After days of stuffing my face with Hoi An's delicious food, me and the boys decided to catch a sleeper bus to Da Lat and to get physical. Da Lat is the place to go in Vietnam if you fancy getting a bit adventurous - there's no end of mountain biking, hiking, climbing, abseiling, canyoning and countless other outdoor activities. So it's the perfect place to release your inner Jungle Jane and to liven up your trip a bit. It was a great contrast to the culture, beauty and heat of Hoi An to arrive in the mountains in this rugged and exciting landscape with skies filled with angry storm clouds. We were lucky, our bus pulled up outside Da Lat Central Hostel, which normally I wouldn't trust as the first accommodation I see. But this turned out to be really cheap and fantastic accommodation - it was the cleanest and most luxurious hostel I had seen in the whole of Vietnam and if I were to return, I would definitely stay there again. Plus it was just down the street from the biggest bakery in Da Lat, which me and the boys frequented on a daily basis for coffee and delicious cakes - I was getting a bit addicted to the banana cake which I swear was the best I've ever had!We only had a few days to make the most of Da Lat and we didn't want to waste a second - I'd been eager to get here ever since arriving in Vietnam and hearing about all the awesome things we could do there. We headed straight out to check out the Crazy House which is a pretty unusual sight you have to see with your own eyes. It's amazing architecture that belongs in Disney or some kind of theme park and the place has a great history I'd recommend you read about or ask about while there. You won't need long to walk around it, perhaps an hour or two at most... We had to be quick as we could see a huge storm rolling in across the mountains and this was not somewhere we wanted to be stuck in the cold and rain after a long overnight bus ride and no sleep. We did get caught in the rain, and boy did it rain! When it rains in Da Lat, it really rains - not for long, but bloody hard! We were soaked and had to get a taxi back to the hostel but we're so happy to arrive there where hot showers and our beds were waiting for us. After a nice nap, it was time for dinner and I headed out to the market down the road with friend Paul who has just as huge an appetite as me - we were determined to try as much food as possible. While he was wolfing down soup and barbecued meats, I plumped for a seafood platter of some delicious shellfish topped with garlic and herbs - all freshly caught and so tasty!The next day we had booked in for what was quite frankly the best $20 I have spent since travelling - CANYONING! I had been waiting for a chance to do this ever since I was in Thailand - word had spread that far among travellers that I knew it must be good, but I had no idea how amazing it would be. We booked the trip through the hostel, but you can also go to the two main tour operators in town and book it through them - anyone will be able to direct you. We were picked up at about 8am and were whisked away in the minibus with our guides for the day who named themselves Tom and Jerry, much to our amusement. They were fantastic guides and really gave us all the support, help and encouragement we needed to take on free-jumping, abseiling and rock climbing without fear. I love stuff like this and was eager to throw myself off a few waterfalls and do something a bit scary. We were hooked up to harnesses and strapped on our gorgeous orange helmets and life jackets - we looked amazing. Then we were shown how to rappel down the steep cliff side towards the river, we then had to test our skills by actually abseiling down the side of the rock into the water. After that little taste we were excited to get on with the day and moved on to the first couple of abseils which took us into strong rushing waters where we skidded down natural water slides and floated down lazy parts of the river. We completed three huge challenges which saw us abseiling down the cliff and into waterfalls or the river.The final one - the washing machine - was pretty scary because we couldn't actually see what the hell we were letting ourselves in for! My favourite was the second one where we climbed down a huge waterfall in our socks before letting go about halfway and dropping the rest of the height into the river. It was amazing - such a rush! We also completed free jumps including one from around 18m which nearly broke my face as I accidentally face planted the water - holy shit that hurt. (Don't worry - there's a smaller one to choose if you prefer!) But I'm so happy I did it and showed that I could - Tom, or Jerry, thought I'd be too scared but I wasn't! Definitely ended up with a fat lip though.. That'll teach me to be stubborn! It was an amazing day it one that luckily ended when it did as a huge storm rolled in and turned the jungle into a swamp with rivers running down the cliffs we then had to try and climb to get back to the van - I genuinely didn't think I would survive this climb, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. I was one second away from giving up and sliding down the hill back into the river when we made it to the road. Covered in mud, scratches and practically drowning in the torrential downpour - after six months in baking heat it was a strange experience to see, hear and feel real weather! I can't tell you how amazing the hot shower felt after that day in the woods, and I can't tell you how much my body hurt after that day, but it was all so worth it and I can't recommend it enough!The next day, we wanted to make sure we got out for a few hours before our night bus to Ho Chi Minh so we decided to ward off our aches and pains with a nice bike ride out to some nearby waterfalls. We hired mountain bikes for a few dollars and headed out in the sunshine for a cycle round the beautiful lake where boats and swan pedalos bobbed peacefully, then we stopped off at some lovely gardens where we bumped into a friend from our dorm in Hoi An - it was a great little reunion so he joined us to cycle to the waterfalls. We headed out of town and started out along the 7km ride, it was easy - all downhill and a great view across the rolling forest. Until it dawned on us we had to cycle back up the bloody hill to get back! We nearly stopped and headed back after suddenly feeling like we wouldn't have time to get back before the afternoon storm - but then we realised how close we were and couldn't resist.
