En route to Sapa

I am finally dragged away from the fantastical Bac Ha market and we’re on our way to Sapa, our final destination for the day.

Enroute we visit one of the many traditional hill tribe villages to get a sense of what life is like in the green hills around Sapa.

This is Trung Do village of the Tay minority. Situated in the stunning verdant hills, it is a very simple, basic even, way of living.

The villagers main employment is farming and livestock and you can find animals everywhere! Many of which will end up at Bac Ha market.

The landscape in this rugged terrain is simply incredible. It’s one of the greenest places I have ever visited.

Here’s some very grainy footage of some of the amazing scenery as we wind our way upwards to Sapa.

We can already start to see the rice fields, laid out in little squares and terraces.

And a photo stop at a viewing platform gives me the first proper panorama of the rice terraces, something I have wanted to see for over a decade!

Absolutely amazing! And there will be LOTS more where that came from!

But for we now we can sit back and relax in Sapa with a cocktail and a view to treasure forever!!

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.

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!!!

Surprise Cave

After a relaxing night onboard our cosy boat it’s an early start to beat the crowds to one of Ha Long Bay’s most famous caves.

We’re heading towards Surprise Cave that was discovered by the French in 1901.

A place so amazing that the French deemed it “Grotte des Surprises” or (Surprise Grotto), Sung Sot Cave is one of the biggest, most beautiful caves in Halong Bay.

From the dock below, visitors must climb 50 stairs to the grotto’s mouth, which is just 25 meters above the sea.

Sung Sot Cave is divided into two chambers; the first chamber, known as the “Waiting Room” is vast, adorned by stalagmites and stalactites and lit by multicolored lights positioned to complement the chamber’s structural beauty.

It’s so big that it really does feel like another world. As you look at it, you could be mistaken for thinking you’d landed on some alien planet.

In the misty distance below you can see an eye-catching rock formation that thrusts into the air.

It is shaped like a horse with a long-sword and is linked to the legend of Thanh Giong (God Gióng).

It is said that Thanh Giong protected locals by defeating demons and evil spirits, and once his work was done he ascended to the heavens, leaving behind a stone horse and sword to continue to drive away any future aggressors.

After toiling away in the darkness we then take the vertiginous climb up Mount Ti Top for some truly amazing views across the bay.

If you’ve ever seen a picture of Halong Bay, probably it was taken from the top of Ti Top Island.

While it is a (very) steep climb of a few hundred steps to the observation deck on the summit of Ti Top mountain that reveals a panoramic view of Ha long Bay – it is still definitely worth the effort.

The 360° view is nothing short of breathtaking and you can spend an hour or more at the summit viewing and photographing Ha long Bay.

Ha Long Bay scenery

After our first day of canoeing and exploring we’ve got a relaxed evening on board our Vega Travel boat to chillax and enjoy the scenery.

Designated a World Heritage Site in 1994, Halong Bay’s scatter of islands is a beautiful sight and, unsurprisingly, northern Vietnam’s number one-tourism hub.

Hạ Long Bay has an area of around 1,553 km2 (600 square miles), including between 1,960 and 2,000 islets, most of which are limestone.

Again it might look a little grey but believe me it is flippin hot and humid!

The name Hạ Long means “descending dragon” and the bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various shapes and sizes.

Ha Long Bay is the centre of a larger zone which includes Bai Tu Long Bay to the northeast, and Cát Bà Island to the southwest.

Of course, it can’t be too quiet – given the chance the hubby will hurl himself off anything!!

According to local legend, when Vietnam had just started to develop into a country, they had to fight against invaders.

To assist the Vietnamese in defending their country, the gods sent a family of dragons as protectors.

This family of dragons began spitting out jewels and jade. These jewels turned into the islands and islets dotting the bay, linking together to form a great wall against the invaders.

Ha Long Bay

Our first trip in Vietnam is to a spot I have long hoped to visit – Ha Long Bay.

We booked a two night tour with Vega Travel. Here’s the itinerary we took part in.

A night on board a boat floating in the bay followed by a night on Cat Ba island. Plus canoeing, cycling and visiting some awe inspiring scenery.

We board our little transfer boat at Ha Long Bay wharf and then we get our first glimpse of the incredible, iconic scenery that makes the area a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Ha Long Bay is known for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rainforests.

It might be a bit grey but it is still impressive (and humid!).

Below you can see some of the famed emerald waters in just one of the many tiny little coves to be found.

