Trip To Vietnam (Photos and Blog Entry!!)

On June 30th, Andrew and I flew to Hanoi from Phnom Penh.  We met up with our pal Jan Simon at the Hanoi airport on the 30th.  Jan Simon finished working in Cambodia in May, and had been traveling in Laos for three weeks previous to meeting up with us in Hanoi. The three of us spent the new few days checking out Hanoi sites such as the Temple of Literature, the old Quarter, Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, the One Pillar Pagoda, the Opera House, and the History Museum.  Hanoi is a beautiful city and very busy, although not as busy as Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)!!!  Over the next few days, we walked all over the city to see these sites, we had a great time.  Hanoi was the former capital of French Indochina, and one can see the influence of the French in many beautiful buildings around Hanoi.  In some streets in Hanoi, you would think you were in Paris!!! No kidding!!

After a few days in Hanoi, we took an 8 hour night train to Sapa in northern Vietnam, close to the Chinese border.  We tried to sleep on the train, but since we were sharing a sleeping car with 3 other Chinese businessmen, we didn't get a lot of sleep!! We thought we had paid for a soft sleeper car, but the Hanoi travel agent we used sold us tickets for a hard sleeper (and pocketed the money for the cost of a soft sleeper!!!).

After spending a day re-cooperating in Sapa (elevation 1650 meters), we booked a three day trekking adventure to visit the Hill tribes in the region.  Sapa was a former French hill station built in 1922.  The town is located in a  valley ringed by tall mountain peaks.  There are rice terraces everywhere in the valley.  The mountaintops were cloaked in a mist most of the time, but sometimes we had glimpses of the tall peaks, which were spectacular.   The valleys and villages around Sapa are home to hill tribe people such as the H'mong and Dzao people, the largest ethnic groups in the region.  It was amazing to us to hear how well a lot of these Hill tribe people could speak english!!!  In Sapa there are a lot of Hill tribe people waiting for tourists to arrive, and then they follow the tourists around town and on treks to hawk their goods.  Constantly telling people that you don't want to buy anything was a bit tiring after the first few days, especially for Jan Simon, who was sick of being hounded in town and on also our trek!!!

Luckily, we had a great guide-an 18 year old H'mong girl (Cee Cee) for our 3 day trek to visit local H'mong and Dzao villages.  We hiked approximately 14 kilometers the first day, and stayed at a local H'mong village (Sin Chai).  Local villagers have homestays available, so we stayed at a local village house and went swimming and ate great food!!! We had a few other people on our hike including a couple from Austria and a guy from Ireland.  We had a great time with them on the hike.  After the first day, the Austrian couple and the Irish guy went back to Sapa.  Andrew, Jan Simon and I  hiked another 16 kilometers to another beautiful village in the valley and stayed another night at a homestay.  Cee Cee took us to a beautiful spring fed river where we went swimming that evening.  Another couple from Holland also stayed at our homestay site.  This couple was just starting a one year journey, traveling around the world.  They had just finished traveling for 3 months in China.  Lucky bums!!!  The third day of our homestay was pretty relaxing, we just had a small hike in town and then took motodops back to Sapa.  That evening, we took the night train back to Hanoi.  Even though we now had a soft sleeper car, we still didn't sleep well as the train kept rocking back and forth!! Exhausting!!!! When we got back to Hanoi next next morning, Jan Simon decided to spend a few more days in Hanoi.  Andrew and I went south to Cat Ba island in Halong Bay.

After negotiating our way to Halong Bay utilizing a local bus from Hanoi, Andrew and I arrived in Halong City, gateway to Halong Bay.  Halong City is not a place you want to spend much time at, as it's a real tourist trap.  We ended up meeting a French couple that also wanted to go to Cat Ba island, so we negotiated a local boat to take the 4 of us to Cat Ba island.  All of the regular tourist boats had already left for Cat Ba island earlier that day.  I'm sad to say, as seasoned travelers (at least we think we are), we were duped, and paid far too much $$ for the boat to take us the 1.5 hour journey to Cat Ba island, however, the journey was beautiful.  Halong Bay has over 3,000 karst islands rising from the Gulf of Tonkin.  Its been designated the a UN World Heritage Site.  Cat Ba island is a very popular local holiday location for folks living in Hanoi and in Hai Phong (2-4 hours from Cat Ba island).  Andrew and I were shell shocked by the # of local tourists on the beaches close to Cat Ba town.  Immediately, we looked for accommodations away from the karaoke scene of the town!!.  Luckily, we found a great beach with tents you can rent right on the beach, not far from town.  As we were arriving on the beach, a lot of the local tourists were leaving to head back to Hanoi and Hai Phong, so for the next few days, the beach was pretty quiet and very relaxing!! We were also very lucky with the weather, it was hot and sunny the entire time we were in Halong Bay.

