kuala Lumpur translates to “muddy confluence” and the city is called this, as it is located at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers!

Kuala Lumpur was once a small Chinese village, with the locals working within the tin mining industry. The city has come a long way from this once sleepy village.  The city is described as being the cultural hub of Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is a cultural melting point, the mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian communities brings this city to life.  The city is vibrant and full of energy. From modern skyscrapers to ancient temples, the mix of old and new is impressive. From the sights in and around the city, the modern shopping options and dinning experiences. Kuala Lumper is a great city to explore for short stays or even for a stopover.

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Five days in KL

We had just spent two and a half weeks exploring parts of Thailand; PhuketPhi Phi Island and Bangkok and we had the chance to explore a new country before flying to London for the beginning of an eight month work and travel experience in Europe.

We stayed at a guest house in the Bukit Bintang district, the ‘trendy’ area of the city. The Bukit Bintang area is well known for its shopping and entertainment. From fancy shopping centers/malls to night markets. The nightlife is also happening here, with many cafes, restaurants and bar options. Popular among the local youth and tourists, this is probably the best area to stay in for a first time visit to Kuala Lumpur.

Five days was enough time to explore the city and see most of the sights, we were also able to enjoy two day trips from the city.

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Highlights and must sees

The Petronas towers

The most famous landmark in Kuala Lumpur. These towers are very impressive, both from the ground and from the top! Standing at 451.9 meters tall and with 88 stories. These towers were once the tallest buildings in the world, from 1998 to 2004. They still remain the tallest twin towers in the world.

Kuala Lumpur bird park

A great way to escape the heat and humidity of the city is by exploring  this eco tourism park! The worlds largest free flight walk in aviary, I was very impressed.

Perdana botanical garden

A nature sanctuary in the city, another option to try and escape the heat! This makes for the perfect early morning or late afternoon walk.

Kuala Lumpur butterfly garden

This park is so impressive, walking around lush gardens in amongst 6,000 butterflies! Show casing 120 species.

Sultan Abdul Samad Building

Impressive architecture and represents a historical landmark of the city.

Menara KL tower

Another well known landmark of the city. Sitting at 421 meters tall, this tower offers impressive views of the city.

Chinatown

Vibrant and filled with energy. The perfect place for bargain hunt shopping and to enjoy the nightlife.

Jalan Alor

A strip representing the city’s local cuisine. The perfect place to explore the various food options.

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Day trips from Kuala Lumpur

Batu caves

A limestone hill over 400 millions year old, containing three caves and a series of cave temples. Batu caves is a place for hindu festivals and pilgrimages. This place is well worth a visit. We took a train from the Kuala Lumpur central station and travelled for approximately  17 km, north of the city to the Batu caves train terminal. A very easy and affordable (50 us cents)  journey.

When you  arrive, the first sight is the impressive statue of the Hindu God. After climbing the steep staircase you can enter the caves and explore. The limestone formations are impressive and I also enjoyed watching the cheeky monkeys.

Kanching rainforest waterfalls

A refreshing break from the heat of KL, we took a local bus from the Kuala Lumpur central market bus terminal to the Kanching rainforest waterfalls. The falls are located inside a forest reserve. It was nice to walk through this park, and a great hiking experience  to see the waterfalls. A couple of the waterfalls had a pool large enough to swim in. Many monkeys occupy the area, I know that they are a nuisance for some people, they are not for me. I was disappointed to see the amount of rubbish people left in this beautiful place. Remember, if you’re traveling, don’t leave your mark and take only memories.

I enjoyed my time exploring the city of Kuala Lumpur and the nearby areas. Hopefully one day I can return and explore more of Malaysia!

