We saw many fascinating things during our trip to Vietnam, but one of the things that we found interesting were the different caves that we explored. We went to caves in the Ninh BinhPprovince as well in Halong Bay. Some of them were caves where we went through the cave by boats or canoes as well as others where we walked through the caves. Each one of them was a unique experience in their own ways and it was it was interesting not just from a geological perspective, but from a cultural perspective as well. There are other caves that can be explored, but these are the ones that we visited during our time in Vietnam.
Tam Coc Cave – One of the more popular day tours from Hanoi is to go to the Ninh Binh Province, especially to do the Tam Coc caves (which actually means three caves). There are a couple of styles of boats that will take you along the Ngo Dong River, but the ones where the oarsman rows with their feet are different from anything else that we’ve done. The caves themselves are quite interesting as they have been carved out by the river and they actually create tunnels that take you under the mountain by boat.
Sung Sot (Surprise) Cave – Of the many fascinating places that we visited during our Halong Bay tour, seeing Sung Sot or Surprise Cave was certainly unique. There are many caves throughout the region, although most of the other ones that we visited were on the water. Surprise Cave is completely different as it is more of what we would consider to be a cavern with large ceilings, stalagmites, and stalactites. It is another very popular location, so the earlier in the day that you can arrive, the better off you will be.
Huang Tich Cave – Perfume Pagoda is a complex of Buddhist temples located about a couple of hours outside of Hanoi in Vietnam. At the heart of the complex is Huong Tich Cave and within the cave is Chua Trong or the Inner Temple. During the festival time, from late January through early March, thousands of people visit the temple and the 2.5 km (1.5 mile) path that takes you up to the cave is lined with vendor stalls selling food, gifts, and objects to use as an offering. In order to reach the Perfume Pagoda complex, you need to take an almost hour-long boat ride (less if you take a motorized boat) through the beautiful countryside.
Mua Cave – A visit to Mua Cave in the Ninh Binh Province isn’t only about seeing the cave, many of other caves that we saw were more impressive, but it is all about climbing the over 540 stairs to see the incredible views of the countryside. To be clear, the steps are steep and uneven throughout much of the ascent to the top, so bring plenty of water and take your time. Despite the effort to reach the summit, the views along the way as well as when you reach the top are well worth the muscle pain. At the base of the mountain is a beautiful park with statues of horses and a fountain. It is a perfect place to sit in the shade and unwind after completing the long climb up the staircase.
Luan Cave – Another popular excursion when doing a cruise on Halong Bay is to explore Luan Cave (Hang Luan). You can either go by rowboat or by kayak depending on your preference, but either way it is an enjoyable experience. After passing through the cave, you enter an isolated inlet with stunning cliffs and turquoise water. Near the mouth of the cave, you will likely find several monkeys who climb across the rocky shore hoping for some treats from the many tourists who visit.
There are obviously many unique places to see during a visit to Vietnam, but if you take the time to get out of the cities and go to these interesting caves, you will be well rewarded. Seeing them was certainly a highlight of our two-week trip to this wonderful country.
Budapest is a wonderful city with many historic sites to see and visit. We spent six days in Budapest during our trip, which gave us the ability to visit many different places at a leisurely pace. Obviously you don’t need that much time, but spending at least three days would be beneficial. Budapest is really a combination of two cities sitting on either side of the Danube River with one being Buda on one side and Pest being on the other. We stayed in the busier Pest with all of the restaurants, hotels, and many wonderful locations like the Parliament Building and St. Stephen’s Basilica. Here are some of the locations that should be part of your Budapest itinerary.
Royal Palace (Buda Castle) – The Royal Palace, also known as the Buda Castle, is one of the most dominant buildings in Budapest. Whether during the day, or at night when it is lit up, the palace can be seen from almost everyplace in Pest. There are definitely many wonderful things to see within the Castle District, but the Royal Palace is the most important site to visit. Sitting on top of Buda Hill, it looms above the Danube River and in addition to seeing the palace, you will also enjoy wonderful views of the city across the river.
