Thanh Lan Island, A Paradise In The Gulf Of Tonkin, Vietnam

[Guest Post] Thanh Lan Island, A Paradise In The Gulf Of Tonkin, Vietnam

Welcome to Vietnam! I am Thuy Le. Today, I am going to introduce to you my charming hometown, Thanh Lan Island, Vietnam. The beautiful Thanh Lan Island is located in the Co To District of Quang Ninh province. If you are in search of a peaceful and pristine beach retreat away from the tourist crowds, then this is the perfect island paradise for you.

Welcome to Thanh Lan Island!

Where is Thanh Lan Island?

If you are familiar with Vietnam, I am sure you’ve already heard of Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. Well, it’s time to add Thanh Lan Island to that holiday list. 

Thanh Lan Island is slightly to the north of Ha Long.

Where is Thanh Lan Island?


Thanh Lan is located in the Gulf of Tonkin. You will get to see the breathtaking limestone islands of Bai Tu Long (sister bay of the more well-known Ha Long Bay) on the way to Thanh Lan Island.

In terms of distance, Thanh Lan is only 250 kilometres away from the country’s capital, Hanoi, 950 kilometres from Hoi An/Danang, and 1,920 kilometres from Ho Chi Minh city.

How Many People Live in Thanh Lan Island?

Thanh Lan is a small but very pretty island. The population of the island is also small,  with around 1,500 people residing here. We all know each other well.

Only sunny skies in the Gulf of Tonkin.


Among the people living on Thanh Lan Island are several ethnic minority groups including the Hoa, San Diu, and Kinh (the largest group).

Most locals live in the coastal areas, but you will see a lot of greenery thanks to the island’s natural jungles and hills.

The people in Thanh Lan Island.


What is the Main Source of Income in Thanh Lan?

Do you like seafood like ocean fish, jellyfish, crab, scallops, cockle, squid, or sea snail? I caught you smile there. Surely you will be happy to know that you will get plenty of fresh seafood at a very reasonable price in Thanh Lan. You will be spoiled for choice!

Getting to Thanh Lan.

That’s because the main source of income in Thanh Lan is fishing and its related industries (such as seafood processing, packing, and canning).

You’ll notice a few homegrown businesses set up in small shops, houseboats, or little boats that sell local food, houseware, or furniture, catering to the needs of locals and visitors.

Local boats.

How to You Get to Thanh Lan Island?

It was not convenient for foreigners to get here many years ago. While several official documents were once required to enter, the situation today has changed, making it much easier to visit. Now, visitors only need to show their passport at the port of entry (Cai Rong).

I told you how far the island is from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, but do you know how to get here?

  • From Hanoi – Take a four-hour bus from Hanoi to Cai Rong Port. Then, take  a 90-minute boat ride to Thanh Lan.
  • From Ha Long – Take a short bus/taxi ride from Ha Long to Cai Rong Port. Then, take 90-minute boat ride to Thanh Lan.
  • From Ho Chi Minh – Take a direct, two-hour flight to Van Don International Airport. Van Don International airport is only 7 kilometres away from Cai Rong Port. 

Here are some of the incredible limestone rocks of Bai Tu Long Bay which you will get to see on the way to the island.

See Bai Tu Long on the way.


Look here! That’s the picture of the jetty on the island. We are waiting for you!

We wait for you in Thanh Lan. 

What is Special About Thanh Lan Island?

Thanh Lan is not at all a commercial tourist place. There are no high-rises, traffic jams, pollution, or annoying noises. In fact, most restaurants do not even have a menu, but they will prepare whatever you ask for. If your soul longs for the sea and isolation, then this is the place to be. You only hear the gentle sound of waves splashing, only smell the salty ocean, and only see the pristine blue sea and untouched sandy beaches. You have come to where you belong.

Lovely beach and sea holiday.


What Can You Do in Thanh Lan Island?

There are so many things you can do in the island! Here are few in no particular order:
  • Swim in the warm, blue sea.
  • Lay on the beach and bask in the sun all day long.
Welcome! I am glad to see you here. 💗

  • Watch the sunrise or sunset. 

Catch a sunset at the beach.


  • Spot the different kinds of fish.
Enjoy nature in its purest form or spot some fishes.

