——– A SLIGHT DETOUR OF PLANS & a slight story tangent ————
A few days before we planned to arrive in Vietnam, a huge tsunami hit the shores of Osaka, Japan WIPING OUT parts of the Osaka airport – which we were meant to fly out of to go to Vietnam. But, as with most things, this actually worked out as a blessing in disguise.
After re-adjusting our plans and having to pay for a new flight and another expensive bullet train back to Tokyo, we were forced to spend an overnight layover in South Korea. Not somewhere we had originally planned to go, but we rolled with it. Upon getting to the airport to Japan, they told us that we didn’t have a visa to enter Vietnam – and that it takes at least 24 -48 hours to expedite one from the embassy.
Smacking our heads for not realizing this sooner, and getting into a bit of a panic, we scrambled to figure out what to do… but luckily we had that overnight layover in South Korea to get it sorted out! We booked a place and arrived at 2am waking up the poor neighbors as we tried to find the right apartment (all in Korean). Our hosts were so gracious and welcoming and stayed to wait up for us even though they had to work early the next morning. We wish we could have gotten to know them better.
After a rough day traveling and no sleep, we dropped our bags and then stayed up the rest of the night google searching how to expedite a visa from Vietnam ASAP. The whole time we just hoped that we wouldn’t get scammed and that it would arrive in our email inbox in time for our 4pm flight the next day.
The next morning, we waited in anticipation for our visa to hopefully come… telling us that we could enter into Vietnam. We spent the day exploring a tiny fraction of the massive city of Seoul, and wandered through the unique food markets, electronic stores, and river canals to pass the time. We didn’t get to do much exploring or enjoying the culture because of our situation, but it was a really cool city to see and witness, even just for a quick moment.
Then, after heading home, just as we’re packing our bags for the airport about to leave, we get an email of acceptance – letting us know we’re all set to enter Vietnam. Talk about cutting it close! We definitely learned our lesson for the future. Lugging our heavy bags (backpacks front and back per usual) we made our way back to the airport and onward in our journey.
After a quick flight from South Korea, we finally landed in Hanoi late at night when the streets were empty. It was down pouring rain, and we were completely exhausted, but even in our delirium, we were immediately struck by the beauty of the french architecture of Hanoi in the backdrop of moonlight. We had made it!
The next morning we woke on the search for Vietnamese coffee and banh mi’s. Spencer went back for three banh mi’s that day but they were only a dollar each!
We decided to get some serious R&R and booked ourselves a 4 hour pampering session of massages, mani / pedis and facials that ended up being about $30 each. Coming from Japan’s prices, this was absolute heaven.
After a short few hours in Hanoi, it was a four drive to Hạ Long Bay. Located in northeast Vietnam, it’s known for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rainforests. We had the great fortune to stay in an airbnb with a local family who made us feel right at home. They had a great view from their home as well.
We spent our days zooming around the city on motorbikes, and tracking down amazing food and views of the landscape.
Our host family through AirBnB was one of the best places we’ve ever stayed. They instantly welcomed us in like family, making us home-made dinners, telling us about the history of living in Vietnam for the last 50 years, and even offered to let us use their personal motor bike and drove us around to wherever we needed to go. They were so sad to see us leave, and gave us big hugs and asked us to write and visit whenever we could. We will definitely be back 🙂
Homemade Vietnamese pork soup fresh off the stove from our host mom – made with love ❤
With several days to spend in Ha long, we knew we wanted to go explore the beauty of the limestone cliffs – and the best way to do that is by overnight cruise.
We stumbled upon a small company offerning a 50% off deal and jumped on the next boat heading out. The staff was amazing, we had a top chef that prepared all our meals, and scored a luxury room overlooking the water.
We spent our time relaxing in the water on kayaks, enjoying the splendid views of Ha long Bay.
On the cruise we also got to meet fellow travelers and share a few meals over sunset with the mountains as a backdrop. After doing a lot of solo traveling, it was fun to mingle with people from all areas of the world, coming together to share this unique experience.
In the morning, they took us exploring in the caves on their old “junk boats” to get deeper into these impressive limestone cliffs, and even let Spence take over the rowing for a bit 😉
Keep at it Spence!
Vietnam was truly a blend of old a new. Fisherman still practiced the same techniques they’ve been using for hundreds of years, and we left with an admiration for the spirit and warmth of the Vietnamese people. We will definitely be back.
At this point in our travels, we were ready to settle in for a bit and find a place to call home for a few weeks. Off to Thailand!