Posts and articles

Ba Be national park, Vietnam-hidden gem or worth a miss

Ba Be National Park is situated about 250km north of Hanoi. I came across this place while doing research that would fulfil my need for nature and peace. And this is exactly what Ba Be does, nature and peace.

So if you want to relax, listen to nature, eat good home food at a homestay, hike and explore the massive lake go to Ba Be. If however you want bars, cafes/restaurants, shopping etc Ba Be will be your hell.

Top tips for Ba Be

  • Find a home stay on the actual lake, its beautiful at sunrise/set.
  • Transport-getting to Ba Be can be tricky. If coming from Hanoi don’t rely on local buses. Hire a car/bike or a private transfer (Q-Bus express).
  • If like me you don’t like to trek/hike with other people then download the mapsme App because it shows some trials (they don’t show up on googlemaps).

Remember Ba Be isn’t a massive tourist hotspot so the locals while lovely often don’t speak any English-its their country so don’t expect it.

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The road to Ba Be, Vietnam National Park

Ready to get out of Hanoi and into nature I decide on the National Park of Ba Be. My research told me it was hard to get to but my hostel organised it.

The journey

So it started with a mo-ped whizzing through traffic with my backpack on his leg rest and me grabbing on for dear life. Then onto a cute little bus, where rows of four seats became 6 thanks to wooden planks. I felt like a circus attraction with a young lady staring at me fascinated by my blue eyes. But what can you do but embrace the new and laugh.

The bus ends in a tiny village in the dark at the wrong place! the bus driver organises a motorbike to my homestay. On the back of a motorcycle we whiz through dirt roads in the dark dodging pot holes and sleeping cows.

The lesson

I feel this experience more than any so far has helped me realise my growth. The old me would have totally freaked out, but I am appreciating the new and when in doubt just laugh.

Also future tip nature lovers book the QBus express, a private bus that goes from Hanoi to home stays in Ba Be.

Hanoi, Vietnam-first impressions crazy

So there’s no two ways about it, for a somewhat middleclass western Asia virgin this place is fucking crazy. The question is it a good crazy?

So my first day here jet lagged I was almost in tears. In a city with 6 million mopeds and no regard for traffic lights or crossings I was sure I was going to die. I like to think that I have become a bit of an explorer the last 9 months, but I ashamed to say I found the most Western restaurant in a fancy hotel to escape. By the time I could check into my hostel I was sure I had made a major mistake….

Day 4, armed with sleep and the return of my adventurous spirit I have decided that Hanoi is now a good crazy.

Tips for changing Hanoi to a good crazy

  1. Ignore everything you learnt about traffic. You need to be aggressive getting across the roads without fear. Strangely since adopting this attitude no one has come near to hitting me.
  2. Get a local guide and ask questions. Hanoi has a strange layout and food scene. It is well worth getting a tour. If on a serious budget use couchsurfing to find a local. They want to practice their English, so a win win.
  3. Just point and smile at the food you want. The worst case scenario is you don’t like the food and wasted a couple of pound/dollars.
  4. Use the hostel/hotel reception-you may have to pay a slight premium in Vietnamese standards to book things but you gain peace of mind.

Group travel, the final verdict

So after spending 49 days travelling with young people, mainly Aussies on a bus around Europe what do I think about group travel? Honestly… I absolutely loved it. Don’t get me wrong there are downsides but they are easily outweighed.

Why I loved group travel

Intense friendship– the equivalent amount of time you spend with these people is months/years in the real world. The result is you can develop these lifelong friendships in a short amount of time.

Sit back and enjoy– solo/ partnership travel can be great but its a lot of planning- where do you say, what to do etc. Group travel takes that stress away and you can just enjoy your time emerging yourself in the culture of a place.

History and depth– of course you can do tours in each new place, but group travel has these organised or there completed by a tour leader. The result is you can really get to grips with a places history to help understand its current culture.

Not sure about group travel? Then please feel free to ask me any questions.

Bosnia-a very pleasant surprise

I didn’t know much about Bosnia before visiting beside a limited amount on the 1992 war/Genocide. So maybe I had an expectation of a somewhat sober country. I was so wrong. Bosnia obviously has had massive investment; the result is a buzzing electricity, a flavour of different cultures and an interesting history.

Now knowing more about the country this is completely understandable as its been Slavic, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian, the result is an eclectic culture.

What to do

Old town in Sarajevo– Nothing encapsulates Bosnia more than the smells of old town. Just wander down any street for an unique food.  In addition there are beautiful Mosques, Orthodox Churches and a Catholic Cathedral.

