Close to the northwest border of Vietnam is Sapa, a small mountain market town surrounded by villages and endless tiers of rice fields. Katie and I had heard and seen pictures of this perfect place and were excited to experience it together. I will warn you, these pictures are nothing compared to the actual experience. I can't capture all that green with a camera. This place was incredible.

We took an overnight train via Livitrans. I highly recommend the highest class available, our second class tickets were less than semi-comfortable. Think waking up in a moving train from a fitful sleep in the heat.. like, at least 85 degrees. Oh, at five in the morning.

So we arrived at the station and met our tour guide, Tae. He told us a little about growing up in Sapa, and explained to us the growing tourist attraction that it was, this being his fifth year as a tour guide. The drive into the town was breathtaking, clouds surrounded us as our van climbed higher and higher. Tae explained a little history of Sapa, and pointed out that from the highest point, which is also the highest point in the country, you can see into China.

Our van stopped outside the garden entrance to the Panorama Hotel, where we were greeted by a group of hill-tribe women. These girls come to Sapa every day to meet and greet tourists. Their English is some of the clearest English I had heard since arriving in Vietnam, considering how much they were able to practice. We headed up to the hotel, showered and enjoyed a relaxing breakfast overlooking the town, then it was trek time. Before leaving the town, we wandered around a bit, the hill-tribe girls followed us everywhere. Essentially, they were a part of the tour. They follow you around and are, truly, as sweet as can be, but in the end, they're hoping you'll buy some of their handicrafts, beautiful and bright scarves, bracelets and bags. "I follow you, you buy from me."

Tae led us through the rice fields and a few villages. Several of these villages have become so used to tourists that all you see are the villagers who cater to those passing through. The scenery and the people were beautiful. We passed others on a larger tour, got to peak into a couple schools nestled among the mountains, and stared gaping at the majesty of creation. Definitely something I'll never forget.

After our trek we were able to freshen up again, grab a vietnamese coffee at Le Gecko, a little cafe next to the hotel. After dinner at our same spot overlooking the town, we boarded another overnight train to Hanoi to begin our flights back to Thailand.

While in Sapa we met several tourists who were dedicating much more time to Vietnam than we were, and hearing about the places they'd been just solidified our interest in coming back to Vietnam one day. Halong Bay, Ninh Binh, and more time in the cities. Our entire trip was a little stressful and exhausting but I'm looking forward to (possibly) going back. Trying to backpack an entire country in five days is definitely not long enough.


One of the first thoughts I had coming into Hanoi was that it reminded me a lot of Charleston. The bridge coming from the airport made me think of the Cooper River Bridge, and the old Europe-gone-awry feel brought me back to walks down little alleys around Cannon Street.

We'd gotten in pretty late the night before to our hotel, The Artisan, so we high-tailed it to sleep before an early morning to take in as much of the city as possible. We ate breakfast at a cafe next door to our room while overlooking the street, loosely planning our day. You just try to look through these photos and not see all the French-i-ness here. What a beautiful city.

We were fortunate to be within a short distance of Hoàn Kiếm Lake, where our morning began. An extremely helpful Vietnamese man helped us find good places to visit, beginning with City View Cafe, where we were able to see the whole lake as well as take in the business from above. On the seemingly endless coffee tour we found ourselves on, we had some iced espresso, something I've always looked for since Café Strudel in South Carolina. Vietnam is definitely a winner in the coffee category, and we're not even done, here.

Over a bridge into the lake sits the Temple of the Jade Mountain. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but this little island was full of color and Chinese culture as found in the city. 

Enter phase three of "we shouldn't have paid that much for that." We took cyclo tours around the old quarter, and our first impression was the most sensory experience in the whole of our time in the country. Talk about color, smell, sounds. Talk about a huge dose of local life. Our drivers were nice enough to let us off to walk around and shop if we wanted, but from the road we were even able to get some insight into what life in Hanoi is all about for the locals.

One thing Vietnam is known for in regards to food is Banh Mi. This is a type of baguette sandwich with pretty much whatever you want in it. Normally you order it at a food stand on the side of the road, but when we stopped at La Café for lunch we tacked it on to our order of crêpes and caramel creme.

