Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hanoi/Sapa/Halong Bay

Sunset at Halong Bay

10 Day Hanoi/Sapa/Halong Bay (Nov 2007)

This is a very recent trip with a group of friends. Below is the 10 days itinerary which begins on Thursday 8th Nov 2007. I engaged the service of Yongo (an aternative travel organizer) to help me tailor out this 10 days itinerary. It's a win-win partnership and it turn out to be one of the best organized trip.

Day 1 Thu 08 Nov KL to HanoiAssemble at Penang international airport at 06.30 hr and board the Air Asia AK6313 from Penang to KL(LCCT) at 0810 hr arriving 0900 hr. Will continue our flight to Hanoi with Air Asia AK762 t500 hr arriving 1725 hr. When reach Hanoi, we will transfer directly to Hanoi Railway Station for night train to Lao Cai at 21.30 hr (Lao Cai,310km northwest of Hanoi) . Overnight on the train.

Day 2 Fri 09 Nov Sapa - Cat Cat - Ta Van -Arrive at Lao Cai Station at 6.00 AM. Have a breakfast of local foods before departing to Sapa ( about 40 km from Lao Cai ). Arrival in Sapa hike downhill 4km to Cat Cat stream and waterfall ,visit Cat Cat village of the Black H'Mong to explore their routine life, walk around the village to enjoy the scenery of forests and continue trekking to Lao Chai (H'mong ethnic group) and Ta Van (Zay people) villages. Overnight at homestay in Ta Van village.

Day 3 Sat 10 Nov : Sapa trekking - After having breakfast, trekking to visit the Red Dzao in Giang Ta Chai village, visiting waterfall and suspension bridge. Jeep back to Sapa. O/N in Sapa.

Day 4 Sun 11 Nov - Sun: Sapa -Bac Ha market - night train to Hanoi - Leaving from Sa Pa early in the morning at 6.30Am, we take the bus to Bac Ha market. We arrive in Bac Ha at 9.30 AM, the best time to visit huge market with its entire colorful ethnic people as Flower Hmong, Phu La and Dzao, Tuyen who gather to buy and sell. After visiting this outstanding market , a short walking tour to visit the house of H'Mong King (or Meo Minority King) built by the French as well as a light trekking tour to visit some surrounded villages of Bac Ha (Dao, H'Mong..). Transfer to Lao Cai Railways Station for catching the night train down from the mountains back to Hanoi. O/N on the train.

Day 5 Mon 12 Nov: Hanoi - Hoa Lu - Tam Coc - Arrive in Hanoi about 6.00 am. Transfer to the hotel for check-in and relax till 8.30 AM, tour guide come back for welcoming the group to Hoa Lu - Tam Coc. A 90km drive south of Hanoi will lead you to Ninh Binh, the site of the one capital city of ancient Vietnam before Hanoi took its leading role in 11th century. The area is featured by lots of well-known sceneries, which include Tam Coc Caves and Hoa Lu ancient capital with the old temples dedicated to King Dinh & King Le reigned in 10th century. The visit in Ninh Binh starts by a boat trip in Tam Coc where spectacular limestone karsts jut out from the green paddy fields reminding about Guilin (China) and Halong Bay of Vietnam, which gives this scenery the name “Halong-bay-on-land”. Further discovery in Ninh Binh will be continued in the site that used to be the kings’ palace in 10th century and now famous for the wooden relieves of the shady Dinh and Le temples. O/N in Hanoi.

Day 6 Tues 13 Nov: Hanoi - Today is free and easy. No guided tour. Group have whole day to explore and shop around Hanoi city on own time and leisure. Overnight in Hanoi.

Day 7 Wed 14 Nov: Hanoi - Halong - At 8.00 am pick up from hotel in Hanoi for Ha Long. Arrive at Ha Long Bay wharf around 12:00 noon, check -in registration, Board Anh dDong junk. Have lunch on board with welcome drink. The cruise will take by exotic islets with shapes of Dog, Incense Urn, Sail, Fighting Cocks, which are naturally formed by process of erosion between the see water and lime stone mountains. Arrive Surprise Cave and explore the bay with kayak, paddle to Luon cave, this cave is a natural tunnel thrusts through a mountain's foot and leads to an exotic lagoon surrounded by mountains covered by dense jungle. Seafood dinner and optional night paddle. Overnight on boat inside a wonderfully tranquil atmosphere in Luon cave area.

