I consider myself an explorer that likes to find my own way and do what the locals do when I travel. I enjoy getting lost, pointing at unknown words on food menus in hopes to getting something I’ll like and walking at my own pace; however, for the first time ever Enzo and I agreed to pay for a package deal on a trip to Sa Pa and Ha Long Bay arranged through a travel company.
After doing some math and comparing the costs of doing this trip on our own terms versus the travel company’s, we came to conclusion that we’d save money and stress by going with the package deal.
- Buses/taxis to and from destinations
- Pre-arranged food
- 2 Trekking tours through Sa Pa
- 1 tour through Surprise Cave in Ha Long Bay
- 2 day boat ride around the islands in Ha along Bay
- Cooking class
- Fishing for squid
- Tour through fishing village
- Snack or drinks at bus stops or in housing
- Buying any souvenirs/gifts
We received all of this for $150 each over the span of 4 days. Shout out to Holiday Center Hotel in Hanoi for arranging this package deal for us at an affordable price, allowing us to use a room and shower for free in between trips and storing our heavy backpacks at no additional cost!
The first trip was to Sa Pa. We got dropped at a hotel where we were served a complimentary lunch before meeting up with our tour guide.
Our guide was a woman named Sung who is a member of the Hmong tribe. She walked us through the town and headed towards the mountains for some trekking. We spent about 5 or 6 hours of walking through tiny footpaths, up and down rocky obsticals and dirt hills, over streams of water running from the tops of the mountains and encountered many local people and local animals.
This was so much better than I had expected. Our guide spoke English very well and she told us how she only learned by giving tours for people for many years and asking them how to say certain words in English. She was honest, helpful, knowledgeable and hilarious. I couldn’t help but grow a love for this woman and her personality. She even welcomed us to come back again and stay with her and her family next time, but she gave Enzo a hard time and said he is only welcome if he brings me too! That’s why she’s the best.
We came to Sa Pa in October which is apparently the dry season. It is also the season of when they harvest so the mountains and rice fields were not as green as they usually are in the farming season (summer).
When you visit Sa Pa:
- September before harvesting
- Use a tour guide
- Go trekking
- Stay at a homestay
- Do not buy from children (you are basically paying for the children to stay out of school) – told to us by our tour guide
- Always bargain for any goods you purchase
- Learn about the culture and different tribes in Sa Pa
- Bring a lot of cash
- The indigo plants can stain your skin if you touch them!
- Try to ask for an afternoon tour- it will be less busy and you will end the tour with the sunset 🙂
- Bring some warm clothes for night time because it gets very very cold!
After the first day of our trek, we finished at our homestay that was located in one of the villages on the mountain. There were about 5 others that were staying in this homestay as well and we ended up doing the second day of trekking with them.
The other amazing part of doing this trip and staying in a homestay was that we were able to meet other travelers and learn about their cultures and where they’ve gone. It is a great way to make connections and share travel advice.
HA LONG BAY-
The second half of our package deal was a cruise around Ha Long Bay. We were bused to the bay and 22 of us were loaded onto this magnificent boat that looked like a renovated ferry.
We were given welcome drinks and then given our room keys (each getting our own rooms with whom ever we were traveling with). The rooms were such a pleasant surprise. We had one of the coziest beds I’ve slept on thus far, a view of the ocean by our bedside, a private bathroom and a shower with hot water!
After we found our rooms, we went back up to the middle deck to all have some lunch provided by the crew. At lunch we got to talk with some of the others that were on the cruise as well. While we ate, talked and eventually admired the view from the top deck, we were on our way to this well known cave, The Surprise Cave. When we arrived we all got off to go explore and see what the surprise was all about.
I’m pretty sure that the surprise was this piece of the cave that our tour guide described as either a finger or more appropriately… a male body part that was happy to see us. (Can you see it in the picture below?)
After we walked on the wooden docks, we boarded the boat again to relax and have some dinner. We got to see an amazing sunset on the stillest water I’ve ever seen. The sun slowly disappeared behind the 1,600 islands and casted a warm light onto the water and throughout the clear sky.
We gave up after a while and went to the top deck to look at the stars and talk to some friends we made on the boat. Sooner than later we went to bed and then woke up around 7:00 am for the next day of events.
We were served some breakfast while pulling up to another fishing village that supplied kayaks. Enzo and I were the first ones to get on the kayaks and we immediately set off in our own direction, contrary to what our tour guide told us because we wanted to explore more!
It was so great to kayak again in such an enormous Bay! The water perfectly still, but we noticed a brown film on certain areas of the water were boats typically would park. The water seemed pretty contaminated in some areas, but then we’d paddle farther out and the water was clearly clean. Because we strayed from the group, we ended up being the last ones to finish. Once we boarded the boat again it was able to take off on the next journey to drop off some people at their next destination, while others (like Enzo and I) stayed on the boat and had a cooking class. The other, more expensive option was to get dropped off at one of the islands to stay in a bungalow.
We had our cooking class on the boat instead and planned to depart from Ha Long Bay right after in order to head to Hanoi.
It wasn’t much of a cooking class because all we did was learn how to roll up some spring rolls, but damn they tasted good once they were fried! After we got to eat our lunch that we rolled up, we docked and unloaded to get back on a bus to Hanoi!
Read my next post if you want to see what I did in Hanoi!
~ M + H