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Trip Report Vietnam Trip Report

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My husband and I (both 47) recently returned from Vietnam and had a wonderful trip. I have never posted a trip report before but I found some very useful information on this site from the trip reports of others so I promised I would post one on my return. So here we go:

We booked our international flights directly with Air France. Everything else was booked through Tonkin Travel in Hanoi. We had informed them how many nights we wanted to stay in each place and they tried to get the hotels we requested. Some were fully booked so they suggested alternatives which we were happy to go along with. They also booked the overnight trains to and from Sapa and the trip to Halong Bay.

When everything was confirmed we sent them an initial deposit of 20% to secure the booking. I faxed my Visa Debit card details to them and also a copy of my passport and confirmed by email with them that they received them ok. We paid the balance when we arrived in Hanoi (several days into our holiday). Our driver dropped us at the Tonkin Travel office where we met Ms Hang and paid the remainder using my credit card.

We got our visas directly from the Embassy of Vietnam in London. (Irish citizens) I downloaded the application form and sent a copy of our passports, 2 passport photos and a self addressed envelope and a Sterling draft for £130. (£59 for each visa and £6 postage each). We could have gone for the Visa on Arrival which would have been cheaper but I wanted to ensure everything was in order before we left home. We had no problems at all with Passport Control on our arrival.

Ho Chi Minh

We had a pleasant flight with Air France and arrived on time at 12.55 on the Saturday afternoon. Our guide ‘Vi’ was waiting to greet us and brought us directly to our hotel – Blue Diamond Hotel. The hotel is located very close to the Ben Thanh Market, District 1. We stayed 2 nights in a double deluxe room (with a window) – Room 206 ($63 US per night). Not much of a view – part of the small swimming pool but very quiet and clean and comfortable. The bathrooms in all hotels we stayed in were well stocked and everything worked as it should. Breakfast was fine, plenty to choose from. I didn’t ask about free WIFI at that hotel and I wasn’t told it was available but it was available in all other hotels we stayed in.

In the afternoon we wandered around the city, once we managed to cross the road! That is an experience in itself. No one yields at pedestrian crossings and motorbikes come at you from all angles! We came across a pub and had a bottle of the local Saigon beer. It was very nice. We were only able to get this one in Saigon. It was in a red bottle. They have Saigon beer everywhere else also but it is in a green bottle, which we thought wasn’t quite as nice.

We found an ok restaurant for our dinner which was nothing special. We opted for the set menu. I asked to taste the white wine and was glad I had asked first as it was terrible. We headed back to the hotel and had an early night as our guide and driver were picking us up at 8.00am to go to see the Cu Chi tunnels.
We enjoyed our trip to Cu Chi and while it wasn’t a highlight of our trip we were glad we went and we saw lots of countryside on the way and on the return journey.
Our guide brought us to an organic restaurant for our lunch. It was in the middle of nowhere and was also a cookery school. We were the only ones there but the food was fantastic. We had the set lunch menu and one of our favourite dishes was the Stir fried Eggplant in Tamarind Sauce and the banana flavoured spring rolls with ice cream for dessert was very tasty. I’m sorry I can’t remember the name of the cookery school. It also had its own gardens and was down a lane.
When we returned to Saigon in the afternoon our guide brought us to visit the War Museum, the Reunification Palace, the General Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral where Mass was being said at the time. The war museum was very interesting and sad and one could spend quite a bit of time there.
We had the evening free for ourselves and we found another restaurant for dinner which was ok but nothing wonderful. While I was getting ready to go out, my husband had gone down the street for a bottle of beer. I joined him later and we sat outside for a while watching the world go by. We were approached by lots of women trying to sell us little knick knacks. Our guide had taught us a few Vietnamese phrases which came in very useful. Before we left, my husband wanted to use the bathroom. When he came out, he said a rat had ran around his feet! Thankfully that was the only one we encountered on our trip (apart from seeing people selling them on the side of the road when we were coming back from My Tho). We browsed around the market on our way back to the hotel and had another early night. We were heading to the Mekong Delta the following morning.