  • Go on fishing trips with local fishermen.
  • Learn how to handle and sail a small boat.
  • Take a trek through nearby hills with a local guide.
  • Learn about the local plants and vegetables.
  • Visit the unique boathouses and the families who live on the sea.
  • Visit local families on the shore and discover the local life there.
  • Ride a bike or motorbike to explore the island on wheels.
  • Do nothing. Just recharge your internal batteries.


Start of your perfect beach holiday.

Life in Thanh-Lan is laid back, really calm and peaceful. It’s, as I call it, “pure”. The people of the island are friendly, kind, and welcoming. They will always greet you with a smile and a “hi” or “xin chao”. They will also always make sure you get to your destination, either putting you on the right path or taking you there themselves. Over here, you become part of our family. 

Paradise in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Where Do You Stay on Thanh Lan Island?

While you can enjoy the pleasures of a perfect sea holiday experience, know that  accommodation is limited on this humble island. There are just four or five hostels for visitors. 


Lets find a place to camp.


You can book one of these hostels through Airbnb apps. The hostels here offer all the basic amenities for a pleasant stay, including a clean room, air conditioning, hot water, hot cups of coffee, and most importantly, a grand view of the Gulf of Tonkin. The hostel prices here range between US$17 and US$26, which is great for those travelling on a tight budget.

Coffee on the island.

When is the Best Time to Visit Thanh Lan Island?

You can visit me and Thanh Lan anytime. I would highly recommend you plan your trip for the summer months (May–September). If you love swimming and water activities, then this is the best time to visit Thanh Lan. You can swim under the sunny skies the whole day!

Take a walk in the beach.


But also consider visiting in the winter time. It will be very romantic, secluded, and peaceful—perfect for quiet walks and picking up shells along the shore.


Are There Dining Places on Thanh Lan Island?

It is hard to find a restaurant here, but do not worry. Your hostel and local host will cook delicious, local, and heartwarming meals for you. The local hosts will love welcoming you and sharing meals with you and their family. Just let your host know your meal preferences. By the end, you’ll be a part of the family!

Be part of us!

By the way, there are a few coffee shops here serving delicious local Vietnamese coffee. You’ll spot them cafes on the way to the hostel.

.  
Coffee at Thanh Lan.

Why Should You Come to Thanh Lan?

This is my favourite place on earth, and that’s why I am sharing this beauty with you.  There is just so much to do and feel here. I could be in the blue and pure sea all summer. When I am not swimming, I walk, run around, or just have some coffee while watching the beautiful sunrises and sunsets. They never fail to blow me away. I am lucky, and you can be too. I work in busy Hanoi, so I welcome every opportunity to be home where it’s calm and beautiful.


Enjoy your stay in Vietnam.

Thanh Lan Island offers unique sights and experiences beyond what words can describe. You need to be here to feel it. Add it to your list of places to visit next, and come and experience it for yourself.


My home, Thanh Lan Island.


Notes:
Guest traveler & writer: Thuy Le
Photos : Thuy Le (family & friends)





Chasing Sunsets in Mumbai

Chasing Sunsets in Mumbai

I must admit that I have not spent as much time in Mumbai as I would like. Whenever I have visited, it’s always been for just a quick, overnight stop. Today, instead of arguing with airlines and chasing missed flight connections, I am going to be calm and take a walk down memory lane and to the nostalgic sunsets in and around  Mumbai. So, off we go!

Lets go, Mumbai!


Why Mumbai?

You mean, why are we chasing sunsets in Mumbai? Well, simply put, I recently came across some very stunning and surreal pictures of orange-filled, golden skies in and around this people-packed city. It would not be right for me to keep them all for myself.

Striking! Splendid evening at the beach.
  

First, Tell Me Something About Mumbai.

Well, many know Mumbai as Bombay. The first two things I noticed in Mumbai were ‘opportunities’ and ‘reality’. These are two small words in a big city of hope, and both words direct each individual in a different direction. Briefly put, Mumbai is the business, finance, and entertainment capital of India, and the lives of most people are intertwined around these parts of life.

The sun over the city of opportunities.


Like in many large, growing Asian cities, Mumbai is very crowded, mostly with people and vehicles. Standstill traffic is not uncommon. With large crowds come intensified noise. Believe me when I say it’s loud! There are not only the vehicle honks and train whistles enveloping the city, but also the pop and classical beats that will mysteriously get you moving. Soft-spoken people need to speak up. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait forever for your order of Pau Bhaaji and ginger-masala chai (tea). 

