Vietnam: Halong Bay Cruise

Continue reading from Vietnam: Sapa Part II.

We arrived at Hanoi Guest House when it was still dark. We took a shower and had some rest at the lobby before we were served with breakfast. Shortly after the breakfast, we had to depart for a 2D1N Halong Bay cruise tour. Halong Bay was one of the UNESCO heritage site. We signed up this tour through Hanoi Guest House at usd62/person. There were many Halong Bay tours at different price, cheapest at usd3x to the super vip at usd1xx. In this post, I am going to show you what I got for the price I paid and hopefully it will help you in deciding the right tour.

It was surprised to see Vietnamese transferred the living pigs on bike.

As usual for tours, we stopped at the souvenior shop for a short break.

In two hours, we reached Halong Bay jetty.

We boarded the cruise and started our journey.

When we boarded the cruise, we were served with hot towel and welcome drink. We were relieved because the cruise was new and the quality of the tour looked good.

The upper photo was a double deck cruise for day tour whereas the second photo above was a triple deck for overnight tour. We were on a cruise similar to lower picture.

This was a bigger cruise as compared to the one we had.

The highest deck was a open deck for sunlight and sea breeze. But as Asian, we enjoyed the few sheltered seats available. The middle deck was a cozy dining place.

The cruise had 8 rooms, 4 doubles and 4 twins. This also meant that the cruise could only handle small tour with 16 person maximum.

Lunch was served on the cruise. The top left dish was a appetizer that had received praises from everyone. It was cucumber slice seasoned with garlic, chili, sugar and vinegar.

Red wine or beer for your meal? No problem. They have it all, you just have to pay for it.

After lunch, some chose to enjoy sunbath at the open deck. In fact, we stayed at the open deck for most of the time to enjoy the great scenery.

One of the activity in the afternoon was to visit the caves at Halong Bay.

The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes.

You could still find grocery shop in Halong Bay. :)

Then when it was not so hot, we were off for kayaking.

kayak and sunset - one of my favourite shot of the day.

At night, each cruise parked at their comfortable location.

We had more dishes for dinner. And, the dinner chat continued until we were too tired to chat.

The next morning, we had some simple breakfast, bread, butter, jam, egg, banana and coffee.

Then it was time to settle the bill according to your room number. After that,we left Halong Bay and returned to the jetty.

Lunch was at one of the restaurant near the jetty.

Snake for lunch? Of course not, but this was the display in most of the restaurant.

Lunch was as good as the previous meals.

And this time we had free vietnam beer for lunch.

We were taking the front seat in the minivan. The driver was repeating this dangerous overtaking skill all the way back to Hanoi.

Vietnam: Sapa Part II

We woke up rather early the next day after a good night's sleep(compare to the previous night on the train). The hotel’s breakfast was served in buffet style. Vietnamese breakfast menu would never miss out Pho Ga(Vietnamese Chicken Noodles Soup) and bánh mì(Vietnamese baguette). But this time we found something new and good, bánh cuon nóng(rolled rice sheet) and porridge with nuoc mam(fish sauce).

After breakfast, we decided to walk to the town center again. This time we visited the tourism center, located right in the heart of the town. Sapa tourism center provided comprehensive services including currency exchange.

This church was the landmark in Sapa town.

Next to the church was an open air market. We brought an umbrella here last night.

Then, we went to Banguette and Chocolat again. This time it was opened. Banguette and Chocolat was managed by Hoa Sua School, a training department for disadvantage youth. The building had 4 decent rooms up stair for tourists and a lovely café down stair. Normally the rooms will be taken if you walk in on the same day, so early booking is advisable. However I met a pair of Iraq couples at the café who managed to get a room by walk in. Lucky couples!

We ordered Opera Cake(21KVND) and hot Coffee(20KVND). We were running out of Vietnamese Dongs. So we paid in USD and they returned the change in VND.

Back to the hotel, I took a picture of the hotel building.

I was not surprised to see a group of local people waiting to “guide” us to their villages. I had read it from other’s blog. Every day, they will come all the way from their villages to Sapa town, waiting in front of the hotel lobby, and then follow the tourists back to their villages. At the end of the hiking tour, they will try to sell their souvenirs to the tourists.

So, we started off the journey to Hmong village and then to Dao village. The scenery was simply breathtaking, we were surrounded by the almost vertical rice terraces and stunning mountain peaks with regular mists hovering on them.

It was a good 5 hours walk, or more, but we were rewarded with beautiful scenery

At the rest point(for toilet as well), there were kids selling souvenirs and also hiking sticks. Some of the them even carried a baby at their backs. I forgot to mention that there was a “dedicated” local lady following me all the way. We could hardly communicate because she spoke poor English and I did not speak Vietnamese, making it worst was that she did not speak Vietnamese but her own dialect. But when I knew she was over 50, I felt so bad for her. I paid her a small sum of money as a token of appreciation when we reached her village and she took it happily.

Lunch was simple but delicious, especially the stir fry beef with lemongrass.

After that, we proceed to visit the school in the village. When we reached Dao village, we did not need to walk back. We took a van back to the town.

The hotel provided us a room for shower(Note that we had to check out the hotel in the morning before we went hiking). Dinner was at the same hotel restaurant. This time we ordered Menu4, vegetable soup, fried spring roll, fried tofu and fried vegetables. We also ordered a glass of mango juice.

Since we still had some time, we went to Banguette and Chocolat again. We took away a piece of tiramisu at 24KVND and T.Amand aux poire(pie with some local fruit jam and almond flakes on top) at 24KVND. It was supposed to be our supper on the train, but we finished it while waiting for the train.

