Thursday, 14 April 2016

VIETNAM - PART 3


SAPA - HA LONG BAY
Our hostel back in Hanoi (Vietnam Backpackers) was renown for the success of several of its own different tours and after hearing raving reviews from other travellers who had just got back from the Castaway trip we knew one thing for sure and thats that we had to book at least one tour before we left to flew back to the UK. With roughly about a week left of our time in Vietnam we opted for two trips which essentially meant we were being a little optimistic with our time management as we needed a day in between the two tours to retreat back to Hanoi as well as giving ourselves time to catch our flight back down south so we then were able to get our flights back to the UK on time... However Vietnam Backpackers were super accommodating to each of our requests and constructed a plan, with the advice of one of their colleagues to head to Sapa first, come back and have a days rest before ending the trip on a high on Castaway Island in the beautiful surroundings of Ha Long Bay all within our fairly limited time schedule. 

The Sapa trip consists of a 3-day trek around Indochina's biggest mountain (Mount. Fansipan) and the beautiful rice paddies which surround it and within these scenic locations you are accommodated with a local Hmong tribe family who cater and care for you among your stay. 

The Castaways trip around Ha Long Bay again was 3 days but this time full of activities, beach vibin' and maybe far too many beers...You reside in a beach shack which overlooks one of the most incredible views which supports the fact its recognised as a world natural heritage site. 

Both trips were priced over $100 each which in terms of comparison to other tours available could be deemed a little pricier but I definitely feel you are investing more into the experience itself with the activities and oppurtionities available in both trips, and with the great reviews from others, it was a investment we were all willing to make. And my goodness it was worth every penny.

SAPA
After a bus journey from Hanoi, we were met by our local black Hmong tribe tour guide called Chan (seen below) who was our guide for the trip and lead us on a different trek each day whilst our homestay was Chan's family home where we would rest and eat. Chan was the only person from the family who spoke english which meant there was an obvious language barrier, which was an eye opener in terms of being but into a scenario of using more than language to communicate and to our surprise we all managed to communicate with each other with ease.
 
Prior to the trek we left all our belongings like our big backpack and any other items that we didn’t want to take for the next 3 day's in a hotel provided by the hostel. I managed to keep everything minimal due to knowing we had a 7 hour trek ahead of us straight after we left the hotel and there was nothing appealing about carrying extra items that were only going to weigh me down. The hotel itself has a room with all the backpackers belongings locked away which means its completely safe, although I wouldn’t suggest leaving your phone/other expensive electrical's due to people going in and out constantly. 

  The trek was admittedly challenging, not one of us were prepared for the strain it would have on our bodies but never the less exposing ourselves to so much culture, colour and scenic views upon the journey really did make it worthwhile. I think the challenging aspect was more the heat rather than it being too physically challenging, I would say most abilities would be able to do the trekking aspect its just multiple contributing factors are working against you such as the heat, tiredness, dehydration and potentially sickness from malaria tablets. Being limited with water meant it is so important to ensure you are hydrated back at your homestay and to always carry bottled water with you at all times. 


The terraced ride paddies, bamboo groves and thatch villages made it seem like we were in a scene from The Hobbit or something, it felt very surreal and although the views were amazing my favourite thing about this trip was the people we met and the gorgeous food. I can’t even express the gratitude I have for the family who we stayed with; they were genuinely some of the kindest people I have ever met in my lifetime.

This is the wooden shack we stayed in, not a 5* hotel to say the least but it was a shelter over our heads and were provided with mosquito nets for when we were sleeping so what more could we want eh?


I can’t stress enough how important it is to visit Sapa, especially as a high majority of travellers tend to miss out this homestay trip. I can honestly say that this was my favourite part of my trip to Vietnam and if I were to offer any tips it would be to bring lots of sun cream, bring toilet paper, wear shoes with good grip and to wear sunglasses.



HA LONG BAY - CASTAWAY ISLAND


Now Castaway Island is a little far from the simple life we were living in Sapa...  If you are up for a bit of a party meeting new people and just having a general good time then this tour is right up your street. We went onto the island only knowing a handful of people we had met on our travels previously, and left with probably about 20 more friends! The atmosphere is great, everyone is friendly and the island itself is absolutely stunning.

From my pictures it doesn’t look that lively at all, and in the day it really isn’t. Everyone just chills on the beach or is out kayaking at sea, nothing too mental right? Its when the sun comes down it gets a bit more crazy, especially as we happened to stay over the 4th July weekend and were among a big group of rowdy Americans… One word. Wild.


The price was a little more expensive when comparing the Sapa trip to this Castaways trip (about $50 difference) which alike the Sapa tour includes your transport to and from, accommodation and all meals. However Castaways includes an activity of your choice (rock climbing, wake boarding or tubing), a boat trip around the islands and unlimited kayaking. 

The food itself was lovely consisting of an Asian buffet with plenty of options for everyone.  The activities were super fun, I opted to rock climb which was pretty wicked allowing you to see some views of the islands from different perspectives. However the rocks were extremely hot from the scorching sun so towards the end everyone kind of wanted to sack it in and return back to the main island so given I had the opportunity to do it again I would of probably chosen a water sport!

The boat trip did feel more like a bit of a 'booze cruise' and felt it was a distraction from the  beauty of the surrounding views but was full aware of this prior to booking in the first place. Admittedly the cruise itself was a laugh, we had a few drinks then went kayaking which was so much fun and as you can imagine brilliant to watch from a far considering everyone was just capsizing here there everywhere!

But my favourite part of the trip was when me and my pal Ali decided to go out on the Kayak’s alone and kayaked as far as we could go, exploring surrounding untouched islands and seeing all the glowing plankton and jellyfish as the sun was setting in the background. 
^
Jeez this sounds like the start of a romantic novel or something… 


Here is a promo clip of what to see/expect on the Castaway Island in Ha Long Bay.

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