Sunday, 13 October 2019

Two weeks in Vietnam

After an unexpected ending to 2018, 2019 has been a year of travel. My most exciting adventure though was deciding to give up my job and head off to South East Asia for a few months to explore!

I'm writing this from a sunbed on the beautiful island of Phu Quoc. I've just finished the most incredible two weeks in Vietnam, which is easily one of my favourite countries to date. The people, the varying scenery, even the food!

We started our adventure in the North, with three days in Hanoi. This was definitely my favourite of Vietnam's bigger cities. The Old Quarter was particularly pretty, which is thankfully where we stayed (I'd really recommend the Old Quarter View hostel in Hanoi). It was such a good base for all of the things we wanted to see including Hoa Lo Prison, the Imperial Citadel and Hoàn Kiem Lake. Three days was the perfect amount of time to spend in Hanoi before heading to Ha Long Bay!

We chose to do the Oasis Bay party tour and I am so glad we did. As there were 5 of us we booked the private room with Jacuzzi and the private room on Freedom Island. It was so worth this as a group of five! Oasis Bay picked us up from our hostel based in the Old Quarter and we drove around 4 hours to Ha Long Bay before hopping on board. The first day was spent kayaking (which was utterly incredible!) and swimming before we achored up for the night. The night began with beer yoga on the deck, and drinking games followed dinner for what ended up being quite a heavy night! Getting up the next day for the boat to Freedom Island was a bit of a challenge but the island was the perfect place to be hungover. We paddle boarded, swam in the sea and played various games including beer Frisbee! The dinner setting on the beach was stunning and the staff kept bringing more and more food out. If you are looking for a party cruise, but don't fancy the apparently hard core castaways, Oasis Bay was ideal! I couldn't recommend the company enough, especially as they take you back to Hanoi after the tour as well.

Next up was Hue, and we hopped on a 13 hour night train which was an experience in itself. I actually slept surprisingly well! Hue was very very hot and actually one of my biggest surprises of the trip. I'll admit I hadn't heard amazing things but I really enjoyed our time in Hue.

I had one of the best meals of the trip at Elegance restaurant, and just genuinely enjoyed my time there! One day we did a scooter tour with local Vietnamese guides (which cost 295,000 Vnd - approx £10). I always said I wouldn't get on a scooter but when in Vietnam! The guides took us to five stops - the abandoned water park, bunker hill, incense village, Thien Mu pagoda and the Imperial city. Aside from the incense village, which was basically just a shop on our tour, I'd recommend all of the other sites! The views from Bunker Hill were breathtakingly beautiful. We also did a VR experience at the Imperial City which was fantastic and cost about £2!

Our next destination was Hoi An and we ideally wanted to get there via the Hai Van Pass. None of us were TOO keen on doing it on bikes so we were happy to find out our hostel (Vietnam Backpacker's) offered jeep tours. It cost about £60 all in which wasn't terrible. We stopped at a cemetery, many photo places and then at a beach for lunch. Honestly, it was one of the most beautiful beaches I had been to and it was the perfect stop before hitting the Hai Van Pass which was absolutely insane. The views were incredible and it was so much fun to experience it in a jeep. If you want to do the Hai Van Pass but not via bikes, have a look into this option as it was another of my favourite days!

Hoi An was a place I had been so excited for, and I have to say it let me down a little bit. Maybe it was where I was at in the trip, but I just found it a bit boring compared to where we had been before. It was undeniably pretty but I found it very geared to tourists and I definitely preferred some of the other places we visited. We didn't do loads whilst we were here because we were all so tired and we were staying a little way out of the town so maybe this impacted my view of my stay. Having said this, we did get traditional Vietnamese massages in Hoi An at the Hemp Spa. This spa opened at the start of September 2019, and it was incredible. We paid around £12 each for 1 hour and 40 minutes worth of treatment time (when I visited in Oct 19, the spa offered a discount for people staying at Vietnam Backpacker's in Hoi An, and also gave us a free 30 minute foot massage). I will be honest, this massage was painful but afterwards I felt amazing! It was such a lovely spa, with very friendly staff and I would definitely recommend it if you wanted to try a traditional Vietnamese massage.

After Hoi An, we flew down to Ho Chi Minh which was a manic place. If I thought Hanoi was crazy for bikes, Ho Chi Minh was insane! On our first day we visited the War Remnants museum. Allocate at least an hour or two for this as it isn't one you want to miss. It is incredibly upsetting, but informative. I learnt a lot and was thinking about what I had learnt for days after my visit too.

