The Alternative Guide to Northern Vietnam

Going on holiday to a popular country always poses the same problem: wanting to see the very best sights the country has to offer whilst not feeling too much like a tourist on the same tourist trail as everyone else. Balancing these two desires can be somewhat of a nightmare and at times is unavoidable. This is certainly true of Vietnam, an incredibly popular country to visit with some striking attractions including Ha Long Bay, the rice terraces of Sapa and the enchanting historic town of Hoi An. However this is a also a country well versed in tourism which unfortunately can result in a lot of scams, overcrowded attractions and pushy agents. This should absolutely not deter you, this is one of my favourite countries with so much to offer, you just need to know how to handle it! That’s where I come in.

Visit Bai Tu Long Bay instead of Ha Long Bay

Bai Tu Long Bay by Adam Straney on Flikr
Bai Tu Long Bay by Adam Straney on Flikr

Whilst Ha Long Bay is beautiful, many agents will fail to mention that it’s often overcrowded with boats and has a real rubbish problem. You can still find unspoilt corners of this adventure playground if you go with the right agency, but I preferred Bai Tu Long Bay just next door. It’s much quieter, cleaner and very impressive despite the limestone karsts being slightly smaller.

Avoid Sapa and head to Pu Luong National Park

Pu Luong by Nguyen Vinh Quang on Flikr
Pu Luong by Nguyen Vinh Quang on Flikr

Sapa is a truly unique destination for the impressive rice terraces that cling to the mountainsides. However to visit in peace is unheard of. The local Hmong People are infamous for their pushiness and guilt trips and you must be prepared to be firm. Personally I decided against visiting here because of this well oiled tourism racket and the fact that in May it wasn’t the best time to see the rice terraces anyway. For a more peaceful experience of the rice terraces my first recommendation is actually India, on the roads leading the Himalayas from Rishikesh, a dazzling experience that surpasses that of Vietnam by miles. But as this is a post about Vietnam, I suggest heading for Pu Luong National Park, lower in altitude and less mountain clinging, but impressive all the same.

Stay in Tam Coc instead of Ninh Binh

Tam Coc by Tuan Mai on Flikr
Tam Coc by Tuan Mai on Flikr

Another popular place to visit in Northern Vietnam is Ninh Binh, known for it’s limestone karsts that lie amongst the rivers ad rice paddies nearby. Traditionally people stay in the closest town of Ninh Binh which certainly has a rustic charm to it if you take the time to cycle through the back streets. But if the real reason you’re here is to experience the natural wonders, stay in Tam Coc instead which boasts much more beautiful natural views and direct access to the network of caves and rivers you came here to explore. With no ATMs nearby we cycled to Ninh Binh one hot afternoon (you must know where to go to make this a gorgeous ride instead of a life threatening one down a motorway!) which we thoroughly enjoyed but without a doubt, the experience was far more magical because we woke up each morning surrounded by lush green jungles and bird songs.

Stay on the outskirts of Hoi An

The ancient town of Hoi An by Chris Hoare on Flikr
The ancient town of Hoi An by Chris Hoare on Flikr

This UNESCO World Heritage ancient town is stunning, but completely crowded most of the time. This should absolutely not deter you, although I usually despise tourist traps this place is an exception. It’s like a fairy tale it’s so beautiful! To get some respite from the madness though, I suggest staying on the outskirts of town half way between the old town and the beach. This of course makes it easier to get to the beach if you desire, but also gives you wonderful views of the surrounding rice terraces (if you pick the right hotel and room), and a lovely bike ride into town each day which takes you through some of the more authentic parts of town.

Hanoi

Hanoi by Adam Straney on Flikr
Hanoi by Adam Straney on Flikr

This will most likely be the start or finishing point of your journey, and is abundant in delicious food. If you want to create your own food tour here instead of doing an organised tour (which I highly recommend!), simply take some of my recommendations from this previous blog post and download a maps.me vietnam offline map to mark all the places you want to go. It’s an easy town to get around, if not a bit chaotic, just keep your wits about you and savour the wonderful tastes!

The 6 Best Places To Eat In Singapore

One of the main activities in Singapore is eating. I learned this on our first day when we arrived at our first Hawker Centre, completely bemused by the sheer amount of stalls serving up all kinds of dishes I wanted to try. A family sitting near by sensed my curiosity and asked us to sit down with them and try their breakfast. A sort of crispy pancake that you dip into sugar and coconut. Delicious. The old grandma in the corner started motioning with her walking stick for her daughter to go and buy us a plate, she willingly obliged and a lovely brunch ensued. We were quite taken aback by their hospitality, and ever so grateful for it. I’d like to pay it forward and tell you about the most wonderful eating experiences I had in Singapore so you may enjoy it as much as we did. Continue reading “The 6 Best Places To Eat In Singapore”

Getting off the Beaten Track in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand

Courtesy of Kirk Gillock
Courtesy of Kirk Gillock

When we arrived in Thailand last year we were faced with the same problem many tourists find themselves faced with when planning a trip to Thailand. We wanted a relaxing beach to go to that wasn’t too far away from Bangkok, that wasn’t too touristy (you can cross Pattaya off your list straight away) and not too expensive (that cancels out Koh Samet too!) Where could we go?

