With bright sun in the sky, and wanderlust on our feet, we embarked on a week-long getaway to Hanoi, Sapa and Halong Bay on April 30th 2017. We had a lovely trip, trekking in the mountains, cruising on the sea, baywatching on the beach and walking in the bustling metropolis of Hanoi.
This post will be a photo diary of our wanderings and musings, of food, culture and adventure.
Day 1 – Hanoi -> Sapa
We reached airport and treated ourselves to some banh mi – a traditional Vietnamese sub. Using Google translate and some sign language , we managed to explain we wanted vegetarian – its ‘Chay’ for future reference! It tasted good but not filling enough. So we indulged in some Cajun fries from nearby popeyes:P Then we booked an uber (very convenient especially in a city where regular taxis are super overpriced) to the city .
We gazed out of the window like little kids and admitted that this place is just like Bangalore except for the yellow skin (not racist, Viets take it as a compliment :)) and sleek mopeds everywhere!
We reached the city center of old quarter in about an hour and decided to chill in a Harry Potter themed cafe called Always cafe (After Snape’s famous word of course) !
Harry Potter books in Vietnamese , vintage decor with old Hogwarts house capes and daily prophet posters adorning the walls , it was a quirky humble Cafe in a city of cafes (apparently people tend to gather more in cafes than in houses in Hanoi) . We treated ourselves to some polyjuice potion (which tasted sweet unlike the book) and I caved in and bought a Deathly hallow chain! 🙂
We roamed the streets with heavy backpacks and went to Mam restaurant for dinner . A posh place where they understoood we eat ‘Chay’ and served us some Super fried spring rolls and half -boiled vegetables and rice. We were amused by the bland portions but ate anyway heartily !
We went to the train station to catch the overnight Orient express to Lao Cai – a foothill village ! It was a lovely train ride and we slept peacefully – tired and happy !
Day 2 – Sapa
We took the early morning mini bus up the foggy beautiful mountain to Sapa and checked into homey ‘Charming Sapa’ hotel. We had two furry friends greet us in to the hotel 🙂
After a sumptuous breakfast of chocolate pancakes , cinnamon tea and omelette , we set off to ur first destination – cable car and funicular ride + trek to Fansipan summit at a height of over 3000m . Green paddy field views, tall majestic mountain views in the world’s longest cable car (6 km) was well worth the hype , although a tad expensive !
Onbaord the cable car :
Once we reached the Fanspian station, a breeze of cold wind wafted through the air while vendor stalls sold some hot snacks – we felt peckish, so we munched a cake, bought a fridge magnet souvenier, and proceeded on the long climb to the summit. While we climbed, the fog gave way to sunshine and temples – and I felt like a character right out of an Orient novel.
We reached the summit at 3143 m height. Previously the summit took 3 days by well-trained trekkers. With the cable car opening in 2016, technology has once again played facade to an once-upon-a-time struggle.
The downward climb was peaceful in the late morning breeze and we made our way to have some yummy lunch at Muong Hoa Street. We found this amazing Vegetarian Vietnamese hot pot place with tofu, veggies and noodles. After an hour of cooking and eating the delicious meal, we went back to the hotel for a siesta.
In the evening, we walked through the Sapa town. As Bill bryson put it, “I could spend my life arriving each evening in a new city. The food is excellent. The beer is cold. The sun nearly always shines. There is coffee on every corner. Life doesn’t get much better than this.”
Sapa is said to be a city of 4 seasons in a day – spring in the morning, summer in the noon, fall evening with slight fog and wintry cool nights.
The sweet girl who convinced us to buy her embroidered bags (they are super cute!) :
Vietnam’s infamous egg coffee (Milk was scarce back then and they substituted with egg). Pro tip : Mix it well before you have it!
After an Italian dinner (I was craving pizza!), we took a nice walk by the serene lake and lit up trees.
Day 3 – Sapa “Easy trek” -> Sapa Villages -> Train to Hanoi
The nex morning saw us doing some hard-core trekking of 15 km for nearly 6 hours. It was a tiring but memorable day. We walked down Muong Hoa valley to Y Linh Ho village to Lao Chai villages past paddy fields, village schools, tranquil bamboo trees, local shops and lovely streams all while appreciating the simplicity of a village life.
The humble Sapa villagers helped us trek and made sure the climbs up and down were safe and enjoyable. They do this everyday carrying their babies at the backs. One can’t help but admire their tenacity and willpower. It’s their way of life, not in the romanticised and glamourous sense, but in the more banal notion. We thanked them for letting us be a part of their lives for half a day.
