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.
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 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.
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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