I'm planning a trip to Vietnam next march and I'm in the planning stage. I'm going to spend some time in the northwest and I'm looking for recommendations. Sapa seems like the obvious and popular choice, but I'm not sure I want to spend time there. From what I have read it sounds very touristy. I live in a touristy part of my own city and find it rather tiresome. I would like to get away from the typical backpacker trail as much as possible while in Vietnam.
What are some other good places in the Northwest? -- Mai Chau? Son La?
I'll have about a week to spend in this area. I dont ride motorbikes so will be restricted to the bus system. I dont mind staying in quiet areas without a lot of tourist infrastructure.
BTW, I've just discovered this forum and site. Impressive. I may post lots of annoying questions before my trip in march!
#1 circcirc has been a member since 15/12/2010. Posts: 2
Thanks. I will check it out.
I've done a bit of googling, and Mu Cang Chai looks like a scenic place that isn't so touristy (it's not in lonely planet, which is a huge plus!)
Has anyone been there? How would one get there from Hanoi, and are there any places to stay there?
#3 circcirc has been a member since 15/12/2010. Posts: 2
There are certainly plenty of non-touristy options around that loop - and the scenery is stunning - but it depends if you want to actually do anything, like trekking, as there are no organised tour operators in any of the towns except Mai Chau (also very touristy but easier to get to than Sapa of course and very different) and Hoa Binh. And 'tourist infrastructure' (for foreigners at least) really doesn't exist either - apart from there being hotels of course. With a week you could fly up to DBP then travel back round the south of the loop by bus. Son La is worth a stop if you like prisons - and it's a sizable town with plenty of hotels - then you could do an overnighter somewhere like Moc Chau (nothing there but it had something of a charm) then a couple of days in Mai Chau. Anyway, the DBP feature story covers all that.
I've not heard of Mu Cang Chai but would be interested to hear more if you go.
Ha Giang and Cao Bang are both interesting places but hard to do anything from if you don't ride a motor bike. Most tourists there seem to be on tours organised from Hanoi. If you are happy to walk around and look at different parts of the town and travel by local bus they are great places to go, I will certainly go back there. Sapa is touristy and noisy, but you can organise local treks there and the local torist service can give you lots of info about things you can do by yourself. The second time I went I stayed up the hill from the noise at the delightful little hotel run by Baguette and Chocolate and found it much quieter.There are also lots of food stalls near the big church so you can avoid the rather bland tourist cafes.Any town, however touristy, has areas where tourists generally don't go.
#6 violets has been a member since 6/7/2009. Posts: 151
Any place that's worthwhile and easy to get to is touristy in Vietnam. Just walk a few yards off the tourist trail and Sapa is not nearly as touristy (same can be said about Hoi An). The problem is that most travelers refuse to do this, and complain about just how touristy it is. Sapa is well worth the effort, and what you read on the net about Vietnam is not always 100% true - judge for yourself.
Perfect Location - Hotel in Sapa
We decided to go to Sapa without a tour and booked this hotel for our time there (2 night in Sapa). The location could be more perfect. Its not on the main drag, but right around the corner from it which we really liked.
The room was really big with a large balcony.No real view but it was nice to watch the people go by down below. Its pretty simple with (what I thought was) hilarious pictures on the walls. TV with plenty of English channels for the rain. The bathroom was huge and clean.
There was no aircon or fan but we didnt need it at all as its much cooler up in Sapa.
We choose not do a tour from Hanoi as we wanted the freedom of choosing where and when we went out (in case of rain etc) We just strolled around the first day checking out the village, and of course sleeping after the night train.
The next day we rented a bike from the hotel for 5USD for the day (automatic) which is what everyone else charges and the owner was lovely enough to give me a little lesson before I took off, and didnt laugh when I nearly rammed into a wall while trying to turn around. We came back for lunch and he parked it up for us until we were ready to take it out again, which we didnt because I was too much of a chicken to carry on. Note: Do not drive here if you have never done it before, its not the best place to learn.
The third day we booked a tour through the hotel (12USD) which we thought was a driving tour but turned to be a hike and we loved it!!! It was amazing. We got to meet the most fabulous local tribes women who helped us along the way and I think this was probably the highlight. So even though it wasnt what we thought we had booked it ended up better!
The wifi in the hotel is amazing - it was so fast, much better than Hanoi!
Probably the best part of our stay were the staff. It is a family run hotel and they really tried to make us feel part of their family, even inviting us to have drinks with them for their sons birthday. They were so kind and really tried to help out any way they could. Each morning you got a choice of 3 breakfast options, all of which were delicious (pancakes, omelette and rolls or noodle soup).
We had a fabulous stay!
#8 adcghdsfs has been a member since 31/8/2013. Posts: 1
The entire leg from Ha Giang to Meo Vac is doable (and cheap) by public bus, but you'll miss out on being able to stop and take in the scenery. Something you may want to consider is paying someone to drive/guide you. I know that Johnny from Rocky Plateau in Ha Giang takes people around and has pretty reasonable rates.
We did this trip by motorbike in June and really loved it! Our trip report and Johnny's contact info is here: http://erohisms.com/motorbiking-ha-giang-and-beyond-our-two-day-motorcycle-diaries/
#9 erohisms has been a member since 17/3/2013. Posts: 10