Trang_Ang_Grottoes_Ninh_Binh

The Vietnamese province of Ninh Binh has got to be one of the most photogenic places on this planet.

Ninh Binh’s scenery can only be described as surreal. Think limestone mountains everywhere, endless green rice fields and mysterious grottoes that remind you of Avatar.

Along with Bai Tu Long Bay, Ninh Binh remains relatively unexplored (for the time being, anyway).

Without a doubt, Ninh Binh is one of Vietnam’s best-kept secrets.

Here are 20 pictures that will make you dream of this pretty province:

Tam Cok Village

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Hang Mua Viewpoint

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Trang An Grottoes

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I loved taking pictures of the gorgeous Ninh Binh province. Which one’s your favourite?

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Bai_Tu_Long_Bay_Vietnam

Ahoy, matey!*

I’ve got an existential question for you to answer.

Would you like to be a pirate?

Just think about it. You could live on a badass ship, drink gallons of rum all day and swear as much as you like without anyone judging you. That, and stealing treasures for a living. Sounds like quite the life, aye?

Unfortunately, piracy isn’t a vocation you can easily pursue these days.

But there’s a way to satisfy your pirate cravings should you wish to do so. And it doesn’t involve moving to Somalia.

What you need to do is spend a couple days sailing through Bai Tu Long, a beautiful and mysterious bay in Vietnam.

Parts of Pirates of The Caribbean were filmed nearby. You know what they say – if it’s good enough for Jack Sparrow…

The Mysterious Bai Tu Long Bay

Located in the Gulf of Tonkin, Bai Tu Long Bay is a clutter of thousands of small limestone islands. Most of them are inhabited.

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Now would be a good time to mention that it’s the neighbour of the famous Halong Bay, one of Vietnam’s (and South East Asia’s) most popular tourist attractions.

But unlike Halong, which is crammed to the max with cruise ships , Bai Tu Long remains relatively unexplored.

This means you can pretend to be a pirate in peace. In Bai Tu Long Bay, you won’t accidentally catch the sight of a backpacker’s bare bum whilst searching for mermaids with your binoculars.

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Sailing through Bai Tu Long Bay feels like entering another world. It’s one of the most surreal experiences imaginable.

The early morning fog adds mystery to the air. The whole place feels eery. Sunsets are just as magical.

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Visiting one of the deserted islands in the bay is a must. The are caves, jungles and beaches to explore. As far as you’re concerned, you might as well be in Neverland (minus Tick-Tock The Crocodile).

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One of the most intriguing things you’ll encouter in Bai Tu Long Bay are the floating villages.

They consist of small house-boats tied together. These villagers have lived on the sea for many generations. They make a living out of fishing and send their children to nearby floating schools.

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Can you imagine how different your life would be if you were to spend the entirety of it living on the sea? It baffles the mind.

The Pirate Ship

 If you decide to go to Bai Tu Long Bay, chances are you’ll end up booking a 2 or 3-day cruise with Indochina Junk. It’s one of the only cruise operators currently allowed to navigate the area.

I’d recommend you pick their Dragon Legend Boat, as you’ll get to stay on one of these bad boys:

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Ok, so it doesn’t hold a candle to the Black Pearl, but it’s still pretty nice.

It’s got everything a pirate needs, and much, much more.

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The upper deck is the best spot on the boat. You could sit there all day and stare at the amazing scenery with a glass of wine in hand. There’s even a swimming pool, because why not.

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And you certainly won’t go hungry. The food on board is delicious (hello daily 3-course meals) and there’s lots of it.

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Now would be a good time to mention the amazing bathtub in the en-suite bathroom. It’s next to the window, so you can take a bath without missing any of the action. You inner pirate will love it.

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Things can get a bit awkward when you decide to get out at the exact moment the boat has stopped and someone’s gone for a swim.

Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.

Final Thoughts

Bai Tu Long Bay has got to be one of the most otherworldly places on Earth. It’s beautiful and ethereal. If sailing through Bai Tu Long Bay won’t appease your inner pirate then nothing will.

*This means”Hello friend” for those of you who haven’t mastered pirate lingo yet.

Have you ever been to Bai Tu Long Bay, or Halong Bay? What did you think of it? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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Crazy_House_Dalat_Vietnam

When I went to Da Lat, I stepped inside the weirdest and wackiest tourist attraction I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.

Let me introduce you to Hang Nga – a Vietnamese guesthouse that looks like something straight out of Disneyland.

Hang Nga’s been nicknamed the ‘Crazy House’ and was listed as one of the world’s most bizarre buildings by Chinese newspaper People’s Daily.

I stumbled upon the ‘Crazy House’ by accident, when I noticed a group of people queuing outside a strange-looking door. I couldn’t resist investigating.

Want to take a look inside? I’ll show you around.

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A look inside the ‘Crazy House’.