Mekong Delta

Our guide and driver picked us up at 8.00am to drive for 2 hours to My Tho. We took a private boat to one of the islands and tasted tropical fruits and visited a bee farm and a coconut candy factory. Then we took a small boat through the canal of Vam Xep followed by a ride on horse drawn cart to visit a handicraft village. Our lunch was included again and it was very enjoyable. Elephant fish was one of the courses and it was very nice. We returned to My Tho and then went by car again to Can Tho where we stayed overnight in Kim Tho Hotel double superior room ($52 US) We stayed in room 601 which had a side river view and had a lovely view, especially at night. That evening we went down the street for a walk and ended up eating in a very busy restaurant in the enclosed Market. We had a very nice meal there again.

Breakfast was good – nice selection of fruits, cereals and the usual asian foods, also omlettes to order. We had an early morning start again, this time going to the floating market of Cai Rang. I was a little disappointed with the market however. I had expected a much more colourful affair but it turned out to be more of a commercial market. We did take in a trip to a rice paper and rice noodle factory on the way which was interesting. On our return to our hotel we checked out and before we left Can Tho we stopped at a Cambodian pagoda for a quick visit. Then onwards to Saigon airport for our flight with Vietnam airlines to Hoi An. We stopped for lunch on the way at the Mekong Rest Stop – a lovely but busy restaurant on the main road. Again we had the enjoyable set lunch. I forgot to mention that as we left My Tho, my husband saw someone selling rats at the side of the road. Apparently they eat them in that area! There are loads of ‘vietnamese motels’ (as our guide called them) on both sides of the road. These are rest stops/café’s where someone can stop off for a rest on one of the hammocks. You can have a sleep before continuing on your journey. We stopped off at one of these on our way down to Can Tho and our driver had forty winks while we had a Vietnamese coffee.
We arrived at the airport for our flight to Danang at 17.40p.m. Arrived in Danang at 18.50 and we were met by our driver who took us to Hoi An. It seemed to take around 45 or 50 minutes to get there.

Hoi An

Our driver dropped us at our hotel, the Vinh Hung Resort hotel which is located in Hoi An itself just a few minutes walk to the old town. We were not interested in being near the beach. We had booked a suite as they had no availability for the double deluxe room and it came in at $143 US per night. We stayed for 3 nights B & B. We were in room 805. The suite was beautiful, overlooking the river with nice balcony. Huge room and bathroom. Bathrobes. Note: most hotels only supply plastic flip flops so I was glad I had brought my own slippers instead. Huge bathroom, with bath and shower. The staff had left a complimentary bottle of wine and some fresh fruits. The only thing I didn’t like was there was a slight smell of damp the first night and I thought that the bed felt a little damp too but I didn’t mention it. We were told later on by our guide that Hoi An floods every year and we did notice that a small portion of the wooden floor in the room had buckled a little, probably due to this. Overall though we were delighted with our choice of hotel. The staff were extremely friendly, from the reception staff to the waiters to the cleaners. They had time for everyone. That first night we ate in the hotel restaurant. We were not very hungry, so we just had pizza and chips. Note: when you order chips, they usually tend to bring the chips first, as a starter! This happened a couple of times in Vietnam. Very nice selection at breakfast time, including omelettes made to order.

To be continued -

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    On our first full day in Hoi An, our guide Vinh met us at the hotel at 8.30 am and we commenced our leisurely walking tour of the ancient town. We saw various antique structures including residential houses, assembly halls, pagodas and of course the colourful market. We learned how to make the lovely colourful lanterns and have now got two to show off! We had lunch at a local restaurant that our guide recommended. We saw a young couple getting their wedding photos taken near the old bridge. Our guide told us that these were pre- wedding photos as they would not have time on the day of the wedding itself. That afternoon our guide and driver brought us to My Son. We arrived just in time for the traditional show by the Cham people. I have to say we were not overly impressed with My Son and would have preferred to have made better use of our afternoon. It was a long drive there too, but was nice to see the countryside. Our guide explained to us that the Vietnamese people get buried twice when the die. The body is buried initially in a simple grave and then 3 years later the body is exhumed, cleaned and buried a second time in a more elaborate tomb. Tombs can be spotted dotted around the countryside as families like to have their loved ones close to them as the cemetery may be a long way away.

