After hearing about its’ natural charms and exotic appeal, our family finally embarked on our first trip to Vietnam! If you desire to spend some quality family time with your kids and significant other in the tranquillity of nature, then a trip to Northern Vietnam might just do the trick. We just got back, and everyone is already having the travel blues. My daughter even asked, “When are we going again?”, when I was getting her ready for school.
Hanoi, like any Southeast Asian metropolitan city, is chaotic and bustling. With the crazy traffic and hordes of motorcycles, it can be quite overwhelming and daunting at first. But with time, you would come to appreciate the eclectic mix of foreign influences, the quaint, beautifully decorated cafes and their deliciously healthy Vietnamese cuisine. The city is teeming with character, this is especially apparent when you wander around the Old Quarter.
While researching for the trip, I realised many people said that Hanoi is a base to travel to places like Sapa and Ha Long Bay. Obviously, being the savvy traveller who did not want to miss out of the good stuff, I made sure our itinerary covered those “hot spots”. Though with pre-schoolers in tow, I was afraid that it may be very troublesome to cover so many places. So, I decided to book most of the “long-haul” transportations online in advance. Thankfully, I chanced upon Bookaway, an online travel planning website, which I used to book everything. Especially if you are on a budget, I really recommend you to book your tickets online with Bookaway to make the journey a little less stressful. Between managing the kids and trying to figure out your way around the city and beyond, let’s just say you are definitely going to need it.
Travelling from Hanoi to Halong Bay
Obviously Halong Bay would be the first stop! There are 2 ways to get from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay, namely private hire (a bus, luxury minivan or car) or by train. Taking a direct bus or shuttle would take about 3.5-4.5 hours. Travelling by train from Hanoi to Hai Phong would take around 6.5 hours, hence it wasa definitely not an option. A private hire for a car would usually cost from US$80 to $100. However on Bookaway, I managed to find other cheaper options such as the standard bus and the shuttle bus at US$9.50 per person. In the end, I chose the shuttle bus option which was pleasantly on time and an overall comfortable journey. Halong Bay was absolutely beautiful and we took a cruise to fully enjoy the surrealistic scenery. The kids really loved the fact that we got to go on a boat. Now, I truly understand why it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Travelling from Halong Bay to Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh has one of the most majestic and mystical natural landscapes. Ninh Binh also gives you a glimpse into the rural and authentic side of Vietnam. Unfortunately, in Vietnam, there are many taxi drivers who scam tourists by rigging the meter or quoting an exorbitant price. You can take a bus or a taxi by booking through a local. But all that hassle was saved because I just booked a standard bus at $9.50 per person on Bookaway. There was even a free hotel pick up, which made things much easier. The 4 hour journey was smooth and pleasant. When you reach, be sure to do the Trang An boat ride. Although it is the second choice among many tourists, with Tam Coc being the first. However, Trang An is less crowded. It’s best to head there in the morning or late afternoons when many of the large tour groups have not reached.
Travelling from Hanoi to Sa Pa
Sa Pa is truly a once in a lifetime experience. The views of the neat terraced rice fields are truly breath-taking. And there’s so much room for the kids to run wild. We took a sleeper bus for $11 from Bookaway. I suggest bringing wet boots or hiking boots with grip, especially for your little ones, as the ground can be quite slippery and steep. It often rains in Sapa, since it is a hilly region in high altitudes. Landslides also occur there, and we even saw someone who fell on his buttock after slipping in one of the wetter zones. Let’s just say he had a real mud bath! Sa Pa is a town in the Hoàng Liên Son Mountains of northwestern Vietnam. It is a highly popular trekking base, as it overlooks the Muong Hoa Valley. Nearby there is a 3,143m-tall Phang Xi Pang peak, which is climbable via a steep, multiday guided walk but not children friendly. Although the children of the Hill tribes that reside there would have no problem. Many of them are either from the Hmong, Tay or Dao tribe. It is hard to miss them with their colourful traditional costumes to tout and beg. They deftly navigate the steep slopes and always offered their assistance in helping you complete the trek. At the end of the trek, they would claim their bounty from you. The kids would try to sell you handmade friendship bracelets, while the women carry their babies on their backs to beg for money. Though some of them do weave their own products, such as pouches and bags. The sad thing is many of these children do not go to school, but spend their time begging and “make a living” instead. We saw a tourist buy some friendship bracelets from the kids. As a result, he was swarmed by an overwhelming number of kids who gathered around him to try their luck. It was an eye-opening experience for my kids, as they realised how children in other parts of the world grow up differently. Although they would probably only fully understand this when they grow older, I am glad they got to experience it first-hand.