South East Asia – 4 – 5 Days in Hanoi

After a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur (blog post in the link) we flew with VietJet to Hanoi (flight cost £40 each and lasted around 4 hours). Wow….what a place Hanoi was! It was nowhere like any of us had ever been before, so different from Europe! Hanoi has a beautiful blend of South East Asian, Chinese and French cultural influences. It’s one of the most ancient capital cities in the world filled with yummy street food, pagodas and temples that you can enjoy if you can survive the HECTIC Hanoi traffic!

Below I will give you a rundown of how we spent our 5 days in Hanoi.

Day 1

We took some Vietnamese Dong out the ATM at the airport as we had to work out ANOTHER currency. Don’t be fooled…when it says on the screen withdraw 300.000 it’s only the equivalent of £10! Then we ordered a Grab car from the airport which was an hour to the Airbnb (again very cheap)

This Airbnb was particularly gorgeous!! For 3 students travelling around SE Asia on a budget….2 double bedrooms, 2 bathrooms with showers, 3 TVs, a living room space, big kitchen, washing machine AND balcony space overlooking the Red River…this was pure luxury! I have used Airbnb on….16 occasions now and have had on the whole very good experiences.

If you would like money off your first Airbnb use my personal code when booking!

Getting out the taxi we were immediately hit with an even more intense heat than we experienced in KL….bring back the wipes and no make up days….all part of travelling they say!

We were excited to get out and explore our new location so we ordered a Grab car to the Old Quarter (unless your accommodation is exactly in the Old Quarter then you cannot really walk into Hanoi centre as it’s not pedestrian friendly).

For dinner we decided again to try a place that all the locals seemed to like and we were not disappointed! We stumbled upon a restaurant called Bo Nuong for a BBQ style dinner that you cook yourself at the table! IT WAS AMAZING!!!! Do NOT wear your best dress…oil may splatter on you (you have been warned)! We also ordered the traditional Hanoi beer which made a very good combo.

After dinner we walked further into the centre which was cool because it had a real backpacker/touristy vibe. Although nothing was western about the seating arrangements….everywhere you went you sat either on the street or in a restaurant on these child sized plastic chairs!!! Good thing we were fairly small but good luck if you are 6’2! Despite the little chairs we managed to find a stall selling 20p beers and coconut ice cream with mango….so it was still a good night!

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Day 2

After breakfast we took a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake also known to the locals as  Hồ Hoàn Gươm which means Lake of The Returned Sword. Legend has it that Emperor Le Loi was on the lake when a Green Turtle God surfaced and asked for his magical sword. After the Emperor had fought off the Chinese he returned the sword back to the Green Turtle God.

Whilst around the lake make sure to visit the beautiful 18th century Ngoc Son

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As most of you know I’m a little Instagram obsessed right now but I think it’s such an easy way to find cool spots while travelling! So….after seeing this quirky cafe all over my feed for months we had to stop for a drink at The Note Coffee! I honestly don’t think I’ve been into a more aesthetically pleasing cafe it was just so damn cute. The staff were also lovely and were happy to give us tips of where else to visit during our stay in Hanoi which lead us to the best restaurant in town but more about that later!

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Order a speciality egg coffee, keep the note you were gifted and write one for the next visitor.

This was a good egg coffee in such a cute little place….BUT….. according to the locals the best egg coffee is done properly when there is a thick creamy topping with very bitter black coffee underneath. We were on a food tour and our guide stated that egg coffee is like love….”sweet at the start and bitter at the end”...I will leave you with that thought!

After consuming our speciality coffees we had the best time taking the classic touristy shots on the tracks at Hanoi Train Street. People are literally all over the tracks taking pictures…drinking coffee…socialising…it’s a cool place, go see for yourself!

For lunch we tried one of the places that the staff in The Note Coffee recommended for the best Bun Cha in town. It did not disappoint (despite the tiny chairs AGAIN)!! Bun Cha is another traditional dish in Vietnam and is essentially noodles in a broth with meatballs, pork and mint leaves served with salad. You will find the restaurant by googling Nha Hang Bun Cha Dac Kim, Xin Thong BAO (not sure if its the name…the street or both).