    We had booked a half day cookery class with Red Bridge cookery school for our second day in Hoi An. This was also booked through Tonkin Travel. We started the day at 11.00 with a welcome drink at Hai Café in the ancient town.
    There was approx. 19 of us doing the course, around 13 ladies and 6 men. I have to say my husband was not really looking forward to it and had suggested that I might like to go on my own, but he was delighted he came along and really enjoyed the experience. We were broken up into groups of 6 or 7 and we walked to the market and experienced its amazing sights and aromas. We then boarded the Red Bridge boat for a 25 minute cruise along the Hoi An river to reach the cookery school. On arrival we explored the herb garden before learning how to make some well known Vietnamese dishes. Our teacher was good fun and kept us all entertained. After the lesson we sat down and ate what we cooked and we were also given other pre prepared dishes for our lunch.
    We returned to Hoi An in the afternoon and browsed around the market and shopping area for another while before returning to our hotel to freshen up. We returned to town and strolled around and had some drinks in ‘Before and Now’. We watched the world go by as we sipped our drinks and listened to Leonard Cohen, U2 and various other artists. That night we ate in ‘Morning Glory’ and we had a lovely meal. My husband’s chicken curry was delicious.
    The next morning we were free until 11.45 when we were picked up and transferred by car to Danang airport for our flight with Vietnam Airlines at 13.45 to Hanoi.

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    Just for clarification: If you are looking up the hotel in Hoi An, it's known as the Vinh Hung 'Riverside' Resort hotel on the internet as there are several Vinh Hung Hotels in Hoi An.

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    We arrived in Hanoi at 14.55 where we were met by our driver who brought us to our hotel – The Golden Rice Hotel. We had requested a double deluxe room at the back of the hotel and we were given room 909. The lift only goes to the 8th floor but it’s only a few steps more to the 9th and the bell boy brings up your bags in any case. The room was at the back of the hotel and we were glad as there would have been a lot of street noise at the front and we didn’t hear a thing at the back. It’s a small hotel but has been decorated to a high standard – lovely furniture throughout. Our driver initially brought us to the wrong hotel. We had initially requested the Elegance Diamond Hotel but it had been booked out and this hotel was our second choice. Seemingly the driver hadn’t been informed of the change. It was no problem though, just a quick call to Tonkin’s by the driver and everything was sorted. There is a small breakfast room with a nice selection. You can ask for an omelette or fried egg or noodle soup and it is freshly prepared. Nice friendly staff. On our first evening in Hanoi we went for a walk to the centre of the old town just a few minutes away from the hotel. We were on one side of the road and we just looked at each other and said ‘how on earth are we going to get across that road’!! The traffic is mental!! You just take your life in your hands and go. There is constant beeping of horns and people and motor bikes and guys on cyclos asking you if you want a ride and young children running around at the side of the road. I don’t know how they do it. They just come at you from all angles!
    We were on the look out for the Green Tangerine restaurant and found it but as we had not made a reservation we were given the last table just inside the door downstairs. With the door open we could smell the fumes from the traffic just outside and it was quite noisy. People were coming and going all evening and many turned away as they also had no reservation. I have to say we were not overly impressed with the food. Maybe we made a mistake in ordering from the Vietnamese set menu. The prices were on the higher end also. We returned to our hotel and had a good night’s rest.
    The next morning our guide and driver picked us up at 8.30am for a full day city tour. Our guide was called Dao, a nice friendly chap with good English.
    To be continued!

