Bali to Vietnam
For days 1-8 in Bali, Indonesia read our other article by clicking here!
Day 9: Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
April 25, 2023
After saying goodbye to our sweet and sour Jungle Bungalow we headed up the street to our next accommodation. We’ve decided Lawrence is now in charge of booking where we stay since the accommodations I pick tend to end up less than spectacular. This new homestay was miles better. It came with an instant kettle, hot breakfast, clean facilities, and most importantly: air conditioning.
This temple is one of the most beloved in the region and home to the sacred water blessings. Lawrence and I were lucky enough to spot a guide who walked us through the different steps involved in the ritual. We changed into our water sarongs, presented our offerings, then ceremoniously bathed in each of the 13 fountains at Tirta Empul.
There is a lot that goes into correctly performing the blessings. It’s going to take a whole article dedicated to explaining it thoroughly so stay tuned!
Day 10: Ubud, Bali to Ulun Danu Beratan Temple
April 26, 2023
Today we took a long hour and a half ride up a mountain to Ulun Danu Beratan, the most popular temple in Bali, Indonesia.
This temple sits lakeside, high in the mountainous terrain. It’s significantly cooler than the scorching sea level temperatures. Since we were there during the summer it felt nice, but just barely. If it had been just a smidge windier, we’d be wanting jackets. Something to keep in mind just in case!
We watched the fog roll in over the lake, walked through the winding temple walls, and took pictures between the traditional temple gates. These large gates are found at the entrance of most temples and are meant to symbolize a mountain being split in half as a doorway. You are meant to leave your troubles behind and ask for peace as you enter through them.
Overall, it’s a pretty tourist-y location and doesn’t provide much historic or religious insight. Instead, the area is set up for fantastic photo ops, restaurants, coffee shops, and souvenir vendors.
Side note, this is a location that you strangely have to pay both an entrance fee and a fee to use the restrooms. It’s typical for bathrooms outside the U.S. to charge a small fee (usually under a dollar) to use public toilets, but not if you’ve already spent money to enter the gated off area. Plus, they didn’t seem to be putting that money into the upkeep of the facilities, if you catch my drift.
Along with the fact that the Ulun Danu Beratan Temple is very far out of the way of most popular Balinese cities, I wouldn’t recommend making this trek if you’re short on time.
It is a pretty temple, and probably the most iconic you’ll find on the island. We were indifferent to it, but if you have time, go for it! Otherwise, checkout some of the other countless stunning temples in Bali, Indonesia.
Day 11: Ubud and Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia to Hanoi, Vietnam
April 27, 2023
Our last day in Bali! We started the day by taking the long journey from Ubud back to Denpasar, Bali where we would eventually board a flight to our third country: Vietnam!
I’d love to say our time spent in the airport was more intriguing but honestly, we just spent some time at the airport while Lawrence told stories of his first trip to Vietnam 5 years ago.
Day 1: Hanoi, Vietnam
April 27, 2023
Once we got to Vietnam we took a taxi to our hostel in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. In need of food, we took to the streets of the Old Quarter and were met with a pleasant surprise: Beer Street! After a day of travel, Beer Street in Hanoi felt like a fever dream. Since it was well past 11:00 p.m. the residents just around the corner were dark and asleep, but Beer Street was alive and bright with vendors, restaurants, clubs, and plenty of people.
We chose a crowded restaurant and sat outside to eat. While we waited for our food, we watched the streets lined with tables and chairs that appeared to be miniature in size, like something that would be used for a child’s play set.
Then just about the weirdest greeting one can receive when visiting a new country commenced. One restaurant started yelling at the next, and so on down the street. That’s when a police car at the far end of the street turned its sirens on and slowly began the descent down the narrow patron-filled road. Within a minute, all the miniature tables and chairs were swept off the streets and sidewalks, stacked, and made way for the patrol car to make its way through.
This included food being quickly removed from tables and patrons made to stand along the sidewalks holding their plates as the police drove by. As soon as they left, all the chairs and tables went right back to their original position just as quickly as they had been taken away. We had no idea what was going on.
Also, we are talking like hundreds of chairs, and the street was packed with a similar number of people. There was zero space available. Imagine all of that cleaned up in a span of 30 seconds!
Later, on a walking tour we found out that this is considered the “Open Secret” of Vietnam. It’s technically illegal to put tables and chairs out in the streets beyond the sidewalks. The restaurant owners will still put tables and chairs in the streets to maximize their dining space but will quickly scoop them up to avoid a fine. This is why they use the very small, lightweight, plastic furniture so that it is easy to quickly remove and stack off to the sides.
The police will drive down the streets as a warning and reminder of the law. They seem to rarely enforce this however, because as soon as they leave the street everything goes right back to where it was. This happened three times in the hour we were on Beer Street. Wild.
Day 2: Hanoi, Vietnam
April 28, 2023
Our first morning in the city of Hanoi we walked around the Old Quarter where we were staying in search of some famous Vietnamese egg coffee. Lawrence found a fantastic spot that served the egg coffee both hot and iced. We had it several more times in Vietnam, but this first spot was the best.
Egg coffee is much better than it sounds. Using just the egg whites whipped together with sugar and typically paired with condensed milk and cream, it creates a very thin meringue-like texture to accompany the thick Turkish-style coffee. Altogether the drink is more like a custard desert than a typical bitter coffee. You don’t have to worry about scrambled eggs mixed in your coffee (my original fear)!
After coffee and breakfast, we unintentionally walked through the middle of the wet market. It’s a very shocking experience if you’re not prepared for what you’ll see. Raw meat, dead chickens, huge cuts of fish, live snakes, eels, fish, and frogs, all laying out in the sun. They sit on boards, in cages, or pools, along the dirty sidewalks and streets. The lack of refrigeration is meant to show how fresh the meat is.