Like I mentioned briefly we went on a street food tour at night which we booked through Airbnb. It was AMAZING! The company was called Local Vietnam Tours and cost £21 (so worth it). Our guide Dung was super friendly and made sure that we all had a fantastic time sampling the best of Vietnamese cuisine.

Day 3

After speaking to our guide Dung on the food tour he convinced us to spend a day enjoying his hometown of Ninh Binh which used to be the ancient capital of Vietnam. We would definitely have missed out on something very special if we did not go on a tour here. We booked through the same company (Local Vietnam Tours) for £26 and the tour lasted all day and included lunch. What an incredible time we had on this tour but it was INTENSE! The drive to Ninh Binh was 3 hours from Hanoi and on the way to guide explained some more about the history of the Provence and our schedule for the day.

I have never been so exhausted as I was at the end of that day (don’t let this put you off it’s just a little warning). We started the day by taking a boat trip down the river then we went for a buffet lunch. After lunch it was all systems go again and we cycled (in 35 degrees heat with 1000000% humidity) around the rice fields before hiking up to some beautiful ancient temples. So yeah….it was a little tiring….and hot…very hot!

When we got back to Hanoi it wasn’t too late so we went around the Night Markets to pick up some authentic souvenirs such as handmade jewellery and bookmarks.

Day 4

You can’t visit Vietnam without visiting Ha Long Bay and that’s what we did on our fourth day! We booked the tour through Charming Vietnam Travel which we found on TripAdvisor….but you can book through their own website for cheaper (£27).

Translated Ha Long means “descending dragon” because the legend states that the at the beginning of the country’s history Emperor Jade sent a mother dragon to help fight off the invaders wanting to take over the country. Ha Long Bay is supposedly where the mother dragon descended to protect the Vietnamese from the invading ships and she liked the peaceful bay so much she decided to make it her home.

Being out on the water with the cruise you definitely get the sense of mystic and magic that this beautiful place holds. During the 1 day cruise you get a buffet lunch onboard, visit the caves within the limestone rocks and get the chance to kayak in the emerald green waters.

Overall we did enjoy this trip but it is every bit as busy and touristy as you would expect. In my personal opinion it is still a MUST DO!

Day 5

Wanting to squeeze in as much as we could during our time in Hanoi before our flight we still managed to fit in the Prison museum and grab one last Vietnamese iced coffee (bitter coffee with condensed milk).

Hanoi House Cafe

I hope you have enjoyed reading about what we got up to in Hanoi! As always, any questions/advice please contact me via wordpress, email, twitter or facebook using the links at the top of my blog homepage!

Stay tuned for the next post about Siem Reap and the temples!

Newbies Guide To New York #1 Attractions

As the title suggests, yes it was my FIRST TIME IN NEW YORK! 

We arrived home early on Saturday morning after spending 1 week in The Big Apple and it was such an incredible place.

We got good flight deals to Stewart Airport direct from Edinburgh which was ideal (8 hours). The airline was Norwegian Air who are known for doing long-haul budget deals. It made much more sense to fly cheaper into Stewart Airport and drive 90 minutes on the bus into Manhattan than pay for more expensive flights to JFK.

There is no “cheap” way of doing New York properly but there are plenty of wallet-friendlier alternatives…

After researching the cost of the attractions that we wanted to visit (there were so many) we thought it was cheaper to purchase a 5 Day New York Pass. This pass granted us access to all of the city’s main attractions. This was great because it meant that we could visit everything we wanted to in the time we had! For the 1 day pass it was $127 but for 5 days it was only $325. The pass was definitely worth it because there was 4 of us doing on average 3 attractions per day. For example the price to visit the observatory deck at the Empire State building is $57 per person

Click here to purchase the New York Pass

It would take far too long to write a day by day itinerary of my week in New York… so I’ll give you a quick run through of my favourite things to see and do!

1. Brooklyn Bridge at Sunset

For the best view of the complete Manhattan skyline spend the day in Brooklyn! There are so many cool places to visit in Brooklyn, we loved Dumbo! This is the area of Brooklyn that is just over the bridge and is home to Jane’s Carousel and the BEST pizza you may ever try in NYC!