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    We began with a visit to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum (Shorts and T-shirts without sleeves are not allowed and it is closed on Mondays and Fridays). There was a really long queue to enter but our guide knew one of the guards and we were moved through quickly enough. We gave our cameras to our guide to hold for us as you are not allowed to enter with a camera or candy. We took photos outside the presidential palace and visited Ho Chi Minh’s house nearby and the One Pillar Pagoda. Then we visited the Temple of Literature and Tran Quoc Pagoda located on the shores of Lake West. We stopped at a local restaurant for lunch before heading on to the Museum of Ethnography (closed Mondays). Next was the cyclo ride around the old quarter. I wasn’t looking forward to this as I was quite concerned about the traffic but it was fine. It wasn’t as busy as the previous evening when we arrived in Hanoi. We each had our own cyclo and the ride lasted for approx. 60 mins. The man I had was good at pointing out various sights and waiting to allow me take a photo. After the cyclo tour we visited the Temple of Jade at the centre of Hoan Kiem Lake. We were free for the rest of the afternoon. That evening we ate at the Happy Hotel – just pizza and chips and we made our way to the Water Puppet theatre to attend a performance of the traditional show. Our guide had given us our tickets earlier in the day and he was there to meet us after the performance to take us to the train station for our overnight journey to Lao Cai. As it turned out we didn’t get to sit together at the performance. My husband was sitting two rows behind me and as it was a full house, we couldn’t move. I didn’t think it would really have been his ‘cup of tea’ so I was pleasantly surprised when he told me he really enjoyed it.
    As promised, our guide was waiting to meet us after the show and as we had checked out of the hotel that morning we were ready to go to the station. We had left one bag at the hotel and would pick it up on our return. We had left the other bag in the car earlier in the day as we had the same car and driver for the duration of our stay in Hanoi. The journey to the station didn’t take long and we were in plenty of time. Our guide told us to wait in the waiting area while he went off to get our tickets which had been pre-booked. We had tried to get the Fansipan train but it was booked out, so Tonkins booked the Tulico Express one for us. I had thought that they were separate trains, but in fact it’s just different carriages with different names on the same train. The Tulico Express was okay. We had booked the 4 berth cabin for ourselves and I was glad we did. The journey is approx. 9 hours, so as soon as we boarded we prepared for sleep straight away as when we arrived in Lao Cai we were to head to the Bac Ha Market as it was Sunday. The journey on the train was smooth enough. We both took the lower bunks on this journey. We both slept reasonably well, woke a few times but drifted off again. It was quite warm in the cabin though and the duvet was very warm. We met a woman in the waiting area who said she had bought a silk sleeping bag in Hanoi and I think that would have been very handy for this trip. On the return journey, my husband slept on the top bunk and he said it wasn’t as warm up there and he didn’t feel the movement of the train as much. I would recommend that you have your dinner before you board the train and if possible wash your teeth before getting on to it and also don’t drink much before hand as you won’t want to use the loo on board. I needed to go to the loo before bed time and I was surprised to see one of the ‘hole in the ground’ ones. I didn’t realise until we were getting off, that there was an ordinary one at the end of the carriage next to ours.


