Exploring Northern Vietnam with Marni

Planning, Packing, and Getting There

My travel/adventure partner, one of my best friends, and just a hoot of an individual  was traveling around Asia. She has been hopping from country to country on an extended trip, by extended I mean months long. She asked if I would be interesting in joining her for apart of it, knowing I am one of the few people she enjoys traveling with for long periods of time. I had to think long an hard about it because it was added cost I was not really planning for. I was really trying to keep my costs down to stay on track for my big plans. Then I said, "screw it!" When else would I have an opportunity to join one of my favorite travel partners in Asia! So I looked at my calendar and figured out a 10 day chuck I could make work, booked the multiple flights over there, and waited for the day to come. Oh and we didn't plan anything. Just the first hostel we were going to meet at in Hanoi.

Packing was super simple for me. I knew I wanted to bring my Sony A6300 Camera and my GoPro with some clothing. I figured I could get it all to fit into one smaller backpack, which I did just that! I knew I was going to be in the same thing most of the time, like I always am, so I didn't need to check a bag or anything. Just my one carry-on, which makes traveling so much better! Less to worry about, less to carry, and do you really need all that shit?

Getting there is a beast of a task. By that I mean you are going to be spending hours, ha days due to cross the International Dateline, flying and being in airports. I used this app called Hopper, which looks for the cheapest flight option and tells you when you should buy a ticket. Keep in mind it does not have all the airlines on it so you might get stuck with some shitty layovers. I flew Minneapolis to Los Angeles to Tokyo to Hanoi for a total of 23-24 hours in the air and 7-8 hours of layover time. Ha yeah it blew! But the end goal was going to be totally worth it!

Day 1 and 2: Seeing What Hanoi is All About

I landed two days after I took off, due to me leaving later on Thursday, full travel day on Friday, and having me land on Saturday around 13:30. So we had the afternoon to catch up, grab some food, and see what goes on in Hanoi at night. When we were catching up we planned out the trip quick on the back of a folder lol. Went down to the computers at the hostel and booked our 2 day 1 night boat tour with Cat Ba Ventures and 2 day 1 night trekking with Sapa Sisters Trekking Adventures, both were highly recommended by people she knew. Laid out the week quite well since we had to build in travel time to these different destinations and explore their area. After all of that, we went out for some food with a few of her travel friends, she met along the way, and saw what the Hoàn Kiếm Lake area was all about. There was some big festival/block party thing going on. So all sorts of stuff taking place on the streets    

Bus from Hanoi dropped us off right at the end of the driveway in Cat Ba. Now to get some shut eye and get jacked up for the 2 day 1 night boat trip to come!

Day 3 and 4: Seeing Vietnam by Water

Spend the next two days and one night with Cat Ba Ventures. We booked the Lan Ha Bay - Ha Long Bay - Bai Tu Long Bay: Boat Tour. No clue what it was going to be like but we were hoping it was going to be more chill. A lot of the boat tours to Ha Long Bay are party oriented, which is not really my scene, given I would dabble. So we spend a little more than you typically would but man oh man it was worth it! Ended up being with 3 other couples, no Marni and I are not dating and not a couple, we are travel/adventure partners lol. 

Whole thing starts off with Cat Ba Ventures picking us up from our hostel and bringing us all down to the docks. We then launched into Lan Ha Bay in a passenger/gear hauler to our boat for the next two days. At that point, we meet the crew, others we are going to be with, and our awesome guide which I feel like a dick but totally don't remember his name... Oh well he was awesome! Super knowledgeable, friendly, spoke very well English, and was just fun to be around. 

Seeing this much amazing looking water and terrain I was going nuts! I needed to get me some paddle time, totally wishing I had Nala but that would have been a pain in the ass to get her here. I would have made it work but still, this was not that trip. After a fantastic seafood lunch we hit the water for some snorkeling (Marni and I didn't do), paddling, swimming, archways, and whatever else we could paddle to.

That was awesome! We had a blast paddling and exploring the area. Got off the water, grabbed a dry layer, and we continued onward to another area. Next area was going to have some caves to paddle through! Oh also I know some of the images are not the best from the GoPro. New to salt water and the film like residue it puts on the lens. Need to figure out a way to be better at that, if ya have any recommendations please share! But at the same time I don't really care. I want you to see and experience this amazing place yourself!

So jacked for this next part! Paddling in caves?!?! Are you kidding me?! So they gave us one old school headlamps per kayak, which looked legit but really sucked. I am kicking myself for not grabbing mine out of my pack. Marni and I were the first ones to go into the cave because well we got there first lol. Could not see shit once we got around the first turn. No joke our headlamp was like a candle light. It was easier for me to see without it, given I can see really well at night. So we said, "screw it" let's do it by sound and feel. Then we came to the center part of the cave, which had a traffic jam of other paddlers coming back from the other side. They gave off enough light for Marni and I to sneak by the mess and continue onward, again into the dark, until we saw the light on the other side. WOW is all I can say!

Next morning, I work up to some amazing views! Had to pinch myself a few times because fuck it was breathtaking. After another tasty meal, for real these guys crushed the food, we headed towards a part of Bai Tu Long Bay and Cong Tau lagoon for the rest of the day. Another awesome cave, more kayaking, private beaches everywhere, temple, and so much more. 

