Hoan Kiem Lake

One of the key features of Hanoi is Hoan Kiem Lake. A large body of water in the centre of the city with a small temple in the middle.

Meaning Lake of the Returned Sword or Lake of the Restored Sword, it’s a fresh water lake in the historic centre of Hanoi.

Near the northern shore of the lake lies Jade Island on which the Temple of the Jade Mountain (Ngoc Son Temple) stands.

The temple was erected in the 18th century. It was built in commemoration of Tran Hung Dao, a 13th century military leader

Centuries old rituals are played out in the temple every day, including the ritual sounding of bells.

Alters groan under the weight of offerings including fruit, cake and incense.

Colourful carved painted wood and sumptuous fabrics adorn the temple.

There’s intricate murals to the entrance of the temple, before you pay for a ticket, cross the bridge and head over the water.

Jade Island is connected to the shore by the wooden Thê Húc Bridge, painted vermillion red.

The bridge’s name translates as “Perch of the Morning Sunlight”.

Hanoi hustle

Our last few hours of tranquillity in Nihn Bihn are spent exploring Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam.

Behind us below is the temple dedicated to Đinh Tiên Hoàng that was constructed by local residents in order to honour Dinh Bo Linh, the first emperor of Vietnam.

Then our last moments of calm are over as we’re heading back to the hectic crowds of Hanoi.

As you reach the outskirts of the city, the traffic starts to pile back up!

We’re once again having a flying, one day visit to Hanoi as we’re heading off on another trip, but we’ve still time to explore.

One of my all time favourite things is markets and there is no better place to see amazing, colourful, bustling markets, than in Asia.

With the added bonus of the picturesque, traditional conical Vietnamese hats.

No matter what you’re after, whether its a cuddly toy, fresh fruit or colourful fabric, you’re bound to find a shop or stall that is flogging it!

Next up we’re off to explore the pretty little temple that sits at the heart of the city’s Hoan Kiem Lake.

Back on two wheels

Having ridden more in a week than I have in the past 20 years it’s back in the saddle to enjoy some of the stunning scenery that Nihn Bihn has to offer.

The incredible scenery starts literally outside our little hotel with towering green hills and placid ponds.

So many shades of green to enjoy – and so many uncomfortable bikes!

The sky looks grey and sullen but the humidity is through the roof – so ideal conditions for my lardy backside to be on a saddle.

The lush green rice fields stretch as far as the eye can see and I don’t think I will ever get tired of that view.

Pro-cyclist hubby has barely broken a sweat while I am trying very hard not to cough up a lung . . .

But the scenery quickly puts a cheesy smile back on my sweaty little face!

We cycle past isolated little houses nestled at the foot of huge limestone stacks.

It really is some of the most incredible scenery I have ever seen in my travels.

Reflecting on all this outdoor space, while self isolating due to the current coronavirus pandemic is starting to give me cabin fever!

We finally make it to our final stop, a tiny little local restaurant where we are stuffed full of local cuisine, including a Ninh Bihn speciality which is sort of like a large savoury rice crispy cake that you cover in sauce. Lovely!

Here’s the husband trying some goat wrapped in leaves!

Sampan rowing at Tam Coc

We’re up early and out in order to take a sampan trip along the meandering canals throughout the three tunnel grottoes that give the area its name -Tam Coc.

We’re all set to enjoy the stunning landscape of mountains, canals, rice paddies and rural villages that makes up the National Natural Reserve zone known as Ha long Bay on the ground.

The mainly female rowers make it look easy with most of them using their feet to propel the oars through the water!

Tam Coc is a watery paradise with looming karst stacks smothered with greenery.

During the trip you pass through Tam Coc – three long, dark tunnel-caves -Hang Ca, Hang Giua and Hang Cuoi.

It barely feels like there’s enough head room to squeeze through so it must be harder still when the water is higher.

But the payoff is emerging back into the bright sunshine to gaze at the stunning scenery again.

The area is getting more and more commercialised however and we’re warned by our guide not to fall for the high pressure sales tactics, especially at the half way point where your rower will try and get you to buy them a drink from waiting sellers, only to sell it straight back to them for half the price!

However, hard sell tactics aside, this really is an incredible place to visit and the landscape is hard to beat.

Of course the hubby wants to give it a go! And our rower is only too happy to take a back seat for a while.

I love this peaceful snap that I managed to get of one of the rowers just paddling lazily as she waits to snap pics of tourists.

Meanwhile everyday life continues along the river banks with people washing, cooking and occasionally waving at the endless procession of boats that float past them.

