Santiago & Rabida – Galapagos Islands

Day 7: Santiago Island (James Bay) & Rabida Island

We were warned that the night’s sailing to Santiago Island would be the roughest yet but we were pleasantly surprised to barely have felt it. We left early in the morning to Santiago Island armed with our snorkelling gear and wetsuit for later as we wouldn’t be returning to the boat until lunch time. We first went off for our morning hike. The tide was low creating lots of tide pools along the rocks where we saw quite a few young sea lions sleeping and playing within them. We saw lots of Sally lightfoot crabs and even a couple who were foaming – apparently this means they are ready to shed their shells! We spotted a couple of our first Fur Seals in the Galapagos. Though called seals, they technically are still sea lions as they have the little ears, however their eyes and whiskers are much larger than the Galapagos Sea Lions. They are also the only animals in the Galapagos to fear humans as they were once hunted for their fur by whalers and pirates.

We came back to the beach and put on our wetsuits which proved to be quite the challenge when trying not to get any sand in them. The water temperature was warmer than when we swam on the west coast of Isabela and the types of fish were reflected in this: they were more tropical and colourful. There were lots of huge parrot fish like we saw in Thailand. The highlight was without a doubt a little baby sea lion who played and swam around Dave and I for about 10 minutes! He was by far the most playful sea lion we had encountered yet and even came to bump his nose on the GoPro twice and even tried to playfully bite it once – we have an awesome still from the video! What was even more amazing was that he picked up two different sea shells from the sandy bottom, his behaviour was so dog-like, it was crazy!

We hopped back on the boat for lunch and headed to Rabida Island, a short 3 hour navigation away. Rabida island, at just 5km², is famous for its distinctive red sand beaches due to the high amounts of iron found in the lava rocks. We saw lots of flowering cacti and a couple of endemic Galapagos Carpenter bees buzzing around them. The females are all black whereas the males are yellow/brown. We have seen the Prickly Pear cactus on most islands in the Galapagos, however, on Rabida island, the cactus has evolved to have soft spines due to a lack of predators. We did a short 30 minute hike up to one of the viewpoints before returning back to the beach to snorkel for our last time in the Galapagos. We snorkelled along the cliff line alongside a myriad of fish and even one ray sleeping on the bottom. As we were returning to the shoreline, the most adorable and friendly sea lion pup came to bid us farewell. By this point there were only 4 of us left in the water and he seemed to be enjoying our company while pirouetting and blowing bubbles at us underwater.

Join us next time as we head to our final destination in the Galapagos, North Seymour island.

Sophie & Dave


Isabela Island, Galapagos, Ecuador

Tagus Cove, Isabela & Fernandina – Galapagos Islands

Day 6: Tagus Cove, Isabela Island and  Fernandina Island

We had breakfast a little earlier than usual so that we could be out on the zodiacs at 7am to see the sea birds when they are at their most active. We saw cormorants, pelicans & blue footed boobies along the rocks of Tagus Cove. We then pulled up to the staircase for our morning hike. Tagus Cove is really famous in the Galapagos because of the graffiti you can find there. People have etched the name of their boats and the year in the rock for hundreds of years. We saw the earliest engraving which was from the boat called Phoenix in 1836! Name carving has been banned since the 90s.

We started to walk up the hill and came to our first viewpoint of the spectacular Darwin lake. It is a beautiful turquoise salt lake sat next to the ocean but without any link to it. Though there wasn’t much in the way of wildlife, we both agreed it was our favourite landscape walk. The island was covered in white trees that made the most stark contrasts against the blue of Darwin lake. We stopped at 3 different viewpoints on our walk offering different perspectives of the lake whilst the final viewpoint at the top even let us see Wolf Volcano on another island! Back at the bottom, as we waited for the zodiacs, a huge pod of penguins swam past us! It was by far the most we had seen and I was so happy to be quick enough to snap a photograph which has over 16 penguins in one photo!

We came back to the boat for a quick wet suit change ready for our first snorkel of the day. Dave was ahead at the front of the group and said he chased the group of penguins only for them to change direction and swim right past him! I didn’t see the big group but I did have one rogue penguin swim straight into my goggles as I came round the corner of a rock! Unfortunately we didn’t capture either penguin encounter on the GoPro but it was a highlight for both of us! On this snorkel, we saw SO many starfish! There’s a few different types of starfish included a small yellow one with brown spots called the Chocolate Chip Starfish – seriously! Our guide also spotted a small Jackson shark resting on the ocean floor though he was quite far down and Dave and I are rubbish at free diving so we didn’t get to see it too clearly.

