Vietnam again! The last time I flew, I visited Ho Chi Minh City in the south of Vietnam. This round, I visited Hanoi, Sapa and Halong Bay in the north of Vietnam. Definitely thinking about a trip to Central Vietnam but let’s list the best of my Hanoi trip first.
Experiencing Winter in Southeast Asia
This has to be at the top of the list simply because it’s my first Winter experience! During our 5D5N trip to Hanoi, Sapa and Halong Bay, the temperature fluctuated between 8-16°C on most days. Imagine the excitement when we first spotted our breath condensing and finished our ice cream before it melted. Haha the embarrassing thing you do when you live in a tropical country.
I was excited about dressing up for the cold weather too…well, until it became the same #ootd every day because I only have 1 set of outerwear. LOL.
Finally, I know how it feels like to wear multiple layers when going outdoor, take off the multiple layers when going indoor, apply lotion religiously through the day and get frozen face when the wind blows. Haha. Honestly, it’s troublesome and is not my favourite season but new experience is always thrilling. Plus, it was such an affordable winter holiday at about RM1.6k per pax (all-in).
P/s I bought a winter jacket and thermal wear for this trip. Opted for Uniqlo for everything because of friend recommendation. I think they did a good job of keeping me comfortable too!
Playing at Cat Cat Village, Sapa
Sapa is a mountainous region close to the border of Vietnam-China where a lot of aboriginal people live. We visited one of the most popular villages that is open to tourist, called Cat Cat Village (it’s not pronounced like the cat that meows).
There’s this one picturesque area that I believe is built for touristy photos purpose. LOL. Bamboo bridges, water mills, corn structures, wooden playground, etc. Riding the human-operated ferris wheel was the bomb! It was cold. I was swinging. And the people at the bottom pushed us back and forth at pretty high speed!
Besides the playground, we visited a waterfall, watched performances, walked through the village and ate the best shredded chicken hor fun ever. It was so simple but so good. Seriously. Yums.
Trekking 12km through Sapa Villages
The image that most people register in mind for Sapa is of green paddy terrace. There was no green scenery for us because it was winter. Actually, there wasn’t much scenery for us because Sapa is so misty in Winter. Thus the thrill of trekking 12km through Sapa villages was walking into the mist~ And imagining how pretty it’d be during harvest season. 😍
It felt mysterious. We could not see 10m ahead of us in thick mist. It was funny. Our hair got wet just walking in the mist. It was serene. There were more local people than tourists and we walked by livestock and empty paddy fields. It was interesting. Our tour guide told us local stories from time to time, like how the Hmong people like to marry within tribe because of the smell of their clothing and the tribe that forgets the deceased after a 1-month funeral.
I highly recommend visiting Sapa, preferably during the harvest season because it’d be so beautiful.
Kayaking at Halong Bay
Actually, kayaking at Halong Bay alone would not have been as memorable as doing it in Winter. We thought long about what to wear for the water activity because while we wanted to cover up to keep warm, we didn’t want the wet clothes to give us chills too. Right before coming here I had got a diving suit from www.watersportsmag.com, but as I thought I wouldn’t be much in the water, so I decided not to get it along with me. Big Mistake! Those who dressed in raincoats over their winter clothes were the geniuses.
I ended up having freezing cold hands, which I ironically warmed up by dipping my hands into the water; the water was warmer than the air. My pants were wet because water dripped in from the paddle as I lifted the paddle left and right. But generally, it didn’t feel as cold as I expected. I guess mental preparedness helped. Also, I was excited.
If only the weather was warm when we visited, we would be able to jump off the boat for a good swim in the UNESCO-recognised bay.
Travelling in Sleeper Train to and from Sapa
I’ve been a fan of sleeper train since my first ride from KL to Singapore almost a decade back. I thought it’s a novelty and it’s fun sleeping on a rocking bed while being transported somewhere.
