Marble Mountain and Chùa Linh Ứng

Marble Mountain is located just outside of the city center and is well worth the visit. The site (as the name suggests) is a collection of five large marble and limestone hills, housing caves, and temples. You will find beautiful architecture, statues and art work throughout the complex. You will also find fantastic views overlooking the surrounding area, including the other limestone and marble hills. Chùa Linh Ứng is a large temple complex located out of the city on the peninsula. The complex houses numerous beautiful statues, stunning architecture and one enormous Buddhist statue overlooking the bay. You will need a few hours to cover Marble Mountain and around an hour to see Chùa Linh Ứng, both are highly worth the visit.

 

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Da Nang

 

Da Nang is the third largest city in Vietnam and is located in the center of the country on the coast. While Da Nang is not the most touristy city in Vietnam it is an extremely pleasant city. I ended up spending a few days there just because of how nice the city was. Having said that there is plenty to do in the city, such as Marbel Mountain, Chùa Linh Ứng (a large temple complex with an enormous Buddhist statue), the Sun Wheel and beautiful beachfronts. The city is also filled with Communist monuments, propaganda billboards, stunning arty bridges and fantastic restaurants and bakeries. The city has a very livable feeling to it and if I were to live somewhere in Vietnam it would probably be Da Nang. In Da Nang you will also see Vietnamese daily life go on all around you, seeing sights such as scooters transporting massively oversized loads of planks, garden supplies fans and almost anything that you can think of. The city’s attractions will be covered in the following articles.

Cat Ba Island

Cat Ba Island is, in my opinion, the highlight of Ha Long Bay. The island has one smallish port town with numerous hotels, hostels, bars, markets, and restaurants. I suggest spending at least two days on the island in order to really see what it has hidden. Staying in town is a fantastic base, where you can rest and relax, but also rent a motorbike or scooter to explore the inland areas of the island. The main town area houses some fantastic markets where a traveler can pick up a large amount of pearl based jewelry for a very small cost. You can also find numerous floating restaurants throughout the harbor serving fantastic food.  Inland on the island, the first real item of note is a small hidden stairway just off of the main road, leading to a cave. Inside the cave, you will find a secret medical facility built beneath the earth during the Vietnam War. When I happened to visit, the cave was completely empty, so I was the only person there making it an extremely creepy experience. The atmosphere inside of the facility is haunting, especially knowing that numerous people died within its walls from their sustained wounds. The complete silence and dim lighting add even further to the already creepy atmosphere. I definitely suggest checking it out even if you find it a little unsettling. The next and probably main attraction on the island for me is Cat Ba National Park which you can find in the center of the island. Whether or not I took the correct route is unclear, but for me to get there I had to park my bike and walk through an abandoned village, whose only inhabitants were wild dogs and deer. This setting was also somewhat creepy, but after visiting the hospital cave, not so much. The hike to Ngu Lam Peak, an excellent observation point located in the park should not take more than an hour or so each way. The view from the peak was fantastic and looked over the landscape in every direction, showing nothing but jungle covered peaks for the most part. My only piece of advice would be to cover your body head to toe in insect repellant and to make sure that you are taking malaria tablets because mosquitos will eat you alive on this hike, more so than any other hike I have ever been on. Apart from the inland attractions, make sure to explore the town’s markets and bars for a very enjoyable experience. Also, make sure to try horse show crab and mantis shrimp if you have a chance, both are delicious. Cat Ba makes for a fantastic few days if you have the time.