It’s not meat that anyone in the U.S. would ever dream of consuming but makes a living for the street vendors in Vietnam. We’d learn more about the Hanoi markets on our walking tour later in the week.
Next, we journeyed to the Maison Centrale, an old prison-turned-museum. This prison was huge. Originally created under the French rule in Vietnam the prison was named Maison Centrale as to imply the building was almost charming; a staple centerpiece for the town that would later be Hanoi.
Maison Centrale would go on to be used as a prison through multiple wars including one for American pilots during the Vietnam war in the 60’s and 70’s. During the American-Vietnam war is when Maison Centrale began being called the Hanoi Hilton mockingly by American prisoners of war.
As we traveled through the museum, we got the Vietnamese perspective of the brutalities of the prison throughout time, and how they view their stance on Communism as the great savior of the nation. I was prepared to hear war from Vietnam’s point of view, especially since the Vietnam war was unpopular among American citizens as well as the Vietnamese.
Instead, the approach the museum took was to almost sugar coat how the communist parties (the winners in this case) treated their prisoners, while adversely claiming communists were crucified and treated extremely unfairly as prisoners themselves. They chalk the American POWs’ experience up to that of a summer camp but have no problem explaining how brutally they were tortured and interrogated by non-communist South Vietnam. It was a little disappointing, honestly.
I was plenty prepared to hear them out and see what their side of the story was, as it was no secret that the U.S. acted questionably when it came to its side of the war in Vietnam. Both sides acted inhumanely, though an argument could be made that Vietnam had more of a reason while defending their country. It’s a shame because I would love to know how the people of Vietnam actually feel about the wars and the prison, not what the government tells them they should think. I wanted that argument.
Not an argument putting communist North Vietnam on a pedestal and explaining why they are perfect and have never done anything wrong. Unfortunately, I saw right through the shtick of the museum which took away from the authenticity of the experience.
The prison overall has impressive exhibits and is a nicely preserved piece of history. It was eerie to walk through the walls where so much suffering took place. Overall, I am glad we made the trip to the center of the city to see the Maison Centrale.
Day 3: Hanoi, Vietnam
April 29, 2023
Today we took a day of rest! Other than having a lovely roof-top breakfast at our hostel and later taking to the streets for a brief mid-day coffee run, we stayed in to plan the next leg of our journey.
Day 4-5: Hanoi to Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
April 30, 2023
This time we are off to the coast of Vietnam, where beautiful Ha Long Bay views awaited us. After the shuttle ride to Ha Long Bay, we took a tender boat to our home for the night, the Peony II. Ha Long Bay is well-known for providing river cruises around the area. We opted for a luxury style cruise, though there are also party cruises available. We also only booked a 2-day, 1-night cruise, but after how wonderful it was, next time I would do longer!
We had lunch and in typical cruise fashion, ate more food than should be humanly possible. Then it was time to settle into our room.
For the price of an inside-room on a standard cruise ship leaving from Florida we got a large, beautiful suite complete with a balcony, large windows, a queen size bed, a full bathtub and complimentary robes and other amenities.
Something we noticed in Vietnam is that everyone is hustling hard. You don’t see much homelessness or begging on the streets, instead you have vendors on every corner trying to make a living. The same can even be said out in the middle of Ha Long Bay. The Peony II had some pretty steep prices for wine and spirits, but our savior came in the form of a woman and her raft of goodies! She pulled right up to our room and we were able to enjoy a hot sun-cooked bottle of Vietnam’s finest (import from France), complete with a wine opener!
Using the bath salts I got from the Yoga Barn in Bali, I couldn’t resist a bath with a view before we got ready for dinner and headed up to the top deck for happy hour.
It’s hard to explain how amazing the views in Ha Long Bay truly are. Everywhere you turn mountainous boulders pop out of the green sea. The sunsets and sunrises are sites to behold as the sky grows light, the river boats weave through the mountains, but you don’t see the sun until it’s finally high enough in the sky to break over the peaks.
There is a legend that each of the mountains is an emerald dragon tooth, left by dragons as a series of impenetrable defense barriers to protect from invaders. Vietnamese people are said to have descended from dragon’s so the name “Ha Long” meaning “descending dragon,” fits perfectly.
We had some drinks on the top deck and watched the sun dip below the mountains before heading inside to dinner. We were once again stuffed silly.
May 1, 2023
The next morning, we woke up early where we had sunrise Tai Chi lessons. Tai Chi is surprisingly difficult! They make it look so effortless and graceful, but the precision of the movements takes practice to really get right. Luckily, it was only a short 30-minute lesson before it was time for breakfast.
After breakfast we were treated to an excursion. We took a tender boat, and then a bus, to Cat Ba Island to visit the Trung Trang Cave. This cave was larger than I expected, filled with well-preserved columns of stalactites and stalagmites, and plenty of “friendly” bats that would fly inches from your head!
The Vietnamese soldiers took refuge in this cave, and others, during the war against America. Our guide didn’t give us much insight into the cave other than the different formations that (sort of) looked like different animals and mythological creatures. The likeliness of these formations is important to the Vietnamese people who used the location as a spiritual temple of worship. They believe praying to the cave’s formations will bring luck with fertility, strength, and money.
Once we had trekked back from the cave, we were given a bit of time to shower and pack our bags. Then it was just one more delicious brunch before it was sadly time to disembark.
And back to Hanoi we go! What a whirlwind week: four cities in two different countries in just 7 days. We’ll be in Vietnam for just over three weeks as we travel from the north down to the south. Stay tuned for our next articles where we explore Sapa, Ha Giang, Phong Nha, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Minh/Saigon!