Hello, peeps! How are you?
Recently, BF and I went on an Asia trip covering 4 countries: Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, and South Korea. In this post, I am going to talk about our adventures in Vietnam.
We’ve never thought in our lifetimes that we will travel to Vietnam, especially with the history between Vietnam and the US. However, some of our good friends have traveled there in the past, and have only spoken of how wonderful and enjoyable their vacations were.
And so, Vietnam got included in our itinerary – mostly out of curiosity. We chose to visit Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.
We arrived at the Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) in Hanoi at 10:00 pm on a Sunday evening. Since it was already late at night, the queue of travelers wasn’t that bad. Also, going through Customs was a breeze. As soon as we got out, we noticed the humidity right away. We were there later in May, and it was HOT! It felt like it was in the 90s (Fahrenheit). It was like standing-in-front-of-the-oven hot. I’ve heard that it’s cooler in the beginning months of the year. You might take this into consideration if you are planning to go.
We took a taxi and headed right to our hotel: Intercontinental Hanoi Westlake. The hotel is fantastic. Some of the pavilions / hotel rooms are ON the lake. We got lucky and our room was by the lake. We didn’t, however, opened our windows for the fear of being bitten by mosquitoes. LOL. #notodengue
Anyway, let me give you the highlights of our trip, and some tips should you ever go to Vietnam.
Hanoi Free Tour Guide – We already knew that there will be a language barrier in Vietnam. So, months before our trip, we started searching for tours, found this website, and started inquiring about their services. The company emailed me back. They explained to me how the program works: the University English major students provide FREE tours to tourists. In exchange, they will be able to practice their English. Perfect! It’s a win-win if you ask me.
They will pick you up at your hotel, tour you around, and then, drop you back at your hotel. Yes. It is that convenient, and I highly recommend it. Of course, even though the tour is free, you are expected to pay for their transportation, entrance fees to museums and such, and meals – which is nothing compared to the tour service that you’re getting. We gave tips not only to the company, but also to our tour guides who did fantastic job. I really like this program.
To our tour guides, Trang 1 and Trang 2 (yes, there names are the same and they are best of friends), thank you.
Ha Long Bay – Two words: absolutely stunning! It took us four hours of bus travel from Hanoi to reach Ha Long Bay. We arrived there at lunch time. We were grouped together with other travelers at the pier. Hans and I were paired with this beautiful family from Vancouver, Canada (originally from Hongkong). We had fun with them.
The itinerary included a seafood lunch en route to the beautiful islands and islets of Ha Long Bay. The view was majestic! It was mesmerizing. I took like a gazillion of photos. Who wouldn’t? Later that day, we went to the Heavenly Palace cave, which is just as splendid. We ended the boat tour with a thirty-minute kayak trip around and underneath the limestone formations. What a day!
Hanoi City – We visited the Old Quarter, French Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake, Ho Chi Minh complex, and the surrounding Buddhist temples, and even a Catholic church. Though it was hot, we had a great time exploring parts of the city, and learning bits and pieces of its history from our tour guides. We enjoyed the food as well. To me, the spring rolls and banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) stood out. The frothy egg coffee was delicious and a must if you visit Vietnam.
- Vietnam requires a visa for US citizens. Although you can get a visa upon arrival, we opted to apply for the online visa since it’s convenient. We didn’t want to take chances. What if we get denied upon arrival? LOL. No, thank you. You can apply for a visa here. For other countries, check if you also need visa.
- Motorcycles are everywhere in the city. BE CAREFUL when crossing the streets. We made it!
- Expect a language barrier. Learn the basic Vietnamese words and their pronunciation. Better yet, email and book a tour with Hanoi Free Tour Guides.
- Download the Grab app on your phone (Asia’s Uber app). It’s convenient, safe, and affordable for your everyday transport. From our experience, a one way trip anywhere in the city will cost you around $2. I think Grab is also better than taking a taxi because you see the final price on the app right away, eliminating the headache of negotiating a price with your taxi driver.
- Like anywhere in the world, BEWARE OF SCAMS. Stay away from sketchy people. Follow your gut.
- Don’t forget to tip. 5-10% is good.
- As of the writing of this article, the currency conversion is $1 = 23,000 VND (Vietnamese dong). Yes, you can be a millionaire in Vietnam! I withdrew 3.5 million VND from the ATM. Holy smokes!
- Plan your trip on cooler months, preferably January or February. We were there in May and I melted everyday. Sugar melts.
Hanoi is beautiful, it is budget-friendly, and the food is great. I’m sure that Hanoi will be one of the next prime destinations for world travelers in the future. The question is, is it safe? Basing from our experience, yes, it is.
I’ve attached some of our pictures below. Enjoy!