I can never forget our friendship which started 10 years ago during high school. This girl appear in my life and she stuck in my heart till now. We met when we were 14 years old. Same class for two years but we have so many similarities in our lives. 10 years later, we somehow had this thought of celebrating our 10 years anniversary with a trip together to Vietnam and that’s how our Vietnam trip came into reality!
Who says planned trip always never happen?
Our trip to Vietnam was planned a month ago. If you plan yours earlier, you would be able to save more during the trip. However, I have some tips for you if you are planning to go Vietnam as your next destination. These tips will definitely help you a lot in terms of safety, pricing, and foods selections! Without further ado, let me start by describing my route in Northern Vietnam.
We booked Malindo Airline from KLIA because the seats were spacious compare to Airasia. My air ticket was RM500 include a meal and 20kg luggage check in. However, you can find better price if you buy during the promotion period. The flight duration was about 3 hours 20 mins to Noi Bai International airport (Hanoi). It was winter time when we reach Hanoi. Winter season in Vietnam is from November to April when temperature average between 8-20 °C. Remember to gear up and put on a windbreaker because it can be windy during the night. On the contrary, summer in Vietnam lasts from May to October when it is hot and humid and the region experiences its highest rainfall. Uniqlo has some very good winter clothing for all winter country!
Day 1 : Hanoi- Sapa
On the first day, we walked around Hanoi city to hunt some local foodies. Vietnam is famous for its street foods such as rice noodle soup, fried noodle with egg, desserts (Che), spring rolls (Goi Cuon), Vietnamese Sandwich (Banh Mi), broken rice (Com Tam), Sizzling Pancake (Banh Xeo), Little Shrimp Pancake(Banh Khot), Vietnamese Pork Roll (Cha Lua), Vietnamese Rice Cake (Banh Chung), Jian Dui ( Sesame Ball) and more! Don’t worry about eating full because you are going to walk a lot and your stomach is going to call you again 😀
On the first night, we booked our sleeper train via King Express Train website to Sapa. There are 2 time slots to choose, either at 9.10pm or 10pm. I recommend King Express Train Sapa as it is one of the most popular trains from Hanoi to Sapa. The wooden decoration and the lighting system in and outside the cabins create a warm ambience for travelers to enjoy the journey along the railway. The luxurious space and soft bed are a good choice for travelers to take a good sleep before hiking in Sapa the next morning. However, Sapa has no railway station. The train will take you from Ha Noi to Lao Cai, then you are supposed to take the bus, jeep or taxi about 38km (24miles) to Sapa. It cost me USD 33 for the sleeper train from Hanoi to Lao Cai and RM10 for the bus to Sapa.
Day 2: Sapa
Sapa is a place that accommodate to nature lovers. It looks like a kampung/paddy terrace field. Sa Pa is a quiet mountain town and home to a great diversity of ethnic minority peoples. The impressive physical landscape is the unique point in Sapa which every travelers would agree. We choose to stay at TaVan Ethnic Homestay because it is located right in front of the terrace field (which is the reason why I choose here). The homestay owner, Oanh Bui is such a friendly and outgoing person to deal with. She is easy going and full of surprise! We only spend USD 5/night include breakfast which is so much worth the price. She has a white fluffy cat name Miow that will sleep on any empty bed besides you. The cat is like the queen of the house because she get to choose her bed every night. The downside about this home stay is just the hard rock bed. Everything is perfect even the bathroom is well equipped with hot shower. One tip for you is to bring your own towel for hygiene purpose even though they provide towel for you to use during your stay. There’s a balcony behind the home stay which allows you to wash and hang your clothes.
There are many places that you can visit in Sapa. One of which is Vietnam’s highest mountain, Fan Si Pan, at a height of 3143 m above sea level. You can choose to take Cable car to reach the top or hike the mountain by yourself. It is preferable that travelers spend 3 days in Sapa rather than one trip. I encounter many foreigners who actually staying in Vietnam for 3 months just to explore each possible corners here. I wish I can have to ability to accomplish that too! Also, visit Can Cau Market, Cat Cat Village, Muong Hoa Village, Musuem, Love Waterfall, Silver Waterfall and more.