Bich Dong pagoda

During our enforced no travel due to coronavirus period 😦 I’m continuing to document last year’s amazing trip to Vietnam.

Having ticked off Ha Long Bay we’ve headed to Nihn Bihn.

It’s another early morning and we’re off to explore more of Nihn Bihn including Bich Dong pagoda.

This beautiful pagoda was built by two monks Tri Kien and Tri The in the early 18th century.

Bich Dong Pagoda is the perfect combination of ancient pagodas with cross-covered roofs, natural caves and majestic mountains, all hidden in the green of tropical forests

Bich Dong is a series of temples. The Lower Pagoda is located at the base, from which 100 steps lead to the Middle Pagoda, where there’s a shorter but steep ascent to the Upper Pagoda.

Lying Dragon mountain

Following our amazing trip to Ha Long Bay we’re heading straight into another trip, this time a private tour to Tam Coc – known as Ha Long on land.

Check out this incredibly laden moped – complete with very breakable vases! An everyday sight in hectic Vietnam.

Our first stop is to Lying Dragon mountain.

We’re about to ascend the 450 stone steps that wind up the mountain in the shape of a contorted dragon’s back.

Luckily the steps are fairly well-maintained and offer incredible views along the way.

There’s a far amount of steps to reach the summits. Hence some huffing and puffing and some rather red faces!

But it is worth it as the views are some of the best to be had in the area, if not in the whole of the north!

Heading down is easier than heading up! But it plays havoc on my creaky old knees . . . .

Ignore the beetroot face – enjoy the stunning views!!

Even the super fit hubby is perspiring a little bit – so I am vindicated!!

Below us the green rice paddies spread out as far as the eye can see like a verdant carpet.

The green mountains are so gigantic that we look like little ants when posing in front of them.

As dusk sets in we’ve reached the ground again, just in time to see all the cute little lanterns lighting up like a fairy tale grotto.

It’s all just too cute! Yes it might be set up for tourists, but as the sun sets and the lights twinkle, it really doesn’t matter.

Take a little stroll with us in the Nihn Bihn scenery.

Cat Ba and floating villages

We’re spending an evening in the Hung Long Harbour Hotel on Cat Ba Island which has a perfect view out over the bay.

For thousands of years, Halong Bay has been populated by small local communities living on floating villages tucked away in between the dramatic karst landscapes.

The bay is home to a several floating villages with floating homes, fish farms and boats.

This one is the largest – Cua Van Floating Village with around 200 colourful boats.

Originally these villages were built as a place for returning fishermen to sell their fresh catch from the night before.

However they soon become more – thriving little floating communities with schools, shops and socialising.

However people no longer live here full time as the Vietnamese government ordered the villagers to move out several years ago due to ecological concerns.

Now they function mainly as tourist attractions and stop offs from the cruise boats.

They are still an intriguing sight to see though with the floatilla of colourful boats and homes bobbing on the water of the bay.

Kayaking again

We’re back in the tiny plastic boats again! The hubby is happy, I am having flashbacks to having to roll back into the kayak like a drunk walrus . .

This time we’re exploring a few of the hidden little coves in the bay, like this one below.

All in all it’s been an active packed few days and I am ready for a rest. So quite thankful that we’ll be spending a night on dry land on Cat Ba island next!

Team Gibbs Cycling

Here’s a few more snaps from our little cycling tour around Viet Hai village and the surround area.

Due to its isolated location the village feels a little like a trip back in time with traditional ways of life still in existence.

Located deep in the Cat Ba National park, the area is engulfed in lush, green jungle.

But despite being very remote, the villagers have embraced the concept of eco-tourism and you can stay in one of several home stays in the area.

We have a enjoyable (if somewhat panic striken) cycle around the village and the surrounding countryside before heading back to the boat.

This has to be one of my favourite photos so far as the scenery is just stunning!

Viet Hai village

So we’ve done the stunning scenery, kayaked the bay – now it’s cycling time!

We dock at Viet Hai, get on our rather rickety bikes and we’re off to explore the verdant countryside on our way to Viet Hai village.

Can you spot the tiny rider in the middle of all that amazing greenery on the left?!

It’s been approximately ten years since I have plonked my bum on a bike seat and when they say you never forget how to ride – it’s a total lie!

That’s not enjoyment in my eyes- that’s total fear and panic . . .

Viet Hai village is in the midst of jungles, surrounded by high mountains and is situated in the heart of Cat Ba National Park.

It really is worth it for the breath taking scenery. Verdant mountains tumble down to glassy lakes and the greenery has to be seen to be believed.

There’s more photos from this lovely little trip in the next post so come back soon!!!