A Travellerspoint blog

The Exotic Northern Vietnam adventures

11 Days of Northern Vietnam travel

semi-overcast 15 °C

This is my first trip visiting Vietnam, my wife & me traveled on the
end of February 2011. I chose the Northern part because
of the cool weather in Winter. As usual, I planned and booked everything on line.
To have everything goes accordingly, I need a lots
of researched before heading there. A 7 Days 6 Nights adventure
SINGAPORE - HANOI - SAPA - BAC HA - HALONG BAY was an
unforgettable one.

Hanoi

Hanoi is a small city of broad tree-lined boulevards, lakes, parks, weathered colonial buildings, elegant squares and some of the newest office blocks and hotels in Southeast Asia. It lies nearly 100 km from the sea on a bend in the Red River and from this geographical feature the city derives its name, Hanoi, meaning ‘within a river bend’.

Hanoi is the capital of the world's 14th most populous country, but, in an age of urban sprawl, the city remains small and compact, historic and charming. Much of its charm lies not so much in the official ‘sights’ but in the unofficial and informal: the traffic zooming around the broad streets or the cyclos taking a mellow pedal through the Old Quarter, small shops packed with traders goods or stacks of silk for visitors, skewered poultry on pavement stalls, mobile flower stalls piled on the backs of bikes, the bustle of pedestrians, the ubiquitous tinkle of the ice cream man’s bicycle, and the political posters, now raised to an art form, dotted around the city.

At the heart of the city is Hoan Kiem Lake and the famous Sunbeam Bridge. The Old Quarter (36 Streets and Guilds) area, north of the lake, is bustling with commerce, its ancient buildings crumbling from the weight of history and activity. The French Quarter, which still largely consists of French buildings, is south of the lake. Here you’ll find the Opera House and the grandest hotels, shops and offices.

CHAO BUOI SANG VIETNAM!!! means Good Morning Vietnam.

Day 1

As we arrived Noi Bai International Airport in the morning, the driver from
the Hotel picked us up and proceed the checking in. We stayed in a
three stars Hotel in Hanoi, Thaison I hotel, highly recommended. I booked
all my land tours from this hotel too. No doubt
it's a three stars Hotel, they provide us some five stars service. Rooms are big and clean.

After checking in, we wasted no time and head out to the street and search for
local food and street photography. I had Bun Cha and my wife had Pho Ga for lunch.

Most people come to Hanoi ready to eat. And in Hanoi, street food is not merely a quaint or exotic culinary excursion,
but is central to how people eat and helps define the culture and rhythm of the city.
However, while dining on the street sounds tempting and adventurous to visitors,
it can be understandably intimidating.

At night, we stroll to the famous Hoan Kiem Lake from our Hotel, it's a merely
500 m walk. Cool weather but must be very careful while crossing the busy road. The honking
in Hanoi is a little annoying but you will get use to it very soon.

Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake or "Lake of the Restored Sword" , is a lake in the historical center of Hanoi,
the capital city of Vietnam. The lake is one of the major scenic spots in the city and serves as a focal point for its public life.
According to the legend, emperor Le Loi handed a magic sword called Heaven's Will which brought him victory in his
revolt against the Chinese Ming Dynasty back to the Golden Turtle God (Kim Qui) in the lake and hence gave it its present
name (the lake was formerly known as "Luc Thuy" meaning "Green Water").
The Tortoise Tower (Thap Rùa) standing on a small island near the center of lake is linked to the legend.

Beautiful place for Photography and seeing the locals activities here.

Day 2

As we were to catch a train in the evening to the further North Lao Cai province and take an hour ride by bus
up to the Sapa village today, we went for some shopping of trekking items in the infamous
wholesale market in Hanoi, the DONG XUAN MARKET as we had not prepare any backpacks
, winter wear and trekking shoes.

Dong Xuan market

The Dong Xuan market, Vietnam's oldest and largest market, occupies half of Dong Xuan Street.
River networks formed the economic hub of Hanoi by providing a system of waterways which fed the city and markets.
Located at the confluence of the To Lich and Red Rivers, the Dong Xuan market was once one of the busiest urban areas in Southeast Asia.
The French required merchants to bring their goods inside the fenced perimeter of the market in order to facilitate tax collections.
When the number of merchants swelled, the market was enlarged. In 1889, a structure was built over it,
and five gates were built leading to it. Each of the five market gates was used only for specified goods. In 1992,
the market was renovated and a new facade erected.