I still felt the same way with our sleeper train to and from Sapa. In fact, it got more thrilling because of the name of the train: Orient Express (also known as Oriental Express or Oriental Impress). Did you watch Murder on the Orient Express? The corridor and interior of the cabin reminded me of the movie. How exciting. 😆
Caving at Halong Bay
Halong Bay, in general, was very chillaxed. Most of the time, we were cruising on the water or eating in the dining hall. We only had 3 outdoor activities (kayaking, caving, hiking) and I thought caving was memorable too.
Memorable because of the many imaginations that our tour guide asked us to make of the cave formations i.e. kissing Romeo and Juliet, Kuan Yin goddess, mama and baby dragon, monkey, elephant, waterfall, cannon, etc. There were so many it felt like I could start naming some of the cave formations myself too. 😂
Trying Egg Coffee and Other New Drinks
I didn’t get to drink egg coffee in Ho Chi Minh and am glad I tried it in Hanoi. It’s so nice! It’s smooth and creamy. Not disgusting at all. There were other variations, like egg chocolate and egg matcha but the original egg coffee was my favourite. Read more here about blends and flavors.
The other new drinks that we tried were not on our list but we stumbled upon them randomly. At the top of this list was hot wine in Sapa. Omg. It smelled and tasted super weird. The wine/blackcurrant juice was heated and spices, like cinnamon and orange peel, were added. The good thing was it did its job to warm the body in Winter.
In another random Sapa cafe we walked in, I ordered a coconut milk with green rice. It sounds like a dessert, right? I’d say it’s a dessert too even though it was listed as a drink. Tasted like coconut pudding with smoothie texture.
RK and I wanted to visit Pasteur Street Brewing CO (PSBC) again since they have a branch in Hanoi. This time, we ordered the sampling flight to taste more varieties. RK and I still thought the chocolate beer was interesting but the gang didn’t like it despite it being the world’s best chocolate beer. I guess PSBC will stay as a thing for RK and me. 😘
City Tour and Shopping at Hanoi
There were so many “branded” things to buy in Hanoi~ Every other shop was selling The North Face, Under Armour, Nike, Adidas, Superdry, etc. It was tempting because a lot of them were pretty cheap. The only prob was that haggling is required and I’m horrible at it.
Besides the shopping part, walking on the streets itself was memorable. I have to say that the traffic in Hanoi is less crazy than Ho Chi Minh by folds. However, add in Winter and luggage into the equation and we got ourselves an adventure. We dragged our luggage with us on Day 1 because we didn’t book any hotel since we were sleeping on the train that night. 💪🏻
P/s I didn’t have to drag my luggage because RK did all the hard work. 😘
Having Tour Guides
I typically travel on DIY itinerary or just winging it on the go. But I think it’s a wise decision to go with a tour agent for 4 days of our trip there because they made the trip so comfortable for such long journeys out of Hanoi. They picked us up to places at odd hours. They arranged places for us to shower and rest during transits.
And they told us stories about the places. I find meaning in stories behind the places I visit so I typically read up before or during the visit. Sometimes I play tour guide also, especially to RK who doesn’t like reading about places. So having the tour guides do the job was major love.
Trivia: I considered being a tour guide in high school, until a tour guide told me I have to repeat the same thing every day because you typically specialize in certain locations.
There’re downsides to following tour that I don’t like also i.e. less time to roam around and more waiting time. Ironic I know but it’s true.
P/s I didn’t plan this trip. My super OCD and detailed bear-faced friends did. 👍
Actually, the list above is pretty much more than half of my activities in Hanoi, Sapa and Halong Bay for the 5D5N. Hahaha. I want to specifically write about the trekking at Sapa in Winter though because I feel like I have a lot to say about that experience.
In the meantime, let me get some rest because I’m dead tired. I think the cold weather took a toll on me. I got hungry more. I also got an allergic reaction, likely triggered by the dry air within hours after landing in the Winter air. How to go Winter places, like this? Boo.
P/s Churned out this blog post within 48 hours upon landing at homeland because of weekly blogging challenge with Khai. She blogged about her first skydiving experience for her entry this week: Tandem Skydiving – Living Like You Were Dying.