Phuket to Hanoi by flight
So arrival into Hanoi wasn’t too good for me, after having a bar crawl on Bangla Road, Phuket (Thailand) the night before. You’ll find that story here.
It took us 12 hours and numerous sick stops (Mum would be cursing me, I know!) to get to Hanoi from Phuket Airport, and included 2 flights, with a stop off in Bangkok. With the hangover from hell, I struggled with this one and of course Kel had no sympathy!
But I wasn’t let off from my duties… we arrived near Hanoi old quarter by bus from the airport (easiest & cheapest option) and I carried both bags (35kgs worth) 10 minutes to our first hostel. I feel I am being too “gentleman’y”, but I know how much Kel hates carrying hers.
Where to stay in Hanoi?
Babylon Garden Hostel
We loved this hostel and it was perfectly located to the main sights. It was very modern, with electronic security doors.
It had a swimming pool which we didn’t get to use, as it seemed two travellers were getting jiggy in it, which was off-putting. Also a lounge room with Netflix, what more do you need?
On top of that, it has a rooftop terrace/bar with a great view across the craziness of Hanoi. The buffet breakfast and free evening beer was also a massive plus!
Hanoi Centre Hostel
We used this hostel on the 2nd part of our Hanoi trip. Similarly located, it was in walking distance to everything.
Apart from the large cockroach the size of a mouse (can’t be helped) being chased by reception staff on arrival and relatively small areas the hostel was perfect for our needs. Free breakfast and free beer (5.30pm – 6.30pm) which I certainly made the most of!
The Vietnamese Hat
Then myth is true. These hats aren’t just for tourist poses, they are worn by many local Vietnamese woman. This is probably the first thing we noticed in Vietnam, and the first thing I tried getting a photo of!
Walking the streets
Arriving into Hanoi gave me flashbacks to India. The place is rammed with scooters and pedestrian paths are dominated by them. And if there isn’t a scooter in the way, there are hurdles of colourful little chairs which belong to the many street stalls that dot the paths.
The street food stalls normally specialise in one or two things only, which are marked in brightly coloured vinyls in their windows, so once you sit down you have essentially ordered.
We sat down for a mystery dinner called Sui Cao Thien Thien and received a soup, with noodles and a mix of meat/veg. We paid 70k dong for 2 (£1.40) and it was pretty good, apart from the shrimp… they always have to spoil it with fish! (sorry fish eaters)
Lots of touristy shops line the streets selling souvenirs and knock off branded products. ‘North Face’ being the most popular.
Things to do / places to visit
Ngoc Son Temple (30K each)
For us, this wasn’t the greatest introduction to temples in Vietnam, compared to what we have seen. It was all under construction and nothing to actually see, but a man made turtle statue.
The red bridge is pretty cool for a photo opportunity, but you don’t actually have to pay to access this.
Hoan Kiem Lake (FREE)
The lake has a real community feel about it. It seems that locals use this area to take a break from the built up areas, as they chill on the many benches located around it’s edges.
Tourists also use this space for a scenic stroll, and to see the iconic turtle tower which sits in the middle. Although it’s a lot smaller than it looks in the photos! And again, not all that impressive.
This lake seemed to be at the heart of Hanoi to me, with so much happening around it.
Train Street (FREE)
Train street was on Kel’s list of things to see, I hadn’t came across it, and it didn’t seem anything too spectacular. Especially to the one we have seen in Bangkok.
Restaurants lined a small part of track and were eagerly trying to get your custom and pay tourist prices. We refused and just had a wonder.
Temple of Literature Park (FREE)
Just opposite the west entrance to the Table of Literature is a cute little park with a lake.
There were many craft stalls here and quirky areas for photo opportunities. We just had to try on these Vietnamese hats…
Temple of Literature (30K each)
This was a fairly small complex and we spent about 30 minutes here. The place is very well kept and the temple is very decorative.