A cup of vietnam coffee at the train station.

After that, it was another 10 hours train back to Hanoi. Above picture was the train restaurant I got myself a bottle of lemon green tea.

Banguette & Chocolat
Thac Bac Road, Sapa

Vietnam: Sapa Part I

Hanoi Guest House offered me 3 packages for Sapa 2D3N tour. Now only I noticed that there was not much difference between the deluxe and VIP packages. Anyway, I picked deluxe package at that time.

Standard: Six-sharing hard sleeper at 78usd
Deluxe: Four-sharing soft sleeper at 89usd
VIP: Four-sharing soft sleeper with private tour guide at 92usd

As the train rattled its way to Sapa, we started conversation with the couples in the same room. They had paid a much higher price to be in a twin sharing room. After checking with their travel agent, they were told that it was a mistake and they would get some refunds. Later when we were back in Hanoi, our guest house told us that the twin sharing rooms were very limited and some of the dishonest travel agents would offer you a twin sharing room but in the end put you in a four-sharing room. Since the service of the tour would largely decided by the travel agent, therefore it was important to choose a reliable travel agent.

The train had outperformed my expectation. The cabin was clean, and so did the room. You could see that each bed came with a pillow and a blanket. But perhaps you could not see the tiny water bottles on the table. Those were complimentary mineral waters for passengers. And, I am pretty sure that you could not see the power points below the table. I used that to charge my cellphone and camera batteries.

It was nearly 6 in the morning when we reached Lao Cai.

The train station was packed with passengers and tour guides.

This breakfast place was just opposite the train station. When we were told that the minivan would only come at 8am, some of the tourists started to make noise. The tour guide then explained that there were another two tourists coming from Sapa to join us. I think there was no point arguing as it was definitely not going to change the situation. So when the tourists were still trying hard to have the minivan to come earlier, I had brushed my teeth and washed my face in the restaurant's toilet.

All meals were included in the tour. For breakfast, the options were bánh mì(Vietnamese baguette) or Pho Ga(Vietnamese Chicken Noodles Soup) with coffee. Bánh mì with egg and cheese was good.

At 8pm, the minivan came and fetched us to Bac Ha Sunday market. It was the largest and most colorful market in the area with villagers arriving in from the surrounding hill tribes. They were selling all sort of things, from souvenirs, clothes, raw food, cooked food to whole cows. I even saw them selling puppies, not as pets, but to be cooked and eaten. It was sad to see those puppies.

bac ha market products

Hmong women with their colorful attires

I bought some key chains as souvenirs. They were so colorful and cute. But remember to bargain, and start from at least half the price.

Hmong women were promoting souvenirs to one of the tourist. And I noticed that Hmong people seldom come to us, maybe as Asian we did not look too difference from them.

After visiting Bac Ha market, it was lunch time. We were served with fried spring roll, stir fry beef with onion, stir fry cabbage, deep fried chicken in betal leaves, french fries and banana. Dishes were to be eaten with white rice.

The restaurant had made a mistake. The serving size was supposed to be for 4 person, but they only served us 2 set for 11 person. Coincidentally, there was a Vietnamese in our group, so she raised the concern to the restaurant. And, we got another set at the end of our meal. But most of our members had already left the table.

The lunch was at level 4 of the restaurant, great view from the top.

After lunch, we went to visit the minorities. We had to walk a short distance because there was no road for the minivan. One thing to complain was the hot weather. I was hitting my head because I did not remember to bring an umbrella.

On the way, we had to give way to horse-drawn.

It was a simple wooden house. I saw some family photos hanging on the wall of the living hall. There were two teenage girls in the photos. So I tried to ask the mama where were the girls. The tour guide translated the answer to me. It was a sad answer. One of the girl was studying in Lao Cai, but another girl was missing not long ago. I swear I could see tears in mama's eyes.

In the kitchen, the little girl on the bottom right photo had caught my attention. She was eating white rice with dried chili. I felt so sorry for her and her family. Even tough I had reminded myself not to be over-sympathetic before I came to Vietnam, but I still gave her some money. I did not speak her language, so I was hoping that this would help to express my concern.

The nice paddy field in the village.

I like this shot.

On the way back to Sapa, we dropped by the boarder gate to China at Lao Cai. There was nothing much there. We took some photos of the boarder gate and the temple, Den Thuong.


We spotted mobile stalls selling tau fu fa(bean curd custard) at 5KVND(~RM1). Of course we were not going to give it a miss. We tried both stalls and concluded that the uncle made better tau fu fa than the auntie. This Vietnamese style Tau Fu Fa had some crushed ice at the bottom of the bowl. It was a soothing dessert in such a hot weather.

Finally, we reached our hotel, Global Hotel II. Both lobby and restaurant were spacious.

We were given a very big room.

After enjoying a long bath(yes, I enjoyed bathing after the whole day sunning), we headed to the restaurant for dinner. We were allowed to pick one out of the 6 dinner set. One thing to note was all Vietnam tour did not provide drinks. We had to pay for it.

Menu 2 + Pineapple juice. The fruit juice was very concentrated, worth the penny.

We took a walk in the town. Sa Pa town was very small, so we ended up having foot massage. It was good and cheap, only 100KVND(~RM20) for an hour.

At first, we planned to have supper at Baguette and Chocolate. But we were late, the cafe closed at 9pm. So instead of nice coffee and tempting cake, we had some roadside BBQ for supper.

Sapa Global II Hotel
957 Fanxipan Road
Sa Pa

Foot Massage
Cay May
GPS Coordinates: N22°
19.816' E103° 50.348'

To be continued ...