Now, did you hear that? ‘Lights. Camera. Roll. Take one…. Cut! ’.  You are right, we are in Bollywood, the movie capital of Asia. Spot any of your favourite stars yet? Keep looking.

Spotted one!


Then comes the lovely mix of bold colours that forms the heart of this city—the people of Mumbai. I always make it a point to stress about the people in Reaching Delphi. It’s the people of the town who make a difference. The same is true of Mumbai.  People from all states of India come to this melting pot of opportunities with renewed hope. When they arrive, they bring along with them their faith, language, culture, and packaged masalas (spice).  What is instantly visible is the  contrasting reality between the haves and have nots, side by side.


Contrasting harmony of Mumbai.


Today, I too have caught the Bombay-rush bug, so we will visit some beautiful places around the Gateway of India before sunset. To take us there is my cousin Karthik, who grew up and rode his cycle and motorbike on these century-old neighbourhood streets. Though today he lives a few seas away, you will find many of his stunning shots, taken during his recent few visits to Mumbai, in this post.

We’ll start with some coffee at Mumbai airport. Look familiar? That’s from the time I missed my flight to Delhi.

 
Outbound flight. Inbound coffee.



Where is Mumbai?

Mumbai, or Bombay, is in the Indian state of Maharashtra. It is in western centre of the Indian sub-continent, with borders to the Arabian Sea in the west. It is broken down to two revenue districts, Mumbai City District (Island City or South Mumbai) and Mumbai Suburban District. There are two major ports within these districts (Mumbai Port and Nava Sheva Port). 

Source : https://www.mapsofindia.com/maps/maharashtra/maharashtralocation.htm)

How Do You Get to Mumbai?

There are several feasible options. Here are just a few:

Nostalgic evening in Mumbai
  • Plane: Flying in is probably the quickest option to get to Mumbai if you are travelling from another city. You get to beat the hour-long traffic jams. The main airport is Chhatrapati Shivaji International, and it’s considered one of the busiest airports in the world. It also ranks as one of my favourites for its selection of local cuisine.


Fly me away!

  • Train: You can reach Mumbai from any part of India. Several train stations are servicing the city. The two main stations are Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (VT) and Mumbai Central. Mumbai is relatively large, so if you are travelling by train, note the nearest departure and arrival stops. By the way, did you know that the first commercial railway service was between VT and Thane in Mumbai in 1853?

  
Indian Rails : Never leave without a chai.

  • Road: Taxi, bus, and self-drive services are readily available. Mumbai has one of the better highways and expressways in the country. You’ll find clean rest areas and restaurants along the way.   

 
Chai and coffee stop at the rest area.
  

Travelling within Mumbai.


  • Taxi/Ola/Uber/car: These are reasonably priced and always available. Did you know that Uber does more than offer taxi services? You can also opt for an Ola auto-rickshaw through them!
Notice Virat Kohli endorsing Uber Intercity?  That’s one hot chap!

Traffic at the toll, Mumbai --> Pune.


  • Auto-rickshaw: Hail one or book one through a booking app. This is a very convenient option for short distance travel.


Auto-rickshaw traffic. 

  • Trains – Three lines provide service in the city. Train travel is one of the most common ways to get around domestically. Due to its popularity, it is very packed, especially in economy classes. The Mumbai DabbaWalas also use these trains to deliver the box lunches to offices. Just a note, the DabbaWala delivery service has a 99.9% on-time delivery record each day, so if you haven’t heard of the famous Mumbai-DabbaWala system, then it’s time to google them.
  • Bikes/Motorbikes – These are common in the city, and they can be rented easily. But do be careful of traffic; as you can see here, the onions are far more important.


Costly onions.

  • Metro – Metro travel covers the western and eastern suburbs of the city.
  • Monorail – There is just one monorail line servicing within the town.
  • Ferry – Travellers can opt for ferry services for their intra-city travel. Looking for more adventure? Take a boat ride on one of these colourful boats at the Gateway of India. Those colours reflect the different colours in every day. Well, go on, pick your boat, and make a new friend.

Different colours, different lives.

