Welcome to Vietnam, our motherland! Hanoi, also spelled Ha Noi, is the capital of Vietnam since it reunified in 1976. Hanoi, which has been called many names in the past, means “between two rivers.” Vietnam has a rich history with the French and the Chinese and during this trip, you will see their influences throughout Vietnam’s culture and history.
East of Hanoi is where you will find Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay and it is the main reason for our trip to Hanoi.
We found that 1-2 days is all that is needed to explore Hanoi city and an additional 2-3 days for the Halong Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay tour.
Please remember; a Visa is required for entry into Vietnam.
The Noi Bai International Airport is the biggest airport in Northern Vietnam, is about 30km away from the city center. Transportation is available at the arrivals level. Estimation of costs are from the airport to the Old Quarters Hanoi.
City Bus. Cost is 5,000Dong ($0.3USD). A potential option if you are arriving during the day. Take bus # 7 (connects to Kim Ma bus station) or #17 (connects to Long Bien bus station) to city center. Bus runs every 20 minutes from 5a.m to 10 p.m.
Shuttle. Cost is 32,000Dong ($4USD). Located outside the gate. Like most shuttles, they only leave once they have a full bus so you might have to wait a bit. Shuttles also offer transportation directly to your hotel.
Taxi. Cost is ~320,000Dong ($30USD). Go with a trustworthy company like Vinasun Or MaiLinh. Travel time is about 30 min.
Stay close to the Old Quarter, it is within walking distance to many tourist attractions.
We would recommend booking your hotel in advance. We tried the walking up to a hotel one day to see if we could get a cheaper rate than online, but we weren’t successful, most of them were sold out. When we had finally settled on a hotel that was not sold out, the hotel would not match the lower online price, so we ended up booking the room online anyways.
February to April, probably the best time to visit in terms of temperature.
May to August, the temperature is very hot during the day, with July being the hottest month. Hot in Vietnam means HOT, combine heat and sweat, you get sweat sorta sticking to your skin. To me, ‘sticky hot’ is the worst kind of hot! Unfortunately, heavy rain is also expected in the afternoon/evening. Remember to also bring an umbrella when packing.
September to November, the weather is mostly warm and dry with a few cool breeze. Some consider this to be the most beautiful time of the year to visit, with the change in leaves color.
December to February, the weather could be cold. Be sure to bring your sweaters.
Halong Bay. The area has 2 seasons: the summer is hot and moist while the winter is cold and dry.
Pho, noodle soup with chicken or beef broth. North Vietnam has a different style of Pho that is different from south Vietnam. You will not find hoisin sauce and hot chili sauce here. I personally prefer South Vietnam Pho, but I still suggest that you try it yourself to see the difference because it is not everyday you get to try it from its country of origin.
We went to Pho 10, a popular pho place in Hanoi. The bowl in the picture costs 60,000Dong ($3.56CAD).
Banh Mi 25 has very good and cheap Banh Mi. One Banh Mi costs only 20,000Dong ($1.18CAD).
Da Ua, Vietnam’s Frozen Yogurt. If you get a chance to try this yogurt, you must! It has to be frozen, taste much better than non frozen. You will never find anything like that outside Vietnam. Unfortunately, I was not successful in finding a place that sells this—hopefully you have better luck.
We also went to restaurants that were top picked on TripAdvisor, the food was very delicious, but because the atmosphere is similar to higher end restaurants in Canada, the food was also similarly priced. We much prefered eating out at authentic Vietnamese places with cheaper price. But if you are not the type to try street food, there are MANY higher end restaurants in Hanoi.
Top activities to do in …
1. Ha Long Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay.
Halong Bay was voted by the people as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World in 2012, and is one of the World’s Natural Heritage sites. The bay consists of cluster of thousands of limestone islands in various shapes and sizes, rising from the ocean! Several of the islands are hollow, with enormous caves. It is the best thing I have seen so far in all my travels. Pictures do not do it justice. This island filled bay full of natural beauty is located 170km from Hanoi, approximately 4 hours drive. The most popular way to get to Halong Bay is to book a tour, they will take care of your transportation, cruise and accommodation.