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Ho Chi Minh City

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Saigon

The largest Vietnamese city by population is located in the south-eastern region of Vietnam, 1,760km (1,090miles) south of Hanoi. The city has undergone several name changes, which reflects the settlement of various ethnic groups, and the various political and cultural groups. Ho Chi Minh City is the official name of the city, however the former name of Saigon is still commonly used.  When Saigon was the official name of the city, it was the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina before becoming the independent republic of south Vietnam. In 1976, Saigon merged with the Gia Dinh province, which surrounded the city and was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City, named after the revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh.

Ho Chi Minh City has a lot of history. The area that reflects the city was once a part of the Kingdom of Cambodia. In the 18th century, relations with France began. Even when the Japanese occupied Saigon, the French still continued to administer Vietnam until 1945.  Although the city of Saigon was relatively unaffected by world war two (compared to other areas of Vietnam), it played a huge role in the Vietnam war, the fall of Saigon is described as  marking the end of the Vietnam war and as illustrating the beginning of the transition period of the unification of Vietnam.

This city has undergone so much change, and nowadays resembles city life, full of pulsing energy. The city is bold and dynamic.

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District one

We left the beaches of Nha Trang on an overnight train to the largest city of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City. Our train ride was about nine hours long. We arrived early and checked into our guest house and set out to explore the city. The city is separated into twenty four districts, we were staying in district one. District one is the commercial and financial center  and is a very popular district for travelers. District one and district three is home to the majority of sights and filled with bars and restaurants.

With its rich history, fascinating culture and ever growing into a modern city, Ho Chi Minh City is very interesting  place to explore. The city has a mix of old new, from buildings with the classic French architecture to sleek new skyscrapers, from the typical vietnamese street food to fancy rooftop bars and restaurants, plus the charm of the ancient ornate temples and pagodas. This city was different from the seemly reserved capital, Hanoi, and contained different vibes from the other places that we visited on our journey through Vietnam. It was so interesting to see the diversity throughout Vietnam.

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Highlights and must sees

Ho Chi Minh square

Surrounded by stunning French colonial buildings, this historic square is a symbol of history of south Vietnam during the 19th and 20th century.

Independence Palace

Also called “Reunification Palace”  and was a significant government center during the war.

Saigon Notre- Dame Palace

Represents the French architecture and charm of the city. A cathedral built by the French.

Saigon opera house

Elegant French architecture, I was in awe of its beauty.

Central post office

A remnant of French colonial times, withs its stunning architecture.

War remnants museum

A museum which greatly documents and showcases the brutal impacts that war has on the civilian victims.

Ben Thanh market

A huge market, a great place to buy local art and souvenirs. I enjoyed walking around amongst the chaos of this busy market.

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The end of this backpacking adventure

We spent seven nights based in Ho Chi Minh City, after exploring areas of the north and central region of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh City was a great place to finish the trip, we were able to explore the culture and beauty of the city and enjoy the nightlife, with both the local people and other travelers.

Mid way through our stay in Ho Chi Minh City we took a one night, two day tour to the amazing Mekong Delta .  Another great tour and very easy to access from the city.

Traveling through Vietnam was a really enriching and enjoyable backpacking journey. My knowledge of the history of Vietnam greatly increased. I loved experiencing the diverse climate and different landscapes throughout the country.  This was a really rewarding and memorable trip, arriving in the north at Hanoi and traveling throughout the country to reach the south. From looking into the effects of war, to the breathtaking world heritage sites, Vietnam has a lot of beauty to offer. From the history, culture, people, diverse environment and the delicious local food, Vietnam is a great country to explore.

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Hoi An

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Hoi An ancient town

The old town of Hoi An is a well preserved example of an old port. During the 15th to the 19th century, Hoi An was an major trading port. Hoi An has over 2,000 years of history. Hoi An was also a principal port of the Cham kingdom. This kingdom controlled the spice trade with Indonesia from the 7th to the 10th century.  As a result the culture and history of Hoi An is strongly influenced by the Cham people.  The second major influence of this charming town is from the Chinese. The buildings represent a unique blend of style from both foreign and local influencers. Hoi An old town is listed as UNESCO world heritage site and is well worth a visit.  The old town is so charming to walk around and to explore the rich history. The greenery that is covering the ruins is also so impressive, and makes the place so much more magical.

