Wild Motorbike Ride to the Peak of Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

The Son Tra Peninsula in Da Nang is one of the most picturesque places I’ve had the chance to travel to. Taking a motorbike up to the top of Monkey Mountain is a must for travelers passing through central Vietnam. 

Monkey Mountain on the Son Tra Peninsula rises 850 meters (about 3,000 feet) above the city of Da Nang and makes for a perfect day trip for any adventurer (or photographer!) and has some of the best views in the entire country.

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Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Located almost halfway between the former Vietnamese capital of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and the current capital of Hanoi, Danang is one of the gems of Vietnam’s central coastline and has so much to offer a traveler. From the glorious Buddhist pilgrimage sites of the Marble Mountains to the towering Lady Buddha located a third of the way up the Monkey Mountain on Son Tra Peninsula, you really need to stop by this place for a few days at minimum to catch a glimpse of real Vietnamese life. As I’ve just published a blog post on the Lady Buddha I’ll leave that for this post on the motorbike drive up to the peak of the Monkey Mountain.

Da Nang Lady Buddha
The fishing village at the bottom of Monkey Mountain with the Lady Buddha of Danang in the distance
Da Nang Lady Buddha
The bay of Danang and city in the distance, from the circular road leading up the mountain

The Son Tra Peninsula still largely covered with dense, lush rainforest.  Though I didn’t spot any, the mountain gets its “Monkey”moniker from the rare Red Shanked Doucs monkeys that inhabit the area. The narrow jungle roads can be a bit hairy by motorbike as taxis, tuk tuks and open-air trucks can be seen ferrying up visitors to and from the peak. I only came across a few but the one-lane roads make it easy to imagine having to take it a bit slow just to play it safe. Don’t go too slow, some of the roads are pretty steep and you won’t be able to get your bike up it!

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
Some amazing coves and views all around the peninsula. Most of the beaches are empty and can be taken advantage of by those who want some peace and quiet
Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
Clouds starting to form at the peak

I made it a point to leave early in the morning to try and beat the afternoon clouds that usually settle upon the mountain this time of year… however as luck would have it about two-thirds up the clouds started to form around the peak. Back on the bike and with the GoPro attached to my wrist, it was full speed ahead along the increasingly narrow, steep roads to the top.

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
Eek! That was close

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

By the time I reached the peak I was driving in near white-out conditions. From the photo above, you can see how thick the clouds set upon the last stretch of road near the top. The following two pics are almost completely untouched so you can get a real feel for just how cloudy the peak was. What is most peculiar is that just a couple meters below the cloud line, perfect weather mean incredible photos… it was just the top bit that had zero visibility. Check out the pictures below of the chess grandmaster waiting for you at the top and following that some excellent shots of Danang City from just below the cloud line.

I won!

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
A 4-minute drive from the peak broke through the clouds and gave way to some of the most incredible views
Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
STOKED!

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
The Danang Dragon Bridge crossing the river in Danang, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

From the lookout I continue my descent through the winding roads of the Monkey Mountain. An observatory sits atop a second peak and unfortunately I was unable to get up there. But the view from my stop off was unbelievable. Islands almost untouched by man and some of the thickest jungle in the entire region blanket this little bit of paradise.

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Welp, there you have it… my motorbike trip through the excellent and pristine Monkey Mountain of the Son Tra Peninsula. Keep an eye out for my next post of the Danang Dragon Bridge, a long stretch of road over the river in the form of a traditional Vietnamese dragon… and it shoots fire at night!

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For all the high-resolution photos from the Monkey Mountain of Son Tra Peninsula: Click Here

A Rainy Day in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Few places in the world are as renowned for its incredible natural formations like the karst limestone mountains of Halong Bay, Vietnam

The sheer size, scope and beauty of the natural rock formations of Halong Bay, Vietnam, first captured my imagination several years ago when I caught a glimpse  of them on a television program on the National Geographic Channel. Seeing is believing and it is truly one of the rare places on Planet Earth that you really do need to see to believe. Unfortunately my trip included a massive monsoon rainstorm that caught up with me on the boat ride out to explore the area.

