9 Days 8 Nights Northern Vietnam Tour – Hanoi, Sapa and Halong Bay – Day 3 (December 2014)

Day 3 – Sapa Overnight Train to Hanoi
This was the first night with proper beds we slept on since we left home and obviously sleep was sweet, especially after the tough hike up from Cat Cat Village the day before. However, we did not have luxury of time to sleep much longer as we had another 12 km of trekking for the day before heading back to Hanoi at night. 

So we got up early, which was great to witness the dawning of Sapa from our room balconies. We went over to our children’s room and watched the mountains, valley and the city gradually lighting up to begin a brand new day of excitement for us all.
Lighting up of Sapa
Lighting up of Sapa
Dawning of Sapa
Dawning of Sapa
First rays on mountains in Sapa
First rays on mountains in Sapa
A new day in Sapa
A new day in Sapa
Then we went down to the restaurant for breakfast and for the last time drank coffee and tea outside the balcony of the restaurant to enjoy the splendid view of Sapa and soaked up this fabulous experience that would stay with us for quite a long time till we visit this place again in the future. 

During breakfast, we deliberated about the coming 12 km trek to Muong Hoa valley. Since we had already done 6 km of trekking the day before and had seen quite a bit about villages in Sapa, we were thinking of skipping the first 7 km trek and spending time in the city in the morning. We could do the last 5 km trek in the afternoon instead. 

So we approached the hotel staff and was told we could hire a van to send us to the village for lunch at 11.30 am and then join the rest for the last 5 km of trekking. The cost of hiring a van and driver was 300,000 VND for all of us and so we took the offer and stayed behind to explore the city instead. Our elder daughter opted to join the entire trek as she had skipped Cat Cat Village the previous day so she left with the local guide and we went shopping in town.
Busy morning in Sapa
Busy morning in Sapa
Morning outside Sapa U Hotel in Sapa
Morning outside Sapa U Hotel in Sapa
This turned out to be one of the best decisions for our vacation. This was a Saturday morning in Sapa and the whole city was a hive of activities with women in their traditional costumes gathering everywhere selling their stuffs. The city came alive so early in the morning which was interesting. 

First as we walked up the streets, we visited their local market which was not very big. Stores after stores with vegetables, meats and other daily necessities were displayed and locals did their marketing and going about their normal business ignoring the presence of curious tourists like us.
 
This place reminded me of Chinatown in Singapore in the late sixties and early seventies where my dad and my late grandfather brought me to a place like this. In fact my late maternal grandma had a store selling vegetables in Chinatown so such a scene was nothing new to me. 

Back then we could watch slaughtering of pythons, monitor lizards and other animals on the streets where people bought such meats for food but over here we didn’t see any such stuff. Maybe we might be able to see such spectacle in other rural markets in Vietnam which no doubt would horrify our children.
Inside Sapa Market
Inside Sapa Market
Busy market scene
Busy market scene
Food stores in the market
Food stores in the market
Market scene
Market scene
Local buying vegetables
Local buying vegetables
More vegetables stores
More vegetables stores
Shop inside the market area
Shop inside the market area
Market entrance from the main road
Market entrance from the main road
Vegetables stores
Vegetables stores
Dried goods in the market
Dried goods in the market
Donuts seller in the market
Donuts seller in the market
Market in the morning
Market in the morning
After visiting the market, we went back to the shop nearby where we bought our jackets the day before and we bought some foldable caps, hats and gloves from the friendly sales ladies.
Favorite shop for North Face products
Favorite shop for North Face products
Other shops in town
Other shops in town
Restaurant near market
Restaurant near market
Roast pig and sausages
Roast pig and sausages
Another restaurant near the market
Another restaurant near the market
Next we roamed the town and watched the local women selling their wares with busy shoppers thronging the streets. It was a really colourful event. We were sure glad we skipped our morning trek and spent time in town instead and experienced the lively atmosphere in Sapa which we would otherwise miss had we gone on for the trek.
Busy morning in Sapa
Busy morning in Sapa
More stuff for sale
More stuff for sale
Waiting for customers
Waiting for customers
Hot day for these women paddling their wares
Hot day for these women paddling their wares

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More roadside sellers
More roadside sellers
Buying and selling on the street
Buying and selling on the street
Local women selling their wares
Local women selling their wares
Busy day in Sapa
Busy day in Sapa
Roadside sellers
Roadside sellers
Busy day for these local women
Busy day for these local women
It was a bright day with clear blue sky and it was great to explore the city. The few hours passed so quickly and we had to return to our hotel to pack up and get ready to meet our driver to bring us to the village to join the rest for lunch and then follow up with the afternoon trek.
Nice day in Sapa
Nice day in Sapa
Busy day at church
Busy day at church
Shops competing with roadside stores
Shops competing with roadside stores
Busy Saturday for everyone
Busy Saturday for everyone
Great day to explore town
Great day to explore town
Colourful Sapa City
Colourful Sapa City
Great day out in Sapa
Great day out in Sapa
Beautiful clear blue sky over in Sapa
Beautiful clear blue sky over in Sapa
Busy day in town
Busy day in town


We waited at the hotel lobby and soon a minibus pulled up. The hotel staff ushered us to the minibus and wished us a great time. We drove along the winding road down to the valley and we could see the terrain of the valley outside our windows on the right. 

