Holiday in North Vietnam (Part 5: Hanoi)

Our Holiday in North Vietnam (Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay and Ninh Binh), 6 – 12 October 2012

This final blog about our holiday is a continuation of my earlier four blogs:

7. Day 6: 11 October 2012

We were back from Ninh Binh in time for early dinner in the hotel before we set off for the Water Puppet Show at Thanglong Water Puppet Theatre.

Water Puppet Show (múa rối nước) is a famous traditional Vietnamese art that dates back as far as the 11th century. It is a unique heritage from the Red River (Sông Hồng) region in northern Vietnam. “múa rối nước” literally translates as “puppets that dance on water”. Today’s Vietnamese water puppetry is a unique variation of the ancient Asian puppet tradition.

The water puppet shows are predominantly in Vietnamese (language) and showcase the folklores and legends in Vietnam. The shows are performed in a waist-deep pool.

At the entrance of the Thanglong Water Puppet Theatre.

Sarah and Juju enjoying a game while waiting for the show to start.

The show commenced…

The show…

A closer view of the puppets.

The puppeteers and their puppets.

The ending scene of the show.

8. Day 7: 12 October 2012

Today was the last day of our holiday in Northern Vietnam. After breakfast in the hotel, we were scheduled to walk around the Hanoi city to visit the Hoan Kiem Lake, Ngoc Son Temple, Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam, Quan Thanh Temple, West Lake, and Tran Quoc Pagoda.

Not too far from our hotel, we saw this old lady selling Cốm (fresh baby rice).

Cốm (fresh baby rice).

Hoan Kiem Lake, or the Lake of the Restored Sword, is located directly in the centre of Hanoi. The name is derived from a legend involving Emperor Le Thai To, in which he came across a giant tortoise while cruising on the lake. The tortoise took his sword that had secured victory against the Chinese aggressors of the Ming Dynasty. All attempts to find either the sword or the turtle failed. Emperor Le concluded that the Golden Turtle God had come to reclaim the sword that it had given him some time earlier, during his revolt against the Chinese Ming Dynasty. The emperor named the lake to commemorate this event.

Our tour guide, Dai Thang, telling the story of the Hoan Kiem Lake behind him.

A gorgeous view surrounding the lake.

Extending the above fascinating view to the right.

Near the northern shore of the lake lies Jade Island on which the Ngoc Son Temple (or the Temple of the Jade Mountain) stands. This temple was erected in the 18th century. It honored the 13-century military leader Tran Hung Dao who distinguished himself in the fight against the Yuan Dynasty. Jade Island is connected to the shore by the wooden, red lacquered The Huc Bridge (meaning Morning Sunlight Bridge).

The Huc Bridge (Cầu Thê Húc).

A beautiful view from The Huc Bridge of the city surrounding the lake.

Chan standing on The Huc Bridge leading to the Ngoc Son Temple.

The Ngoc Son Temple on Jade Island.

The inside of the Ngoc Son Temple.

A lady cleaning the incense pot.

Teachers leading little children to visit the temple.

The Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu) is a temple of Confucius in Hanoi, northern Vietnam. The temple hosts the “Imperial Academy” (Quốc Tử Giám), Vietnam’s first national university.

The temple was built in 1070 at the time of King Ly Nhan Tong. It is one of several temples in Vietnam which are dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars. The temple is located to the south of Thang Long Citadel. The various pavilions, halls, statues and stelae of doctors are places where offering ceremonies, study sessions and the strict exams of the Dai Viet took place. The temple is featured on the back of the 100,000 Vietnamese dong banknote.

The entrance to the Văn Miếu – Quốc Tử Giám.

Little children visiting the Văn Miếu – Quốc Tử Giám. They are the future of Vietnam.

Tomy, James, Lum and Janet having fun with these little children.

Tomy standing in the Second Courtyard and next to the Constellation of Literature pavilion. This is the scene that is featured on the back of the 100,000 Vietnamese dong banknote.

Walking in the temple.

Turtle Steles with the names of those successful at the royal exams.

Orchestra performing traditional music.

In the Fourth Courtyard.

Our tour guide, Dai Thang, telling the story of the sacred relationship between the tortoise and the crane (standing on the former).

Altar to Chu Văn An, rector of the Imperial Academy.