Hoi An is located in central Vietnam, in the Quang Nam province.  This area is a popular tourist attraction. People visit to see the charm of the old city and to relax at the beaches nearby. From Hue we travelled by bus for three hours to Hoi An, we stayed at a hostel at a nearby beach.

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An bang beach

As we were craving the sun and beach, we decided that we would stay at a beach close to the old town of Hoi An. We stayed at a backpackers hostel along the An Bang beach.The hostel was great and we met up with some other backpackers, and enjoyed the nightlife with them. Hoi An old town was easily accessible from this beach town, so we were able to make the most of visiting the ancient ruins and enjoying some time in the sun. You can also catch a glimpse of the Cham Islands from the beach!

Next stop on our backpacking journey through Vietnam is further South, the coastal resort city Nha Trang

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Hue

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Ancient city

After exploring the north of Vietnam, we departed Hanoi by train, and travelled south. Next stop, Hue which is described as the most royal city in Vietnam! Hue is located 700km (430m) south of Hanoi, in the Thua Thein Hue province, in central Vietnam. Hue was once the capital of Vietnam, founded in 1802 by Gia Long who was the first king of the Nguyen dynasty empire. Hue remained the capital of Vietnam under the Nguyen dynasty until 1945. This powerful family ruled the then capital from 1802-1945. To this day the influence of a royal lifestyle and royal customs have had a huge impact on the characteristics of the people in Hue.

The city has a rich and interesting history,  with the affects of war still very present today. Visiting the city was very enriching and very different from other parts of the country that we visited.

We stayed at a guest house for two nights and three days, exploring the ancient ruins during the day and  then enjoying the Hue nightlife.

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Highlights and must sees

The Perfume river

This ancient city lies on the banks of the Perfume river. So beautiful to see on a clear and sunny day. The Perfume river is surrounded by the ancient sights of Hue. It is also perfect for people watching, taking in the river life of the people who live here. We were also grateful to witness a stunning sunset over the ancient capital, while sitting at the banks of the river.

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The Tomb of Khai Dinh

This tomb was built for the twelfth emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, Khai Dinh. The tomb is located in Chau Chu mountain, on a steep hill near the city of Hue. The architecture is a mix of western and eastern influence and took eleven years to build!

Thien Mu Pagoda

Translates to the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady and is considered to be the unofficial landmark of the city, with its iconic seven story pagoda. In addition to its rich history, the Pagoda also looks out to the gorgeous Perfume river.

The Mieu

A place to worship ten of the Nguyen dynasty kings. The Mieu is an ancestral temple to Vietnams emperors.

Imperial city (The Citadel)

The former residence of the royal family. Now, listed as an UNESCO world heritage site. This site is a large complex of hundreds of monuments and ruins. Rich in history and devastated by the Vietnam war, this former site of the old capital has a moat and ten ornate gates guarding the palace, temples and tombs.

Hue, was much different from the rest of our backpacking journey through Vietnam. I enjoyed the history and culture of this ancient city. The next stop after Hue, is further south – Hoi An

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SaPa

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SaPa

With the extreme beauty and dramatic landscape, it is easy to see why SaPa is said to be the tourism center of the northwest of Vietnam. Our visit to this gorgeous place, left me in awe. SaPa is an absolute dream to explore.

SaPa is 380km (236miles) northwest of Hanoi, located in the Lao Cai district and close to the border of China. The town of SaPa is described as a quiet mountain town and home to a diverse range of ethnic minority groups. There is a great connection between the people of SaPa and their surrounding land.  The town of SaPa sits at an elevation of 1500 meters. The region is dominated by the Hoang Lien Son range of mountains. Within this range, the highest mountain of Vietnam, Fan Si Pan is located here, at 3143m above sea level! Very impressive. The Hoang Lien Son mountain range, is the eastern extremity of the Himalayas, so amazing.

