2008 - Backpacking to Hanoi, Vietnam

Backpacking Adventure
10 days to Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay
18 Nov <> 27 Nov 2008

(L-R) Ching, Kee Moon, Wan Lan, Betty, Philip, Alistair, KC.Loke, Bee Geok, Carol, Veronica, Catherine, Pauline, Tai Meng, Allan, Janie, David. (Squatting) Leng Chu, Mike Khaw, Jeannie, Rosalind at Cat Ba Island Jetty

Day 01 (18.11.08) Kuala Lumpur > Hanoi

The adventure began in the morning with 10pax traveling by van from Sitiawan, Catherine and I from Ipoh by bus and 8pax from KL. We all met at LCCT at about 1pm to catch the AirAsia 3.15pm Flight AK762 to Hanoi. We were quickly introduced to one another whom we have not met and getting to know each other for the first time.

All in all we have 20pax. Mr. Philip and KC from Australia, and Alistair from Scotland. After a short briefing by Ching and Kee Moon, we all boarded ourselves; however, there was a flight delay by 1hr. We touchdown at Hanoi Noi Bai airport at 6.30pm local time.

All of us got through the immigration checkpoint except for Philip and KC who did not have their Visa. KC said “It was hell for both of us as were treated like criminal and had to pay US135 each for the Visa notwithstanding the delay of 2hrs. Normal fee is US25”. The rest of us were very worried when we had to leave for Hanoi without Philip, KC & Mike to sort out their documents.

We took the airport bus to Hanoi for D25k each. At the bus stand, a tout guided us to this Hanoi Spirit House for US6 a room along Hang Be Street. It was a tremendous relief when the three joined us at the hotel at about 11pm. *N.B. Always get your Visa before entering Vietnam.

Transport: Air Asia – LCCT to Hanoi, one way RM509 per person
Bus fare – Hanoi Airport to town is D25k per person
Sleeping: Hanoi Spirit House – US6 a room for 2paxNo.50 Hang Be Street, Hanoi Old Quarter

Day 02 (19.11.08) Hanoi > Laocai by train

The next day after breakfast we all walked to the famous Hoan Kiem Lake. At the southern end of the lake we went to a supermarket to look for Dalat Mulberry Wine. Unfortunately we were not able to get that. So I bought 2 bottles of local wine to drink in Sapa. We had very expensive coffee at Highlands Coffee – D22k a cup. Morning and afternoon was window shopping and exploring the old quarter until 7.30pm. Then we took 2 vans from the Hotel to the train station. The SP8 Ratraco Express train moved at 9.15pm.

It was a very difficult night for Alistair as he had to sleep with four smelly Chinese nationals from Mainland China who were smoking dirty tobacco. Alistair said “It is horrible and disgusting. I hardly slept an hour even though Mike Khaw is with me”.

Van – Hotel to train station is D40k per van for 7 people
SP8 Ratraco Express Train to Laocai is US19 p.p. one way
Sleeping in overnight train

Day 03 (20.11.08) Laocai > Sapa

Arrived at 5.30am at Laocai and took a van for 10pax at D30k each up to Sapa. After an hour’s drive up the winding road, we arrived at Mountain View Hotel for breakfast. It was freezing cold at about 10ºC in the morning. 8pax were in Pinocchio Hotel at US5 per room for 2 and 12pax were at Mountain View Hotel at US7 per room.

All of us slept through the whole morning as we did not have enough sleep in the train. After lunch, we walked around the town (15ºC) and did not go trekking as the mist and fog was very thick and visibility was only 30m. However, we had great fellowship: candle-light dinner at Gerbera Restaurant for D60k per person. Kee Moon brought 2 bottles and I brought one bottle of wine for dinner.

Sapa is an old French hill station nestled among the Hoang Lien Son Mountains near the Chinese border. Because of its situation near the tallest mountain range in Vietnam, it is possibly the most scenic mountain location in Vietnam. The members of the Black Hmong ethnic minority are very present in town, and other ethnic minorities come for the weekly market

Van – Laocai to Sapa D30k per person

Sleeping: Pinochio Hotel – US5 a room for 2pax
                Mountain View – US7 a room for 2pax

Dinner at Gerbera Restaurant, Sapa

Day 04 (21.11.08) Sapa > trekking CatCat Village

It was a fellowship breakfast in my room for 8 people. We then walked to the Sapa Market to pack our lunch for the half-day trekking to Cat Cat national park. The entrance fee was D15 per person. We walked down the valley until we reached the spectacular waterfall. Along the treks we could see the Black H’Mong people doing their daily work and children playing around. We ate our packed lunch by the mountain river bank before continuing the trek back on another river trek.

