From Hanoi to Luang Prabang: A 26 Hour Plus Journey

How should I get to Luang Prabang? I wrestled with this question from the moment I decided that it would be my first stop in Laos.

On the one hand, I could fly from Hanoi and on the other hand I could take the bus. The pros and cons for each were pretty simple.

Flying would only take one hour but would cost $160-$200.

Taking the bus would take 24-32 hours on notoriously bad mountain roads through a sketchy international border but would cost less than $50.

Of course I opted to take the bus for ~$43. Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this.

Below is a running diary from the journey. While the trip is chock full of gorgeous scenery of green Laotian countryside and mountains (we traveled through Vietnam during the night so i cant speak to the scenery during that part of the journey), it is a very, very long trip.

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Halong Bay

I recently finished a three day, two night trip to Halong Bay along Vietnam’s northern coast and let’s just say its easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. The area has over 1,600 islands filled with limestone rock formations that simply take your breath away.

one of many extraordinary views along the way

I booked a tour to visit Halong Bay when I arrived in Hanoi, the most popular jumping off point for visiting the area. Every hotel and travel company sells tours, which typically come in three packages: 1) a day cruise around the islands 2) a two day, one night cruise where you sleep on the boat or 3) a three day, 2 night cruise with the second day and night spend in a secluded island bungalow (or hotel). You can of course vary the level of quality for each trip but those are the standard packages. Read more of this post

Navigating North Through Vietnam

Given the number of tourists in Vietnam, especially of the independent traveler variety, there are a never ending slew of businesses geared towards booking tours, transportation and accommodation.

For a do-it-yourself traveler like myself, it’s a maze to navigate. From dealing with all the people trying to sell you something, to the language barrier, to the new culture and not being sure where to go next, all the while juggling the advice of fellow travelers its an exercise in patience and mental dexterity. Plus keeping straight all the price quotes in my head (they quote you prices here in USD when you have to pay in local currency while the eventual exchange rate varies from person to person).

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Initial Impressions of Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City

I want to share a few thoughts after my first days in Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a Saigon), Vietnam’s largest city:

  • Motorbike are everywhere – I had certainly read about all the motorbikes in Vietnam but they are ubiquitous and outnumber cars in the city by 20:1 at least. What’s strange is because people drive motorbikes rather than cars, the traffic is actually not as bad as you would expect. People here complain about 30-40 minute commutes across the entire city when in Manila it could take you that long to go 1-2km.

and inside a mall parking lot

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