Hello- first wanted to say a quick thanks for all the helpful info I've gotten off the VN forums over the years! You guys are great! Sorry if this report runs long...
Just got back from 3 weeks in SE Asia, with Hanoi being my first stop.
Visa on Arrival: Arranged it online with Ha at Vietland Travel. Wonderful experience, and cheap at $10 + $25 visa charge. This would've been $85 at the consulate in San Francisco, so a big savings. Also, we booked train tickets, plane tickets, private car, etc. through Ha in Danang, and everything worked out wonderfully.
Airport Arrival: Booked through Golden Sun, $14 and incredibly easy. Though I did ask this a few weeks ago, and now I know that the group shuttles ($2 pp, drops off at Vietnam Airlines office) are definitely running late at night.
Hotels: Golden Sun 2 and 3. Both good but we did like Golden Sun 3 better. Our first night was at GS 3, and the room was a bit smoky, so Hanh immediately switched us to a much larger and nicer room at GS 2, with balcony and views of the lake. A really nice upgrade and a steal at $21/night. Clean rooms, free internet downstairs, awesome rooftop breakfast at GS 1 every morning. Everyone we met, Hanh, Moon, Mai (? I think?) were incredibly friendly and helpful and we enjoyed our stay.
Hanoi Kids: Booked a tour to Museum of Ethnology with Duc and Ha. We had fun talking to them and thought it was really funny that Duc was the same Hanoi Kid who took my boyfriend around last year (he visited the Birla Orphanage). Wandering through the replica homes at the museum was good fun, and it was neat getting to know both Hanoi Kids. Lunch at a restaurant in the old quarter, which was decent too. We ended by giving them little souvenirs from San Francisco, which they seemed to like.
Restaurants/bars: Loved Highway 4, for unusual eats (stir fried crickets!) along with good versions of more typical items, and fun ambiance. $12 splurge for lunch at Ly Club near the Sofitel Metropole, which was a 4 course set meal with a choice of either French or Vietnamese. We chose Asian with French desserts. Good food, great service, but not so much when it came to dessert. Oh well.
Also, we had some really good pho ga at a restaurant on the lake and stopped in for Fanny's ice cream as well. Went for dinner/dessert out at West Lake, which I wouldn't really recommend being worth the trip. Didn't make it to Quan An Ngon, which I'm still disappointed about. Beer Hoi Corner is great for people watching and meeting other westerners, and sheesha at Funky Monkey was another interesting experience.