Photo: Canals of Ca Mau, Mekong Delta.

Vietnam forum

Mai Chau, Halong Bay or Sapa?

Posted by mhlow on 28/6/2009 at 18:53

My girlfriend and i are going to spend 6 nights in Hanoi. We've narrowed it down to doing 2 out of the 3 places above. Any suggestions??

Also, has anyone had any experience with Trekkingtravel tour agency for tours to Halong Bay? Heard it isn't too bad. It seems Columbus tours is pretty good but just a bit to expensive for us.


#1 mhlow has been a member since 25/6/2009. Posts: 8

Posted by BruceMoon on 28/6/2009 at 19:11


It's hard for ppl to advise when we don't know when you're planning on being in VN.

The time there will reveal good/bad options.

So, we'll await that vital piece of info.


#2 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Agoda coupon: Get an extra 7% off selected properties with the coupon code

Posted by mhlow on 28/6/2009 at 20:40

thanks for your reply!

we'll be arriving in Hanoi on the 8th July and leaving on the 14th July.

#3 mhlow has been a member since 25/6/2009. Posts: 8

Posted by BruceMoon on 29/6/2009 at 06:34


In many respects, and though much more low key Mai Chau offers a similar sort of experience to SaPa, but I'd tend towards SaPa.

Might I suggest you take the Saturday night train to Lao Cai (rail head for SaPa). This will have you arriving early on Sunday morning.

From Lao Cai, go to BacHa market, then at about 11am, travel to SaPa. Then take the night train from Lao Cai on Monday night.

- - -

As for BacHa, this is an amazing must see (IMHO). As the logistics are generally organising a seat on a bus from Lao Cai to BacHa and return to SaPa, many tour operators can organise. Same same for the night train.

In SaPa, as you appear are on a tight budget, check out Queen Hotel. This place is well priced and situated smack bang in the centre of the 'action'.

Many ethnic women congregate there to sell their wares. Many ask you to come and visit their village (they all speak English quite well). If you are half smart, you'll say yes the those that speak English well. In so doing, remember that they want a donation for their efforts (about US$10, which isn't much to you but heaps for them). Also, keep asking questions about THEIR lifestyle, you'll learn heaps and come away really impressed about life in the region and your own lifestyle.

- - - -

I'd also suggest you spend 2 nights in the Halong Bay area (unless it's going to be raining or fogged out - a distinct possibility).

So, I'd be leaving the booking of the Halong Bay trip to when you arrive on the 8th, and weather permitting, trying to leave on the 9th (the mini vans depart about 8:30 - 9:00). Hopefully, 2 nights on the water, and return on 11th in time to catch the night train to Lao Cai.

Hope this helps.


#4 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by rebeccafarrent on 29/6/2009 at 08:50

We just had fantastic experience emailing back and forth with Columbus. Very pleasant! They offered us the promotional rate of 85 pp aboard the Pinta Cruiser and 99$ pp for the Pinta Gold. Seem good value for money. Can't wait to go!

#5 rebeccafarrent has been a member since 2/5/2009. Posts: 37

Posted by mhlow on 29/6/2009 at 10:57

Thanks Bruce and Rebecca for your replies.

Bruce, is the weather really that bad this time of the year? I think you recommended Columbus Tours in one of your previous post, but is there any other tour agencies that are fairly decent or which you had a good experience with? We were thinking about Trekkingtravel or Vega Travel? Columbus tours is charging nearly 200USD for the 3 days 2 nights cruise and that's just too pricey for us.

#6 mhlow has been a member since 25/6/2009. Posts: 8

Posted by daawgon on 29/6/2009 at 12:20

I've been to both Mai Chau and Sapa , and I vote for Sapa too. Mai Chau is interesting for a few hours and unique, but Sapa is just more special. I would stay at the Cat Cat because it has great views, it has a trek booking office (see the Aussie), and is generally outstanding and priced right too.

#7 daawgon has been a member since 17/4/2007. Posts: 1,151
 Send daawgon a private message 

Posted by BruceMoon on 29/6/2009 at 12:25


First, weather. This is the wet time of year. For more on seasons, go to:

Though it is the early part of the wet season, it MAY be sunny, showery, rainy, or some combination.

Today, the whole area is covered by dense cloud. Go see at:,%20Vietnam&wuSelect=WEATHER

If you 'right click' on the small picture to the left side to open in a new tab/window, you'll see just how dense the cloud really is. Halong Bay is about where the 'g' is in Hai Phong (on the right side).

But, in a weeks' time, it may all be sunny again - that's weather.

- - - -

To be frank, Halong Bay is such a nice place when clear and sunny (even overcast), but I wouldn't waste my money if it was going to be wet, or foggy. You just wouldn't see anything to justify the expense.

- - - -

You didn't say what time of day you are arriving HaNoi. But if before (say) 3pm, I'd be waiting till I arrived before making any bookings (with anyone).

- - - -

As far as which company to go with, I know enough about Vietnamese travel agents to know not to generally recommend. Because I had a 1-2-1 experience with Columbus, and they only have their own boats, and heaps of others have had good experiences, I feel OK making recommendations about them.

My suggestions would be to note that:

1/. remember that the 'cheapie' tours often have ppl motored through Halong Bay, and drop them off to sleep at Cat Ba (just another tourist town on land - this time fronting Halong Bay). Yes, you get to see SOME parts of Halong Bay, but not much, and you are ALWAYS in the company of a host of other boats (with noise, yahoo-ing, etc., being carried across the water).

2/. the next level up of tours has boats congregated around the caves area, both for day, and for night. Believe me when I say it's noisy. But, again, these boats take you into the first part of the Bay, but you don't get to see the more 'remote' areas with the fascinating karst outcrop arrangements. In a sense, they are similar to #1, above, but you sleep on the water.

3/. To my way of thinking, you do need to spend at least one night in the far eastern part of Halong Bay area. In other words, the operator needs to be showing you (on a map) that the boat moors overnight in an out of the way location. To reduce costs, if you can find this sort of option without the quality food of the Pinta, then you may be able to manage a better price.

4/. like always, be aware that what is offered may not necessarily be what is delivered.

5/. I'd definitely suggest that you would be very wise to re-read:

There are alternate options there that may be quite worthwhile for you.

- - - -

One thing you really need to be aware of is that in HaNoi, anyone can set themselves up as a tourist office AND COPY A WELL KNOWN FIRM'S NAME. For example, I counted dozens of Sinh Cafe 'offices'. Even Lonely Planet has the wrong address shown on its map (right address in the text). Handspan is another name with copycat offices.

So, check out which company you think is OK, and make sure you have the right website / street address of its office.

Hope this helps.


#8 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Please login to add a reply

You need to be a Travelfish member to be able to add a reply to this post. Please use the button below to log in. After logging in you'll be returned to this page automatically to add your post. Not a member? Join up here.