We got back on the boat for a short 40 minute navigation across to Fernandina island where we would have our second snorkel of the morning. This was our favourite snorkel so far because it was so diverse! For the first time, we saw marine iguanas diving under the water and munching on algae on the rocks. These incredible reptiles can hold their breath for up to 40 minutes! We saw 1 dive down, 3 eating underwater and 1 swimming along the surface towards us – it was so bizarre and absolutely amazing!

We swam further on and came in to a group of sea turtles where it was genuinely a struggle to swim around and not hit any of them! I’ve never seen anything like it, there were about 7 massive ones in a cluster! We both saw a flightless cormorant diving down underwater which was so fast but awesome. We then saw a penguin in the water, tried to follow him and then just round the corner, we found him sat on the rock right next to us whilst a sea lion played with us underwater! We managed to snap a photo with us and the penguin on the GoPro.

In the afternoon, we set off for our hike around Fernandina island. Fernandina island is the youngest of all the Galapagos islands and also the most untouched. It doesn’t have any introduced plant or animal species, so the island remains exactly as it was thousands of years ago. It is also a famous island because it is where BBC’s Blue Planet filmed the iconic snakes-chasing-baby-iguanas scene. Unfortunately that precise location is in a part of the island that tourists cannot visit, plus it wasn’t the right season. Having said that, I was so happy to spot a Racer snake snoozing in the shade in a crevice in the rocks! It was quite thin but really long – it had about 10 ‘bends’ where it lay and if you pulled it taut, so to speak, it would have been about 2 metres long!

The shores of Fernandina island have the highest concentration of marine iguanas. Everywhere you looked, there would be an iguana. There were so many that we even saw one with a Darwin finch perched upon it and one with a crab on top of it. These marine iguanas often spit too which is such a strange sight! They do it to exhale the salt water in their lungs from their dives in the ocean! They are so quick but Dave caught one spitting on film.

Fernandina island was special because we we got to see such diverse wildlife all seemingly sat side by side! A Galapagos hawk sat next to some chunky marine iguanas. Flightless cormorant birds next to the iguanas. Even sea turtles sunbathing in the shallows of the beach only half submerged with their shells poking out! I took one of my favourite photos from this trip where you can see marine iguanas, sea lions and sea turtles all in one spot!

We also saw an Oyster catcher bird who was protecting two eggs that it had laid so close to the path! There was no nest, just the eggs on the bare rock – something we had never seen before! The most fascinating animal however was the lizard on Fernandina island. We saw a larger lizard eating a small lizard!! Apparently when food is extremely scarce, the animals can resort to canabalism where the bigger ones prey on the small ones. I took a photograph and our guide, Fabian, even asked me to send it to him because in his whole life living in the Galapagos and then 10 years as a guide, he’d never seen it himself! Definitely my rarest and luckiest picture ever!

When we came back on board the yacht for the evening, we were all very excited when the Captain sounded the alarm to let us know there was a whale nearby. We only saw a brief spurt and its’ back so we don’t even know what type of whale it was but it was still awesome!

Thanks for reading and join us for the next day of the Galapagos cruise!

Sophie & Dave

West Isabela – Galapagos Islands

Day 5: Punta Moreno & Elizabeth Bay on Isabela island

We came upstairs for breakfast and were treated to a spectacular view when we looked out the window: blue skies and Volcan Azul (blue volcano). We sailed through the night round the south of Isabela island arriving at Punta Moreno. Apparently the trip was meant to take 10/11 hours but only took 7 and a half because conditions were a lot better than usual.

We set out early for our morning hike and as we neared the shore on the zodiac, we saw a mother pelican land in the nest to feed her young by opening it’s huge mouth to pass on the regurgitated food. I have never seen anything like it! Though our view was slightly obscured by the trees, we still glimpsed the baby’s neck all the way inside the mother’s mouth and I even managed to take a photograph that I’m really proud of!