After lunch we scurried over to Thang Long Water Puppet Theater to see a (completely in Vietnamese) water puppet show. There were sparks, there was smoke, and it was truly something I'd never seen before or could have even thought of on my own. Imagine marionettes tied with synchronized swimming. 

Of the two souvenirs I took home, coffee made the list. "Weasel Coffee" is a big deal in Vietnam, and you can read more about how that works here. We googled and searched for the best place to buy these beans and were pleasantly surprised by a shop where two cute Vietnamese girls let us try the different roasts before buying: with excessive amounts of sweetened condensed milk, of course.

Before heading around the lake to catch a taxi to the train station, we stopped for dinner at Green Tangerine, a delightful and delicious French restaurant with an Asian flair. We ordered things like vegetable ravioli and green tea cakes with salmon and cheese. Bougie if I've ever seen it. 

With one last pass around the lake to kill time, we booked it over to Fanny Ice Cream per the recommendation of friends who had been to Hanoi before. The cinnamon flavored ice cream was to die for, just like they said, since apparently Hanoi is known for it's great cinnamon. Our last stroll around the lake was breathtaking. Definitely looking forward to more time in this capital city.


During the Thai new year celebration, Katie and I had a hefty long weekend up our sleeves and we decided to backpack Vietnam... in five days. It was quite a feat, and I think we did pretty well for ourselves. Our first stop was Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, depending on how you look at it. We had a taxi driver who liked to use Saigon, and met several others who said HCMC. I'm partial to the historic aspect, so we'll go with Saigon.

The differences we noticed after arriving from Thailand were pretty small, like the degree of honking and the increase (was it possible?!) in the number of motorbikes. We arrived in the city and got to our first destination, Saigon Central Post Office and Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, right as the sun was about to set. You can see the change in the sky and the light pretty drastically, the following images only span about ten minutes.

A cute little old lady selling bananas outside the post office lured us into buying some overpriced fruit and trying out her balancing act. Fun, and just the beginning of our "how much should this be?" woes throughout the week.

On our unofficial coffee tour of the city, we stopped at Highlands Coffee per the recommendation of the friend we were staying with in the city. Vietnamese Dong is all in thousands, so we were feeling pretty rich as we fumbled through converting things from dong to baht to dollars.

Brit met us us at one of her favorite phở restaurants, which I couldn't find online if my life depended on it. Couldn't come to Vietnam without trying phở, (pronounced "fuh?") so we spent our first meal in the city eating a sort of glorified kuaythiaw. Delicious, nonetheless.

To finish the evening we had some sweetened condensed milk with a side of coffee (essentially) at Trung Nguyên, another Vietnamese coffee shop. The Vietnamese way to drink coffee is such. I'm not opposed to sweet coffee, but that stuff was pure nom.

One thing we miss a ton of in Thailand is Chai Tea Lattes. The ones in Saigon were just like America! We were pretty sad to say we didn't have time to get a second one, but the amount of coffee we consumed during this trip without a second CTL was enough to replace all the water in our bodies.

On another note: Vietnam has so much French influence, do any research on Vietnamese history and you'll see why. Several of the buildings have a very French air about them, in Hanoi especially, which I'll post a blog about soon!

Our last time with Brit, the best host in the world, was at Quán Bụi, a fantastic little boutique Vietnamese restaurant. If you ever get to go, make sure you get the spring rolls and the garlic fried rice, which Katie has made for us back at home twice since this trip. Delicious.

As far as Saigon, our last coffee stop was Shelter, a cute little four story coffee house in the middle of a busy part of town. Aside from a really tasty brew, this place had the cutest atmosphere I had yet seen in SGN, and I wish we had found it earlier and planned a second stop. Can you tell I sweat coffee?

Katie and I both have family members who have been in the military, and as tourists in Saigon, we had to stop at the War Remnants Museum. This place was crazy packed with tourists from all over, we even ran into a girl who had sat next to us on the flight to SGN. Propaganda from Nam was all over the inside of the museum, phrases like "USA out of SEA" papering the walls in mint condition like the war was last year or something. A storm rolled in just as we were leaving and we spent about ten minutes trapped under the wing of a plane in the yard before running through the puddles to catch a way-too-expensive taxi.