Vietnam: Halong Bay & Hanoi

About Vietnam

Vietnam is a southeast Asian country on the South China Sea known for its bustling cities, picturesque beaches and vivid history. Hanoi is the capital city and at its heart is the old quarter where the narrow streets are roughly arranged by trade amongst the french colonial architecture. Halong bay in northeast Vietnam is known for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rain forests. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1994.

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Getting there

You can fly from Dublin to Hanoi however we flew from Manila which was only a 3 hour flight. When we got to Hanoi we had organised a car to drive us straight to Halong Bay. We arrived at 5 am and absolutely fell into the bed in our hotel. We stayed in Halong Bay for 3 nights and got the same car back to Hanoi where we stayed for 3 nights before flying home.

 

Accommodation

Halong Bay is absolutely filled to the brim with hotels however there’s not much else there in the the city itself. Looking back, I would recommend anyone to just go down to do the boat tour and then leave again. We stayed in the Halong Palace Hotel and it was fab but the restaurants were expensive inside the hotel and there is not much around in Halong itself. We stayed a night on the Castaway boat tour which was great craic. Then in Hanoi we stayed in the Splendid Boutique Hotel in the old quarter it was very small but clean and in the perfect location.

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Halong Palace Hotel

What we did

  • The Halong Bay Castaway tour. We did the two day one night trip and to be honest it was enough. It includes kayaking and free alcohol so what’s not to love?
  • Visit Hoàn Kiêm Lake and Ngoc Son in Hanoi.
  • Explore the Old Quater.
  • Visit the Dong Xuan Market.
  • Hoan Kiem Bia Hoi. This is the street bar scene in the old quater where you can sit and drink some of the cheapest beer in the world. A bottle will cost about 15 cent.
  • See the Long Bien bridge over the red river.

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Hoan Kiem Lake
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The red bridge at Hoan Kiem Lake

Food

Halong Bay:       Halong Palace Hotel
1958 restaurant
Café Nam Phong
Hon Gai restaurant
Hanoi:                 Hanoi Taco Bar
Marvellous hotel
Splendid boutique hotel
Giang Cafe (try the Vietnamese Egg Coffee)
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Egg Coffee
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Honestly, I wish we had more time in Vietnam to explore the rest of the country such as Sapa and Nha Trang but I guess that just means we will have to go back lol. It is such a beautiful country filled with an immense amount of culture and history so if you plan of travelling through Asia put Vietnam on your list!

Mini Mint x

 

Palawan: The Philippines

About Palawan
Palawan is one of the largest islands in the Philippines however over half is completely undeveloped. It has been voted the world’s most beautiful island in 2013 and 2015 and they weren’t exaggerating. It is without a doubt the most beautiful and breathtaking place I have ever been and would 110% recommend putting it on your bucket list.
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Getting there
From Ireland it is a big journey. We had already been in Boracay (another island in the Philippines) so we flew on a little 20 seater plane from Boracay to El Nido direct which took an hour. We flew with Air Swift which is a tiny airline that only flies to El Nido. AirSWIFT has daily flights from El Nido to Manila, Boracay and Cebu. El nido is a group of islands located in the north of Palawan and we stayed there for a week.
Accomodation
We stayed in a hostel called “Spin Designer Hostel” which I definitely will not be recommending to anyone. We were given a towel each on arrival which was so damp and moist you couldn’t dry your hands on it but that would not have been too bad except when we got to our room it was destroyed in ants. We said we would give it a chance and stayed there that night but oh my god when we woke up we were covered head to toe in bites. Our bed sheets were nearly black there was so many ants and we couldn’t stop scratching ourselves. Nightmare. We were gone for the day on the ATV tour and when we came home and showered we were so depressed about having to stay another night we just packed our bags and left. We arrived at the Sea Cocoon Hotel down the road and managed to get two rooms super cheap and it made such a difference to our trip because when we came home at least now we had air conditioning!!
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Hidden Lagoon and Secret Beach
What we did
  • The ATV day tour was one of the best days of my life. We went quad biking all over the island including Nacpan beach and Duli beach which have the clearest waters and whitest sands on earth.
  • We booked our island hopping tour on the website elnidoparadise.com and we did the Tour A & C combo. It includes 10 destinations including the secret lagoon and secret beach where you have to literally swim through a cave to get to the beach. There is genuinely no words to describe that day other than pure MAGIC.
  • Las Cabanas beach for a day of relaxation
  • Go out: the 3 main spots are Sava, Coco Bar and Pukka club. Great tunes and such a good way to make friends because they are the only places you can properly go dancing.

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ATV Tour with our guides

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Duli Beach
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Las Cabanas Beach
Food
We had the best meals in El Nido over the course of our travels. I’ll leave a list of the places we ate in here :
Sava: fab dinner
Lucky Alofe: vegetarian burrito and the burgers are lovely
Gustos: ice cream / crepes
Altrove pizzeria: we went here twice it was so delicious
V and V: a nice breakfast spot
Art Cafe: fab for lunch or dinner
Side note: we got food included on our day trips and it was amazing,creative and so tasty. Have a look down below!
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To sum it up El Nido is the most beautiful destinations I have ever been to and I think it has ruined any other trip I go on because nothing will compare to it. Definitely make it your mission to visit the Philippines before you die. We all said we would go back on our honeymoons because it just has the best mix of relaxation and adventure.
Mini Mint x