St. Stephen’s Basilica – One of the focal points for any visit to Budapest is the St. Stephen’s Basilica. Located in the Inner City District, it is in the heart of the old town region with all of the restaurants and shopping. Visiting the basilica is free, but there is a recommended donation of 200 Ft (~2 euros) for entering the cathedral. The inside of the cathedral is quite beautiful with all of the ornate gold arches and wonderful domes. Another highlight of the basilica is the observation deck, which has spectacular panoramic views of the city from a different perspective than those of the Castle District or the Citadel.
The Parliament Building – Although we didn’t do a tour inside of the Parliament Building because the English tours were all sold out, just walking around the building with its unique architecture is worthwhile. With a height that is purposely equal to that of the basilica, the Parliament Building dominates the views of Pest when looking from the Buda Castle District.
The Citadella – The Citadella is a fortress that sits on top of Gellért Hill on the Buda side of the Danube River. The Liberty Statue that is located next to the citadel can be seen from throughout the downtown area of Pest. The bronze statue features a woman raising a palm leaf toward the sky and, although it was built by the Soviet Union, it still represents Hungary’s freedom from Nazi occupation. As interesting as the fortress and statues are, the main reason for making the trek to the top of Gellért Hill is for the views of Budapest. You can see the Buda Castle District, the Parliament Building, St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Danube River, and the heart of Budapest. One of the best ways to get to the summit of Gellért Hill is to take the winding path from the base through the park.
The Dohany Street Synagogue – The Dohany Street Synagogue, also known as the Great Synagogue, is certainly an important site to visit during any trip to Budapest, Hungary. There are many reasons to visit the synagogue including its size, architecture, and history. The synagogue complex is also home to the Hungarian Jewish Museum, Heroes’ Temple, Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park, and the Jewish Cemetery. There can be long lines to get into the Dohany Street Synagogue, but it is definitely worth the wait. You will undoubtedly walk away with a mix of emotions as it is haunting, sad, and yet a sense of human nature’s ability to overcome.
Matthias Church – Located in the heart of the Buda Castle District in Budapest is the historic Matthias Church. The current church was built in the 1400’s in the Gothic architectural style, but it was extensively remodeled in the 19th century. The original church was built around 1015, but nothing remains of the original Romanesque architectural style. The Matthias Church sits in front of the Fisherman’s Bastian, which is the wall with towers that surrounds the Danube River side of Castle Hill. The church is clearly visible from the Pest side of the river, especially with its colorful roof.
The Shoes on the Danube Bank – One of the interesting things that we saw when we were in Budapest was a memorial to honor the citizens, most of them Jewish, who were executed along the shore of Danube River. In December 1944 and January 1945, as World War II came closer to an end, the local fascist militia group called the Arrow Cross killed thousands of people along the shore of the river. It is a humbling reminder of the atrocities that were committed during the war. Making it even more tragic is the inclusion of the shoes of children as entire families were brought to the shore to be executed.
Day Trip to Bratislava, Slovakia – There are several options for taking a day trip out of Budapest, Hungary, some within the country and some to neighboring countries. One of the most popular is to Vienna, Austria, which is about 3 hours from Budapest, but since we have been to Vienna previously, we decided to go to Bratislava in Slovakia. Located about 2 hours outside of Budapest, Bratislava is an interesting city with a rich history. It is the largest city in Slovakia as well as the capital of the country. In addition to getting to visit the city of Bratislava, it also gave us an opportunity to see the Hungarian countryside.
