.....NORTHERN VIETNAM - February/March 2012
Halong Bay Junk

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Overview……..This Northern Vietnam tour was planned to offer a new experience and to add a new dimension to travels hitherto in south-east Asia. However it is true to say that as culture shocks go, this new experience surpasses most. The selection of an itinerary was influenced initially by nature. Halong Bay had recently been added to the world heritage list and its mere description was enticing. The mysterious and challenging terrain of the northern highlands bordering China accommodating the highest peak in south-east Asia was another factor while throughout the former North Vietnam, natural wonders abound. In fact the ultimate reason for selecting the itinerary was Vietnam’s recent history of conflict which was made substantially worse by its natural barriers which had protected the country for centuries.
After Halong Bay and Hanoi it was planned to visit a remote and seemingly insignificant outpost in the northern highlands, a place which set alight a conflict which was to decimate a generation, a conflict which was to end colonialism in south-east Asia and a conflict which forms the culture which exists today in Vietnam. That place was in a small valley surrounded by mountains in a most inhospitable part of the country: Its name Dien Bien Phu. This historical significance was to be the corner-stone of the tour. All being well this would be followed up by a return to the lowlands and progress to the coastal region south of Hanoi. In the end the challenge became too great, much of the objectives unaccomplished, especially at Dien Bien Phu itself. The reason for failure is outlined in the travel log but in the end it demonstrated that inadequate preparation had compounded the problem and confirms that Vietnam has yet to develop an infrastructure that travelers from western counties and many in southeastern Asia had taken for granted. If nothing else this tour brings home the need for thorough research and planning beforehand but at the end of the day those who succeed in Vietnam are well rewarded by Vietnam’s history and natural wealth coupled with a cost of living that challenges few international travelers.

Itiniary……..For full report click on travel log
Day 1, Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi Airport) to Hanoi (1 night stay).
Day 2-4, Hanoi to Cat Ba Town via Haiphong (3 nights stay).
Day 5/6-7, Cat Ba Town to Sapa via Haiphong, Hanoi and Lao Cai (1 night travel, 2 nights stay).
Day 8-9, Sapa to Dien Bien Phu (2 nights stay).
Day 10-12, in hospital at Dien Bien Phu (3 nights).
Day 13/14, Dien Bien Phu to Bangkok via Hanoi (overnight travel).
Excursions.....(These were by motorbike or boat).
Ga Ha Noi railway station, Ben Tuan Du Lich, Cat Ba National Park, Hoa Cuong cave, Halong Bay - Monkey Island, pearl farms, Hang Sung Sot Cave, Cannon Fort.
Hanoi........Minh Toan Hotel, type-hotel room, aircon, hot shower TV, Wifi, a very basic breakfast included, rating....fair, price $20.
Cat Ba Town........Duc Tuan Hotel, type-hotel room, aircon, hot shower TV, Wifi, breakfast - none, rating....good, price $8.
Sapa........unrecorded on account of illness. A number of small hotels are within walking distance of the bus station, Accomodation is basic and it is essential to check the rooms have heating and adequate hot water as temperatures can drop sharply in winter.
Dien Bien Phu........unrecorded on account of illness. A number of small hotels are within walking distance of the bus station. Better class hotels are located near the memorial. As with Sapa it is important to check the basic facilities rather than the cost which is academic here.
Hanoi........dull overcast 10-15c.
Cat Ba Island........dull overcast sea climate, occasional sunshine 15-20c.
Sapa........shrouded in cloud, visability poor 5-10c.
Dien Bien Phu........some sunshine at altitude 15-20c.

Dining out
Hanoi........Vietnamese food is not renowed for its flavour in the way as is Thai food. Noodle dishes are common as are Vietnamese style spring rolls. As a former French colony the daily baggette can be obtained almost anywhere in Vietnam. Also in the same style pavement cafes are the norm.
Cat Ba Town.......Duc Tuan Hotel has a restaurant as does most other hotels. Some western food as available but rice and noodles are the staple food. A nearby bakery offers fare both savoury an sweet. Fresh coffee drip style is the norm.
Sapa/Dien Bien Phu........The northern regions specailize in offering spit-roasted suckling pig cooked in the open outsite restaurants. A regular pastime is to drink local fresh coffee and tea on pavement cafes with the occasional puff from a opium pipe.
Transport used
Air Asia flight Bangkok to Hanoi, 2,700 baht.
shuttle bus from the airport to Hanoi, 40.000 dong.
Taxi to Luong Yen bus terminal, 40.000 dong.
combination, bus/van/boat from Hoang Long bus company, Hanoi to Cat Ba Town, 190,000 dong.
Halong Bay 1 day boat trip, $16.
combination, bus/van/boat from Hoang Long bus company, Cat Ba Town to Hanoi, 190,000 dong.
Taxi to My Dinh bus terminal, please read travel log.
sleeper bus Hanoi to Lao Cai/Sapa, price unrecorded thought to be about 250,000 dong.
minvan Sapa to Dien Bien Phu, price unrecorded.
sleeper bus Dien Bien Phu to Hanoi, price unrecoded.
Air Asia flight Hanoi to Bangkok, 2,900 baht.
Motorbike rental
Cat Ba Island $4.