Boracay: The Philippines

About Boracay
Boracay is a small island located in the Philippines. Boracay was awarded as the 2012 best island in the world from the international travel magazine Travel + Leisure. In 2014, the resort island was at the top of the Best Islands in the World list published by the international magazine Condé Nast Traveler. It now has an excess of over 350 beach resorts ranging from 5 star to budget accommodation. We went in August which is their rainy season but were blessed enough that we didn’t get any rain and had 30 degree heat everyday and sunshine.
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Getting there
From Ireland it was a bit of a trek, I won’t lie. We flew to Dubai with Emirates first and spent a day at the Oceana beach club on The Palm Jumeirah which was a great way to kick start our tans. We then flew to Manila (with Philippine Airlines) which is the capital of the Philippines and had to stay there for a night until our flight the next day. Manila is super overcrowded and dangerous so I would definitely say to try to go straight to the islands if you can and if not, stay in a hotel near the airport for the night. Manila is the most densely populated city in the world FYI so good luck trying to sleep there.
We flew from Manila to boracay caticlan airport with Cebu Pacific. However to get to the actual boracay island you have to get a speed boat but we were lucky enough our hotel arranged the private transfer for us at an additional cost.
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Accommodation
We stayed in Fairways and Bluewater Newcoast resort which is located north of the island. It’s a massive resort with loads of restaurants and facilities including an 18 hole golf course, 5 infinity pools, private beaches, zip lining, horseback riding etc. The staff were so polite and helpful and our rooms were so luxurious especially because they weren’t even that expensive. The hotel provides a shuttle bus down to the town every couple of minutes which is handy as well.
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What we did
  • The pools and beaches in the resort are to die for, the water is so clear and there’s not a bit of pollution. The pictures speak for themselves.
  • Zip lining and horseback riding provided by the hotel.
  • Day trip to Ariels point which is unreal, they provide kayaks and snorkelling gear and there’s a selection of diving boards. Probably our best day in Boracay.
  • The Boracay pub crawl. This was SO MUCH FUN! You’re forced to make friends with everyone and you all get drunk together in yellow t-shirts and end up in Galaxy Nightclub at the end.

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Food
We ate in the hotel a good bit in their restaurants but in hindsight it was very expensive compared to places down at D’Mall which is like the beachfront and a hive of activity. Down there we ate at the Red Coconut and Epic. Both meals were lovely and looking back we should have gone down to the town more often for dinner.
Overall we loved Boracay and it was a great spot to start our holiday. There’s a really good balance of nightlife and relaxation there and it’s probably one of the most touristy islands in the Philippines so we made a couple of friends along the way! I cannot recommend this country enough so definitely put it on your bucket list.
Mini Mint x

Packing for a summer holiday

I can’t sing. I’m shocking at sport. One thing I actually can do though, is pack for a holiday with expert precision. While most people dread packing, once you know how to do it correctly it’s a breeze. I’ve written about some tips that I live by so worrying about over or under packing will be a thing of the past
Note: this is for anyone travelling to a warm climate, if you’re going skiing I’d suggest to bring jumpers and wooly socks.
Rule 1 – Clothes
  • You won’t wear jeans. So stop debating weather to bring black, denim or white because you won’t wear them. Wear one pair while travelling and they will do you.
  • Shorts and skirts that are cotton and can be rolled up small are what you want. They’re lightweight and you won’t sweat your eyes out. They’re what your going to live in if you’re doing any tours, excursions or shopping.
  • Two nice summer dresses for going out for dinner.
  • Shoes: bring a pair of runners for walking, hikes, tours etc. A nice pair of sandals for going out, a plain brown/nude pair of sandals/flip flops that you can pair with any outfit for everyday. There is absolutely no need for heels cause the roads are uneven af and you’re on holiday mate no one knows you, may as well wear flats and have a savage night out.
  • String tops are your life on holiday I usually bring a couple in different colours and they can be worn every day cause it’s going to be super hot and also for nights out with funky shorts/skirts.
  • Bring a jacket just in case it’s breezy at night time. I have an oversized denim jacket that can go over any outfit dressy or casual.
  • A playsuit or two for some nights out because they’re comfy and lightweight.
Rule 2 – Toiletries
  • Why are you even debating which foundations to bring? They’re so cumbersome to carry and you’re not going to be wearing it during the day. My advice is to bring one light foundation (with an spf) and a powder so you don’t sweat it off. Realistically it’s going to be too warm to wear much makeup so stick to your basics i.e no need for the 30 different eye shadow pallets.
  • Sun cream and AFTERSUN!! Just because you “don’t burn” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring them. We are one of the worst countries for skin cancer so use your brain and wear spf, even when you’re flying because believe it or not UV rays come in through your air plane windows so keep your blind down as well.
  • Moisturiser and eye cream are essential because you’re going to be sweating and more than likely drinking alcohol so you really need to hydrate your skin properly.
  • A roll on deodorant
  • Mini toothpaste
  • Toothbrush

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Rule 3 – Travel accessories 
  • Download some good songs/books that you will be able to play when your phone is going to be on air plane mode.
  • An empty water bottle. Empty so you can bring it through security and then just fill it up at a water fountain. This will save you spending a tenner on a bottle of Evian.
  • A baggy cardigan/scarf. This will save you from the chill of the air plane air conditioning as well as doubling up as a pillow for a quick nap.
  • Sunglasses and a good hat
  • Headphones
  • Mini speaker
  • A backpack or bumbag for day trips
Rule 4 – Lists
I live for making lists on my phone, especially when planning a trip. One tip I would recommend is make a checklist for all the essentials you need before you leave the house:
-phone and charger
-passport
-tickets & booking confirmation for hotel
-keys
-credit card and money
-drivers licence
-toothbrush
I hope this helped at least one of you. The most important thing to remember when packing is less is more. Most likely you will be doing shopping over there, so there is no need to have a whole new outfit for every day of the week. Trust me.
Mini Mint x