Hoi An, a beautiful city with a population just over 120.000 people and under protection and care from UNESCO as a Heritage site from 1999.
The old city centre of Hoi An is a very well preserved historical site with buildings coloured in yellow by the French invaders. From 15th-19th century it was considered as one of the most important trading ports in South East Asia. In the middle of the city centre, over one of the many river channels, stands a Japanese covered bridge from 16th century. A beautiful and very well preserved piece of Japanese architecutre-especially as the night falls, and Hoi An lights up-that’s when the bridge really comes into it’s own.
It is the most vivid and lively city of all the cities we’ve seen here. The weather was bad, it was cloudy, a little bit rainy, a little colder than we would like-but that didn’t stop the tourists from pouring in. I can only imagine what it must be like on a sunny day in the middle of a high season ;). City centre, by itself, is pretty small-you can easily walk all across and around it in 2 hours. You’ll be strolling around on both sides of the river, with many restaurants up and down the riverfront, coffee shops, buddhist temples and ancient buildings all around you. All offering a sneak peak into the old ways, with craftsmen, tailors, a big market and all touristy stuff you can imagine-especially the river boat tour guides/drivers are pretty pushy, offering you a romantic boat ride up & down the riverside.
It’s a great place to be during the day…but as the night falls-that’s when the city really lights up-literally.With all the lights, especially lampions (there are many shops in the city, showing you how they’re made), with a bunch of entertainers in every corner of the city. You can get even quicker through the city with a rented bike or a bicycle tuc-tuc. You can also rent a motorbike for 4-5$/day if you want to go little further from the town-to explore.
Because the weather was still bad, we decided to go on a organised tour of My Son sanctuary-a complex full of partially ruined Hindu temples, hidden away in a dense forest, constructed somewhere between the 4th-14th century by the Kings of Champa. A great tour, just long enough for one day, if you’re a history enthusiast like me.
Aaaaah…the sleeper Bus. I must say, we were all a little scared how a 10 hour bus ride will look like, but I must say, it was more than comfortable. We got the three seats in the back, that are joined together, and there was more than enough room for all of us. And since Lia is a little shorter, we could put the “important” backpack by her feet.
We bought the tickets for our Bus travels in a tourist agency in Saigon and we paid around 40$/person for 5 stops/pickups. And in Vietnam, using this kind of buses, looks something like this. You buy a ticket, and when you do, you must know in which cities you’re gonna get off the bus, you don’t have to specify the exact dates. So, for example, we started in Saigon and we decided our first stop is Nha Trang. Since it’s a 10 h bus ride, we took a night bus. And when we wanted to go from Nha Trang to another town on our route, one day before we left, we called the agency where we bought the tickets, they told us how long the drive is to there and we decided which bus we’re gonna take (usually there are more than one per day). So, the agency arranges a pickup from your hotel/hostel, which takes usually somewhere out of the center to meet this bus. We were quite sceptic at first, about how it’s all gonna work, since we’re traveling with a kid, but it works like clockwork.
So, we arrived to Nha Trang-a beautiful coastal city. Got off the bus around 7AM, went straight to our appartment in Villa Miami, and since our room wasn’t ready yet, we took our smaller bags and went straight to the beach-our first beach in Vietnam. Sandy beach as far as your eye can see, but the sea was quite rough, so it is not the best time to go swimming and the weather was so-so, a little cloudy and windy, so we soon decided we’ll go sightseeing instead.
We rented our first motorbike here, and honestly, it’s the best and the easiest way to get around in Vietnam. We paid around 4$/day and all three of us could fit on one bike. We were little scared at first since this traffic here is what I’d like to call-an organised chaos. But, it was a smooth ride all the way.
First thing we went to check out, were The Ponagar towers located near the center of the City, then to Christ The King Cathedral and finally to Long Son Pagoda – so we covered all three major religions in Vietnam ;).
In our three days here, we cruised the city a lot, went for a few walks, went to see their market, went to the carnival park… One day we took our bike, outside of the city for a joyride. There were supposed to be some salt flatts up North, but we couldn’t find any, so we cruised around a bit-a fun and hot day. 😉
We really liked Nha Trang-it’s big enough to have everything, it’s not to big, the weather was perfect and it has enough sites to keep you busy for a few days…
So, you’ve got quite a few options while you’re in Saigon-a lot of interesting stuff to look at and to discover. Since we are a little limited by our time here, we decided to Discover the Nine-Dragon river Delta…also known as The Mekong Delta.