About half way through the journey, the driver stopped the vehicle along the road and let us alight at a lookout point to view the scenery and take pictures. This man-made lookout point offered a wide angled view of the surrounding mountains and villages below. We could even see tourists trekking below from our vintage point.
Mountains and valley on our right
Mountains and valley on our right
Mountains and valley on our left
Mountains and valley on our left
View right below
View right below
Nice terrace farming below
Nice terrace farming below
Misty mountains under the afternoon sun
Misty mountains under the afternoon sun
Beautiful view of the valley below
Beautiful view of the valley below
View on our right
View on our right
Local women tending to young children were trying to sell handicrafts to tourists. Some little kids with runny nose and unwashed face were running around and approaching tourists hoping to sell their trinkets. These little kids looked quite pitiful but at the same time they seemed to be enjoying themselves helping out with their mothers. We took a few pictures and soon were on our way down to the village.
Lookout Point
Lookout Point
Tending to young children at lookout point
Tending to young children at lookout point
Families selling stuffs at lookout point
Families selling stuffs at lookout point


The whole journey took about 40 minutes and we reached an open plain of Muong Hoa valley and our driver made a phone call to our local guide to come over to meet us. After a short while our guide came and showed us to the restaurant where our elder daughter and the rest were already waiting. 

The restaurant was next to a river and many other tourists were already having lunch with their own groups. We had a table for our group and lunch served was local dishes of vegetables, fried pork, Vietnamese spring rolls, eggs served with rice, soup and fruits. Drinks were not included but we could buy some at the restaurant.
Restaurant across the river
Restaurant across the river
View from the restaurant
View from the restaurant
Another view from the restaurant
Another view from the restaurant
Locals trying to sell stuff to tourists inside the restaurant
Locals trying to sell stuff to tourists inside the restaurant
Tourists having lunch
Tourists having lunch
Another scene in the restaurant
Another scene in the restaurant
Lunch treat in the restaurant
Lunch treat in the restaurant
Outside the restaurant
Outside the restaurant
Fish caught from the river
Fish caught from the river
Cages for pigs outside restaurant
Cages for pigs outside restaurant
After lunch, our trek began as we walked down the path passing villages and farms with mountains in the background providing a very scenic and leisurely walk. The first village to visit was Lao Chai Village inhabited by the Black Hmong people. There wasn’t any high hill or steep steps to climb up and down like the previous day over at Cat Cat Village as we were on the plain of the valley and of course there wasn’t any waterfall along the way to refresh our adventurous sights. 

We passed by a school which was empty being a Saturday afternoon. Along the way there were stores selling souvenirs and handicrafts and such. We also passed by a homestay which seemed to be quite serene where quests staying there should have a quiet and peaceful time to do some reading and writing or just while away the time watching villagers go about their business.
Ducks roaming in the valley
Ducks roaming in the valley
Rural scene in the valley
Rural scene in the valley
Peaceful and calm in the valley
Peaceful and calm in the valley
Old school building
Old school building
Empty school compound
Empty school compound
Outside school gate
Outside school gate
Souvenir shops
Souvenir shops
Quite place for a homestay
Quite place for a homestay
Peaceful homestay
Peaceful homestay


We went past another village, Ta Van Village where the Dzay people lived, and saw two little boys playing next to a pool of water and having a good time with a dog resting behind them. They had all the world to themselves without the pressure we city folks had to endure during our daily living and we could only envy their simply joy. As we walked further, we encountered more kids playing outside their homes and a lone farmer tending to his vegetable garden on that bright Saturday afternoon. 

