Traveller vs the World: Save/Splurge Vietnam Edition
When I was planning my trip to Hanoi, I was overwhelmed by the differing opinions from friends who have previously travelled there. Some said to just wing it and others suggested splurging on certain things.
First, here's the quick breakdown of my trip:
Day 1 - Depart from KLIA2 at 0630 and arrive in Hanoi at 0855. Explore Hanoi Old Quarter before taking the overnight train to Sapa Valley (Lao Cai). Day 2-3 - Trekking in Sapa Valley and then taking the overnight train back to Hanoi. Day 4 - Arrive in Hanoi (early morning 4am) and wait for bus transfer to Halong Bay (7:30am). Halong Bay cruise, spend one night on the boat. Day 5 - Depart from Halong Bay back to Hanoi. Stay overnight in Hanoi. Day 6 - Fly from Hanoi to Da Nang and transfer to Hoi An. Day 7 - Spend the day exploring Hoi An. Day 8 - Leave Hoi An to Da Nang to catch flight back to Kuala Lumpur.
We overlooked a few things: 1. How tired we would be upon arriving in Hanoi in the early morning by flight from KL as well as by train from Sapa Valley. 2. Shower facilities on the train. 3. Potential delays of flights and trains.
Hanoi Old Quarter is beautiful but for those who don't fancy city travelling too much, a couple of days here is plentiful to experience the food and shopping. There are street vendors all over the town but be sure to bargain because they will try to charge you exorbitant prices for food. I learnt this the hard way by paying a lady VND50,000 (RM7) for donuts. The vendor got yelled at in Vietnamese by another vendor, who later on told me that I had overpaid.
Save: I would also recommend not buying a SIM card from the airport as it'll set you back VND200,000. Buying it in town will be much cheaper. I saw stalls selling it for as cheap as VND70,000.
Splurge: The night train to Sapa will take about 9 hours of journey time and as the trains are incredibly vintage, your sleep will be compromised by loud creaks in the middle of the night and since you will be arriving in Sapa in the early morning and most trekking tours will start about two hours upon arrival, rest is essential. Book a VIP berth - it'll cost more but you will not risk getting roommates who snore loudly and you won't have to climb up onto the top bunkers (no ladders - good luck engaging that upper body and core strength). This is an especially useful tip if you're travelling with someone elderly.
Splurge: Sapa Valley is incredibly beautiful and takes quite a bit of time and effort to access. You should be spending at least 2 nights in Sapa Town. Set aside some time apart from trekking to take the newly built cable car, Fansipan Legend, up to the peak of 3143 metres and enjoy spectacular aerial views of the rice fields and mountainous ranges. It'll cost something like RM100 per pax return, but it's a great way to relax and enjoy the view from up above (away from those crazy trekkers below).
After Sapa Valley, we rode the night train back to Hanoi to catch a shuttle bus to Halong Bay, arranged by Paloma Cruise. We arrived back in Hanoi at 4am and our bus was only at 7:30am. We had to fork out of a bit of money to rent a hotel room for a couple of hours to catch some much-needed shuteye.
Splurge: (this is going to be a recurring trend because Vietnam is worth splurging on) Halong Bay junk tours are aplenty, but which would you choose? I brilliantly chose mine through AirBnB. Yes, it cost RM700 per person for a return bus fare from Hanoi to Halong Bay, one night stay on the cruise with all meals provided, but it was worth every cent.
Paloma Cruise just so happen to be the one I found on AirBnb and I had no regrets. The service was impeccable from start to end. They made sure our entire journey was seamless and comfortable. The staff on board greeted us each by name and the programme was spread out evenly so everyone could enjoy all the various activities.
We really enjoyed visiting the fishing village and the pearl cultivation farm. We were also given time to kayak as well as explore an old cave. Additionally, the food onboard the Paloma Cruise was top notch, making it worth every cent.
This amazing night view was from the deck after sunset - shot with my Sony A6000. Halong Bay is stunning, tranquil and romantic.
From Halong Bay, we went back to Hanoi to catch a transfer flight to Da Nang.
Save: Internal flights, eg from Hanoi to Da Nang is crazy cheap with budget airlines like Jetstar. It was only RM150 per person and we flew on a Friday. Since it's only an hour away, it's worth taking a few days of extra leave to extend your holiday to include Hoi An.
Save: Don't stay in crazy expensive resorts by the beach or even in heritage homes in the middle of old town. Instead, opt for a Homestay near the beach (so you can walk to the beach to enjoy the sunrise) and cycle to the ancient town just 5km away. The cycle is easy - it is mostly flat and it'll take you anywhere from 15-20 minutes. Most homestays or hotels will provide a bicycle for free, so be sure to take full advantage of that.
The beach has seen better days, so if you're looking for a clean white beach, this may not be the place to splurge on a beachfront hotel to kick back. Instead, there's so much to do in town and accommodation is far cheaper.
Hoi An is a place that needs at least 3 or 4 days to full appreciate. Sadly our flight was delayed and what was supposed to be a 2 day trip got cut down to a one day trip. But in this one day, we managed to tailor clothes because of the 24 hour turnover time.
Which brings me to my last splurge: getting clothes that is tailored to fit you to a t for $40 is not exactly a splurge because it's still in the affordable range. But if you're the type of traveler that goes full budget and backpacks and stays in hostels, then this is a splurge but one that is worth it.
If you're ever in Hoi An, pick up a couple of beautiful lanterns to bring back home. Each medium sized lantern is only about VND70,000 (which is equivalent to about RM8.50). That's a bargain right there!
Hope you've enjoyed this post. Leave a comment below on other things you'd like to know about travelling in Vietnam!