On the way out, a pretty lady found James…

Quan Thanh Temple, formerly known as Tran Vu Temple, is a Taoist temple in Hanoi. Dated to the 11th century, the temple was dedicated to Xuan Wu, one of the principal deities in Taoism. It is located near West Lake.

The entrance to Quan Thanh Temple.

The compound within the temple.

West Lake (Ho Tay) is a freshwater lake in the center of Hanoi. With a shore length of 17 km, this is the largest lake of the capital and a popular place for recreation with many surrounding gardens, hotels and villas.

Walking towards the Tran Quoc Pagoda. On the left is the shore line of the West Lake.

Beautiful greenery along the shore line of the West Lake.

Tran Quoc Pagoda in Hanoi is the oldest pagoda in the city, originally constructed in the 6th century during the reign of Emperor Ly Nam De, thus giving it an age of 1,400 years. When founded the temple was named Khai Quoc and was sited on the shores of the Red River, outside of the Yen Phu Dyke. When confronted with the river’s encroachment, the temple was relocated in 1615 to Kim Ngu islet of Ho Tay (West Lake) where it is now situated. A small causeway links it to the mainland.

The link to the entrance of Tran Quoc Pagoda.

The Tran Quoc Pagoda.

With that… we ended our holiday in North Vietnam. We next proceeded to take our last lunch before going for a last minute shopping and then to the airport. Myself, Brenda, Chin Heng, Tan Peng, Sarah and Juju left for Singapore. The rest of the team flown into Ho Chi Minh City for an extended two days of holiday there.

It was a fun packed holiday with this group. I have learnt much from this trip about the history of Vietnam, the people, their culture and daily lives in those places I visited. I hope my blogs can share insightful information with my team and for others who want to learn more about Vietnam and possibly go to this beautiful country for holidays.

Special thanks go to Chan for organizing this fantastic holiday. Thank you Tomy, Janet and Vincent for being a part of this enjoyable experience. Thank you Dai Thang, you are an excellent tour guide. Lastly, thank you everybody, you make it different. May God bless all of you with Joy, Good Health and Love plentifully!

Bye, bye Hanoi, Vietnam, we will be back again!

Before I leave I would like to dedicate this all-time favourite video to all of you: GANGNAM STYLE


Holiday in North Vietnam (Part 4: Ninh Binh)

Our Holiday in North Vietnam (Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay and Ninh Binh), 6 – 12 October 2012

This blog is a continuation of my earlier blogs:

6. Day 5: 10 October 2012

Bye, bye Ha Long Bay…

We were on our way to Ninh Binh Province to visit the temples of King Dinh and King Le.



Born into a peasant family in Ninh Binh Province, Dinh Bo Linh became the leader of a revolt against twelve feudal lords. In 968, he ascended to the throne and took the name of King Dinh Tien Hoang. He unified the country under the name of Dai Co Viet and Hoa Lu was its capital for 41 years (968-1009). Dai Co Viet was the native land of 3 royal dynasties: Dinh, Le and Ly.

Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Dai Co Viet.

Le Hoan was an excellent general under King Dinh. After the death of King Dinh, Le Hoan received the support from the King’s wife and other military men took the throne as King Le Dai Hanh and fought courageously, protecting the country from the threat of invasion from the Chinese in the north.

When King Ly Thai To moved the capital from Hoa Lu to Thang Long (now Hanoi) in 1010, two temples were built to dedicate to King Dinh Tien Hoang and his successor King Le Dai Hanh. These two temples were first built in the 11th century and reconstructed in 1696.

Dinh Temple worships King Dinh Tien Hoang.

That’s me and Brenda.

Entering the Dinh Temple.

The Dinh Temple.

Dinh Temple was built in the shape of a Chinese character. Through the first entrance called Ngo Mon, there is a stone royal bed with Nghe (imaginary animals of the old times) standing on both sides.

Inside the temple is Khai Thanh in worship of Emperor Dinh’s parents. The temple consists of three parts: Bai Duong for the community, Thien Huong in honour of mandarins, and Chinh Cung where Dinh Tien Hoang’s statue is located. On his left is the statue of his eldest son Dinh Lien, and on his right are those of Dinh Hang Lang and Dinh Toan. On each side of the altar, there is one stone dragon similar to the ones placed near the royal bed.

