Welcome to a new series on Journey Count detailing the best day trips from Hanoi.
Hanoi is a lot of fun but we believe that you never fully understand a place until you get rural, so with Oli’s $350 motorbike we’ll be taking as many trips out of the city as we can to explore all that Northern Vietnam has to offer. From the little research we have done it seems that there are some fantastic gems just a few hours from Hanoi, so we’ll be focusing on day trips and overnighters. We’ll then venture further afield when we have friends and family come to visit.
It took us a whole month of nesting and settling in our new home to get itchy feet, but now that we have done this first trip we are itching for more!
Ba Vi National Park was the perfect start to our Vietnam adventures.
Now on this particular trip, we technically stayed over in the park but we could easily have made it a one day round trip. Ba Vi District is only an hour and half ride out from Tay Ho, and it is relatively small, making it a perfect day trip from the chaos of the city.
We had an absolutely incredible time and, wow, did it feel good to stretch out legs and lungs in such a beautiful natural setting.
Even the ride alone would have made a worthy trip and we got a kick from seeing water buffalo roaming the highways just 20 minutes outside of Hanoi, where the high rises begin to be replaced by ever bigger fields of rice and the roads became increasingly quiet. We were also fascinated to see so many cows and water buffalos so near to Hanoi and also the local graves at home amongst the rice fields. We’re unsure which come first; whether there is a tradition to have deceased loved ones watch over your harvest or whether lack of space has meant that grave yards are being taken over for convenience. If anyone has any idea, we’d love to know and we’ll try and get a picture next time.
Another 40 minutes out of the city and the mountains start taking shape on the horizon…
The roads up from the park entrance (a mere 43,000VND each with a bike) were so much fun and pretty much deserted on this particular Monday.
Our first tip for you would be to eat down by the park entrance or along the roads leading up to it, as there is nothing in the park itself in low season. In fact, it’s worth mentioning that Vietnam appears to be very specific about mealtimes in general and therefore it’s best to eat when places are busy, on the dot at lunchtime, even if you aren’t that hungry! We’ve spent a few afternoons riding around hungry even in Hanoi…
On this trip we made the fatal error of being overly excited to make it up the mountain and forgetting this rule. We explored for a few hours, fuelled by adrenaline and awe and were so sad when outside the park all the seemingly open restaurants turned us a way with a wave of their hands.
After much gesticulating, one place advertising com ga (chicken rice) invited us to sit down. The owner then hastily ran off to the chicken coup, picked out a bird and killed it.
She then proceeded to boil and deep fry it whole, before serving it simply with a pair of scissors and a salt, lime, chili and thyme sauce.
Oli got straight in and cut it open and served me a leg. The texture was kind of odd, a little chewy, but really quite delicious! It took a while to get used to, but once we had a steaming bowl of rice to accompany it our hunger took over.
The strangest part of this most unexpected meal? The half grown eggs that were still inside the hen. Yup, when Oli cut the bird open, the inside was full of bright yellow yolks! We’ve never had fresher eggs! By that point we were more curious than freaked out and had to try them…
If you are intrigued by this dish, then make sure you have enough people to share it with. As I’m sure you can imagine, it was way too much just for us and also pricey at 250,000VND. Our most expensive lunch in Vietnam yet.
But back to Ba Vi and all its beauty.
Once we’d made it around the twisting mountain roads, we took the steps to the left and made our way to the Bao Thien tower. The tower and neighbouring Ho Chi Minh temple sit on the tallest peak in the park and the hike up is lovely, if a little tough on the thighs.
You couldn’t climb up the tower but just looking up from the bottom, at the gleaming Buddha impressions spiralling to the sky, took our breath away. The whole place is incredible peaceful and spiritual and we spent a while just sitting up at the summit, enjoying the mountain air.
On the way back down we took the only other road right and stumbled upon the old French Hill Station, or what is left of it. We had been told there was an old church on the mountain but we hadn’t expected so many other ruins, or for it to be quite so beautiful.
The place would have been built less than 100 hours ago when the French occupied Vietnam, but the forest had completely taken it over, making it’s own mark on atmosphere of Ba vi.
Again, there was no one else around, and when a place is so secluded and quiet like that you cannot help but feel like you are discovering it for the first time. You can feel the history of the place, even if you don’t know a single fact about it…
We didn’t make it around the whole park due to the aforementioned hunger, but that simply means we have more reason to come back.
And the Ba Vi Family Homestay gave us a another.
This very simple guesthouse, just 15 minutes from the park entrance, was the icing on the amazing day cake. After a day of hiking, we weren’t ready to leave nature just yet and Hao and Vin’s garden was almost as tranquil as the mountains you could see in the distance.
They cooked us a delicious dinner, which we forced into our full stomachs because we simply couldn’t refuse them, and we drank endless cups of green tea, plucked straight from their garden.
At 9pm, Vin, got out his crossbow and we shot at a foam board attached to a tree. Then we went to play on his bamboo ‘tightrope’. At one point I think he took us to go shoot some bats but we’re not certain as they flew away before he lifted the bow…
In the morning we had a photo shoot and some last minute Vietnamese lessons.
Hen gap lai Hao and Vin, see you soon.
Have you taken an awesome day trip or stayed in a memorable homestay lately? Tell us in the comments below! And absolutely get in touch if you know any day trips from Hanoi that we cannot miss.
And if you want to stay with Hao and Vin, you can find their number on their Facebook Page. It’s a little tricky to get to but Vin is good at finding stranded foreigners.
You can also book a bed there through booking.com and if you do you should totally use the ad on the right sidebar of our blog so we can buy a bia hoi with the commission, at no extra cost to you!