VIETNAM: Halong Bay and Sapa – TIPS!
Ask anyone who has been to Vietnam for recommendations of where to visit and guaranteed they will mention Hanoi, Hoi-Ann, Halong Bay and Sapa. The latter two top tourist spots are usually booked as trips out and back from one of the many many travel agents in Hanoi, which is exactly what I did once I arrived Hanoi. Starting with early morning pick-ups, you are invariably transported to a bus station to catch the bus to your final destination where you often end up hanging around waiting for your tour to commence. In Halong Bay especially arriving at the shore line to be greeted with by a throng of tourists, confusion, noise, nothing authentic about it all. Luckily on both tours I did end up meeting some really cool people, the food was great and despite the bad weather that seemed to follow me around (most notably in Halong Bay where I lost nearly 24 hours due to an incoming storm – which annoying near did in-come!) the scenery in both places was absolutely stunning and made up for any other shortcoming.
However it had my time again however – or was offering any advice to someone visiting northern Vietnam – it would be to not book a tour leaving/departing from Hanoi, but to travel to these places off your own steam and then arrange something. In the case of Halong Bay I would probably travel first to Cat Ba island for a few nights, and then take a boat back to the mainland across the Bay. Sapa, I would definitely recommend making your own way there, allowing 24 hours to book the tour that suits you and then travel onward when suits you (not what suits the Hanoi tour company which invariably means lots of sitting around!) Or bypass Sapa altogether and make the extra effort to visit Mai Chau, which as I travelled south away from Hanoi I head more whisperings about. Next time…
To read more about my time in Vietnam, click <here>