Vietnam: 9D8N Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay itinerary

“Nine days? What are you going to do in Hanoi for nine days??”

Well, technically one of the days do not count, since our return flight was early in the morning. But we managed to cover a fair bit, at our own pace, doing only the things we want to do.

Here’s a quick overview of our itinerary, a glimpse into a really fantastic, memorable trip. I will blog about them later when I have time (and energy, mostly energy).

The best Hanoi itinerary, ever

DAY 01 >> Arrive in Hanoi. Depart for Lร o Cai via overnight train

Hanoi itinerary - Day 01 arrival
Happy tourists

DAY 02 >> Arrive, transfer to Sapa. Visit Cat Cat village, and Fansipan

Hanoi itinerary - Day 02 Cat Cat village
Steps through Cat Cat village, straight to your heart

Hanoi itinerary - Day 02 Fansipan
Reached the peak via cable car and my God-given legs. And a lot of cursing.

DAY 03 >> Sapa trekking through Muong Hoa Valley. At night, depart for Lร o Cai for Hanoi via overnight train

Hanoi itinerary - Day 03 Sapa trekking
Incredible trekking experience. 10/10 will do again

Hanoi itinerary - Day 03 train
Friends who made it through overnight train journeys, stay friends forever?

DAY 04 >> Hanoi

Hanoi itinerary - Day 04 Hanoi coffee
Famous Hanoi egg coffee

Hanoi itinerary - Day 04 banh mi
Famous Hanoi banh mi

DAY 05 >> Depart for Halong Bay, for overnight cruise

Hanoi itinerary - Day 05 Halong Bay cruise
On board the La Fairy. Not la bored.

Hanoi itinerary - Day 06 Halong Bay
Halong Bay? Commercialised but not over rated

DAY 06 >> Depart for Hanoi.

Hanoi itinerary - Day 08 flower market
Quang Ba flower market in Hanoi, worth waking up early for

DAY 07 >> Hanoi

Hanoi itinerary - Day 07 Hanoi
Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake

Hanoi itinerary - Day 07 Hanoi park
Around Hoan Kiem Lake on a weekend, where they closed the roads for pedestrian access

DAY 08 >> Hanoi

Hanoi itinerary - Day 08 house by train
Trains pass by their house twice a day

Hanoi itinerary - Day 08 Long Bien bridge
Only tourists walk the entire Long Bien bridge. We tourists

DAY 09 >> Depart for Kuala Lumpur. Sad.

These are some selection from my hundreds of photos. Obviously I can’t put up everything we did/ saw/ ate/ experienced, because no one is that interested.

But if we could do it differently, we would. Maintain the same nine-day trip, but stay two nights in Sapa, and two nights in Halong Bay. Perfect.

The watch shop in Sungai Lembing

The only shop open in Sungai Lembing that didn’t sell food nor repair bikes, was Mr Yap Yoon Nan’s watch shop.

Sungai Lembing watch shop - Yap Yoon Nan

We stayed in Sungai Lembing during a non-peak period weekday. When the weekend tourists were gone, time stood still in this sleepy town, just like this man with his watches and clocks.

Sungai Lembing watch shop - owner Mr Yap

Mr Yap had a small display of clocks and watches for sale, some classic looking pieces that are quickly snapped up by discerning tourists.

Sungai Lembing watch shop - display

My Singaporean friend took home a retro gold watch that did not cost too much.

No currency exchange rates jokes here please, it hurts. #toosoon

Sungai Lembing watch shop - putting on a watch

Sungai Lembing watch shop - Yap sells watches

Many years ago, Yap laboured in the Sungai Lembing mines. He started repairing watches in the 1960s, and with money saved up from mining work, he started this watch shop that bears his name, where he still works full-time.

Sungai Lembing watch shop - ready to work

Sungai Lembing watch shop - fixing a watch strap

Sungai Lembing watch shop - getting details right

Sungai Lembing watch shop - wall of clocks

Mr Yap will be 85 years old in 2017. I hope he’s in good health.

Sungai Lembing tin mine tunnel

Sungai Lembing was built on a history of tin mining. The lands were rich with precious metal, and the mines were among the largest in the world, reaching more than 300km with a depth as deep as 700m. That’s like a 140-storey building!

The town thrived until the 1980s when world tin prices collapsed. Despite a last-ditch effort by businessman Sia Hok Kiang to revive the industry in the 1990s, the land was eventually returned to the state government.

The mines were duly shut down, until a few years ago when the state government decided to develop Sungai Lembing as a tourist attraction. One part of the tin mine was restored, and is now open to the public for a fee.

