Dates: From 24/01/2017 to 05/02/2017
Vietnam is one of the most visited countries in Southeast of Asia. It is characterized by being a country with cheaper prices than the rest of the southeast, with a great offer of impressive places along its extensive geography. In addition, their different ethnicities make each place different and marked by great traditions, as well as the war they suffered that still remains in their memory.
From Hong Kong, I arrived in the capital of Vietnam accompanied by some Argentinians that I met days before, so it was perfect to share the the taxi which would take us to Old Quarter, where most of hostels are.
The first thing that catched my attention when I arrived in Hanoi was its traffic, specifically the amount of motorcycles that are everywhere. If I was surprised about it when I was in Taiwan, here it was even more impressive. Motorcycles everywhere.
I stayed several days in Hanoi where the highlight to visit are:
- Old Quarter: The most important neighbourhood of the city, and therefore, the most visited. It is characterized by a French colonial architecture. It has plenty of accommodations and restaurants, and the life is made fully in the street.
- Hoan Kiem Lake: Located in the heart of Hanoi, south of Old Quarter. It is worthwhile to go around it and visit it without a doubt at night, where its bridge illuminated in red stands out in the darkness of its waters.
- Street markets: Hundreds of street stalls where buy food, clothing and everything you need at a very competitive price.
- St. Joseph’s Cathedral: Catholic Cathedral located in the center of Hanoi.
- Hoa Lo Prison: Located in the historic center of Hoan Kiem, it was the jail meant to imprison American pilots during the war. Now it is a museum, paying homage to the Vietnamese who fought against the colonialism.
Sapa is located in the mountains of northern Vietnam, almost border with China, being one of the most visited villages of northern Vietnam. Sapa is famous for its trekking routes in which, in addition to a spectacular landscape marked by its rice paddies, it is also possible to see and admire how small villages of different ethnic groups live in these landscapes as if time had not passed.
I arrived in the village on the Chinese New Year’s eve, and that was palpable in the streets deserted by people. Everything seemed very quiet, almost a ghost town. In addition, the cold was intense due to the altitude. After leaving my backpack in the hostel, I went out to get something to eat, although it took me a long time to find a place to eat, since most restaurants were closed and others did not serve food for the occasion.
The next day, I set out to visit the mountains of Sapa and its rice fields. It is usually advisable to hire a local guide to take you along the mountainous roads that run through the rice fields, but there were none available so I dediced to do it on my own with the help of the great Maps.me mobile application (indispensable on any trip).
The road began by passing through the town of Catcat, near Sapa, and where in the lower part there is a river with some beautiful waterfalls, as well as water mills that make the place beautiful. From there, and by narrow paths, I was on my way to Lao Chai. A spectacular route, in which from time to time I crossed with some locals and some other animal. Totally authentic.
I got lost more than once, but finally I arrived at my destination, Lao Chai, after more than four hours of walking. I arrived tired, thirsty and hungry, so I stopped for take something to eat at one of the first local restaurants I found. Meanwhile I was enjoying the food, there were dozens of boys and girls trying to sell me bracelets. Finally they got it, and although I thought that buying one this would suppose that they would not try to sell me anymore, I got the opposite effect, and they came more and more because they saw as an easy target.
It was time to go back to the town of Sapa, and I knew that I could not walk again as I was very tired to do all the way back again. I walked for a while, until a local offered me to pick me up on his motorcycle to Sapa for a reasonable price.
The next day, by bus and stopping overnight in Hanoi, I headed to the island of Cat Ba to explore from there the Halong Bay.
Cat Ba Island & Halong Bay
Halong Bay is probably the most famous part in Vietnam, and undoubtedly in northern Vietnam. There are several possibilities to visit it, such as taking a day trip from Hanoi, boat cruises for several days or travel to the island of Cat Ba and from there make a day tour. This third option is the one that I chose.
After a 5 hours trip from Hanoi, including bus, boat and bus again, I arrived at my Cat Ba accommodation. This island, located near Halong Bay, is a tourist destination frequented mainly by Asians.
One of the days, and as planned, I took the boat tour to discover Halong Bay and its surroundings. The price was 18 USD, instead of the 60-200 USD they usually charge for cruises organized from Hanoi, including food and kayaking. In addition to Halong Bay, with the tour I visited the island of the monkeys, where these restless animals await you in the sand on your arrival waiting for food.
The second day, along with more people from the hostel, we rented motorcycles to go around the island and the national park. The tour in the national park is about an hour, and its views from the top of the mountain are great, pure jungle.
From Cat Ba, I went to Ninh Binh and spend one night there.
The city of Ninh Binh has nothing special to visit, but its surroundings are incredible. With the Irish girl that I was in Hanoi and Cat Ba, we rented motorcycles and went to cross the most important points of Ninh Binh’s exteriors, including Hoa Lu, Trang An and the Bai Dinh Temple.
It is definitely worth it to spend one or two days at Ninh Bing, plus the highlight that the food is very cheap. For less than two euros I was able to have dinner with beer included. In some places, beer is cheaper than water!
Back to Hanoi to spend the night in order to catch a plane to Thailand the next day. I loved Vietnam but I needed the warmth of the sun and the south of Thailand was perfect place to find it.