(Mr. Paul & Mrs. Herta Hafner reviews of 7 days Northwest Vietnam, ~1,400 km)
Tempo of the tour and the stop-over
This varied quite a bit between days. Son La – Phong Tho on day 3 (50 km added in order to provide us a more quiet hotel than Muong Lay could apparently have offered) was a very long section, with the last two hours completely in the dark. Sapa – Vu Linh was long but rewarded with a splendid homestay.
Car (Ford Everest, near new), the driver (Mr. Thuan, excellent and considerate driver).
Ok, considering the remoteness. The Khach San Cong Doan in Son La is too big and too noisy, and totally lacking in ambiance (also, one of the towels in the bathroom was soiled when we arrived). Hoang Long in Sapa is borderline (no air-con, nice views if one can see the view; on one occasion we were asked for a sum of money for handing over the key after we returned from a walk – not the sign of a good establishment).
Of the two ‘homestays’, the one in Vu Linh was splendid, whilst the one in Mai Chau was really a giant guest house on stilts, lacking any ‘home’ feel (but we enjoyed the stay there, too, and especially the performance after dinner; collecting USD5 per person for the performance was petty, on a budget of USD750 per person). Could homestay hosts have a range of different pillows, allowing for a range of anatomies?
The first lunch in Hoa Binh (at a tourist place whose name I don’t recall) was substandard. This was all the more annoying as halfway through our meal about a dozen French speaking tourists (with a bus from buffalotours.com) arrived and were treated to a fine banquet lunch at the next table. We had not been offered a printed menu, and the verbal communication about food with our guide Mr. Dzung was not completely established yet).
Lunch on Day 2 in Son La was ok, after we insisted on being given a menu, and while the quality of the food was ok, the standard of service at Cong Doan is poor – we were offered a soiled tablecloth and treated almost like aliens when we insisted on a clean one which could not be procured. In response to our dissatisfaction, Mr. Dzung arranged dinner at the Sunrise Hotel, very nice food and extremely friendly service. This would probably have been a better choice of hotel than Cong Doan. From then on, the food was pleasant.
Highlights: the Vietnamese dinner in Sapa with Mr. Dzung, the dinner at Buffalo Bell in Sapa, and the meals in Vu Linh.
The organization – Guide services
The organisation was good overall, prompt email communication, always friendly. The printed itinerary which I received in Hanoi was not correct (Day 2: Mai Chau-Son La ~8hrs? Not really. Day 4 was completely different from the description: we went to Sapa. The explanation was that the printout was for motorcycles, but in earlier correspondence, I had been told that the only difference between the cycle and 4×4 tour would be that ‘ride’ has to be translated to ‘drive’. In Sapa, we stayed in Hoang Long rather than Cat Cat as printed.). Mr. Dzung is an excellent guide, with good command of English, and good interpersonal skills. He was in good phone contact with the head office, able to smooth things out eventually.
Hard to know what is a fair price. We had cheaper as well as more expensive offers for comparable packages. Considering the overall low prices.
Full name: Paul Hafner & Herta Hafner
Address: NEW ZEALAND.
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