 

Ha Long Bay

 

Ha Long Bay is a natural wonder of the world, a Unesco protected region and a world famous tourist destination and as such needs no introduction for most people. For those who are not familiar with this location, the bay is located in NE Vietnam near Hanoi and draws in tourists from all over the world. What makes this location so unique is the seemingly endless mountains, spires and rock formations of limestone that emerge straight from the ocean and are covered in thick lush plant matter. This unique formation coupled with bright blue, almost teal water and Vietnamese junks and floating villages and pearl farms are what makes this location so unique and enticing. I would suggest booking one to three-night cruises in the bay if you are budget conscious, if not stay as long as you possibly can and take in all that the bay has to offer. For my visit, I booked a three-night cruise but decided to stay an extra night on Cat Ba Island, so just left my cruise group and took the morning boat back to the mainland aboard another boat operating a day behind ours. Some of the attractions to look forward to apart from Cat Ba are ocean kayaking, cave exploring, visiting pearl farms and floating villages, as well as karaoke and cooking lessons onboard the boats. Even if it’s just for a night, I highly suggest experiencing what Ha Long Bay has to offer and checking one of the natural wonders of the world off of your list.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Thousand Islands/Don Det

 

The Four Thousand Islands is a large island group located in the Mekong River near the Laotian border. These islands primarily house farmland and small villages but are also home to some fantastic hostels and bars. I suggest spending at least a day or two on these islands, the largest and most tourist-friendly of which is Don Det. There are several places to eat and some great bars in the main town area on the island. My favourite of all of these was Adam’s Bar, a restaurant/ bar where you can spend the day relaxing, watching the latest pirated movies or playing Xbox, or watching turtles swim in their encolsure. The bar was also famous for selling other, non-standard edible and smokable items. The two main things worth doing on the island are cycling around and between islands, and tubing. Sadly for me tubing was not possible a the time of year that I visited, due to the water levels of the Mekong being dangerously high. As far as the cycling side of it goes, I suggest just renting a bicycle and going off down one of the island paths ad seeing where they take you, you will find some very cool locations. Just make sure to relax, enjoy and explore the natural beauty of the islands and the relatively cheap cost of everything compared to the larger cities.

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g1082249-d4354676-Reviews-Adam_s-Don_Det_Champasak_Province.html

 

Sihanoukville/Koh Tah Kiev

Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s answer to Phuket, on a far smaller and less touristy scale. The town is built right on the beachfront and is the gateway to Cambodia’s tropical islands. The town itself isn’t overly large, but outside of the town, you will find plenty of beachfront rentals and small bungalow housing resorts. My advice would be to rent a bike and drive between the town and the beachfront areas and just explore the area. You will have plenty of options as far as which island you would like to visit and stay on from Sihanoukville itself. I personally chose Koh Tah Kiev to get the unique experience of staying in a treetop jungle hut connected to a central canopy hotel by boardwalks. If you are more into the party scene, then I suggest Koh Rong, as that island is party central.

 

 

Koh Ta Kiev

Koh Ta Kiev is to date one of the coolest experiences I’ve had, wading out into the water to climb onto a boat to a jungle island to stay in the tree tops. The island’s resort has no electricity or running water and uses a wood-fire oven to cook all food. The rooms are all open to the elements and come with a mosquito net to keep all insects and reptiles out of your bed at night. To make up for its lack of electricity ( which is all part of the experience), the island houses an absinthe distillery, which is supposed to rival other contenders for the title of the world’s strongest genuine absinth. Whether or not it actually is the strongest, is irrelevant as it is definitely strong enough to get you where you want to be. You can tour the jungle distillery and meet the owner Johan who is one of the most interesting people I’ve had the pleasure of having a drink or 6 with.

http://www.sihanoukville-cambodia.com/sihanoukville-businesses/new2011/ten-103-treehouse-bay.html

Ko Phi Phi Don

Ko Phi Phi Don is the central island in a collection of islands known as the Phi Phis. This island has become a tourist haven in recent years, drawing an astounding number of visitors for its size. While the island is somewhat of a tourist overload, you can put up with it due to the absolutely stunning scenery. Views from this island are almost unreal, with clear blue, bathwater warm water, white sand beaches and palm covered hills. Sadly for me I only had one day on the island and poorly allocated my time, spending almost the entire day getting a tattoo done, traditionally with a stick and poke needle. It was a unique experience that I cherish and would not trade, but it did however prevent my from seeing much of the island. As such, my review of Ko Phi Phi Don is limited to the town center, a tattoo parlor and the central beach. Despite that, the beach on the island alone was worth the trip and I spent several hours there relaxing and swimming. sssss