Hoi An is a beautiful old town, it is packed with amazing little buildings and absolutely packed with tourists. Luckily we knew it would be this busy or it could have been a bit of a shock. At nighttime the streets were as busy as Oxford Circus but the lantern lit alleys and most delicious meals all made it worthwhile.
Our highlights included a fantastic cooking class with www.hoianecocookingclass.com We had a action packed morning that started with exploring the local markets. From there we went to the cooking school and started with some crab hunting (all crabs safely returned to the mangroves after) in bucket boats before the real fun of the cooking lesson. For two hours we were taught everything from how to make rice paper from scratch to firing up a tomato sauce for grilled eggplant.
Sophia and Olivia had very special treatment and pretty much did everything that we did. It all finished up with a grand lunch of all our creations.
We stayed at the Jade Hotel while in Hoi An - they had a calm, oasis of a garden with a great pool. What really made the place special though was the attention and kind service from Jesse. Nothing ever felt like too much trouble, every morning we had little messages on our plates and every afternoon when we returned we had petal and grass messages on our bed.
For our final night in this area we headed to the Sheraton Grand Da Nang though. It felt wonderful to have 24 hours of luxury. Apart from the amazing sea view the 240 meter pool easily kept us busy and was the best way to spend our time there.
From Hanoi we headed out to Ca Ba, an island to the South of Halong Bay. We headed here primarily to try the rock climbing and kayaking that Rob had read about. To get here we caught a 2 hour taxi to the Ben Binh pier and caught a 45 minute hydrofoil to the main town strip. It got a bit hairy towards the end and we later heard we were the last ferry for a couple of days to do that crossing.
Accomodation in Cat Ba town isn’t flash but we found a clean, basic place to call home for the next three nights. We spent out first day on a great kayaking and climbing tour with Asia Outdoors.
We took a beautiful junk boat out to islands in the bay to kayak for 2 hours, enjoy a lunch on board and then spend the afternoon on a deserted strip of beach climbing the huge cliffs.
The pictures tell it all but I was so proud of how well and fearless Sophia and Olivia were climbing to the top of each of the four climbs set up.
We enjoyed roof top drinks and dinner at Mona Restaurant and eating twice at Oasis 2 which had a pool to use. Everyone was so nice there and as the beaches were not what we expected this was a great way to cool down a bit with pizza and cold milkshakes.
After the calm and peace of Laos, Hanoi was a big change in pace. The first skill we had to master was crossing the road. These were jam packed with scooters carrying anywhere from one person to a whole household or people or belongings. It really just came down to getting up the nerve, looking for a gap and then making a determined, nerve racking effort.
Hanoi was filled with fantastic meals, from the street food to the modern restaurants.
Our two top restaurants in Hanoi were:
4Ps - mains were about 150,000 each and really worth it. This places was more upmarket than we have been used to but we felt like sitting down in an air con and for the girls to be able to have a pizza. They had a great been and wine list so I had a rare glass of wine here.
Hong Hoai’s This place is amazing, the food is fresh, comes in huge servings and really reasonable in price. The people working here are also super friendly and helpful so we tried a few dishes that we had never tried before. The make your own post lettuce wraps were a highlight!
If you are in Hanoi with kids, apart from all the great eating experiences, we’d recommend:
Water Puppet theatre - there are a few but we went to the Thang Long theatre near the lake. For about 100,000 dong each we enjoyed an hour show. So much we ended up buying a wooden water puppet after to remind us of our afternoon. With a live band and of course the amazing water puppet show it made a great, cool afternoon’s entertainment. http://www.thanglongwaterpuppet.org
Night Markets (and the more low key day one at Dong Xuan Market) - these are great for wandering and checking out the local specialities.
Vietnamese Womens Museum - created to share history and cultural heritage of Vietnamese women and improve gender equality, this museum was a really interesting walk through of marriage, birth, life, war and cultural celebrations in Vietnam http://www.womenmuseum.org.vn
Again we used grab taxis with our app everywhere. It made booking and paying so much easier when we sadly have no Vietnamese language understanding at all. Every single restaurants had wifi so we could always also order them home.
I had always heard amazing things about Laos but had also always wanted to travel near beaches and the water. I am so glad we found time this trip to spend a week in Luang Prabang and surrounds. Now I just want to back and explore more parts.
7 days was the perfect amount of time to see the main attractions around Luang Prabang and also take a side trip up a river off the Mekong to see rural life and the amazing scenery Laos seems packed with. For anyone planning a trip hopefully the below is helpful. Just expand beneath the photos. For more details on exactly what we paid, where we stayed or how we got around just contact me via the form and I can share our travel planner.
Click below to continue.
We had a hot, busy 6 days in Kuala Lumpur and Melaka, as the blog hasn’t been working I am going to just list all the amazing things we did. 3 days in each was still enough to do a lot and if we had planned in more time I would have extended the trip to some of the stunning East Coast islands.
After a whirlwind stop through Singapore and a new family member joining us (Batty the Bat) we were off to the Philippines and Cebu. We spent our first night in luxury at the Crimson Resort & Spa. It was fantastic with an awesome pool and kids area with its own pools, trampoline and pirate boat with a ball pit. The snorkelling just off the beach was also impressive with lots of different fish and a great jumping platform. If I thought Singapore was hot it had nothing on Cebu. It's like being in a saint walking outside. We left Mactan, Cebu City for Malapascua. It was a 4 hour van and quick boat to a small island famous for its Thresher Sharks.
After a long, painfully sleep lacking flavour that we arrived for our first pit stop in Singapore. Exhausted but with no hotel room available we went out exploring our neighbourhood. How lucky we were 5 minutes walk from a super cool little area with an amazing bakery, great shops and what looked like a tasty market.
Somehow the last couple of weeks have flown by and we are sitting in the lounge late at night waiting for our flight to be called.
Well Cancun to be more accurate. As we stayed in the hotel zone in Cancun I am very sure we only caught a glimpse of the real Mexico. What we saw we loved though. You read all the bad, scary stuff on travel forums and the media, in particular in America, which seems to pick up more of the frightening stories. We weighed it up carefully before booking and unlike a lot of the trip stayed in a major chain and in the offical tourist zone. Everything went really well and everyone we talked to was as lovely and kind as you could hope to expect.
Yes there are a lot of people stopping you and trying to sell you trips but they are friendly and fine when you say no thanks.
Top of our list for the trip was to make it to some Mayan ruins.
We left Wells as early as we could as we had a big day of driving up to Stowe. We stopped at White Mountain National National Park first where the girls swam in the river and we relaxed in the sun. We then moved onto explore Flume Gorge before finishing our drive to Stowe. It was a picturesque drive up through leaf peeping country as fall started to show its colours. After a late dinner at Trio Amigoes it was a quiet night before moving on. Ice cream awaits.
We left Stowe early to fit in a walk up a valley to a local waterfall before heading to the Ben & Jerry's Factory for a tour. I always love finding out how things are made and hearing a brand's story and the girls like ice cream so it was a great half hour break on our drive from Stowe across Vermont and up in to Canada and Montreal where we were heading. We heard all about the "cow to cart" journey of their chunky ice cream and its beginnings in Vermont in the late 70s after Ben and Jerry they took a $5 correspondence course from Penn State on ice cream making.
It was an interesting comparison to 'Mast' chocolate and its "bean to bar" story. Then it was back on the road for a border crossing and on to Montreal.