We had great fellowship again: a set dinner at Mimosa Restaurant for D60k per person. Kee Moon again brought 2 bottles and I brought one more bottle of wine.

Cat Cat VillageLocation: Cat Cat Village is 2km from Sapa Townlet, Sapa District. Characteristics: This is an age-old village of H'Mong ethnic group remaining unique customs and practices that are lost in other villages. Visitors to Cat Cat have an opportunity to admire lively and colorful images of young women sitting by looms with colorful pieces of brocade decorated with designs of flowers and birds. When these pieces of brocade are finished, they are dyed and embroidered with beautiful designs. H’Mong women use plants and leaves to dye these brocade fabrics and then they roll them around smooth sections of wood covered with wax to polish them, making their colors durable.

Traditional houses of H’Mong people in Cat Cat have three rooms with three doors and covered with po mu wood roof. In the house, there are three columns that stand on round or square stones. The walls are made from sawn timber. The main door is always closed and only opens when people in the house organize important events. Altar, inlaid floor containing food, places for sleeping, kitchen and receiving guests are indispensable parts of the houses.

Pinochio Hotel – US5 a room for 2pax
Mountain View – US7 a room for 2pax 

To Cat Cat Village

Lunch time
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Day 05 (22.11.08) Dragon Jaw Mountain >Hanoi

After breakfast at the Sapa market, it was discovery time. We walked around the town centre and visited the tourism centre, a newly-renovated church and the stadium area. After lunch, we checked out. However, we paid for a day room to keep our baggage. Afternoon was shopping and more shopping – fruits, peanuts and souvenirs. Kee Moon took 10 people up the Dragon Jaw Mountain. We had early dinner at the Sapa Market – chicken and beef noodle, very good and cheap.

The van picked us up at 5pm at the hotel to take us back to Laocai train station for D30k each. The train moved at 8.15pm. It was a coincidence that I met a guy in the same carriage who was our guide in 2006 in Sapa.

The train back to Hanoi was much better than the one we took earlier. We also wish to salute Betty for sleeping in the upper bunk of the train sleeper for the first time in her life.

Van – Sapa to Laocai D30k per person
SP8 Ratraco Express Train to Laocai is US19 p.p. one way

Sleeping in overnight train

Flower Hmong
Black Hmong
Dragon Jaw Mountain
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Day 06 (23.11.08) Hanoi > HaoLu > TamCoc River

Arrived Hanoi in the early morning at 5.30am. Taxis and van were too expensive so we all decided to walk back to our Hotel. This was what Alistair had to say, “That was a wonderful night train, I got the opportunity to sleep with 4 women and I slept very well indeed”. We were all very happy for him. At the hotel, we had free breakfast that come with the one day tour to Tam Coc.

The van picked us up at 8am for a 3hour ride to Tam Coc. Along the way the van stopped at a souvenir shop for toilet break and at another to stretch our legs. We visited an ancient temple at Hoa Lu where two kings once lived. We had our lunch in town (provided in the tour) before going on the rowing boats.

Hoa Lu was the ancient capital of Vietnam during the Ding Dynasty (968-80) and Early Le dynasty (980-1009). Hoa Lu consists of three areas: Than Ngoai, Thanh Noi and Thanh Nam. Thanh Ngoai Palace was where King Dinh Tien Hoang erected a flag. Thanh Noi was the residence of the children and servants of the Royal. Thanh Nam is surrounded by high mountains like the ramparts at the south of the ancient city. Ma Yen Mountain is in front of the Palace. It provides a scenic backdrop for Hoa Lu’s two remaining temples of the Dinh and Le Kings built during the 17th century. The tombs of the two Kings can be seen in the Ma Yen Mountain.

Tam Coc means three caves. A rowboat trip on Ngo Dong River will take you through three caves of Hang Ca (the first cave with 127m long), Hang Giua (the second cave with 70m long) and Hang Cuoi (the third cave with 40m long). You can enjoy very peaceful surroundings during the three-hour boat trip. Tam Coc is also called "Halong Bay on the rice paddies”. About 2km past Tam Coc is Bich Dong cave, which has a built-in temple. Bich Dong is easily assessable either by river or road. Tam Coc is about more than 100km south of Hanoi.

The tour ended with our arrival at Hanoi at about 5.30pm. We had a good rest in our room, before we all got together and window shopping again.

