Tip for seeing the best of what Hanoi has to offer

One of the most memorable days we had while travelling in Vietnam was to do a Hanoi Kids tour. Being the sceptical, cynical bloke that I am when my wife said there is a tour where university students take you around Hanoi for free. My response was whats the catch. There was none. We met a lovely woman who tailored the day we wanted and took us around explaining the history of different spots we visited. She also took us to a lovely spot for lunch. We did pay for her lunch, the taxi rides and gave a donation at the end of the tour to the organisation that runs Hanoi Kids, but you are under no obligation to do this.

If you’re in Hanoi then contact Hanoi Kids. There is a reason that they consistently get five-star reviews on trip advisor. Check out my review of Hanoi Kids and others of our time in Vietnam at kiwiinbrighton or specifically for Hanoi Kids at http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g293924-d1752779-r269631182-HanoiKids_Tour-Hanoi.html

Vietnam tip for the day

If you are from NZ or Australia and have an ANZ bank account your in luck. In Hanoi and Saigon there are ANZ ATMs. Withdrawals are free. That’s right you can take out millions of dong without paying a fee. If you do not have an ANZ account the ATMs allow up to 5 million dong withdrawals which is still a saving with many ATMs having limits of 3 million or less. 

An idiots guide to a safe and comfortable trip in Vietnam

Having survived a month in Vietnam I thought it might be useful to give people a few tips on safety and comfort. The traffic and especially all the scooters is a bit daunting at first, but there is a method to the madness. I always liked to time my crossing the road with another Vietnamese pedestrian and follow their lead or to just go boldly forward albeit slowly and not stopping. I never felt unsafe in Vietnam during our trip and of course you take the usual precautions, not leaving phones on tables at restaurants or bags unattended. Keep your bag close to your body when walking around or strapped in front as my wife does with her purse.

Transport

We found that Vinasun taxis were the best to use. Never had a problem with meters being turned on and the drivers were all polite. The taxis are in Saigon and Hanoi. Between Hue and Hoi An I hired a car and the guy was terrific and he charged US$69 for a leisurely drive to Hoi An stopping at several sites along the way.

Relaxing on the train to Hoi An

Relaxing on the train to Hoi An

We used trains for our journey between Hanoi and Saigon. I booked all of them via hotels, you pay a small commission but we got soft sleeper, air-conditioned and bottom bunk in a four bunk cabin. Some people book the entire cabin. We did not and ended up meeting some lovely Vietnamese people including two guides on their way to Hue. Take some snacks and water with you on the train. There are, I hesitate to say food trolleys, but there are drinks and food sold during the trip. I had a coffee and it was good. There are Western and Asian toilets as well as a wash up area in each carriage with running water. All of the trains are slowly being refurbished. We got old ones but they were perfectly fine. To give you an idea of cost our two tickets for a night train from Hanoi to Hue for both of us was US$90. We did get one upper bunk for the train from Nha Trang to Saigon during the day which was comfortable and near the air-conditioning. Our entire train cost to Saigon was less than US$200 for both of us including two overnight trains.

Where we stayed?

Hotels are good at organising pick ups at train stations. There is something nice about seeing someone waiting for you with your name on a sign after a 13 hour train trip. We did this for Hue and Nha Trang. Saigon we just got a Vinasun taxi to the hotel from the train station. We do not travel with backpacks and have suitcases so a pick up or a taxi is our only option unless we want to drag them through the streets.

Below are the list of hotels with links to my trip advisor reviews that we stayed at in Vietnam. They all had in room safes, air conditioning, clean and comfy beds. I do like a firm mattress. All the hotels were between US$40-50 a night and included breakfast. Aside from the one in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City the hotels all had swimming pools.

Silk Queen Hotel Hanoi
Chersh Hotel in Hue
Ancient Resort in Hoi An
VDB Nha Trang Hotel in Nha Trang
Sanouva Saigon Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City

Be polite

We hardly got troubled by pushy sellers or beggars at all. When we were, a polite no thank you and smile always worked. We also learnt a few Vietnamese phrases such as hello and thank you which always went over well even with our terrible pronunciation.

Food and drink

The food is wonderful and we ate at street stalls and restaurants. In the restaurants they always put ice in your water and we never got ill once. Sometimes we would ask where the water came from and the answer was filtered. We also carry a small disinfectant bottle for our hands when there was nowhere to wash your hands. Beer is cheap in Vietnam and fruit juices. Depending on where we ate the meals can range from a few dollars up to 30 dollars. We ate at several restaurants recommended on trip advisor and it was a good way to find a place to eat if you did not want to get food from a stall off a street. Below are links to some of my favourite restaurants on our journey beginning in Hanoi and ending in Ho Chi Minh City. My favourite was Noir in Ho Chi Minh City where you are in complete darkness and the waiters are blind or visually disabled. The food was great and the cause they support brilliant.

