Vietnam 2010

A whistle-stop trip from north to south (and a hop next door)

Sa Pa trekking

We stayed at the Chau Long Hotel (old wing) on a side street off Cau May. For $50 we had a comfortable double room with a heater, minibar, full range of amenities, shower/bath. The rate included a full buffet breakfast in the new part of the hotel which I didn’t make much use of, but Chris enjoyed much of what they had on offer.

Our stay at the Mountain View Hotel was brief, cold and a bit depressing. There was one other, Vietnamese couple staying there and they appeared to be as cold as we were. Contrary to what we had read, the staff were kind and helpful, but the hotel itself is tired and badly in need of some restorative work.

Our guided walk to Cat Cat and Sin Chau was booked through the Chau Long Hotel. It cost a whopping $25 per person, expensive considering one can walk the route without a guide. However, Zi offered loads of information on the people, the history and traditions that added to the appreciation of the visit.

The walk to Lai Chau and Ta Van cost $10 per person through the Mountain View Hotel as this was billed as a group tour. We were lucky to be the only people booked so it ended up being a private tour. Once again, the guide made the difference, it would be easy for a traveller to follow the mass of trekkers without joining a tour, but we enjoyed the interaction with inhabitants of the area.

Restaurants:

We didn’t find any good food during our stay, possibly because we stayed down towards the south of the town.

The gluwein at the Red Dragon was decent if pricey and we didn’t eat there, though the roast chicken dinner was praised by a couple from Liverpool.

We ate at a place called Michell on Cau May – the food was not good (see post for details) and Chris left his after a couple of mouthfuls.

Dessert at Delta restaurant was just as disappointing.

Ca phe sua and cake at the French Bakery, alongside the Mountain View Hotel was decent and the WiFi poached from the router next door was a bonus.

If you need trekking gear, the little gear store (there didn’t appear to be a name other than Trekking Gear or something similar) on the corner of Cau May and Muong Hoa (next to Delta resto) had a few gems at knock-off prices.

LAO CAI

We ate at the Royal Hotel restaurant – pretty decent food at good prices. A mix of Vietnamese and foreign patrons and a short walk to the station.

King Express:

We booked our train trip through Viet Orient Tours. We seemed to pay more than the websites and guidebooks recommend ($200 pp for a private deluxe cabin), but Chris knows Viet well and he arranged our internal flights as well. I would guess what we lost on the swings, we gained on the roundabouts.

Some must-dos for the train:

Take note of your departure time – there is more than one train between Hanoi and Sa Pa (in both directions).

If you’re travelling alone and can afford it, book a private cabin

Lock your cabin door

Ladies, take Kleenex with you to the bathroom and use it early in the trip if you can

If you’re travelling out of season, arrange a transfer to Sa Pa from Cai Lao. I didn’t see the public bus, although it could have left much later. Even then, if your train arrives at 5am, there is nothing to do in Lao Cai at least for the first 2 hours after you arrive.

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