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Sapa questions

  • drudogg

    Joined Travelfish
    10th July, 2009
    Posts: 4

    Hi all,

    I have a few questions about Sapa:

    1) Is there a particular day of the week that the markets occur? I can fly into Hanoi on either Saturday (Aug. 22) or Sunday (Aug. 23). Also, what time should my flight arrive at Hanoi in order for me to catch the overnight trains to Sapa? If I arrive at 3 or 4pm, is that too late to buy a ticket and catch the overnight train to Sapa?

    2) When trekking in Sapa, can I leave my larger backpack at a hotel and carry just a daypack for the trek? Seems cumbersome to carry the large backpack while trekking.

    3) I am considering bringing a small carry-on luggage with wheels instead of a large backpack (I'd have a small backpack instead). Would it be difficult to get around with a luggage with rollers in Vietnam? Walking around with a large backpack seems overly tiring for my back, and a luggage with rollers seems like a good alternative, especially when combined with a small backpack.

    Thanks.

    #1 Posted: 10/7/2009 - 11:29

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  • HoangDJ

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    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Vietnam
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    Dude,

    I'm local Vietnamese one. If you go to Sapa, please follow my answers:

    1. If I arrive at 3 or 4pm, is that too late to buy a ticket and catch the overnight train to Sapa?

    Answer: Not too late. Train departs Hanoi at 9 p.m, and it isn't the high season, and no traffic jam on Sat or Sun, so you still have chance to buy train ticket. Price is from VND 290.000 (around USD 20) to... VND 1.000.000 (around $60). Arrive Hanoi at 4 p.m, get to Hanoi center at 5 to 6 p.m, ask taxi driver to go straight to Hanoi Railways Station (Ga Hà Nội - phố Lê Duẩn

    #2 Posted: 10/7/2009 - 12:20

  • HoangDJ

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    Location Vietnam
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    Dude,

    I'm local Vietnamese one. If you go to Sapa, please follow my answers:

    1. If I arrive at 3 or 4pm, is that too late to buy a ticket and catch the overnight train to Sapa?

    Answer: Not too late. Train departs Hanoi at 9 p.m, and it isn't the high season, and no traffic jam on Sat or Sun, so you still have chance to buy train ticket. Price is from VND 290.000 (around USD 20) to... VND 1.000.000 (around $60). Arrive Hanoi at 4 p.m, get to Hanoi center at 5 to 6 p.m, ask taxi driver to go straight to Hanoi Railways Station (Ga Hà Nội - phố Lê Duẩn - in Vietnamese), go and buy your tickets, then have dinner around at Ly Thuong Kiet street (phố Lý Thường Kiệt) - about 1 km from the station, get back to station at 8.30 p.m, then... goooooooooo.

    2. When trekking in Sapa, can I leave my larger backpack at a hotel and carry just a daypack for the trek?

    Answer: Yes or no, up to your hotel you booked, but as a local Vietnamese one, I used to leave my baggage at hotel (both laptop or stuffs there). It's SAFE to leave it in hotel and go trekking just with one daypack. If you need anything, you still can buy. But REMEMBER TO BRING all money, passport, etc (also some small items that you have like watch, wallet, glasses, etc in case of you are staying in a wrong hotel)

    3) I am considering bringing a small carry-on luggage with wheels...

    Answer: You should bring it, but you know, when arrived, you will be taken by taxi, then from taxi they drop you at front of train station, you have to walk only 30 - 50 meters to the reception counter, then go back, take another taxi (cost you around VND20,000 or USD 1.00) to get some food (around the station 1 km, they have a lot of good restaurant). After that, go back to station, walk around 500 meters from the front to the rails. When you are arrive Lao Cai Station, another 500 meters to get bus station, get on the bus and they will drop you at Sapa, right front of the hotel you book.

    So, carry whatever that you like. All they main road that you will go, can go with wheels-luggage.

    Cheers.

    (Sorry, I don't know why it suddenly posted as above)

    #3 Posted: 10/7/2009 - 12:22

  • BruceMoon

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    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Australia
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    drudogg

    Answers..

    1/.

