This is the second of a three part series of travels by Blogger Son #1 and his wife. I am very thankful to this wife for writing this trip report.
Sapa, Halong Bay, Hanoi
Cambodia – Siem Reap
I was very sad to say goodbye to Hoi An, but onwards to Hanoi and directly to an overnight train to Sapa, the northwest market town that is colorful and charming, and provides a great base for treks in the neighboring mountains. The only way to get to Sapa is via overnight train from Hanoi, which was quite the experience (albeit a long trek).
After a better night’s rest than I’d imagined, we were picked up at the station in the early hours of the morning for the 2 hour drive to our lodge, Topas Ecolodge, located a few miles outside of Sapa town. We arrived early in the morning, when the mountains were still covered in fog and created a quiet and tranquil ambiance. With only 2 days/1 night to explore, we immediately arranged a mountain trek via our hotel and set out on what was probably a 10-15 mile hike down the mountain, through some indigenous tribal villages, and back to the ecolodge (note: you do not have to have a guide, but since we only had one day to hike, we wanted to ensure we did the best possible hike and therefore hired a guide). The hike was beautiful, but by far the most standout thing about it was the fact that we were followed by about 10 women from the Red Dao tribe community located right outside our hotel for the entire hike! They ranged in age from about 25 to 85, and some even carried babies on their back. Their whole M.O. was to walk with us, befriend us (“where you from”, “hello, you buy from me” in broken English that was actually quite impressive), and then during our lunch break, sells us some of their handmade tribal trinkets that they’d carried on their backs the entire time. By that time, you feel so bad for them that you’re more likely to pay the ridiculous price they’re asking!
On our second and final day in Sapa, we rented a scooter and cruised around the mountainside, taking in all the beautiful sights. We also spent some time in the little town itself, browsing the market, eating lunch, and getting a much-needed massage (Sapa town is strategically lined with massage parlors to help ease the aches and pains of all the hikers, we were no exception). That evening, we were transported back to the train station for the overnight train back to Hanoi.
The next leg of our trip was an overnight stay on the Dragon Pearl Junk boat of the Indochina Junk fleet in famous Halong Bay. Halong Bay is made up of thousands of amazing limestone islands, rock formations, and caves that have formed over centuries of wind water. The bay is absolutely breathtaking and no wonder it’s a huge tourist attraction.
We were actually torn about whether to go to Halong Bay because we had read many reports about it being dirty and overcrowded, but I’m so glad we decided to check it out. Unbeknown to us our boat operator, Indochina Junk, has a monopoly on a certain part of the bay, so that only their boats can travel there. As a result, during our overnight cruse we basically had the bay to ourselves (and the fellow travelers on our boat). There were about 20 of us in total. The cruise started with lunch on the deck, then they took us to a remote part of the bay for sea kayaking and cave touring, before we got back on the boat for some cruising, sunset cocktails, and dinner – the food was pretty delicious, I must add. The next morning, we toured an old floating fishing village and then slowly made our way back to town, snapping pictures the entire way (you just can’t help yourself, I swear!)
The bay is magnificent and this 1-night cruise was an excellent way to see it. If we had more time, I would have extended to a 2-night cruise that take you to even more remote parts of the bay and surrounding bays.
The cruise company had us back in Hanoi by evening, and we spent our last night in Vietnam at Art Trendy Hotel in Hanoi Old Quarter. We discovered some delicious street food (are you seeing the trend yet?) and did a little walking tour around the Old Quarter. We had heard a lot about pickpockets and theft in Hanoi and were very cautious about holding onto our belongings tightly, but didn’t have any issues whatsoever. The Vietnamese people we encountered were very friendly! Early the next morning, we were transferred back to the airport for our quick flight to Cambodia.