The dragon yard at Dinh Temple.

What were all looking at?

The stone royal bed.

The Nghe standing on both sides of the royal bed.

I found an ancient rifle inside the temple.

Le Temple worships King Le Dai Hanh. It is almost the same as Dinh Temple in term of architectural design, except for some details. Le Temple also consists of three parts: Bai Duong used for the community, Thien Huong, in memory of the royal mandarins of King Le, and finally, the altar in memory of the King. The Le Hoan Statue is at the centre, on the left is the statue of Queen Duong Van Nga and on his right is that of Le Ngoa Trieu, his fifth son and the third King of the Pre Le Dynasty.

In front of Le Temple. Our tour guide, Dai Thang, telling the story of Le Temple.

We left the two temples for late lunch at Ben Trang An Restaurant…

Our tour guide, Dai Thang, demonstrated how to wrap a rice paper roll.

Next to the restaurant is the Trang An Wharf. From this wharf, tourists can take a boat ride to visit a complex of 50 grottos (caves). These caves are connected by water, creating a majestic landscape. On both side of the river, you will be able to experience the magnificent natural wonder of green mountains and blue water. Nature has endowed Ninh Binh with this Trang An ecotourism area surrounded by mountains of limestones, lakes, caves and a rich ecosystem with hundreds of different species.

The Trang An Wharf in Ninh Binh Province.

Next on our itinerary was a 3-hour boat ride down the Sao Khe River going through a part of the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex.

The fun was about to begin…

Richard and Chan in a team…

Juju and her team…

Janet and her singing team…

The competition begun… Click here to listen to Richard singing “爱拼才云赢(Ai Piah Cia Eh Yia)“.

Juju, what happens?

Magnificent mountain ranges and blue water everywhere…

Entering the first cave…

In the cave… watch your head!

Everyone enjoying the rowing… Click here to listen to Juju singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat“.

Another cave ahead…

The ceiling of the cave is very low.

Out of the second cave…

Total darkness in the third cave…

You can see wonderful stalactites in the cave…

The boat woman was very skillful to oar the boat through the cave making sure we do not hit our heads.

The boat woman was very skillful to oar the boat through the cave making sure we do not hit our heads.

The singing team presenting “阿里山的姑娘 (Ah Li San De Gu Niang)“.

The U-turn point…

Taking a break at this temple.

Richard and James practicing “She Xing Diao Shou”.

The boat women resting…

On our way back to the Wharf…

Tomy and her team finally appeared…

This singing team really sung their hearts out throughout the boat trip. Click here to listen to their last song “甜蜜蜜 (Tian Mi Mi)“.

A laugh is a smile that bursts…

It was fun and laughter for everyone throughout this 3-hour boating trip down Sao Khe River…

Trang An is indeed the “outdoor geological museum” or “Ha Long Bay on Land”.

We boarded our bus and headed for Hanoi…

I will stop here…

In my next and final blog about our holiday in North Vietnam, I will share with you about our fun in Hanoi: Holiday in North Vietnam (Part 5: Hanoi)


Holiday in North Vietnam (Part 3: Ha Long Bay)

Our Holiday in North Vietnam (Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay and Ninh Binh), 6 – 12 October 2012

This blog is a continuation of my earlier blogs:

5.  Day 4: 9 October 2012

We arrived at Hanoi at about 5:30 am, went for early breakfast and were on our way to Ha Long Bay. Along the three hours bus journey…

We stopped over at Eran Cafe…

At Eran Cafe.

Coffee was introduced to Vietnam in 1857 by the French. Today, Vietnam is a leading coffee producer in the world.

Listening to the coffee story of Vietnam.

Made by Ha Long Eran Coffee Food Co., Ltd.

… and briefly to visit the private casino at Royal Hotel in Ha Long Bay…

At Royal Hotel.

Entering Royal Hotel to the private casino.

Ha Long Bay, located in the Gulf of Tonkin, with Quang Ninh Province, in the northeast of Vietnam, is 170 km from the city of Hanoi.  It is a famous site with interesting karst structure, which is part of the UNESCO Heritage List and is included in the List of the World  Nature Wonders. The spectacular seascape and exceptional scenic beauty of Ha Long Bay make this site one of the greatest treasures of our natural world.