We decided we wanted in on some more fun. So after jumping off the boat a few times we grabbed a kayak to check out the temple. Oh while getting into the kayak, I was in the water and Marni was on the boat grabbing the paddles. She put them into the front and pushed them out, which I was hanging onto the kayak so my face caught the paddles. Totally got a slight black eye, which I guess is payback since I gave her one two years ago with a water bottle lol

Now the sad part has come. Time to get off the boat, but that just means our adventure continues! We found a sweet bungalow hostel while on the boat. Yeah you read that right. The boat had WiFi heck the whole country does, everywhere. Get with it United States! It's not about money it's about connecting your people to the world. So we book the hostel and headed that way, short walk from Cat Ba Ventures. Once settled in we went out for some food, of course some Mango, which is both of our favorite fruit :)     

Day 3: To the Top of Cat Ba Island

Woke up the next day to some beautiful views right out the bungalow window. Such a sweet hostel! Afterwards, we headed back to Cat Ba Ventures since we booked an overnight sleeper bus with them to Sa Pa, but the bus does not leave till 16:30. So we had a whole day to explore. We dropped our bag off in their office, rented a motorbike right outside of their place, and hit the road! We were heading up to Cat Ba National Park and where ever these motorbikes take us!

As we were checking out this swimming hole we started talking about what we would do for the rest of the day. Our passes to the National Park gained us access to some caves, which clearly was going to be our next move. Then head back into town for a bite to eat, little shopping, and get ready for the bus ride.

Day 4: Hello Sa Pa

Arrived at 04:00 to Sa Pa. Thankfully, we got to sleep on the bus till about 06:00. First things first, food and coffee. After that we grabbed a taxi driver to get us to our hotel. He didn't have a fucking clue where it was, but made it out to be like he did. He ended up walking around asking people where it was, which then it seemed like he knew. So we got in the cab, we had it all mapped out on Marni's phone giving us turn by turn directions. Then he took a wrong turn. But is going up the road to stop and ask another person directions. We kept saying we have directions and you are going the wrong way, but that didn't go anywhere. We showed him the map and started heading in the right direction. Then another wrong turn. We said, "STOP STOP STOP" this is far enough, let's get out, and hike out the rest. The map was putting us on one side of a massive hotel under construction when our hotel was technically on the other side, which we finally figured it out.

Finally got our bags into the hotel, rested up, watch Elf, and ate something. Now what to do with the rest of the day. Oh there are a bunch of waterfalls to checkout? Ok let's go do that!

Pretty damn sweaty at this point. Had to hike all the way back up to our hotel, which we cleaned up quick, grabbed a warmer layer, and explored more of the city part of Sa Pa. Found a nice lake to walk around, got some amazing pizza, and back to the hostel. We were both tired and next two days will be trekking on the Northern side of Sa Pa.

Day 5 and 6: Trekking with Sapa Sisters

Waking up the next day we were both pretty excited. Two days one night trekking! We were going with Sapa Sisters Trekking Adventures, Marni's friends recommendation. They offer two major options. Southern route which is all down hill and tends to be in a group of 8+. Northern route which is up and down hill across the mountains, rice fields, and through multiple villages, all with less people. By less people I mean it was Marni, Phong (our guide), and me. This was perfect! 

During lunch the rain started to come in. At first, I thought it was just going to be foggy but nope the rain started. Whatever we all have hiked in rain before, no biggy. Just sucks we can not see the views any more. Due to the rain I put my good camera away, dry sac. But we were also pretty close to our homestay for the night. 

Thank you again for taking us into your home, feeding us, and being amazing! Was awesome to see how you live your daily life. Really opened up my eyes on the quality of life I have back home. Yeah I have way more stuff, but that is mainly what it is, stuff. Really going to make some adjustments when I get back. 

After a night of awesome sleep, we hit the trails again. Today, the weather was shit. Given that made it awesome at the same time! I love "bad weather" because you get a little more struggle in. Only downside is not seeing the amazing views. Oh well, just need to get back a different time of year :)

End of the road... That is it for trekking, but I have to say it was awesome! Loved every minute of it rain or shine. Really humbling experience. Learned a lot about what is really important in life. But I am hungry.Thankfully, we got a hot bowl of soup as we waiting for the shuttle to come get us and bring us back to Sa Pa. From there, we got cleaned up at the hotel and booked two seats on the next bus back to Hanoi. My flight was taking off the next day!      

Day 7: I Hate Goodbyes

Well the moment has come. Time for us to part ways. Marni was on day 112, I want to say, and was going to continue down the rest of Vietnam and onto other countries. I had to fly back to get to work the next day. Ha yeah that means I have 24 hours of flights ahead of me, but I gain a day and like 13 hours or something like that. I knew I was going to be all messed up when I got back home. So I worked on getting back on Minnesota time on my way home. Watch a bunch of movies, played games on my phone, and reflected about the trip.

About: Few random clips from my Vietnam adventure. Didn't really film much since I was more so in picture mode. Way to much beauty I wanted to capture for my galleries. But I should have filmed more to do this place justice. Still fun to see some of the clips

Camera/Settings: GoPro Hero 5 Black. Video shot at 2K 30fps Stabilization on. Also a few clips from my iphone. All edited in Final Cut Pro X


Holy shit where do I start. I just got done traveling through and amazing country with one of my best friends. I am blown away by how fantastic the experience truly was. I really learned my calling in life. Doing just this. Traveling and taking photos. I can not believe the ease of it in Asia. So cheap, compared to the United States, outstanding people, tons of history, and just jaw dropping views. My eyes could only take in so much beauty! hahah. Ok going back to the learning more about my life. I learned how it really is not about all the shit you have. Life is about living it. Doing what you love. Being with people you love or around people you enjoy. Pushing yourself every chance you get. Trying new things. Trying things that might have scared you in the past. Investing in your wellbeing (body and mind). Being flexible in all aspects of life. Importance of learning other languages, cultures, and ways of living. But most importantly, going with your gut. If you have something you are passionate about make it happen! Others might think you are nut! But fuck em! It is your life. If you deeply and truly want to do X then go for it! Sometimes you have to give up everything to make it happen, but think about what you will gain in the end.

See the world, love each other, spread positivity, and ultimately just enjoy your life each and every day :)

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