We both haven’t been to Southeast Asia yet so we were desperately waiting for that trip as we had it on our list for some time already. We only had two weeks of time for it so we tried to see as much as possible in that time but we didn’t want to have a tight schedule that doesn’t allow any recreation.
And that’s how the plan turned out to be: Arrival and stay in Hanoi – Halong Bay – Hoi An – Hanoi and departure.
Transportation even on short distances can take its time in Vietnam due to roads and traffic. To save transfer time we booked domestic flights from Haiphong Airport (Halong Bay) to Da Nang and from Da Nang back to Hanoi, as trips on the road or by rail would’ve cost one day or more time that we wanted to spend elsehow. Nonetheless, if you have the time you should definitely think about taking a train or bus to travel around as you can enjoy the landscape while traveling and you might save some money, too.
In every paragraph of this report you will also find some restaurant and tour recommendation to help you plan your own trip. Hotel recommendations will follow at the end.
But let’s start with our experiences and tips for you:
If you have never been to Vietnam, Hanoi is a really interesting point to start at. It combines traditional culture and modernization of the country and can give you a first impression of what awaits you here.
Coming from the airport, which is some kilometers away from the city, you start to get into the modern Vietnam. While at first paddy fields and smaller houses dominate the landscape, by no later than passing the bridge over the Red River you start to enter the city center. The streets here are narrow, especially in the Old Quarter, the traffic is dense and scooters are obviously the most common mean of transport. The traffic requires to get used to at first but after a few hours you will know how to cross the street or where to walk if the sidewalk is blocked by merchants and parked scooters.
We decided to stay in the heart of the Old Quarter which was a good decision. From within that area that is bounded between Red River in the East, Long Bien Bridge in the north, The Old Citadel in the west and Trang Thi Road in the south, you can either reach most sights of the city by short walks or short taxi rides. In some places you can also rent scooters or bikes, but honestly, if you want to enjoy the cityscape you should avoid driving here.
The Old Quarter was our favorite: there is lots of life here, differents restaurants, shops and bars open their doors every day and you can easily walk through the streets, even if there is heavy traffic during some hours. Places to visit in the Old Quarter: The Hoan Kiem Lake with the Ngoc Son Temple (entry fee) and Turtle Tower, the Night Market, Dong Xuan Market and St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Also interesting is a walk along the railways, only a few trains per day allow everyday life along the tracks, there are a couple of shops here and you get a little insight into the life of people here as you sometimes can get a glimpse into the people’s houses.
West of the Old Quarter you can visit the West Lake, a popular recreational area and home to the Tran Quoc Pagoda (no entry fee, definitely worth a visit), the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum alongside the One Pillar Pagoda (bring time, queuing times can be very long) and the Temple of literature. If you are located in the Old Quarter you reach all of those by taxi for 40,000-70,000 VND. You can also start at the Than Quoc Pagoda and walk down to the Temple of Literature; it is easier to walk here as there are more and broader sidewalks than in the Old Quarter.
South of the Old Quarter there is the Opera House of Hanoi. It was built by the French colonialists and is therefore obviously looking quite European. There are lots of buildings, especially administrative ones, that have been built during that time. It mixes the local and past European architectural style a little bit what makes the cityscape interesting. There are varying and regular events and shows open for the public here, tickets can be bought at the Opera House itself or through local agencies.
If you are interested in the history of prisons in Vietnam, you can visit Hoa Lo Prison, also called Hanoi Hilton due to U. S. Prisoners of War that have been kept here during the Vietnam War.
As you see, there is a lot to see and a lot to do here. You can easily spend days here with visiting everything interesting. We had three days here in total, two in the beginning and one in the end of our trip. We really liked the city for its streets full of live, the broad choice of culinary experiences and the many possibilities to spend your time here.