    Anyway, we arrived in Lao Cai at around 5.30 in the morning and our guide was waiting to greet us. His name was Xuan (or Mountain Man). We walked with him down the street to a local restaurant where we were able to freshen up and have our breakfast. After breakfast we headed off towards Bac Ha (70km) via a winding road with breathtaking mountain views. Xuan was very friendly and had the best English of all our guides. He used to be a school teacher and taught in Sapa before changing careers. He also worked briefly in the hotel industry. We had only travelled a short distance when he told the driver to stop the car to allow us take photos of women planting rice in the paddy fields. Further up the road we stopped at a green tea plantation. The scenery on the way up to Bac Ha was amazing even though it was still a bit hazy as it was still early in the day. As we arrived early we had time to do a hike before we went to see the market. We walked down a narrow path and met locals who were making a new road to their village in Ban Pho. The government supplied the materials and the villagers themselves were making the new narrow roadway. Further on we met other villagers, mostly women and children helping to finish the roadway near their houses. Each household has to do a certain number of hours work (regardless of the number in the household). Our guide called to one of the houses and we were invited inside to meet the family. We didn’t get to meet any of the men (they must have been working on the new road), but we met the great-grandmother, the grandmother and the children. The house was extremely simple, no electricity, no running water. The great-grandmother was sitting by the fire in the middle of the floor waiting for the kettle to boil and the grandmother was making ‘happy water’ from the corn that you could see was stored up in the loft. It was like going back to the dark ages. Even though they could not speak any English they were very friendly and it helped that our guide could speak their dialect. They were from the Flower H’mong minority group and wore very colourful clothing. We took photographs with the children and headed on our journey towards Bac Ha. On our way we met some women with baskets on their backs returning from the market. We met a couple who had just purchased a buffalo at the market which cost them $1,300 US. A buffalo is a necessity for the farmer for ploughing the land and for milk production and every farmer has at least one. We arrived back in Bac Ha and had a coffee before heading to the market. First of all we went to the horse market and then the buffalo market. Then we went to the market proper. We had seen lots of similar sights at the market in Hoi An, but this was on a much larger scale and many of the people here were extremely poor. I can’t begin to describe some of the sights we saw there. Suffice to say, we didn’t stay for lunch! On our way out of the market we met a few girls enjoying their sugar cane treat. They can’t afford candy, so sugar cane is the next best thing and also good for cleaning your teeth!
    We slept for a bit of the journey back to Lao Cai and had one stop on the outskirts of the town to visit the border between Vietnam and China. There is a bridge connecting the two countries. Then we headed for Sapa which was another 38 km away. Once again the scenery was breathtaking and I was hoping the driver would stop to allow me take some photos. He did, after a while, but I needn’t have worried about missing the scenery as when we arrived in Sapa, the scenery just got better and better.