    The BacHa market occurs every Sunday. Many take the HaNoi - Lao Cai trian on a Saturday night to arrive Lao Cai on Sunday am. Then take a bus to BacHa for the market, and after about midday, take another bus to SaPa (via Lao Cai).

    BacHa IS the market that has so much colour & appeal.

    As HoangDJ indicates, the current lack of tourists means forward booking isn't necessary. But...

    While it is OK to organise the train ticket, bus connection to BacHa, etc. Personally, I'd look at a web based travel agent to book the train, the bus to BacHa, and the bus to SaPa. The extra charge shouldn't be too much. That way, you are not spending a huge amount of time organising transport, getting upset at the seemingly stupid booking/travel arrangements that occur in Vietnam, and instead can go relax and enjoy life.

    2/.

    Yes. Though I'd ensure that important personals went with you.

    For a heads up, try Queen Hotel. They are located smack bang in the centre of the 'action', and their prices are generally great.

    3/.

    I'd not use a carry-on with wheels. Vietnam streets are just not designed for same. And, unless your wheeled pack can be back-packed, it WILL be tested beyond the max.

    I personally have a 40litre carry on pack without wheels, and another with wheels & a backpack option. I use the light backpack - go check out my post re: the backpack at:

    http://www.travelfish.org/board/post/travelgear/6441_traditional-backpack--vs--hybrid-pack

    And, look at my post #4.

    So, either buy a good larger travel daypack as a light backpack, or pack very little into your big pack.

    For a trek pack, check out my reference to Tatonka.

    - - -

    Hope this helps.

    [color=red} Cheers

    #4 Posted: 10/7/2009 - 15:50

  • HoangDJ

    Click here to learn more about HoangDJ
    Joined Travelfish
    10th July, 2009
    Location Vietnam
    Posts: 19

    From Lao Cai to Sapa is 30kms long. Price for public bus is 30,000 VND (nearly 2$) or maybe more, but not over 50,000. For a private 16-seats bus, it depends.

    Beside Bac Ha market, another interesting stuffs is "Cho Tinh" (Market of Love), but nowsaday it's not as it used to be before. Only opened on every Saturday, near by a big church in Sapa. But anyway, that shouldn't be missed.

    I have no idea about hotel for foreigner over there, so no comment or suggestion. But I guess it costs around 20++ on this season. The nearest time I go offroad, I stay in the village (Ban Ho - see further at http://www.google.com/search?q=Ban+Ho+Village ) I saw a lot of guys go trekking from Sapa to here (about 30 kms), but in my point of view I rather go to Ban Ho by bike, then stay in Ban Ho (or whatever village), then go trekking from that village to another village than trek from Sapa to a village. Don't be scared. People who living in Village is very friendly and helpful, and they also have "home stay service".

    Cheers.

    #5 Posted: 10/7/2009 - 18:21

  • scafire_jes-
    se

    Joined Travelfish
    1st March, 2008
    Posts: 17
    Total reviews: 2

    I agree with BruceMoon about a rolling luggage, it will be more trouble than it's worth. Remember that navigating the sidewalks and streets of Hanoi is a bit like playing Frogger. You'll constantly be walking around people, dodging motos (yes, on the sidewalk) and cutting out into the street to go around shop fronts. It's enough of a hassle with a decent-sized pack on, I wouldn't want to be dragging one along with me as well.

    Have fun, the northern mountains of Vietnam are awesome. It was my favorite part of the country.

    #6 Posted: 11/7/2009 - 00:13

  • smash

    Joined Travelfish
    21st June, 2009
    Posts: 162

    Bruce,

    Just re your Bac Ha recommendations, would you suggest (and if someone has a good travel agency to recommend contacting) booking the train, bus to Bac Ha and then bus to Sapa prior to doing the trip? It just sounds like this would be the way to go especially seeing as I don't think I want to lug my backpack around the market with me - i.e. would prefer to have a safe, reliable and secure driver to leave it with in a locked car (if I'm dreaming, let me know lol)

    Cheers
    Ash

    #7 Posted: 11/7/2009 - 12:17

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
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    Location Australia
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    Total reviews: 6

    Ash

    There is no doubt that using a travel agent to book the journey will incur a cost.

    However, unless you are into doing the self-booking thing, I'd always recommend using a reputable travel agent.

