We spent about 10 days in July 2007 in the North of Vietnam (Lake Ba Be, Ha Giang, Bac Ha, Sapa) and we have only use public transports. Here is our trip report
Lake Ba Be
The normal trip is : Hanoi to Bac Kan and Bac Kan to Lake Ba Be ( entry of the national park)
From Hanoi, there are buses from 2 bus stations:
At My Dinh Bus station (Ben Xe My Dinh), buses leave at 6h
At Gia Lam Bus station (Ben Xe Gia Lam), buses leave at 12:20 and 1 pm from Hanoi to Bac Kan . The bus at 1 pm is the one to goes directly to Ba Be but unfortunately, it is not garanted every day because it can be rented for private purpose. So, you would better take the one at 12:20.
At Bac Kan, you get off and there are regular buses to Lake Ba Be. The bus will leave you at the entry of the national park.
Bus tickets prices:
Hanoi to Bac Kan: 40’000 VND. Duration: 4 hours and a half
Bac Kan to Ba Be: 30’000 VND. Duration: 1 hours and a half
Ask the price before getting on the bus and ensure that you DO NOT TO PAY FOR YOUR BACKPACK.
At the entry of the national park, there is a basic guesthouse on still house, 50’000 VND per person with share bathroom. But this guesthouse is about 1.5 km from the park, so it may not be the best place to stay because you will be far away from the park for your visits and furthermore, at night, you will have to order your dinner to the owner family beforehand, otherwise, you will have to come back to the park to find a restaurant.
In the park (entrance fees 20’000 VND and keep the ticket!!!), there are only 2 guesthouses with the same prices. The cheapest is 200’000 VND for a double room with private bathroom. There are 2 restaurants but the one at the end of the road is better, the staff is really friendly.
The last option is sleep at the inhabitants house but be aware that these guesthouses are far away from the park entrance, about 8 km.
For your visits, there are boats going to the 3 lakes, to the caves, to the waterfall and it costs 400’000 VND and is able to carry 12 persons maximum (duration: 5-6 hours)
If you only want to visit the 3 lakes, it costs 200’000 VND and 100’000 VND for the caves or the waterfall. You can choose to visit separately either the 3 lakes or the caves and the waterfall.
At our opinion, the caves are not worthwhile but the waterfall is nice.
If you want to go trekking, you will have to hire a guide (150’000 VND a day) and you will have to ask the receptionist at your hotel. There is no staff for the national park but the receptionist of the hotel can give information.
Lake Ba Be to Ha Giang
From Ba Be, take the bus to Thai Nguyen (4 hours and a half, 35’000 VND) at 5h30 at the entry of the park.
From Thai Nguyen to Ha Giang, the bus leaves between 10 or 11 am (5 hours and a half, 75’000 VND)
At Ha Giang, there is a hotel at the opposite of the bus station (Duc Giang Hotel), 140’000 VND for a double room with private bathroom. The staff is friendly and helpful
From Ha Giang, we took a bus to Meo Vac, bus leaves early in the morning (5, 6, 7 am and costs 50’000 VND) and lasts 5 hours. If you take the one at 5 am, you will have to tell it to the bus driver ( ask the receptionist of your hotel to do it for you) because he will pick you up
To go back from Meo Vac to Ha Giang, the bus leaves with the same schedule and the last bus is at 12:00 am
The landscape is stunning and if you can, do it by motorbike (it will allow you to stop freely to take pictures). You will see green valleys with rice paddies with rivers at the bottom of the mountains.
It was the most wonderful landscape that we have seen in Vietnam.
Ha Giang to Bac Ha
It is a very long way to get to Ha Giang to Bac Ha and it is split in 4 parts: from Ha Giang to Tuyen Quang (by bus) , from Tuyen Quang to Yen Bai (by bus), from Yen Bai to Lao Cai (by train) and finally from Lao Cai to Bac Ha
We took the bus at Ha Giang at 10:30 am to Tuyen Quang (duration 5 hours, 60’000 VND.
From Tuyen Quang to Yen Bai, bus drive lasts 2.5 hours, 35’000 VND
From Yen Bai to Lao Cai, the train is at 2 am and the ticket can be purchase at the train station only 30 minutes before departure. Or you can buy the ticket in a special office but far away from the train station and unfortunately, people in this town do not speak English.
We arrived in Lao Cai at 7 am and from there, we took a bus to Bac Ha. The bus station is about 300 m from the train station and try not to be hassled by people around, go by yourself to the bus station (we asked our way to drink sellers around the train station, very helpful). Bus drives last 2.5 hours and cost 30’000 VND.
If you plan to go to the Can Cau market, stay in the same bus, it takes 1 hour more for an additional 10’000 VND.
We went to the Can Cau market (Saturdays), it was really cool to see so many colorful cloth from the tribes. It is quite hard to take pictures of these persons.
In the afternoon, we made a little trek to the village around, it is indicated in the Lonely Planet and it was very quiet.
The next day, on Sunday, the Bac Ha market was very lively and there are loads of buses coming from Sapa, after 10 am, it is very crowded. It is a good idea to wake up early.
Bac Ha to Sapa
Public transport: Bac Ha to Lao Cai and Lao Cai to Sapa
Take bus from Bac Ha to Lao Cai, 2.5 hours, 30’000 VND. Tell the bus driver that you want to reach Sapa because he will let you off at the road intersection, near a bridge (about 2 km before Lao Cai) and from there, a lot of buses go to Sapa (1 hour, 25’000 VND). Otherwise, the bus will drive back to Lao Cai where you will have to take a motorbike drive to get to the bridge to catch the bus to Sapa. From Lao Cai train station, there are only few buses to Sapa and the schedules are stettled according to trains arrivals in Lao Cai.
