I’m back on the road, and don’t have to tell you how good it feels. The next 10 days are to be spent in Vietnam, entirely for adventure travel and no work.
The kids are going their own ways. Lily heads to California to spend time with Trish’s family and Emma joins her there after a 5 day middle school trip to Quebec, ostensibly for her French class.
Yeah, we are traveling separately. It’s great and weird for us all. Everyone is excited about traveling by themselves – Lily and Emma are going as solo minors on their flights. But at the same time we’ll always remember Trish. This is the first Spring Break we haven’t done a family trip in several years.
Vietnam was my ‘next’ travel destination in 1995 when I met Trish. In fact, it was one of our conversations the very first night I met her. We chatted about travel and I expressed my intent to get there. Falling in love, kids and work got in the way of that plan for a few decades, but here I am finally.
As usual, this is a jam-packed adventure travel itinerary. It doesn’t include any beach days or half-day cooking classes. Vietnam wasn’t that hard to plan once I accepted that I could only do the north or the south in 10 days. It’s a long country – almost 2000 miles from tip to tip and surface transportation is pretty slow and bad. So you can’t get around quickly without flying. And I love my girls, but I am so damn excited to eat whatever I want, wherever I want. No pizza, pasta or chicken nuggets this trip.
Day One and two: Travel West
I got Japan Airlines frequent flyer tickets through American Airlines, but it’s not too bad of an itinerary via Tokyo, Narita airport. I end up in Hanoi late on day two and am picked up by The Avi Airport Hotel, which gets mediocre reviews but is the closest reasonable choice. I’m leaving the next morning anyway… (A) on map
Day three: the largest caves in the world
Leaving the Hanoi area early and flying to Dong Hoi, a medium sized town midway down the coast, then heading inland to the karst cave are of Phong Nha national Park – (B) on Map. Phong Nha is one of the fastest developing tourist areas on the planet. It’s the oldest karst area on the planet and has the biggest cave systems in the world. Here I’ll stay at Phong Nha Farmstay.M Bikes will be provided for the trip to the caves, where a boat takes tourists through the river caves of Phong Nha.
The Nuoc Moc eco trail is the morning activity, perhaps at sunrise if that’s cooler. Advertised as a ‘picaresque trail through the river, with bamboo bridges and lots of places to swim’ it should be a fun break from caves.
And in the afternoon, the 7km hike through paradise cave is one of the longest in the world open to tourists. There are supposedly some really narrow and difficult spots to climb through. And bats, of course. Lots of bats.
This will be an amazing day and possibly a difficult one. It involves a car trip only a few hundred miles but will take all day because of traffic and the typical Asian road swarm of motorcycles, carts, animals and kids. If I am lucky I’ll get stops at the Vinh Moc tunnels, which were a series of 100-foot-tunnels inhabited by 60 Vietnamese families during the intense American bombing, and also Tomb of Khai Dinh, the last modern emporer in Vietnam to demand a luxury tomb. (C) on Map. It’s an example of the extravagance that led to revolution. Night time should bring me to Hoi An.
Hoi An is a city left behind by the modern economy. It was once a major port, but silting of the bay closed off shipping access, and left the little city in decline until recently when it’s 18th century, untouched, architecture and city design became a tourist hit. It’s considered one of the easy cities in Asia, like Phnom Penh and maybe Chang Mai. Lanterns illuminate the small streets at night, and silk tailors will sew you a wardrobe of suits in 24 hours. Sleeping will happen at the well reviewed Ha An Hotel. (D) on map
The archeological trophy of Vietnam are the 4th century Hindu temples of My Son (Mee sun). A pre-dawn departure will get the best photographic light and depart just as the tour buses arrive for the 10am dancing show. The afternoon is back in Hoi An for some of Central Vietnnam’s best food.
The closest airport to Hoi An is an hour away in the big industrial city of Da Nang, from which the airplane will take me back to Hanoi for a little big-city culture and tourism. The old city of Hanoi and maybe a water puppet show. (You do know about those right?) (E) on Map. The hotel is the Meracus 2
All day in Hanoi with an open itinerary leaves endless possibilities including shopping, eating, museums or maybe survey the art scene, which exploded last decade and continues to develop unlike any other in Asia. And of course, the waxen body of Ho Chi Minh, deserves a visit.
At 6:20 the car departs for the Ha Long Bay area, an oceanic karst system that is the symbol of Vietnam. Instead of the more touristy Ha Long area, my boat will be in the south eastern edgeCat Ba and area. The private boat will sail through the karsts wherever the scenery seems best, stop at local towns for fish that is cooked on the junk, and sleep in coves away from the entire world. (F) on Map. Boat is provided by Cat Ba Ventures
This is adventure day in Cat Ba, beginning with a rock climbing expidition over the karsts with Asia Outdoors. Then kayaking and swimming in the more secluded Lan Ha Bay and finally another night on the Junk Boat.
After getting up very early to catch the Karsts in the foggy sunrise,the boat will visit a local ‘floating village’ and then catch the last hydrofoil back to Haiphong, where a car will be waiting to go to Hanoi International airport.