This part of the island is covered in lava rock from the nearby Volcan Azul. It was a landscape that we had never seen before; black, broken and barren. It can take upwards of 200 years following an eruption before the vegetation really starts to grow. Given it erupted as recently as 2008 only a few cactus plants were to be seen. There are three types of cactus found in the Galapagos, here was where we saw the Lava cactus for the first time, each plant often had different coloured parts.

It was really surprising to see pools of water quite far inland that seemed completely cut-off from the ocean. It was even more surprising to see several Galapagos ducks swimming around in them. As we neared the sea, there were a few larger rock pool lagoons. We were so lucky to find the largest pool full of incredible marine life; 2 white tipped reef sharks, one sea turtle, 3 pufferfish and a sting ray! When the tide changes, these animals would make their way back in to the ocean.

After the hike, we had a quick change in to our wet suits ready to snorkel. As we were now properly in the west of the Galapagos archipelago, the water temperature dropped a huge amount. It was bloody freezing but still worth persevering through. We saw lots of huge sea turtles chomping on the algae on the rocks. I saw a massive hieroglyphic hawkfish too which has a really striking blue and yellow pattern. I was in my own little world when we were snorkeling and rarely bothered to come up to the surface to see where everyone else was. When I finally surfaced, I realised that our whole group apart from me and one other had bailed because the water was too cold. Unlucky for them because that’s when I saw a Galapagos penguin streak past me!

In the afternoon, we went out wildlife spotting on the inflatable zodiac motor boats around Elizabeth Bay. As we entered the mangroves, a couple of Galapagos penguins were hopping through the water in front of us, with a playful sea lion close behind! This sea lion seemed to love the attention and had great fun swimming and twirling around our boat. He kept popping his head out of the water as if to check we were still watching.

We went through the shallow, mangrove-lined waters, turned off the engine and then paddled. We saw SO many sea turtles, it was absolutely mad! You could look in any direction and were guaranteed to see a turtle pop it’s head out the water, we’d often count 6 together at once. We’ve now seen a lot of sea turtles when snorkeling (which still fascinates me every time) but it was really nice to get a different perspective and see them from the surface. Also where else in the world would you see sea turtles, sea lions and penguins swimming alongside each other?!

It was here that we saw the rare flightless cormorant! Even within the Galapagos, this bird can only be found in the western part. The bird has evolved to have these absolutely tiny, stumpy wings but the largest body of all cormorants. In the Galapagos, the cormorant lost it’s ability to fly because there was so need when searching for food, another of the incredible bits of evolutionary evidence the Galapagos has to offer. This was particularly special for me as it was actually the Cormorant bird I first saw in Byron Bay, Australia that got me in to bird watching and downloading bird guides! We also saw some more species of heron (the lava heron and Great blue heron), Blue footed boobies and even some really young white fluffy chicks.

As we got back on the boat and began sailing north, we got to enjoy our first beautiful sunset of the Galapagos with clear skies! Join us next time as we head along the coast of Isabela island to Tagus Cove.

Thanks for reading,

Sophie & Dave



South Isabela – Galapagos Islands

Day 4: Isabela Island, Puerto Villamil & Sierra Negra Volcano

We sailed through the night, our longest navigation yet, and arrived at Isabela island. Isabela is the largest island of the Galapagos but only has a population of just over 2,200 people. Less than 1% of the land is privately owned, the rest of the land is national park. In the morning, we headed to Puerto Villamil where we caught the “chicken bus” 40 minutes inland towards our destination; the Volcano Sierra Negra. Sierra Negra is one of the most active volcanos in the Galapagos, last erupting in 2005. The chicken bus was sort of a converted truck with wooden benches in the back and open sides, although surprisingly quite comfortable.

We got off at the bottom of the volcano and started our hike, which was the most strenuous of the all the Galapagos walks so far, but by no means particularly difficult. We were headed to see one of the largest calderas in the world. It is essentially numerous collapsed volcanoes which make about a 10km2 crater. The depression is situated up in the highlands so it was very misty and a bit wet which didn’t bode well for the views at the top. There wasn’t much in the way of wildlife on the walk up other than quite a few of Darwin’s finches. Whilst it was an impressive sight, we only got to see glimpses of it through the mist. We waited for it to pass and managed to get a slightly clearer view but still a bit foggy.