    For travel, I've used SinhCafe. Be aware that there are so many copies, try the original:

    www.sinhcafevn.com

    email them with your journey requirements.

    Sinh Cafe are not the only reputable agency. It's just the one that I have used (and can have some confidence with).

    So, maybe send an email to several reputable firms and choose the reply that best suits you.

    Also, there are several train departures each evening to Lao Cai. Check the departure time with the arrival time. I'm thinking it will not only be about price, but also 'down' time when at Lao Cai. So, on that one, in your email, ask what time the train arrives, and what time the bus leaves (both Lao Cai, and also BacHa)

    Cheers

    #8 Posted: 12/7/2009 - 12:10

  • smash

    Joined Travelfish
    21st June, 2009
    Posts: 162

    Cheers Bruce :-)

    #9 Posted: 12/7/2009 - 12:19

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
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    Ash

    I found a reasonable online map of the area that may interest you. You can see BacHa, Lai Cao & SaPa.

    The map shows the various villages near SaPa - each being 'home' to a specific ethnic minority group (each also having their own language).

    eg. from SaPa, Lao Chai is Black H!Mong, TaVan is Gaiy, Cau May is [I forget], Ban Ho has a lot of Red Dzao, etc. You can walk yourself, to these villages, or take a trek, or ride a (hired) motorbike.

    http://www.vietnamstay.com/map/sapatrekkingmap.htm

    Cheers

    #10 Posted: 13/7/2009 - 07:27

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  • smash

    Joined Travelfish
    21st June, 2009
    Posts: 162

    Thanks Bruce - great map! So are all these places easy day hikes? Do you stay in Sapa ? I was getting confused by the accommodation section for Sapa - it sounded like a few properties were in Cat Cat? Can you hire a guide cheaply for a day trek? I read people just do this themselves and then end up getting 'pestered' by hawkers who end up being like guides anyway...

    Only one of us will have a full license and unfortunately, I don't trust my partner driving a car let alone a moto! (I'll only have a restricted category which I assume means no insurance cover if something goes wrong...)

    #11 Posted: 13/7/2009 - 08:35

  • hotchily

    Joined Travelfish
    14th January, 2009
    Posts: 14

    Ash,

    I'm normally the 'do it yourself' person however when we were last in Vietnam we booked the Sapa/BacHa/Lao Cai to 'get the show on the road' by a company called et-pumpkin, as it was recommended to us by friends. It included train travel, hotel stay including breaky, pickups, drop offs, treks, market trips blah blah.

    http://www.et-pumpkin.com/

    I think the all up costs for about 4/5 days was about $120 US - had a great time. If memory serves me right their shop was in the old quarter, HaNoi.

    Cheers

    #12 Posted: 13/7/2009 - 10:00

  • drudogg

    Joined Travelfish
    10th July, 2009
    Posts: 4

    Thanks everyone for the responses.

    How many days would one recommend for Sapa and Bac Ha ? I'm thinking of spending 1 or 2 nights in Sapa (seeing the Bac Ha market on Sunday morning, then returning to Sapa Sunday afternoon to spend the night, then trekking around Sapa on Monday, and finally departing to Hanoi via overnight train on Monday evening). Is that enough time to get a flavor of the area?

    #13 Posted: 21/7/2009 - 14:11

  • BruceMoon

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    Ash

    Sorry to be tardy (I hadn't 'clicked' the box).

    IMHO CatCat is pretty ordinary. As it's a short walk from SaPa township (refer the map, I linked above) they've had too many tourists and they're peeved by same.

    All hotel & GH accommodation is in SaPa (and there's heaps).

    As for accommodation on treks, this is purpose built for tourists (despite what brochures, etc. say. Go read my post here.

    Yes, you can hire a guide. You can also self-trek, the applicable maps are freely available. Yes, the local 'minority' women make a living out of selling cheap Chinese made goods to Tourists, and inviting tourists to come look at their village (expecting a 'donation' of [say] US$5 - 10). As far as I'm concerned, they are NEVER a problem (the alternative is that you make it so by trying to rebut them, etc.). I've accompanied many to all sorts of places - or should I say, they've accompanied me.... I ALWAYS turn the conversation around to them talking about THEIR life. They either talk for a while and go, or they stay and keep talking about themselves. When they accompany me for several hours, I make a donation. I see the situation as THEY have entertained and informed me: a few bucks won't hurt me, but will help them.