The river Mekong starts as high as Tibet, and runs through China, Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, before it dissapears into South China Sea. It is 12th longest river in the world-around 4200 km long. In all of the countries mentioned above, there is around 90 million people living on or next to the river. And for most of them the river is their main source of income-either from fishing, agriculture, tourism… All of this countries (except China of course) are joined together in The Comission of Mekong delta, to preserve this Asian jewel and keep it running for generations to come.
So, with that being said…we’re off to see it in person. We booked our tickets at our hotel…for 1.050.000 Dongs/person (Lia had a free ride). the price included the Bus rides, all the boat rides, sleeping in a 3* hotel and two lunches-so it was fairly cheap. It took us around three hours to get to our starting point where we jumped on our first boat. We’ve soon seen how vivid the life on the river is. a lot of floating markets, people using the river for transporting goods, material, to go grocerie shoping-no kidding! 😉 So, they drove us along the river for a few hours, then we stopped in one of the local restaurants for lunch and then for another circle towards the city of Can Tho, where we spent the night. Beofre we got there we stopped at the village where they make rice noodles, rice candy, rice….well, you get the point ;).
On the next day we visited the biggest floating market-it was quite a site. A lot of different boats, selling mostly veggies and fruits. Different ships, boats, different colours. Boats are colourful by itself, and then they stuff the boats with different fruits and it becomes a spectacle of colours. You know, what they are selling by what kind of fruit is hanging from a stick on the front side of the boat. Then you just park next to them, or wave them to come to you…
We finished our trip around 3PM and went on the bus for a 4h ride back…just in time to catch our sleeper bus to….you’ll see 😉
Because the weather was quite bad and the forecast for the next few days was rain, we decided to pack our bags and go somewhere warmer. And what better place then Ho Chi Minh city, a.k.a. Saigon.
We found a hostel over booking, called 4OK hostel, a nice hostel, close enough to all the sites.
First thing we did here was join the Grab community. It’s like an Asian version of Uber. You download an App from Appstore or Samsung something store ;), Sign In, and you’re all set. It will find you, based on your current GPS location, you write in the address you want to go or a landmark, confirm and then you wait. The price is predefined based on the distance, and the app will notify you when the driver is close or how far he is. You even get the make and the license plate of the car. Quite nice and it is working. The cheapest and quickest way to get around-and noone will scr** you over.
We stayed here for 3 nights (including our trip to Mekong delta) and in this time we went through the city a couple of times, visited the old Cathedral, Opera house, Train station, Post office-this are all landmarks with a great colonial architecture, mostly thanks to the French. If you don’t have your drone with you, there are even a few buildings in the downtown area providing viewing platforms, all for a price of buying a drink, of course…
One of two things you really need to visit is a Backpackers Area. It’s a cluster of a few streets, dedicated to, guess who, backapackers. Bars, pubs, hostels, agencies….and everything you can imagine or want. And if you’re lucky like us, and you are there over the weekend, it get’s really crazy…and pretty loud. So loud, I am glad we didn’t book a Hostel in this area. Even without a kid, it’s too loud. Come here to have a good time, and then go somwhere else to get a good night sleep.
The second thing you want to visit, especially if youre here with your kid, is Saigon ZOO. It is not as big as one would imagine for a city with a population over 11 million people (not including all the tourists), but it’s got a few exotic animals, that you just don’t see in every ZOO in Europe. We especially liked the White tiger. There was four of them, very playful and quite scary…quite big also. Then you have your reptiles domain, bears, monkeys, crocodiles, rhinos…along with the standard bunch. It took us around three hours to get accross, with a stop at a childrens playground of-course. It’s a must see, when you’re in Saigon.
Next day we went to visit the infamous Mekong Delta.
So, finally…from all the pictures on Instagram, Facebook, Videos on Youtube…we’re finally here in person-infamous Halong Bay.
Although we knew the weather wasn’t gonna be perfect, due to our busy itinerary, it was our only shot. So, we bought the tickets at the local agency in Hanoi for 40€/person, kids under 110cm were free, so yeeeey for that ;). Included in the price was transport there and back, lunch, water, boat cruise and all entrance fees. So, all in all, quite a good deal.