Transport: One day tour to Tam Coc – US15 per person
Sleeping: Hanoi Spirit House – US6 a room for 2pax, Prince 57 – US8 a room for 2pax 

Tam Coc River Adventure

Day 07 (24.11.08) Halong Bay > Cat Ba Island Tour

2day 1night package tour – US30 per person . Two vans came to pick us up at 8am for the 2 days 1 night package tour to Halong Cat Ba Island. It was another 3 hours ride with a stop at a souvenir shop before reaching the Halong Bay boat jetty. Lunch was served on board the junk immediately after sailing out of the harbor. It was a spectacular sight sailing in between the islands and islets, forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars. On board the junk, a lady was selling pearl to our ladies.

We later stopped on one of the islands to visit a very large cave which was beautifully lighted. We then continued to Cat Ba Island jetty. Here we boarded a bus that drove us across the island to the Cat Ba town where we stayed in An Tam Hotel. After dinner at the hotel, we all walked along the esplanade and as usual the ladies continued with their shopping for pearls. 
Wong Tai Meng, Janie Ho, Ching Neng Bin, Val Allan, Pauline Toh
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Alistair, Ching, Philip
To Cat Ba Island
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We were brought to Hang Sung Sot Grotto (Cave of the Surprises). It's one of the 3 most popular caves in Halong Bay, and requires separate ticket from the first 2 caves. It's discovered by French on 1901, and is on the same Bo Hon island with Trinh Nu Grotto (Virgin Cave), but our guide never brought us there.
View of Halong Bay from Hang Sung Sot was spectacular. Sung Sot cave lives 25 m above sea level, but to get to it, we needed to climb a series of steep stairs which covered by shady trees and foliage.
The lighting system with elegant styles adds more charm to the beauty of the grotto. Here it was right after the entrance to the cave.
There are several water pools in the Sung Sot grotto. This pool is close to the entrance, so when light reflected from the moving water, the formations inside the first chamber seemingly came alive. The first chamber is square or similar to wide theater hall and is often referred to as the waiting room. Many stalactites hang from the high ceiling, with numerous possible forms and shapes.
The narrow passage that leads to the second chamber of Hang Sung Sot grotto.
The second chamber also know as serene castle, is big and immense. The cave's ceiling is approximately 30m high.
Penis look-alike rock formation
The was a 500-meters paved passage inside the Sung Sot cave to guide the visitors on this immense cave, with a lot of stalagmites and unique ceiling along the way.
To the innermost deep end of the Sung Sot Grotto. Our guide did the only guidance and explanation of the entire Halong Bay trip in Hang Sung Sot, although we didn't hear much as too much took photography.
We were dropped at another wharf and exited via another cave opening. This bridge leaded us to return to our junk.

Day 08 (25.11.08) CatBa Island >Halong Bay >Hanoi

At 5.30 am early next morning, we all walked to the sea front to see the fishermen coming back with their load of fishes. We then walked to the market nearby and then back to the hotel for breakfast. The bus picked us up at 8am and took us to the jetty. We then sailed back to Halong Bay for lunch before going back to Hanoi.

Ha Long Bay is located in Quáng Ninh province, Vietnam, in the Gulf of Tonkin. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles of various sizes and shapes. The bay has a 120 kilometer long coastline and is approximately 1,553 square kilometers in size with 1969 islets. Several of the islands are hollow, with enormous caves, other support floating villages of fishermen, who ply the shallow waters for 200 species of fish and 450 different kinds of mollusks.

Another specific feature of Halong Bay is the abundance of lakes inside the limestone islands. For example, Dau Be Island has six enclosed lakes. All these island lakes occupy drowned dolines within fengcong karsts. Because of their precipitous nature, most of the islands are uninhabited and unaffected by human presence. The site's outstanding scenic beauty is complemented by its great biological interest.

Hanoi Spirit House – US6 a room for 2pax
Prince 57 – US8 a room for 2pax

Cat Ba Island Bay
Sea market
bought this fish for dinner
In front of our hotel: An Tam
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Day 09 (26.11.08) Hanoi

This is the second last day of our adventure, so it was the ladies day and night – guess what? – shopping and more shopping. We venture through the old quarter looking for souvenirs and sleeping bags made of pure silk. I was told that the more shop they visited, the more they discovered that things get cheaper and cheaper.

Afternoon was the Water Puppet shop for those who have not seen it while Kee Moon and I went for happy hour of Beer Hoi at D3k a glass, that’s cool. Evening after dinner was our last visit to this water hole with more members joining in.

