Perhaps one of the most interesting trip we’ve been so far, was Hanoi and Sapa Vietnam back in 2008. While spring cleaning our house, I came across a small piece of paper and written in it a short account of this trip. Since it was one of our most interesting trip, I guess it needs to be recorded here for remembrance. I am considering planning a trip there again, so it is a good idea to record that 2008 trip.
It has been almost six and a half years ago and therefore I will try to recall as much as I could from the brief account on that small piece of paper and the photos in our files. It was from 11/06/2008 to 15/06/2008…
Day 1 (11/06/2008)
I can’t remember what time we touched down but we reached the Bodega Hotel in Hanoi quite early in the morning. As we did not stay overnight, they referred us to another hotel, Democracy Hotel which is in the same Hoan Kiem district. If I am not mistaken, we got 2 rooms just to refresh ourselves and kept our luggage. We took a short nap after taking a bath, then we went out for lunch, don’t ask me where as I have totally forgotten where. All I can recall is a restaurant upstairs somewhere, and walking distant from the hotel. After lunch we roamed around that area, not a free and easy stuff as I remember it was guided…
One of the places we visited was ‘Hanoi Temple of Literature’ (or Vestige Van Mieu Quoc Tu Giam as displayed at the ticketing counter) – from the information displayed in the compound, this is the first relic of Hanoi and one of the first universities in the world. We were told that if one goes to Hanoi and missed out this place, then it is considered as though he/she has not visited Hanoi at all. It was the first national university in Vietnam with more than 700 years of operation (1076-1802) that has trained thousands of talents for the country. Also based on the information there, it has 2 main vestiges – Literature worship Confucius and Chu Van An- Quoc Tu Giam career.
After dinner (or did we had dinner), we were guided by a hotel staff to the Hanoi train station. I remember it wasn’t quite an easy walk tagging our luggage along with a more than average walking pace. We were walking quite fast with those luggages, together with other travelers and local (also with luggages) walking in the same pace in the same direction. We were like in a war zone situation escaping to another town or country like what we saw in the movies. Once at the train station, I was quite confused on where we were heading. We were supposed to take the night train which depart around 2100hr to Sapa, but then I learned about Lao Cai where we were supposed to depart the next morning 0500hr. So which is which, are they the same or different. Never mind, fast forward…
I was sweating when we finally get into the platform to board the train and in this condition I thought, it’s going to be a long night… But I was surprised and relieved as I stepped into the cabin. In my mind, ‘wow’! This is cool – air-cond, four bedded cabin and look comfortable. To me it was 1st class… Thanks God!
As the train slowly pull off at 2100, I was busy looking out of the window and as it leave Hanoi, the train was passing through rows of houses. They were so near to the railway tracks and as I looked out from the train window, it was as if those houses were just next door! A good experience though. Later I remember someone selling coffee and we had snacks or buns, (I can’t remember), bought from Hanoi. That was why I said earlier whether did we really had dinner. The train ride was comfortable.
Day 2 (12/06/2008)
We reached Lao Cai station early morning approx. 0500. As the train was pulling slowly approaching the station, I could see outside was already bustling with people going with their business at 0500! Some were pulling carts, some cycling, walking with loads on their back etc. People were busy disembarking, struggling with several huge suitcases and some with children in their arms as they hurried to the exit. Tour guides waiting and mini-vans parked in the far background. I don’t think we took the mini-van, I remember we took a bus. The bus ride was about an hour if I am not mistaken, going along hilly roads till Sapa. The scenery along the way was nice as far as I can remember.
We checked-in to the Royal Hotel in Sapa. The view from our rooms were fantastic, all rooms sharing a long balcony facing the mountains. The environment was like Genting back home, cool. We had breakfast at this hotel before visiting the minor ethnology market.
Hill-tribe people from surrounding villages go to the Sapa market most days to sell handicrafts and ethnic-style clothing. We learned that Saturday is the busiest day, and every day the market’s food stalls are popular for breakfast and lunch.
We went further beyond that market into the interior where those terrace fields and village houses were. By then it began to drizzle again. I remember passing through those terrace fields, walking along a hilly road, then a stairway down to a village with houses left and right. Their buffaloes use that stairway too together with their pet and farm animals – dogs, chicken, ducks and even pigs. Below are some of the photos we took along the way.
We stopped by a wooden house and we were allowed to go in to take a look and explored. A simple wooden village house. Finally there was a hanging bridge over a stream with a row of stalls selling souvenir stuffs at the other end. I can’t remember what tribe were those people we came in contact with.
Later in the evening, was sort of light and easy for us, strolling and roaming around the streets of Sapa. There were many shops selling handicrafts, backpacks, clothing and other souvenir stuffs. We had our dinner in the hotel as well, and I remember, after dinner we were out at the streets again continuing our shopping spree. By the way, the food in this hotel, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner were nice and tasty.
Day 3 13/06/2008
After breakfast (again in the Royal Hotel), another guided visit, a short drive to a hilly road then some trekking to another terrace plantation, in addition to what we had done a day earlier. The views of the terrace fields, hills and far mountains again were simply spectacular, not to mention the cool air environment. Another wet day for us as we were caught in a drizzle again. We came by a coffee shop beside an untarred road just next to a stream. We take 5 in this shop, had coffee – Vietnamese coffee before heading out. On the way out, I remembered passing through some fields again, with their village houses scattered in between.