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    We had booked a double deluxe room for 2 nights in the Sapa View Hotel just on the outskirts of the town ($US126.00) but when we arrived we had been upgraded to a suite. It was room number 206 at the front of the hotel. It was a lovely room, not as big as the one in Hoi An, but boy what a view! The window was the full width of the room and we were looking out over the mountains. I got a couple of beautiful photos of the sunset that evening. The staff were extremely friendly, except for one lady who I think was the owner, but she had practically no English so that probably explained it.
    We unpacked, showered and headed out for a walk down the town. We had no sooner left the hotel but we were set upon by some to the H’mong girls trying to sell us some of their handicrafts. Our guide had told us not to buy from them and I also saw a sign up in the centre of the town asking tourists not to buy from them. The government are trying to encourage them to stay in school. I can still hear the ‘Hello, Where you from?’ When we said ‘Ireland’ they were put off for a short while and then would say ‘Oh, near England?’ They wanted to know about our country as they see very few if any tourists from Ireland. In fact we only heard one Irish accent while we were in Vietnam and that was on our last day in Hanoi. The town is full of ‘North Face’ shops selling jackets, hiking boots etc, mostly made in Vietnam or China. My husband bought a jacket for $50US. There is a lovely Catholic Church in the centre of the town and we went inside to say a prayer. There were lots of restaurants but none of them were very busy. We had heard about The Lizard, but when we found it there were only a few people inside and the restaurant next door seemed much busier. Unfortunately, we either made a bad choice or the food just wasn’t great. I ordered the chicken curry hoping it was going to be as good as the one my husband had in Hoi An, but it was terrible. I can’t remember what he ordered but neither of us were impressed and we didn’t bother with dessert. I think it was called Michell Restaurant. We headed for home then and had an early night.
    Our breakfast the next morning wasn’t great. The breakfast room could have been cleaner and the waitress was wearing flip flop type shoes and dragging her feet. I ordered the omelette and it looked like it had been made a few hours earlier and reheated. It was disgusting. Poor selection of fruits etc. Had to resort to bread and jam in the finish. The breakfast really lets this hotel down. It would have been perfect otherwise. I don’t know if any other hotel in the town had as good a view.
    Our guide and driver picked us up at the hotel at around 9.30 and we drove a few miles out the road before starting our trek on foot through the beautiful landscape of the Muong Hoa valley. We visited the hill-tribe villages of Lao Chai and Ta Van. It was magical. Every care we had disappeared as we walked through the magnificent rice terraced fields. The scenery is so picturesque. We were supposed to go for a 6km trek but we ended up doing about 10-12km. Our guide knew the area like the back of his hand and he brought us to areas where there were hardly any tourists. We stopped to enjoy some fresh fruit that our guide brought for us before heading on again. I can’t begin to describe how beautiful this area is. It was certainly one of the highlights of our holiday. Xuan told us that September is an even better time to visit. Every now and then we would stumble across one of the local H’mong girls who would follow us. Xuan told me to explain that I did not want to buy anything and as soon as I said that, they would leave us alone, otherwise be prepared for a walking companion. We stopped for coffee at a little café while Xuan enjoyed some sugar cane and a cigarette and the company of some local people. We ventured further and came across the local primary school. We went inside and watched as the children copied the writing from the blackboard into their copy books. Their writing was magnificent. The study Vietnamese for part of the day and their own dialect for the remainder. They were not at all put off by the attention and continued with their work. Their teacher had given them a time limit to have it done. Any time we met young children along the route, Xuan would have a few words to say to them. He was always encouraging them to go to school. We stopped for our packed lunch that Xuan had brought for us at the home of the Giay family. This family also offered ‘home stays’, very simple living. We met the family and took some photos and continued our trek to Giang Ta Chai before heading back to Sapa by car. It was the best day so far in Vietnam and we absolutely fell in love with Sapa.
    We went for a walk around the town that evening and got some more beautiful photos of the sun set. We ate at a restaurant in the centre of the town that evening and it was quite nice. I can’t remember the name of the restaurant but we had nice bruschetta, and pasta. It was across the road from the church and when we finished we went over to the church and a nun was just in the middle of saying Mass, so we stayed for that. We went back to our hotel and had a couple of drinks before bed time.
    Opted for friend eggs the next morning – you can’t really go too far wrong with that! A million times better than the omelette anyway! That morning we visited Cat Cat village. It wasn’t nearly as good as the previous day. Far more touristy and so many steps!! We walked to the waterfall and watched the traditional music show and stopped for a beer before heading back to town. We arrived back at around 12.00 and Xuan brought us to the restaurant for lunch but as it was a little early we decided to come back at 1.00pm., so in the meantime we had a look around the shops. We headed back to The Lizard for our lunch and we were sorry we hadn’t gone there the first night as the food was lovely. We went back to the hotel to pick up our bags. We had checked out that morning. Xuan and the driver picked us up at around 3.30 and we headed towards Lao Cai for our overnight train back to Hanoi. A few miles out of town, we stopped and went for another trek, to Suoi Ho village. It was so quiet and peaceful, even though we came across a couple of dogs that were not impressed with us being on their territory. I’m glad Xuan was with us to lead the way. We came across a house and the door was open and Xuan said he would see if anyone was home. All were out apart from a young girl of around 10 years of age. We had to bend down to go inside and it was in complete darkness apart from the light coming through the timbers on the roof and the side walls. It had to be seen to be believed. However, when we came out, Xuan said that the family must have been fairly well off as they had an outside toilet. We gave the girl some money but Xuan said that normally he would bring some candy or crayons for the children but we hadn’t thought to bring some with us as we were not expecting to stop on the way to the train. After another while we were picked up by the driver again and we headed on our journey. We were sorry to be leaving Sapa and regretted not spending at least another night there. On our way to the train station our jeep got punctured. The driver phoned for another car to come to pick us up and one arrived after about 15 minutes. We went back to the same restaurant in Lao Cai that we had our breakfast in when we arrived off the train. We had a nice meal there again. It was quite busy and we were able to freshen up before heading to the train station. Xuan saw us on to the train and we said our goodbyes. He gave us his card if we are ever there again. The email address was [email protected] and his full name was Tran Van Xuan, website: He works freelance.
    We had an uneventful train journey back to Hanoi (dep: 20.05 and arr: 04.30) and we both slept well. It was still dark when we arrived at the station and this was the only time we didn’t have a driver organised. We needed to go back to the Golden Rice Hotel to pick up our luggage (if we wanted to), have breakfast and wait for our driver to take us to Halong City for our cruise on Halong Bay. We needed to get a taxi. Unfortunately I had mislaid the card from the hotel and The Golden Rice hotel meant nothing to the taxi driver. Once you step off the train, you are accosted by taxi men telling you they know where you want to go and they know how to get there. It’s only when you get into the car, you realise they don’t have a clue and they have to borrow a mobile phone to get directions. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we took the second taxi we were offered but got ripped off. He wanted 460,000 dong. We ended up giving him 400,000 but I think 200,000 would have been around the correct price. After that I was glad that we had decided to book everything directly with Tonkins as it saved all that hassle. We arrived at the hotel and although we did not have a room to freshen up in, there was a toilet and sink located near reception and we were able to use that. We had a leisurely breakfast and our driver arrived at 8.00 to bring us to Halong City. This was a long drive but we slept for part of the journey. We nearly got killed a couple of times. The driving is horrendous. I could see my life flashing before me a couple of times! We stopped en route for a coffee break at a handicraft and souvenir shop. It was nice to be able to stretch our legs and the driver needed the break too I’d say! We arrived at Halong City bang on time and we were brought to the waiting area to board our junk, the Dragon’s Pearl 2 before cruising to magnificent Bai Tu Long Bay.

