As you know by now, since my yearlong trip across Southeast Asia I am a huge fan and advocate of traveling and exploring by motorbike. I probably rode a bike at least once in every country I visited and every single time it made for an unique and unforgettable experience. It is about the feeling of total freedom, of really immersing yourself in the scenery around you, about the sun warming your face, a cool breeze blowing through your hair and all the kind people you meet along the way. The freedom of traveling by motorbike is just unmatched. You can do whatever you want whenever you want and you are not confined to anyone’s schedule but your own. You can just take that interesting side road you just passed, you can have a snack at that unique road stop which you’d otherwise whip right past or stop to say hello to that group of smiling children who have been happily waving at you. Continue reading
I was meant to travel Vietnam a lot earlier, right after my Cambodia trip, but a rather spontaneous change of my itinerary forced me to postpone this adventure by more than three months. Having finally booked my ticket to Hanoi and a rough outline of places to visit in my head, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. A good amount of fellow travelers told me a lot of good things about the country. Others said that they didn’t like the people and their attitude and that the country has already become too touristy. By that time I had already been to 7 other countries and I was worried that Vietnam would just not be able to fascinate me anymore. Luckily I was very wrong and it turned out to be a great trip, with all kinds of different adventures, beautiful places and memorable encounters with the locals. Continue reading
Here is the second part of my Vietnam diaries which are supposed to summarize the second half of my one month trip from Northern to Southern Vietnam. As you know by now, my entire camera gear got stolen in Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City and since I also lost all of the pictures documenting the second half of my trip, I decided to do this two-part compressed recap. You can find the first part here. Apart from the creative commons pictures from Flickr I am using again, I can this time at least use some photos taken during a thrilling side trip in Dalat. It’s been an interesting and very diverse part of my trip with a lot of recommendable places. However, let me start with the least likeable of them …. Continue reading
Having arrived in Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City as it is called these days, the worst thing that can happen to a traveler and passionate photographer happened to me. All of my camera gear got stolen and with the equipment I also lost heaps of nice pictures I took along the way coming down from Hue. After a while, I began to come to terms with the material loss but the irrevocable loss of these pictures which I had put time and effort into still gave me a hard time. And it sometimes still does these days. Apart from the painful loss itself, another consequence of this incident is that I am also not able to cover my trip and all the adventures along the way as I would like to here on escapology. But since I still want to let you guys know where I went and give some advice about those places, I decided to write a two-part recap with the use of some creative commons images from Flickr. It is not how I like to cover things, especially using other peoples images, but there is no other way. I hope you will still like some of the things you will read below… Continue reading
A typhoon had hit the coast of Vietnam and our night train ride from Hanoi to Hue turned out to be a full fledged odyssey. Trailing the storm and the massive amounts of rain it brought with it, it took us more then 24 hours instead of 12 to arrive country’s former capital. It was night time and despite having made the best of the ride, meeting new people, locals and tourists alike, we were tired and only looking forward to get some well deserved rest. The good thing about all of it was that the typhoon had just passed, the rain was gone and the next day looked promising, perfect to go exploring. Continue reading
After a more than 24 hour train ride from Hanoi to Hue thanks to a huge delay caused by a typhoon which had just passed the coastal region, we finally arrived in the former capital of Hue. On our first day we were headed for the Citadel and the old forbidden City as we passes by what seemed like a wedding. Loud music and laughter was sounding from the nicely decorated venue across the road. Curious as ever we wanted to have a closer look. As we were snooping around the entrance we were all of a sudden approached by a man who belonged to the wedding party. As we later found out, it was the bride’s father. Apparently he wanted us to come in and after a bit of hesitation, he insisted and pulled us in. We first had to sign the guestbook and put a little bit of money in what seemed like a donation box. Once inside, we realized that this was actually a big event with probably more than 200 people there, live music going on and the pretty couple giving a little speech on stage. We were a bit overwhelmed but our host took care of everything. We were placed at a table with about 6 other people, all men and all of them a little bit tipsy already it seemed. I instantly had to drink glasses of beer with all of them – a custom which then continued throughout the entire party. Shortly after, the waitresses started bringing out the food. It was traditional Vietnamese with a touch of Chinese with more than 5 dishes being served one after another. And every single one was so good. After cutting the cake and pouring champagne into the glass pyramid, the couple went to every single table to thank the guests for their attendance. It was a great time, a lot of laughter, singing and lots of drinking. It was great to get such an authentic insight into the Vietnamese culture.