Ha Long Bay is translated in English as the Descending Dragons Bay. It consists of as many as 1969 islands and islets covering an area of 43,400 ha.  Some of them are inhabited by people and most are unaffected by humans. Differing in shape and in size, several of these islands are hollow, with enormous caves, as well as the abundance of lakes inside these limestone islands, others support floating villages of fishermen, who ply the shallow waters for 200 species of fish and 450 different kinds of mollusks. These islands can be accessed by boats from many ports. The largest of the Ha Long Bay islands are four, namely Ban Sen, Cat Ba, Van Don and Quan Lan.

At the ticketing lobby waiting to board the cruise for Ha Long Bay.

Padi growing in a small glass vase placed on every table in the ticketing lobby.

Tomy and Siew Wai.

In a bump boat for the cruise.

James with his life jacket on.

Wearing life jacket…

All in orange…

That’s me and Brenda!

This is our cruise, Image Halong.

Having a refreshment break upon boarding.

Fresh fried prawns.

Yummy crabs.

Our “hotel” room in the cruise.

The toilet in the room.

James and the Captain of the cruise.

Chan at the head of the cruise.

Tomy, James, Sally, Janet and Vincent enjoying the breeze and scenic view.

Chan, Siew Wai and their parents on the upper deck of the cruise.

Richard enjoying.

Chan relaxing.

James having fun…

That’s me and Brenda!

We set out to visit the Hang Sung Sot…

At Hang Sung Sot.

Hang Sung Sot or the “Cave of Surprises” was discovered in 1901 by the French. Located on Bo Bon island, the cave rests 25 m above sea level and is immense. The cave’s ceiling is approximately 30 m high and the paved passage inside is 500 m in length. The uniqueness of this cave is that it holds many different shapes of stalagmites and stalactites which hang from the high ceiling. The formations inside seemingly come alive when light is reflected from several pools inside the cave.

James and Richard on their way to the cave.

Beautiful scenic view from Hang Sung Sot.

Entering the cave.

The interior of Sung Sot (Surprise) Cave.

A large tortoise formation.

A heart shaped formation.

Lum Wah and Chee Lan.

We next visited the Titop Island, which takes the shape of a crescent encompassing the island. Small though it might be, it wins kudos for its quiet and airy atmosphere, its snowy white beach, its clean and clear water, as well as its alluring landscape.

Titop Island was named in honour of the visit of Gherman Stepanovich Titop (1935-2000), the Soviet astronaut who was the second person to orbit the earth, on 22 November 1962, accompanied by Ho Chi Minh. Gherman Titop returned to Titop Island 35 years later, on 27 June 1997, three years before his death, in which time, the island that bore his name has become a major attraction in Ha Long Bay.

It is noted for having a viewpoint at its peak which affords splendid views all around Ha Long Bay. It takes more than 300 steps from the bottom to the top. Almost all tourists arrive on this island climb up to get the panoramic view of Ha Long Bay.

Approaching the Titop Island.

Stepping on the Titop Island.

Tomy, Richard, Chan and Dai Thang making it to the peak of Titop.

Siew Wai made it too!

That’s me…

Thumb up to Brenda!

The shelter at the top of Titop.

The splendid panoramic view of Ha Long Bay from the top.

That’s me and Brenda.

Chan, James and Tomy at the peak.

“Chin Swee” in Hokkien literally translates as “very pretty”.

A happy tourist family.

Capturing a view of the beautiful beach on the way down.

Swimming at Titop Island.

A Vietnamese woman in her mobile “stall”.

We were back to our cruise by 6:00 pm. Dinner and happy hour awaiting us next.

Was it “yum seng” or “yeo”?

James, Brenda, Chin Heng and Tan Peng.

The Manager and Captain of the cruise joined in the fun.

This was “yum seng”, drink to success and good health for all.

Janet, James and Richard danced their hearts out!

The party ended at about 12 midnight.

6.  Day 5: 10 October 2012

We were awake by 7:00 am and up at the upper deck of the cruise which was anchored at Ho Dong Tien in Ha Long Bay. The spectacular seascape and exceptional scenic beauty of Ha Long Bay was captured in this video: 360 degree of Ha Long Bay from the top of Image Halong

Tomy having yummy thoughts…

Chan and Richard enjoying the morning fresh air.

