Our Holiday in North Vietnam (Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay and Ninh Binh), 6 – 12 October 2012
1. The Itinerary
We booked our holiday through Saigon Tourist. It costed us S$560 per person for this 7 days 6 nights tour. This all-in amount covered all meals, all entrance tickets to tour sites, accommodation, transport, and train tickets. Together with a return air ticket of S$300 from Tiger Airways, each of us spent S$860 for this holiday… “pee ka lao yu”.
2. Day 1: 6 October 2012
Arriving at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi.
Dinner at Pho Bien Seafood Restaurant before overnight on train to Sapa.
After dinner and while waiting for the bus to bring us to the Hanoi Train Station…
3. Day 2: 7 October 2012
350km north-west from Hanoi, Sapa, the capital of Sapa district in Lào Cai Province, lies at the attitude of 1600m. With the temperature ranging from the lowest of -1 degree C to the highest of 29 degree C, Sapa’s climate is moderate and drizzly in summer while chill and foggy in winter.
Sapa (or Chapa – the “sandy place”) first appeared in Vietnam national map in the late 1880s when the French disembarked in highland Tonkin. The first permanent French civilian resident arrived in Sapa in 1909, and by 1920, there were a number of villas being built in this area by prosperous professionals. Going through many ups and downs, Sapa is now a prominent holiday destination in Vietnam.
After about 10 hours of bumpy and noisy overnight train journey, we finally arrived at Lào Cai Railway Station at about 6:00 am.
Our tour guide finally shows his face… Dai Thang speaks fluently in English, Mandarin and Cantonese. His service was excellent. He took good care of us.
After breakfast, we set out in the bus for about an hour for the Cat Cat Village, which is nested in a beautiful valley about 3km from Sapa town. This village is within easy walking distance from any hotel in downtown Sapa.
Cat Cat Village was formed in the 19th century by the gathering of some families belonging to some ethnic groups living in mountainous ares of northern Vietnam, especially Black H’Mong. They lived next to each other along the mountain side and cultivated surrounding their home. Rice and corn were grown in terraced fields, while traditional handicrafts such as twisting flax and weaving fabric have been well-kept. Through times, this village has transferred to one appealing feature of Sapa’s tourism.
From the village entrance, simply follow the relatively well-paved main path that leads further downhill until you come to the steps that descend to the Tien Sa Waterfall. To get back out to the entrance, you can either back track (not recommended) or take the path to the right of the bridge (on the left is the waterfall) and follow it. The trek is a looped path so as long as you walk where the road is well-trodden, you won’t get lost. This trek offers a glimpse into the daily life of local ethnic people and a variety of changing sceneries.
We were told that “pulling wife” is a unique custom of the people living in Cat Cat. A man can ask his friends to lure a girl he likes to his house and keeps her there for three days. During this time, if the girl agrees to become his wife, a wedding will be held. However, the girl can happily go home after three days if she does not like him.
Traditional houses in the village have three rooms with three doors and covered with po mu wood roof. In the house there are three columns that stand in round or square stones. The walls are made from sawn timber and the main door is always closed and only opens when people in the house organize important events. The altar, inlaid floor containing food, places for sleeping, kitchen and receiving guests are indispensable parts of the houses.
We trekked pass the bamboo forest and finally descended to the most scenic part of the village, the Tien Sa Waterfall which flows from Hoang Lien Son mountain range. It was really beautiful to see the raging water dropping to the huge boulders and flowing to what seemed to be a small patch of dense jungle.
With the waterfall behind us, we took a long and winding road back up the valley.
After about 3 hours of trekking and a well-deserved lunch at a cafe in Sapa town, we walked tiredly to our hotel, about 100m away. At last, we will be able to enjoy the much-needed shower after 2 days.
Two hours later…
Sapa district is the home of a great diversity of ethnic people, including five main groups of H’Mong, Tay, Zay and Xa Pho. They do not live in the town but in hamlets scattered on the valleys throughout the district.
An ancient church, Sapa Church is also named Stone Church or Rosary Church. It is located just outside the entrance of our hotel right in the centre of Sapa town. It was built by the French in the early 20th century.
Finally, dinner time…
4. Day 3: 8 October 2012
After breakfast and by 8:30 am, we were all gathered at the entrance to our hotel ready to climb the Ham Rong Mountain.
Legend has it that in the distance past, all animals lived together in a chaotic environment. One day, the Jade Emperor gave an order that every species of animal had to find for them an area to live. Having heard the order, they scrambled for a place to reside.
The three brothers of dragon who were living in a large lake hurriedly ran to the east but could not find any place; they then ran to the west. The two older brothers ran faster and came to the destination first. The youngest brother ran slower and strayed into the crowds of lions, tigers and big cats. Fearing that these animals would attack it, the dragon opened its mouth to defense itself.
At that time, the order of Jade Emperor was no longer available, so the three dragons petrified. The two older dragons, which were waiting for their brother, face Lao Cai City, and the youngest one raising its head and opening mouth faces the Hoang Lien Mountain Range. So the mountain is named Ham Rong (Jaw of Dragon).
I will stop here…
In my next blog, I will share with you about our journey up the Ham Rong Mountain: Holiday in North Vietnam (Part 2: Sapa)