Saturday, January 11, 2014

8 days Hanoi, Halong Bay and Sapa trip at $600

Previously, i've blog about my Taiwan trip where i spend only $705 for 8 days. I'm an avid traveller who loves to plan my own free and easy travel in a simple and budget way. This kind of travelling adds a little spice of adventure and makes it more interesting compared to the usual luxurious travel. I can customise my tour and choose to travel only to the places that i want.

This is a post on my North Vietnam trip in 2012. Places visited consist of Hanoi which was the first stop. Halong bay is the next with a 2 days cruise trip and on to Sapa, which is a mountainous area with beautiful terraced rice fields and minority tribes villages. Vietnam is a place of unique culture. There is an unspeakable peace and tranquillity in the country itself. Ever since i visited Vietnam for the first time in 2007 during my student internship, i could never forget this country and the experience i have there.

This trip was rather easy to plan as i engaged the service of a local Vietnam tour agency to customise the tour for me.

Tips for planning a budget North Vietnam Tour

1) In Vietnam, taking the bus is rather inconvenient. However, you can take the taxis as its very cheap there. But remember that only a few taxis companies can be trusted. If possible, arrange for airport pick up service with your hotel. Once at the hotel, check with the hotel staff which taxis to take. They can help you to call for taxis too. It's free of charge.

2) Vietnam has many local tour agencies. The tour agency that i engaged was by Vietnam Awesome Travel. This travel agency is also recommended by tripadvisor. I personally think their service is quite good as they are willing to customised the tour for me. You can email them and their response is quite fast. Payment is only made when you're there on your first day. No deposit required.

3) That's all there is to plan for a North Vietnam tour. It is that simple and easy to plan.

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Here are the details of the whole trip including my itinerary and accommodation places.


Day 1
Travel to Hanoi via Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 1 by Jetstar. The tickets if i didn't remembered wrongly was about $200 per person. Travelling date was somewhere on the third week of December very near to Christmas so i guess the plane tickets were a little more expensive.

Arrived at the airport and hotel staff was there to pick us up. I had arranged this service beforehand with the hotel. Thought that this would be a good choice since i got cheated by taxis in Vietnam before. Lesson was learnt.

The hotel we stayed in was called Hanoi charming hotel. Cost was only USD23 per room per night. Quite affordable i would say. It's a rather small hotel in one of the small alleys in Hanoi. Without the airport pick-up service, i don't think i'll be able to locate the hotel myself. Staff were very friendly in the hotel. Most of the hotels i stay in Vietnam have friendly staffs. This is my experience so far. Hotel rooms were clean and everything was in good condition. They have air con with heating capabilities. This is needed when weather turns rather cold especially in December. There was one night it was only 9 degrees Celsius.

The simple room in Hanoi Charming Hotel

Day 2 & 3
Travel to Halong Bay in the morning for a 2 day one night cruise in Halong bay itself. The journey to Halong bay from hotel took about 4 hours. Once we reach there, the view is stunning. I can see many small mountain like structure protruding out of the bay. The cruise we took is Dragon cruise.

As we set out on the cruise deeper into the bay, the view is even more refreshing. 

A typical cruise ship that sails in Halong Bay

If you visit North Vietnam via Hanoi, be sure to visit Halong Bay. It is definitely worth the trip. Halong bay is also one of the UNESCO world heritage site. For the 2 days one night, the cruise will bring us to different tourist attractions in the bay also. We visited caves, fish farms and even had a kayaking session in Halong Bay. The waters there are very calm so it doesn't cause any sick sick feeling or whatsoever.  All meals are provided on the cruise itself.

The cave I visited in Halong Bay

Day 3 & 4
On day 3 afternoon, the cruise came back to land and we were driven back to Hanoi to prepare for the night train to Sapa. The train is a sleeper train which means there were beds in the cabins. Journey from Hanoi to Sapa was around 8 hours. Its quite a bumpy ride as I think the trains there aren't so advance. Its quite a old traditional train which you'll only be able to see in the 80s. Overall it was a good experience.

The sleeper train cabin with 4 beds

The exterior of the train. Very old and traditional.

