Hoa Lu, Mua Cave and Trang An Small-Group Boat Tour
- Small group
- Transportation included
- Skip the ticket line
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Overall, Sa Pa is a beautiful place and a must visit destination. However, the advertising for this experience is a little bit misleading. We were not given an itinerary, instead we had to rely on the minimal instructions from the various staff we encountered. These instructions were occasionally confusing and left us guessing where we were meant to be for dinner or lunch and also where and when we should meet any transport. For a ’3 day trekking tour’, only 1 of the days was an actual trek. The Cat Cat village looks surprisingly like a movie set and after asking some questions we found out that no local villagers actually live there (this was still a great photo opportunity; just not authentic). The quality of the guides was inconsistent, one day the lady was helpful then the next day the lady was clearly in a rush to get the trek finished. Also prepare yourself for pestering “village women and children” who will follow you the entire way trying to sell things.
The bus ride to Sapa was great, very comfortable way of traveling. Our guide was excellent - she was a local girl with very good English and knowledge about the area. The length of the hike in Sapa should be specified in the tour description. We didn't have any problems with this approx 11 kilometers long track, but other people did. Some needed to get picked up in the middle of the trip simply because it was physically too exhausting for them. Our return bus from Sapa was for some reason changed for 2 hours earlier (no communication about it from the company) and there was no one to pick us up to get back to our hotel in Hanoi. In the tour description it clearly says that the pick up and drop off to hotel are included. The tour organizer did not pick up her phone nor replied in WhatsApp. Luckily the Sapa Sleeping bus guide helped us out and we got a free taxi ride back to our hotel.
The tour itself was good, but for the amount of money we pay for these tours, the local guides only get like $8 per day pay, so I personally dont know if this one was worth it. Perhaps its better to book a tour with your hotel, and research the best tour operator who pays the guides better. Also, no drinks are included with any of the meals, they all have to be paid for. And when you arrive back to Hanoi, you do not get a transfer back to the hotel, that was an annoying inconvenience to find out at 4am, when a bunch of drivers are swarming around you, trying to overcharge you. As well as that, we got no choice in either top or bottom bunk on the overnight train, and I got top bunks both times, which was really inconvenient.
I really enjoyed this tour! Everything was well organised and it went very smoothly. It was only a small trekking group of 3 + our guide which was great. And our guide Chau was absolutely fantastic, she answered all of our questions and told us lots of great information about the area and her village. The overnight train was very clean and comfortable - although if you are a solo traveler you will just be in a cabin of 4 with other members of the public, but that was still okay. The homestay was fantastic, the food was really great also. And there were enough opportunities for food and showers.
It was a bit rushed as two types of tours were in the same 17 passenger bus. Time was wasted dropping some people off at their buffet lunch and, although our Bungalow lunch was mostly delicious, there were way too many courses. The swimming item was essentially dropped from the itinerary at the beginning. As the bikes we used were absolutely awful, I would’ve preferred swimming instead. It was a hot day (by Canadian standards).