Back at the port, we had a bit of time to wander round. We went along a short mangrove boardwalk that was lined with seals and marine iguanas. Back by the beach there were quite a few benches where huge sea lions had climbed up and made themselves comfortable for a nap. Whilst we waited for our little zodiac boat at the pier, we saw an Eagle Ray gliding through the shallows. The Galapagos waters are just so incredible that you can see such fascinating animals even from land!

After lunch, we headed back out to see the Giant Tortoise rearing centre that focused on species from Isabela island. It wasn’t as educational as the Santa Cruz research station but we did get to see tiny, preserved tortoise embryos of 1,2,3 and 4 months! It was really interesting to see the shell growing even within the egg as it is easy to forget that the shell ultimately is a bone. The highlight was when the guide brought out a gorgeous 7 month old baby tortoise, it was smaller than the palm of a hand, and so crazy to think it will grow to 250kg!

Isabela is the only island with multiple species of giant tortoises. The volcanic terrain and different environments have allowed up to 5 different species to evolve. The Cerro Azul tortoises have domed shells, the shortest limbs and are some of the biggest found in the Galapagos as they live in a lush environment with plenty of food. The nearby Sierra Negra tortoises however, live in a dry habitat with limited food so they have evolved to have longer limbs and necks to be able to reach the cactus plants, their primary food source. They also have the most unusual flattened saddleback shells which enable them to further elongate their necks (see photo below!). They actually had to be rescued back in 1998 as they were surrounded and trapped by lava following an eruption in Cerro Azul.

From the breeding centre, we walked along a boardwalk to where there are little salt and fresh water pools, home to Galapagos Flamingos! What’s special about the Galapagos Flamingo is their colouring. The most accurate description would be a pink stabilo highlighter! It was fascinating to watch the flamingos sweeping their heads back and forth as they searched for their favourite food – brine shrimp. We had a little bit of free time to wander round the tiny Isabela town, the last bit of civilisation we would be seeing for the rest of the cruise. We walked along the beach and saw the biggest group of marine iguanas we’ve seen yet, easily at least 50, mostly young ones with one massive adult! We also poked our heads in the Church which had stained glass windows featuring the animals of the Galapagos and right at the alter, there was a statue of Jesus in the tropical sky looking down on the ocean, beach and animals. It was interesting to see the very animals that sparked the theory of evolution inside a church. We then headed back to our yacht aboard the zodiac where we saw our first Manta Ray gliding near the surface!

Thanks for reading and join us for the next day of the cruise.

Sophie & Dave

Paraty – Brazil


From Sao Paolo, we headed to Paraty; a UNESCO world heritage town with cobbled streets and a river running through it with nearby pristine beaches of Trindade. It sits on the coast between Sao Paolo and Rio. There’s only one company that does the bus trip, Reunidas Paulista, for £20pp. The bus was meant to take 6 hours though annoyingly it was closer to 8! It’s been a while since we’ve done that long during the day rather than over night so we really struggled. Because the bus was late, it also meant we arrived in Paraty in the dark and we were wandering around trying to find our home stay. We had to ask a man sat on the street and he very kindly walked us there.

Despite the fact that the accommodation, Chales Pouso e Panela, was a little bit out of town, we loved it. We were the only guests and the woman who runs it cooked us the most extravagant breakfast for 2 each day. Also, because it was a bit out the way, we saw some amazing wildlife nearby. We walked back one day to find about 6 tiny marmoset monkeys scampering along the telephone wires and jumping in to the trees. We also saw a group of peacocks which seemed to be wild or at least with free range. Everywhere in Paraty there were huge black vultures too.

Paraty old town, reminded us a bit of Colonia, Uruguay though it was quite a bit bigger. We enjoyed meandering through the cobbled streets though it was hard to take in the surroundings because you had to constantly look where you were walking so as to avoid face-planting. The paving was as though someone had sought to deliberately make the most uneven footing.

Though we seemed to be chasing bad weather in Brazil, we still decided to walk to the beach, Praia de Jabaqurara to have a look around. It wasn’t far at all from the town but it was such a huge contrast in such a short distance. We left the cobbled pavings and ended up straight away with a view of the jungle before arriving at a sandy beach. We then had an amazing seafood lunch at Bar Balacobacco sat on wooden benches in the sand with a beautiful view and even a lovely soppy dog with huge ears for company.