On day 4 morning, we arrived at the train station near Sapa. There was a mini bus to take us up to the mountain areas. The drive was about 1 hour plus if I didn't remember wrongly. When I got out of the mini bus, the first thing I noticed was the cold temperature. It was so cold and I didn't prepare myself adequately. We went straight in to the hotel lobby for checl in and breakfast. Luckily there was heater at the hotel lobby. This hotel is called Dang Trung hotel. It was a french style building. The only bad thing about this hotel is there was no heater in the rooms! So its not recommended during very cold seasons like December. They only had electrical heat mats on the beds and a fireplace. These had to be purchased at additional cost. I think the fireplace is quite cool though. I purchesed some wood and burn it in the fireplace in my room. But the cold was still so bad that after awhile, the heat of the fire faded off. I forgot to mention the temperature. It was 3 degrees Celsius at the lowest. Can you imagine living in this temperature without a heater? Totally unbearable. Of course at night will still be able to sleep with the heated beds.

The tranquil feeling of Sapa 

The whole of day 4 was spent on tracking into the terraced rice fields. The simple life, the ragged terrains were all worth the tracking. We tracked for almost 5 hours. Walking and admiring the sceneries as well as the simple life of these minority tribes in Sapa. The tracking is tough and some roads are muddy. You'll need a certain level of physical fitness to finish it. Do take note of that.

Tracking into the terraced rice fiields

More terraced rice fields

It was so cold that it turned really foggy

The minority tribes leading us on the tracking path

There was a village we went to where I saw many kids playing in the fields and they were all dressed in torn and dirty clothes with mud all over their body. However, they seem so happy and enjoying their fun. Its a joy to see this sight.

Kids playing in the villages

More kids playing. Look at the rugged but simple environment that they live in

Day 5
It was Christmas day! More tracking but this time its to a nearer village. Only 2 hours walk on normal roads. After that we went back to Sapa town and visited the local market plus spend the rest of the day relaxing in the hotel rooms as we were exhausted from all the walking.

Waterfall on 2nd day tracking

After having enough rest, we went out at night after dinner to take a walk. There were some performance at their small local church and crowds were gathered there. We joined in to watch the performance and listened to the Christmas carols. Standing out in the cold and listening to the carols makes it really feel like Christmas.

So many people listening to Christmas Carols

Later at night, we walked back to our hotel. On the way back, there were some street stalls selling barbecue items. It was really tempting to have some barbecue in this cold weather. We gave in and set down beside the charcoal stoves for some barbecue chicken wings, satays etc.

After that, we went back to the hotel and the hotel owner was kind enough to offer us some red wine. We set at the lobby sipping the red wine and talking to the hotel owner. Everything just feels so much like Christmas. It was definitely one of the most memorable Christmas I ever had.

Day 6
In the morning, the mini bus came to pick us up after we checked out hotel. This time we're going to another local market. In this market, they sell everything from live chickens, to dogs to horses to buffaloes. All were on display there for people to choose. Its a rare scene which I'll never be able to see in Singapore. Oh and North Vietnam sells dog meat too. Its everywhere in their markets so do not be surprised by it. I guess its legal for them to eat dogs.

They were selling dogs

Live chicken for sale

Selling buffaloes too

The minority tribes in their colourful traditional costumes selling stuffs

After the market trip, the bus took us to another village at a lower part of Sapa.

Saw more kids playing

In the evening, we took the night train back. Same sleeper train to spend the night on the train.

Day 7
Arrived back in Hanoi early in the morning at about 5:30am. A person from the travel agency came to pick us up and drove us back to our hotel. I stayed back at Hanoi charming hotel. As it was not check in time yet, we could not check in but the hotel staff was kind enough to let us have a room in their sister hotel just across the street so we could get some rest.

Spent the rest of the day in Hanoi. Had some seafood at night there.

Day 8
Spent the rest of the day in Honoi before proceeding back to airport for our flight back to Singapore at about 4pm.

*Comment below or email me if you need more information on planning a Vietnam trip*

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Other travel escapades:
1. My 8 days Taiwan trip all under $800


  1. Hi SGYI

    Love to see your traveling posts. It's not only beautiful scenery but also your worthwhile journey in terms of the costs paid for :)

    1. Hi B,

      I love scenic destinations as well as exploring different cultures while travelling.

      I always try to keep my travelling cost low. A little planning will keep costs in check. Its part of learning how to budget :)

  2. Glad to hear you enjoyed your stay, esp in Sapa. I will never forget how persistent the Hmong peddling their wares right from the start of the trek. Amazing sales people.

