Vietnam’s Beautiful Northern Beaches on Quan Lan Island

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*Disclaimer: This is a super belated post from my beach trip to Quan Lan Island in Vietnam 4 months ago in July. For the mean time, I am shivering in London’s gloomy rainy grey winter dreaming of our beautiful tropical beaches.

Vietnam has beautiful beaches, that is not to deny. If even Brazilian people would say so then there is nothing to doubt about! Alright.. I mean my Brazilian friends. But still, with more than 3,000 km of coastline and a tropical weather we do have many gorgeous beaches across the country. (See my previous posts of Southern island Phu Quoc and Central Ha Tinh province’s Thien Cam beach)

Compared with the South and most of the Central part of Vietnam where it is hot all year around, the North of Vietnam has a cold winter and the beaches are only crowded in the summer. Besides the famed Ha Long Bay there are many other beautiful islands in the nearby Bai Tu Long Bay in which Quan Lan is one of the two most popular, together with Co To.

However, for a tourist attraction, Quan Lan is quite under-developed. There are 3 main beaches in the island: the most serviced (i.e touristy) one is Minh Chau, the most populous is Quan Lan (also the main town) and the almost-deserted one is Son Hao.  Read the rest of this entry »

Solo Road Trip: A Weekend Getaway to Tam Dao Mountains

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Only 80 km to the northwest of Hanoi, Tam Dao (meaning 3 mountains in Vietnamese) is a perfect destination to escape from the heat, noise and pollution of the capital for a day or two at weekend.

My first visit to Tam Dao was somewhat 12 years ago and I vaguely remember anything about it. Thus, my motorbike trip there recently was pretty much like a brand new visit. For travel tips (i.e hotels, restaurants, sights, etc.) please check out travelfish (English) or (Vietnamese). These two are my favorite sites when it comes to travels in Vietnam. However, there is one thing neither of the sites mention very clearly, which is the transportation. There is no direct bus from Hanoi so you may have to catch 2 or 3 buses or a taxi in order to get there; therefore, if you have a motorbike I do suggest you make use of it. The road is smooth and very well instructed (of course a phone with GPS is still recommended) and the last 13 km is incredibly beautiful though might be tortuous for new drivers. The total drive may take you around 2.5 – 3 hours. Read the rest of this entry »

2015 New Year Road Trip: Hanoi – Ha Giang – Cao Bang

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My first motorbike road trip of 2015 was to Ha Giang, a place claimed by many as “the most beautiful part of Vietnam”, which I totally endorse. The trip was friggin cold though.. Before setting off I recalled the cold we went through 2 years ago in another new year road trip and equipped myself carefully with multiple layers of clothes, 2 pairs of socks and 2 pairs of gloves. However, they didn’t help much when the mist came down at night. Honestly, the -20 degree Celsius in Poland that I experienced wasn’t as fearful as that mountainous chilly mist.

We drove our bikes for a total of 1,100 km (~684 miles) during 5 days across Ha Giang city, Meo Vac town, Dong Van rock plateau, and then straight to Ban Gioc waterfalls in Cao Bang (my second time here) before heading back to Hanoi. This is personally my longest road trip and the nature was also one of the most spectacular.
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Road Trip: Hanoi – Moc Chau – Son La – Pha Din

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I have been taking motorbike road trips a few times before and it has become a serious hobby. Whenever there are long holidays, long enough to jump on the bike to drive to the mountains and back, I would definitely take the chance to get out of the bustling capital for a while. The more I go the more I realize how beautiful my country is, the kind of beauty that you, young Vietnamese people, need to go nowhere else to find. Heaven? It’s here! Right on your motherland!

Contrast to the last trip packed with 13 peeps this time our groups had only 4 people. We headed out of Hanoi on the 6th of Feb, also our Tet holidays (traditional lunar new year holidays). During roughly 3 days we drove our manual Honda through almost 800 km all the way from Hanoi to Moc Chau, Son La, Pha Din pass (one of the 4 most famous mountain passes in the North of Vietnam) and back. Read the rest of this entry »

On the topic of religion in Vietnam: So you really think we are atheists?

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The crowd squeezing each other to pray for a prosperous new year in Yen Tu Pagoda

Religion in Vietnam on Wikipedia proclaims: “Officially, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an atheist state”.

That statement is perfectly correct and needs no further argument. However, do pay attention to the keyword “officially”, because the actual question is: how about “informally”? Now, this gives room for debate.

Feudal Vietnam was mostly a Buddhist country but Vietnam under Socialism declares no national religion, and most of its population also don’t “officially” follow any particular belief. Normally, when we fill in application forms that asks for religions, we always tick “none”. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean Vietnamese people are all “non-believers” as reported. Read the rest of this entry »

Road Trip: Hanoi – Moc Chau – Mai Chau

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The whole group at Dai Yem Waterfalls, 11 km away from the town center of Moc Chau

On the occasion of the long holidays last weekend (2nd of Sep is Vietnam’s Independence Day), my travel group had another exciting motorbike road trip to the mountains. This time the route was quite mild and we also drove our Honda Wave much less than our previous two trips. It was only a total of 500 km (310 miles) in 3 days. And guess you have noticed how large the group was. 13 people! My personal record for the biggest travel group I’ve ever had. Ever! Read the rest of this entry »

HanoiTweetUp Jan 2013

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#HanoiTweetUp is a networking event initially organized for twitter users in Hanoi to meet face-to-face with their virtual “friends” and “followers”. However, the concept soon changed into an event for everyone who are interested in social media and want to broaden their network. HanoiTweetUp was originally inspired by this same event in HCMC called #SaigonTweetUp, organized by @Vietnam720.

There have been 4 events of this type in Hanoi:

– The first one in May 2011 and the second one in July 2011 by me @MienHPham
– The third one in October 2011 by @playingwithsid and @philip_arthur (when I was in HCMC)
– And the fourth one in January 2013 by @HanoiGrapevine (my team)

Grapevine would like to say thanks to @potsnpanshanoi for the host, to @ourman for the interesting talk about animal rescue in Asia, and to everyone who turned up.

Here is the list of participants, in no particular order: Read the rest of this entry »