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Posts Tagged ‘Hanoi’

Hanging around in Hanoi

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Not to be negative, but I didn’t find Hanoi to be that interesting while I was doing my research prior to the trip and while I was here. I know it’s the capital and all but other than the Ho Chi Minh Mauosleum nothing else really caught my attention (and I didn’t even make it to the Mausoleum b/c they close at 10:30am during the week!). I basically used Hanoi as a base for Halong Bay and Sapa.

The very first thing I did on my very first day was to get food recommendations from the hostel staff. I’ve asked more than one person and they all said a pho place at 49 Bat Dan. It did not disappoint. In fact, I met couple of girls from Yorkshire later and took them to this place and they loved it as well. It’s a smaller bowl than in the US, for 35,000 dongs, which was more than I thought b/c people have told me a bowl of pho is like 75 cents. I hear Saigon is cheaper tho.

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I hesitated a bit to eat some street food, not for sanitary reasons but b/c the stools in Hanoi are all really short and small. I was afraid if I sit on it and break it they would make me pay for it. When I do sit down though, my knees are higher than the table. I felt like Alice in Wonderland where all the furnitures are all too small.

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After wondering around the first half day I am in Hanoi and the bus ride back from Halong Bay I had a pretty good idea of the layout of the city, at least I have these mental signposts of where everything is. The opera house, Hoan Khiem Lake, etc. I was very content to just spend my time wondering around. Even if I got lost I just sort of walked toward the genral direction of where I want to go. I would just randomly sit down in a coffee shop w/ locals playing Chinese chess and young people inside, or a pho shop filled w/ local office workers or kids getting out of school.

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I would’ve gone to the water puppetry show w/ the Yorkshire girls except the day we want to go was sold out. They got tickets for a matinee show the next day but I wouldn’t be able to make my shuttle to the airport if I went. I was gonna go to the Mausoleum on my last day but then I found out how limited the visiting hours were so I only ended up going to the Ho Chi Minh Museum and around the complex. I did pay 10,000 dongs to go into the Temple of Literature, but partially it was so I can use the restroom. I would’ve gone to the Ethnology Musuem too but it was 20 minutes by bus and I wanted to stick to walking.

How to do it: cheap shuttle bus back to Hanoi No Bai Airport
Right across from the Vietnam Airline’s office down town they pick passengers up to the airport for $2 or 40,000 dongs. I walked by it the day before my departure and it was filled w/ locals. The mini-buses depart every hour, except for 5pm but there’s an additional one at 6:30pm for some reason. It takes about 50 minutes to get to the airport, maybe a little longer during rush hour. I liked it better than taxi which cost $15 to $30 if there’s a lot of traffic. Public bus to the airport is the same price but this is quicker and more comfortable.

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From Hanoi to Halong Bay it’s about 3.5 hrs. This might vary depending on how many more people your tour group needs to pick up after you and how long you stop for restroom and shopping on the way there.

My hostel was very nice and booked a 2 day, 1 night trip for me via APT Travel. There are tons of other tour companies and you also have the option of doing just 1 day or 3 days if you like. I stayed overnight on a boat. Some people stay in a hotel on an island.

I was slightly disappointed by how foggy it is in Halong Bay. Nevertheless it is beautiful. It reminded me of Krabi or Phuket, but here you’re surrounded by it. Legend has it that a dragon rested here and he turned into the rocks, coming in and out of the water. If you use your imagination a bit, you can imagine yourself cruising in between the dragon scales.

Our itinerary included visiting a cave, kayaking, some swimming (if it was warmer), fishing and karaoke at night. The ship I booked was much nicer than I expected. We had an odd number and I ended up having a twin bedroom to myself.

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The second day we just hung out on the ship. There was a demonstration on how to carve flowers out of vegetables. I got back into Hanoi around 5, 5:30pm, which give me just enough time to freshen up, grab some pho and off to Sapa by overnight train.

How to do it: Halong Bay
Ask your hotel or hostel or walk into any of the travel agencies around Hanoi and ask them to book one for you.  Depending on how many days you go and how nice of a ship it’ll probably range from somewhere between $50, $60 for 2 day/1 night.  You can also do it by yourself but if you get lost or missed a connection it’ll be pretty difficult to find yourself back on the right track. I heard a couple of horror stories.

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