Fisherman’s Bastion – The Buda Castle District is one of the most popular locations to visit in Budapest and the Fisherman’s Bastion is definitely one of its most unique features. Built in the late 1800’s, the Fisherman’s Bastion has some interesting architecture that is both in the neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque styles. It is basically a wall with towers along the edge of Castle Hill that surrounds Matthias Church and has wonderful views of the Pest side of Budapest, the Danube River, and the Parliament Building. Because so the Castle District is so popular, you will likely find the area to be very crowded, especially due to the river cruise ships that stop in Budapest and give their passengers a day to tour the city.
Heroes’ Square – Heroes’ Square, or Hosok tere in Hungarian, is one of the main squares in Budapest and is located next to the city park. It was created in 1896 to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of Hungary. Sitting in the middle of the square is the Millennium Monument and the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art sit on opposite sides of the square. At the time that Heroes’ Square was created, Hungary was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and some of the statues in the square today replaced those that paid tribute to the Austrian Hapsburg dynasty.
Hungarian National Museum – There are several museums in Budapest that are worth visiting and the Hungarian National Museum located near the Inner City district is certainly one of them. With three floors of exhibits, the museum focuses on the history of Hungary, which includes many different interesting periods of time. For many reasons, Hungarians are both proud of their history as well as embarrassed by certain aspects of it as well. The building, with its murals and decorative dome, is as impressive as the exhibits that it houses.
SzéchenyiChain Bridge – The first permanent bridge across the Danube river in Hungary is the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, often just referred to as the Chain Bridge. It was built in 1849 and connects the cities of Buda and Pest, allowing the cities to join to become the capital of Hungary. It is credited as having changed Hungary by increasing it’s prosperity and cultural influence. The bridge connects the Széchenyi Square on the Pest side of the Danube with the Clark Adam Square on the Buda side and is a pedestrian bridge in addition to motorized traffic.
Cave Church – Located at the base of Gellert Hill, the hill that the Citadella (fortress) sits atop, is a system of caves. One of the caves was converted into a chapel in the 1920’s and even served as a hospital for the Germans during WWII. Known as the Cave Church, it was certainly one of the most interesting places that we visited during our time in Budapest. A cross on top of the hill denotes the location of the church, which is also located near the famous Gellert Baths where people gather to enjoy the therapeutic thermal baths.
Restaurants and Spas – Budapest has many different hot springs and spas as well as an abundance of wonderful restaurants. With so many wonderful places to see, it is worth taking some time to relax and enjoy the food and atmosphere of the city.
Go to a Ruin Pub – Ruin Pubs are bars that have been opened up in dilapidated buildings that were partially destroyed during WWII. They are usually decorated with random furniture and decorations that have been gathered from anywhere that they can find them. The decorations are colorful, whimsical, and don’t follow any particular themes other than uniqueness. Because of their popularity, they can be quite busy, noisy, and sometimes a little rowdy. We went late afternoon to early evening and stayed away from the late night crowds.
Budapest is certainly one of the most fascinating cities in Europe with so many historical places to see during a visit there. Whether walking along the Danube River or going to one of the several locations that provide amazing views of the city, it is a wonderful place to take the time to just absorb all of the architecture and ambiance that the city has to offer. Regardless of how much time you have to spend in Budapest, the memories of the city will likely stay with you for the rest of your life.
When we stayed at the ecolodge in the Amazon Jungle while we were in Ecuador, we canoed on a tributary of the Amazon river every day. The plants that line the water are very dense with a variety of reeds, branches, and hanging vines. The entire time we were in the jungle, including while in our canoes, we had to constantly scan the foliage around us as you never knew when you would see some of the many different animals that live there. The animals are very adept at camouflaging themselves amongst the leaves and branches, so mostly you spent your time looking for any kind of movement and then the guide would stop the canoe and we would use binoculars or zooming in on the camera to find what animals were hiding in the trees. We had to look up into the trees as well as the edges of the water because in addition to the birds, monkeys, and sloths that were in the trees, there were anaconda snakes, large black caiman, and river otters that love to hide in the reeds along the shore. Here are a few of the photographs that we took as we canoed to and from our ecolodge in Ecuador.