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 ...

Vietnam: Hanoi First Impression

Most of the hotel in Hanoi provided one way free airport pickup for more than 2 nights stay. In fact, it was my first time having someone to wait for me at the arrival hall. Once we stepped out from the arrival hall, we were greeted and soon we were on a limousine to Hanoi Guest House at Bat Su, Hanoi’s old quarter. We booked hanoi room and all the tours with Hanoi Guest House before the trip via emails.

In Vietnam, US dollars were commonly used and widely accepted. When trading in US dollars, 1 US dollar was equivalent to 17760VND. But the market exchange rate was slightly better. Therefore the first thing we did after leaving our luggage with Hanoi Guest House was to exchange some of our US dollars to Vietnam Dongs. The best rate we managed to get was 18240VND at 130 Hang Bac. But do note that they offered lower rate for smaller US note, for example only 18170VND for twenty dollar notes. The airport rate was 18000VND at that time.

Trust me. This Quang Huy, gemstone and jewellery shop was also a money changer.

After that, we walked further to Hoan Kiem lake, "lake of the restored sword" in Vietnamese. The lake was indeed a precious natural spot to hanoians. It provided a spot to escape from the congested and polluted Hanoi streets. We took a stroll round the lovely lake and managed to cover the very first two eateries in our list, Fanny Ice Cream and Pho 24. Both had many franchise shops at HCM and Hanoi.

mirror-like green lake

From left: King Ly Thai To statue; one of the 4 gates.
The 4 gates were 报义门、报恩门、报德门 and 报福门. Sorry, no translations.

Hanoi in September was not as hot as previous few months, but then the humidity was still killing me. Therefore when we saw Fanny shop on the west side of the lake, we could not wait to get into the shop for the air conditioner. The interior was cosy and modern with fascinating pink, but most important it was air-conditioned. After checking out the attractive menu, we ordered foundue which allow us to sample 14 Fanny's flavours. The ice-cream was gelato-style ice-cream, following traditional French recipe.

Left: outside Fanny Ice Cream
Upper Right: inside Fanny Ice Cream
Lower Right: Fondue, 149KVND(~RM30)

Part of the menu

After Fanny, we passed by Pho24, which was famous for Pho Bo(beef noodles). Pho Bo was the national dish of Vietnam. Instead of the normal Pho Bo, the waiter recommended us Pho Special. Pho Special was a bowl of Pho with fillet, well-done flank, fat brisket, soft tendon, tripe, muscle and well-done brisket. The broth was nice but we found that the beef slices were a little bit hard. And it was not cheap at all, the pho special was at 45KVND(~RM9).

Upper: Pho24
Lower: Pho Special

Dinner was a bit early at 6pm in Little Hanoi. We were a bit conservative on our first day, so we did not go to the local roadside stalls with kindergarden tables and stools. We did not want to spoil the following Sapa and Halong Bay tours. Do not worry, we would come back and cover the real local food after that. Little Hanoi was another good reputation restaurant with comfortable environment for tourists. We were not that hungry, thus we only ordered 2 dishes. The food was above average, but nothing to shout about.

little hanoi

Part of the menu

Upper: noodles sauteed with beef and mix vegetables, 40KVND(~RM8)
Lower: fried catfish with dills and spices, served with rice, 55KVND(~RM11)

After taking a bath in Hanoi Guest House(they provided us a bathroom), we were sent to the train station. We had to catch a night train to Sapa. The advantage of booking the local tour with the same hanoi hotel that we were going to stay was we were allowed to use the bathroom and leave the bigger luggage at the lobby when we went for tours.

Hanoi Guest House
14 Bat Su
Hoan Kiem Dist
Tel: +84-4 38245732
Email: used this email add.)

Fanny Ice Cream
48 Le Thai To
Hoan Kiem Dist
Tel: +84-4 828-5689

Pho 24
31 Hang Khay
Hoan Kiem District
Tel: +84-4 39762424

Little Hanoi
9 Ta Hien
Hoan Kiem District
Tel: +84-4 9260168

Phuket Day 5: Bid bye-bye to Phuket

On day 4 we spent most of the time at Phuket town or near Phuket town. We explored Phuket town in the morning, had wonderful lunch at Tun-Ka Café and then visited Wat Chalong. In the afternoon, we covered two shopping malls, Central Festival and Big C. At the end of the day, we went all the way to Laem Hin Pier for seafood. It was a great day but we did not cover the south of Phuket island, where there were nice beaches, much better than Pa Tong beach and Promthep Cape, a stunning panoramic vista and ideal sunset viewpoint. One of the reasons we did not go south was due to the weather. We were pretty sure that there would not be any sunset on that day.

It was the last day of our trip and our flight was at 12 noon. We were supposed to do nothing but check out in the morning and get a teksi to the airport. But we did something very crazy in our life. We had light breakfast in the hotel and started our motorbike journey to the south. It was 7.30 in the morning, and we had to be back by 9.30, which gave us a mere two hours. As expected, most of the time was spent on the motorbike and we could only have a glaze of the beautiful beaches, Karon beach and Kata beach. There were restaurants, cafes, shops and resorts along these two beaches. Next time, I want to stay at one of the resort here.

Honestly, we were a bit nervous. If there was any delay, then we would miss our flight. We headed straight to Promthep Cape with me sitting at the back seat, snapping photos with my right hand and at the same time navigating with a gps phone on my left hand. At Prompthep Cape, we took a few photos and it was time to leave. The scenery was nice and definitely worth spending more time here. Note to myself and others who are going to travel to Phuket.

Once we reached PopPa Palace hotel, we returned the motorbike, checked out the room, and took a teksi to the airport. In the airport, we managed to have thai lunch before we boarded the plane. Food was so so and the total bill was 600B.

The journey to Prompthep Cape

Prompthep Cape

Tom Kaa Gai

Beef Masaman

Iced coffee and milk shake

Mango with glutinous rice