Tonight, we will be taking an overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai.
Approximately 11 hours on the train, I managed to booked a private cabin soft sleeper for ourselves,
thanks to Thaison Hotel for this arrangement.

Day 3

Arrived Lao Cai in the early morning around 6am. Look out for our name board and follow
the driver to the designated bus.It is 38 km from Lao Cai to Sapa, the road is constantly zigzag with steep up hills.
As we approach about 1000m in elevation and reach Sapa town at 1600m. The views are spectacular.

Checked in to Bamboo Sapa Hotel and proceed to have breakfast before starting the tour at around 9am.
Bamboo Sapa hotel is a three stars hotel located in Sapa town, the view from the balcony is a breath taking one. We
booked a Luxury Deluxe room and was amazed by the stunning view. Big and clean Hotel and is highly recommended!!

Sapa

The common weather of Sapa during the winter time is about 10 degree Celsius (November to March), it would be wise to bring some good jackets with you.
Some even experienced that Sapa even had some snow during the winter time, but as you know the global climate is getting warmer so chances of snowing in Sapa would be very rare. In recent years, the coldest temperature is 3 degree Celsius but this does not last long (often in about 2 - 3 days) then would pick up again.

If you are trekking to the remote villages, please note that the temperature in the village is always warmer than in Sapa, about 3 - 7 DC different.

First trekking in Sapa, the Cat Cat village ( pronounce as Cart Cart )

This is a great light half day trek for the day you arrive in Sapa. Take a 3km short down hill trek to Cat Cat Village,
the home of the Black H'mong. Walk around visiting people in the village, meet and talk with locals to learn more about their daily life.
There are many opportunities to purchase handicrafts direct from the local community.
The walk will take you to the beautiful Cascade waterfall and the old French hydroelectric power station built over 100 years ago.

After the trekking, we head back to the Hotel for lunch. It's around 1 pm and the rest of the day belongs to us, Free and Easy to explore
the Sapa town. We hired a motorbike at 300 000 VND ( approx SGD 19 ) full tank and start the ride. Maps of Sapa can obtained in the Hotel.
As the Vietnamese rarely speak English, a basic Vietnamese language tutorial is highly recommend to bring along with you.

We ride up hill around 20km in order to captured the Famous waterfall scene in Sapa ( The Silver Waterfall) but unfortunately, we are unable to have a good shot
because of the weather. We are covered by the cloud, very misty, a near 0 m of visibility. Since the weather doesn't favor us, we back track down to Sapa town
and explore the markets.

We had an amazing first day in Sapa, will need to rest early for the day because the following day will be more tedious. Two villages to trek.
So after dinner, we had a good rest in the Hotel prepare for the Day 2 in Sapa "mission".

Day 4

We waked up very early in the morning at 5am. Simply wanted to feel how cold is the cold others mentioned. We had a good sleep though because the Hotel
is well equipped. There are two heaters in the room. As the breakfast only starts at 6am, we do some packing items for today's trekking . After breakfast, the guide
came to pick us up, and starts the trekking.

Today, we will be visiting two villages, Lao Chai & Tavan village.
Lao Chai - a Black Hmong ethnic minority village. Arrive to the Lao Chai, we walked to Tavan village where the Giay people lives.

Along the way we enjoy Vietnam's most breathtaking views of terraced rice fields, mist shrouded mountains and waterfalls.
Once In Lao Chai village visit the Black H'mong people in their wooden and bamboo houses, experience daily life in these tribal villages.
After a home cooked lunch, continue walking along winding dirt paths to the village of Tavan, home to the Day minority people.

This was a very long walk though, but I don't feel tired at all because along the way, the breath taking view eliminates the tireness.
At the end of the trekking a total of approximately 15 km, we took a bus back to the Hotel and the evening belongs to us. Tonight, we
head to the Love market in Sapa town but unfortunately it's raining, so not much chance to see what the locals do on Saturday.

