Throughout the northwest of Vietnam, there are very few places to cash travellers cheques, and credit cards are of little use beyond Sapa. Travellers cheques can be cashed at some hotels in Sapa, but commissions are steep. Thankfully, there are now a couple of ATMs in Sapa. Otherwise, Lao Cai is a good place to do a bit of banking. It's generally pretty straightforward to swap US dollars for Vietnamese dong, but the rates can be poor. The moral of the story is to dong up before departing Hanoi.
the easy entry. It's that or the mountain roads, which can be very unforgiving on a public bus, not to mention more than a little dangerous in the wet season. Try 14 hours on a bus to Dien Bien Phu if you don't believe us. Better is the option of a private 4WD vehicle if you have the funds or can muster a group. Lastly, for the adventurous, there is the Russian Minsk motorbike, the mule of the mountains that can get pretty much anywhere. For experienced bikers only, this is the way to get up close and personal with the northwest.
The most rewarding journey in this region is the 'northwest loop'. Head for Mai Chau, then Son La and Dien Bien Phu, then north to Lai Chau, Sapa and back to Hanoi. The loop is best with a 4WD or motorbike, in case the highways are cut and a bit of off-roading is required. Allow at least a week for this journey, and considerably more time if braving the local buses. And three cheers for the hardy cyclists who pump up and down these roads.
Was this article helpful?