The ‘Crazy House’ is the brainchild of Dang Viet Nga, an architect who also happens to be the daughter of a former president of Vietnam.

She started building this eccentric/surrealist house 25 years ago and is still working on it.

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According to Dang Viet Nga, the purpose of the ‘Crazy House’ is to connect people with nature.

That’s why the entire building looks like a mutant tree-house, complete with spider web windows, mushroom sculptures, flowers and other things associated with nature.

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Except that there is nothing remotely natural about this place.

Lonely Planet describes it as ‘Gaudi meeting Tolkien and dropping acid together’. This is the most hilariously accurate description of the ‘Crazy House’ I’ve found on the internet so far.

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Since Hang Nga’ is a hotel, there are ten – animal themed – guest rooms.

The rooms are spacious and the beds look comfy, although I don’t really understand why you’d want to stay there, given the amount of noisy visitors hovering around.

Also, I’m pretty sure you’d have nightmares.

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This would be a good time to mention that Hang Nga looks exactly like a children’s funhouse, except no responsible parent should ever bring a child here.

It is a potentially deadly maze. The pathways and tunnels are narrow and there’s not much to hold on to in case you lose your balance.

Anyone with a fear of heights should steer clear of this place.

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The more time you spend inside the ‘Crazy House’, the more absurd it feels.

Sure, it’s entertaining and fun, but it looks totally out of place in a city like Da Lat.

That’s exactly why local authorities have tried to get rid of it for years. But given Dang Viet Nga’s high profile connections, I doubt the ‘Crazy House’ is going away any time soon.

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Final Thoughts.

I never thought I’d encounter something like the ‘Crazy House’ in a country like Vietnam – or anywhere else for that matter. It’s definitely the most bizarre building I’ve ever visited. While I had a good time wandering around this crazy hotel, I’d rather sleep somewhere a little less eccentric.

What’s the most bizarre place you’ve ever visited? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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Chill_Sky_Bar_Saigon

I spent my first days in Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City, depending on who you ask) feeling a bit down.

While I was excited to start my third month of travel and explore Vietnam, the novelty and thrill of it all was waning down.

Familiar doubts, anxieties and questions were creeping back up.

Mostly things like:

What should I do with my life?

Am I making the right decisions?

But also crap like:

If the universe is expanding, then what is it expanding into?

Why do men have nipples?

Basically, I needed a drink.

So one night I made my way to Chill Sky Bar, a glamorous rooftop bar in Saigon.

It’s not the kind of place I’d usually go for. When I budgeted for this trip, I sadly didn’t factor in martinis at overpriced bars.

But that night, I really wanted a cocktail and it was happy hour, so that was that.

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Located on the top floor of the AB Tower, with a panoramic view of the city, Chill Sky Bar is where Saigon’s nouveaux riches come and mingle.

It’s swanky, it’s chic, it’s the place to be seen.

Mere mortals like myself go there for a different reason: to stare at the craziness of Saigon from above, with a drink in hand.

But it’s easier said than done. Chill Sky Bar has a strict dress code. No shorts. No flip-flops. In other words, no backpackers.

Luckily, Gilles and I managed to beat the system. We did our best not to look too scruffy for once, and it worked.

This Isn’t Your Typical Rooftop Bar.

 
Once you get to the 26th floor, you immediately understand why Chill Sky Bar is so popular.

The view of the city is out of this world.

Saigon can feel a little overwhelming at times. There’s so much chaos, and it’s not the organised kind.

You’re constantly on edge, holding onto dear life whilst dodging motorbikes and mini-buses that couldn’t give a damn whether they run you over or not.

But from Chill Sky Bar, you see the city in a completely different light.

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And when it comes to making you feel like an A-lister, the staff are pulling all the stops.

Waiters attend to your every need, serving drinks on futuristic-looking furniture. The music is great. Cocktails are mixed to perfection and taste delicious.

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At $6 a pop, I was quickly sipping away my daily budget, one Passion Martini at a time. What can I say – they were just too good to resist.

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Chill Sky Bar Is The Brainchild of Capitalist Saigon

The existence of Chill Sky Bar, and the many other places like it, speaks volumes about just how much Vietnam has evolved since the fall of Saigon in 1975, which marked the end of the Vietnam war and the re-unification of the country under a Socialist regime.

Saigon wasn’t meant to be the capitalist emblem that it is today. 

This article from New York Times describes to what extent Saigon has thrived after the collapse of the Soviet Union, effectively taking a U-turn to embrace capitalist principles.

Love them or hate them, venues like Chill Sky Bar reveal just how much Saigon has changed.

Final thoughts

I might have blown my budget, but it was definitely worth the splurge.

I liked Chill Sky Bar for the delicious cocktails, I liked it for the amazing view.

But I also liked it because it made me think about Saigon and its incredible transformation.

Chill Sky Bar represents everything the Vietnam government has once fought to destroy. But not only is it here to stay – it’s a sign of more things to come.

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