Katalin's trip
Hekou, Sapa then Hanoi

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September 28, 2004

Hekou/Lao Cai
I entered to Vietnam from China (Hekou/Lao Cai border crossing)
I arrived at Hekou from Kunming by bus (No train connection ) in the evening. I stayed one night in a hotel (I could not find any cheap backpackers' hostel) in Hekou - 60 yuen--- and entered Vietnam next morning. My hotel was two blocks away from the immigration building. I have seen people crossing the border even during late hours (9 pm) but I do not know if it was open only for local people or foreign tourists as we. Anyway I was tired after the 10 hour bus ride, so I wanted to sleep in Hekou. I changed my Chinese yuan back to US dollars at the bank (can not change into Vietnamese dong at the bank. But there are some people who hang around the bank and you can change with them into dong.)

Walking through the border to Vietnam was no problem at all. Nobody asked money for anything (I was warned before that some immigration officers ask for money for various unrealistic reasons).I changed some USD into dong at the border, a small booth left (4 meters) as you pass the customs, in the same building. 1USD=15 500 dong

I met with an other traveller and we took a taxi to Lao Cai train station. We agreed on the price 10000d/person. The taxi-meter showed 13000d, so if you are not alone, better to insist to go by the meter.

From the train station, I went to Sapa. Minibuses, 20-25000 dong. We were 4 travellers in the minibus.
Sapa: nice accommodation, 4 USD/double room.
Try to ask the prices always in dong, not dollars as it is much easier to bargain in dong (bigger numbers...)

Next day we (3 people) went on a 2-day trekking tour. 18USD/person including guide, entrance fee (there are some villages where tourist must pay "entrance fee" - actually the villages we visited I never seen our guide to pay anything), food - no drinks - 1 night accommodation and transportation. We went with Nature Travels Agency, it was O.K. The tour and trekking was not too difficult, and on the second day we did not walk too much. I'd rather say it was a 1-and-a-half-day tour.

In Sapa I bought a train ticket at the official train ticket office (they charge only 7000d more) from Lao Cai to Hanoi. Hard sleeper A/C overnight train.

I like the city, nice architecture, but annoying "moto madam" guys all over. Stayed in a GH 2US/room - but it is not easy to find so cheap accommodation, usually 3-4 US /room.

I booked a 2-day tour to HaLong Bay 13US - "big" group - but it is not a very big group and it is fun to meet and chat with people on the long boat trip anyway. All the tours are same so you just shop around for the prices.

Halong tour:
Bus ride with a stop at a shop/cafe to the port (3 and 1/2h) Lunch, boarding the ship to Cat Ba island. Stop at caves. Some people who paid extra for the pleasure of sleeping on the boat were very upset when they were told (already on the boat, around 4
pm !) that they can not sleep on the boat. The reason was "security"??? that nobody understood, maybe the company rented the boat to someone else for that night... Arrived at Cat Ba around 6:30 pm (dark) I slept in a nice hotel. Make sure THE WINDOWS ARE LOCKED in your hotel room. Ours was open to a balcony that was accessible from the outside corridor. I met a women traveller whose window also opened to the balcony and she was taking a shower when she heard noise and found one of the staff member inside her room!

I told the tour guide beforehand that I will stay one more night on my own on the island (Cat Ba) . I went to Cat Co 2 beach, where there is no hostel, only tents (50,000/small tent) . I slept there but noisy neighbors. There were 2 more tents that night, not busy, very nice small beach. Of course the restaurant there is overpriced but it is only about 20 minutes walk to the town. Cheap food on the market.

Back to Hanoi joining the tour next morning.

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