After a couple of days in central Vietnam, I took a night bus from Phong Nha to Hanoi. This would be the base of my travels in Northern Vietnam : Ha Giang and Castaways.
I arrived in Hanoi on Tuesday, March 5th, at 4:30AM and I shared a grab with Kurtis from Australia and with another guy to my hostel, VBH. Fortunately, they always have some nice comfortable sofas somewhere and so I got another couple of hours of sleep. When I got up, I didn’t want to just spend the day in the hostel and so I decided to join the free walking tour of my hostel from 10AM to 1PM. It was nice to get to know the Old Quarter of Hanoi, but the tour wasn’t great. We didn’t get any explanations and just walked around for a couple of hours…
In the afternoon I just relaxed and, by chance, I ran again into my friend Lukas from Switzerland. 🙂 We had a beer together and Kurtis and him waited with me until I was picked up for my « True North » tour. This is a motorbike tour in the Ha Giang province. The « Ha Giang loop » is very famous and I had heard a lot of good things about it, so I was very excited to do it! One day it’s organized by VBH and one day by Flipside, another hostel chain in Vietnam, and this time it was Flipside’s turn.
Me and 2 other girls were picked up at 6PM from VBH and brought to Flipside where we got to know our guide, Harri from Australia, and where we got all necessary information about the tour. It was a bit annoying that we hadn’t got this information earlier at VBH. For example, they collect clothes and distribute them to the poor people in the North (Ha Giang is actually the poorest region in Vietnam) ; I would have loved to give them some things (in the end I brought some of my clothes to Flipside for their next trip).
At first I was a bit shocked that we were only 3 girls doing the tour and they didn’t seem very happy to do the tour. Kristin and Jilly are from the Netherlands and had got bad information from VBH about the duration of the tour and they seemed to prefer staying amongst themselves… Harri seemed pretty nice so that was good at least. Later all that would change and we would actually all become good friends. 🙂
Our tour started at 8PM by taking a night bus to Ha Giang where we arrived at 5AM. Fortunately, we could sleep in the bus until 6AM when our guesthouse opened. There I got my bike and Harri did a short training session with me, showing me how to drive a semi-automatic bike (scooter). I had learned to ride automatic bikes, but never semi-automatic ; still, it was quite easy and I assured Harri that I would be able to do it and to keep up. The girls didn’t want to drive themselves and so Jilly rode with Harri and Kristin with Mr. Chung, our local guide.
Every day we did about 100 km and every night we stayed at a different place. The first night we stayed in a hostel/homestay in Yen Minh and the second night in a homestay in Dong Van.
The whole time it was quite cold and we got some rain, but it was amazing anyway : the landscape in Ha Giang and in the North in general is absolutely stunning! I understand why so many bike accidents happen there, it’s pretty difficult to concentrate on the road with such beautiful mountains around you. The road in itself wasn’t too bad, I was scared a few times on very narrow mountain roads and on unsecured wooden (hanging) bridges and the first day I fell down a couple of times but only because we took the muddiest and most awful off-road treks you can imagine! Still, it was fun! 😄
For food we always stopped at small local restaurants where I would probably never have dared going by myself, but the food really was fantastic! 🤤 We ate lots of Pho soups, spring rolls, rice, pork meat and vegetables.
Since it was always pretty cold, we went for some hot coffee or some rice wine a few times and the coffee in the North is really delicious (but very sweet)!
In one village, we even got to see how a local farmer makes Tofu, that was pretty cool, but just a few feed away seeing how they roast a pig leg on the street with a Bunsen burner was a bit disgusting.
Our first night was very quiet ; we had a few beers before dinner but went to bed pretty early after dinner. Except for Harri, none of us had slept well in the night bus and we were exhausted from our first full day on a motorbike.
The second day though was very different : it was Kristin’s birthday and so we had to celebrate! And we did that by drinking a few shots of home-made rice wine for lunch and later a lot more rice wine during and after dinner. It was a very fun day / night, but when Mr. Chaun came to join us after dinner and brought another bottle of rice wine things escalated pretty fast and we got super drunk! 😄 Jilly and I were very sick the next day, but it had been a great day, so worth all the trouble! 😉
The tour itself was probably the best thing I have done in my entire time in Asia (though I’ve done lots of cool things). It’s just that the whole experience was absolutely awesome : riding a bike, the mountains, the fresh air, the rivers and waterfalls, the good food and the great company. After our initial cold meeting at Flipside, we got to know each other much better and Jilly, Kristin and I become really good friends. Our guide from Flipside, Harri, was a very nice – and a bit crazy – guy and Mr. Chung was super funny and very nice. Each time I fell down or did something stupid or weird (once I put the helmet on the wrong way… 😄) he would have a blast, laughing and just making everything seem funny ; he also always had funny music on his bike. 😃
Also, the fact that we got to give some clothes that were collected by the Flipside hostel to the poor kids and people in these villages felt very gratifying.❤️
The views we got during the Ha Giang loop were absolutely amazing. Even though it was often rainy and foggy, the landscape was just stunning.
