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Trip Report

Backpacking in Vietnam - Hanoi, Halong Bay and Sa Pa

Me and my friend spend around 2 weeks travelling Hanoi, Halong Bay and Sa Pa as backpackers.

by katmaiAbout Me:I used to be in the business world as a negotiation consultant until I decided that enough is enough and freedom will always be worth most. So I quit and now I am just living life freely day by day whereever it takes me. I travelled a lo... read more

AsiaVietnam12 days / January 2019

Highs & Lows

Crazy scooter rides in the mountains of Sa Pa.

Halong Bay got way too touristy to still enjoy.

Itinerary Overview

We flew into Hanoi and stayed at Hanoi Centre Hostel. This hostel is right in the old city of Hanoi and has dorm rooms with double beds for couples which I have never seen before. It is a small hostel with a friendly environment that also offers simple food. Hanoi is generally a very busy city with lots of motorbike traffic which is common in Vietnam and was quite cold in January (jacket needed). We spend the days in Hanoi walking around for sightseeing (there are also buses etc. but by walk you can see quite a lot). We walked around the Old Quarter, saw the Opera House, the Hoan Kiem Lake (this is great to have a walk while the sun goes down), the Bach Ma temple, the Imperial Citadel...Walking around the city gives a great impression of the friendly and warm Vietnamese culture and the busy atmosphere in the tiny streets of the city. The food is just amazing. We ate at the Don Duck Old Quarter restaurant which offers duck specialities that are really amazing. Places like the Hanoi Social Club offer international food with some sort of hippster atmosphere. Hanoi is a great mixture betweeen traditional Vietnamese culture and the progressive young society.

From Hanoi, we booked a tour organized by the hostel to visit Halong Bay - one of the most famous tourist spots in Vietnam. We were getting on a boat with around 10 more people and slept in it as well in a small cabin. During the 2 day trip we saw a big cave, a floating village and a museum for harvesting pearls. I was really disappointed. It is a beautiful spot but tourism takes most of the beauty away. The trip felt very artificial to me. I cannot really recommend going there.

After returning to Hanoi, we took an overnight bus to Sa Pa, a small village in the beautiful mountains in the North of Vietnam. We did not book any hotel in advance but chose one of the many that are there with a lot of free rooms for around 10 EUR a night. Sa Pa, we wanted to do by ourselves. We rented two scooters and just drove in different directions, where we found beautifuk mountain roads and view points. Sa Pa is a breath taking experience. As it is cold up there, there is nothing better than enjoying warm noodle soup (Pho) after a day of mountain air. In total we stayed 4 days, which is enough to see Sa Pa, visit small villages around and enjoy the food. 

  • 7 Nights: Hoàn Kiếm
    Get an impression of the city vibe
  • 1 Night: Bai Chay
    Beauty of the bay
  • 4 Nights: Sa Pa
    Mountain air

Q & A

  • What would you have changed?

    Not going to Halong Bay.

  • Anything go wrong during the trip?

    Everything worked as planned

  • How was the food?

    Street food in general, Don Duck Old Quarter Hanoi, Hanoi Social Club Hanoi

  • What tips would you give a friend?

    No need to plan much ahead.

  • Packing tips?

    Bring warm clothes for Hanoi and especially for Sa Pa in this time.

  • Transportation Tips?

    Walking, Grab motorcycles and cars (Uber style) in Hanoi, overnight buses in all Vietnam

  • Any surprises?

    the tourism overload in Halong Bay

  • Booking details?