After breakfast, we set out to visit the Luon Cave by oared boats.

Luon Cave is about 60 m long and 4 m wide. The height of the ceiling ranges from 2.5m to 4 m up on tidal level. Therefore, it only can be accessed by small boat or kayak.

Passing through Luon Cave, tourists will reach a lake formed by an enclosed group of limestone mountains. The lake inside seems like a stadium surrounded by high podium. It is a brackish lake with calm and green sea water. The size of the lake is nearly 1 square kilometers. On the cliff are many fossilized freshwater snail shells proving that place used to be a deep freshwater valley. Especially, it is highlighted with pristine setting of ferns, orchids and wild golden monkeys.

The perfect combination of limestone mountains and jade-green sea makes Luon Cave a unique site to visit in Ha Long Bay. Furthermore, Luon Cave is a preferred place of tourists for kayaking.

On the way to Luon Cave.

Approaching the Luon Cave.

A closer view of the Luon Cave.

Entering the cave.

Rowing inside the Luon Cave.

Passing through the cave to this lake.

We were back on the cruise returning to shore. As the cruise sailed back to the pier, we notice this funny shaped island. We were told it is called the Thumb Islet.

The Thumb Islet in Ha Long Bay. It looks more like…

Bye, bye Ha Long Bay… Hanoi here we come…

We stayed the next 2 nights in Golden Lotus Hotel in Hanoi.

I will stop here…

In my next blog, I will share with you about our journey to Ninh Binh where we visited the temples of King Dinh and King Le, and rowed boats in Trang An: Holiday in North Vietnam (Part 4: Ninh Binh)


Holiday in North Vietnam (Part 2: Sapa)

Our Holiday in North Vietnam (Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay and Ninh Binh), 6 – 12 October 2012

This blog is a continuation of my earlier blog: Holiday in North Vietnam (Part 1: Sapa)

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.

Ham Rong Mountain looks like a jaw of a dragon opening wide to the sky.

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 dragon brothers 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 fast 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).

The starting point.

Ham Rong Mountain is home to some stunning orchid gardens and “rock gardens”. From the mountain, we have the best view of Sapa and the surrounding fresh nature including Mount Fansipan.

We follow the left turn at the entrance of our hotel to hike up the mountain.

The Ham Rong Mountain map and ticketing information.

Many shops along the route up. James spotted a dead buffalo head.

The dead buffalo head.

The shops along the way up.

Colorful sandals for sales.

Chee Lan at the start of the steps up the mountain.

The map showing the routes to attractions up the mountain

Richard wants to trek to the Tram Viba (Microwave Station).

Tomy wants to visit the Orchid Garden.

James would like to explore the Stone Forest.

Beautiful rocks among the greenery.

That’s me!

Chan, Siew Wai and Tomy.

Hi, I am James!

Richard riding on a stone buffalo.

Tomy with a rooster.

James fooling around with a giant cobra.

Tomy with a bugs bunny.

Posed like pro…

Ham Rong planted among the rocks and greenery.

Siew Wai and her parents.

A beautiful garden.

Sarah and Juju.

Direction to have the best view of Fansipan.

An aerial view of Fansipan.

A closer view of Fansipan.

Tomy, James and Chan with Fansipan in the background.

Chee Lan and Janet.

Another beautiful view.

The housing in Fansipan.

Ethnic woman selling souvenirs and handicrafts along the path up the mountain.

The long route up the mountain.

Chan and Siew Wai.

Chan and Siew Wai having a fun moment as siblings. By the way, “wa bo pian” in Hokkien means “I have no choice”.

Tomy and Siew Wai.

James pointing to a rock that shapes like your left hand showing the thumb, index and middle fingers.

James and Chin Heng.

Reaching the top.

Having some fun on the way down.

The team that made to the top of the mountain.

We returned to our hotel at about 11:00 am, took our showers, checked out and was on our way for lunch at Red Dao House.

A Red Dao lady welcoming us at the Red Dao House.

Everyone was so hungry.

Taking a break after lunch in the balcony of the Red Dao House.

We next headed to the Red Dao Village in Ta Phin

On our way to the Red Dao Village.

The Red Dao people originated from China and migrated to Vietnam starting around the 12th or 13th century and continuing until the early 20th century. The majority migrated into Vietnam during the Minh dynasty, due to drought, failed crops and the pressures of Feudalism in China.