    1. Hi William,

      Oh yes, they were really persistent. In the end i bought some cheap stuff from them as a goodwill. Really have to give in. But its alright since they helped us throughout the tracking.

  3. Hi SGYI,

    Seems really value for money! And interesting too. Time to start convincing the Mrs to spend a couple of weeks in Vietnam. =)

    1. Hi 15HWW,

      North Vietnam is a nice place. Do go during the cooler periods as it can be very hot during summer. If you plan your trip, it'll certainly be cheaper than mine. I went during the Christmas period which means the airfare was super expensive.

      It'll definitely be a good trip if you go with your wife. Vietnam is generally a very peaceful country. An escape from our busy city life.

  4. Very good blog and nice information thanks for sharing.

  5. Hi, what is the name of the train you take from Hanoi to Sapa?

    1. Hi Jowenah Ruth,

      I'm sorry but I can't of remember the name of the train. I only know its a 4 person per cabin train.

  6. Hi

    When I surfed the Vietnam Awesome Travel, it seems that the prices quoted in their website doesn't seems as cheap as what you indicated here. Can you let me know how much you paid for the Halong bay cruise and the Sapa tour. Many thanks!


    1. Hi Shirley,

      I noticed that the price had gone up from the time when I travelled 2 years ago.

      I took the dragon cruise for halong bay at US$88 per person. For sapa, I took the 3 days tour for US$145 per person. The sapa tour I customized myself with the tour agency to include 2 days of trekking and one day at bac ha market. You can email them to negotiate on the rates. It will depend on the hotels they offer you. You can choose cheaper hotels for cheaper rates.

  7. Hi

    I was looking for a trustworthy travel agent. It's this Awesome Travel really awesome? Thank you.

    1. Hi,

      They are quite reputable in Vietnam. My experience with them is good. I recommended it to another friend also and their experience was good too. This travel agent is also recommended on TripAdvisor.

  8. Hi,

    Did you go alone or as a group?

  9. Hi,

    thank you for your write up and recommendations on Sapa. Please advise if purchases are made with local currency or USD. Are credit cards generally accepted at restaurants and hotels ?

    Thank you - Lily

    1. Hi Lily,

      I paid everything in Vietnam Dong. In Sapa, I did not use any credits cards. I think its better to have more cash with you when visiting Vietnam.

    2. Hi ! Thanks for your reply. Your blog is most helpful. My family of 4 are going trekking in Sapa with a homestay this November. 😊

    3. Wow great. The scenery you'll see during the trekking is amazing. It can be quite tough as the terrain is quite rough. Need to walk past terraced rice fields too. I didn't go for the homestay that time coz i was afraid it would be too cold when i went during December Christmas time. Lucky i didn't coz the weather was at 4 degrees celcius at night. November should be just right for a homestay for you. Enjoy your trip :)

  10. Sorry... i forgot to ask earlier... what do you recommend for footwear suitable for trekking ?

    1. I wore my normal sports shoes which were comfortable enough. The track gets muddy at some point especially when walking through the rice fields. Some people do rent boots which are waterproof for the trekking.

      Sapa is a great place to relax and soak into the scenery. The night sleeper train is a good experience which i really like.

  11. Thank you !... We are so looking forward to it ! :)

  12. Places to visit in Halong bay Vietnam when you are here on Halong Bay Cruises. Never miss to visit this special place named as a MUST SEE.

  13. Hi,
    Nice article. I'm travelling to Sapa alone this coming September. Should i book a whole package from Hanoi or look up a local guide(A fellow traveler gave me a number a while back and highly recommend it) at Sapa itself?

    1. Hi bing hui,

      I booked the package from hanoi and they took care of everything including the transport to the train station and also helping to buy the tickets. Without their help i probably wouldn't be able to figure out their train system because its so confusing. A local guide will be assigned to you for trekking in sapa even though you book the package from hanoi so i guess it doesn't really make a difference.

  14. Hi there, instead of a cruise in Halong Bay, is there any hotels to recommend there for a budgeted family vacation? There are a lot of places I would like to visit in Halong I would like to spend more time there. Thanks.

    1. Hi,

      I'm not sure on the hotels there. Didn't stay at the hotels near halong bay. You should consider the cruise. The water is calm and quiet and its a wonderful experience

  15. Saved as a favorite, I love your blog!