    Sometimes when I return to SaPa with them, I'll take them to the day market and buy them a bowl of Pho. Cost 15,000 VN dong. BTW, the best Pho in Vietnam is at one stall at the day market - just brilliant.


    As far as motorbike licence... The speed ppl go is very slow, and either you want to ride or not. I've never been asked for a licence by anyone. Here in Oz, we have to have a specific licence for motorbikes - I dont have and wont get. But I do ride in VN. Like always, if you go fast, you increase your chances of an accident. In VN, 10-20kph is normal speed!!!

    - - -

    hotchilly, several ppl have said et-pumpkin is good. But, like so many other reputable travel agencies, one needs to ensure they use the real one, not an imposter.

    - - -

    drudogg

    There is no right or wrong time. Some visit for a day and rave, others spend more time and ...

    SaPa is different (and has a different flavour) from the rest of Vietnam.

    In a few short years, it will be only a shell of its former self. The Vn government is going to flood the major valey for hydro electricity and this will really impact hard on the minority groups.

    Many people like to spend 2 days in saPa walking through and around the minority villages. Some spend more.

    There are trips to waterfalls and other things in the area. And, the place is good just to 'hang out'.

    I'm uncertain what you actually mean by your words.

    The Bacha market operates from about 7am through to about midday on a sunday. If you are already in SaPa, try and get a bus that gets you there before 9am. If you take a later bus, you'll not see much of the atmosphere. So, if you are in the area first, maybe even entertain going to BacHa on Saturday night and return to saPa on Sunday (about midday).

    If you are saying you want to get the Saturday night train, am Sunday to Bacha, and pm Sunday to Sapa... And, trekking around saPa on Monday... Then, yes, you'll get the flavour (but just not the detail).

    Hope this helps.

    Cheers

    #14 Posted: 21/7/2009 - 15:06

  • Rohan

    Joined Travelfish
    16th June, 2009
    Posts: 63

    Bruce

    I am interested in your idea of taking the Saturday night train and heading straight to Bach Ha for the markets. Do you know if there is anything that you can do with your luggage, or do you end up lugging it through the market?

    #15 Posted: 18/8/2009 - 12:26

  • BruceMoon

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    Rohan

    If you pre-book with an agency, they use a mini-bus firm to take you from Lao cai to BacHa and later to SaPa. Theoretically, they can organise to hold it for you. So, I'd be 'net looking and asking that question of them.

    In the first instance, try asking at www.sinhcafevn.com (who've recently changed their name, but I'm assuming they are still OK).

    Cheers

    #16 Posted: 18/8/2009 - 12:49

  • gracetandil

    Joined Travelfish
    4th December, 2008
    Posts: 56

    I will be there around November 10th, starting in Saigon and then to Hanoi . Is that the high season? Could I get tickets to Sapa when I arrive in Hanoi around November 19th? Thank you.

    #17 Posted: 26/8/2009 - 20:29

  • BruceMoon

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    grace

    It's not high season. Depending on when you wanted to travel to Lao Cai (and on to SaPa), any reputable travel agent will be able to book for you. But, don't leave it till the very last minute.

    You can book via the net. For example, try looking at www.sinhcafevn.com.

    Oh, there are several private firms with carriages 'hooked' to the VN Railways 'locomotive', so you do need to work out which level of 'luxury' you want, or how much you're prepared to pay for a sleeper.

    Cheers

    #18 Posted: 27/8/2009 - 06:44

  • gracetandil

    Joined Travelfish
    4th December, 2008
    Posts: 56

    Thank you Bruce. This site is perfect!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    #19 Posted: 27/8/2009 - 17:47

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
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    grace

    I made a 'post' specifically about SaPa. Look here .

    I 'posted' it yesterday in the Idle banter section. It was on the site yesterday, but has disappeared from view.

    If you can't 'link' to it, yell out and I'll repost.