The Dao consider themselves to be the descendants of Ban Vuong or Ban Ho, a legendary character of the Dao people.

Overtime, the Dao people in China were divided into small groups and they migrated to different places, with some of them coming to Vietnam. During the migration, the different groups incorporated some cultural practices of other nations, creating new, diverse Dao cultures. However, the different groups still maintain a common Dao identity, as they have the same origins and continue to share a common language.

Red Dao people mainly live in Cao Bang, Lang Son, Tuyen Quang, Ha Giang and Lao Cai. Nowadays, Ta Phin village has more than 700 Red Dao people.

On arrival at the Red Dao Village, we were greeted by a group of Red Dao women.

Finally, we can alight from our bus…

Juju and her parents among the Red Dao women.

Richard walking with the Red Dao women hot on his heel.

The children playing in the village.

We were on our way to visit the home of a Red Dao woman.

Arriving at the house.

Entering the home of a Red Dao woman.

The man of the Red Dao family sitting in front of the cooking area of his home.

The Red Dao woman and her daughter in their home.

The kitchen area of a Red Dao home.

Our tour guide, Dai Thang, explained to us the daily life of this Red Dao family, and the extreme harsh condition in their home. Behind Dai Thang was the bed for the Red Dao woman and her daughter.

An upper deck has a bed where the man of the family slept.

The lamp for the home.

On the way back to our bus, we were given some time to buy handicrafts and souvenirs from the Red Dao women.

Sarah negotiating with a Red Dao woman.

A Red Dao woman and her child.

Tan Peng and Chin Heng buying souvenirs.

Everyone was busy buying something lah!

Hhmm… Chee Lan whispering into the ear of Lum Wah.

Still buying…

We left the Red Dao village for some shopping at Coc Leu before proceeding to visit Lao Cai International Border Gate. Along the way, we pause for photo taking…

What was James doing?

Richard and Brenda.

Tomy enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Chan, Siew Wai and Tomy.

Spotted 3 pretty ladies from our bus taking photos at the same spot as us.

At the Coc Leu Market, the largest commercial center in Lao Cai Province.

Buying some local foodstuffs from this market.

At the Lao Cai International Border Gate, linking Lao Cai Province with Yunnan Province in China…

At the Lao Cai International Border Gate.

Richard and James.

Crossing the Ho Kieu Bridge into Yunnan Province, China.

A closer view of China immigration checkpoint.

After dinner, we were back at the Lào Cai Railway Station for the train back to Hanoi.

We had an enjoyable two days in Sapa.

Now looking forward to explore Ha Long Bay.

The “yeo” buddies.

I will stop here…

In my next blog, I will share with you about our journey in a cruise and the fun we had in Ha Long Bay: Holiday in North Vietnam (Part 3: Ha Long Bay)


Holiday in North Vietnam (Part 1: Sapa)

Our Holiday in North Vietnam (Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay and Ninh Binh), 6 – 12 October 2012

1.  The Itinerary

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.

In the arrival hall.

Ready to board our tour bus.

On board the tour bus upon arrival at Noi Bai airport.

Our holiday has just begun. By the way, what is 126?

Dinner at Pho Bien Seafood Restaurant before overnight on train to Sapa.

Enjoying a sumptuous dinner.

After dinner and while waiting for the bus to bring us to the Hanoi Train Station…

Watching Vietnamese girls.

Hanoi Train Station.

Inside the train station, waiting for the 9:00 pm train to Sapa. By the way, “si bay sian” in Hokkien means very boring.

Getting ready to board the train for Sapa.

In a train cabin with my wife, Brenda. Four persons per cabin.

Juju, her parents and cousin, Sarah.

Richard Kwan and Chan Khai Hoong along the train walkway.

Chan, his sister, Chan Siew Wai, their parents, Tomy Nguyen and Richard warming up in a cabin.

Getting ready to sleep.

Tomy Nguyen who travelled all the way from Ho Chi Minh City to be with us for this holiday. It’s wonderful to have her in the team.

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.

A map showing the Hanoi to Lao Cai (Sapa) train route.

Arriving at Lao Cai Railway Station.

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.