We stayed an extra day than we’d intended in Paraty because it seemed we’d finally had a bit of luck with the weather; a whole day of sunshine! As the best beaches are not actually in Paraty, we decided we’d have a little day trip and catch the local bus one hour to Trindade. It was fairly straight forward getting the bus from the main bus station as Trindade was the last stop and they even have the ticket price on the front of the bus ($BR4.25pp). Trinidade is a little town complete with swimwear shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. There are numerous beaches in the area and so we spent the day moving between them. The first beach, with the most people, was Praia dos Ranchos. This beach had a couple of restaurants on it but we decided to go in to the town for lunch to get a break from the sun. In the afternoon, our next beach was Praia do Meio, this is a fairly flat walk about 15 minutes from the town. The final beach we went to was Praia do Cachadaco, to get there you had to clamber through the forest. It was quite steep and slippy at times but in the end, it takes you to the most deserted and peaceful beach though the waves were huge!

Thanks for reading, join us next time as we head to the tropical island, Ilha Grande!

Sophie & Dave

Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An & Ho Chi Minh City – Vietnam


It’s been a while since we’ve posted, so here is 2 weeks in Vietnam all in one post!

We flew in to Hanoi and fortunately didn’t need a visa as we weren’t staying longer than 15 days in the country. Hanoi was insanely busy, though a different type of busy to what we’ve experienced before. Hanoi just has THOUSANDS of motorbikes and right of way seemed to be determined by how loud/frequently one beeped. We didn’t do very much exploring in Hanoi really, just a few strolls round the Old quarter as I was quite ill (surprise surprise). We discovered an amazing sandwich cart (in Vietnamese they’re called Bhan Mi) and ate there about 4 times, it was also only 70p, so a good cheap and safe eat for us.

We booked our cruise for Ha Long Bay through our hotel. Though you can get a boat and just choose somewhere to stay, most tourists book a cruise. The youngsters book ‘booze cruises’ and the rest opt for better dining (obviously because I’m a 94 year old trapped in a 24 year old’s body, we opted for the better dining and no booze). Our cruise company was Apricot cruise (though I wouldn’t recommend them) and we went for 3 days and 2 nights, one night on the boat and one night in a bungalow on an island. We were picked up from the hotel by bus and we drove 4 hours to the Ha Long Bay marina. A smaller motorised boat then took our group on to the cruise ship. It slept about 30 people and had a dining room and then a nice deck at the top with sun loungers. Ha Long Bay was jaw droppingly beautiful. Right from the start, the water was a beautiful emerald colour and there were islands everywhere. We had sort of anticipated that we’d see all the islands together at the start and then they would be more sporadic, if any, as we got further out. Absolutely not true, we were in awe of just how many there were, apparently over 1600 (mostly uninhabited)! Definitely the most spectacular seascape either of us had ever seen!

There was quite a mix of people on the boat, we got on especially well with a really inspirational Swedish lady. She was a teacher in Sweden but for the last few years had set up entry education for child refugees coming to Sweden so before they were thrown in to school, they had an 8 week programme where they had language lessons and had time to adapt to their surroundings. On our first day we went to the “surprise cave”. This was a much better cave than the terrifying one in Laos, well lit and full of stalagmites and stalactites. We then went to Titop Island which has a sandy beach but also the best place to get a view of the bay from above. We climbed the steep stone staircase to the top of the island to look over Ha Long Bay. Though it was absolutely rammed with tourists, it was still an impressive sight. Bizarrely there was also the biggest swarm (not sure what the technical term is?) of dragonflies! I mean we’re talking hundreds and hundreds of them. It sort of looks like black dots on the photos but I think you can tell they’re dragon flies if you zoom in a little. The climb took a while and we didn’t have much time before we were due to head back to the boat, Dave still managed to squeeze a cheeky dip in the sea. Back at the boat, we had a nice dinner (huge quantities and good food) and then they had a ‘sunset party’. We came for the free Sangria (well Dave had mine) and then headed back to our cabin soon after. People were also squid fishing from the back of the boat but neither of us wanted to catch them as we felt mean to the poor baby squiddies.