    Cheers

    #20 Posted: 28/8/2009 - 05:28

  • gracetandil

    Joined Travelfish
    4th December, 2008
    Posts: 56

    I saw and read and studied the link you suggest dear Bruce. It´s very complete and useful. I will take that into account. I look forward to travel. I would like to leave tomorrow but I still have to wait till October.

    #21 Posted: 28/8/2009 - 06:20

  • sdl68

    Joined Travelfish
    16th July, 2009
    Posts: 14

    I have read the information on this site regarding SaPa and I am under the impression that train tickets and accommodation can be purchased relatively easily by independent travelers. How difficult is it really to arrange transport/accommodation to SaPa to/from Hanoi yourself. I have inquired with a couple "tour operators" who have basically advised that it would be next to impossible for one to manage this on his own. They are advising that the only way you will be able to get to SaPa and tour the surrounding area is by a pre arranged tour. While the price is not over the top 330 dollars all inclusive for 5 days I really dont want to commit to a specific itinerary and would rather just show up there myself and hopefully arrange for local guide and possibly a driver while in SaPa itself. Is this unreasonable? If I need to pre-book a tour anyone can I do this with a few days lead time once Im already in Hanoi or should I do it weeks ahead of time via the net?

    thanks

    #22 Posted: 28/8/2009 - 19:46

  • BruceMoon

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    sdl68

    Please go read my post:

    http://www.travelfish.org/board/post/vietnam/7390_visiting-sapa

    In that post, I refer to a travel agent listing train costs. Go, look:

    http://www.e-travelvietnam.com/default.asp?iSta=7

    You'll see that the train journey is around US$35.00 for a sleeper.

    The suggested US$330 is miles too much. Let me explain.

    The mini-bus from Lao Cai to SaPa is around US$3.00 So, that makes US$76 for return transport. Accommodation can be as low as around US$5-10 and up to US$25 / night.

    If you were OK to stay at a mid-range hotel, say Queen Hotel - not only would you be in a great location, you'd be paying around US$10-15/n. That means your total trip = US$76 return train + bus, 3 nights accommodation = US$45. This gives a total price for transport & accommodation as US$120.

    I note www.sinhcafevn.com has a 4 nighter including transport and accommodation and tour guide to SaPa for US$93.60.

    They also have a 4 nighter to BacHa market and Sapa fro US$104.

    So, 330 is a rip-off.

    Cheers

    #23 Posted: 29/8/2009 - 06:06

  • sdl68

    Joined Travelfish
    16th July, 2009
    Posts: 14

    Thanks Bruce! . You should really consider writing a travel guide ;)

    I cant believe the price variances...For example the sapatravel website has your typical 4 night/3day which includes sleeper train, one night in SaPa and a Sat night in BacHa and sleeper back to Hanoi for 310 USD for Queen hotel and 600 USD for Bamboo hotel...mind you it includes meals but geez..and thats for double occupancy!

    The alternatives in planning this are mindboggling....I almost feel like winging it and see what happens.

    I think I will go ahead and book with the Queen Hotel directly and purchase train tickets through the site you linked.

    Thank you again Bruce! If your ever find yourself in Toronto the pints are on me

    Cheers!

    #24 Posted: 29/8/2009 - 07:23

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
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    sdl

    You wrote...

    I almost feel like winging it and see what happens.

    Yes, do. It's not hard. But, always stay cool (even when touts want silly prices - just say 'sorry too much' and walk away: they'll then ask how much you say fair price but don't tell them a price [keep it to yourself] and eventually you'll get ofered a price you like), look at my other SaPa post for ideas. And pre-book transport. The link I have in the other post mentions a VN travel agent with prices. I have no idea how good/bad they are. Try emailing them, and others with what you want for travel. They'll come back to you. Include the question to www.sinhcafevn.com - I know they are fair.

    I think I will go ahead and book with the Queen Hotel directly and purchase train tickets through the site you linked.


    Why not email them and ask a price.

    When i was there in april last (low season) they were selling to walk-ins at US$8, and would accept US$5. Online, I see they want US$20/25. That's the same as everywhere in VN. Everyone asks silly high prices online, but accepts lower when you walk in. So ask them for their BEST PRICE.