Hanoi restaurant we loved
Hue restaurant where we got to dress up as King and Queen
Hoi An restaurant
Nha Trang cafe we liked to sit and watch the beach
Saigon restaurant where the waiters are blind

Tours we loved doing.

There were three tours that stood out during our trip to Vietnam. Halong Bay, Hanoi Kids and the Scooter tour through the streets of Saigon.

Halong Bay Cruise

There are a multitude of companies selling cruises to Halong Bay. We went up market and did the 2 night and 3 day cruise with Viola Cruises booked through our hotel. The link is below to my review.

Viola Cruises review

Be ready for a four-hour drive each way to Halong Bay and back. I would recommend to do the 3 day trip and not the one night trip as it gives you more time to enjoy the scenery, swim and kayak.

Hanoi Kids

Hanoi kids is a charity where young students who are learning or improving their English take you on a guide tour around Hanoi. They tailor the day to what you want to do and see. It is great to have a guide and it is free, yes free. At the end of the day you can make a donation to the charity which we did and you pay for taxis and entrance for your guide. We really enjoyed our tour and would recommend it to first time visitors to Hanoi. Below is my review.

Hanoi Kids trip advisor review

Scooter tour in Saigon

I was a bit wary of this tour which my wife booked. I need not have been. It was a great morning whizzing around Saigon and I never felt unsafe. We had a great time seeing the sights. It cost us each US$40 for over three hours and include a few snacks and drinks along the way.

Saigon scooter tour review


I hope some of these tips help and good luck on your trip to Vietnam.

The Silk Queen a lovely place to stay in Hanoi

One of our best decisions was to choose the Silk Queen Hotel in Hanoi to start our month long trip in Vietnam. We stayed for a total of nine nights. The hotel was in the heart of the Old Quarter and a short walk to Hoan Kiem lake. We stayed in Room 406 which was huge and even had a separate bathroom. No bath tub but the shower was excellent.

We also booked a Halong Bay tour with Ms Rose from the hotel who recommended Viola Cruises. The hotel kindly looked after our luggage while we did the Halong Bay cruise. Ms Rose also booked our sleeper train for Hue. We had no problems or any nasty surprises with our cruise or train trip. All the staff at the hotel were lovely and friendly. My wife also enjoyed the use of the small gym on the top floor.

The reason we stayed so long at the hotel is that we inadvertently had arrived during a couple of public holidays. This mean our application for an Indian Visa took a bit longer than the 3-5 days. However, there is so much to do in Hanoi that we were never bored and it was great to come back to the hotel after a hot day to relax and use as a base to explore Hanoi. My full trip advisor review is in the following link Stayed here for a total of nine nights

I know when you arrive in a strange country it can be a challenge. So it was nice to book a car with the hotel to pick us up at the airport. On arrival around 30-40 minutes later we had a quick early check in. We arrived around 9am on an early morning flight from Bangkok. Then to find such a lovely comfortable room was a bonus. We paid US$45 a night which included a great breakfast.

An idiots guide to getting an Indian visa in Vietnam, Hanoi

On our year-long travel we are visiting India. Due to the way the Indian Government issues visas we had to wait till we were nearer India before getting one. The Indian visa starts when issued. This mean the day you get the visa it starts. I came across information online that it was easy to get a visa in Hanoi for India. Due to the fact there are not many Indians living in Vietnam, unlike Malaysia where we were going to get it.

Filling in the online forms

The first step is to go to the Indian Government online visa application website which is at India visa online https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/

Once you go to this gateway you need to follow the steps in filling out the online application. They ask a lot of questions and it does take a while to complete. There were some questions that threw me, such as what was your last visa number for India. The last time I visited India was 1990 so that passport and visa number were long gone. I found out all you need to do is fill in the number they ask for with all zeros. You also tell the visa officer at the consulate what you have done and they make a notation on the hard copy of your application.

Double check you have filled in your application correctly, you can save drafts as your given a unique number to log back into your application. This means you do not have to do it all in one sitting. Once you have correctly filled in your application print out a hard copy to take along to the consulate in Hanoi. You also need to upload an electronic passport photo with a white background. We did this with our iPhone and it was accepted. You also need to take along a passport photo to the consulate. The dimensions for the photo size are on the website.

The following is a link to help in submitting and filling an Indian online visa application: Indian online visa guidelines for filling in and submitting an application.

Once you have done the online application you need to go to the Hanoi Indian Consulate.

Where is the Indian Consulate in Hanoi

The Indian Embassy in Hanoi‘s physical address is: 58-60 Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam and their phone number is +84 4 3824 4998. It is not far from the Old Quarter in Hanoi. It took us about 15 minutes to walk from our hotel to the embassy.

What next?

After you have done your online application and printed out the form. You need to gather all the information and make photocopies. You also have to give an address in India, we booked a place in India on arrival and used that address and printed out our reservation. There was no problem. We also printed out our flights in and out of India. The embassy opening hours as I recall are 9.30 till 11.30 in the morning. We got their first thing and were the only ones there. We waited a few minutes and then had a short interview with the visa officer. He asked a few questions about where we were going and how long we were going for. We then paid him US$65 each, the price for Canadian and New Zealand citizens. The price varies depending on your nationality. We got a receipt and told to come back a few days later at 11.30 to pick up our passport and visa. It takes around 3-5 days. A couple of things to remember is that the embassy closed in the afternoons for visas and they only accept US dollars.

