With our free 15 days visa we decided to focus on the Northern part of Vietnam (I already visited the South in 2017). We arrived to Hanoï, went for a cruise on Ha Long bay, then to Sa Pa and its amazing ricefields, did a 3 days loop around Ha Giang, and finished our trip in Ninh Binh, the terrestrial Ha Long bay!
After travelling 8 months in Latin America, where everything was easy (I speak Spanish so it helps a lot) and the travel system is a bit like we know, our arrival to Vietnam after a 30h trip from Mexico was quite hard. So we mainly asked the information and fees to the hotels where we were, without knowing if it’s a good or regular price.
Also, because of our jetlag, we chose not to take night buses in the beginning, but we could have definitely get faster (with a nightbus between Hanoï and Sa Pa, and an other between Sa Pa and Ha Giang).
Looking back on this trip, the most relevant itinerary would have been Hanoi – Ha Long Bay – Ninh Binh – Ha Giang – Sapa and cross the border in the North of Laos.
Arrived by night at Hanoi, we visited the city in only a half day as it was raining as hell… We booked a tour in Halong Bay the day after (through our hotel).
Note: we paid 350k a taxi from the airport to our hotel
What to visit in Ha Noi:
- Imperial city, and don’t forget the exhibitions and the bunker to visit (entrance: 30k)
- Ho Chi Minh memorial (nearby you have Môt Côt pagoda – not really worth it)
- Train street (we sadly missed the train but it’s a fun stuff to do: take a coffee and wait for the train)
- Đền Thủy Trung Tiên temple on the lake (entrance: 30k)
- You also have a water Muppet show which looks fun but we didn’t have time to watch it
- National history museum (again no time but looks interesting)
To stay in Hanoi:
We chose to be in the center, for the amazing ambiance during the weekend and the proximity with all the sighseeings
– Gia Tinh (320k a double room)
– Rising Dragon (487k a double room)
Ha Long bay
Details of our 2 days 1 night tour in Halong Bay
- 8.30am: leaving from the hotel, did a 20min stop on the road at a shopping center
- 11.30 arrived in the Harbour where we took a small boat to get to our 3 stars boat. We had a welcome drink, did the check-in, and had lunch while the boat was entering into the bay
- 2.30pm visit of Surprise cave
- 3.30 small island with a very nice point of view (400 steps) and a small beach where you can swim
- 5pm way back at the boat stationed for the night. Happy hour (1$ off on any cocktail)
- 7pm small cooking lesson, Diner and then karaoke until 10.30!
- 6.15am the boat started a small cruise to an other bay where you can use kayak to visit the Skall cave
- 7am kayak tour all alone
- 8am breakfast while the boat was taking the way back
- 10.45am lunch at the harbour
- 12.30 we left the boat and get back to Hanoi
- We arrived in Hanoi at 5pm.
How much is a cruise on Halong Bay?
We paid 115$usd for a 3stars cruise (not included the beers, 30k and cocktails 50k).
You can also take a 5 stars for a bit more but I guess the only difference is the confort in the cabin, not the program.
I also have seen agencies in the street proposing 75$ for the same 2d/1n but I don’t have the details.
We could have taken a night bus to Sa Pa, as there are plenty leaving at 10pm (but arriving at 4am). We chose to take a hotel in Hanoi and a bus in the morning (ours was at 8am with Sa Pa Express from the city center but you have many other agencies starting earlier).
Hanoi – Sa Pa: 6h (we paid 18$usd)
6h from Hanoï (with 2 stops of 20min), Sa Pa is located in the mountains with amazing rice fields terrasses. We arrived at 1pm, had lunch and went in our Homestay: Mintu. From there we did a small trekking to Cat Cat the first day. It was Sunday and this village was full of beautiful people wearing traditional dresses, a paradise for Instagramers!
Note: Moto taxi from Sa Pa to Cat Cat is between 20k and 50k. The entrance to Cat Cat was 90k and I heard you also need to pay for the other villages, but as we passed by the rice fields I guess we avoided it.
