After an eventful week in northern Vietnam, we caught an early morning flight across the border to Laos. Two impressions struck us on arrival in Luang Prabang. First, after relying almost exclusively on Google Translate for communication in Vietnam, it was refreshing to hear English spoken widely. Second, because Luang Prabang is a backpacker haven, a powerful wave of nostalgia swept over us.
Posts tagged ‘nature’
Arriving in Ha Long after spending the better part of a week in rural Vietnam is a bit of a shock to the senses. Parts of the city along Vietnam’s most famous bay feel like they have been transplanted from Europe; the French architectural influence is unmistakable. And whereas we hardly saw a soul in Pu Luong, at the Ha Long boat terminal we found an assembly line-like tourist infrastructure designed to process thousands of visitors per day. Six million foreigners visit Ha Long Bay each year, making it far and away Vietnam’s top tourist attraction.
The principal challenge with touristing in Vietnam – aside from the arcane visa process – is rooted in the country’s geography. Vietnam is long and narrow – it is barely thirty miles wide at its narrowest point, but extends for more than one thousand miles from north to south. The country’s karst formations, long coastline, innumerable caves, and multitude of rivers ensure that there are gorgeous places to visit throughout. Stringing Vietnam’s top highlights into one trip is difficult, however, as doing so requires a lot of driving in between destinations.
Another weekend, another trip to Rizal. Last time, we got a bunch of our friends together for an adults-only playscape adventure. This time, we planned the outing with our kids’ social circle in mind, joining forces with another family for a weekend getaway in the foothills of Mt. Purro.
We didn’t quite know what to expect in Vietnam, but Trang An – the first place we visited after transferring from Pu Luong to Ninh Binh – matched to a tee the expectations we did not realize we had been harboring. After spending a few days off the beaten path in rural Vietnam, Trang An – a UNESCO World Heritage complex of caves, water canals, and temples – was a sight to behold.
The struggles we faced in Japan were very much on our minds in planning our Vietnam itinerary. The kids were hard to contain in Japan’s big cities, so we scheduled our Vietnam trip to focus on rural landscapes and natural exploration. We also got in touch with a colleague of S’s who is serving in Hanoi. Her kids are a little order than ours, but we figured having playmates might cushion the blow of landing in a new, unfamiliar country, so we arranged to spend our first weekend in Vietnam together in Pu Luong.
Rizal Province, with its jagged limestone peaks, forested views across the Sierra Madre Mountains, and proximity to Manila, is fast becoming our favorite day-trip getaway destination. We loved the Trilogy hike and have found ourselves returning to Rizal with regularity since the Taal Volcano eruption affected the primary route to beaches and other places of interest south of the capital. After some beach time in Palawan with S’s family, we headed back to Rizal for a hike through the Masungi Georeserve.
With barely 24 hours at his disposal to see the Himalayas, D decided to go big before going home. There are two villages a couple hours’ drive from Kathmandu that offer excellent mountain views: Dulikhel and Nagarkot. D managed to hit both, getting up early to watch the sunrise light up the Himalayas before hiking 20 miles from Nagarkot to Dulikhel and back.
As an island nation that straddles five geological fault lines along the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines endures far more than its fair share of natural disasters. Earthquakes, tropical storms of all stripes, and volcanic eruptions routinely exact a fearsome toll on the archipelago. On the upside, this is a uniquely beautiful country to call home for a few years and, in some ways, Manila has proved a far better posting than our previous assignments. The last couple of weeks in particular have underscored this dichotomy, as a volcano we hiked just a few months ago blanketed Manila with ash several days before we headed out to Palawan for a beach vacation with S’s visiting family.