Vietnam’s Beautiful Northern Beaches on Quan Lan Island

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*Disclaimer: This is a super belated post from my beach trip to Quan Lan Island in Vietnam 4 months ago in July. For the mean time, I am shivering in London’s gloomy rainy grey winter dreaming of our beautiful tropical beaches.

Vietnam has beautiful beaches, that is not to deny. If even Brazilian people would say so then there is nothing to doubt about! Alright.. I mean my Brazilian friends. But still, with more than 3,000 km of coastline and a tropical weather we do have many gorgeous beaches across the country. (See my previous posts of Southern island Phu Quoc and Central Ha Tinh province’s Thien Cam beach)

Compared with the South and most of the Central part of Vietnam where it is hot all year around, the North of Vietnam has a cold winter and the beaches are only crowded in the summer. Besides the famed Ha Long Bay there are many other beautiful islands in the nearby Bai Tu Long Bay in which Quan Lan is one of the two most popular, together with Co To.

However, for a tourist attraction, Quan Lan is quite under-developed. There are 3 main beaches in the island: the most serviced (i.e touristy) one is Minh Chau, the most populous is Quan Lan (also the main town) and the almost-deserted one is Son Hao.  Read the rest of this entry »

Holidays at Thien Cam Beach, Ha Tinh Province

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(This is a belated blog post about my holidays with friends to Thien Cam Beach 2 months ago. Actually the beach trip came right after my short weekend motorbike drive to Tam Dao Mountains)

It’s been a long time since I last had a trip to the sea, to be exact, it has been 3 years since Phu Quoc island. I guess it was because my addiction for mountain road trips kept pulling me towards the high lands and never gave a break for me to think about our 3,000 km of coastline. But, finally, after failing to find company for a mountain trek during the long May holidays in Vietnam (6 consecutive days off in the calendar – Yes, we do have some ridiculously long public holidays in Vietnam), I had the chance to see the sea again.

Thien Cam Beach, located 20 km away from Ha Tinh city, is a beautiful local beach (during 3 days here the beach was packed with people but I saw zero foreign tourist). And even for domestic travelers from other parts of the country, it’s difficult and confusing to get there if you travel independently. Read the rest of this entry »

Climate Change is real. Face it and fight! If it’s not for you, it’s for your children!

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A fish dies in an empty dry reservoir in the central province of Ninh Thuan. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre
A fish dies in an empty dry reservoir in the central province of Ninh Thuan, Vietnam. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre

I have heard about “climate change” for a long while, but just like everybody else, I never really gave it a serious thought.

And things started to change from last year, when I watched this speech by Leonardo DiCaprio at the opening of Climate Summit 2014. I was deeply touched and fell in depression for quite some time, for it constantly echoing in my head: “…the economy itself will die if our ecosystems collapse…”. Ever since I just can’t help myself wondering what all of our “10 year plans” are for if our planet may not even make it until we succeed?

Probably up to now everybody is aware that more than 2,000 lives have been claimed by the extreme heatwave in India, “the highest number of casualties for more than 20 years” as stated on the Guardian. I could totally imagine this would happen to a country with that many of people living on the streets like India, under the heat of 48 degree C.

In my home country Vietnam, the situation is only slightly better, casualties and coma have been reported. Unicef’s climate fact sheet also suggests “an average annual temperature rise in Viet Nam by 2100 of approximately 2.3°C” and “Viet Nam is ranked 13th of the 170 countries deemed vulnerable to the impacts of climate change over the next 30 years and is one of the 16 “extreme risk” countries”. This year, our coffee exports drop 40% due to severe drought (we are the 2nd biggest coffee exporter in the world). And “the temperature hit 41.5 degrees Celsius, or 106.7 degrees Fahrenheit, in some central provinces” reported by Thanh Nien News. And in Hanoi, a video went viral showing someone frying egg and meat under the 40 degree C heat.

In other parts of the world there are consequences too. London suffered from serious flood in 2014; or a friend of mine in Wroclaw (Poland) said that he saw flowers in his garden during Christmas 2 years ago, which left me totally awed because I still recalled the snowy -20 degree C winter I went through in 2009 in the same city.

Obviously, climate change is everywhere, even though we all pretend like we don’t see it; or maybe we just don’t care because we can’t relate. Perhaps for those sitting in A/C rooms, moving around in A/C cars, the 2,500 dead in India is just a number, they would never understand what it really means.