On our first evening, we visited the Bitexco Tower and did the Heineken tour which was great fun. You pay around 50,000 dong more than just visiting the Saigon skydeck, and we each got three beers (plus a few extras from people who didn't use their vouchers!). It was great fun, and set us up for a visit to a really busy street with loads of bars etc. The next day we visited Ben Thanh Market which was crazy but good to visit. We also visited Tan Dinh Church, which is bright pink and a good photo opportunity. Just around the corner is a local market, Tan Dinh Market, which was worth a look. Our final meal before leaving Ho Chi Minh was at Hum vegetarian restaurant. This was located next to the war remnants museum and it was one of the best meals I had all trip. I shared Pad Thai and Red Curry with Georgia, and it was delicious. The staff were lovely and the place felt a bit more upmarket without being too expensive (I think we paid around £10 each for a dish and a drink). Well worth a visit!

For our final five days in Vietnam, we're in Phu Quoc trying to catch up on sleep and washing. Next stop, Bangkok!

Friday, 1 March 2019

Four days in Budapest

 After hearing such fantastic things about the capital of Hungary, it was finally my turn to visit Budapest. Georgia from Mapped Out blog and I headed off for four days of fun over the August bank holiday weekend, and we were both thrilled when the city lived up to the raving reviews/our expectations. It's taken a while to write this up but I'm hoping to have a lot more travel content up soon!

Where to stay

We had booked the Hotel Museum Budapest which is located in the Jewish quarter of the city. Less than an hour away from the airport, and a 10 minute stroll from the centre of town, this hotel was amazing. The hotel was clean, our room was spacious and it wasn't too expensive (£100 each roughly for 3 nights). I'd definitely recommend it if you're looking for somewhere to stay.

What to do

There is a lot to see in Budapest, and four days felt like the perfect amount of time to cover everything we wanted to. We headed up to the Parliament Building on our first day, which is a spectacular building on the Pest side of the city. On the way there, you can visit the Shoes on the Danube memorial. This is a must-do on your trip, it is a very thought-provoking memorial, and a way to remember those who died.

We didn't go in to St Stephen's Basilica, but it is worth walking past as it is stunning - go at night too for an even better view.

On our second day it was raining, and we decided to head to the Szimpla Kert Farmers market. Whilst we weren't there for long, it was worth a visit and very much so feels like somewhere the locals would head to on a rainy Sunday morning. I'd also recommend heading back to this ruin bar in the evenings - the beer is incredibly cheap (less than £2 for half a litre!) and the atmosphere was good.

Just minutes away from the ruin bar is the Great Synagogue, which is the largest Synagogue in Europe (the second largest in the world), and it is stunning. It is such an impressive place of worship, and you can also visit a museum and memorial garden and cemetery for those who died in the Ghetto during world war two. It was a very moving experience.

We headed up to the Szechenyi baths on our third day, which were incredible. Get there early, and book tickets before you go - we arrived at around 9.30am I believe, and we didn't queue at all. The information I found online before I went was pretty confusing, but we purchased tickets for a cabin which is basically a lockable changing room where you can leave your belongings. It felt really safe actually, and your key to the changing room also allows you to lock the safes outside by the baths so you can take any phones/money outside with you. The baths were so much fun, and we really enjoyed our morning spent here. With two main baths outside, and many more inside, there are so many different ones to try!

On our final day, we headed across to the Buda side of the city for the day. We started off by taking the Funicular up the hill which offered some lovely views across the city (although, the one I went on in Prague was far better, cheaper and longer!). Once up the hill we headed towards St Mathias Church and the Fisherman's Bastion. St Mathias church was absolutely stunning - both outside and inside as well. I couldn't stop taking pictures, it was one of the loveliest churches I have been in. The Fisherman's Bastion is not what I expected, although it was stunning and offered gorgeous views of the city.

Where to eat/drink

Whenever I am abroad, food is high up on the list of things to do. We ate such amazing food in Budapest, I could have stayed a lot longer! This is not said lightly as I am usually incredibly fussy and can struggle to find place to eat. A few favourites include the Hummus Bar, Vintage Garden and Kajahu. Food is very affordable in Budapest, and we ate really well whilst we were away. If you're looking for somewhere instagrammable, head to Vintage Garden. Hummus Bar is quick, easy and delicious - it's a chain too with more than one dotted around the city. Kajahu was a very modern place, and you ordered on an ipad which was underneath the glass table - very cool!

Szimpla Kert is a great place to go for a beer as I mentioned earlier. However the bar that stole the show for us was right by the chain bridge overlooking the Danube river, I believe it's called Raqpart. We had a couple of drinks there as the sun set, and it was so magical. I had the Hugo cocktail whilst Georgia enjoyed some Aperol Spritz, both of which were very affordable, especially considering we were in a capital city.

I'm already looking forward to heading back for a day in June this year, before joining my first ever group tour!

Have you ever been to Budapest?

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