A few days later, Jan Simon arrived on Cat Ba island and we hooked up with him to do a challenging18 kilometer hike in Cat Ba National Park. The hike went one way through the center of the park, and up to one of the mountain summits.  We hired a local guide (it would be very easy to get lost in the jungle), and the guide organized a boat to return to Cat Ba town after the hike.  Other folks on the hike included a young couple from Germany (the young guy looked a lot like my brother Phil), and a young American-Vietnamese woman from San Francisco.  The hike was quite strenuous and very slippery, I was so glad there was no rain.  One of the women on our hike fell and cut her leg on the sharp rocks, luckily she was ok and was able to complete the hike.  It was fun to do a real jungle trek in Vietnam.  The hike ended in a remote village just outside the park boundary where we had lunch.  A boat was arranged to pick us up a few kilometers from the village, and we went swimming in Halong Bay, what a great day that day was!!!

The next day, Jan Simon, Andrew and I organized a 3 day boat tour of Halong Bay. There was a couple from Germany on the boat for the first night, and two brothers from Ireland on the boat for the 3 day journey.  Luckily, we all got along fine and the captain took us to places in Halong Bay where we didn't see other tourist boats.  It was paradise!!! We ended up all sleeping on the roof of the boat which was a bit of a tight squeeze, but was fun to sleep under the stars.  The captain of the boat stopped often so we could swim from the boat, do a bit of kayaking, and explore a few caves.  It was heaven!!

After 3 days of touring Halong Bay, it was time for us to head back to Hanoi.  We ended up spending one more day in Hanoi touring the city sites, and the next morning we flew to Saigon. As Saigon is only a 6.5 hour bus journey to Phnom Penh, we decided to save some money and take the bus back to Phnom Penh, instead of flying.  We were pretty knackered when we arrived back in Phnom Penh, but no rest for the weary.  Andrew and I had to return to work the next day.  We wish we were still on vacation!!!! 

Jan Simon spent the next 5 days with us in Phnom Penh saying final goodbyes to his pals, and he flew out to Bangkok on July 20th.  Andrew and I were very sad to see him go, he has been a great friend to both of us in Cambodia.  Phnom Penh will not be the same without him here.  After spending a few days in Bangkok, Jan Simon will be heading to Kenya for a few weeks to visit his sister who lives there, and just had a baby.  He will be returning to Amsterdam in mid August.  We'll miss you Jano!!!

Hanoi, Temple of Literature.


One of several lakes in Hanoi.

Breakfast in Hanoi.

Old Quarter, Hanoi.

St. Joseph's Cathedral, Hanoi.

Sapa, near the Chinese border.

Trekking in Sapa.

Beautiful Sapa!!

Rice terraces, Sapa.

Mountain stream, Sapa

Trail to visit Hilltribe communities, Sapa.

Andrew enjoying dip in the river, Sapa.

Hill tribe Village, near Sapa.

Our guide Cee Cee (seated to the left) at our homestay near Sapa.

Andrew helping to make spring rolls.

Jan Simon and Andrew, near Sapa.

H'mong Woman, near Sapa.

Our guide Cee Cee

One of the many mountain rivers near Sapa.

One our way to the next village near Sapa.

Jan Simon and Cee Cee near Sapa.

Beautiful valley!!

Camping on the beach, Ca Ba island, Halong Bay, Vietnam.

Our beach on Cat Ba island, not bad eh?

Jungle trekking, Cat Ba island, Halong Bay!!

Enjoying the hike, Cat Ba island, Halong Bay!!

Cat Ba island, Halong Bay.

Jan Simon kayaking, Halong Bay

Halong Bay.

Jan Simon enjoying the scenery.

The upper deck of our boat, Halong Bay.

Andrew enjoying himself on the boat!!

Caves in Halong Bay.

Tourist Boats in Halong Bay.

Lunch on the boat!!

Vietnamese tourist boat, Halong Bay.

Jan Simon and Julie on the boat!!

Tired from our vacation, but we loved Hanoi!!


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Some Work Photos


We'll its now the rainy season in Cambodia.  Thank goodness its raining, as its been hot here lately (so what else is new...).  We have posted some photos from our work in the field on Tonle Sap Lake.  Please see below.  We will be posting photos of our recent trip to Northern Vietnam in our next installment of our blog.  Enjoy!! 

Andrew's co-workers giving presentation to local people on protecting the flooded forest.

Community members planning activities to protect the flooded forest.

Local community members.

Andrew and his bosses at local community meeting near Siem Reap.

Andrew working with local people to protect the flooded forest.

Andrew working with local people near Siem Reap to protect flooded forest.

Natural resources maps.  Andrew's boss Long Kheng sitting on the right.

Julie and Andrew working with provincial officials and local staff to try to protect the flooded forest.

Walking through the flooded forest during the dry season (March, 2007).

Flooded forest during the dry season.

Walking through flooded forest with no shoes on!!

Tonle Sap fieldtrip-lots of people in the small boat!!!

Getting ready to head into the field!!!

Walking through the flooded forest with no shoes, ouch!!!

Tonle Sap Lake flooded forest.



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