The evening dinner was at Quan An Ngon (Quán Ăn Ngon) a popular restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam, which offers a variety of traditional Vietnamese dishes and street food. The place was quite cozy, and the food quite decent. Not really my favourite restaurant in Hanoi, but if you can only have one meal in the city… this is probably the place you want to be because of the great varieties. Quan An Ngon is located at 18, Phan Boi Chau Street, Hanoi.

Hanoi Spirit House – US6 a room for 2pax
Prince 57 – US8 a room for 2pax

Ben Ngoc Son (Ngoc Son Temple) with the beautiful Huc Bridge (Sunbeam Bridge) stands majestically on Hoan Kiem Lake.
'Old' in Old Quarter is a bit confusing, as only small proportion of the buildings here are more than a hundreds years old. So the 'old' in Old Quarter more reflected the activities that are carried on it since ancient times. However, the buildings in Old Quarter have interesting architecture too.

Because shops were taxed by the width of frontage on the market, storage and living space moved to the rear. They developed into the long and narrow houses, called tube houses, where small frontage hides very long rooms. Typical measurement for such a tube house is 3 m x 60

Shopping at Old Quarter Hanoi Old Quarter is located at Hoan Kiem district, and known as Pho Co in Vietnamese. Enclosed by Ha Noi Citadel, Hoan Kiem Lake and the Red River, the Old quarter is also famously known as the 36 Pho Puong (36 streets), and its history spans 2000 years. In the 13th century, 36 guilds established themselves here with each taking a different street. Street names reflect the type of merchandise being made/sold.

Nowadays, some of the streets have taken up new commodities, but still cluster together along a single street - Hang Can (once scales, now stationary), Hang Dau (once oil, now shoes), Hang Buom (once sailcloth, now confectioneryy and wine) and Thuoc Bac (once medicine, now tools), for example. While some still retain the names as of the original trades – Hang Ma (Votive Paper Decorations Street), Hang Gai (Silk Street), Hang Thiec (Tin Street), and Hang Dong (Bronze Street).

Actually there is now more than 70 streets in Old Quarter. Some researchers believe that the number 36 came from the 15th century when there might have been 36 guild locations, which were workshop areas, not streets. When streets were later developed, the guild names were applied to the streets. 
Others attribute the 36 to a more abstract concept. The number nine in Asia represents the concept of "plenty". Nine times the four directions makes 36, which simply means "many". Most street name starts with "Hang", which means merchandise or shop.
Hang Ngang (Transversal Street) is lively at night, has a lot of shops selling clothes.
Cau Go Street, which means "Wooden Bridge", is located one block north of the Lake of the Restored Sword (Hoan Kiem Lake), and was in fact the location of a wooden bridge. About 150 years ago, the bridge crossed a thin stream of water connecting the Thai Cuc Lake with the Lake of the Restored Sword. Dyers from the neighboring Silk Street (Hang Dao / Hang Gai) set out their silk to dry or bleached their fabric beside the bridge. Under the French occupation, the lake and stream were filled as health measures and to increase build able land. The little wooden bridge became a regular street.
Immediately assembled the shoe for the customers.
Day 10 (27.11.08) Hanoi > Kuala Lumpur

Good Bye Hanoi, Vietnam 

We arrived at Noi Bai airport at around 7.30 am, pretty early as our departure time was on 9.00 am. This enabled us to walk around the small Noi Bai airport.
Inside the Noi Bai airport departure / arrival waiting area, it was pretty empty without much passengers. And, amazingly, the chairs are all hard steel seat. Inside this area, which was after checked-in and immigration checked, there didn't seem to have any restaurant available. However, there are 2 restaurant at the highest floor of the public area in the airport, albeit the price is expensive.
Met my brother Ching Neng Shyan at the Heart Hotel, Hanoi, with family and friends.
Cheapest beer in the world. Beer Hoi at RM0-70 a glass.
Cheapest wine in the world. Mulberry Wine at US1-00 a bottle.
Cheapest hotel in the world. Pinocchio Hotel, Sapa at US5 a room for 2 person

Total 10 days expenses inclusive of air-fares is about RM1,200 per person.

1 comment:

  1. Alistair McCulloch21 July, 2010

    Dear Ching,
    I have played the CD of the Vietnam Trip and am amazed at what you have done. What a huge amount of patience, skill and know-how was involved. It is super the way you split it into days and added the music. i am thrilled.

    Thanks again for all your patience and help during the trip. It was such a wonderful experience for me and there is no way I could have gone on my own. It will be super if I can entertain you and Catherine here and try to repay you for all you did for me. You will like it here I think if the weather is kind.
    Keep in touch.
    Regards to Catherine.