We even got to cross over to China on some Smuggler route (but PSST! 😉 ).
In the end I can only highly recommend the « True North » tour (with Harri and Mr. Chung). It was fantastic and I think I can proudly say that I’m not a disaster on a bike!
When I came back to Hanoi, I stayed another 2 nights at VBH – well, more 1 1/2 nights. We arrived at 4AM and I had luckily booked a room for the previous night so that I could check in immediately and could have another couple of hours of sleep before getting up. 🙂
I spent this day mostly with Jilly and Kristin, walking around the Old Quarter, shopping for souvenirs in the central market and eating. It was a very nice day even though all of us were a bit tired.
In the late afternoon, I went back to my room to get some rest but, of course, that wasn’t going to happen! 😄 My dorm was full of people (Justin from Canada, Lars and Nico from Germany, Molly from England and Sebastian from the US) and we got into talking about travel stuff like bed bucks. When I asked if anyone had done or was going to do Castaways the next day, Justin told us that he had just been there and since the others didn’t know much about the tour, he started telling us stories about it, making everybody very eager to do it as well! 😄 Most of them wanted to wait one more day to go, but Sebastian had no plans and so he decided to join me the next day. I was very happy to go with someone I knew! 😃
Our dorm that night was actually great and we all spent the night together (Jilly and Kristin joined us later) singing karaoke in the hostel, drinking way too much beer and dancing in some club around the corner. At some point Jilly, Kristin and I went to Flipside to have a beer with Harri and we all went to the club together. It was such a fun night! 😃 ❤️
The next morning was a bit hard : Sebastian and I had to get up at 6AM because the Castaways tour would leave at 7AM. It was funny though because 2 other guys had to get up at the same time and somehow everyone in the room woke up and we talked about what happened the last night (Molly e.g. got a piercing!😄) and it was pretty funny!
The Castaways tour is very famous in Hanoi because it’s basically a 3-days-drinking-tour to a private island on Halong Bay but it’s very expensive and so there aren’t as many people doing it as you would expect (this tour including food and drinks cost me more than 300€ for 3 days!). In our group, we were about 20 people and it really was an awesome group ! There were Sebastian, Ryan and Kegan from the US, Beth from Australia, Aby and Harry from England, 3 Swedish girls, 1 Dutch girl, 6 crazy German guys and 4 Indians. The Indians kept mostly to themselves and I didn’t much like a few of the Germans but in general we were a really cool group!
Our « guides » (I don’t know if you can really say that here, more like animators), were Ish from Scotland and Sean from England ; they were both a lot of fun and both crazy! There was also Rob who was the animator of the other group there and he was definitely crazy but deep down a nice guy. Still, the absolute most crazy guy in our group was Sebastian! 😆
When you’re on Castaways, you’re always with 1 other group : there is 1 group arriving and 1 group there the 2nd day. When we arrived, first we were alone and we did some activities like high-speed tubing and rock climbing. Around 4PM the other group came back from the cruise that every group does on the 2nd day and they were all super nice as well. We weren’t a crazy drinking group, but we did get pretty drunk during the early evening and kept going until 1AM, playing drinking games and dancing to Ish’s music. It was a lot of fun!
On our second day, I was in the best mood just because I was having so much fun! 😊 After breakfast and a shower we started our booze cruise and that was really great! You get to see some of the islands, we could jump off the boat at some points and we did kayaking. Ish told us some funny and some pretty disgusting stories and we drank a lot of alcohol!
When we came back there was a new group on the island and Sebastian and I was happy to see that except for Justin and Lars all our dorm mates from VBH had actually come!
That night I was super tired – like most of the others – and I needed a long nap before coming back to the dance floor but it was still a good night.
And that was Castaways and my goodbye from my big adventure : around the world in 13 months… Castaways was definitely great for that : meeting lots of nice people, getting very drunk, partying hard and having an amazing last couple of days! ❤️
Back in Hanoi I kept a low profile, not feeling so well. I spent some time with those of my friends who were still there (Harri, Ryan, Harry and Sebastian) and I bought some last souvenirs but that’s about it. The only thing I did before leaving was the « Backstreet bike tour » in Hanoi and that was pretty good. We were 2 girls in the tour and our 2 guides drove us around the best and the worst areas of Hanoi, showing us the authentic life there and really great food. Funny enough, I knew Kate, we both were sure that we had met somewhere before but we can’t remember where! 😄
And as a last goodbye from my travels and from the biggest adventure of my life, I got one last time food poisoning… Being sick then made it actually less hard to leave although I would have loved to spend more time with all the friends I had made in Vietnam and who were all travelling south…