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Promise I wasn’t the only adult……
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Guacamole on a pizza is life changing!

The pizza parlour was called Julianas Pizza and was run by the pizza legends themselves….the Grimaldi’s in New York!

After exploring Dumbo follow the pedestrian signs onto the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset and watch Manhattan light up! The walk took around 30 minutes but we stopped for lots of pictures.

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If you love the look of my t-shirt use my personal code CatrionaKe15 for 15% off all orders at the checkout! A percentage of all Sandcloud’s profits go into saving marine life by supporting conservation charities. #savethefishes

2. Empire State Building

Included in our New York Pass was entry to the observatory decks at the Empire State building. I don’t know if we just got EXTREMELY LUCKY but we went up to the top at around 10pm and there was NO QUEUE!!

Even if there was a line we would have waited for this magical view!

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3. Top of the Rocks

On our last full day we realised that we still had to check out the view from Top of the Rock! Again we flashed our New York Passes and got entry up to the top. The fact that we didn’t have to pay more for the entry was good as we might not have seen the view because the weather was similar to Scotland…hence my signing in the rain picture!

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4. Broadway Show

Even if you are not a huge theatre fan (like my brother) most people still love the experience of seeing a show on Broadway at least once! We saw Chicago in the Ambassador Theatre and it was definitely worth seeing.  If you are not too fussy and looking for discounted tickets try websites like BroadwayBox. 

5. The High Line

I know when people think about parks in New York, Central Park springs to mind. However, The High Line is a cool green space hidden above the busy city streets. This space used to be home for an old railway line now it’s an urban oasis.

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6. New York Water Taxi

I know this isn’t an attraction but it was a great way to see the city! You can hop on a New York Water Taxi either in Midtown Manhattan, Battery Park, Seaport or Brooklyn. My favourite part of the ride was sailing around the Statue of Liberty with the Alicia Keys “Empire State of Mind” playing!

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As I come to the end of this post, I’m a little sad that I didn’t mention all the other amazing attractions. However, I would be writing a book not a blog post in that case and that’s not what I do!

Watch this space for Newbies Guide To New York #2 Wine & Dine!

Zadar – Croatia Series #2

This is my 2nd blog post in the Croatia Series, if you haven’t checked out the 1st click here!

After the first week staying in Labin we journeyed further South of Croatia to Zadar. The drive from Labin was roughly 4 hours so we decided to stop in a pretty town called Opatija .

Opatija

This town was a luxury travel destination in the 19th century and is scattered with incredible old villas that are now mostly hotels! We didn’t spend long in Opatija but did manage to grab an ice cream and walk along the Lungomare promenade.

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I would love to book a night in one of the historic hotels in town!

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Zadar

Zadar is a must see place when travelling Croatia! The city is 3000 years old and has something amazing to see around every corner.

We stayed in our 6th Airbnb and it was definitely one of the best so far! Maya’s Studio Room was perfect for our 2 night stay in Zadar. It had private parking and an amazing air conditioner that we couldn’t have survived without!

If you would like £25 off your first Airbnb stay use my personal link when booking.

Explore By Day

During daylight hours Zadar is full of impressive sights and monuments to discover!

Sea Organ

This is one of the most unique attractions in this interesting city. The Sea Organ looks like steps leading into the ocean! Within the steps are chambers that control how the water and air get in to create a unique sound from the waves.

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Saint Donatus Church

This unusual church was built in the 9th century and is the symbol of Zadar city.

Saint Anastasia’s Cathedral

If you have time visit the largest cathedral in Dalmatia!

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Beaches

We enjoyed  swimming and relaxing at the small beaches near our Airbnb the most.

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There are many beaches around the city but the main ones like Borik get very crowded! If we had another day in Zadar we would have travelled to Nin to spend the day on the beautiful sandy beaches there.

Just before the day comes to an end, grab a blanket….maybe even a bottle of wine and enjoy what is said to be the “most beautiful sunset in the world”. 

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Explore By Night

Zadar has so much to offer in terms of nightlife – cool clubs, chilled cocktail bars and even an open-air dance floor in the middle of the city.