Having been there, I can tell you that, this is the perfect place to bring your kids if:
a:- you want them to learn about Malaysia’s history;
b:- you want them to know that life was rough back then, and they’d better bloody well appreciate what they have now;
c:- you want to scare the living bees out of them in a dark, confined, scary place; or
d:- all of the above.

Sungai Lembing Mines - entering

Once you’ve gotten your ticket(s), go stand in line to sit in a mine cart that runs a very short distance into the mine. Then it’s on foot all the way until you see a guide, who is too happy to take you around.

Sungai Lembing Mines - info poster
Plenty of things to read along the way

The mine is decently lit, cool and honestly, a bit creepy. Especially with effigies of miners all over the place, stories of how many people died in mine disasters, and a naughty guide who insisted on regaling you with ghost stories.

Sungai Lembing Mines - tunnel
In case you were wondering, that’s a real person

I scolded the guide and he apologised, but it was too late, things can’t be unheard.

Sungai Lembing Mines - kiew
The Kiew

One highlight of the visit was to sit in a restored ‘kiew’, a mining lift built for travelling between levels. This one simulated the dark, crampy, hot, sweaty experience of going down the multiple levels in the ‘kiew’.

Sungai Lembing Mines - steep steps
Steps going up to the ‘kiew’

Good experience, though I was quite creeped out. Later back at the inn, I couldn’t sleep. Troubled by haunting and disturbing dreams, mental images of ghosts and weighed down by a real sad, scared feeling for hours, not helped by the street dogs’s pitiful non-stop howling.

Sungai Lembing Mines - exit
Exiting the mine

Ticket prices: Malaysian adults pay RM15.90, children RM7.95. Non-Malaysians adults pay RM31.80, children RM15.90. Senior citizens and person with a disability rates available.

The Sungai Lembing Mines is open daily from 9am to 6pm. You can check out their website at sungailembingmines.com.my

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing

A famous Sungai Lembing attraction is the Rainbow Waterfall, thus named for the promise of a rainbow appearing by the fall at certain hours in the morning. You need a 4WD to get there, which you can easily book (for the next morning) once you’re in town, about RM40 – RM50 per person.

If you’re solo or in a small group, you get to make friends with fellow nature enthusiasts.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - in the 4x4
Hello! If you see yourself in this photo and want to get re-acquainted, buzz me! ๐Ÿ™‚

The itinerary is straightforward, pretty much the same for everyone. You’re advised to get some food at the hawker centre at 5.45am. At 6.30am, you get into the 4WD, and it’s an hour journey to the hiking trail.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - 4x4 trail
Get ready for a bumpy ride. I wouldn’t expect anything less!

This trip to Sungai Lembing was in 2015, at the tail end of the haze crisis. We didn’t know if we’d see the sunrise at Panorama Hill, and we weren’t sure if there’d be a rainbow waiting for us at the waterfall.

The only constant was the logging.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - logging
Deforested

Don’t know the story behind the land clearing, so can’t comment on it. One can only wish that there are no plans to clear out the entire forested area.

Once you reach the start of the hiking trail, you will need to cross a stream. Then it’s a 45 minutes easy hike to reach the waterfall.

I say easy, but some parts could prove challenging to those with knee or balancing problems. You have to navigate through some massive rocks, and little streams in between. Be sure to wear shoes or sandals with a good grip.

And watch out for the damn leeches.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - trekking trail
That’s our going back photo, but it’s one way in and out

Before long, you’ll see a tall waterfall. Unlike Chamang Falls, the water does not come roaring down. Instead, it comes down as a spray, like a shower with super low water pressure, hah. The spray maketh the rainbow, which you’ll see later.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - falls

Take picture first.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - Suanie

The gathering spot is not big. Get here early to get first dibs on the best seats for the optimal view.

Pro-tip: avoid visiting Rainbow Waterfall during public/school holidays and weekends. Not if you value peace, quiet and space with Mother Nature.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - pool area
One side of the waterfall area

The pool area seems shallow and easily navigatable. I’d advise you to check with your guide on the water conditions, and get some tips on which pool spots to avoid before going all out to the middle of the pool.

But that’s me, Ms ‘Extra Careful’ and ‘I Love Being Alive’, because I know that waterfalls can be sneakily dangerous.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - pool

The rainbow would usually appear between 9.50am to 10.45am. You might see it, you might not. If the sky is grey and the sun hidden, chances are, no rainbow for you. If it rained the night before, chances are, no rainbow for you (because it would impact how much and how fast the water comes falling down). Rainbow science dictates that you need light and water droplets to create a rainbow. This spray potentially makes rainbows:

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - misty water

But there was still a mild haze in the air, and we were mentally prepared not to see a rainbow that day. Well, what can you do? You can’t force Mother Nature to choke one out, can you.