Our tour guide, Dai Thang, from Saigon Tourist. Tel: 0913355568, Email:

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.

Cat Cat Village attracts tourists from all over the world for its distinctive customs and practices which have been lost in most ethnic villages.

The entrance to Cat Cat Village. An entrance fee of 40,000 dong (S$2.40) is payable at the entrance.

Cat Cat Village was smothered by fog. The weather was not consistent. One second it could be dull and grey due to the mist, the next it could rain, and yet a minute later, the sun shines through.

Janet Leong at the entrance of the village.

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.

Gingerly walking down the stone steps.

The village has many shops, one shop after another lined up the narrow walkway downhill.

Tomy and James discussing a business plan.

A lot of walking.

Behind us is a beautiful mountainous view with green terraced rice and maize fields.

Tomy enjoying the peaceful picturesque scenaries.

Step aside, the buffaloes are coming.

Richard walking pass a row of timber plank roofed houses.

Richard saying “hello, Cô Gái Xin Chào” to an ethnic woman.

The beauty of an ethnic woman carrying her child.

A H’Mong woman in her ethnic dressing with a wooden pack on her back.

An ethnic woman working in her shop.

Life is never easy for this woman.

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.

You can shop more than just handicrafts and souvenirs.

Hand made handicrafts and souvenirs.

These bags are for sales too.

Small kids like this young girl (carrying her sibling) running around you and trying to sell something to you… to make a living.

Women making exquisite and beautiful woven clothes, bags and other handicrafts.

A H’Mong woman weaving fabric. From the plain brocade, these women can carefully dye them with special leaves and embroider beautiful patterns of flowers and animals on them.

They made these too.

James trying out the rice grinder.

What a way to collect water and channel it to a common pool.

Chan and Siew Wai distributing sweets and candies to the children.

An ethnic woman and her children in their house.

The children were so excited when we visited their home.

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.

The children playing around in the village.

More children in the village.

Siew Wai and this cute village girl who looks a little like her.

The Chan Family.

Sally, her sister Chee Lan and brother in-law Lum Wah.

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.

Descending this path to the waterfall.

The Tien Sa Waterfall.

Mr & Mrs Lum (Loh Chee Lan and Lum Wah).

Behind us is the Tien Sa Waterfall.

Richard in front of the waterfall.

A closed up view of the waterfall. The fall looks splendid like a silver carpet under the glistening sunlight.

Tomy at the waterfall.

Mr and Mrs Vincent and Janet Leong.

James and his wife, Sally Loh, at the bridge leading to the waterfall.

Another scenic view of the waterfall.

With the waterfall behind us, we took a long and winding road back up the valley.

This Cat Cat Valley trek is not suitable for people with leg ailments as there are a lot of stairs and slopes to climb, as well as the slippery conditions of the trek. Lastly, make sure you wear proper shoes.

We would recommend anyone who loves adventure to trek in Cat Cat Village in Sapa.

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.

Tomy playing tricks on Chan at the cafe.

Looking out from the entrance of Vietnam Trade Union Hotel.

Information about Vietnam Trade Union Hotel in Sapa.

Checking our luggages.

All ready to check into our hotel rooms.

We are housed in these 2 blocks.

The green surrounding.

A scenic view of the hotel.

Two hours later…

Getting ready to walk around the nearby Sapa town.

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.

Tomy in front of Sapa Church.

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.

A service in progress in the church.

“Pasar Malam” in Sapa town. Many ethnic locals setting up stores. Sapa Church in the background.

Ethnic women and girls selling their handicrafts and souvenirs.

Where are the ethnic men? These women and children work long hours in this open square.

A clothing shop.

Beautiful scarfs.

The ethnic people on the street of Sapa town.

Brenda window shopping.

Brenda window shopping.


Tomy and Richard in Sapa town.

Tomy and Richard in Sapa town.

Western restaurants from Italian to French ones can be found in Sapa town.

Taking a break in a cafe in Sapa town.

Finally, dinner time…

Waiting for dinner to commence.

A sumptuous dinner.

The “Pasar Malam” continues into the night. A girl at her store.

Janet enjoying bargaining with the children. The children were so good at holding on to their price. Even with a lawyer beside, Janet was unable to make a deal with them.

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.

Ham Rong Mountain looks like a jaw of a dragon opening wide to the sky.

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)