There are numerous places to stay depending on your budget but I recommend staying in the old quarter of Hanoi. Staying in this part of Hanoi gives you the sense of being right in the middle of the day to day life of the people of Hanoi. Hotels here are 2.5 to 3 start but as we found at the Hgoc Hotel 3 it is neat and tidy and you have free internet in your room. Daily breakfast downstairs or there are plenty of little restaurants around that you can get a fantastically cheap meal.
Walking the streets in the old quarter is safe and the easiest way to go and you will soon start to realise on your walk that each street has the same business in it. That is if you shoes then go to the shoe street, clothing in the clothing street and of course food in the food streets. Most people are a little overcome by the amount of chaotic traffic and then how to cross the road. The secret is to look find your gap and then walk slowly across with keeping your eye out but you will find the motorbikes will then have enough time to make their decisions for going around you.
Things to watch out for are shoe shine vendors, simply just say no, ladies carrying goods on their shoulders. They will stop to offer you a photo opportunity as well as their wares – even if you take the photo opp they will want payment for it.
Hanoi has many things to see and do, so a good couple of days is needed.
First thing is the Father of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh’s Musoleum. The musoleum is only open in the mornings Monday to Friday and is also closed during October to November for restoration work. There are strict conditions for entering, you cannot be showing anything above the knee, slow quiet walk in two lines when going through, wearing a hat is a no no and no photos can be taken inside. Once through there is then Ho Chi Minh’s house and gardens to see as well as the one pillar pagoda.
We followed up after this with a tour of the Temple of Literature with serene gardens and classic Vietnamese architecture, then on to Hoan Kiem Lake and a walk across the Ancient Red Wooden Bridge to view Tran Quoc Pagoda at the West Lake.
Glimpses of Hanoi half day tour last around 3.5 – 4 hours in an airconditioned private car with English speaking guide and can be booked in advance as an add-on for approximately $70 per person.
There are plenty of things to see and do in Hanoi. Some of the other things are the famous Hoa Lo prison or Hanoi Hilton as we know it, Museum of Ethnology and the famous Water Puppets show. This has toured around the world and with the show being so popular one needs to book tickets in advance. If lucky one can get them on the day if not in a big group. Once again booking in advance with xfer from your hotel for around $40 per person.
After our day at leisure we then joined up with our guide and 9 other adventurers from Australia, US and UK on our 10 Days Interpid Travel – Vietnam Southbound adventure from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh.
Day 1 – an early start as we jumped onto the bus to head out to Halong Bay via KOTO in Hanoi for breakfast.
KOTO is a program for disadvantaged street kids inHanoi which teaches them skills to get ahed in life. In this case it is a cooking school where we had a fabulous breakfast. After breakfast it was back on the bus for our approx 4 hour bus journey to Halong Bay and our overnight Junk. This was an interesting journey to see the little townships as you went along or people on the side of the road selling their wares from the back of a bicycle and of course how much can one carry on a motorcycle.
On arrival at Halong Bay we boarded our Junk for an night on the water. Unfortunately the weather was not kind to us but this did not take away from the beauty of the Bay. A stop at Hang Sung Sot Cave (Cave of Surprises) finds you at one big cave. This is the biggest I have walked through and definitely worth the walk up the steps to get into it. After the cave it was back to the Junk for a put around, where we went past floating fishing villages before our final parking spot for the night. Here one could kayak and swim “wish the weather had been kinder”. All meals were included on the trip and was all local produce from fish, prawns, squid and scallops cooked in traditional styles. The first thing I learned on this night was the Vietnamese like their Karoake but to make sure they will entice their guests to start before they then join in. It made for a fun night onboard.
Day 2 – Another early morning as we arose on the Junk for breakfast and then a slow punt back to the wharf to get off and start the bus trip back to Hanoi. I would highly recommend the overnight at Halong Bay as a day trip would be very tiring with 8 hours on a bus. On our return to Hanoi we had the afternoon to ourselves to get food for our train journey to Hue. This is an overnight journey on the local train and is what I would call an experience. One of our fellow travellers did mention it was First Class compared to train travel in India. The train departed Hanoi at 10pm and a good night sleep was achieved.
Day3 – On awakening in the morning a few hours was spend watching little towns and rice fields go by. It is lovely countryside and I was glad to be able to view it in daylight hours and hooray we had blue sky for the first time since being in Vietnam. On arrival in Hue we were taken to our accommodation were we freshened up before heading out for a bite to eat at a local restauarant. The afternoon saw a visit to the Citadel (built in the 1800’s and is 10 square kms) which was the capital of Vietnam until around 1945. This is a definite must to see in Hue.