Our agent got us on a bus that night which left at 2200, getting us to Sapa at 6am. Arriving in Sapa was a little stressful as we realised when we had got on the bus the night before we gave in our whole ticket for the trip which the bus driver then ‘couldn’t find’ the next morning. We called our travel agent who told us to go into the hotel next to the bus stop. They were really helpful and called our guide to come and meet us. There were a few of us in the same situation who had all given tickets in so if you do this make sure to get part of it back off the bus driver! A guide turned up and walked us about 20 mins to a hotel where we had some breakfast. We waited around a bit longer and a local Sapa lady called Zing then turned up saying she was now our guide for the two day trek. She was very sweet, only 19 but seemed much older! She was 7 months pregnant with her second child and managed to walk faster than any of us with a mountain 🐐 like ease. We left our main luggage at the hotel and packed a small over night bag to take with us on the trek. If your doing this in March make sure you have a raincoat, decent shoes and long trousers.
Once we were walking we were joined by about another 8 Sapa women. Who were just as fast and agile regardless of age or footwear (flip-flops).
We walked down the valley side and back up again through some stunning scenery until we reached two villages, we had lunch in the second one. At this point all of the Sapa women descended on us with their souvenirs which was mostly ‘silver’ jewellery. Stand up for yourself and try not to be taken in too much, they will all tell you how they need to feed their families etc.The lunch was great with spring rolls, sautéed meat and vegetables, rice and noodles – we are almost pro chopstick users now (practice makes perfect as there is often not standard cutlery available).
After lunch we trekked a little longer to the homestay where we all slept in one big room on mattresses on the floor, it was actually pretty comfortable and not too cold as there was a curtain to drape around each mattress. We helped cook dinner with the family which was a variety of Vietnamese dishes, and they tried to get us to do karaoke afterwards. We were a bit of a shy group and only Sam (an English guy) and two of the Vietnamese girls did it. More gin needed I think!
The next day we trekked for another couple of hours and then got a bus back to Sapa where we were catching the afternoon bus to Hanoi. We got to Hanoi about 2200 and crashed into bed.
Next bus journey took us to a little place called Dalat, we stayed in a hostel called ‘Dalat Green’, the owners were lovely; we had nice breakfasts and a free dinner one night. However, it was very small so quite difficult to meet people and was far away from the town (we would advise to stay near the lake). The main thing we did here was rent a scooter and enjoy a proper tourist day going to; Pongour waterfall, Elephant falls, a silk factory, a temple with a huge laughing Buddha and a coffee plantation (worst coffee we’d had in a while!). It was a beautiful day and quite easy to fit it all in as all fairly near each other…Pongour is just a bit further away and be prepared for about 500m of a bumpy scooter ride down a dirt track.
So after our busy day we had a good nights sleep and in the morning got the bus to Mui Ne. To be honest the only thing we would recommend here is the sand dune sun rise tour which was pretty stunning even though our driver got us there late and we missed the first part of the sunrise….also our jeep didn’t actually drive on the sand which we thought it was going to so check that out when you book, we paid 70,000 dong so maybe you have to pay a bit more to get a better service. After the sunrise we also got driven to the red sand dunes where you can surf, to the fairy stream which is a stunning little walk, then finally to the fishing village which is quite sad as they don’t know anything about conservation and throw away scraps they don’t want and leave the poor little fish to die on the sand instead of putting them back in the water. We are not sure what/if anything we can do about this so if anyone knows or works in this area please tell us!
From Mui Ne we took the us to our final destination in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon, we found they were both used interchangeably).
From Hanoi we then got another night bus to Hue. We only stayed here one night but had a great day exploring; took a dragon boat trip (300,00 for two people) to the pagoda and then got off by imperial city. We only walked around the outside as the entrance ticket was 150,000 and you can see so much from the outside anyway. One thing we would recommend is a little cafe called mandarin orange, lovely food and the owner gave us some really nice postcards of pics he had taken himself.
From Hue we rented a scooter to do the next leg of the journey to Hoi An; The Hai Van Pass made famous on Top Gear. This was really fun, got some great views of the scenery. If you’re not confident driving you can pay for someone to drive you. On the way we stopped at Lang co bay, a massive white Buddha and marble mountains.
Hoi An was really lovely and the first night we stayed in a great homestay called golden bee, sadly it was really busy so we could only book one night but we’d definitely recommend and they have free bicycles to use. We had a lovely day cycling to the beach. We then went to a hostel closer to the old town which was still good just a bit more expensive, Hoa Binh.
