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

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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.

Why come to Vietnam?

After being in Vietnam for three weeks I thought I would pen a few words to paper about our experiences. It has been a lot easier than we expected. Booking train tickets, nice hotels with hot running water and friendly people. Hanoi was brilliant. I am glad we were delayed getting our Indian visa due to holiday celebrations.

We got to see the fireworks on Reunification Day and explore a lot of the city thanks to Hanoi kids. See my review here on tripadviser:

Hanoi Kids, do the tour you will not regret it

Halong Bay was brilliant and I am glad we paid a bit extra to do a tour that had good reviews. I am also happy that we decided to do the three days and two night cruise. Otherwise after you drive four hours to Halong Bay you get on the boat rush around and get off the boat less than 24 hours later for a long drive back to Hanoi. Below is a link to my review of our Halong Boat trip.

Halong Cruise with Viola Cruises

Train trips are brilliant with it easy to book. The trains are comfortable and have running water for a quick face wash in the morning and they even bring you meals. Our next stop was Hue where we enjoyed our full day tour exploring the Kings and Queens tombs and the Old Citadel. The drive to Hoi An was easy and booking a car and driver who stopped along the way was well worth it. Hoi An we relaxed for a week. Going to the beach or into the old town. Now, we are at Nha Trang the only foreigners staying at a hotel that are not Russian much to the amazement of the staff.

If your concerned about coming to Vietnam and doing it yourself, don’t be. We mostly use trip adviser and are careful on where we stay and so far, fingers crossed have been lucky in our selections. Our last stop is Saigon and hopefully we have made a good choice there. On cost, we are paying around US$750 a week for both of us. This includes 3-4 star hotels, tours, food and transport through Vietnam. I know you can do travel in Vietnam a lot cheaper than this if you stay at guest houses or backpackers accommodation. However, for a few dollars more your enjoyment and memories will probably be better ones.

Second week in Vietnam: Hanoi and Hue

Hanoi

One of the challenges we had during our second week was to get an Indian visa. I choose to apply for an India visa in Hanoi after reading several reviews on how easy it was to get a visa here as long as you do the paperwork correctly. It was easy, however, we unintentionally chose the week to apply where Vietnam had a 8 day holiday break! Hence we had to wait a week for our visa where it normally would take three days. On the bright side we both loved Hanoi as a city and had a ball exploring the city and eating out every night.

We spent the week in Hanoi visiting several sites including the Temple of Literature, two water puppet shows, Ho Chi Minh Museum and eating at a lot of restaurants. The highlight of the week was doing a great day tour with Hanoi Kids, highly recommended if you are ever in Hanoi. Once we had our Indian visa we booked a sleeper train to Hue which was easy and cost US$90. We had a lovely apartment, four bunks, air conditioning and the train trip took around 14 hours. We even got an upgrade at our hotel in Hue and an early check in.

Hue

We spent four days in Hue. It is a great city to explore with its ancient Citadel and the tombs from past Kings. During the three days we were there we did an all day tour visiting the tombs of past kings, the Citadel which was partially destroyed by the French and Vietnam wars as well as a boat cruise down the Perfume river and visited a pagoda and Buddhist temple. The hotel we were staying at also did a king and queen feast so we got to dress up and have a wonderful meal. All in all it was a great week seeing some great sights in Hanoi and finding out more about the history of Vietnam in Hue.

Our next week is in Hoi An.

Cost of the week in Vietnam

This week we were four nights in Hanoi, one night on a train and two nights in Hue.

Silk Queen Hotel accommodation was US$220 for the four nights
Train night trip to Hue was US$90. You can book directly at the station for just US$70. We decided to go through out hotel and pay the commission.
Cherish Hue Hotel (formerly the Camellia Hotel) was US$95 for two nights.
Transport aside from train, attractions, food and drink was 6 million dong or US$280.

It worked out to US$685 or US$98 per day.

Hanoi motorcyle ballet

We have been in Hanoi a week. It has been a fun week exploring the city and relaxing in a lovely hotel. What most impresses me is what I call the motorcycle and scooter ballet. Hours of entertainment can be had by going to a cafe, preferably at an intersection. Then just sit back relaxing with a beer and watch the ballet of continuous traffic of weaving in, out and around people as they walk across the road. Coming from New Zealand and living in England it makes me realise how bad drivers are there. Yes you read me correctly. Western drivers need rules to slow down and give way. In Hanoi, common sense is used in most cases.

The difference between Hanoi and traffic in places where I live, is the speed and common sense. It may look dangerous and mayhem but there is an art form in how the drivers avoid collisions by just driving with common sense and at a speed which works. I would be curious about other people’s impressions of the traffic in Hanoi. Of course, when crossing the road you must be careful. I have seen one person hit (nudged) at a speed in which just cross words were used and it was a tourist who was not looking both ways.

I also found out that the car is coming in numbers. In 2018 when Vietnam joins ASEAN tax on cars apparently goes to zero. If you want to experience Vietnam and all its zen like traffic chaos then now is the time to visit. Once cars arrive in numbers it will be one big continuous traffic jam.