Vietnam 2009







                 
Day 1 to 3 - Singapore - Hanoi - Halong Bay

Trip Planning 
Was doing the usual pre-trip reseach on the internet. Vietnam has just too many operators , real (and imitation) travel agents, cruise company, imitation boutique hotels ...etc . Just impossible to make any informed decision.

In the end, I took my chances with Halong Phoneix Cruiser. Realised that they were owned by South Pacific Travel, so decided to use South Pacific Travel to make my other trip arrangements. Using one of their standard itinerary (Vietnam North Star Tour), some slight customization and a few more emails exchanges, everything was settled within 2-3 days ... and we were ready to fly in 3 days time :>

2 days before flying, I decided to extend my stay in Sapa by one more night. South Pacific Travel  re-booked by hotels, train tickets and other arrangement. All efficiently done and without any complains or extra charges. Great folks there and this trip would not have been possible without them

Through-out the trip, their guides were always punctual with the pickup, saved us the hassle of navigating the train station by seeing us to our train cabin, spoke good english and always reliable.

As we were speaking with other travellers, found that we got a very decent deal when we compared their individual tours components. Great that they did all the leg work at a reasonable price.

 
20 Nov 2009 - Singapore to Hanoi

Singapore is not too far from vietnam, a simple 3 hour flight and we were in Hanoi by about 12.30pm. SPT had their driver to pick us up and we were check-in to the hotel by about 2:00pm.

Hanoi Boutique Hotel was a charming little place ran by equally charming people.


We were check-in to room 401. Guess what was the first thing Sock was doing in the room after climbing up 4 flights of stairs ... TV !!!!


It was free and easy till dinner and the water puppet show in the evening.
Was an extremely cold week in hanoi (10 C?) and the hanoi's traffic and motorbike culture was exactly what I exepected. Roaming the steets of the old quarters, we got so hungry that we could not resist finding something to eat.


Bun Cha - Nem Cua Be 
We obviously looked tourist and they pushed us large portion of food even before we ordered. There was what looked like 4 (maybe 5 ? ) spring rolls on the plate, 2 plates of rice noodles and 2 bowls of meat balls. Good thing we sent back 1 bowl of the meat balls.
Whatever the case, the meat ball and spring rolls were very good and we actually finished ALL of it ...



Guide pick us up at the hotel for dinner and the water puppet show.
Dinner was at the Green papaya, a beautiful french house turned restaurant. Typical Viet/Chinese styled food. We were so stuffed by springroll that we could not finish all our food.

Water Puppet Show
I am not usually into such shows but since it was already arranged, we caught the last show for the day at 21:15. Must say that it turned out better than I expected.


21 Nov 2009 - Halong Bay
The day started with a hotel pickup at 8.30am.

We left the bigger luggage with the hotel and went for the 2 day 1 night Halong Bay cruise with the smaller luggages.

3 hour ride in the mini-bus with 1 toilet stop midway. Coffee was good at rest-stop but was priced at USD$1 or $VND 20K (definitely not a reasonable conversion rate). In short, bring small note of USD and use it whenever the currency works in your favour.

Halong Phoenix Cruiser
Arrived at Bai Chay Tourist Wharf, transfer to the cruiser via the usual small boats was no fuss as the crew handled the luggage and the water conditions was very calm in the pier area.


                                       

Locals on sampan pushing supplies ... one on each side of the boat.


Halong Bay - Amazing Cave
After waiting in line for the queue to climb up the hill, we finally arrived at the enterance of the "Amazing Cave".
The cave was really huge and could take almost an hour to walk around inside. Equally AMAZING was how many people could fit into the cave ... Haha.





Amazing Cave - View Point at the peak
                                     

Kayaking was just a good workout. The bay was crowded with other kayaks and other cruisers


Dinner on-board was good ... plates after plates of clams, stuff crabs, steam prawns, stir-fried beef, stir-fried vegatables ...etc

Think all junks harboured for the night at the same bay.
                                           
22 Nov 2009 - Halong Bay
The weather was kind to us. The 2nd day of the cruise was sunny with clear skies, which gave us a much better view of the bay. Great day to chill out on-board and just click away on the camera ...

               

Spring Roll Session
There was a DIY spring-roll session on-board. (They make you work for your springrolls :-P )
After learning how to wrap them, the crew will deep-fry the springrolls and now they are ready to be eaten. Endless supply of my favourite spring rolls while cruising Halong bay ... how nice.



Final view of Halong Bay

Last thoughts on Halong Bay ...over-rated ? Probably not as the limestone krast were quite amazing and manificent .... but definitely over-crowded.

Lunch on-board, disembark at around 12pm and the same 3 hrs ride-back on the mini-bus.

Back to Hanoi
1630hrs - back at Hanoi Boutique Hotel. Re-packed our luggage with our winter wear for Sapa.
Some of the travellers in the hotel just got back from Sapa ... 2C weather, ice frost .... arrgh


Dinner - Pho Xao
Decided to grap some dinner before we get on the train. Junction of Bat Su & Bat Dan ... I had the Pho Xao (Fried beef noodles) while Sock had the Pho Ga (Chicken noodle soup). The Pho Xao was very yummy with a very "wok taste"!! They still fry it with charcoal.


Had our Vietnam "expresso" shot at one of the cafes along Bat Su serving the Trung Nyugen coffee.


Found a bakery, bought some night snack for the overnight train ride. Banana bread loaf, 4 eclairs, 2 cup cakes, 2 almond tarts for VND$50k. Got another 5 eclairs for the nice folks at the hotel.


Our guide came at 7.30pm with the train tickets. She came on a bike so we were wondering how to get the 3 of us there on 1 bike ... haha ... no chance to try what the stunt that the locals do of getting 4 people on 1 bike. Anyway, she got us a taxi, and followed us in her bike, paid the driver and show us the way all the way to the train cabin. Cool.

After crossing a few train tracks literally, we got on to our platform.
We were booked on the King Express. The 4-bed soft sleeper cabin was small but sufficient. We were glad we left the bigger luggage in the hotel. There was just enough space for 2 x 21" trolley cabin bag below the bed and above the door.

Street peddler were positioned at each train door, had everything in their cart ... oreo, beer & even Martell shots in plastic cups.

Shared the cabin with an australian lady and her 2 kids. She alone has been travelling around with them in thailand and vietnam for 5 weeks ... wow

                         

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Vietnam 2009
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Trip Information
20 Nov to 27 Nov 2009
Raymond & Sock Ling
8 days trip to Hanoi, Halong and Sapa

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> Day 1 to 3 - Hanoi, Halong
Day 4 to 6 - Sapa
Day 7 to 8 - Hanoi


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