In Vietnam, it’s now Tet - the Lunar New Year’s holiday. Same as people from China, South Korea, Mongolia and Tibet, Vietnamese people celebrate the transition by the law of the Moon. Sound more romantic, right?
It's the biggest holiday in Vietnam. People wear their best clothes, houses are full of flowers and every corner of every fridge is filled with food, which the women diligently prepare for about a week up to the holiday.
That's what my mum and my sister in law always do, anyway. They could be cooking as I am typing this. Because I can't be home this Tet, I'll celebrate the holiday differently. There's no need for the fancy clothes and rich food. I'll write about Vietnam.
My country is a beautiful one, but don't take my words for it. You've got to go and see it for yourself. While you are there, do these three things. You will enjoy the experience and I will be green-eyed jealous.
Kayaking in Halong Bay
Ha Long Bay is like our “pho”, widely known and greatly loved by foreigners. Designated a World Heritage site in 1994, the bay attracts a lot of tourists who come to see its emerald water and thousands of limestone islands.
Yes, it’s very touristy. I had to stop counting the number of foreigners who had told me that they stayed on a boat anchored in Ha Long bay overnight and passed the time with delicious seafood meals and a cooking lesson.
I did the tour myself when I took my English man on a mini holiday when we lived in Hanoi. I've been to the area many times, but it was the first time I've tried kayaking, which was immensely fun.
Technically, you are at sea but without any monstrous waves. The bay is famous for being very calm, though it could also be misty. I know it doesn't sound tempting for adventurous souls, but just imagine this: you are out on a tranquil water, moving in between limestone formations. You can also explore some caves. It's all very exciting, I have found.
Cycling from Dalat to Nha Trang
This one is more adventurous. Well, quite a lot more.
It's about 130km from Da Lat to Nha Trang and a 1,500-meter difference in height between the two cities. Depending on which tour company you go with, the journey could take two days or half a day. We went with the later options.
When we started from Da Lat, we had to climb up and down a few hills to reach an official 1,500-metre viewpoint. Then we descended for a long time till we reached the outskirt of Nha Trang at sea level.
The first part was challenging, but we were accompanied by a car. Those who couldn’t climb all the hills could get their bike and their shame on the car. The car also took us all through the last leg around Nha Trang where busy traffic made cycling unsafe. (Full disclosure: I did get on the car on the last hill 😜)
For the most part of the route, we were on quiet roads. Mostly quiet anyway. You might occasionally see random coaches speeding along. In a rare case, there could be two huge buses trying to overtake each other and in the middle was your significant other. I still have nightmares from that memory, but don't let it stop you as I reckon it's pretty rare.
On the whole, it’s fairly safe to cycle along that route. The descending part was easy and fabulous for the eyes. The mountains open up on both sides with so many shades of green. There are gorges and waterfalls as well.
This might sound a bit crazy if you happen to see a big crowd city like Hanoi (or Hochiminh City) when you first land in Vietnam. Driving a scooter there is insane. Once you get out of the big cities, though, things are more interesting.
Setting off from Hanoi, you can reach lush rice fields in less than an hour. Ian and I used to drive out at the weekend, left and right through the fields, breathe in the grassy smell and drift into the peacefulness. Soon enough, you will see some village’s gate and perhaps a small pagoda or temple.
If you have more time and better driving skills, you can go up the mountainous areas around Hanoi. Ba Vi has a national park on a hilly topography. Mai Chau, where a lot of Thai minorities live, is a bit further and higher up. The furthest north lie Cao Bang, Lang Son, Ha Giang provinces. It requires experienced drivers and a sense of adventure to travel those perilous northern roads. You will be rewarded plentifully, though, with the views of mighty mountains, a sense of remoteness, and a chance to encounter distinctive cultures and ethnic groups.
If you aim for something like an adventure of a lifetime, try the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The route is roughly 1,500km, connecting Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh city. It was used during the war by the Northern communist forces to transport supplies and weapons to fight the war in the South. It goes through old jungles and over looming mountain. A few decades after the war, parts of the trail have been redone used by cars but as it goes through mostly remote areas, trucks and coaches don’t use them. It means you can enjoy some tranquillity while admiring the striking beauty of nature. I have only been through parts of the trail in a car but I was totally won over. It’s my dream to do it one day on a motorbike.
Feeling hungry after all these outdoor activities? Grab some delicious snacks!