Vietnam: Sapa and Halong Bay

April 2017

Our trip to Sapa and Halong Bay was organised by Ciao Asia Travel Co. Travelling to Sapa and Halong Bay, winging it, wasn’t an option for us as we had a tight schedule during our trip to Asia. We had to make sure we had all the right timing for us to get to our next destination (Philippines). As such, we relied on a tour agency to get the next few days organised for us.

 

  • Tour name: Sapa – Halong Bay Tour – 4 Days
  • Tour length: 4 Days 4 Nights
  • Tour route: Hanoi – Sapa – Cat Cat Village – Lao Chai Ta Van Village – Hanoi – Halong Bay – Hanoi

 

The tour included a roundtrip Sleeper Train from Hanoi to Sapa, all our hotels and activities were booked for us.

 

 

 

Day 1:

This is the first time I will be riding a sleeper train. I have heard stories about it from colleagues who would ride sleeper trains from London to Glasgow for work overnight. However, never thought I would have to do it. The excitement started with me thinking, this must be what the trains are like in Harry Potter.

This led to me constantly walking through the corridors shouting, “Anything off the trolleys dear?”. We arrived in Lao Cai 9 hours later I think? I don’t even remember as the train noise was quite harsh and I have instead just spent a good few hours listening to music in the dark as I couldn’t fall asleep from the noise. And just when I’m about to fall asleep sleep, 20 mins later, I hear this clanging in the door from the staff waking us up as we are about to approach Lao Cai station.

With an hour and a half van journey from Lao Cai. We started our mini trek around the villages as we were picked up from our hotel room by a local. We learned about their way of life and how they create and dye pieces of fabric. We walked mile after mile. There are a few picturesque stops within the trek. We embarked on a lovely walking tour to the hill tribe village of Cat Cat, home of the H’Mong hill tribe minority people.

Day 2: 

We embarked on a 6-hour trek that took us to rice terraces, buffalo paths and trails through several hills tribe villages Lao Chai & Ta Van, home to Black H’mong, and Dzay people. This is where boots are absolute essentials. If you decide to wear your own shoes, please be prepared to throw them away, as it will be covered in cow poo, rain and loads of mud. You can rent trekking boots in Sapa for the day. Be prepared to slip, trip and fall in mud as well, as such, do not think to wear your best clothes for this trek. I just wore my gym clothes, allowing me flexibility and easy movement to jump through mud and puddles.

During our trek we met all these different tribes. Trekking up and down mudslides and bamboo trees, rice terraces and rivers are definitely not something I’ve done before. These ladies are so skinny because they walk crazy amount of miles everyday for tours. The uphill walk are the worst. But the trek was worth it when in return it meant being able to see amazing views of the rice terraces. Our trek included a group of  villagers providing support to tourist that have never trekked in rice terraces before. They are so skilled in walking fast despite carrying baby or walking quickly in muddy trails.

We’ve noticed that the tourism in Sapa isn’t booming yet. Yes of course there are some tourists, and there are tours. But in 5 years time, when people hear about this place. I can imagine this place crowded with so many people viewing the rice terraces. So we’re very lucky to have experienced this without the crowds.

Day 3: 

Halong Bay – “Dragon descending to the sea“ as it is known in Vietnamese is so so beautiful. This is where they filmed King Kong and other Hollywood films. Halong Bay has more than 1,000 limestone islets rising from the sea, many of them containing beautiful grottoes. They are also part of the UNESCO World Heritage.  We parked by an island where it has a statue of a Russian man (which I cannot remember!), we climbed 200+ steps to reach the top and get a photo of the boats and islands of Halong Bay. Worth it!

Day 4: 

Overnight in a boat wasn’t too bad at all. Today, we went to the Surprising Cave or also called as Luon Cave. And continued the day in the boat to see the views of Halong Bay.

 

Places To Eat In:

Most of the places we’ve eaten in are in quick cafes, whatever we can get for quick or meals prepared in the boat in Halong Bay. Listed below is the only one worth mentioning.

  • Unsearchable BBQ Street Food – we tried to google this place. Can’t locate it, apart from seeing it in the streets of Sapa. We were quite skeptical of it at first but worth the money, £4 and you will be filled.

 

Quick Tips:

  • Currency: Vietnamese Dong
    • £1 = 31,000 Dong
  • Rent boots for when you start your trek in the rice terraces of Sapa. It’s not worth buying boots when you can rent one for a day. Price is fairly reasonable, less than £10 for a day.
  • Depending on the weather, just bring a light raincoat when trekking in Sapa.
  • Similar to Hanoi, massages are fairly cheap here too so after a long day of trekking, foot massages are well worth it. You will be surrounded with massage places so you will definitely be spoilt for choice.
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