We went back on the day and time told and were given six month visas.

Recap

Complete online application form – printed and signed.
One passport photo attached to application form
Copies of flight in and out
Copy of reservation at hotel when you first arrive
65 US dollars (Canadian and kiwi’s)
Passport

It takes 3-5 working days. Good luck.

An idiots guide on how to get a Vietnamese Visa?

We decided to get our visa for Vietnam while we were in Thailand. I also decided to write this blog because I bumped into so many people that were clueless about the Vietnam Visa process. There is always the Vietnam Embassy in your country, however, the online process is quite simple.

What is the process?

The process for getting a Vietnamese visa is relatively simple. The main requirement is a visa on arrival letter which several companies offer a service for online. We went to the Vietnam Government website to get the letter. The cost for each of us for the letter was US$17.

In less than 48 hours the company sends an attachment with the Visa Approval Letter. we received the letter with our passport numbers on it. Do not be concerned if you see other people’s passport numbers as the company issues one letter for people arriving the same day. Your passport must have at least 6 months validity beyond your date of arrival. You need to get 2 passport photos of 04 cm x 06 cm or similar size. The company also sends you a link for one page that you need to also print off for the Vietnamese Entry/Exit forms

Lastly you need to print off a copy of the Visa Approval Letter it can be printed in black and white. Our visa was a single entry for one month or you can get 3 months. Just write down in the Visa Approval Letter process which one you want. Make sure you are clear on whether you want to get 3 months otherwise you automatically get one month.

What do I need to do on arrival at the airport?

The airline you fly with will check at check in that you have the visa on arrival letter. We left from Bangkok to Hanoi. On arrival at the new airport try to get off the plane as quickly as possible or when you book select a seat near the front of the plane. There can be long queues that take over an hour to get to the front at the visa on arrival counter. They also appear to have only two people at the counter, one to collect your letter and passport. The other once it is processed to collect the fee and return your passport. On exiting the plane it is clearly marked where to go for the Visa on Arrival. Do not dawdle. There are two queues at the same counter, one to hand in your passport and letter. The other queue is for people waiting for their name to appear on a screen. When your name pops up on the screen it means your visa is ready to collect. Make sure you have the fee in US dollars. Once your name appears on the screen you go up to the counter and pay the US$45. You then receive back your passport with the visa and your good to go. You then just go downstairs to collect your luggage and exit the airport.

We were lucky and the process took only 20 minutes but I have heard horror stories about people waiting a few hours. Good luck and I hope this blog helps.

Where to stay in Hoi An?

Getting to Hoi An

There are three main ways of getting to Hoi An. If you are coming from Hue then you can hire a car which we did and have several stops on the way to admire the scenery. It cost us US$69 for the trip and it took around 5 hours with lots of stops including lunch in Danang. The other way to get to Hoi An is by train to Danang and then a bus or car. A car cost around US$20. It takes around 45 minutes and if you get a car you also can organise a stop at Marble Mountain which is on the way. If you arrive in the evening on Saturday or Sunday before 9pm then get the driver to stop by the dragon bridge to watch it breathe fire and spout water. It’s a great spectacle. The third way to Hoi An is by bus, we did not do this so I have no idea where they drop you off. An open ticket between Hanoi and Saigon or vice versa will cost around US$60.

Where to stay in Hoi An?

We spent a week in Hoi An exploring the old town and the beaches. We stayed at the Ancient House Resort. If your like us and like comfort then this hotel is an absolutely gem and our room was brilliant. Room 102. The gardens are beautiful and the pool is great to come back to and cool off. Unlike many other hotels we have stayed at this pool is deep enough that it goes over your head in places.

The staff are brilliant from the gardener up to the friendly receptionists always on hand to give you a cool towel when ever you return from somewhere or information. Room 102 was lovely, spacious, good bathroom, air conditioning worked well, in room safe, mini bar and a good choice of channels to watch when the heat of the day gets too much or we just sat on the balcony and read a book. Breakfast was good, I especially liked the passionfruit. We also had a lovely dinner overlooking the garden watching bats swoop in to eat insects while we had our meal. The hotel runs a daily shuttle both to the old town and the beach at scheduled times.

Overall for US$35 a night including a good breakfast this place is a bargain. One other tip next door on your right when you come out of the hotel is a place you can get your laundry done. The woman did a brilliant job and even ironed everything. She charged for five kilos 140000 dong a bit more pricey than some other places in Hoi An, however, our clothes for once came back undamaged and in one piece.

So if you’re looking for a place to stay in Hoi An then you cannot go far wrong staying at the Ancient House Resort.

Hoi An is a great place to visit.