As I roamed around the venue, taking pictures and drinking glasses of beer with other guests, I saw the bride caught in a moment of contemplation. For a split second she seemed detached from everything else around her. With the most important part of the ceremony behind her, she was perhaps imagining what her new life will be like. What do you think? What was on her mind in this moment?
Hanoi was great to get a first taste of Vietnam. But after a few days in the city and touring its highlights, it was time for serious adventure again. Aris, a fellow traveler and photographer whom I met in Myanmar, recommended traveling all the way up North to tour the province of Ha Giang by motorbike. By many this remote and mysterious area is regarded as Vietnam’s final frontier. Bordering China’s Yunnan Province, the region boasts nature as you have probably never seen it. Massive limestone walls, granite outcrops everywhere, hanging valleys, rice terraces climbing to the clouds and winding roads carved into the mountains. This alone sounded like a great adventure but combined with the ubiquitous presence of the local hill tribes, mostly the proud Black Hmong, this tour quickly became a must do on our Vietnam itinerary. Continue reading
How come the people that have the least are the most generous and hospitable? This phenomenon has been accompanying me during my entire trip and once again in Vietnam. We had set off for a three day motorbike excursion into the far Northeast of Vietnam. A remote and mystical region named Ha Giang, a region characterized by sheer limestone walls, granite outcrops, hanging valleys and often referred to as Vietnam’s final frontier. It was on the way from Ha Giang town to Dong Van when we took a hidden side road which led us across a rusty bridge into a traditional village. After exploring for a bit and playing with the village kids we noticed a house at the end of the little main road. Smoke was rising out of the chimney and loud laughter filled the inside of the house. Driven by my usual curiosity I wanted to see what was going inside and had a peek through the door. As soon as the family inside spotted me all hell broke lose. Everyone was talking to me and dragging me inside instantly. It was a big family with kids, their parents, grandparents and what seemed like aunts and uncles, all gathered in one big room. To officially welcome us, we were offered some homemade rice wine. Strong stuff, especially at midday. We didn’t want to be impolite and had one, then two and then a few more. The grandmother was pretty assertive about it so refusing was no option here. Already a bit tipsy, we tried to have a basic conversation which wasn’t even too bad thanks to my phrasebook and a loose tongue due to the rice wine. Meanwhile the mother of the kids was cooking food for the whole family on an open fireplace. The house was filled with smoke but it smelt nice. After a bit we thought it would be best to leave since we didn’t want to impose ourselves on the family as they were about to eat. But no way, everybody was shouting, pointing at the floor and insisting that we would stay, sit down and join them for lunch. It was incredible. These people were living in a simple wooden house, cooking their food on open fire and did not even have running water. But they still invited two foreigners inside their house to share their meal with them. It was a really humbling experience and I couldn’t help myself but asking if something like this would ever happen in our developed societies back home….
After my Myanmar adventure, I flew into Hanoi for about a month of traveling Vietnam. My plan was to cross the country all the way from the North down to the South and into the Mekong Delta. I have to admit that I had mixed feelings about Vietnam. On the one hand I was excited to explore a new country, sample the famous Vietnamese cuisine and embark on a promising motorbike adventure along the Chinese border. On the other hand I was a little skeptical after hearing stories about crime, people constantly being overcharged and certain places already spoilt by mass tourism. But I wanted to see for myself and tried to keep a positive attitude. After a day in Hanoi, I met up with Angel from Canada who I had met in Bagan, Myanmar. We arranged to team up and travel together for a bit with Hanoi being our starting point. Hanoi may not have the tropical charm of Saigon but makes up for it with some of the best street food in Asia, a lot of culture and history and a likable type of gruffness and authenticity. Here are my personal highlights which you should definitely check out: Continue reading
After my amazing trip through Myanmar, my next destination was Vietnam. My plan was to travel from the far North all the way down to the South into the Mekong Delta. Big parts of this journey would be done by motorbike, supposedly the best way to explore this beautiful country. This picture was taken during one of these bike trips. It was a three day tour along the Chinese border through Vietnam’s far North. Still very rugged and untouristy, the region around Ha Giang and Dong Van offers a scenery which is hard to match in South East Asia. The loop took me along narrow and windy roads, carved into the gigantic mountains, past vast rice paddies and through villages which are seldomly visited by tourists. We were running late on the first leg of the tour but couldn’t help but stop to enjoy the sunset dipping the surrounding mountains in warm pastel colors. One of the few local buses plowing the route Ha Giang – Dong Van was just crawling up the windy road which, for a moment, almost looked like a snake making its way up from the valley below.