This is an overview on how to visit Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and Halong Bay islands. I will provide details that include maps, costs, logistical requirements and facts as well as links to a full written narrative, photos and videos. This is a self-guided activity on a shoestring. Follow the links to dig deeper into the adventure.
Money: $1 = 17,000 Dong (street price), 17800 (official price)
Total Cost Range of this Activity is: $$
|4 Nights in Hanoi double room ($10 per night, 2 people)
Boat Package to Halong Bay (bus & food included)
Transport from Saigon-Hanoi $70 by air & train to Sapa $15
We flew to Hanoi, via Saigon (Ho Chi Min City) for only $60 each (2.5 hr flight) on Jetstar Airways.
We paid $5 for a taxi from Saigon center to the airport (about 7 km). At Hanoi airport we got on the Jetstar Airways bus and paid 25,000 Dong (less than $2) for the 33 km ride to Hanoi Jetstar office (about 3 km from old city center where guesthouses and Turtle Lake). There are other shuttle buses available for the same price. Returning to the airport cost only $2 by shuttles located southwest of the lake. Taxis at that location also charge $2 to the airport in order to compete with the buses. At the shuttle drop we were approached by a guy from the Opera Hotel who offered us a $10 double room. He got us a free motorbike ride to the hotel (hold on). The area is a maze of small streets.
Ha Noi Opera Hotel
Sinh Cafe Travel Agency
21 Hang Dong Street
84-4-6270 2021 mobile 0904 437 696
The first night we got the first room on the first floor (one room per floor). It was small and the place was a dump, but at the standard price. They claimed to have Wi-Fi, but it didn’t work, so they ran an Ethernet cable up the stairs and into our room.
Note that these guys don’t have the same concepts of hoteling as westerner’s. On the second day Cristina returned the hotel and found them moving our belongings up to the top floor (room 201). They said it was for better Internet. They literally packed all our stuff up and lugged it up 5 flights of stairs. Naturally the Internet didn’t work, but the room did have a balcony, so we didn’t complain.
We booked a Halong Bay day trip with the hotel since it was the cheapest price ($16 each). The trip was fine for a quick glimpse of the bay, but be aware that the free lunch (which was excellent) doesn’t include drinks. Even if the guy on the boat insists that the drinks are free, don’t take them. Later in the day he extorted 40,000 to 50,000 Dong per drink. We argued with him for hours and in the end I paid 20,000 to get rid of him (going price for a can of Pepsi is 7,000). It ruined much of the day and for us and many of the passengers.
Also note that the rest stop in the morning is at a tourist crafts center and not at a restaurant. So unless you want to buy an over-priced tacky object, bring food and drinks.
Transport to Sapa
Train to Lao Cai (northeast next to China boarder and connection to trekking town of Sapa):
Trains depart a few times every evening for the town of Lao Cai. There are tourist trains with sleepers (4 per compartment) and non-tourist trains. The trip takes all night (8 hrs on average). Tourists are charged 300% more for train tickets in Vietnam by government decree. Even so the price is pretty cheap. However, getting a ticket is almost impossible. All the tourist class spots are sold to agencies that then double the price again. We opted to buy our train tickets from our hotel/guesthouse. They charged us 220,000 Dong per soft seat (the actual printed ticket price was 139,000). We opted for a soft seat on a non-tourist train rather than a sleeper that cost 380,000 Dong.
The two soft seat cars were packed (including floor space) and the hard seat cars were even worse (6 people per 4 person seat I was told). Yet it wasn’t that bad a ride. The car was air conditioned and I slept most of the night.
Lao Cai to Sapa:
From Lao Cai there are many shared vans. The starting price for tourists is $10 per person for the 45km ride. The actual price is less than $2 per person. We settled on a 50,000 each ride after much negotiation and then waited 30 minutes for the van to fill. The proper price is 35,000 each.