The second day we walked to Lào Chai and Tavan. With MapsMe you can easily do it by yourself. It’s totally ok to walk without a guide there. We started at 7am, avoiding all the tourists groups who start later and from Cat Cat. We took a coffee at Family H’Mong where we met Mimi who told us a lot of stories in a perfect English. She invited us to visit her home without asking any money while an other woman who started following us insisted A LOT to sale us stuff…
We also crossed a lot of children who almost cryed asking to buy them their bracelets. We arrived in Lào Chai around 11am and stopped for a lunch while again a group of woman was harassing us (but not so long and nothing crazy).
After a total 18km walking around this beautiful countryside, we went back to our hotel by moto taxi (60k).
Note: If you prefer to take a guide instead of walking alone, please contact a H’Mong woman guide (like Soon Yang or Chai trekking on Facebook) as the community doesn’t profit from the Tourism when you book tour with Vietnamese. It will be between 20$ and 50$ per day per person with accommodation and food.
OCHAO means thank you in H’Mong
Ha Giang loop
Ha Giang was a start of a 3 days roadtrip we made with a semi automatic scooter. Here is our program:
- 6.45am we left the hotel to avoid the cops posted 9km from Ha Giang (they might ask for your international moto driving licence but are supposed to be there only from 7am to 11am). After 45min it started to rain and we stopped 1h in a house of very friendly vietnamese people who offered us “happy water”…
- 9.45 we stopped to take a coffee with the view on the Heaven gate
- 12h30 we had lunch in Yen Minh
- 14h we’ve been stuck 1h by the rain
- 16h we arrived in Dong Van and took the North road until Lung Cu
- 18h30 we arrived at Ma Pi Leng homestay where we were all alone! We shared the diner with this nice family but didn’t sleep well as some neighbour put music at 3am…
- We left at 7.30 am and went back to take a coffee at Happiness museum (no breakfast as they only had shrimp noodles) and went to the skypath road (only if you are good driver without vertigo)
- 10h30 we took a breakfast in Meo Vac before starting the “hard” part: bumpy road during 1h (nothing to be afraid of, if you need you can just push the moto)
- 15h we arrived at Du Gia where we had lunch at Du Gia Garden and took rest in the beautiful Du Gia Panorama homestay (we were dead!)
- 9.30 we left Du Gia after a great breakfast and after visiting the waterfall nearby the hotel (not crazy but if you want to swim there it’s ok) to go back to Ha Giang
- After Tung Nun we took the road on the left to cross beautiful mountains
- 12h45 we had lunch at Quan Bia Chum Vang nearby Ha Giang
- We finished our trip in Thanh Thuy close to chinese border and went back to the hotel at 3pm
Semi Automatic moto rent: we paid 180k per day + 5$ per day for full insurance via our hostel, Lila Inn (very nice, they let you us take a shower and arrange the bus to Ninh Binh)
Gazoline: between 200k and 250k for the whole trip
Ma Pi Leng homestay: 150k a single room for 2, 80k per person for dinner
Du Gia Panorama homestay: 300k with breakfast, 120k dinner per person (to go there ask Du Gia Homestay nearby the river in the city center)
Our night bus took us directly from the hotel in Ha Giang (400k) and took 9h to arrive to Ninh Binh. The bus left us at 5am in the middle of nowhere but only 4 km from our hotel. Taxi was here to pick up us offering 200k (way to expensive: we prefered to walk).
We rented a bicycle and went to Mua Cave, Bich Dong pagoda and Thung Nam (didn’t visited the bird parc but it was 150k entrance including a boat tour). We also asked in Thung Nang how much was a tour: 150k for 30min cruise). We preferred to do the Tam Coc boat tour: 120k each + 150k a boat for 2, 1h40 cruise.
Note: The paddlers often ask for tips so keep some cash in your pocket (around 50k).
Second day we rented other bicycles to go to Hoa Lu (20k entrance). You can also do a boat tour in Trang An: 250k for 3h cruise.