With Singapore’s National Day being on a Thursday this year, I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to take a much needed holiday from work. Contemplating whether to go back to Taiwan or visit Vietnam, I decided on the latter to experience a new culture, a new country, a new local adventure!
Catching a Grab from the airport to Hanoi, I looked out the window and was surprised at how much the scenery resembled certain provinces in China. Perhaps it is just because they were neighboring countries; from houses to the farmlands, to even the road traffic, I just got a nostalgic vibe as if I were back in China. This point of view of mine was best kept to myself, as the locals here in northern Vietnam have very mixed feelings towards mainland China.
The city of Hanoi is worthy of a short visit. For me, I would say one or two days would be enough time for travelers to visit all the local attractions and eat the many local delights in Old Quarter! Be cautious when crossing the streets here in Hanoi, as drivers of cars and motorbikes have their own way of driving here.
We stayed in Hanoi for our first and last night in Vietnam. Unlike our last night, we stayed at an Airbnb a little farther away from city center (Old Quarter) for our first night, which had its pros and cons. The good thing was that we got to better experience the local way of living, as neighboring kids happily ran up to our doorsteps and greeted us with smiles and laughter. The bad thing was we were inconveniently farther from local attractions and recommended restaurants as they were all located in Old Quarter. However, the use of Grab is most recommended as it is not only cheap, but also safe.
I personally enjoyed the area of Hoàn Kiếm Lake, where street vendors filled the area with many cheap snacks and drinks to enjoy. Note: always make sure that you are paying the same price as others and that you are getting the correct change back! There are a few vendors who will cheat off foreigners. While walking around the lake, we were lucky enough to come across a local, who goes by Uncle Tuay, who sat us down at his open stall and shared the history of Hanoi with us, despite his broken English. He had also told us to come back during the weekend to catch the weekend night market where streets in this area were to be blocked off and packed with festivities and stalls. The city of Hanoi is very much alive at night, and I am glad we were able to experience it during the short time we had.
Accommodation 1: Hanoi 1991 Homestay
Airbnb Rating: 4/5
Accommodation 2: Hanoi Serenity Hotel 2
Hotel Rating: 5/5
For travelers who wish to get the suburban scenic experience without being surrounded by groups of tourists, I most recommend Ninh Binh a worthy visit. Ninh Binh is only a 2.5 hour train ride south of Hanoi, and in my words, definitely underrated. This city is the place to visit for all your scenic activities.
When deciding where to go on our second day, we contemplated between Sapa and Ninh Binh. Sapa was absolutely beautiful in pictures online, as it was graced with large rice fields. However, it is heavily visited. Ninh Binh on the other hand, was some place that we had never heard before, making it a perfect location for an adventure. Note: I highly recommend travelers to stay in Tam Coc (right outside Ninh Binh city) because you will have immediate access to beautiful scenery in your backyard.
After checking in, we rented two bicycles provided by our hotel, and decided to cycle our way to our desired destinations (moreso because both of us had no clue how to ride a motorbike). Despite the humidity, choosing to cycle was absolutely the best decision we made. We were able to come across and stop to enjoy the beautiful scenery which would have been impossible if we were on a bus or car. This second day was truly a cardio day for us both! Aside from cycling, we spent roughly one hour hiking Hang Mua and enjoying a 2 hour riverboat ride throughout Trang An Grottoes. I cannot emphasize enough on how beautiful the scenery was from high up and below, as we even got to see the sunset as we cycled all the way back to our hotel.
Accommodation: Thien Truong An Resort
Hotel Rating: 3/5
Ha Long Bay:
Although Ha Long Bay is definitely a tourist spot, there really is no other alternative to enjoy Ha Long Bay and it’s many islands aside from getting on a cruise! For those looking at cruises, be sure to check multiple options and compare the itineraries. There are full day cruises, as well as overnight cruises. Booking a cruise online and early on saves time and stress before arriving into Vietnam. On the other hand, booking a cruise in Hanoi is actually very cheap and many places have great deals! In the end, the most important factor when deciding on a cruise is personal safety and quality!
Heading to Ha Long Bay from Ninh Binh, we were beyond lucky on this third day! First of all, we were able to find a cheap and direct bus from Tam Coc to Ha Long Bay through the assistance of a local couple. Secondly, upon arrival to Ha Long Bay, we were immediately assisted by a tour agent to help us buy tickets for an overnight cruise on the Majestic Cruise! Due to our tentative travel schedule, we were unclear of exactly what we wanted to do, and therefore didn’t book a cruise in advance. However, I felt like this was pretty much meant to be haha.
The cruise was absolutely amazing and probably one of the most memorable parts of this trip! Aside from the fine dining, beautiful room with soft beds, and program activities, the best part had to be (and always will be) the people I met on board. We just happened to be with a group of American undergrads from Northwestern University, whom made the cruise much more lively. One of which I happened to have a mutual friend with (what a small world)! From our table chats to late night mobile karaoke session, I appreciated the company I had out in the middle of Halong Bay.
Ninh Binh to Ha Long Bay: Tam Coc, Bar Coffee Fast Food (Red Sign) – Xuan Bien Booking Office. $130,000 VND.
Cruise: Majestic Cruise
Cruise Rating: 4/5
I came to Vietnam in doubt of my decision and not knowing one word of Vietnamese. However, the experience was beyond what I expected. Here I leave Vietnam, tummy filled, and learning one phrase: Cảm ơn (pronounced like ‘come on’). Thank you Vietnam!
Choose to fly Vietjet for your trip to Vietnam! The round trip flight is not only crazy cheap, but the quality is so much better than what I was expecting of a budget airline!