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    We had a double cabin on the junk (Rm 303). The cost of the trip for 1 night which included lunch and dinner and light breakfast and lunch the following day was $US230. We were greeted by our guide and offered a welcome drink. We had time to freshen up before enjoying a fabulous lunch. The food on the boat was the best we had in Vietnam. We met some lovely people on the cruise and it was nice to share the experiences we all had in Vietnam so far. There were people from Switzerland, Denmark, America, England, Australia, Italy, Germany, and a couple from Argentina who were on their honeymoon.
    After lunch we boarded a smaller boat to take us to Thien Canh Son cave. Most of us then went kayaking around this beautiful area admiring the fascinating formations of the bay. Neither of us had ever kayaked before so we were a bit apprehensive but it was fine, we really enjoyed it and the water was like glass. The weather was quite overcast so we did not get any sunbathing in. You might get a little wet in the kayak, so make sure you have a change of clothes in the boat. We had met a woman who was also going to Sapa on the Tulico Express and she had already been to Halong Bay. She told us that it was very busy with lots of junks and that the water was very dirty, with lots of plastic bottles and other rubbish. She must have been in a different area to us as we never saw any of that and while there were some other junks, it was certainly not crowded.
    We returned to the junk and freshened up before dinner. Again the food was amazing. When dinner was over, all the staff including the captain came out to greet us. The staff were all very friendly. We sat around inside chatting after dinner and had a few drinks as it was too cold to stay outside on deck.
    The next morning was very foggy and overcast. We had a light breakfast and set off in the smaller boat to visit a floating village and oyster farm. We transferred into smaller rowing boats, just the two of us along with one of the crew and the lady who was doing the rowing and we explored the area further. Afterwards we headed back to the Dragon Pearl and enjoyed our light lunch as we headed for the harbour before disembarking and saying our farewells. The crew came to meet us again before we disembarked and our guide had mentioned that a tip would be appreciated both by him and the captain on behalf of the staff. I have to say we thoroughly enjoyed our trip. I think one night was enough, especially as the weather wasn’t so good. Our driver was there to meet us as soon as we arrived and soon we were heading back to Hanoi again. The fog began to lift just after leaving Halong City although it was still overcast. On our return journey we again stopped for half an hour for the driver to have a rest and for us to have a browse around the handicraft shop, a different one from the first time.