Tunnels– Bosnia is full of underground tunnels due to its interesting history. I would highly recommend visiting one. The Belgrade underground tour is highly recommended.

Srebrencia– Even though its intense you need to visit the war memorial in Srebrencia. The Museum is interactive and although incredibly sad its extremely interesting. Make sure to contact in advance for a tour from someone who was a victim of the genocide.

Group travel-who does it?

I remember when I was deciding whether I should book a group travel adventure who would I meet, would I like them or would they drive me crazy!

I travelled with 48 other people from a range of backgrounds, although mostly Aussies…maybe I’m not sane. I found about 3/4’s were woman who explained they preferred the safety of group travel. The people ranged from party animals, to culture/history buffs, to would be photographers and to foodies.

Three examples of travellers

Ms T– A quiet introvert by nature who had recently graduated and treated herself to this trip. She didn’t drink and often liked to explore places on her own. However she would involved herself in group dinners and activities.

Mr A– A partier by nature and the oldest in the group. He worked as a consultant so had flexibility with work. He wanted to hit the clubs each night but would always be up ready to explore the amazing sights.

Ms H– A super classy lady who joined midway through. She was looking for an adventure away from her previous life. She went out on occasion but her passion was food and  architecture. Interestingly her experience helped her realised how much she loved her Ex and wanted to build a life with them…I may have wanted to vomit.

If you have any specific questions on group travel please write through.

Croatia by pictures

Horror…my tablet broke a few weeks ago so sorry for not posting. On the upside I have loads of new experiences to share. I’ll start with the beautiful Croatia. A few people have told me how nice it was, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ll let you judge my experience…

View of old Town- Dubrovink

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The views from the top of Dubrovnik

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Plitvice Lake national park

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What were your experiences of Croatia? what did you see? what did you do?

That dead sea in July

poem of genocide

I visited a country that deeply moved me today. I felt compelled to write this, I hope you enjoy.

I looked around at the sea of the dead.

Brothers, Sons and Fathers all swept away.

Left in the wake, white plaques with names from A to Z.

 

A survivors story of the long dead;

And Man’s broken promise to offer safe habour.

 

A tale of the great seas rage.

Over 8000 souls lost in its icy depths.

 

Now all that is left on the 11th July is rememberence.

A cautionary tale to be shared with Man.

And a final grim lesson to haunt our history.

The darkside of group travel-is it really for you?

I should start this article with the caveat that I am enjoying group travel. So why this article you ask? Just as I recognise solotravel is not for everyone, the same is very true for group travel.

The darkside of group travel

  • Drinking culture: get a bunch of young people together and inevitably drinking happens. In large groups this experience is intensified, creating an expectation you should get drunk most days.
  • School drama: you will be spending every moment with these people, as a result clicks get formed, grudges happen, relationships start and fail etc. The resultant effect is it can feel like being back at high school.
  • Privacy: I have a natural inclination to introvertion as a result my energy comes from within. What this means in practice for me and many alike is alone time can be essential for a much needed recharge. Due to the itinerary of the trip finding alone time is very difficult and you really need to actively carve out the time.

Is group travel for you? 

In my opinion if you answer NO to any of these statements consider all your options, or start with a taster group travel adventure first.

I can share small living space with strangers? I don’t always need a good night sleep? I like being in groups as opposed to my own company? I am happy to be led? I like to drink or don’t feel peer pressured to drink? I able to ignore/like drama so it doesn’t effect me? I am happy to spend long periods of time travelling?

A flavour of Greece, maybe a bit bitter

As I walked around Athens I felt a great sadness, I looked at the decay of the once great temples I thought to myself is this what the end of humanity looks like.

I think its time to caveat that statement before I get a mob of Greek’s coming after me. Ancient Greece has always interested me, so perhaps I had unreal expectations. I spent around 7 days going around Greece so very much a whistle stop tour, therefore I wont produce a guide but instead will try to give some general impressions.

What I loved

  • Food, especially Mouska with Greek Salad-I would happily have it as my last meal.
  • Sailing the Greek seas, with its hidden caves and clear waters its a must do.
  • The picturesque white stone houses and tiny paths.

The unexpected

  • The poor customer service, I always considered the Greek’s the most welcoming of people, but I had some truly poor service.
  • How run down some of the cities/towns were- I know Greece has had some problems for a while but I didn’t realise quite how it would affect the infrastructure.
  • Linked to the above how the monuments were poorly kept, specifically the lack of information of the rich history they offered.

My purpose in writing this article was expectation management, as opposed to detering a visit.