There are a handful of countries I would go back to rather than visit somewhere new: Jordan, Peru, Iceland and Indonesia are on that list. Vietnam is another. I took a trip there in 2013 and loved it so much. This time I get to take Amanda and the kids.
My miles and points game is getting better and better. I scored business class tickets on Cathay with just 262k SPG points (in part due to an awesome one-time deal when Alaska merged with Virgin America.)
The only trick is we leave from JFK in New York. Fortunately Laurel, my sister, lives just 30 minutes away and we can leave our car with her for the week. Unfortunately, the ‘positioning’ drive takes 7 hours through Sunday New Jersey beach traffic and some bad accidents on 95.
My brother-in-law Fahad has an amazing Pakistani meal cooked for us when we arrive for which we are so grateful. We were in and out so quickly we didn’t even see our nephews/cousins. On the way back we’ll see them.
We told the kids that Amanda and I were upgraded to business but they had to fly in economy. Amanda went so far as to find empty seats in Economy they were ‘assigned’. We walked them back there and they got set for the 15 hour flight. Just before takeoff, we told them the gag and pulled them up to business.
Emma’s first words were ‘thank god’. Lily tried to act cool like she didn’t care but quickly the giggles came out and she and Emma were cracking up.
The flight was so empty. The J cabin was only a third full. We had pillow throwing fights two rows apart. And you could hear the girls and me laughing at the videos for the whole ride. 15 hours later, and fairly well rested, we stop in Hong Kong on our way to the first stop, Singapore.
But first – the full itinerary!
- Day 1-3 Air travel and Singapore: This part is an artifact of our tickets. I couldn’t get us straight to Vietnam so I stopped in Singapore for a day at Universal Studios and their new Aquarium.
- Day 4-6 Phong Nha Cave exploration: The largest caves in the world are here in Vietnam in Phong Nha park. The hightlight will be a 7KM trek in the dark through the first section of a 55km cave system in the middle of Vietnam. We’ll also drift on boats through river filled caverns. Most of these are unlit.
- Day 7-9 Cat Ba Bay on a Junk: Ha Long bay is one of the world’s most beautiful ocean scenery, but it’s hardly a secret. Day boats, even cruise liners criss cross between karst islands by the hundreds. We will go farther south to a less populated part of the larger area called Cat Ba and we’ll stay on a Junk for 2 nights, swim off the side, hike up karst islands and do some rock climbing.
- Day 10 Hanoi: We’ll be pretty stinky at this point, and maybe a little tired of each other. Amanda and I are going to strike out on our own to see some of Hanoi’s crazy streets and outrageous temples. In the evening we are taking a vegetarian street food tour. Emma and Lily will undoubtedly enjoy the hotel pool and ordering french fries from the hotel restaurant menu.
- Day 11-13 Motorcycle rides to Dalat: From Nha trang beach to mountainous Dalat and back down to the Mui Ne beach, we will each ride on the back of a morotbike driven by a Vietnamese ‘Easy Rider’. We’ll eat with and stay in the homes of local families along the way, seeing how they farm and cultivate. But mostly it’s about the views and the freedom of the road on a motorbike.
- Day 14-15: Travel home and Hong Kong: Cathay flights always go through Hong Kong and one tends to spend nights here once in a while. Last time we went to Victoria Peak. This time we’ll hit the night market before our flight back home in lie flat business.
Emma and I head out into the night heat of Singapore, still in jeans and leggings. We’re hungry and stop at a McDonalds for some fries. She feels comforted by some familiar food. Eating is hard for her, few things taste good and airplane food rarely satisfies, even in business class.
We wander through a mall that is shutting down for the night. Singapore is, as reviewed: highly developed and a little bit sterile.
In the morning the kids go back to that same McDonald’s and bring us some coffee, eggs and pancakes for about $10 – a much better deal than the $100 breakfast the hotel Indigo wants. An uber takes us to our first event: a long, long arduous hike up a mountain in the Singapore summer heat. Well, that was the story we were telling Emma to trick her, but Lily couldn’t keep the secret. We are going to Universal Studios, Singapore and the new aquarium.
