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North Vietnam Advice pls (Hanoi, Halong bay, Sapa and rural)

Travel Forums Asia North Vietnam Advice pls (Hanoi, Halong bay, Sapa and rural)

1. Posted by gearu (First Time Poster 1 posts) 6y

gearu has indicated that this thread is about Vietnam

Advice please!

My partner and I are visiting North Vietnam in October 2010 for about 20 days. we have started researching info about Vietnam and it is really hard to find good information. If you have visted vietnam recently, do you have any information that you could share to help us with the following:

  • Transportation - how to get around, especially in the rural north. We have heard a lot of bad things about hiring motorcycles, and are not confident riders.

  • Recommended places to visit in the rural north, things to do, or recommended guided tours (if you did a particularly good one). We are both avid photographers so like to take things at a slowish pace so that we can enjoy things and take photographs.

Our Loose Itinerary:

  • Arrive in Hanoi, and want to spend 4-5 days exploring the city.
  • Plan to take the overnight train up to Sapa. Spend a day in Sapa before heading out to more rural areas
  • From Sapa we are unsure if we should loop up through the rural areas north/east of Sapa (looping around and ending up back in Hanoi, or head down slightly south/west of sapa and loop back around to Hanoi that way. We will look at spending about 10 days on this loop through the rural areas. Especially keen for photographic opportunities (landscape and general culture/people)
  • After looping through the rural areas we want to spend 3-4 days on a boat cruise through HaLong bay

We are especially looking for help and suggestions relating to our travels through the rural areas. Suggestions on where to go and how to get around.

At this point it looks like the best option might be hiring a car and driver, however, where possible we would like to try and keep costs down (within reason).

thanks so much for taking the time to help out!

2. Posted by Daawgon (Travel Guru 1993 posts) 6y

The main mode of travel in the rural north is by public bus. I have not traveled beyond Bac Ha myself, but would like to explore more. Yes, you can hire a jeep and driver for the trip, but my feeling is that by riding the bus you will meet and enjoy the locals. I did this last year on a trip from Mai Chau back to Hanoi (I was the only Eng speaker on that bus) and had a great time - the Vietnamese love to show off their country and never stopped laughing and making fun. You might check out Travelfish.org - great up-to-date info there since they specialize in SE Asia. You will love Sapa and Bac Ha for local color - it's true it's full of tourists, but just walk a few hundred yards off the trail and you will not see a single tourist. Vietnam is a very safe place for this kind of thing. If you do get a driver or guide, make sure they come highly recommended (worst thing you could do would be to pick someone at the Lao Cai station!)

3. Posted by gorfi (Budding Member 21 posts) 6y

Hi! I totaly agree! I traveled the same route: bordertown Mai Chai-Hanoi-Sapa and around there, for exempel Bac Ha and many other smaller villages on the road, where sometimes you can stay over night for a little money. What i did was taking buses and givig no for answer if the driver wanted to charge me more for a ticket, wait a little, look how much the locals pay, and i also hired a scooter in bac ha, not to expensive at all. Btu be carefull with theives, as everywhere they are professionals!
All the best to the the best part of VietNam, cause is northern Vietnam!

4. Posted by phuong87 (Budding Member 66 posts) 6y

dear,
It means that you want to organize tour by yourself, right? don't want to join group tour.
If i were you, for Halong Bay tour, you can join with group, you will save more money.
About sapa, you can take night train or day train, it is up to you. It takes you about 9hours from Tran Quy cap train station to Lao cai train station, and then from Lao cai train station, you take minibus to Sapa. It costs you about 40,000VND,
About train ticket, there are a lot of ticket, from budget to luxury. I think you can choose soft sleep, cause it spends 9hours on train.
- About Mai chau, you can take taxi to Hadong bus station and at about 1:30pm you take bus to Mai chau, it will give you a chance to take a lots of photos here.
About homestay here, it is very cheap. Around 12$ for 2people.

5. Posted by puma_1977 (Budding Member 5 posts) 6y

Hi there

I can recommend you to visit the little town Bac Ha. I travelled through Vietnam 1.5 yrs ago from South to North and left the country at the Northwestern city Dienbien Phu.

Take the (day or night) train to Lao Cai as mentioned from others. I took the soft sleeper which was comfortable enough for me (me being 31 by that time :)). From Lao Cai I took a local Bus to Bac Ha and had a first bad experience: locals pretending to be helpful and showing me the bus to Bac Ha (it was dark outside, 5.30 am and I was the only tourist going there). He and the driver wanted me to pay way too much for the bus ticket. I dealt them down a lot but still had to pay more then others, since they wanted to kick me out on the way if I wouldn't pay. So: walk straight down from the train station in Lao Chai to the official Bus station (500m) where you'll find "official" prices.

Bac Ha was very (!!) quiet during the week. Tourists show up for the big market on weekends. I walked around together with a German woman two days, sleeped in Bac Ha and were overwhelmed by the landscape, the animals, locals, road constructing, primary school with dozens of screaming children. The map they gave us in Bac Ha was not worth its name, however, but we didn't need more. Take enough food and drink, though.

You also can book tours in Bac Ha, but since there were no tourists around, the tours were too expensive for just the 2 of us. Accomodation: I was there at the beginning of January and it happened to be really cold. A room with heating was a luxury there but helpful. Especially if you go there during the week ask for discount at the hotels.

From there I went on to Dien Bien Phu with a stop over in Lai Chau (not Lao Cai). I didn't stop in SaPa after having heard all kind of different things, would do so however if I went back. Lai Chau was nothing special. The ride to Dien Bien Phu however (local bus) was fantastic: very long, a mini bus packed with all kind of people and bagages, me as the only tourist and stop overs every once in a while, because the road was under construction. And I mean really under construction.

However, I don't think that there is a lot to visit or worth a stop over before Dien Bien Phu. That town was interesting, especially in a historical aspect but not more. I continued to Laos from there, but I guess you could go on (or back) to Hanoi.

Well, that's what I experience. Just ask if you want to know any further details.

puma from Switzerland

6. Posted by seanmiller (Inactive 20 posts) 6y

Puma thanks for the detailed informations :)