    I have to say we were not really looking forward to going back to the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. We had another 2 nights in the Golden Rice Hotel and we were not being picked up at the hotel until 8.30p.m in the evening as our return flight was not departing until 23.30p.m. We did not have any other trips arranged so we had this time for ourselves. In hindsight, we would have preferred to have had one or both of those nights in Sapa instead. But, we couldn’t change things at that stage so we did some more exploring in Hanoi. We walked to Hoa Lo Prison and the Women’s Museum, which are fairly near each other. We came across and ice cream parlour called Fannys. I think I had seen it mentioned on this forum previously. We found it to be ok, nothing special. On our way back we came across a new Shopping Mall that had recently opened. Some of the shops had not yet opened but it was very exclusive. I think it was called TTP and was just at the far end of Hoan Kiem Lake. We saw on the internet that there was an Irish Pub in Hanoi so we went in search of it. We found it eventually but we were disappointed that they had just taken the name Finnegan’s Irish Pub and had a few bits of memorabilia from Ireland but that was as far as it went. I asked the barmaid if the owners were Irish and she said ‘No, Vietnamese’. Apparently there is no Irish connection at all. A bit disappointing I thought.

    We had room 509 in the Golden Rice this time. Again it was at the back of the hotel as we had requested. The room was identical to the first one but the furniture was oak in this room and mahogany in the first one. The total cost of our 3 nights accommodation and 4 breakfasts in the Golden Rice was $US174.

    When we woke on our last morning it was raining, not too heavy, but by the time we had our breakfast it had stopped so we checked out and left our bags with the bell boy and we headed out to do some last minute shopping. We had really seen all we had wanted to see in Hanoi at that stage and we would have preferred to have had an earlier flight. We went back to the hotel that evening and waited for the driver to pick us up. He was 10 minutes late, so I asked the receptionist to phone Tonkins. He had gone to the wrong hotel but was with us in 5 minutes. He put the boot down on the way to the airport and we got there on time. Everything went smoothly until we got on the plane. I had fallen asleep before take off and when I woke everyone was getting off. There was a technical problem and we had to go back to the terminal. At 2.30am, after getting some luke warm food, we were told it would be 7.30am before we would be departing. We were given blankets and we slept on the floor until time for take off again. Although we booked our flights with Air France, our return flight was with Vietnam Airlines. I have to say, the crew were not pleasant at all. We had all been discommoded by the delay but the crew were really unpleasant. The entertainment on board was the worst I have ever experienced. The choice of films was rubbish. Just as well we were all wrecked and just wanted to get some sleep as it would have been a very long flight otherwise. We had missed our connecting flight in Paris but only had to wait 2 hours until the next one which was not so bad. We had expected to be home at around 2.30p.m but it was 10.30p.m when we got in. Just as well we had booked the next day off work!

    Well, that’s it. I hope whoever reads this will get some useful information from it and now I have to start thinking about our trip for next year, wherever that will be!

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    So sorry your journey ended with plane issues. Too bad. You sound like you had a great trip and I enjoyed reliving our trip last year thru your incredibly detailed report.
    In Sapa we stayed at the Sapa Boutique Hotel. For the short time there was no fog, we had a fabulous view.

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    I wonder if you had only booked the Halong Bay trip through Tonkin. Maybe then your trip included the cost of the transfer also? Our invoice shows the amount for each hotel, private train to/from Sapa (290$), dragons Pearl (230$) and then 1928$ for all land tours, 2 internal flights and all transfers. Our total cost was $3,355 excluding our international flights. 15 nights total.

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