Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halong Bay Day Trip

We booked our Halong Bay excursion through our hostel, Little Hanoi. They gave us the option between 'deluxe' or 'standard'. The main difference really was the space you get on the bus to the port. There is about a $12USD difference but if you are tall, or not the stereotypical Asian size, then I would suggest upgrading. The deluxe van we had was just enough leg space for me but unfortunately, for my two tall companions, it was not so comfortable.

The trip started at 9am, with a pick up from our accommodation, and we got back about 9pm. A full day away. Our guide was a young, local Vietnamese man. Very handsome, but as we ran into other tours we noticed that this was a trend among tour guides. We joked that maybe that's a requirement the tourism company had if you were to become a tour guide for this area.

Our guide spoke very good English, was very personable and very knowledgeable. Unfortunately, I can't really remember the exact time it took for us to drive from downtown Hanoi to the port, but I'm going to guess it may have taken a couple of hours. Our guide did give us some information as we did hit important parts of the city as we drove.

Once we got the port, we were told to stay in one spot while our guide sorted our tickets. The terminal looked relatively new and was surrounded by many old -style Junk Boats for the tourists to board. The wait here took only 20 to 30 minutes and then we were off. Unfortunately, we had a bit of a hazy day so the visibility wasn't as great as we had wanted it to be but the scenery was still beautiful.

The bottom area of the boat was the eating area and had about 8 to 10 cubicles that could sit 4 people comfortably - 6 to 8 people if you wanted to squish - and the top area was an open style where you could lay down and bathe in the sun, or just sit and enjoy the view. We were served lunch as part of the tour and it was delicious! There were an assortment of Vietnamese dishes put on the table and you just helped yourself, sharing with whoever you are seated with. Drinks were not included but they were very cheap (unless you wanted to get a bottle of wine, which we did. They don't serve glasses FYI, you need to purchase the whole bottle).

We got to see the typical tourist spots such as the floating village, which I though was pretty neat. It had a school, a restaurant and a medical centre. We were also told of what their tradition is if one of their village members passes away. Definitely ask your guide about that if you head there. Very interesting.

The boat docks for about an hour or and you can either relax there or on the little floating jetty. Or else, you can hired a kayak for an extra 20,000VND (only two person kayaks) and explore. There is supposedly an amazing cave you can kayak through (you pay an entrance fee of approximately $1USD) but as the water level was low we couldn't enter.

The last stop we made before heading back was the highlight of my trip - Sung Sot Cave (limestone cave). It's hard to describe the enormity of this cave, it's one of those places that you just have to see yourself. I've tried to attach photos of the inside but it really doesn't do it justice. Also, my camera wasn't a high quality one so I couldn't really capture the true essence of the place.

We had to take a train that night to Sapa, and were a bit limited with time. We told our guide of our situation and he ensured that we were one of the first ones dropped back to allow us to get to our next destination on time.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Jeju Island

During one of South Korea's national holidays - Chuseok, which is their equivalent to Thanksgiving, I finally made my way to one of the most popular destinations in this country. Jeju Island has an international airport that connects to pretty much all of the airports in South Korea as well as China, Japan, Mongolia and most recently, the Philippines. This is a good little place to head off to if you want a short getaway.

As we only had four full days here we tried to visit as many must-see places as we could. While I felt like I got the most of what Jeju had to offer, I know that there were still a lot more activities and attractions we didn't get to see.

Also, if you have the time I would recommend renting a scooter or motorbike. It is the easiest way to get around the island. Cars are available, too but they do sell out fast and you will need the help of a Korean speaker.

This mountain is the tallest mountain in South Korea. It stands at 1950m above sea level. All trails to head to the peak close sometime between midday to 2pm, as the walk does take a good bit of time. We started in the Jeju City entrance and came down the south side towards Seogwipo.

*Sunset at Hyeopjae Beach*
Beautiful white sand beach and easy camping grounds. Situated on the west coast,  if you do manage to rent a scooter you can make your way here and stop at a few temples and waterfalls along the way.

*Sunrise Peak*
This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a beautiful location and if you are camping, this is a great spot to pitch your tent. I would definitely recommend getting up for the walk to the peak and see the sun rise.

*Udo Island*
One of the most amazing beaches I've been to here in South Korea. There is also a Chilean lady that has a little food stall that sells delicious empanadas. Here you can also rent bikes, scooters or ATV's.