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What The Guidebooks Don’t Tell You About Travelling in Myanmar

Shwedagon Pagoda
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

Our trip to Myanmar in March was an interesting one. It was not a country I immediately fell in love with, nor do I love it wholly and completely like I do most other countries in south east Asia. The reasons for this will become clear throughout this article, but I wouldn’t want any of them to deter you from travelling there. Being prepared and planning your trip well will reward you with a unique experience that you’re sure to want to repeat, and learning from our mistakes and understanding the country a bit before you travel will certainly temper your expectations.

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Searching for Tranquility in Northern India

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No matter how much research or planning you do before your holiday to India, nothing can prepare you for the culture shock of arriving in Delhi. Having been on a relatively tranquil holiday to Goa and Kerala 5 years ago, I thought I was prepared for a bit of jostling and staring on our trip to Rajasthan and the Golden Triangle, but this was another level. I had planned our two week trip to be a taster of the royal state, plenty of palaces and forts and vibrant towns bursting with colour and street food. But it wasn’t long before the bubble burst and we realised it wasn’t going to be as easy as we thought. The noise of the horns beeping was unbearable compared to the blissful beaches of Thailand we’d been sitting on 2 days before. I was stared at relentlessly and shocked numerous times on the first day by the beggars and dying cows in the road. I was going to have to make some serious changes to this trip if we were to enjoy it.

(All photos in this post are from our trip, and mostly credited to my partner, Mickael Augello)

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I travelled for 10 months in 21 countries, these were my top 10 moments

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This was not an easy list to compile, but a fun one. We had so many great times on our trip of a lifetime it’s hard to pick just 10, but these are the ones that brought tears to my eyes, made me feel free and made the times when it was difficult worth it. All photos were taken on our trip.

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3 Days in Hong Kong: what to eat, explore and do in the evening

Tsim Sha Tsui Waterfront
Tsim Sha Tsui Waterfront

It’s not much, but it’s enough to get a taste and a glimpse of this surprising country. Each of the three main islands, Hong Kong, Kowloon and Lantau, have their own distinct character and charm. A day on each is plenty, it’s a small country after all. But you don’t want to rush around or miss any of the numerous highlights on this short trip, so follow my guide for the best eats, sights and treats.

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3 Temple Experiences You Can’t Miss in Southeast Asia

Sunrise over the plains of Bagan
Sunrise over the plains of Bagan

Asia is a continent of wonder to me, having grown up in England, and despite visiting on holidays in the past I felt compelled to spend longer here to immerse myself in the many different cultures within. About a year ago my partner and I decided to quit our jobs in London to explore the world, determined to find the most beautiful and secluded spots that have to be seen to be believed. For four hot months we hopped around South East Asia soaking up as much culture as we could; eating delicious food, learning the language, and trying to understand the histories that made these countries great.

I love to research and find the highlights for the counties I visit before I get there, and it was clear that the first three countries on our itinerary, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia, all had impressive ancient temples to explore. I’d heard great things about Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple complex, and a few travellers who like to go off the beaten track had mentioned the wonders of Myanmar’s Temples of Bagan and Thailand’s Sukothai Archaeological Zone. I couldn’t wait to explore all three sites and see for myself what each place had to offer and which one I would love the most.

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Hanoi Street Food: What to eat and where to eat it

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Hanoi – Vietnam

Whilst not all of my favourite street food in Hanoi are served on the street, this shouldn’t deter you as I have high standards, and sometimes that involves sitting on an adult sized chair in a ventilated room.

If you’re a serious foodie, it’s worth downloading an offline map like maps.me and saving your favourite places that you want to visit so you can find them more easily.

This is also a good time to mention that if a restaurant becomes popular, a copy cat will eventually pop up next door. If in doubt, always go to the busy one that isn’t vying desperately for your business.

Here’s my top pick of delicious dishes to be found in Hanoi, and my favourite places to eat them:

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6 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in India

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India is a huge and varied country and if you’re planning a holiday there, it will be an experience you’ll never forget, but you want to make sure that’s for the right reasons. The first thing to note is that it will be a very different trip depending on where you go. Most people choose to head to Goa and Kerala for a chilled out hedonistic holiday by the beach, others choose Rajasthan for the historical forts and palaces or if you’re into yoga or trekking the Northern States might be more up your street. Whichever area you go for, don’t forget that this is a country like no other, and mishaps can be easily avoided by following some of my key tips.
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