Next day we hired a scooter and drove to ‘My Son Temple’. This was beautiful, a definite must if you’re there! Be prepared for the 150,000 entrance fee but we thought it was worth it.
From Hoi An we got another night bus to Nha Trang, which is basically a holiday destination for Russians. Imagine southern Spain for the Brits. We had a really lovely time mainly relaxing here and taking couple of days out of travelling, especially as it was Dani’s birthday. We treated ourselves to a facial where they wrapped us up in cold cucumber, much nicer that it sounds!!
On the way we stopped a couple of times for rest breaks (no WC on the bus). There was a huge storm as we were driving with lighting strikes causing fires on our route.
There was this smell of burning plastic on the bus and then we stopped!
A little panic swept over us….but about an hour later, and one very soggy driver we were back on our way. He had to get under the bus in the pouring rain…didn’t quite get that picture but this one is him at the back trying to fix it at first!
We were exhausted when we arrived in Siem Reap and pissed off as usual as the driver refused to let us off where we asked (he let all the locals get off outside their doors) and drove us to a tuk-tuk station. Anyway in bitterness we decided to walk instead of paying someone which took us about an hour as we got soooo lost! we were staying in siem reap pub hostel which is really nice but hard to find, its down a little muddy dirt track, just about wide enough for the tuk-tuks.
We booked our bus ticket through a travel agent (Long Phuong) which is on backpackers road almost nextdoor to a great little cafe called the Luke’s cafe. They were very professional here with excellent English and gave us a great price for the Cu Chi tunnels (check out our Cu Chi page) and a bus ticket to Cambodia (520,000 VND for two people both trips).
We left Thao Dien Pearl 10:30 am and got a taxi to Long Phuong, this took about 30 minutes as the roads were pretty clear.
We waited for transport to the bus station which drove us 10 meters down the road to the bus station… It was pretty hilarious!
Got on the bus which was half empty, lots of boxes at the back as usual as they use it as a parcel service too. Got in our allocated seats and off we went.
Everything was running smoothly until the bus driver wanted money for visas and our passports. We handed over our passports as we thought maybe we all stay on the bus and the the police need to check the passports from the driver…anyway we then realised we’d been had as he then started to ask for money for the visa…more than the price the boarder control actually ask for.We had a bit of an argument with him at this point and asked for our passports back as we realised at boarder control you have to get out of the bus anyway as you have to go through security etc. He then refused to give our passports back and said if we didn’t pay him he’d drive off without us. The queue at boarder control really started to build up now and we were panicking. Luckily a local spotted the situation and came over to help….he obviously wanted money too but much less than the driver. So we paid him and he managed to get our passports off the driver and take us to the front of the queue. So in the end it was us waiting for the driver and the rest of the group! He wasn’t happy about us getting back on the bus but eventually gave in.
Anyway a few lessons learned ;
- Do not give anyone your passport!
- Always carry american dollars when going in/out of Cambodia (we didn’t have any which meant we were close to not getting a visa, luckily a nice Canadian guy on the bus had some extra and swapped some dong for us!). In Cambodia they only accept american dollars.
- Have a budget for money that you just have to pay to avoid stress….the saving of a few dollars probably wasn’t worth the massive argument and hassle.
Our first stop was Hanoi. From the airport to our hostel we got an uber and paid 265,000 dong which was much cheaper than the taxis outside the terminal. It took about 40 minutes for us to get to the old quarter, where we stayed at ‘central backpackers-old quarter’. The hostel was fine for the money. The biggest bonus was the free cocktail, beer, walking tour and the staff were really friendly. There was also a restaurant which did food really cheap and was yummy. Much cheaper than any restaurant we found on the street!
Hanoi is a great city, imagine manic markets, scooters and people everywhere. Lots of bars and nightlife, seemed to be street entertainment and happy hour somewhere every night! You could sit in the road and drink beer 🍻 from a keg for 5000 dong a glass (that’s 20p).
One thing we did in Hanoi was go to the Musileum, which also had an information centre, this was really interesting and we got to know a lot more about the history of Vietnam.
The second main thing we did was go to watch a water puppet show, this was on the recommendation of Laura who we’d met in Fiji and gave us a tonne of tips for Asia, thank you Laura!
And then last but definitely not least…….Hanoi was where we fell in love with Egg coffee, life will never be the same! and if anyone knows where we can get it in the UK. Please tell us!!