The next day, we got up early but unfortunately it was too cloudy for a good sunrise. Dave joined in a Tai Chi class at 6.30am (it wasn’t a proper one, it was just the tour guide waving his arms telling them all to breathe). Afterwards, as we had breakfast in the dining room, we watched all the other cruise ships move on whilst we stayed stationary and we were then told that our boat had ‘broken’. This is one of the reasons this tour company was shite, they just said the boat broke and then basically walked off. We still have no idea why or the implications of it. The miscommunication was terrible. So because of this, it was all a bit rushed and they changed our plans so that we would disembark to the smaller boat earlier. We had 15 minutes to pack our bag and check out before heading to the Pearl Farm. We were all feeling quite sassy at this point, especially as there wasn’t anywhere to keep our bags safely, so we weren’t too invested in the pearl tour. It was still interesting to hear what they were saying, and I also now understand why pearls are so expensive. The farm had one million oysters growing pearls and we saw workers cracking open the oysters and implanting membranes to help growth. Apparently only 30% actually have a pearl inside when its time to harvest, and only 10% of them are usable in jewellery. Some oysters are left to grow the pearl for up to 8 years and there’s a 70% chance there is nothing inside it!

We were transferred to yet another boat and then we headed towards the island where we’d be staying. We stopped off along the way where everyone was allowed to get off and go kayaking! Dave and I very very rarely argue, but put us in a kayak and we’re at each other’s throats, blaming each other for going the wrong way haha. It was still good fun kayaking with this incredible seascape backdrop. We kayaked to a little island with a tiny beach for a little swim. We headed back to the boat and were then taken to yet another idyllic beach. The water was still this luscious blue and really clean. We also were walking along collecting seashells (one of my fave actives). Around 3pm we were dropped off at Monkey Island where we were to stay the night. Online, it seemed monkey island was riot with monkeys out to steal your things but we didn’t see a single one (I was disappointed, obvs). I have never stayed on such a tiny island. We had a little bungalow with gaps between the walls and the thatched roof (thankfully we sussed out how to use the mosquito net in the evening). We spent the afternoon just chilling by the sea and then we had a buffet dinner. They had the BEST sea food I’d ever tried; I thought I was eating muscles but apparently they were oysters! (Jakie, if you’re reading this, I had my first oyster and loved it!).

The next day, we woke up to a torrential down pour, which didn’t make clambering on and off these slippy boats with rucksacks any easier. We’d been so lucky with the weather for the first few days. We headed back to the big cruise boat and back to Ha Long Bay marina. On the way back, they did a cooking class where they taught us how to make fresh Vietnamese spring rolls (i.e not fried but wrapped in rice paper). Around 12pm, we got back on land and hopped on the 4 hour bus back to the hotel we stayed at in Hanoi and picked up one of the rucksacks we left. We were bricking it a little bit because we had already booked our next overnight bus onwards to Hoi An to save us accommodation for that night. The bus was due to depart an hour after we were meant to be back but we weren’t sure if we’d get back in time. Fortunately we did, with an hour to spare, so we were able to have a little break and brush teeth etc. I am usually never one to complain. If a waiter brought me something under-cooked to the point it was raw, I’m the type of person who’d still just smile and say it was lovely. So, to Dave’s utter disbelief, when our hotel asked us about the cruise, I was honest and said whilst Ha Long Bay was indisputably beautiful, the cruise company themselves were a bit of shambles. I ended up getting us a $20USD refund though! On the boat, loads of people left negative feedback (we didn’t get a form) and were offered a beer as compensation to “forget the bad”. Winning!

The bus arrived and though we’d already been travelling (boat and bus) all day, we then embarked on our 20 hour bus ride Hoi An. It was pretty brutal. Our bus had seats in permanent reclined position, we were able to get a bit of sleep but it was still quite uncomfortable. We were so happy to finally arrive in Hoi An and get to a really nice hotel. We were offered to upgrade to a fancy room for a few extra dollars so we did and we had the nicest room we’ve had yet! Inevitably the germ infested bus ride gave me the flu so I was very happy to have a nice room as I spent most of the time in Hoi An in bed. The hotel had a pool so Dave was still able to enjoy the time there lounging by the pool (even though it turned our swim stuff bright green! Chlorine levels were definitely off). Dave did much more exploring than me and took out the free bikes from the hostel to cycle through the rice paddy fields and round the town. In Hoi An’s old centre, it is pedestrianised which makes a nice change to Vietnam’s madness of motorbikes. I was happy I managed to make it to the old town on our last day. The old town is a UNESCO heritage site with lovely little meandering streets and colourful lanterns hanging everywhere. There was an art gallery and I bought a little oil painting of Ha Long Bay (Dave sat outside the shop with the pet dog in a strop haha). Apparently in Vietnam, if you’re the first customer of the day in any shop, you should always buy even a little something as the people believe it brings luck for a good day of trade. The lady was thrilled I bought the picture and kept holding my hand which was sweet.

