When Will and I were researching our trip to Vietnam, we quickly realized how inexpensive it was to purchase tours to get around. As part of our weeklong package via our hotel in Hanoi, we purchased a trip to Halong Bay and to Sapa.
Halong Bay is a UNESCO Wolrd Heritage site and is made of up thousands of limestone karsts and isles. It’s stunningly beautiful and we spent the night there (to our pleasant surprise) on a rather luxurious boat.
Our tour picked us up from our hotel in Hanoi on day one, and, along with our group of about 12 other people who we really enjoyed getting to know, we drove about four hours down to Halong City where we immediately got onto a boat despite the pouring rain.
We checked into our cabin which was very neat and spotless and then proceeded to lunch in the dining room as we zoomed by the limestone karsts outside. The rain let up quickly and we loaded onto our tender and motored out to one of the caves that you can find in the many hollow islands. We visited the “Surprising Cave.” I was a little skeptical about this big “surprise” but the cave was a series of caverns that became bigger and bigger as you kept going. The last one was huge and reminded me a lot of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Though the cave was lit up with multi-color lights, and they especially loved highlighting the features that most resembled human genitalia, we still found it impressive. We then went to another island where we were able to climb stairs to get a great view of the Bay. After climbing back down we spent about an hour or so swimming on the beach.
Other notable events during our time in Halong Bay included kayaking, a couple getting engaged on the boat, an adorable teenager turning 15 and meeting lots of interesting people from all over Europe and Australia.
Next on the itinerary was a trip to Sapa in Northern Vietnam. We were dropped off at our hotel after Halong Bay, showered, ate dinner and then headed to the train station for an overnight train to Sapa.
We arrived at Sapa in the morning, checked into our hotel, ate breakfast and were met by our tour guide. Along with 12 other tourists and about eight local Hmong women we started out on a 12 kilometer walk through the terraces of the Sapa area.
Apparently hoards of Hmong women ride up to Sapa town on motor bikes in the morning and find a tour group to walk with. They help you get through the slippery areas and many of them speak English really well, so we were able to ask a lot of questions about things like their daily lives, education in the villages and agriculture. Of course we were fully aware that once we arrived at their villages they’d want to sell us some of their woven handicrafts, and of course we were more than happy to buy them. In my view, they spent the entire morning hiking with us, and they opened their village and lives to tourists so it was the least we could do.
We really enjoyed the town of Sapa as well and it turned out to be a surprisingly fun little town. It reminded us of a ski village. There were lots of local and Western restaurants, cool coffee shops, stores to buy (knockoff) Northface gear and hiking shoes, cheap massages (we got two foot massages after our hikes!), boutiques and the weather was very pleasant compared to the heat of Hanoi. We would have loved to spend a few more days there, but our tour was almost over. On our second night there, we headed back to the train station for another overnight train to Hanoi.
These tours allowed us to see so much in such a short time, and even though we were worn out at the end we had a blast and met lots of interesting and fun people.