Datanla Falls are definitely worth the visit and the ride out there is great - we went on the little luge ride to get to the bottom and took a few snaps by the waterfall before luging our way back up, just in time to move the bikes out of the rain. We sheltered at the restaurant and had some of the worst Vietnamese food I've had while waiting there... But the views across the jungle were amazing! After the skies cleared and the rain slowed, we quickly jumped on the bikes dreading the journey ahead but despite some horrible uphill struggles, we actually made it back really quickly. Just in time to shower and catch our bus to Saigon. Now I spent all of 12 hours in the city and went to see the palace, but that was about it. Personally, I preferred to spent my time in Da Lat and Hoi An, and I'm glad I made that decision, but it's totally up to you what you choose.
Have you been to Da Lat? We're you brave enough for canyoning? Where else have you been that you could recommend for outdoorsy types?
Okay so to say my expectations for Koh Phi Phi were low was a serious understatement. I really couldn't bare to leave Koh Lanta and to say goodbye to all my friends. Everything I had heard about Phi Phi put me straight off the island. I know, I know, all those who have been will say it is beautiful and picturesque, some even dare say it is the prettiest of the Thai islands. I couldn't agree less. Those who have been to Koh Lanta will understand my shock horror at seeing how dirty, chock-full of tourists and how commercialised Phi Phi is in comparison, and from the moment I arrived on the island I was already counting down to the day I could leave.
Just to give you a taste of what my expectations were based on, a friend who I had met in Koh Lanta had just arrived from the island and she had told me about when she was swimming in the sea, felt something on her foot and picked it up thinking it was a stick - it crumbled in her hand, it was a giant lump of shit. This was definitely one of the worst stories I had heard about the island, but the others certainly didn't paint it in a good light. So you can understand why I was instantly put off, but for the Phi Phi lovers, give me the benefit of the doubt because despite this I still went to the island to form my own opinion.
I was staying at Rock Backpacking, which was great value for money at 300 baht a night for a dorm with fans. The toilets and showers were so clean and the guys who ran it were so helpful - all wifi on the island was abysmal though due to the sheer number of people there using it. I would recommend the hostel, although I was a little disappointed after being told it was the party hostel and finding everyone already asleep when I returned each night abut 3/4am. Wusses. There were nice people staying there, but a lot of people on holiday who were just there to get drunk and not to meet people. I prefer more backpacker central places where people actually want to get to know each other.
My first night there was spent watching the sunset from the viewpoint - so beautiful. I actually went back another night with a new friend and a guy proposed to his girlfriend while we were up there. So cute. I found the best little place for Pad Thai - seriously a godsend after finding nothing but kebab shops elsewhere! Went back loads for authentic Thai food, which was seriously lacking in other restaurants. Had a massage, manicure and pedicure, all for £10 - bargain! Then spent the rest of the night watching boxing, fire shows and exploring. My second day was spent trying to find a clean stretch of beach where the water wasn't covered in a layer of scum - finally found somewhere and sunbathed all day. Bumped into a couple I met on the ferry to Koh Lanta - they barely recognised me as I'm so black now. We spent the rest of the night eating food, going to the boxing - my friend actually competed for a bucket and ended up knocking the other guy out cold! Then we headed to the beach and made some other friends while watching the fire shows.
The next day, I had booked on to a boat trip around several beaches and islands, with plenty of opportunities for snorkelling for just 600 baht (£12) Met a guy called Tibby on the boat, he was also travelling solo from his home in Belgium before starting a new job in Melbourne. Bonding over the terrible food, we snorkelled and marvelled at all the amazing fish beneath the boat - such beautiful colours! The next stop was Bamboo Island which was so perfect and untouched - the sand was pure white and the waters so clear with reef right next to the beach so perfect for more snorkelling. We got a bit carried away spotting fish and ended up being the last ones back to the boat. After a couple more stops, we ended up at Monkey Beach, where monkeys just run wild on the beach and grab food from your hands - so cheeky! I brought along some bananas and fed them, the babies were so cute! They were all so tame, usually monkeys can be a little scary.
After this, it was the highlight of the trip, we'd been waiting all day for Maya Beach (where The Beach was filmed) and it didn't disappoint. As we pulled up in the long tail boat, it looked exactly like it does in the film, minus all those damn tourists! Such a beautiful place, you can see how it would inspire any director, set between these huge cliffs with pure white sand. I managed to find a nice empty stretch of beach to sit and chill out, then Tibby came and joined me and we took lots of photos before our time was up and we headed back to the boat. On the way back to Phi Phi, we stopped at sunset point to watch the bright orange sun burn it's way down into the waves, dead silence on the boat, everyone was speechless at the beauty of it all.
I have so many pictures and so much to tell you guys about Phi Phi that I've split this into two posts for you... The next one will have the pics from Maya Bay and everything else I got up to! I will also try and share the video of the boxing on my Facebook page as it takes ages to do it on here, so give the page a like and check it out!
For those who have been to Koh Phi Phi, what did you think? I'd love to know if anyone shared my experiences or if actually you loved the the island just as it is...