    Their email address is sapaqueenhotel@yahoo.com

    Cheers

    #25 Posted: 29/8/2009 - 08:23

  • Puggles

    Click here to learn more about Puggles
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    Wow, great site! Your knowledge is invaluable BruceMoon.

    My husband and I, both relative novices to oversease travel, will be travelling to Vietnam in late Oct for 3 weeks. We fly into Hanoi (and out of HCM) and wanted to travel to SaPa and surrounds but I was beginning to worry about how we would do this safely and without too much stress. I feel a lot more confident now after reading through your posts and comments on here, and those of the other contributors.

    Now I'm off to see what information you have imparted regarding travel from the North to South and taking in the sites in between and travelling to Cambodia to Angkor.

    #26 Posted: 31/8/2009 - 12:26

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
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    Puggles

    I hope you also read the material at this site...

    http://www.travelfish.org/board/post/vietnam/7390_visiting-sapa

    Cheers

    #27 Posted: 31/8/2009 - 14:51

  • smash

    Joined Travelfish
    21st June, 2009
    Posts: 162

    Would be interested in people's thoughts on the below...

    http://www.saparooms.com/
    Your personal package includes:
    * Hanoi to Lao Cai return train tickets - 4 berth soft sleeper with airconditioning
    * Bac Ha
    * ban Ho trek
    * Cat Cat trek
    * Accommodation for two nights in a deluxe rooom
    * Transfer from Sapa to Lao Cai train station
    Total package price USD210pp

    #28 Posted: 1/9/2009 - 18:05

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
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    Ash

    Elsewhere today you sought ideas re: a Siem Reap (Angkor) package.

    Stuart initially suggested the package was at the high end. I supported that proposition. Stuart later suggested that while the high end package wasn't necessarily a rip off, he felt you could do better.

    I've put together a detailed list of comments regarding SaPa, and advanced the view that travellers need not be ripped off by greedy VN travel agents, rather, they can readily do the trekking and other activities on their own and so enjoy what SaPa has to offer.

    Cat Cat is but a 10 minute walk from SaPa township. You don't need a guide. The path is widely advertised when in SaPa. If you look at my SaPa post ( here [url]) you'll see I refer to a map of the area, and you can see where Cat Cat is located, and also Ban Ho.

    If you want to pre-book a tour of SaPa for you and your husband, go ahead. Far be it for me to offer advice about the relative value of what some tour agency is offering when I have described how you can do it for yourself.

    [color=red]cheers

    #29 Posted: 1/9/2009 - 18:54

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
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    Ash

    That should have looked like this...

    - - -

    Ash

    Elsewhere today you sought ideas re: a Siem Reap (Angkor) package.

    Stuart initially suggested the package was at the high end. I supported that proposition. Stuart later suggested that while the high end package wasn't necessarily a rip off, he felt you could do better.

    I've put together a detailed list of comments regarding SaPa, and advanced the view that travellers need not be ripped off by greedy VN travel agents, rather, they can readily do the trekking and other activities on their own and so enjoy what SaPa has to offer.

    Cat Cat is but a 10 minute walk from SaPa township. You don't need a guide. The path is widely advertised when in SaPa. If you look at my SaPa post ( here ) you'll see I refer to a map of the area, and you can see where Cat Cat is located, and also Ban Ho.

    If you want to pre-book a tour of SaPa for you and your husband, go ahead. Far be it for me to offer advice about the relative value of what some tour agency is offering when I have described how you can do it for yourself.

    Cheers

    #30 Posted: 1/9/2009 - 18:57

  • smash

    Joined Travelfish
    21st June, 2009
    Posts: 162

    Sure thanks for the input Bruce. We are going to probably do a combination of the two with at least the Hanoi- Bac Ha - Sapa -Hanoi transport arranged as particularly the Bac Ha thing coming off the train confuses me/sounds better to do privately so you're coming and going as you please/can tour on the way to Sapa itself from Bac Ha.

    I work in travel myself and am a firm believer in guides enriching a travel experience so hence why I'm looking into prearranging certain aspects such as this part of the trip and Siem Reap - basically because I have no idea about the people or the history and want to know what I'm visiting without reading 50,000 pages of information. Call me a lazy traveller needing spoon feeding I guess!

    #31 Posted: 2/9/2009 - 00:45

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