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[su_youtube_advanced url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zOhh2NagQg” theme=”light”]

From the start, we arrived to the town of Halong Bay after a couple days in Hanoi (with beautiful blue skies nonetheless) and the change of scenery was seriously welcome. A crowded and bustling (though brilliant… more on that in a later post) city gave way to striking countryside, small villages and excellent rural expanses that span as far as the eye can see. I was traveling with three mates, one from Israel and doing a semester abroad in Hong Kong, plus two of his classmates, one German and one from Singapore. After some hunting around for the best price, we ended up in a private van for about $15 each.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Boats with cabins below and a sundeck above are aplenty at Halong Bay, offering daily cruises

After settling into the hostel and looking for the best price for day cruises, we found most prices to range from $30 USD to $50 USD and up. We booked for $30 from the Halong Party Hostel and pickup began at 6:00 AM. Unfortunately our perfect blue skies gave way to the last gasps of the Southeast Asian monsoon and muggy weather turned out to be the theme of the day. Luckily I was armed with my handy GoPro camera and its waterproof case turned out to be a lifesaver. So in advance, my apologies for the clarity of some of these images as I was constantly wiping away raindrops from blurring my shots of the area.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
For reference, the thousands of islands of Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Upon grabbing our boat and setting sail, our first glimpse of the thousands of islands that dot the Halong Bay landscape came into view and despite all the rain, the sheer size and immensity of the surroundings really blow you away. Our first stop was a cave amongst the islands for which I was able to break out the Canon and take some remarkable images of the giant stalactite and stalagmite formations of the cave.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, VietnamHalong Bay, VietnamHalong Bay, VietnamHalong Bay, Vietnam

The cave itself was an eerie experience though for me, a bit far from enjoyable. Many tourists are crammed into the caverns not only making the art of photography difficult but making it hard to connect with the site itself and feel more like a theme park ride than an adventure out into the islands. This is the tradeoff in Halong Bay, Vietnam = the most unique and impressive sights combined with a glut of tourists which make it hard to take it all in. But I digress… after we exited the cave, the weather had broken a bit and it was back into the boat and on to the next location, taking out kayaks into the Bay. A word of advice – make sure you negotiate the kayak rental into the price of the trip itself. We had it thrown in as part of our package and avoided having to pay an extra fee for the rental. But as we arrived, the weather acted up again but it didn’t stop us from going hard into the water.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
The cave behind us led to…
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The most gorgeous lagoon I’ve ever seen, rain and all

Kayak rental can cost anywhere from $5 to $50 USD depending on who you rent from. Don’t get scammed but definitely take the kayaks. Even in the worst weather it is an adventure well worth the hassle. With the GoPro affixed to my head attachment, we set out into the bay and underneath a cave which led to the lagoon of my dreams. We were the only ones in there and it was a welcome change from being surrounded by tourists. This was by far my favorite moment of the trip.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

The rain continued to press on and by this time we were all quite miserable, our crew along with the entire boat. I attempted to dry off but it was ultimately to no avail. A short boat ride around the islands followed by another stop at a small island concluded our epic trip to the once-of-a-kind Halong Bay. I’ll leave ya’ll with some parting shots (For all the high-resolution photos from Halong Bay, Vietnam: Click Hereand stay tuned for more from Vietnam!

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Sun setting after a long cruise on the epic Halong Bay, Vietnam

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Halong Bay, Vietnam: Click Here

Honeymoon in Style in Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand

If you’re looking for an unforgettable honeymoon or vacation with a partner, look no further than Koh Phangan, Thailand

The islands of Thailand may no longer be secret getaways, however they are just as romantic and luxurious as ever! And even if you are looking to travel in style but want to save a bit of cash, Koh Phangan, Thailand, has all that you could ever dream of and more at a reasonable cost!