One of the village woman made this pretty heart strung out of leaves and love for me :
We had a simple filling lunch by this stream :
We came back in the evening and took the night Orient Express train back to Hanoi, after relishing some garlic french fries.
Day 4 – Hanoi -> Ha Long Bay Cruise
We reached Hanoi early in the morning and we walked by Hoan Kiem lake and Hanoi Temple of literature while we saw people do Tai Chi and play badminton. I love watching cities wake up and go into their normal routines – it gives a new perspective to life!
We had a lovely albiet, slow breakfast at a coffee shop called lotus blanc at a very “Indira-Nagar”ish area( Bangloreans know this!). We praised the waiter for the food and he apologised profusely to us – we were amused that language differences are at play again! We thanked again and left before he could respond 😛
We boarded the bus to Ha Long bay V’spirit cruise at 10 am, championed by our sincere English speaking Vietnamese tour guide- Jimmy. He passionately narrated Vietnam culture and history throughout the 4 hour journey and taught us Vietnamese sentences like Xin Chao (Hello)! I forgot the rest 😦 sigh!
We made a pit stop at a Disabled Artist Center – where people affected by Agent Orange during the war inspired us by the creativity and strength. We bought this beautiful piece of art made by a lovely lady as a token of respect and support :
We reached the lovely cruise spot and boarded our vintage-styled cruise at noon :
There were around 12 people on the cruise – including some entitled NZ children !).Being the only 2 vegetarians on board, we were treated to some unexpectedly delicious food privately catered to us!
It was a dream – turquoise waters all around, vintage styled dining, emerald limestones standing tall as guardians and heart warming delicious food on a wednesday afternoon!
After sunbathing atop the cruise bay area, the cruise stopped near Titop island. The arduous climb to the top was so worth the beautiful view :
Chilling on Titop beach while pondering about life and watching beach volleyball :
We returned to the cruise, watched the sunset, played some wooden block puzzle games with our new friends on the boat, did some squid fishing, ate a sumptuous dinner and retired for the night.
View from our room :
Day 5 – Ha Long Bay Cruise -> Hanoi
Caves, Cooking Spring Rolls and So long to Ha Long , Xin Chao to Hanoi again!
Ha Long was under the sea years ago and the bumps on the celing represent the crests and troughs of the waves. Each rock represents an animal (its all the imagination :))
There were even rocks representing heart and male genitalia (apparently to attract women to the caves :P)
We checked into our “Graceful Hotel” with once-again courteous royal service from staff, and walked down the streets of Hanoi. We had a delious Veggie Banh mi (Vietnamese sub) at a local Banh Mi 25 ( a must try). It cost less than a dollar but the taste was oh-so-good!
We walked down the streets, haggled and bought some chilling elephant pants. The street shops were so colourful and bright – it was like being in a carnival! In the spirit of trying out everything, We decided to try a posh European restaurant recommended by a friend – Green Tangerine. It turned out to be very high-end and we pretended to be British for some funny reason. Anyway, as with all high-end restaurants , the food portions were limited and the plates were huge and we walked out feeling broke and hungry! So we bought a huge chocolate milkshake and everything was alright with the world again 🙂
We decided to catch the famous water puppet, a one-of-a-kind show which has been happening for the past several years (kind of like an Asian Broadway show). The dialogues were in Vietnamese but some parts were understandable and funny. The production, stage setting and music were truly different and worth seeing.
We were super tired after this, caught an uber ( yay no more haggling !) back to the hotel and feel into a deep sleep.
Day 6 – Hanoi Museums, Cafe Mai, Hanoi -> Singapore
We got early morning next day to check out Cafe Mai( Vietnam is the second largest exporter of coffee in the world!), bought some strong coffee and checked out the local museums like Vietnamese History museum. They were interesting but sadly they didn’t have many exhibits regarding the latest history (Vietnam War with America). So we ended up reading Wikipedia inside the museum 😛
Man’s evolution – it cracked me up for no reason :
After this, it was time to go to the airport and bid adieu to Hanoi, Sapa and Ha long where the confluece of buzzling city life, simple village mountain life and serene ocean life brought us peace and joy for 7 glorious days.
I will be back Vietnam! Thanks for all the fish 🙂
P.S Hope you enjoyed the post! Do message me if you need restaurant/site recommendations.