(For more information on countries responsible for emission and countries vulnerable to climate change, check this carbon map)


Hanoi has recently been through extremely hot days. I was sick most of the time under that scorching weather. I could hardly eat or sleep, it was too hot, but still I refused to turn on the A/C (it might be weird for some if I say I feel guilty of my own carbon footprint for the thought that it contributes to the suffering of so many homeless people out there). And so, I woke up one morning after a few hours attempting to sleep with a swollen face due to heat allergy. Then came 3 sleepless nights of red rash covering my skin from head to toes, and also inside my throat and stomach. During that time my mind was full of negative thinking and I thought often about the people who died out there under the heat and tried to imagine the pain they must have gone through. And I wondered if this would be the “legacy” we leave for our kids, or grand-kids.. Probably from now on, every year would be a “record” year (of heat, of flood, of drought, of death..).

But now, a rational healthy me think more positively. Will we die that way or should we start facing the harsh fact and fight?

Apparently, this combat against climate change largely depends on Governments, but that doesn’t mean individuals can’t help, there are “only” 7 billion individuals on this Earth(!)

Recently I found this “fun” question on twitter: “On average, an American uses as much electricity in one month as a Tanzanian does in how many years?” – Answer: 8 years! – And that is exactly where we should start!

Saving our resources and reducing our carbon footprint whenever possible is a solution.  

Please think again when you have to turn on the A/C, and think again, and again when you decide to turn down the temperature. And then, do you need all those electric items on in the house? Even if you’ve paid the bills, just understand that if our ecosystems collapse your money is a mere piece of trash. The only question is: Do you really want to contribute to saving the world or you want to live like an ignorant citizen? Everything you do is affecting the Earth, and you can choose to go for the better, or the worse. Maybe try sleeping without the A/C for a night and if that is suffering to you then you can imagine how millions (or billions?) of locals in Africa and Asia are facing.

“We only get one planet. Humankind must become accountable on a massive scale for the wanton destruction of our collective home. Protecting our future on this planet depends on the conscious evolution of our species.” – Leonardo DiCaprio.

Solo Road Trip: A Weekend Getaway to Tam Dao Mountains

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Only 80 km to the northwest of Hanoi, Tam Dao (meaning 3 mountains in Vietnamese) is a perfect destination to escape from the heat, noise and pollution of the capital for a day or two at weekend.

My first visit to Tam Dao was somewhat 12 years ago and I vaguely remember anything about it. Thus, my motorbike trip there recently was pretty much like a brand new visit. For travel tips (i.e hotels, restaurants, sights, etc.) please check out travelfish (English) or (Vietnamese). These two are my favorite sites when it comes to travels in Vietnam. However, there is one thing neither of the sites mention very clearly, which is the transportation. There is no direct bus from Hanoi so you may have to catch 2 or 3 buses or a taxi in order to get there; therefore, if you have a motorbike I do suggest you make use of it. The road is smooth and very well instructed (of course a phone with GPS is still recommended) and the last 13 km is incredibly beautiful though might be tortuous for new drivers. The total drive may take you around 2.5 – 3 hours. Read the rest of this entry »

2015 New Year Road Trip: Hanoi – Ha Giang – Cao Bang

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My first motorbike road trip of 2015 was to Ha Giang, a place claimed by many as “the most beautiful part of Vietnam”, which I totally endorse. The trip was friggin cold though.. Before setting off I recalled the cold we went through 2 years ago in another new year road trip and equipped myself carefully with multiple layers of clothes, 2 pairs of socks and 2 pairs of gloves. However, they didn’t help much when the mist came down at night. Honestly, the -20 degree Celsius in Poland that I experienced wasn’t as fearful as that mountainous chilly mist.

We drove our bikes for a total of 1,100 km (~684 miles) during 5 days across Ha Giang city, Meo Vac town, Dong Van rock plateau, and then straight to Ban Gioc waterfalls in Cao Bang (my second time here) before heading back to Hanoi. This is personally my longest road trip and the nature was also one of the most spectacular.
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Travel from Vietnam to Myanmar: Bagan – Inle Lake – Yangon

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Myanmar, with its numerous magnificent Buddhist temples, has become the most appealing and exotic destination in Southeast Asia, even to other ASEAN fellows. The country only opened up itself in 2012, and only from Oct 2013 could a Vietnamese passport holder like myself enter the border without having to acquire a visa.