The Love Market ( ONLY SATURDAYS )

The love market of Sapa used to be the place to find a partner to get married. With the tourism, the real love market does not take place anymore. Currently you can only see a representation of the love market. Do not miss it anyway if you are staying here a Saturday night.Young Red Dzao hill tribe used to come to Sapa to sing songs to the opposite sex. Girls sang the songs hidden in the dark, when a boy found them, and if they matched together, they disappeared into the forest for three days. Some of them got married after that.

While Dao women are indeed highly industrious, the men, it seems, prefer to spend most of their time drinking, smoking opium or sleeping, only occasionally slapping the rump of a lethargic bovine moving more slowly than they are. Few of their songs, though, are about drinking, smoking opium, sleeping or slapping rumps.

Currently you may spot some young locals singing in the dark, but they are not looking for a partner, they are looking for you. They will sing a song, and ask for a tip afterwards.

Day 5 ( ONLY SUNDAYS )

Checked out the hotel very early 6am. Had our breakfast and the tour bus will be soon picking us up at around 7.15am. Today, it's the last day in Sapa.
We will be visiting another village located around 100km from Sapa - The BAC HA Sunday market.

It takes about 3 hours to get there ( mountainous road) We arrive in Bac Ha at 9.30am, the best time to visit this traditional market with its entire colorful ethnic people such as: Flower H’Mong , Phu la , Black Dao gather to buy and sell. and have party with lots of corn wine ( strongest wine in Vietnam – 55 % alcohol)
After visiting the market and have lunch the guide will take you for 2 hour - hike to visit the Flower H’Mong tribe in Ban Pho Village.
After that get back to the bus to go back to Lao cai Station for the night train to Hanoi . I had already used up 4 of my 8GB SD card this time, the view is amazing,
I will not forget this for life.

At 8.10pm, the train arrived. We overnight in the train heading back to Hanoi.

Day 6 ( Halong Bay )
Reached Hanoi at around 5am, we take a taxi to the Hotel. Thanks to Thaison Hotel again, they arrange a room for us to shower, and free breakfast before
the tour bus picked us up to our last destination in Northern Vietnam. THE HALONG BAY.

Halong Bay

Ha Long Bay is a beautiful area with 1969 limestone islands jutting imposingly upon the skyline. Unfortunately the place is a tourist trap and the unique panorama is spoilt by a tremendous amount of "junks" which are in fact slimly disguised tourist boats that bear no resemblance to the authentic Chinese sailing vessels of the same name. These diesel-powered floating money-makers careen about the bay with casual indifference to safety as they bump and crunch against each other in a frenzy to drop their fares onto the obligatory island or floating shop before depositing the harried passengers back at Halong Bay dock feeling like they've been cheated out of their Dong, even if that isn't particularly true. The romantic setting is forever spoilt by the cattle-market mentality. Still... nice scenery.

Approximately 165 km from Hanoi, the bumpy road is not the most comfortable one but along the way,
the scenery is awesome. Lot's of paddy field, streets activities and great mountain view. It took us around 3 hrs 30 minutes drive to reach Halong
including a 20 minutes break at the Customers center. Many beautiful bags and souvenirs for sale. Price are quoted in USD, a little steep but the qualities are very good.

Once we reached Halong Bay, get the ticket and hopped in to the designated junk. The view of Halong bay is extraordinary and the lunch in the junk is delicious too.
We had met a lot of travellers from all over the world, and soon we become friends and exchange contacts. This is about travel isn't it?

After the full day in Halong Bay, we head back to Hanoi, stay the night in Hanoi and back to Singapore the following morning. We were sad to leave Vietnam so soon.
We really have a great time in Vietnam and I promise, I be there again soon. XIN CHAO - MAI MOT GAP LAI VIETNAM means...........Goodbye Vietnam- S
ee you again soon!!!