From Sapa, there are a lot of trekking possibilities and we decided to go directly to tribes to stay overnight without going through travel agencies.
BE AWARE OF THE DISHONNESTY OF THE TRAVEL AGENCIES TOWARD TRIBES PEOPLE:
Most of travel agencies in Sapa offer trekking tours to several villages with overnights at tribes villages and the cheapest price is 18 USD per day per person.
Unfortunately, most of these travel agencies under pay the inhabitants of these villages. It can even be considered as “ Ripping off tribal people”.
For exemple, instead of paying 30’000 VND per person per night, they pay 20’000 or 25’000 and sometimes, if it is a big group, they even pay less.
Travel agencies send food for their group directly to the family who will cook for the trekkers. But they do not give money to the family for this service (cooking & doing the washing up) even if usually, people give them at least 20’000 VND.
Of course, the family cannot complain because they are afraid that the travel agencies will select an another family and not come to their house any more.
So, I truly think that the travel agencies are abusing of their position and you should not take a tour with them. There is a way to do it.
You will need a permit to stay overnight at the village and to obtain it, go to the Sapa tourism information center (located at the beginning of the main street, Cau May) and they will give it for free. It is important to obtain it because if there is a police control, you can be fined (1 million of VND for foreigners and 500’000 VND for Vietnamese ).
At your arrival in the family at the village, give this permission to the family who will announce your presence to the police of the village.
It is usual to give to the family 30’000 VND for the night per person and you have to bring your food and they will cook for you. There is no obligation to give them money for that but it is quite common to give 20’000 VND considering the fact that they cook and do the washing up, it is very fair.
We slep in Ta Van village (motordrive from Sapa to Ta Van, 15’000 VND) and the next day, we did the trekking from Ta Van to Su Pan, 6 hours.
The trek is not difficult but in the rainy season, it is very very slippery. If it it the first time that you do this trek, it is a good idea to hire a guide who most of time is a member of the family (100’000 VND for a day) where you stayed overnight.
The landscape was amazing and worthwhile even if we walked under the rain.
Our recommandation for a family in Ta Van, very friendly and helpful people.
Mrs Van Thi Xoi
Nha Xau Xoi, Ta Van Village, Doi 2.
Mobile phone: 09 87 40 38 01, this number is a mobile phone of one of her friend who lives close to her house. You can book your place through this number
From Ta Van to Sapa by mototaxi, it costs 30’000 VND
The buses inside of Hanoi is very cheap, 3’000 VND a drive. The best way to know which line you need is to buy a map with bus lines, it is called “ Ban Do Van Hoa- Du lich va cac tuyen buyt” (cultural-tourist city map and bus lines) and you can buy (15’000 VND) it at the library, near the Hoan Kiem Lake
There are quite a lot to do in Hanoi but we highly recommend the Ethnology Museum, it is a wonderful museum !!!!
Perfum Pagoda (Chua Huong)
To get there by public transport, take a bus at Ha Dong or My Dinh Bus station ( Ben Xe Ha Dong or Ben Xe My Dinh) to Chua Huong ( 1.25 hours, 10’000 VND, buy your ticket at the ticket selling office).
When you arrive at the bus terminal (Ben Duc) , turn left and walk to few meters, there is a ticket office where you will have to pay 43’000 VND as entrance fees. This ticket include the boat ride (return ticket) and normally you will not to pay something more.
The embarkation is about 2 km from the bus terminal, and all boat drivers will ask you to give them something to drive you to the pagoda Thien Tru (main pagoda) but DO NOT PAY MORE, you can tip them at the end but be aware that you have already paid your ticket.
At the pagoda Thien Tru, you can take a lift to bring you to the top of the hill for 30’000 VND each way.
At the week day, there are few people going there, so it might be a good idea to get there at week end and be sure to arrive at the embarcation as early as you can because the boat ride already takes 2-3 hours to go and go back.
6. Mai Chau
From Hanoi to Mai Chau, take a bus at Ha Dong Bus station ( Ben Xe Ha Dong ), duration 3 hours and 30'000 VND.
To stay overnight, the cheapest option is at the village on stilt houses, (50'000 VND per person per night) and you can order all your meals to the family.
You can go uphill just behind the rice paddies (30-45 minutes), the view on the top is great.
South of Vietnam
7. Con Dao Island
This island is really beautiful and this wildlife is quite impressive. Stay there at least 4 nights and 5 days, there are a lot of things to do
We saw monkeys, squirrels and endemic birds just by walking in the forest.
The national park staff is very helpful and knows well the region.
The accommodation is quite expensive for a backpacker’s budget.
We stay in ATC Hotel (22 USD a double room at low season, and 55 USD at high season), nice place and very kind staff.
Pick up at the airport : 20’000 VND per person and they can change your flight ticket for you if you change your mind
There are some new guesthouses but they do not any website. So, it might be good to book one night and walk around to find some cheaper place to stay.
We noted one of them but we have not visited it
Khach san Mi Ni, 2 Nga
Phone: 06 830 260 or 06 630 308
Khu N7, Tran Phu Street
Price is around 160’000 VND
As the North- East is not very touristy, it was quite difficult to obtain information and as I speak Vietnamese, I truly hope that the information was helpful.
Enjoy Vietnam, it is a beautiful country and we highly recommend the North-East area.
#1 vuh has been a member since 1/5/2007. Posts: 24
i can't get the info in either language but when i travel BAC KAN to hanoi on my old motorcycle I pass several buses. someone who speaks better vietnamese than i, might be kind and add to the info. there is definitely a night bus from bac kan to hanoi passing noi bai airport.
also - traveller beware - 1. the times from hanoi were different on each website i searched.
2. do not catch these buses on the eve of a holiday. the english word overcrowded is insuficient to explain - think 'migrants from bangladesh/north africa'