After reading many reviews online, we decided to visit Bai Tu Long Bay instead because it was less touristy. We also did not want to risk the cruise being sold out booking in person so we booked with Swan Cruises online in advance. We paid $135CAD per person for a 2 days and 1 night boat tour with Swan Cruises. Our boat was not at full capacity, even with a few passengers booking last minute. If you go during non-peak times, we recommend that you book the tour while you are there, as you are more likely able to negotiate a lower rate buying the tour last minute. There are lots of boat tours with 5 star ratings for you to choose from, but before booking with the agent, google the ratings of the tour company to make sure their ratings are good.
Swan Cruises: The tour guides always put customers first, and try their best to make everyone happy. It is more of a laid back cruise, not for people who want to drink and party—there are other cruises for that. Swan Cruises charges reasonable rate, but they go to Bai Tu Long Bay instead of Halong Bay. Our tour guide said ~20 boats are allowed at Bai Tu Long Bay versus hundreds at Halong Bay. He also said he finds Bai Tu Long Bay more beautiful. Was he lying to us? I had no clue. I asked him what was the fuss about Halong Bay, and he said the caves there are bigger and better. It made sense as the cave we saw at Bai Tu Long Bay was nothing spectacular. Our first day on the boat tour, it was so unbelievable, no boats around us as far as the eyes can see, I felt like I was on an expedition exploring a new world. Then we got fed with delicious food, my only complaint was they served too many appetizers and entrees but only one dessert! First world problems. While eating on the boat and with conversations going on around me, I cannot help but just stare out the window and be amazed at the surrounding scenery. Unfortunately on our second day, as our boat was heading back into town, there were 3 other boats settled right next to us, and these boats just ruined the scenery and feeling for me. I am so glad we went on this cruise because I found Bai Tu Long Bay so enchanting and majestic, I can only imagine Halong Bay overly crowded with boats! If you get a chance to visit, do so soon, because as with anything, tourism will ruin its beauty.
2. Walk Hanoi City
I am not a big fan of Hanoi City. Personally, I find it too crowded and prices are not as cheap as other areas of Vietnam. However, you cannot come to Hanoi and not walk around the city. The streets are overcrowded, as roads are shared by scooters, cars, and pedestrians. Unfortunately, street lights are not very common in Vietnam. According to some Vietnamese people, “red lights are a suggestion, not the rule.” So as a tourist, you must remember to always look both ways while crossing, even if you have the green lights. As for shopping, make sure to shop around first as many stores sell similar items and are within walking distance of each other—Do not forget to bargain! I tried buying a magnet, when I went with Greg, the starting price was around 50,000Dong. I couldn’t even get them to go down to 20,000Dong. However, when I went shopping by myself, they must have mistaken me as a local because the starting price for the same magnet was only 20,000Dong. That is all.
Old Quarter. On the evenings of the weekend, they close the streets off from vehicles. You will find street performers here.
Because he is a good looking white fella working on the streets of Hanoi, he draws in a crowd. Based on his painting, I do not think he has much talent. That lady, however, seems very impress of his spray can painting… but I am pretty sure she is lying.
3. Orphanage. Visiting an orphanage may not be for everyone, but it will definitely make you feel blessed and grateful for what you have back home. There are many orphanages, regular orphanages and disabled orphanages, run by nuns and volunteers. To visit, all you have to do is contact the orphanage and let them know that you will be coming, ask your hotel staff to help arrange this upon arrival. This is to allow them time to prepare the kids to greet you when you arrive, and perhaps sing you a song. You could also opt to drop-in, but you might not get a chance to meet the kids because it might be nap time or school time for them. The day of your visit, please stop by a local mall and purchase essentials like toothpaste, toothbrushes, milk, food and some candies to hand out to the kids. You could give money instead of gifts, but I like to purchase these items so I know it goes directly to the kids. Your time and money/gift will definitely put a smile on these kids faces. Tip: Ask if your hotel could help arrange a driver for half the day (cheaper this way), if not, you could take a taxi there. Hiring a driver for half the day is more cost-efficient, because the driver is your personal chauffeur.
Enjoy your visit to Hanoi! Come along on our next journey to Chiang Mai, Thailand.