Day 8 Thu 15 Nov: Visit Halong bay - A new day wake up with joys and emotions in an early morning for watching sunrise on sea. Have breakfast, continue kayak exploration. Paddle from Luon cave toward islets in shape of Tortoise, Man's head, Cua Van fishing village. Have lunch on board. Paddle to Three Tunnels lake ( selected according to the tides). Have dinner on board. Optional night paddle. Overnight on board in Three Tunnels area.

Day 9 Fri 16 Nov :Halong -Hanoi - Sunrise breakfast, continue islands exploration by kayak to Con Vit, Ba Hang. Have lunch on board, back to Ha Long wharf then transfer back to Hanoi by private car. Overnight in Hanoi.

Day 10 Sat 17 Nov: Hanoi - home - We fly home on AK761 at 0915 hr arriving in KL(LCCT) at 1330PM. Will wait until 21.30 hr for AK6316 flight from LCCT arriving Penang at 22.20 hr.

Here is a comment by Pipit, one of the team member of this trip.

Pipit wrote ....."My side of Sapa – Hanoi – Halong Bay .............
I don’t travel all that often and I normally look for slightly different traveling experiences when I do, which is why I snapped up Master Wong’s offer to join him to Vietnam on a Yongo trip. Most travel operators offer sightseeing, shopping, eating, entertainment, business or health, but with Yongo’s reputation for non-commercialism, I hoped the niche for odd ball travelers like me might be satisfied.

One’s memories of experiences much depends on how adventurous one’s behaviour is. Unfortunately, I was not adventurous enough to risk what Thiem our Vietnamese guide called “eruption inside”, but this was my own entire fault. I talk of the myriad of tiny “benches” selling hawker food whose fare sometimes looked worrying, but often temptingly delicious. Nor did I take up the numerous offers of motorcycle taxis to tour the city of Hanoi, not even when some of them offered “bang bang” as a last resort in persuasion. But then I don’t usually take up what I don’t know (ahem, anyone knows what it is?)

I guess I am a little conservative stick in the mud after all. Still, the trip proved rich and rewarding in terms of experience – from the rustic dirt tracks of Sapa hills to the mad cacophony of Hanoi’s traffic and on to the olive green glassy sea of Halong Bay. I hope our Vietnamese hosts got something rewarding in return too for all the trouble they take in opening their country up to demanding and self-interested foreign tourists like me and if they are still open, I think it is worthwhile to make a second and hopefully braver and more intimate repeat trip."

I shared same behavior and feeling with Pipit on the adventurous part. Guess it’s the fear inside that prevent us from taking risk when we are in unfamiliar ground. This fear will gradually reduce when we get to travel more and also when we are with experienced traveler.

Highland Sapa has a lot to offer for those who love nature and cultural life style of ethnic minorities. A home stay in one of the many villages is highly recommended.

A river cruise on Tam Coc is another nice experience. The misty limestone islands as back drop is just simply picture perfect.

Ha Long bay is no doubt a very beautiful place. Relaxing on the deck of a Junk boat surrounded by small exotic islands, floating on calm green water, with blue sky and red orange setting sun is unforgettable. One may choose to star glazing on the deck at night with a cup of warm aromatic Vietnamese coffee or join the karaoke session at the dining area. I’m afraid that this beautiful place is not sustainable with the current large numbers of boat operators. The pollution in the form of refuse and wastes that are dumped into this bay are quite evident. I can see plastic bags, bottles, wrappers and occasionally oil floating on the water surface.

Hanoi is a busting city and the historic Old Quarter near Hoan Kiem Lake is filled with tourist and travelers like us. One uniqueness of this narrow streets and allies of Old Quarter is that most shops on the same street sell the same merchandise. This makes your shopping so much easier. You want to buy shoes, go to shoe street, like wise you need bags look up at bag street. Crossing the streets of Hanoi requires real courage. You are advised to move at a constant pace and they will know how to weave around and avoid you. Any sudden move or stop can mean disaster. The Water Puppet show near Hoan Kiem Lake is recommended but you have to book your ticket early to avoid disappointment.

Boating at TamCoc

Terrace farming at Sapa

Group at Sapa

Water Puppet show

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