For all my blog entries in Thailand, check out the blog: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Koh Phangan, Thailand: Click Here

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Everyone wants “The Most Romantic Honeymoon Evaaaaa” and I have to say we probably nailed it. Thailand’s many islands are world famous for their pristine beaches, crystal clear waters and incredible luxury spas and resorts. Sure you can backpack it up (like I’ve done for the most part of this blog) but when you shouldn’t shlep  you can roll in style for reasonable prices in remote places with some of the best service on earth!

Koh Phangan, Thailand
The view from our luxury villa at Salad Buri Resort and Spa

We had a 2-part honeymoon with a week in Koh Phangan (also spelled Ko Pha Ngan) and a week in Koh Tao. Koh Phangan  is located in the Thai Gulf just north of Koh Samui and just south of Koh Tao. Famous among backpackers and travelers alike for its Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan has so much to offer in the way of hiking, temples, beaches, scuba, charming villages and more. One of the things to keep in mind about this brilliant island is that it is only reachable by boat from neighboring Koh Samui or land-based ports such as Surat Thani or Chumphon. Flights from Bangkok are available to all of those destinations. There are ferries that travel between many destinations in the Gulf and destinations like Koh Phi Phi, Phuket or Krabi. We used Lomprayah with VIP Shuttle Service.

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Our high-speed ferry from Surat Thani Laem Thuat Pier

Koh Phangan, Thailand

So now that we’ve established how to get to Koh Phangan, check out our luxury honeymoon suite on Haad Salad at the Salad Buri Resort & Spa. Talking a private villa with an infinity pool, sunbed, wood deck, fridge, living room, king-sized bed and more. To be honest, the flat screen was a bit small but who needs TV in paradise? The view out of the window is significantly better.

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Our private infinity pool

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Not a shabby view

Koh Phangan, Thailand

The rest of the resort featured a three-tiered freshwater swimming pool, a tad overpriced but decent nightly seafood BBQ dinner on the beach, great breakfast buffet and near practical private beach. The cove, named Haad Salad, has several massage parlors located right on the beach, a few restaurants and scuba lessons plus boats willing to ferry you around the island. More after a photo break:

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Three-tiered swimming pool with our private villa in the background

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Open-air breakfast buffet…
Koh Phangan, Thailand
And our perfect view from breakfast
Koh Phangan, Thailand
The resort is located on a pretty steep hill. Not to worry, as chauffeurs in golf carts can whisk you anywhere

From there we rented a jeep and tooled around the island for the week. You can easily get by with a motorbike but for the two of us planning excursions every day, it was well worth it. And since we arrived in October/November, rain was a real concern and we had two days of rain during our stay on the island. Though the rain is cumbersome, it isn’t a deterrent from driving all around and checking out all the local markets, shops and restaurants. The best part of a jeep is how much time it saves you, allowing maximization of time on the island. I mean, if you come to paradise, you gotta explore it all, right?

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Right-hand drive and driving on the left side of the road… like a boss
Koh Phangan, Thailand
Like exploring the Saampan/Deog Waterfalls

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand
We drove the entire island and found a great spot on the other side
Koh Phangan, Thailand
Finding hidden beaches

Another travel tip for luxury/high-end travelers is to stop off at Baan Srithanu Village. There you’ll find a lovely beach and some fantastic food options. Taboon, a middle eastern restaurant, has some delectable malawach and one of the best shakshukas I’ve ever had outside of Tel Aviv. Highly recommended and a definite for your travel itinerary.

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Taboon restaurant, highly recommended

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Stopping off at the top of the mountain… and behind a Buddhist monastery was the most amazing view

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Best. Pad. Thai. Ever.
Koh Phangan, Thailand
One of Koh Phangan’s amazing Buddhist Temples
Koh Phangan, Thailand
Head to Haad Than Sadet Beach and on the way stop off at this incredible lookout
Koh Phangan, Thailand
And… off to Koh Tao!

For all my blog entries in Thailand, check out the blog: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Koh Phangan, Thailand: Click Here