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.

 

Advertisements

Hue

Hue is located in Central Vietnam and historically was the capital of the nation until the mid 1900s. Being the historical capital, the city is home to the Imperial City. This is supposedly one of the greatest historical attractions in Vietnam and one that I did not get to enter sadly due to construction/restoration projects. I did, however, manage to enter the outer Citadel surrounding the Imperial City. This area saw heavy fighting during the Vietnam War and as such, located throughout the Citadel is military equipment. The city also hosts some beautiful bridges which can be viewed at night covered in neon lights. Aside from the Imperial Citadel, my main reason to visit Hue was Thien Duong (Paradise) Cave. This cave is 31km long and stretches for what seems like an eternity underground. I highly suggest visiting this incredible natural attraction, as it only takes a few hours in total to get to the cave and explore it. There is a cutoff point part way into the cave where average tourists such as myself on this occasion stop due to not having the necessary equipment to go further. The cave system is absolutely stunning, filled with shades and colors, shapes and silhouettes. Another site worth visiting on the way to Paradise Cave is The Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang. This site houses the remaining frame of a church that survived a bombing run,  with a new body built onto it. There are also some unusual shrines, statues and buildings on site unlike any I have seen before. Ultimately I feel like I missed out on a lot of what Hue had to offer due to timing and being on a schedule that I had to keep to. I do highly suggest visiting it and making your way to the Imperial Citadel even though I couldn’t.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phonsavan

Phonsavan is the last major eastern town/city in Laos before reaching the Vietnamese border. The city is a rural hub, mostly consisting of farmers and those who sell to farmers. The city is also the closest location to the Plain of Jars which will be covered in my next article. I felt that Phonsavan deserved its own separate article. You can find stunning scenery, traditional culture and cuisine and amazing history in the part of Laos. Spread throughout the region are countless craters from US bombing rounds, as well as countless unexploded bombs and grenades. The locals have made an industry of converting this war era scrap metal into useful items and sellable wares through smelting. You should definitely try to visit one such workshop if you can and watch the locals meltdown bombs to create everything from keychains to silverware, to jewelry, all of which is available for purchase. The scenery alone should attract you, with rolling hills covered in and surrounded by rice fields and water buffalo. Make sure to spend at least a day here, especially if you are passing through on your way to North Western Vietnam. Prices here are also extremely low as it is not a tourism based town. The Plain of Jars is, in my opinion, an ancient wonder of the world and is not to be missed.

 

Luang Prabang Surrounding Area

Located outside of Luang Prabang is a number of other fantastic sites and attractions and scenery. Located along the Mekong are numerous villages, shrines, and caves to be explored. Many of this caves hold historical religious sites and are a fantastic experience. Also located near Luang Prabang is Kuang Si Falls, a collection of stunning blue waterfalls and pools that an be swum in. This is a fantastic way to spend a hot afternoon in nature. If you do manage to find yourself with a spare day or two while in Luang Prabang, make sure to explore and enjoy the surrounding area.

 

http://www.laos-guide-999.com/Kuang-si-falls.html

Langkawi

Langkawi is a tropical paradise located off the coast of Malaysia. Not only is the majority of this island area a nature reserve, but the entire island is tax free, making it even cheaper than mainland Malaysia. There is one central urban area, consisting on a coast-hugging  main street with a few alleys branching off of it. Along this street you will find hostels, hotels, pubs, clubs, shops and restaurants. Despite being an increasingly popular tourist destination, the island has yet to be developed to the level of its counterparts in Thailand. Here you will find beautiful beaches, lush jungle terrain, mangrove swamps, mountain terrain and plenty of wildlife. I highly recommend taking a couple of days to spend on the island as I personally wish I had stayed longer myself and not booked a return trip ferry ticket from Georgetown.

 

 

Islands Day Cruise

This tour can either be done in a chartered boat or in a shared boat for a fraction of the cost. Its a fantastic way to spend the day both seeing the islands and relaxing. You’ll get to experience SE Asian motor-boating if you have yet to do so, which is an experience in itself, as well as seeing some beautiful scenery. You will be able to swim on tropical beaches and see some forest areas with local wildlife up close, particularly native sea eagles. Finally you will get to visit an island lagoon that you are able to swim in.

https://www.viator.com/tours/Langkawi/Island-Hopping-Tour-from-Langkawi/d338-3705LGK12

 

Cable Car

The Langkawi cable car is the longest distance free-spanning cable car in Malaysia and takes you from the base of the island to one of its highest peaks. This will give you a fantastic view of the area surround the mountain. Once at the top of the mountain, after taking in the view, you will begin your descent to the starting point. On the way down you will be able to cross over the sky bridge, a glass walkway built between two peaks overlooking jungle area. Sadly when I was there it was in the process of being repaired. The trek will take you down through the jungle back to the starting area, with a guide explaining the terrain around you on the way down.

http://www.panoramalangkawi.com/

 

River/Nature Reserve Day Tour

This day tour in my opinion lets you see more than the island hopping tour. While the scenery is not as spectacular, this tour will take you through mangrove forest areas allowing you to see plenty of monkeys and eagles up close, and to feed tropical fish by hand. The tour will also take you through a bat cave where you will see numerous sleeping bats in their natural habitat, as well as visiting a fish farm and a floating restaurant.

https://www.viator.com/tours/Langkawi/Private-Half-Day-Tanjung-Rhu-Beach-and-Mangrove-Forest-Boat-Tour-in-Langkawi-Including-Eagle-Watching/d338-29580P19

 

Sunsets

If you decide to spend no money on tours in Langkawi, then the sunsets on the island alone will make it worth the visit. The view of the sun setting over the ocean from the islands beaches is spectacular and draws a large crowd every evening.

 

Monkeys

If you have yet to see monkeys in their natural habitat, Langkawi is the place to do it. There are PLENTY of monkeys spread across these islands and you can get pretty close to them on several occasions throughout any tours taken or just walking around the island yourself.

 

Sea Eagles

The island of Langkawi itself and the surrounding islands and mangrove forests are home to vast numbers of sea eagles. Luckily the island has been declared a UNESCO protected ecosystem and as such the habitat of these animals has been protected, accounting for their vast numbers.