Here are some restaurant tips for you:
- Vietnamese: Cai Mam Restaurant (Tripadvisor)
- Coffee: Haka Coffee (Tripadvisor)
- Western Food: Black Jack’s Restaurant (Tripadvisor)
- Bar and Burger: Drangonfly Bar (Tripadvisor)
- Halong Bay
We got to Halong Bay by Bus as this is the best option here. It was no problem to book it through our hotel’s agent one day before departure and costed 250,000 VND per Person. We took the same bus the people going on a cruise in Halong Bay took, it is easy to book those through one of the many local travel agencies in Hanoi. The ride takes about 4 hours even if the distance is only 170 km. As the bus ride is so long, we wouldn’t recommend to take a day trip here from Hanoi, as that means four hours on the bus, four hours on the boat and another four hours on the bus back to Hanoi. Best option is staying in Halong City or on Cat Ba Island for one or two days to do a cruise, or choose a cruise with several overnight stays. The multi-day cruise definitely is best to see most of the bay, but we decided for a stay in Halong City.
Right after arrival and checking-in into the Halong Plaza we found a nearby travel agency to book a six hour cruise for the next day. Prices for that range between 500,000 and 1,700,000 VND depending on the company you book the cruise on and what’s included. Our cruise with Ha Binh Cruises (Tripadvisor) was including all entry fees, kayaking and a lunch on board for about 750,000 VND per Person.
The cruise itself was really interesting, Halong Bay is impressive and it is great to be on the water between those huge rocks. The ships stop at different islands, that differs from company to company. Unfortunately the islands are stop to several ships at the same time, what makes them crowded. Possibly on a multi-day cruise you can visit some of the islands outside of the day trip peak times. Nonetheless it is really interesting to see the caves and the nature of the islands. Our tour stopped at Thien Chung Cave, Ba Hang Area (base for kayaking or bamboo boat rides), Fighting Cock Islet (one of the most famous sights here, you can see it as symbol of the bay in many areas of Vietnam) and Titop Island. The lunch we had in between was really good local food, way enough for everyone on the boat and the quality was higher than we expected it to be. Only drinks on board haven’t been included to the price we paid, but honestly with a price of 10,000 VND for a bottle of water, 15,000 VND for a soft drink and 25,000 VND for a local beer nobody can complain about sky high prices here.
We really liked the tour and would recommend doing a cruise here as the bay and its rocks are just impressive.
Unfortunately Halong City doesn’t offer a lot to do. We had one spare day here that we mostly spend at the Hotel and the pool as there as not much to see in the city itself, the huge Ferris Wheel and the bridge connecting the two parts of the city are interesting, but during misty weather that day the view would not have been too good. They are building a theme park at the moment, but it was far from being finished. Most people in restaurants and on the street also seemed like they were not feeling good about the tourists coming to their town. For sure not everybody was acting like that, but Halong City was the only place we noticed that during our trip. So if you go to Halong Bay, do it for the cruise, it is really worth it.
Not to forget, two restaurant tips:
- Snacks and Drinks: Bamboo Bar (next to Wyndham and Halong Plaza Hotel)
- Pizza: Rock House Pizza (Tripadvisor)
- Hoi An
Our third stop was Hoi An. We took a flight from Haiphong to Da Nang and a taxi to the Golden Sand Beach Resort & Spa in Hoi An from there. The taxi fare from Halong City to Haiphong airport is about 900,000 to 1,000,000 VND, there are busses, but as we had to leave in the morning there was no possible connection for us. A taxi from Da Nang airport to Hoi An costs about 400,000-500,000 VND depending on where your hotel is located.
Ours was at Cua Dai beach as we wanted to spend some time at the sea, too. Hoi An is actually perfect for that. Most hotels at Cua Dai Beach offer free shuttles into the city center and taxis are not expensive as well so that it’s no problem for the hotels to be a little bit out of the city center but you can perfectly use them as a base to explore the region. There are also a couple of good restaurants and shops nearby in Cua Dai street before it crosses the river.
The city center of Hoi An is great for strolling around. It is a pedestrian zone which means no cars and only a few scooters are allowed. You have to buy a ticket to enter the historic center, it costs 120,000 VND per Person and valid for your whole stay here, no matter how many days you stay. It also includes entry fee to five of the museums and sights you can visit here. It was unusual for us to pay to enter a city center but we’re ok with paying a small sum that helps to maintain the buildings and roads here. There are lots of cafés, due to the missing traffic it is really relaxing to have a walk here or sit down in a restaurant. Many of those offer local specialties, even if they are a little more expensive than outside the area of the historical center it is not overprized. Meals start from 50,000 VND (Pho Soups), main courses with meat are at 120,000-150,000 VND. We really liked it here and took a few walks through the city during good and not so good weather, it really is a place to visit in this region. If you like markets, you shouldn’t miss out on the market here in Hoi An, a lot of fresh fruits and other food is offered here at cheap prices.