Lands Gate

Again, I am referring back to the entrance of the city, but it really is beautiful to see it illuminated at night!

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Lounge & Bar Ledana

This place is AWESOME it’s like walking into an enchanted forest! It’s surrounded by trees and colourfully  lit water features.

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Svarog Bar

This was one of our FAVOURITE places we found during the whole holiday. It has such a cool vibe and plays the kind of remixes that make you want to dance the all night!

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Good DJ + Extensive Cocktail Menu = My Kind of Night!

Greetings To The Sun

Visit this Zadar attraction at night to watch the ground light up beneath your feet! This monument is dedicated to the Sun and consists of solar plates that absorb the Sun’s energy, to create a unique light display at night.

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Istria – Croatia Series #1

I have just returned from my 2 week Croatian adventure and I am very excited to start writing my Croatian blog series. For my first time visiting Croatia and I saw many beautiful places that would definitely make me want to discover the rest of the country.

Don’t worry, I won’t make you read a novel of a blog post so I will split the series into 5 blog entries!

This first blog post will cover my time in the Istria region of Croatia that we explored the first week.

Labin

We spent the first week in Croatia on a couples/group holiday with friends, in a villa in Labin. Villa Rosa was absolutely stunning and perfect for a chilled group holiday (10 poeple max).

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The owners were lovely and offered us a couple of bottles of wine from the region that they keep in their wine cellar.  I found Instrian red and white wine to be light and VERY drinkable…

On the first couple of days we wondered into Labin to have a look around and some dinner. It’s not a big place but does have charming features such as the umbrellas and old winding streets.

I would highly recommend Velo Kafe for something to eat. It’s in the centre of Labin and has a cute terrace area to dine on. I ordered fish in a white wine sauce which seemed to be a favourite amongst the group….don’t worry it comes without the fish head (biggest fear…)!

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Rabac

Rabac is a lovely holiday resort town to visit which is only 10 minutes away from Labin. It’s full of gorgeous coves and beach bars to spend the day at. However, if you do decide to spend time at the beach here go to the smaller coves as the main beaches are very crowded! We got recommended Beach Girandella (blue flag beach) by the villa’s owner which was a great place to spend the afternoon.

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However, I preferred the smaller beaches around the promenade area of the town as they were quieter.

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If you love the look of my towel use my personal code CatrionaKe15 for 15% off all orders at the checkout! A percentage of all Sandcloud’s profits go into saving marine life by supporting conservation charities. #savethefishes

Pula

After we had enough of waking up at 2pm and taking it easy by the pool all day we ventured to some other beautiful places in Istria. Pula is definitely worth a visit and is only a 1 hour drive away from Labin.

Pula is an incredible city that is known for it’s stunning beaches and ancient roman ruins. During our day here we checked out the Amphitheatre where the gladiators fought which was 25 kuna  (£3) for student entry! 

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If you have the car and are looking for adventure I would definitely recommend driving South of Pula to Premantura. You must drive to the furthest tip of this part of the island, past the Safari Bar (shown on google maps) to discover the perfect cliff jumping spot!

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 * BUY WATER SHOES! YOU WILL THANK ME LATER*

Rovinj

This place stole my heart….I absolutely loved my evening wandering around this pretty waterfront town. In many ways it reminded me of parts of Italy and if that wasn’t enough for me I could have hopped on a boat sailing to Venice!

Lukas kept having to wait for me because I couldn’t stop snapping pictures of the winding streets and steps leading down to the sea!

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We found this amazing little cocktail bar down one of the alleyways called Mediterraneo Bar. 

Untitled design (57).png39739161_287774335334333_7739606199254908928_n.jpgTake a seat on one of the colourful cushions or dip your feet into the sea while enjoying a frozen daiquiri = perfection! 

As well as this gem we also found an incredible restaurant Puntulina that really was the best place to watch the sun set over the sea. We didn’t book a table so it was just by luck that they had room for 2 on the balcony area! It was not the cheapest place to dine but we had been eating in the villa the past few nights and I can easily say that it was one of my favourite moments of the holiday.

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