Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, Saigon… Most travelers to Vietnam know these city’s names well and are sure to include them in their itinerary. But Vietnam is a massive country (far bigger than I imagined!) with a wealth of remarkable places to visit. One of the best? Mai Chau Valley, several hours from Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi.
Vietnam’s Mai Chau Valley
Knowing very little about the region, Mai Chau hadn’t been on my Southeast Asia bucket list prior to my travels, but a friend had strongly recommended Vietnam Backpacker Hostels’ Mai Chau Valley trip, and I couldn’t pass up a chance to see Vietnam beyond its hectic cities by paying a visit to the valley’s peaceful villages and rice paddies.
I’ve declared it already: 2016 was the best year ever. Since 2011, I’ve summarized my travel-filled years (see my posts from 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015), but no year has ever come close to 2016 in terms of the amount of travel I’ve been able to fit in. Brace yourselves: this may be a long one!
Swinging though the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador’s Cuyabeno Reserve in October
Eighty days and eight countries later, my Southeast Asia trip has come to an end. I fly to Japan tomorrow and then onward to Paris, with a day in Abu Dhabi in between. For a part of the world I had never given much thought to until the last few years, Southeast Asia has stolen my heart. My next destinations will certainly be a massive change of scenery, so I thought I’d reflect on some of the things I will and won’t miss about Southeast Asia.
Sitting atop a pagoda, watching a storm roll in over Bagan, Myanmar earlier this week
I didn’t want to say goodbye to Vietnam. In my two weeks there, the country had exceeded already very high expectations. I don’t know if it was the country itself, the people I met there, or the fact that I seemed to be hitting my travel stride two and a half months into my round-the-world trip, but I had found total comfort and happiness in Vietnam and wasn’t ready to leave it behind, no matter how exciting my subsequent plans.
The PARKROYAL Saigon making a grand impression
I had started in the north of the country and made my way south, with my last stop being Vietnam’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. While hostels had treated me phenomenally during my Vietnamese adventure (especially Vietnam Backpacker Hostels), my last two days included the special treat of staying at the beautiful PARKROYAL Saigon.
Castaways, Castaways, where to begin? I write this several days after returning, still trying to digest it all…and still trying to get the sand out of my hair. For backpackers in Vietnam, Vietnam Backpacker Hostels’ Castaways Island trip to Halong Bay is legendary. You’ll be hard-pressed to meet a young traveler who hasn’t been on the trip or at least hasn’t considered it. And, as I found out this week, there’s good reason for that.
Sunset in paradise
We departed from the Vietnam Backpacker Hostel in Hanoi bright and early and boarded a bus followed by a boat followed by another bus followed by another boat, but all of that was worth it the instant we set eyes on our final destination. Our home for the next two nights? A private beach with straw huts and blissfully soft sand surrounded by steep limestone cliffs. It was ours, all ours to make whatever we wanted of it.
With Easter (and therefore a weekend in Melbourne!) coming up fast, I started thinking about the years I’ve spent the holiday abroad, in Spain, Italy, and Australia, and the traditions I’ve been introduced to in each. Curious about how other countries celebrate, I asked a few fellow travel bloggers about the customs they’ve experienced abroad. Who knew Easter could be so multifarious?
American-style Easter in Sevilla back in 2012