We cruise past the hundreds of islands and islets of Bai Tu Long Bay area that is lesser traveled by tourist and well-known for its magnificent seascapes.

Then it’s time to get wet! Hopping into two man kayaks we’re off on a canoe safari!!

Naturally the wild man is enjoying getting active while I prefer to be ferried around capturing the sights!

We spend a few hours exploring the tranquil, off the tourist trail, areas of Ha long Bay.

The bay itself is starting to show the stress of being a major tourist attraction, with 100s of boats clogging up certain areas.

Luckily the Vega Travel tour is one of a few operators that has a license to operate in parts of the bay that other’s can’t, meaning that we felt less crowded and a little closer to how the bay would have once felt.

As well as canoeing we stop off to visit Trong Cave (Drum cave) and Trinh Nu (Virgin Cave).

Again we have the chance to appreciate just some of the stunning scenery.

Piscia di Gallu hiking

As well as stunning beaches Corsica also as an amazingly rugged interior full of spectacular scenery to explore.

Here we check out a solitary hiking hut which offers wide ranging views over the surrounding countryside.

We’re heading for the Piscia di Gallu hiking trail that will take us through some of the most incredible scenery on Corsica to see the most beautiful waterfall on the island.

Th walk starts off from a sizeable parking lot with a few pretty little restaurants, it starts off nice and easy with a ramble alongside the river and into the forest which is filled with fragrant Corsican Laricciu pine trees.

But very quickly the going starts to get a bit more arduous, especially for the human sloth that is me!

Below is just one of the many impressive rock formations – this is the sentinel rock on route to the waterfall in the forest of L’Ospedale.

While walking you’ll see numerous strangely shaped boulders which are known as Tafoni. 

These are rocks that have been hollowed out by erosion of the wind and the rain.  Some were used in the past as huts by the shepherds and are called Orii.

Hilariously enough, after an hour and a half of sweaty trekking I don’t actually bother to make the final descent to the actual waterfall (the reason for the trip)!!

The hubby mountain goated his way down but of course didn’t take any photos! Doh!

Instead enjoy a few snaps of this serene lake in the middle of nowhere!

Calanques de Piana

As we head towards Calvi we choose to negotiate through one of Corsica’s natural wonders, the exceptionally beautiful Calanques de Piana.

These are granite rock formations along the coast of western Corsica near Porto.

Winding south from Porto to Piana in the north west of Corsica, is a coastal road with some of the most stunning, otherworldly scenery that we’ve ever encountered in Europe.

The Calanques de Piana are incredible, sculptural, weather beaten rock formations with an almost alien feel to them.

The surreal landscape of wind-eroded granite cliffs tower over the road and then plunge dazzlingly into the sea.

The cliffs are a naturally harmonised palette of colours including red, pink, russet and honey.

Stacks, towers and pinnacles have been shaped by the elements and are up to 300 metres above the sea in some places.

Photo dump!

Last lot of Takayama photos now folks before we head onward to Hiroshima. Random snaps galore!

The man poses in front of yet another gorgeous little wooden homestead. If only we could dismantle one and rebuild it in our back garden!

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Here’s a few colourful snaps of posters, banners and stuff to buy. There’s lots of traditional images including Koi Carp and green tea caddies masquerading as little geisha.

Traditional sugary treats and conical hats are temptingly arrayed for the souvenir hunting tourists.

Then it’s back in the Hida bullet train and rumbling onwards to our next destination.

As the train heads onwards I get to gaze out on the beautiful scenery once again.

From tumbling river cascades to endless rice fields, its a peaceful scene of rural Japan.

 

 

Glimpses from the train

Bright and early we’ve hopped on the Shinkansen heading out of Tokyo and towards our next destination – Takayama in the Japanese alps!

As we leave the dazzling, frantic cityscape the scenery becomes more and more rural.

There’s tumbling rivers, rice fields and verdant forests whizzing past us at a rate of knots.

The countryside offers us tantalising snippets of a life that we’ll never experience.

Below you can see the endless yellow of the rice fields and several rice drying racks.

The fields are interspersed with quaint little villages, full of traditional houses.

There’s more rice drying racks alongside every road and village, we can even spot people beavering away harvesting it.

Above and below farmers scurry around getting their harvest in before rain showers scupper their plans.

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Keep your eyes pointed to the blog as we rock up in the gorgeous town of Takayama next!