Day 3: Sapa – Halong Bay
Sapa to Halong bay is another challenging journey for us. We booked a sleeper bus that depart from the bus station at 8pm. However, you must estimate 2-3 hours earlier to catch a van to Lao Cai and then to the bus station. It was my first experience sleeping on the bus and the journey was quite smooth. The best part about this is it was just USD 22/person. However, the bus stops at different locations along the way which would wake you up if you are a light sleeper. Tips: Wear an eye mask for a better sleeping experience. The total journey was about 8 hours plus to reach Halong Bay. Then, we catch a taxi to our hotel. You can also use UBER and compare the price with the local taxi. It is always cheaper to call Uber but sometimes it takes a long time for them to find your location.
Even though our Halong Bay tour experience was a nightmare yet full of laughter. We did not pre-book any tour until we reach our hotel. The receptionist did not explain exactly on the details which makes us quite furious because we felt cheated on the tour package we purchased. Therefore, I recommend travelers to book your tour in advance to avoid disappointment and any unwanted surprise. My Ha Long Bay 4 hours day trip was shorten to about 3 hours without any foods. It cost us each USD24 excluding the taxi to the port which I personally felt unreasonable. Tip: Book your trip ahead and book for a full day trip (8hours) and it will be definitely worth it than my 4 hours day trip.
Day 4: [Ha Long Bay 下龍灣]
The Chinese word of Ha Long Bay is下龍灣 (Dragon Beneath) which direct translated to a dragon living underneath Ha Long Bay and its purpose is to protect this island. It is optimum to stay in Halong Bay for 2 days. You start your day fresh the next day you reach Halong Bay. Coming down from the sleeper bus will make you exhausted after a long ride throughout the night. It is best to tour around the town in Halong Bay on the first day and then go on a cruise the next morning. There are so many different packages that accommodate to your needs. There are 4 hours tour, 6 hours, and 8 hours tour with budget cruise or luxury cruise to choose from. Tips: Bargain with them to get the cheaper price. Ha Long Bay consist of 1600-2000 islands and islets, which are uninhabited and unaffected by human beings. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular travel destination in Vietnam. We visited two most popular places – the floating fishing village for kayaking and the Heaven Cave (Thien Cung Cave).
This beautiful cave is full of numerous stalactites and stalagmites in strange shapes. It took them thousands of years to form this beautiful cave in Halong Bay. The Heaven Cave is known to be associated with the ancient legend of the Dragon King. It is said that: “After helping Vietnamese defeated invaders, the Dragon King returned to his cavern.” The cave is fulled with lighting mixed in red, green, and white. You will be surprise to discover many animal shapes and human shapes in the caves. Whatever you can imagine, they are all inside here.
Day 5: Halong Bay- Hanoi
After a long day in the sea, we came back and took a short nap before hunting for some foods. We had porridge (Chao) and 油炸鬼(Chinese Oil Stick) to end our day in Halong Bay. It was a windy night and we enjoyed the coldness here. We started to get use with this weather so much that we don’t want to go back to Malaysia anymore >< It’s so humid and hot over there.
We booked a VIP bus from the hotel for VND 220/person. Our mouth agreement was that the bus would pick us up from our hotel and send us to our hotel in Hanoi. To my surprise, the bus driver was ignorance and wouldn’t want to drop us at our front door hotel. Instead, we were forced to walk for 2.7km to reach our hotel. I felt so cheated for the second time after the Ha Long Bay incident. However, we managed to spiced our trip up again by continue hunting for the best authentic foodies in town! Hanoi is definitely the HEAVEN to foods! We had some delicious desserts and local meals which you can see from the pictures below.
Day 6: Hanoi- Kuala Lumpur
It’s time to say goodbye to the land of good foods and culture. I definitely recommend travelers to create your own memory and leave your footprints to everywhere you go. Never stop explore the world! Jom Jom Jom!
Be extra careful of your own belongings. Even the local people are afraid of thieves.