Last year in January, my family visited Ho Chi Minh City. HCMC sits at the south of Vietnam. It was such a culture shock visiting Vietnam for the first time. The impression then was the deepest. We did not know how to cross the roads with so many motor bikes on the road. It was lawlessness and chaotic.
We returned again to Vietnam and this time to the north of Vietnam, Hanoi. We arranged the tour with a travel agency in Vietnam directly through a recommendation of our friend. So for 9 days we had a tour guide who speaks good English and a 7-seater SUV car for our exclusive use. Much that we would like to go free and easy on overseas trips, we needed transportation to far away places out of Hanoi.
We visited Sapa a town up in the mountain (1,200 to 1,800 m above sea level) towards the North-west of Hanoi. On another day, we went to the world famous Halong Bay, to the East of Hanoi. Both trips required at least 4-5 hours on the roads to reach there.
Sapa is a favorite for trekkers who want to move from village to village of ethnic minority tribes. We spent 2 hours trekking one morning. The views of these mountains with rice terraces at the sides and valleys were spectacular. It was picture perfect for every shot taken. We saw the lives of Black Hmong and Red Dao and the way of their lives preserved till today. We visited Cat Cat Village, Lao Chai Village, Ta Van Village.
We then moved to Bac Ha town with the sole purpose of visiting the Bac Ha Sunday market. We stayed a night at Bac Ha, 700 m above sea level. The draw in Bac Ha is the Sunday morning market. You can buy almost anything: buffalos, pigs, dogs; fresh produce from the farms, chilies, green rice; things for the home; things to wear, and local handicraft items. You can even have a haircut along the street. Some people choose and smoke tobaccos through a pipe. The market gets crowded from late morning when bus loads of tourists arrive. It is a colourful sight with ethnic minority groups selling their products.
We visited Ta Phin village where Red Dao tribe lives, the King’s Palace of the Hmong and the border town of Lao Cai that connects to China, Yunnan Province separated by the Red River.
In Hanoi, we went pretty much free and easy exploring the big city. Hanoi is less complicated than Ho Chi Minh City. This time round we were not too shocked with the sights and sounds and we knew Vietnam better.
This time of the year should be less rain in Hanoi and at Sapa. But it has been unusual with heavy downpour that caused severe flooding at low lying areas in Hanoi. It was the worst flooding in years for Hanoi. We were lucky that we could proceed with our planned itinerary. There were some days with sunny weather. With rain, we just put on our ponchos. This is just traveling and we just adjust.
The nine days had been a wonderful experience. One advice is to seize the opportunity to travel to Sapa region when we are still young. The roads up and down the mountains are bumpy. It can be a bit rough for some people.