Universal Studios is fairly empty and by evening the rides lines are empty. Amdanda and I split up from the kids and ride the Ceylon roller coaster 5 times, once in front. One of our memorable events dating was riding the superman coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey over and over as the sun set. We reminisced. The Mummy, Transformers and Jurassic Park rides are all good, although honestly, we all prefer a heart stopping roller coaster over any of these movie themed rides.
We break for a late lunch. Our go to meal on the road is Indian, and Amanda finds a place that offers plentiful meals of curry and samosa for vegetable and meat eaters alike. The aquarium is really good and a nice alternative to the amusement park. We miss scuba diving! Some of the glass walls for viewing are hundreds of feet long! It’s the closest thing to diving I have ever been. Beautiful Octopi, sea dragons, spider crabs and of course, sharks – lots of sharks.
We close the park – a Creekmore tradition since the girls were tiny. Amanda and I get soaked on the Jurassic Park river raft ride and are the second to last boat to go for the day. All three women sleep in the car ride back to the airport while I help the guide find our hotel with Google maps. The avaliablility of data everywhere (we get it included with our T-Mobile plan) is one of the biggest changes to travel for me. I can even help the lost taxi guide find his way in a city I have not been in for 24 hours.
I often find our first blog to be the most read, but it’s often the most boring as we are just getting started. Stay tuned! Some incredible stuff awaits in Vietnam, tomorrow’s destination.
I love seeing your travel blogs. Need to learn how to garner air miles from credit cards! I have earned a flight to Hawaii… but you rock it.
my name is Evan and I’m the son of one of your Slack group friends, Paul Hudson. I love Vietnam! I lived there for several years and consider it a second home. I have to compliment you not only on your travel/miles/upgrade/trip-planning prowess (which is more my father’s field of expertise) but your clearly excellent taste in travel destinations as well. Your itinerary through Vietnam couldn’t be more on point- for an outdoor-oriented, adventurous family seeking to take a whirlwind tour through Vietnam, it looks like you picked all the coolest places, and will be able to visit them in a stress-free manner.
Hanoi is wonderful! Saigon is my second home, but I have a very deep appreciation for Hanoi and all the atmospheric chaos it entails. It looks like that’s where you and your wife will have a little bit of time to explore, so can I suggest a few things:
a) West Lake/Tay Ho is underappreciated by Western visitors to Hanoi- the Old Quarter is more than enough for most people to take in over the course of a day- but if you guys aren’t hell-bent on the vegetarian food tour, I would recommend taking a walk past Lenin Park along Thanh Nhien (be sure to get ice cream together! an age old tradition for Hanoi lovebirds) and to visit some temples along the edge of the lake. If you curve around by the Intercontinental, this will take you to Xuan Dieu street, which runs along the edge of the lake and is home to several chic restaurants and live music venues, which might provide an opportunity for a meal (vegetarian options are common in most restaurants in the north), live music or cocktail in an atmospheric venue. Here is a link to a vegetarian restaurant at the end of Xuan Dieu (https://tnhvietnam.xemzi.com/tw/spot/3931/phat-truong-tho-amitayus-vegetarian-restaurant-hanoi)
b) But even better than eating along Xuan Dieu and sitting next to a large, peaceful lake, would be taking a taxi to my favorite restaurant in the world, Ray Quan, which is literally next to the train tracks, on the outskirts of the old quarter. Excellent food, atmosphere, and the world’s best selection of exotic rice wines. (kumquat is my favorite. cinnamon as well). Even if you aren’t there for the flavored wine, the food is top-notch and the experience of sitting in a popular restaurant less than a meter from a passenger train is worth the commute.
Remember to walk around Ho Guom/Hoan Kiem Lake early in the morning! The foggier the better. That’s when Hanoi really comes out. Imagine that same view for 1,000 years.
Finally- get an egg sandwich off a street vendor! The kind with the baskets and broiler balanced over their shoulder. Vegetarian friendly. They mix fresh herbs in with the scrambled egg for a wonderful flavor you can’t get anywhere else. “Banh Mi Op La”- “khong thit” means no meat.
(https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g293924-d7040705-Reviews-Ray_Quan-Hanoi.html) (has vegetarian options)
I wish you and your beautiful family a wonderful trip and if you have any further questions (places to go, people to see) please don’t hesitate to drop me a line.