It was still a treat to be there, sitting on some stones, watching the waterfall, taking in the glorious view.

Then, we got lucky.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing

A small one, but so beautiful in my eyes. A reminder to be grateful for every blessing we receive.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - low rainbow

At some point, your guide will feed you cup noodles and coffee, using water sourced from the waterfall. I didn’t take photos of the food and drink, because I was too busy watching the rainbow.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - up close

What an amazing place! You should absolutely make a trip to Rainbow Waterfall and see it for yourself. Just remember to keep the place clean, take out your rubbish with you ๐Ÿ™‚

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - Suanie and Shirley

Also, a final helpful reminder to plan your trip during off-peak season. Feel free to search for photos of Rainbow Waterfall during school or public holidays, and you’ll see what I mean ๐Ÿ˜‰ Even though there are new rules in place to limit the number of visitors, lower density is always better when it comes to these sort of outdoor activities, eh.

Panorama Hill, Sungai Lembing

Sungai Lembing’s well-known Panorama Hill needs no introduction, but here’s one anyway…

The Panorama Hill (Bukit Panorama) is a beloved tourist spot, where a 45min climb up some well-maintained steps would reward you with a calming, peaceful view of a sea of clouds.

Assuming you reach the peak before sunrise, that is.

Start early – if you belong to the unfit (like me), 5.00am or 5.30am is a good time to start walking up those stairs. You’ll have plenty of time to rest in between, and you get to take your time navigating through broken steps near the top.

Panorama Hill, Sungai Lembing - broken stairs
These be the most treacherous steps, the rest are easy as pie

The Sg Lembing folks maintain this place very well, both for themselves and for the weekend tourists. Word of advice: I do not recommend coming here during weekends and public holidays. Sure it’s your only time off, but then you’ll have to reckon with a LOT of weekend tourists like yourself, jostling for limited spots at the top.

Panorama Hill, Sungai Lembing - top
Only a handful of people at Panorama Hill? Yes, we went during a normal week day

Panorama Hill, Sungai Lembing - hill view Whimsical morning fog enveloping the village

Panorama Hill, Sungai Lembing - haze
Unfortunately this was a mix of fog and haze. Damn you, haze!

As this trip was right in the middle of the 2015 haze season, this was the sunrise we saw:

Panorama Hill, Sungai Lembing - sun

But never mind, let me show you of what it could have been, a photo from my earlier trip:

Bukit Panorama, Sungai Lembing - 07 rising sun

There would be days when you don’t get to see a perfect sunrise, due to Mother Nature, clouds, etc. The easy hike is still enjoyable, with plenty of views like these:

Panorama Hill, Sungai Lembing - nature

Panorama Hill, Sungai Lembing - sea of cloud
Don’t you want to jump into the sea of clouds? No don’t.

Reminders: Bring your own drinks and snacks up. Bring your trash down with you. Avoid the insane crowd by visiting during a non-public holiday work day. Yes, it’s suitable for kids. No, it’s not suitable for older folks with knee problems; the steps can be steep. Bring a torch light if you’re going up to catch the sunrise. Be respectful of the hill, your surroundings, especially when you’re hiking up in early morning before day breaks.

Panorama Hill, Sungai Lembing - flag

And enjoy ๐Ÿ™‚

Sungai Lembing, Pahang

Last year, I had some days off in between jobs. So I made full use of it to re-visit Sungai Lembing in Pahang.

Back then, the urge to escape the city was strong, to close off the world and revel in the stillness of a small town. I’d been to Sungai Lembing once, I knew I was meant to return. Can’t explain why, exactly. It was as if the spirit of El Dorado of the East called, and my subconscious answered.

Sungai Lembing, Pahang - welcome arch
You know you reached Sungai Lembing when…

Shirley my old friend, used to my peculiarities, came along for the ride. It was also right in the middle of the 2015 haze season, so severe that it earned its own Wikipedia page.

We got lucky, the haze cleared somewhat as we reached the old tin mining town. For this trip, we used the trunk roads (5-6 hours from Kuala Lumpur) instead of the highway (3.5 hours). I don’t think I’m in a hurry to do that again, for unlike the East Coast coastal road, the view became repetitive after a while.

Sungai Lembing, Pahang - bus
Me: Shirley, if you’re waiting for the bus, you’re on the wrong side.
Shirley: Shaddap and hurry up so we can go.
Me: Ooooo wait, there’s a house with blue curtains!

Sungai Lembing, Pahang - Malay house
The house with blue curtains

It felt like nothing changed since my first visit in 2012. The hundred year old tree in the middle of town, one of the few, stood strong. Though almost bald, no thanks to the haze, it would flourish again, as it always does.