Speaking of colours, did I mention that Karthik is an artist too? Here is one of his sketches. Quick, hurry! Hail an auto to the beach! 

Jump on. Honk! Honk!


Language

The official language of the state and city is Marathi. Since Mumbai is a cosmopolitan city, you will also notice that Hindi and other Indian languages and dialects are spoken. Don’t worry too much if you are not familiar with any of them. You can get by with English. 

Where Do You Stay in Mumbai?

Mumbai offers a wide array of hotel options to suit any budget. Though there are plenty, the right hotels at reasonable prices get snapped up fast, so be quick when deciding.

Look here! In the distance is the luxurious Taj Hotel just near the Gateway of India. We are heading to the Gateway next for a quick stop.

Hold on tight!


Gateway of India.

The Gateway of India is one of the most well-known landmarks in Mumbai. This nearly century-old monument sits grandly overlooking the Mumbai Harbour. The monument (on the left) was constructed in 1924 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay (Mumbai). The gateway is one of the tourist hotspots in the city.  

Gateway of India.


Notice the building on the right? That is the famous Taj Hotel, my cousin’s first workplace in hotel management. Now you can understand the long-term connection the Taj and the Gateway he has. This spot is the confluence of work, pleasure, and the future, as he puts it. And just as for many other Mumbaiites, this is one of the spots in the city to watch glorious sunsets that can inspire you to make crucial decisions in life.

What do you do if you are too early for the sunset? Watch the pigeons! 😊  

Dancing with the pigeons at the Taj.


Sun Sea and Sand in Mumbai

There is a lot to cover in and around Mumbai, and a short trip is not going to be sufficient. But with the little time in hand, you will find a lot of comfort in the calmness of the beaches in this big vibrant city. The best part is you don’t need to travel too many miles to get there. Mumbai has a long coastal line, so the Arabian Sea may just be a few meters away from you.     

Who is that on my beach?


The Juhu Beach is also right at the heart of Mumbai. This is a very popular after-work retreat where endless shades of citrus filled skies meet. Here, life zooms by.

I come to you, Mumbai.


Mumbai, as I mentioned earlier, is the commercial and financial capital of India, so naturally, you will see masses of people filling in busses and trains each morning to punch their cards on time. Everyone! The IGens. The Echo Boomers. The MTV Generation. The Silent Generation. But when the heat of the rush gets in the way, and you can’t make it for the sunset, you need an escape plan. How about a sunrise to welcome the day instead? The serene sunrise at Nagaon Beach, just 9 kilometres away from central Mumbai, is the perfect respite.

Where am I? Mumbai, really?



Below are more shots taken in the morning at Nagaon Beach.  The past, present, and the open future are there all in one take.


The past, present and future. Time to explore beyond.


Or, perhaps you may want to look further and deeper through the fog for some clarity while you are here. And, if it gets too misty, how about following these markers to where it takes you  ...

Follow where the markers lead you to....


After witnessing a glorious sunrise and having some hot steamy coffee, we noticed a few others also taking a stroll on the beach. What a brilliant way to start the day. A heated discussion in a misty morning.

Misty Mumbai start.


We followed them. ‘We need a better view. How do we get there as planned?’ I imagined they were saying.


Sherlock Holmes on duty, follow 'em.


Their plans got a lot clearer, and so did the weather. Decisions were made. Solutions had been found. The sun was out again.

Puzzle solved, the day and minds are aligned.


It’s time to get back to the Gateway. So, jump onto a catamaran at the jetty.

That's my ride.


An active environmentalist and nature lover himself, Karthik informed me that the beaches were not always as clean as what we see in the photos today. The city’s beaches were once smothered with plastic and rubbish. About three and a half years ago, a local Mumbaiite, Afroz Shah, kicked off the world’s largest beach clean-up project. What a great effort! Watch this short video here to see more.

Cleaner beaches for us and the turtles today.


With each sunset, there is renewed hope for something even better and more colourful the next day. Expectations come from our imaginations and create surreal realities.

Stay positive. May your tomorrows start today with the sunrise of hope and conscience, only to be completed with beautiful sunsets.

Karthik, the sunrises and sunsets are surreal! Thank you for showing us around Mumbai.  See you again, Mumbai.  Counting Stars, Reaching Delphi.

Good night Mumbai.