SaPa is home to a unique place of biological diversity, as the geological location and climate is able to support a great range of fauna and flora. Some of which is only found in the north west of Vietnam! Due to the high biological importance, the Hoang Lien nature reserve was made into a national park, the park includes the majority of the mountain range to the immediate south of SaPa. The beautiful souls of the people in SaPa and the natural beauty of SaPa made this travel experience so special. SaPa is a highlight of my travel adventures.

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Overnight train

As we were based in Hanoi, we took a two night, three day tour of this magical location.  Plus, two nights traveling to and from Hanoi. We were picked up from our guest house in Hanoi and transferred to the Hanoi rail station, where we boarded the overnight train to SaPa. Now, I have to admit this train journey was terrifying! Our cabin was fine, as we were traveling in a group of four, we were placed in a four bed (two bunkbeds) wooden cabin with air conditioning. We had brought some snacks and drinks to enjoy the train journey, however I had to stop drinking due to the constant violent rocking and loud screeching of the train, which made me afraid and the fact that I couldn’t see where we were going made this even worse. This fear was irrational, no one else in the group was scared (there was no need to be) the train was perfectly safe! Anyway, I did not get much sleep and was so happy when we arrived at the Lao Cai train station.

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Trekking the rice terraces

From the Lao Cai train station we were taken by mini bus to SaPa ( a 5o minute drive). Once we arrived at the town we were able to take showers before sitting down to breakfast. After breakfast, we began our trek from SaPa town. The views at the beginning of our trek was already so incredible, but continued to become more breathtaking the further we went into the mountains.

Our local guide, took us south east of SaPa, along the side of the Munong valley to the Y Linh Ho village of the black H’Mong. This section of the trek took us to lunch time, here we enjoyed a lunch with a local family, made by them. After lunch, we continued on our trekking adventure through the terraced rice fields. The sights during our trek were spectacular. Late afternoon we arrived at the Ta Van village of the Dzay people.

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Homestay

For night two, we were warmly welcomed by a family of the Dzay people in the Ta Van village for an overnight stay at their place. For the night we stayed at their traditional wooden house and we all shared stories about our lives, learning from each other.  We learnt from them about the daily life in this pretty village, and their family traditions. We shared a great meal with the family, there was a lot of talking and laughter. After dinner, their children were put to bed and  we all stayed up  playing board games and drinking rice liquor, the laughter continued well into the night. This was a really enjoyable experience! This was my first homestay and I would do one again.

Waking up the next day  to mountains views was so dreamy. The Ta Van village is absolutely stunning.

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Waterfalls and bamboo forests

We left the Ta Van village and continued on, trekking down to the south-west of SaPa to visit two more villages. The first part of this journey, was trekking through some gorgeous bamboo forests. After the bamboo forests we reached the Thac Bac- silver waterfall, the view was so majestic. The water falls down from a height of more than 100 meters. Next, we walked over the suspension ratten bridge! We then reached the Giang Ta Chai village where we met some of the red Dzao people.

After the Ta Chai village we crossed the Muong river up the mountain to visit our last village. This was the Supan village of the H’Mong. We connected with more local people before finishing our amazing two day trekking journey! From here, a mini bus took us back to the main village of SaPa.

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SaPa town

When we arrived in SaPa we were able to check into our hotel, and have the night to explore this charming place. The architecture of the buildings is so stunning and exploring the local stores and markets is a treat.

The next morning, we met up with another local guide who took us for a short walk downhill to visit the beautiful orchid gardens and pine forests. Next, we stopped by the small village of Suoi Ho. We continued our journey, trekking through rice paddy fields looking out to spectacular mountain scenery on our way to Ma Tra.  Another great day of exploring before taking the bus to the Lao Cai train station to take the dreaded overnight train back to Hanoi!

Trekking through SaPa is a must do, if visiting Vietnam.

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