When we looked at booking our transport on to Ho Chi Minh city, the bus, train and internal flight were all pretty much the same price. I couldn’t face another 24 hour bus ride so we decided to fly down instead. As we were in a taxi to Da Nang airport, Dave realised he’d left his swim shorts drying outside behind, and was devastated haha. Fortunately that’s the only thing we’ve lost this trip (touch wood!!!!). Our flight was delayed by an hour but there was an amusing sign on the check in desk which read “Status: Delayed. Reason: None”.

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, many Vietnamese people still refer to the city as its former name; Saigon. We were staying in a hostel in the backpacker area (a narrow street through the back of a market with loads of hostels). Our first full day was on Friday 28th April which was the day of my Grandma’s funeral back in England. I was sad not to have been back with my family but I think my Grandma would have wanted me to stay out here. We decided to go to the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral (a replica of sorts of Paris’) so I could say my goodbye. Though I’m not religious, my Grandma was and I think she would have really liked this Cathedral, it had beautiful stained glass windows and it was just really interesting to see it in the middle of a busy Vietnamese city!

As far as big, busy cities go, I actually really liked Ho Chi Minh. Of course, I got heart palpitations every time we tried to cross a road, but the city itself had a great balance of nature and parks within the hustle and bustle. I have a new favourite flower but I haven’t been able to find the name of it. It’s sort of a light blue/purple colour and hangs down often from arch ways and buildings. I’ve seen it a few times in Vietnam and there were paintings of it in the art gallery too. There’s a photo below, let me know if you know the name!

We went to the War Remnants Museum. It was a little bizarre because it was focused so much on bashing America. Of course, its understandable. I suppose it is impossible to tell the story of a war without bias from one angle but this was perhaps the most one-sided museum we’d ever been to. We, ourselves, have a Western bias just in the name of the war! I’ve always referred to it as ‘The Vietnam war’ but the museum called it ’The US aggressive war in Vietnam’. Perhaps there’s the opposite museum in America, I don’t know. All I do know, is that it was still horrific to see so many images of the destruction caused by Agent Orange. They also had the photo of “Napalm girl”, apparently the photographer, Nick Ut, presented the photo to the museum in 2013.

The next day we took a day tour to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, an underground network of tunnels used by the Viet Cong spanning 250km. Again, there was so much bias in the story telling, this time from our tour guide who said he was a veteran but fighting on the American side. We couldn’t really tell what was true and what was embellishment and what was altered to what he thought would appease Westerners. The tunnels themselves were really fascinating. They were SO SO SO small. I was umming and erring about whether I could go in the tunnel and not panic, but in the end I decided against it. I met Dave and the rest of the group the end of the tunnel. It was a 250 metre tunnel that had been widened a bit for tourists with three levels. There was an escape route after 20 metres and quite a lot of the group came out after just that! Dave persevered all the way through and came out the end drenched in sweat. He said the tunnels were so small that they were crawling on hands and knees, there was no light and it was unbearably hot. I definitely think I made the right call not going in haha! We were shown ventilation holes that the Vietnamese disguised round the roots of trees and some of the traps with spikes etc they used against the Americans. They also had a shooting range for tourists to fire old guns used in the war. We thought this was disgustingly disrespectful and distasteful. I realised I’d never actually heard a gun go off in real life but there, it was constant and deafening. I absolutely hated it and I have no personal experience to any war. Imagine what that must be like for a veteran or Vietnamese person with PTSD visiting!

Also worth saying – we had amazing Vietnamese food in Ho Chi Minh. I found my new favourite food of the whole trip, and wait for it, it’s a vegetable! Well, technically flower – stir fried Tonkin Jasmin flowers with garlic. So good! We would love to come back to Vietnam again and maybe do a completely different route! There are still lots of places we’d like to visit like Sappa, Na Trang and Dalat. We met a lot of people who were doing the Top Gear experience as well where you get a scooter and do the same route as the top gear special. Maybe save that one for when I actually get a driving license!

Thanks for reading!

Sophie & Dave