Thang Long Theatre Water Puppet Show (100K each)
We arrived 5 minutes before the first daily showing, to find only 2 seats in the ‘cheaper’ section left to buy. It was meant to be! To be fair it wouldn’t matter where you sat, all seats are good in our opinion.
The show itself was very entertaining and very different. It started on time, with several musicians playing different instruments on both sides of the stage and singing. Then throughout the show they played music, sung and told the stories.
The puppets were introduced (as the title suggests) in the water, where the puppeteers were hidden behind a screen in the water.
It was very clever how it all came together. The hour long story consisted of fish catching, a fox that stole the fish, dancing dragons, kings, the turtle and sword and much more. We’ve never seen anything like it, and a definite must if you’re looking for something different.
Ho Chi Minh Museum (40k each)
This building housed a mix of artifacts, installations and displayed the history of Ho Chi Minh and how he has helped shape Vietnam to the way it is today. It was an interesting visit and there is lots to see.
Unfortunately a lot of the exhibition wasn’t in English (probably should have hired a guide) and we were pushed along half way through as the place closes for a few hours midday. So allow yourselves plenty of time.
Also near the museum in the same complex you can visit the temple, one pillar pagoda and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
Tran Quoc Pagoda (FREE)
Located on West Lake, the Tran Quoc Pagoda was an interesting spot and unlike any Pagoda we had yet seen. The area was less busy than other tourist spots and free entry too.
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long (30k each)
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great on our visit here but there is plenty to see on these Royal Grounds including monuments, puppet show (closed for us) and a museum.
You also learn about the history of the citadel and it’s interesting to see photos of how the grounds were previously used back in the day. A worthy visit and certainly not overpriced.
Stroll down Hang Ma Street
Hang Ma Street is normally home to shops selling festivity decorations depending what the current season is. For us it was Christmas, and a walk down this street certainly gave us a little Christmas spirit. I’ve never seen decorations quite like this!
Watch a football match in Hanoi
It’s true, football really does bring people together, and this is accurate in Vietnam. We watched Vietnam win 2-1 against Philippines in the Suzuki Cup semi final.
Looking for a local, cheap experience we headed to Boi Hoi and were paying 35p per beer. Beers of which they kept on bringing.
The locals were so friendly, as they moved closer to free up two small stalls for us. Equipped with our Vietnam red headbands we really enjoyed the game and the atmosphere was fantastic!
Hanoi Night market
The night market seemed very busy, full of knock off gear and there didn’t seen to be much in the way of food. I purchased my second pair of Ray Bans of the trip for only £2.33 and Kel got a new pair of ‘Nike’ shorts for £2. So it had it’s uses.
B-52 Wreckage on Huu Tiep Lake
When visiting this place, please allow enough time as there’s a likelihood you may get lost or a Grab taxi won’t work in the area!
I had left the hostel at 6am and walked the 2 miles in 30 minutes to see the crashed bomber in Huu Tiep Lake. It was very eerie seeing the bomber left exactly how it crashed and it’s a good spot to reminisce on history.
After spending 5 minutes circling the lake I got back to the hostel 20 minutes later than anticipated. As you can imagine Kelly wasn’t too pleased, but we had enough time to catch the local bus to the airport. Punishment for me – carrying both big bags (again!)
Day Trips from Hanoi
Ha Long Bay Cruise from Hanoi (night stay, £75 each)
After hearing stories from traveller friends, we decided to push the boat out (excuse the pun) and book up a cruise along Ha Long bay with an overnight stay. And we are so glad we did!
Included in the price was a drop off/pick up service from our hostel in Hanoi Old Quarter. The one way journey took 4 hours 30 minutes in itself, so you get limited time if squeezing it in as a day trip, which is why we’d recommend a night stay.
On arrival there were hundreds of boats that crowded the dock, ready to set sail towards the limestone islands of Ha Long. We got a small motor boat to our cruise ship ‘Legacy Cruise’ and were greeted with tea and an included lunch.
