The Gem of Northern Vietnam

The Gem of Northern Vietnam

Don't you love when that happens? You're expecting things to turn out one way, and when they go another way, the result is even better than you ever could have planned. That's what happened on our trip to #Vietnam. The country enchanted us and as we made our way to Mai Châu, we discovered a #culture so unique and inviting. Luckily, not only is Vietnam enchanting, it's #affordable as well.


Sometimes the most pleasurable memories are the ones emanating out of unexpected journeys.

When I think of Vietnam, my train of thought always leads to Ho-Chi-Minh aka Saigon and Halong Bay. We had planned well for a trip to Halong Bay and reached the airport with impatient eagerness, only to find our plans getting stirred by delay in flight schedule and eventual cancellation. It was time to think quickly and re-plan. While my friends were engaged in a heated discussion, I came across a small booklet in the Vietnam Visa Department and while flipping through it, something caught my eye. 

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Green Halong - Paradise Luxury Trip in Halong Bay

AffordableRelaxation
 Halong Bay Vietnam, Hanoi, Vietnam
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A look at the picturesque Mai Châu and I knew I had the weapon to kill the discussion. A little bit of persuasion and foot stomping was enough to seal the decision to kick start our journey to Northern Vietnam. As soon as we landed in Saigon, I couldn't take my eyes off one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

I couldn't take my eyes off one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen

We took a cab to Mai Châu, which is located about 175 km from Saigon. The moment we left the bustling city limits of Saigon, a wiff of fresh air greeted us with a soft caress across our face, and somehow I was getting the feeling that the delayed flight and this unintentional itinerary was nothing but God’s design to bring us here. No amount of reviews can do justice to the beauty of this place or prepare you for the enchanting spell. 

Village of Ban Lac in Vietnam  
Village of Ban Lac in Vietnam  

Lush green landscape and misty hills are ready to welcome you the moment you enter the village of Ban Lac. Small habitations at the foot hills reminds you of Macchu Picchu. Mesmerized at the moving picture of scenic beauty, it felt as if time itself had forgotten to change this place, seemingly untouched by modern lifestyle and technology we are so used to. We reached our destination late in the afternoon and decided to crash at the first hotel we came across- a comfortable bamboo chalet, run by an old Australian guy.

At our hostel in the village of Ban Lac in Vietnam
At our hostel in the village of Ban Lac in Vietnam


Exploring the surrounding villages discovering beautiful monuments 
Exploring the surrounding villages discovering beautiful monuments 

After a refreshing lunch, we spent rest of the evening cycling around neighboring villages. Nestled between two towering cliffs and surrounded by emerald green paddy fields, it was an enchanting sight as we peddled our way down the windy cliff on the dirt roads. The surrounding countryside presented an idyllic rural scene. This place is so close to nature that I half expected to find Hobbits. It felt good to know that humans still are in love with the soil and with growing things.

Spectacular views over Ban Lac in Vietnam
Spectacular views over Ban Lac in Vietnam

Next day we hit the road to Trang An, near Ninh Bình. The usual 3 hour journey took hours, thanks to my constant stopping for photography sessions, yet I failed to capture the essence of this beautiful nature. You know you are in Ninh Binh, when you start noticing churches in lines along both sides of the path. Phát Diem Cathedral, located in Kim Son district, a beautiful Roman Catholic church built of stone and wood with an interesting combination of Vietnamese and European architecture. It comprises of lake, atrium, cathedral, four chapels, stone church and a man-made cave. Mother Maria's Heart Church is called ‘Stone Church’, as it is mostly made of stone: wall, beams, windows, towers and columns.

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 Tràng An, Hà Nam Province, Vietnam
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Next stop was Tran An Gorettes, listed as a World Heritage Site under UNESCO. This scenic landscape is made up of limestone karst peaks permeated with valleys, some of which are submerged and surrounded by steep, almost vertical cliffs. The best part is, you will not find a single motorized boat, a step taken by the government for preservation. There are rows of wooden boats, which will guide you through small mangroves, caves and red delta river. The calm environment had such a soothing effect on me that I went almost into hypnagogic state. It is surprising I didn't fall off the boat. 

In the cave of Mua, in Vietnam 
In the cave of Mua, in Vietnam 

Next we headed to Mua Cave, where after climbing 500 stairs one can have the bird’s eye view of Tam Cac. Despite my love for travel, I am very lethargic when it comes to stairs and other manual ascensions. Sadly, unlike Kung Fu Panda, I had no rhino-guard to carry me to the top. A heavy struggle and several close shaves later, I persisted and scaled the heights. As I had mentioned in one of my earlier article about my altophobia, I went against my fears to climb another unguarded rock to get a much better view and probably an adrenaline rush. 

we headed to Mua Cave, where after climbing 500 stairs one can have the bird’s eye view of Tam Cac. 

At the top of summit I realized that my struggle was not without reward. On my way down I realized that my two fears (altophobia and stairs) had combined forces against me. To even the scales, I had to request one of the climbers to help me get down. After an eventful day, I was too tired to even stay awake for food. On reaching the town, I fell into blissful slumber in no time. Next day we had a flight to catch for our return to Singapore. On my way back, I kept thinking on how the Vietnam war almost destroyed this country four decades ago.

Cows in Vietnam's countryside. 
Cows in Vietnam's countryside. 
A heavy struggle and several close shaves later, I scaled the heights

War has claimed millions of Vietnamese lives, but not their soulful spirits. Vietnam has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world and slowly claiming their position back into this world. It is slow, but confirmed progress. This was my second trip to Vietnam and I found the people cheerful and lively instead of being bitter with rage against anyone and everyone. I will definitely come back to enjoy another peaceful journey.

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