Getting there:

Fly direct to Hanoi from Singapore by

Singapore Airline http://www.singaporeair.com/saa/index.jsp

Vietnam Airline http://www.vietnamairlines.com/wps/portal/vn/welcome/ or

budget carrier Tigerair http://www.tigerairways.com/

Book the Hotel
Thaison I Hotel Hanoi from ( USD 30- USD 45 )
http://thaisonhotel.com/thIMG_0425a

IMG_0425a

Reached Hanoi

Reached Hanoi

The street

The street

IMG_0439a.jpglarge_0IMG_1688a.jpglarge_IMG_1829a.jpglarge_IMG_1817a.jpglarge_IMG_1706a.jpglarge_IMG_1644a.jpglarge_IMG_1695a.jpglarge_IMG_1677a.jpglarge_IMG_1688a.jpglarge_IMG_1594a.jpglarge_IMG_1652a.jpglarge_IMG_1588a.jpglarge_IMG_1197a.jpglarge_IMG_0925a.jpglarge_IMG_0911a.jpglarge_IMG_0899a.jpglarge_IMG_0419a.jpglarge_IMG_0425a.jpglarge_IMG_0446a.jpglarge_IMG_0439a.jpglarge_IMG_0499a.jpglarge_IMG_0555a.jpglarge_IMG_0561a.jpglarge_IMG_0762a.jpglarge_IMG_0814a.jpglarge_IMG_0888a.jpgaison1/

Book the land tour from Thaison I Hotel to Sapa, Bac Ha and Halong Bay from ( USD 125 - USD 250 per person ) all in.
Include train ticket, accommodation in Sapa, transfer, trekking, villages entrance fee, Halong Bay day tour.
All breakfast, Lunch & Dinner included except Drinks.

Request for Bamboo Sapa Hotel in Sapa, a breath taking hotel with awesome view from the balcony.
http://www.bamboosapahotel.com.vn/

Tips:

1.) Winter can be very cold in Hanoi and especially Sapa. Packed your Winter wear
or you can simply buy it in Hanoi, very Cheap but quality not so good.

2.) Bia Hoi ( pronounce as Bia Hey ), the cheapest beer on earth. The Hanoians made beer, MUST try. 4000 VND ( 25 cents ) a glass.

3.) Street food are delicious in Hanoi , Quan An Ngon is highly recommended in Hanoi. A fancy hawker selling
Vietnamese street food.

4.) Do remove shoes before entering temples and people’s homes.

5.) Don’t display affections in public (like hugging and cuddling). But walking hand in hand is fine.

6.) Don’t take photos of military installations.

7.) Do not touch anyone on the head as it is considered sacred. This also applies to children.

8.) Becareful dealing with Cyclos, they are notorious in Vietnam, majority ripped off tourists.

9.) Mai Linh taxis and Hanoi Taxis are reliable in Hanoi.

10.) When shopping in markets, BARGAIN at least 30% less when price is offered by the merchants.

11.) Don't hang any bags sideway, hang it in front of you to avoid petite crime like pickpockets especially
in busy markets.

12.) Planned your itineraries carefully if you were to visit the Love Market in Sapa ( ONLY SATURDAYS)
AND THE BAC HA SUNDAY MARKET ( ONLY SUNDAYS )

13.) While trekking to the minorities villages, do not give
money to the kids. Buy some lollipops or food for them instead. Was told that if you give them money, it will only make them lazy.

Posted by sunnyH 10.03.2011 02:55 Archived in Vietnam Tagged trekking vietnam north sapa hanoi ha bac

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUponRedditDel.icio.usIloho

Table of contents

Comments

Fantastic story and travel Awesome Photography!

10.03.2011 by Rocca Spain

Great great trip! I can feel how cool it is.
I did the same trip like you. Love market and Bac Ha market are awesome! Definitely visit again and recommend to my friends
Btw, i would like to recommend a web: www.yourlocalbooking.com - you can book all kinds of transfer in Viet Nam (open bus, train, airport transfer, private car, hotels, tours). Instant confirmation.
I booked a transfer from Lao Cai Station to Sapa and many airport transfers in Viet Nam with them. They are excellent!

25.08.2011 by jennifer-ong

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.

Enter your Travellerspoint login details below

( What's this? )

If you aren't a member of Travellerspoint yet, you can join for free.

Join Travellerspoint