After taking a bus south from Cat Ba, we arrived into Ninh Bình, a rural province known for its natural beauty and important cultural sites. It was a long journey, and by the time we arrived at our hotel it was late. We therefore decided on an early night, in preparation for a busy day of exploring.
With the main attractions spread out across the region, we decided to hire a motorbike from our hotel. This gave us more freedom to explore, and a chance to experience Vietnam’s preferred mode of transport.
We jumped on our Honda bike, and after a quick practice on some quieter streets, made our way to our first stop at Trang An. Yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Trang An is known as the Halong Bay of Land, with a lush green landscape of tall mountains surrounded by water.
The most popular way to explore the area is with one of three scenic boat tours. We had timed our visit with a Vietnamese public holiday, and despite arriving early, there was a long queue to board the small rowing boats. Eventually it was our turn, and we climbed aboard our boat, along with two other passengers.
For our last day before leaving Ho Chi Minh City, we decided to arrange a trip to the Mekong Delta. The region is located at the southern tip of Vietnam, and is where the Mekong River’s complex network of distributaries empty into the Gulf of Thailand.
We arranged the full day tour through A Travel Mate, having been impressed by the very positive reviews on Trip Advisor. After being picked up early outside of our hotel, we collected several other guests from their considerably fancier accommodation, before heading out of the city. In total there was six of us for one guide, which made for an ideal sized group.
Our guide gave us lots of information on the region during the two hour drive south. The Mekong Delta is known as the rice bowl of Vietnam, with its unique geography and climate providing ideal growing conditions for rice as well as many other different crops.
Our first stop of the day was at the Vinh Trang Pagoda, which is just on the outskirts of My Tho, and is one of the largest and most well known pagodas in the south of Vietnam. In total there are five different buildings, with these surrounded by over two acres of elaborate gardens.
After leaving Japan behind, our next destination was Taiwan, where we would be spending a total of six nights. As one of the less travelled countries on our itinerary, we were unsure what to expect, and excited to see what we would discover.
It was a long journey to Taiwan, including a delayed flight, and it was late afternoon by the time we arrived at our hotel in the capital Taipei. We were staying in the lively Ximending neighbourhood, which seemed much like a smaller version of Tokyo’s Shibuya district. The busy streets were lined with high end shopping malls, restaurants and bars.
In need of some dinner, we wandered to nearby Huaxi Night Market. Night markets are extremely popular in Taiwan, opening late into the night and offering the opportunity to eat, stop and socialise all in one place.
Although the main covered section of the market is small, it spills out onto the surrounding streets, with a huge variety of food and other goods on offer. We sampled a number of delicious items, although with very few English menus it was quite a challenge to figure out exactly what we were eating.
After taking the Shinkansen bullet train from Kyoto, we arrived into the grand Tokyo Station. It was a smooth journey, and although the cost was high, it was incredibly impressive especially when you are used to London Midland trains.
We had a relatively relaxing first evening in the city, enjoying yet more great ramen from a small, hidden away shop in the Ginza district, before having an early night.
The following morning we were out early in the hope of catching a Sumo wrestling practice session. There are only six Grand Sumo tournaments held each year, however fighters have to practice the complex art almost daily. We visited the Arashio-Beya stable, and joined a small crowd watching through the large window as the fighters completed their practice routines.
We followed this with a visit to Tsukiji market where we grabbed a quick breakfast, before taking the bus to Odaiba, the waterfront district to the city’s east. Here we visited teamLab Borderless, which is recognised as the world’s first digital art museum.
The attraction has built up a large following on social media, and despite arriving just before the 10am opening time, there was already a large queue forming. Thankfully we had preordered our tickets, which did shorten the waiting time. As we reached the front, we were given a brief introduction to the museum. The instillations are designed to form one borderless world (hence the name), and there is no guide or map. Visitors are invited to explore the huge site in whatever order they choose.
We began our journey through the incredibly colourful instillations, which was quite unlike anything we had ever experienced before. This included a maze of colourful lightbulb shaped balloons, that we had to navigate through.
The next stop on our brief journey through Japan was in the city of Kyoto. The city is of great cultural and historic importance, having been the capital of Japan for over a thousand years until the title was moved to Tokyo in 1868.
Unfortunately the weather was rather mixed for our two nights in Kyoto, however we still endeavoured to see as much of the city as possible. We arrived after a very short train journey from Osaka, and after checking into our hotel immediately set about exploring.
Our first stop was at Maruyama Park, which is well known as one of the best places in the city for cherry blossom viewing. We wandered around the large park, entering through the impressive Yasaka Shrine. As with Osaka the sakura trees were in full bloom, and there were crowds of tourists admiring the beautiful pink and white blossom.
The next stop on our journey through Malaysia was in the Cameron Highlands. The bus journey from Melaka took around six hours, including a brief stopover in Kuala Lumpur. The final hour of this involved a steep climb along very narrow roads, and we were both feeling a little queasy by the time we eventually arrived.
With only two nights in the region, we decided to arrange a full day tour to take us around all of the main attractions. After looking through the various tours on offer, we decided to book the Experience Tour with Eco Cameron which cost RM90 (£17 each).
Our guide picked us up early the following morning in a well-worn Land Rover Defender, and after collecting one more guest we were ready to begin the tour.
Our visit to Malaysia began with two days exploring the capital, Kuala Lumpur. The modern and diverse city is dominated by sparkling sky scrapers and huge shopping malls, and is home to lots of different ethnic groups while also having a large western influence.
The star attraction in Kuala Lumpur are the landmark Petronas towers, which at 452m were the tallest buildings in the world from their completion in 1998 until 2002. The towers are the centrepiece of a huge complex that includes the six storey Suria KLCC shopping mall, the Kuala Lumpur convention centre and the large KLCC Park.
The park was our first stop after arriving into the city, and we made it just in time for the daily light show. It was a beautiful and colourful display of lights and water, although we were less keen on the accompanying music.
After saying goodbye to New Zealand, we were ready to begin the next leg of our adventure, starting with a very brief visit to Bangkok.
Our long journey to the Thai capital included a six hour layover in Melbourne, which gave us chance to enjoy one more of the Australian coffees that we will miss so much.
It was late evening by the time we arrived in Bangkok, and we quickly found a taxi to take us into the city. Despite witnessing one crash and nearly being involved in another we eventually made it to our hostel safely.
We were staying just a short walk from the famous backpacker partying district of Koh San Road, and decided to check this out straight away. As we arrived the party was already in full flow, and we wandered along the packed street, dodging tourists, locals, hawkers and market stalls, before stopping for a drink.