Sungai Lembing, Pahang - old tree

We stayed at Country View Inn in the middle of town. Inexpensive, clean, and you wake up to sounds of people having breakfast and chatting at the market. What’s not to love?

Sungai Lembing, Pahang - market

But it was old, and the town itself is full of history. It wouldn’t be too surprising if something spooky happened to us, which it did, individually. But not too scary that I wouldn’t return. I don’t particularly feel like re-telling it now, perhaps another time (or never).

Sungai Lembing, Pahang - further in town

Sungai Lembing background: in the early 1900s, the British, under Pahang Consolidated Company Limited developed Sungai Lembing into a tin mining hub. They dug tunnels long and deep; lucrative but there were many deadly casualties when tunnels caved.

The town flourished until the mid-1980s, when global tin prices collapsed. The company shut down the mines, and suddenly, most folks in Sungai Lembing were out of jobs.

The younger ones left town to make a living elsewhere. Sungai Lembing was almost forgotten, until not long ago when tourism gave it a second lease of life.

Now on weekends and school or public holidays, Sungai Lembing comes alive with tourists flocking to Panorama Hill, Rainbow Waterfall, the underground mining tunnel museum, the time capsule hotel…

Sungai Lembing, Pahang - morning birds

But on weekdays, it is a slower, subdued pace of life. It felt like time stood still, to be honest. Local folks go about their regular business. Some shops are open, most remain closed. The only outsiders are people like me, who do not enjoy weekend crowds, who schedule holidays on quiet days.

Sungai Lembing, Pahang - red zinc houses

Sungai Lembing, Pahang - yellow windows

Sungai Lembing, Pahang - blue white windows

Which gives locals more time to laugh at people like me, who casually asked if the sole petrol kiosk in town was still working.

The answer is no. But the guy must be fed-up of answering this question, for his ‘no’ came with “YOU TRY AND SEE LA! OF COURSE IT’S NOT WORKING *snigger snigger*.. ”

Sungai Lembing, Pahang - petrol station
For decoration purposes only

Then he rode off on his motorbike, most likely cursing at naive tourists in his heart, hahah.

Sungai Lembing, Pahang - water pipes
It’s a workable system

Sungai Lembing, Pahang - postbox
I love this postbox so much, I want to write them letters

This assembled rock formation has been around for a few years, placed in front of a shop. I never quite understood its purpose. But if someone went through all the trouble of making the rocks stand by themselves, it deserves to be photographed.

Sungai Lembing, Pahang - rocks

Stop and observe, for Sungai Lembing is full of quirky, colourful characters. Like this woodworker, who made no eye contact, and grunted his permission to be photographed.

Sungai Lembing, Pahang - woodworker

I stood there for a good few minutes, watching him work as Saloma serenaded us from a dusty grey music player, no doubt a relic from the 80s. Not once did he remove the lit cigarette from his mouth as he hammered and carved a piece of wood to his liking. Ash formed where tobacco used to be, but not once did it fall on his work.

Sungai Lembing, Pahang - wood carver

Sungai Lembing, Pahang - chairs

Sungai Lembing, Pahang - children

Want to visit Sungai Lembing? Go for it. Spend a few days, feed your soul. In broad daylight, it’s a highly walk-able town. If you visit during the weekdays, you’d get peace and quiet, away from the (much appreciated but busy) weekend crowds.

Parangtritis, Yogyakarta

I figure I’d better finish off the Yogyakarta 2014 photos before I revisit. At this rate, it might take me 5 years to complete blogging about a new place ๐Ÿ™‚

It was near to Indonesia’s presidential elections. Sentiments ran high, many took to the streets with their bikes and rallies, waving party flags loud and proud. Neither the sun nor rain could dampen their spirits.

Yogyakarta, Indonesia - election bikers in rain

Yogyakarta, Indonesia - election mood

We ended up going to Parangtritis beach, a popular tourist spot for both locals and foreigners. It was quite a distance from Yogyakarta town, perhaps it seemed longer to us due to the rain and traffic from rally bikes.

But got there we did, and what a sight for sore eyes it was.

Yogyakarta, Indonesia - horse on Parangtritis beach

Yogyakarta, Indonesia - Parangtritis beach

Yogyakarta, Indonesia - Parangtritis mother and son

Our guide drove us to a spot where we had to climb stairs to the top of a small hill so we could see the stretch of the beach. Only locals would know of this spot, it seems.

Yogyakarta, Indonesia - Parangtritis - up the hill

Yogyakarta, Indonesia - Parangtritis view

All right, I’m done with Yogyakarta 2014. Who even remembers what else happened there and then? Not me. (About) time to move on.

Follow the entire Yogyakarta trip here: Yogyakarta 2014