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Ha Long Bay or Sapa - only time for one

Posted by heidisueelvus on 1/9/2010 at 11:04

Hi Everyone,

In December we are flying into Hanoi on our way to Luang Prabang and have decided to spend a few nights in Hanoi. We're trying to decide between 4 nights Hanoi vs 2 nights Hanoi + 2 nights Sapa , vs + 2 nights Hanoi + 2 nights Ha Long Bay. All sound wonderful, however we are a bit concerned about Sapa and Ha Long bay being too touristy/crowded.
Appreciate any opinions on the best plan.

#1 heidisueelvus has been a member since 20/8/2010. Posts: 28

Posted by travellingsarah on 1/9/2010 at 11:20 TF writer

Posted from within Vietnam.

Hanoi 's pretty touristy and overcrowded too! You could spend 4 nights just in Hanoi, sightseeing and just chilling, but you do have the time there to see one or the other of Sapa / Halong so personally I'd go for it. As to which one - they are so different I can't possibly advise. But some things to think about:

Halong you could just do an overnight or 2 night trip whereas Sapa you'd need 3 nights (one night travel each way and one night there) so that might be a bit of a squeeze time-wise.

The weather - it's winter in Hanoi in December and yes, it does get a bit chilly. It's also dry though so Halong should be OK (there have been quite a few trips cancelled recently due to typhoons) though maybe not super nice sunbathing weather. Sapa will probably be cold but that can add to the romance!

Hope that helps a little.

#2 travellingsarah has been a member since 23/3/2010. Location: Vietnam. Posts: 681
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Posted by heidisueelvus on 1/9/2010 at 19:57

Thank you. That definitely helps. Sounds like a few nights in Hanoi and an overnight in Halong Bay is the way to go with my time constraints. I'm sure that Hanoi is also touristy - I have just found that big cities have more of a life of their own in addition to tourism which isn't usually the case with popular tourist sights.

#3 heidisueelvus has been a member since 20/8/2010. Posts: 28

Posted by brr1980 on 1/9/2010 at 21:01

With your time constraints, Ha Long Bay is definitely the way to go. Sapa is absolutely beautiful and was my favorite part of Vietnam, but you definitely need 3 nights in total to do it. Hanoi is lovely, and worth lingering in to soak up the vibe of the city. Sure, it's touristy in the sense that there are tourists around -- but it's also incredibly vibrant and if you put down the Lonely Planet and look around a bit, you'll find all kinds of undiscovered treasures around every corner.

Ha Long Bay is gorgeous. The one night trip was plenty for me. Think in advance of the kind of trip you want -- there are all sorts. When I was there, I wanted to do some kayaking and also have some fun on the boat. I booked it through the Backpacker's Hostel and got pretty much exactly what I wanted -- mostly young people who wanted to stay up late and cause a ruckus, while taking in the vistas during the day. But other trips were clearly geared for different crowds, with different levels of accommodation. Just pay attention to what you're booking. Have a great trip!

#4 brr1980 has been a member since 15/7/2010. Posts: 6

Posted by idreamofdurian on 1/9/2010 at 22:53 TF writer

My vote is for Ha Long Bay - it's unbelievably gorgeous. Ditto what sarah said about the weather - it's winter so don't expect to be doing any swimming or sea kayaking (I guess you could, but you won't want to). Bring a sweater and a windbreaker if you have one!

#5 idreamofdurian has been a member since 5/9/2008. Location: Singapore. Posts: 576
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Posted by oscarcat on 2/9/2010 at 07:05

chipping in with HLB, Sapa will be too cold tiem consuming and the heatinsg generally rubbish so get on a nice boat and sail round the bay

#6 oscarcat has been a member since 11/11/2008. Location: Cambodia. Posts: 66

Posted by jasinorbit on 2/9/2010 at 14:18

I agree with above Ha long bay will be better with your time. One night will still be enough, and as they mentioned above there is lots to see in Hanoi (also lots to eat, drink, & wander around). Halong Bay is touristy - but its that way for a reason, worth visting.