We relaxed on top deck as our boat holding only 20 people cruised out amongst the 2,000 islands that make up Halong Bay. Alongside us, was an entourage of tourist filled cruise ships offering a similar package.
Hosting a beautiful beach (full of tourists) and some stunning viewpoints (full of tourists) this was certainly a highlight of the trip, despite the overcrowding.
There are 400 odd steps, but these are the most rewarding steps I think I’ve ever had to climb. The panoramic view of the bay at the top is sensational.
It seemed most cruises use this as a first drop off, hence the busyness, however between 8-9am the next morning it seemed empty.
We sailed past some floating villages to a water platform/restaurant, where we grabbed our kayak and headed into the sunset. Unfortunately for us, the sunset was behind the tall islands, so it wasn’t the greatest.
I (Kelly’s a wuss) then had a little swim amongst the tiny fishes.
Evening on the bay
Our ship had docked amongst the many others which lit up the bay, the islands surrounding us. It was so picturesque.
We enjoyed a vietamese spring roll demonstration, followed by a large meal and plenty of drinks on the top deck with friends we had met until late hours, as we synced our music onto the stereo system.
We even attempted squid fishing (one hadn’t been caught in several months) with no luck! Kelly was just overjoyed with the jellyfish.
Morning on the bay
I was up at 6am for sunrise, however it was pretty naff due to the weather. Kelly was glad she stayed in bed! Our friend Mark had a DJI drone, and watching the footage on that just made me want to buy one even more!
Me Cung Cave
Wearing last nights clothes (was left with no time for shower after breakfast) we headed to Me Cung Caves and were nicely surprised.
The cave was massive, the biggest I’ve seen! It was full of rock icicles (they may have a better term) and patterned ceilings. The tour guide made out that certain rocks resembled things such as phalluses, turtles and canons, but quite frankly they looked nothing like them. Amusing all the same!
Exiting the cave gives you more viewpoints of this area of the bay.
We then headed back to the ship and sailed back to the port where we had lunch. On this journey back I was on the lookout for ships with sails, as I had been so use to seeing these on photos for various brochure designs.
Day trip to Hoa Lu / Tam Coc from Hanoi
Just me on this one as Kel fancied a chill day. I really wanted to visit Ninh Binh as the pictures looked stunning, unfortunately for me the weather wasn’t great and it was probably the wrong time of the year!
Dinh & Le Dynasty Temples
After a two hour bus ride these two temples were our first point of call. As we emerged off the bus we had several ladies placing vietamese hats on our heads and trying their best to get sales. But they ended up just ruining any good bridge photos.
The temples themselves were quite disappointing and were very similar in style. I think maybe I’m just use to seeing better, or temples have now got the better of me.
Food at Dac San Thit De Nut Restaurant
Included in the price was a buffet meal at this restaurant and it was absolutely delicious. There was such a mix of Asian foods and Kel definitely missed out on this one.
Hoang Long River
The highlight of the trip was the bamboo boat ride down the Hoang Long River, which has been used as the setting to the film Kong Island and is beautiful in its nature.
Again, because of the time of year it didn’t look as picturesque as the photos. Still it was a 90 minute fun trip, being rowed along by a local just using his feet. The boat people were so chirpy, it made for a great experience as we ducked under 3 caves and admired wildlife.
The river had been coined the ‘land Halong Bay’ and this is apparent by the large limestone rocks that sideline the river.
We then hopped back to shore and took a bicycle for a little trip around the countryside which was scenic.
I’m glad we experienced Hanoi, but it certainly wasn’t our most favourite place in Vietnam.
In terms of sights there didn’t seem to be that many, and you would normally have to take a day trip or two to experience scenery, temples etc. That be said, it is a bustling city with lots of culture. The people are friendly and the food is so good. And on top of that, it’s so cheap!
Onto Da Nang.