There were more shops selling local stuff and handicrafts as we trekked along but we didn’t stop to enter any shop for a look. We saw ducks roamed freely in the village while some chickens were trapped in a cage waiting to be transported somewhere to be sold. There was a store with meat left in the open for sale. Such practice is certainly not acceptable to our modern urban standard of keeping fresh meat for sale.
Boys having fun
Boys having fun
Boys having fun with dog sleeping behind them
Boys having fun with dog sleeping behind them
Rural scene with mountainous background
Rural scene with mountainous background
Ducks roaming freely in the village
Ducks roaming freely in the village
Handicraft shop
Handicraft shop
Kids playing outside their home
Kids playing outside their home
Beautiful view of the fields
Beautiful view of the fields
Perfect blend of terrace fields with gorgeous mountains
Perfect blend of terrace fields with gorgeous mountains
Farmer tending to his vegetables garden
Farmer tending to his vegetables garden
Handicrafts shop
Handicrafts shop
Houses in the village
Houses in the village
Chicken ready for the market
Chicken ready for the market
Meat on sale
Meat on sale
We reached another school and saw some older kids playing in the empty school compound and some younger kids playing at the gate. This was indeed simple joy and happy time for them like what I did have during yesteryears of my childhood which my children probably might not understand. Another two teenage girls outside the gate were plucking shoots from some bamboo plants to prepare soup according to the explanation by our local guide.
Boys in their own yard
Boys in their own yard
Ducks in the village
Ducks in the village
Another shop in the village
Another shop in the village
More shops in the village
More shops in the village
School Gate
School Gate
Kids having fun inside school compound
Kids having fun inside school compound
Another school building
Another school building
Kids playing inside school
Kids playing inside school
Happy kids outside the school
Happy kids outside the school
Kids playing outside school gate
Kids playing outside school gate
Girls busy with vegetable
Girls busy with vegetable
Girls helping out to prepare soup
Girls helping out to prepare soup
Food store
Food store
Cooked chicken
Cooked chicken
After that we walked further down and reached another homestay where our trek was going to end. Further ahead was a bridge and after crossing the bridge, we would end our trek for the day and wait for our transport to send us back to our hotel.
Piglets taking afternoon naps
Piglets taking afternoon naps
Another homestay in the village
Another homestay in the village
Bar in Sapa
Bar in Sapa
Restaurant in the village
Restaurant in the village
Bridging the end of the trek
Bridging the end of the trek
We were a little early and so we had to wait for others before the minibus would leave. We took the opportunity to look around and took more pictures of the surrounding area and enjoyed the pleasant day on the plain of Muong Hoa Valley.
View from the bridge
View from the bridge
Another view from the bridge
Another view from the bridge
View of bridge after crossing
View of bridge after crossing
View of bridge on the other side
View of bridge on the other side


Finally it was time to go and everyone gathered and boarded the minibus. Thus we left this interesting and lovely area and went back to Sapa. In less than an hour we were brought back to our hotel. 

Immediately we went to our rooms for showers, repacked, checked out and rested at the hotel lobby waiting for our transport to send us back to Lao Cai for our overnight train ride back to Hanoi. These two days were truly insightful and interesting to see how these locals lived their lives in the villages and the equally fascinating and colourful Sapa town that offered us a roof over our heads while we enjoyed this scenic area during our short stay.
Notice for tourists
Notice for tourists
Transport for Sapa
Transport for Sapa
Soon a minibus arrived at the Sapa Lodge Hotel and the hotel staff gathered us to board the bus. They all came out to wave us good byes and wished us a safe ride back to Hanoi. These young people who manned the hotel were really friendly and kind to us during our stay. We would probably come back to stay here again during our next visit. 

So off we went to pick up other passengers in Sapa and in about an hour we arrived Lao Cai and it was already dark. A tour representative met up with everyone and we were brought into a restaurant in front of the huge car park in town for dinner. We all had our own tables according to our tour groups. Our Australian friends were also with us and they had a table to themselves. Dinner was local dishes of vegetables, pork, chicken served with rice which was good enough to last us till the morning.

We took the opportunity to use the toilets at the restaurant as the toilets in the train would not be as good and clean. After dinner, we hung around the open car park area where we first arrived and waited to be brought to the train station for our ride.
Infront of Sapa Lodge Hotel departing Sapa for Lao Cai
Infront of Sapa Lodge Hotel departing Sapa for Lao Cai


Not long after, the agent gathered all of us and handed us our train tickets. We then marched to the station and boarded the train and entered our respective cabins. It was the same arrangement like we first came to Lao Cai. 

Our four children had a cabin to themselves while we shared a cabin with the same Australian couple again. The children were indeed very happy with the Sapa tour. It was an eye-opener for them and now another great time for them to enjoy themselves to have some games in the cabin before they called it a night. 

As we already met our Australian friends the first time we came, we had a nice chat for quite awhile sharing travel experiences before we all retired with greater expectation of more fun to come in the morning. As we chucked along on our rock and roll cradle beds, we tried as best we could to catch some sleep before daylight as we had another more exciting tour ahead at Halong Bay.
Restaurant in Lao Cai in front near the right
Restaurant in Lao Cai in front near the right
This trip to Sapa was very fruitful where our whole family could visit places together to experience something extraordinary with scenic beauty in a place we hardly had a chance to visit. With the highway from Hanoi to Sapa recently completed, there are now buses plying between Hanoi and Sapa directly which cut travel time to under 6 hours. The bus will pick up hotel guests at the Old Quarter early morning arriving Sapa around midday. 

This could be an alternative to the long overnight train ride to Lao Cai which could take a toll on some of us and affect our first day of activity in Sapa. Perhaps the next time when we visit Sapa we would probably consider this option and the cost is around USD 18 per person per way, less than half the cost for an overnight train ride. 

Moreover, Lao Cai is just a short distance from the Chinese border where buses and train rides are possible to travel from Hekou to Kunming. We might even try to move over to explore China on land if we have plenty of time to spare. Hence our trip to Sapa opens up new possibility for our future travel plans. Meanwhile we looked forward to having a great time with our children for the Halong Bay cruise.
 Continue to Day 4 ...


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