It was raining in Hanoi when we left around 8AM and it took us 3 hours to get to a marina in Halong Bay. Here you can find all sorts of little cruise ships waiting for the tourists eager to see this Unesco World Heritage Site, which contains more than 3000 limestone islands of all shapes and sizes. The name “Halong Bay” roughly translates to “Bay of the rising dragon”. Usually, you can pick between two options-either 2 day tour or 1 day tour. We opted for the one day tour, because the weather was gonna be even worse the next day.
So, once we boarded our vessel, we had lunch and it took us around one hour, to get in between the first islands. It was quite windy and even rained for a minutes at a time-but, because it was windy, we had no fog…so there’s something good in a bad thing ;).
First thing we visited was “Hang Sung Sot” or The Surprise Cave. And we were quite surprised. It is magnificent. Great halls inside caves, full of nature-made pillars, stalactite and stalagmite formations everywhere, and it took us more than one hour to get accross. Worth seeing for sure. Next stop was “Hang Luon” or The Luon Cave. Here you go by kayak or a paddled boat inside an island through a cave. If it was wormer and sunny we would probably swim here, now we just made a circle around and went back to the boat. Last stop was Titop Island. It has a sandy beach, which must be really beautiful during the summer and an incredible viewpoint on top of the island. It takes you around 15 minutes up the stairs for an incredible views. It was incredible in our weather, I can only imagine how it looks like in a sunny weather.
If you come to Vietnam, you have to come and visit Halong Bay…it is really mind-blowing.
First, a history lesson:from 1010 until 1802, Hanoi was the most important political centre of Vietnam. It was eclipsed by the city of Hue (gonna visit it in about a week) ;), the imperial capital of Vietnam during the Nguyen Dynasty (1802–1945). In 1873 Hanoi was conquered by the French, and they built a modern administrative city south of Old Hanoi, creating broad, perpendicular tree-lined avenues of opera, churches, public buildings, and luxury villas, but they also destroyed large parts of the city, shedding or reducing the size of lakes and canals, while also clearing out various imperial palaces and citadels.From 1940 to 1945 Hanoi, as well as most of French Indochina and Southeast Asia, was occupied by the Japanese empire. On September 2, 1944. The Vietnamese National Assembly under Ho Chi Minh decided on January 6, 1946, to make Hanoi the capital of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. From 1954 to 1976, it was the capital of North Vietnam, and it became the capital of a reunified Vietnam in 1976, after the North’s victory in the Vietnam War.
Now, that’s being said…We really liked Hanoi. The feel of the city, busyness, that vintage street views, motorcycles everywhere… So we wondered, what is it like at nighttime. And, let me tell you…IT IS CRAZY. Maybe, we got lucky, because we were here during the weekend, but they close a few streets around the wider city centre and they put stands there selling everything you can possibly imagine-and I mean everything. And even more so, there’s 10 stands of the same merchandise in 50m of the street, so you can have your pick. If someone doesn’t want to bargain, the next one sure will. Food, beverages, clothes, backpacks, handbags, perfumes, toys, books, candy, underwear, socks….it’s like the busiest and biggest market you can imagine, spreading accross 10 streets at least. And on top of all that, there are the colours. Bright, shiny lights everywhere…a true festival of lights.
You can see what I mean in a movie below…Enjoy!
Night flight from Beijing took around 4 hours, so we got a little shut-eye, until Lia woke up. When we arrived, we needed to arrange Visas. It was a quick enough procedure, because we already had our letters of approval and we anounced our day of arrival. It was all over in one hour. While this was all going on, our suitcases came, we went to say hello to the ATM and raised our first 2.000.000 Vietnamese Dongs (yup, I know, it sounds a lot) ;), but it’s something like 77EUR.
Now, we are ready to enter Vietnam.
We took a bus Number 86, which leaves the airport every 25 minutes, straight to the city centre. It took us just under one hour, and we paid around 35.000 dongs/person-Lia had a free ride. 😉 The bus station was close to our Hanoi Golden Hostel, which we booked on booking. It was a good hostel, clean, staff were really friendly, and they gave us a late breakfast-little perks you get when traveling with a kid. 😉
Since it was Sunday, the main streets around lake Kiem were all closed and put to a different use. Street market, sellers of different goods, ice cream stands and a lot of stuff for kids. Lia had a great time in one of the electric toy cars…it was the perfect distraction from a long trip we had.
