Vietnam had always been an exciting prospect for us. With its fascinating history, culture and beauty that we had heard and read so much about, it had us talking and planning for months.
And then the day came. The poor students that we were, we decided to take the cheapest route possible, and headed to Thailand first, but that’s a tale for another time. Flights from Phuket, Thailand can be quite cheap if booking through local flight companies such as air Asia or nokair. We found that nok air was our best way as unlike air Asia, the baggage allowance to Hanoi allowed us 30kg free luggage without any added cost.
So roughly 5 hours later (with a layover in Bangkok, Thailand), we arrived in Hanoi and stepped into the humid abyss of glittering lights and zooming mopeds with a sense of adventure.
How to get to your hotel from the airport
The majority of people in Hanoi have mopeds or motorcycles and travel around as such. Vietnamese locals can get their license at the age of 15, however many people younger than this age do drive motorbikes. The older, more affluent population have cars, but there are often sights of many three or four person families travelling on one motorbike. For this reason there is a lot of motorbike rentals around the airport as well as in the city. However, a fair warning for those who haven’t driven motorbikes very much. The traffic can be very hectic as with many Asian countries.
For those of you looking for a less adventurous way to get to your hotel, there are taxis available in most places. The one thing that i can’t recommend enough is to use taxi apps! Uber luckily works in Hanoi, however for those of you worried about international fees on your card (although I believe uber has now come up with cash payment methods), we found that Grab taxi was a lifesaver!
Grab taxi works across many cities across Asia. This includes Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Putrajaya, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Malacca, Penang, Kuching, Kota Kinabulu, Singapore, Manila, Cebu, Devo City, Iloilo City, Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Rai, Phuket, Ho Chi Minh Ciry, Hanoi and Jakarta. I cannot recommend this particular app enough! It shows you how much a taxi will cost and gives u points for each journey, allowing you to get certain amount of money off everytime you reach 440, 880 etc points. This amount of points is surprisingly easy to reach and we often got some money off. The taxi apps, mean that it is easy to call taxis and as they are always metered, you will never get ripped off. The taxis themselves are fairly cheap particularly if you are travelling with other people.
Grabtaxi website : https://www.grab.com/my/car/
One thing that I’ve found when travelling to any country, is that exchanging money before leaving is pointless and expensive. I usually take just enough to cover my expenses for one night and taxi fare. Exchange places are littered across Hanoi, with every tourist shop in Hanoi exchanging money and giving fairly good exchange rates. However, these rates are still lower than what the locals get and we found a very good place in Hanoi, old quarter that the locals use. The majority of local places do not have EXCHANGE written on it, and are difficult to tell that they are indeed exchange places, so look carefully and if you see a calculator on a desk, you’re probably looking at a local exchange centre.
The one that we visited the most was on 31 Hà Trung, old quarter. We found it useful to download offline maps of the area in google maps, which meant that we could still direct ourselves everywhere even when we didn’t have wifi. This allowed us to get by without getting a sim card for the trip.
Most of the tourists sights are in Hanoi old quarter, and within walking distance from each other. However this list is not exhaustive and unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit all of the sights in Hanoi itself.
1. Hoan Kiem Lake
This place is absolutely worth a visit. It is stunning particularly at night. During the day they can have parades in the area with lots of children and adults alike getting involved. We were very lucky to come on such a day when there was a wall’s (ice-cream) parade on.
We went in early June which is not usually their peak season (peak season is usually November to mid-Feb and mid June- August), so were not expecting the amount of tourists we did see here. Hoan Kiem bridge is always humming with the chatter of tourists, and there is usually a lot of people queuing for a chance to take a photo from the bridge itself. There is also a small temple which you can go into called Ngoc Temple in the middle of the lake. The temple itself has been built in the 18th century and is beautiful to look upon in the night when it is all lit up. The name of the temple roughly translates to ‘the temple of the jade mountain’ and relates to a general who defeated the troops of the Mangolian emperor in the 13th century. It does cost money to enter the temple, however it is very cheap and is a beautiful temple representing Vietnamese culture.
The parade itself is amazing and involved lots and lots of people. They had a multitude of activities happening including skipping, a traditional version of skipping (which i was astoundingly bad at), tug of war, dancing and children’s activities such as drawing competitions. This was all free (including a free ice cream we got when we got there-yay!).
The people are lovely. There is a lovely way they teach english to kids. They do this by exposing them to as much english as possible from all the tourists around Hanoi. So when tourists sit down, many people will come up and talk to you just for a chance to learn english (you almost feel like a celebrity!).
2. Ho Chin Minh Mausoleum
This is the resting place of the Ho Chin Minh, a dearly respected leader in Vietnam. The mausoleum requires respect, and therefore there is a dress code akin to that of a temple. So please remember to cover shoulders and knees when visiting here. The mausoleum itself is usually only open in the morning, which is the mistake we made when we went and unfortunately were only able to appreciate the outside of the building.
Opening times :
Tuesday- Thurday: 07.30- 10.30
Saturday and sunday: 07.30-11.00
It is often closed after October due to maintenance, during which time it is sent to Russia.
The mausoleum is set in Ba Dinh Square, which itself is beautiful. The gardens themselves surrounding the mausoleum are stunning, and worth a visit even if you happen to come on a day when it is closed. Be warned however, the mausoleum is heavily guarded, with limited areas that you can visit.
3. One pillar pagoda
Although the Ho Chin Minh Mausoleum was closed when we got there, we were still able to see the grounds and visit the one pillar pagoda. One of the benefits of the mausoleum being closed was the lack of a queue and we were able to appreciate the true serenity of the garden and pagoda. The pagoda itself lies on top of a lotus pond, in which lotuses can be seen when in season.
Unfortunately this is all we had time for in Hanoi. As well as the food of course but lets save that one for another day. Hanoi was absolutely amazing and we wish we had time to see other wonders such as the perfume pagoda and the temple of literature. We did however find that Hanoi was a good place to stay as our main point from where we were able to visit other cities such as Sapa, Ha Long Bay and Tam Coc, and would definitely recommend people to do so, particularly if you are on a tight budget.