Most people say now is the good time to visit Myanmar before it is fully touched by Western influence, but my feeling from a week rushing across the country (23-31 Aug 2014) is that it is already quite integrated. And someone even said to me Myanmar would develop fast, even quicker than Vietnam before. Perhaps.

A few things to be aware prior to the trip:

1. Traveling in Myanmar is NOT cheap. I often say traveling in Laos is more expensive than in Vietnam, then traveling in Myanmar is even more expensive than in Laos. Note that fact and prepare your budget. I say, modestly you would spend USD 300-500 in a week. There are entrance fees for Bagan and Inle Lake (we skipped Mandalay so I don’t know if there is any entrance fee there), there is no entrance fee for Yangon but tourists have to pay to go in almost all of tourists’ attraction sites here.

2. Internet in Myanmar runs at snail’s pace. It almost doesn’t work in Bagan, and is very limited and slow in Inle Lake and Yangon. Thus, write down and print everything you need in advance.

3. Burmese people are generally nice and lovable, even the street hawkers. Don’t be too hard on them, spend your money! (Probably this will change soon when too many tourists come in and ruin the people’s purity, just like what happened to Vietnam or Cambodia)

4. Don’t miss Bagan in your travel itinerary. It’s like Cambodia‘s Siem Riep or Vietnam’s Hue. It’s the country’s legacy. Probably visiting once is enough, but it’s a MUST. Read the rest of this entry »

“The West is best. Or is it?”

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(Tiếng Việt phía dưới)

Recently there was a talk show happening at Manzi with the participation of Nguyen Qui Duc, Phan Y Ly, Anh-Minh Do and MC Dang Hoang Giang that attracted lots of attention from young Vietnamese people. The “hot” topic was: “The West is best. Or is it?”; both the host and the three guest speakers were “international Vietnamese” who returned to Vietnam after spending many years abroad. And with those four “returnees” we could already assume their answer to the topic without even having to attend the talk. No, it isn’t. Read the rest of this entry »

Road Trip: Hanoi – Moc Chau – Son La – Pha Din

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I have been taking motorbike road trips a few times before and it has become a serious hobby. Whenever there are long holidays, long enough to jump on the bike to drive to the mountains and back, I would definitely take the chance to get out of the bustling capital for a while. The more I go the more I realize how beautiful my country is, the kind of beauty that you, young Vietnamese people, need to go nowhere else to find. Heaven? It’s here! Right on your motherland!

Contrast to the last trip packed with 13 peeps this time our groups had only 4 people. We headed out of Hanoi on the 6th of Feb, also our Tet holidays (traditional lunar new year holidays). During roughly 3 days we drove our manual Honda through almost 800 km all the way from Hanoi to Moc Chau, Son La, Pha Din pass (one of the 4 most famous mountain passes in the North of Vietnam) and back. Read the rest of this entry »

On the topic of religion in Vietnam: So you really think we are atheists?

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The crowd squeezing each other to pray for a prosperous new year in Yen Tu Pagoda

Religion in Vietnam on Wikipedia proclaims: “Officially, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an atheist state”.

That statement is perfectly correct and needs no further argument. However, do pay attention to the keyword “officially”, because the actual question is: how about “informally”? Now, this gives room for debate.

Feudal Vietnam was mostly a Buddhist country but Vietnam under Socialism declares no national religion, and most of its population also don’t “officially” follow any particular belief. Normally, when we fill in application forms that asks for religions, we always tick “none”. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean Vietnamese people are all “non-believers” as reported. Read the rest of this entry »

Visiting Cambodia

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Last week I came to Phnom Penh and spent two wonderful days with my lovely Cambodian friend Kounila Keo. I first met her from the ASEAN Blogger Festival in Solo Indonesia and we’ve been talking a lot ever since, but we could only meet again just now.

It was not the first time I’ve been to Cambodia. Last year in March I took a package tour to Phnom Penh and Siem Riep. The advantage of taking a package tour is that you have most of the popular tourists’ destinations checked, you don’t have to plan for your trip, and in fact it is also relatively cheaper than going by yourself (seriously!). However, after the package tour experience I told myself “never again”. I don’t like going in big groups, especially when people are loud or slow, and I also prefer having more than 20 minutes at Phnom Penh Central Market (What’s up with the tour guide giving us only 20 minutes in the market?)

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