Later we went to sleep quite early and woke up 12 hours later in the “Discovery mode” ;). So we started to explore this great city. First we went to the infamous Train street, where trains pass inches from buildings, coffee shops and trees. We continued to the Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, which was, the same as all museums, closed. Most of this kind of stuff in Vietnam is closed on Mondays-we know that now ;).
Towards the end of the day, we went for a dinner and then stopped at one of many agencies. Here we booked our next day trip to Halong Bay (30EUR/person-Lia was free) and plane tickets for a domestic flight to Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a. Saigon) for 130EUR/for all three of us + 40 kg of luggage.
So, we’ve come to Beijing, now what? There’s quite a few options, because you can get a free Visa, you just need to stand in line for about an hour, and off you go-your only limitation is how much time you got on your hands…
We decided to go to Tiananmen Square, to see The Forbidden city and then to The Temple of Heaven. I’m a bit of “History addict”, especially if something’s Ancient by origin… So, we went to the famous square, through The Forbidden city, took a few pictures and clips, but didn’t stay there for too long, because it was freezing cold and we were all tired from the trip so far. So, we went through the old part of the city, found a Starbucks, and stopped there for a while to regain, well….coffeine ;). After that, we went on their Subway again and headed to The Temple of Heaven. And I looooooved it. It’s a great complex, built somewhere between 1406-1420 during the reign of Yongle Emperor, who was according to Wikipedia, also responsible for building the Forbidden city (didn’t know that). Later on, it was renovated in 18th century. But, because it was still cold, around 0 degrees C, we got out of there, and headed back to the Airport.
I liked their subway system, it can be a little confusing at times, but it’s all colour-coded and numbered, and with the map that you can get anywhere, it’s quite hard to get lost.
We had a 2AM flight to Hanoi, Vietnam next day, so…we were all excited to finally getting there.
So, instead of 3AM, we decided to start at 2AM. Alarm clock rang and we shot ourselves out of bed. It felt like we barely closed our eyes.
Weather forecast was really bad, that’s why we decided to go sooner. And, luckily we did. As soon as we crossed into Austria, through Karawanke tunnel, it started snowing….higher we went, storm got stronger and snow was soon grasping the highway. So much even, that they called in Snow ploughs. We arrived to Munich airport parking (P41 parking) just little over 8AM. Which might seem as enough time, but when you gotta get all your suitcases, sleeping child and wait for the shuttle bus to take you to the airport, with a 10 min. ride, and then cross the airport, do a Check-In (because online check-in wasn’t available), find the boarding gate-we barely made it. We were the last ones to board. But, snow started…and created real late Christmas mood. So, we waited on the plane for three hours more, witnessed de-icing of the plane and then went on our way.
So, when we finally moved, lifted off above the snow storm, and everything from there on was a smooth flight. And because free onboard entertainment trip even passed relatively fast. It took 10 hours to Beijing, I even got some sleep, because there actually was additional leg space (as advertised), ’cause I’m almost 2m tall, and always find myself having problems sleeping on planes, buses and trains. Surprisingly, for an airline company, the food was also quite OK, drinks were free…it felt like Business class 😉
So we came to Beijing around 5AM, got our Visas in order and went out to explore the city a little. Visas were free-if you have a connecting flight in less then 72h (if I remember correctly). Got out of the airport around 8AM.
Video by Travel With Kids
So, as you know, for our next trip we have decided to go to Vietnam. We were thinking about it for a while now and we found this really cheap tickets, flying out from Munich airport, through Beijing, and then to Hanoi.
Our itineray is gonna look something like this: our flight leaves at 12:00 from Munich, so we’ll get up around 3AM, and take our car to Munich. It’ll take us around 5 hours from Skofja Loka, through Karawanken tunnel, passing Salzburg and on to Munich. We found a parking lot on-site for 84€ /24 day on Car park P41 North. We would really like to avoid the morning rush hour around Munich, even if that means we’re three hours early. I’m sure that we can fill our time with coffee or two
Next stop is gonna be Beijing. We’re gonna land around 5AM local time, and we’ll have more than 20 hours before we take off for Hanoi, Vietnam. So, first thing to do, is to find some attraction in Beijing to keep us busy, since we can leave the airport without Visa, because we have a connecting flight inside 72 hours (at least, I heard so)…
So, right now, we’re packed and ready to go….hoping there’s no snow on the road, bye bye