After the guided trek to the interior, we had some time roaming around Sapa town before leaving at 1700 to catch the bus to Lao Cai train station for the night train back to Hanoi. I remember walking along a few lanes with shops and came across a Church. Later I learned that it is a Catholic Church.
This church though small, is a very important point of attraction in Sapa. Being the only Catholic Church in the region, one cannot possibly miss it, as it is located at the main square of the town. A simple church yet it seems to me like a reflection of God overseeing and guarding this little peaceful town. It was well maintained with a donation box inside with free postcards. It has beautiful color stained glass windows depicting the life of Jesus, and the wooden pews looked well maintain. The Church was built in 1895 and it is the most ancient architectural work of the French left behind.
We left Sapa at about 1700 to the Lao Cai station for the night train back to Hanoi.
Day 4 (14/06/2008)
0500 arrived at Hanoi train station. Again as the train pulled up slowly to the station at this early morning hour (before sunrise), the surroundings were already bustling with people starting their daily business. After alighted from the train, we went back to Democracy Hotel where we will be putting the night there. I can’t remember we took our breakfast in the hotel or at some shop or stalls outside.
After breakfast, we had another guided trip to Halong Bay. It was about 2 hours drive by minivan from Hanoi. We were supposed to reach Halong Bay 1200 noon for the boat cruise, but again I can’t recall what time exactly we reached. What I could remember was that the jetty was filled with tourists waiting for the boats. As we reached the jetty, our guide get the tickets for us and I considered our group lucky as we had a boat all by ourselves, probably due to the number of people in our group, just nice for a boat.
As our boat left the jetty, I had the opportunity to talk to our guide who told us that we could actually have an overnight boat trip at Halong Bay. He also told me that this Halong Bay is translated as ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’. Legend claims that the islands of Halong Bay were created by a great dragon from the mountains. As the dragon charged towards the coast, its flailing tail gouged out valleys and crevasses. When it finally plunged into the sea, the area filled with water, leaving only the pinnacles visible. This mystical landscape of limestone islets is often compared to Guilin in China or Krabi in southern Thailand. Other than the boat cruise, visitors to Halong also come to explore the caves, which we did after the boat cruise.
The cruise brought us to some beautiful rocks formation or islets emerged from the sea. Those we came across were Stone Dog Islet and Trong Mai Islet.
Stone dog islet is a symbol of safety for tourist when visiting Halong Bay. The reason for the name “Stone dog islet” because it has a shape like a dog turned his back to the sea and is a very familiar image of Vietnam.
Trong Mai Islet (rock of ‘the kissing cocks’) is also a famous islet on the Halong Bay. It has become a symbol of Halong Bay and also Vietnam’s tourism. Also called ‘Ga Choi Islet’ (rock of ‘the fighting cocks’), this islet is about 10 meters high above sea level, has the shape of a ‘cock couple’ rising from the blue sea. These two huge cocks (pardon me) have stood by the other for thousands of years as told by our guide. He said the story told by the locals, Trong Mai Islet represents for faithfulness of love. The islet is most beautiful at dawn, when the sun sheds the first light of the day and lit up the ‘cock couple’.
Other than those islets, we stopped by a floating fish market (or seafood) as it not only sell fishs, but prawns, crabs, squids, those seafood stuffs. I don’t know whether to call it a floating market or a floating stall, anyway just refer to the picture and you will know what I mean. This was where we bought those seafood stuffs, and yes, they did sell vegetables and fruits too.
Those stuffs that we bought were cooked in the boat for our lunch (lunch in the boat itself). There was a kitchen in the boat. There were souvenirs, handicrafts, t-shirts etc sold in the boat too.
After lunch, we cruised back to the jetty for the cave.
I was not very much and still is, into caving stuff but this one caught me by surprise! The height and formation of the cave was breathtaking. The one we went in, I think is Dong Thien Cung based on a picture we took.
Inside there, were beautiful and stunning stalactites and stalagmite lime stones, with very intelligently colored light effects to highlight those different rock formations. Really beautiful, man-made lighting that accentuates the beauty of the caves. One need to spare sometimes just to stare and see the hidden gems! However, there were lots of stairs to climb. Good workout for burning some calories after the heavy lunch on the boat.
I think I read it somewhere after returning from this Hanoi/Sapa trip that this Thien Cung cave means ‘the cave which made from God’.
After this cave, it was time to leave Halong back to Hanoi, another 2 hours drive. I think we left around 1700 and reached Hanoi (Democracy Hotel) at 1900. Can’t remember where we had dinner.
Day 5 (15/06/2008)
After breakfast, we roamed around the street in front of our hotel before checking out, to the airport and back home.
Some shots were taken on the way to the airport…
A very interesting and worthwhile trip for me. I think I like to go there (Sapa and Halong Bay) again. I will! A big thank you to Yin who organized this trip for us. I enjoyed it, great job Yin! …/tham.