Hoi An is a great base for the region as you can perfectly do trips to the nearby My Son Sanctuary (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Da Nang and Hue. We decided to do a trip to My Son Sanctuary and booked it in a local travel agency for 400,000 VND per Person, including the transfer there, entry fee, an English speaking guide, transfer back by boat and a very light meal in the end. The trip was organized by Barri Ann Travel (http://www.barrianntravel.com/). We can recommend this agency, they are reliable, not expensive and you can book their tours through most local agencies and their own agency in Hoi An. If you want to contact them before you go to Hoi An, they have responded to our e-mails within less than 24 hours. They also offer cheap hourly shuttle busses to Da Nang Airport (110,000 VND per Person).
But now about our excursion to My Son Sanctuary: My Son is a cluster of hindu temples that have been built between the 4th and 14th century. They have been rebuilt but were destroyed during the Vietnam War and have now been rebuilt again. In some places excavation is still going on.
The temples are really interesting and in a good shape. It is interesting to hear about the history of that place while roaming through the ruins. The landscape surrounding the temples is also impressive: vast hills covered by green forest, really beautiful. Unfortunately it was a little rainy when we were here but we really liked it and can recommend a visit here. If you don’t want to take a guided tour and save some money you can also rent a motorbike to get here, it’s about 60 minutes from Hoi An city center. Entry fee to the site is 150,000 VND per Person. But in that case you’d miss the boat ride on the Thu Bon River. Even if it was rainy it was interesting to see the surrounding of Hoi An.
Here are some restaurant recommendations for Hoi An:
- Local dishes and Cocktails: Lantern Town Restaurant (Tripadvisor)
- Vietnamese Fusion Cuisine: Nu Eatery (Tripadvisor)
- Local food by the river: Riverfront Restaurant (Tripadvisor)
- Grill: Bamboo Kitchen
All in all we had a great trip in Vietnam. We had all different kinds of weather but only 2 ½ days of rain, which is not too bad, the temperatures ranged between 23 and 29°C at daytime so it wasn’t too hot either. The people we met were almost all helpful and friendly. You always find somebody speaking English and all tours and transfers we did here were perfectly timed and reliable.
Those were the hotels we stayed at:
- Classic Street Hotel (Tripadvisor) – tidy middle class hotel with comfortable rooms in the heart of the old quarter. Friendly staff and fair room prices
- Hanoi City Palace Hotel (Tripadvisor) – a little worn down room interior, not working ACs and no warm water in our room. Good location but more expensive than the Classic Street Hotel, rather book there
- Halong Bay: Halong Plaza Hotel (Tripadvisor) – good and inexpensive four star hotel with great breakfast buffet
- Hoi An: Golden Sand Beach Resort & Spa (Tripadvisor) –great resort with high class comfort, good restaurants and a nice pool area, offering a free shuttle to the city center, a little costly
If you are used to pay by card: Credit Card payment isn’t accepted by most restaurants and shops, only hotels and bigger restaurants accept those. Having cash in your pocket is advisable. There are lots of ATMs in every city, some charge you for using your credit card to withdraw money, some not. I made good experiences with Ocean Bank and VietinBank, both never had any charges when I got money from their ATMs.
How to get to Vietnam?
If you want to access the cities on our itinerary, it is best to either fly to Hanoi (HAN) or Da Nang (DAD). Vietnam Airlines and Vietjet Air are offering flights to cities within Vietnam and Asia from these two airports. From other continents Da Nang can be flown to through Bangkok (Emirates & Bangkok Airways), Hong Kong (Cathay Pacific), Beijing (China Eastern Airlines), Seoul (Korean Airlines) and Singapore (Singapore Airlines & Silk Air). Besides that you can also fly to Hanoi on many other airlines such as Aeroflot (through Moscow), ANA (through Tokyo), Kenya Airways (through Nairobi), Qatar Airways (through Doha) or Turkish Airlines (through Istanbul) for example.
We will soon post more information about Vietnam on the blog, so stay tuned J
Thank you for reading, we hope we were able to give you some interesting insight into our trip
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