#7 jasinorbit has been a member since 4/12/2009. Posts: 37

Posted by Nokka on 2/9/2010 at 15:48

I would say Halong Bay, too. You can find similar scenery near Luang Prabang to Sapa.

I was in Halong Bay in January. It was a little too chilly to eat on deck, but not too cold to kayak, plus did one swim. Having said that, had one lunch out on a deserted beach with table, chairs, tablecloths etc. Actually, it was surprisingly warm when out on the water.

We did a 2 night trip, which I don't regret one bit - it enables you to get away from other boats, which tend to go to the same places on one nighters. Hardly saw another boat when there.

#8 Nokka has been a member since 6/4/2009. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 259

Posted by heidisueelvus on 2/9/2010 at 20:10

Thank you all for your replies. It makes it easier that most everyone seems to feel Halong Bay is the way to go. Nokka, can I ask you which company you did your Ha Long Bay trip with? Sounds very nice.

#9 heidisueelvus has been a member since 20/8/2010. Posts: 28

Posted by Nokka on 2/9/2010 at 22:04

Handspan. ( The trip was very good. We preferred to go on a smaller boat, which they have - there were only 6 of us in 3 cabins. There were 7 crew. We were very lucky in that we got on really well with the other passengers, 2 Americans and 2 Canadians.

The food was incredibly good on the boat, several courses each meal. The chef made hand carvings from vegetables each day, culminating in a huge one of the boat itself.

When we slept there were never any other boats nearby, unlike (we heard) the one nighters, which tend to huddle together more. We saw few other boats at all during the trip.

The trip included kayaking, which we did a fair bit of; the remote beach lunch plus transfers to and from Hanoi. It was a bit more expensive than some others we saw, but still incredibly cheap by Western standards and also for what you got.

Halong Bay was a highlight among many highlights on our 4 month trip through the region. It is an extraordinary place and, in my view, should not be rushed too much to do it justice. The weather wasn't hot, but it never mattered - the light seems to change the whole time giving the place a magical feel.

#10 Nokka has been a member since 6/4/2009. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 259

Posted by heidisueelvus on 2/9/2010 at 23:04

Sounds wonderful. We have a month but our itinerary will mostly be dictated by our daughter and her boyfriend who we will be meeting up with in Laos after we leave Hanoi. We will travel down Laos with them and end up on Phu Quoc for Christmas.

#11 heidisueelvus has been a member since 20/8/2010. Posts: 28

Posted by heidisueelvus on 2/9/2010 at 23:05

Oh, also Nokka, I was wondering - did you write a blog or trip report on your 4 mo trip around SE Asia. I'd love to read it.

#12 heidisueelvus has been a member since 20/8/2010. Posts: 28

Posted by Nokka on 3/9/2010 at 17:19

We did a journal of sorts - in written form. No online blog or anything like that. I reckon people at home hated us enough already just for being able to go, without then reminding them all the time :)

I'm sure you'll love Laos. Funnily enough, we were in Northern Laos last December and moved on to Phu Quoc for Christmas, also. Then spent a month in Vietnam moving northwards.

#13 Nokka has been a member since 6/4/2009. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 259

Posted by jewilliams on 5/9/2010 at 07:23

Halong Bay was one of the highlights for our family - with two teenagers in tow! We are actually revisiting Vietnam in 2 weeks time. May I suggest Kangaroo Cafe for booking a Halong Bay tour. We have used them 2008 for a 3 day tour and we are rebooking in a couple of weeks. Basic but clean. Food is basic but yummy.

#14 jewilliams has been a member since 5/9/2010. Posts: 1

Posted by heidisueelvus on 5/9/2010 at 12:49

Thank you all for the valuable advice. We are definitely planning Halong Bay and appreciate the suggestions for who to cruise with.

#15 heidisueelvus has been a member since 20/8/2010. Posts: 28

Posted by raintears on 4/11/2010 at 20:41

Posted from within Vietnam.

Thank you very much

#16 raintears has been a member since 4/11/2010. Posts: 1

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