Hi everyone, I would just like to share my wonderful experience in my Hanoi Trip last February 22-25. :)
Sharing with you some tips I personally learned during my three-day backpacking Hanoi tour last February 22-25, 2014:
1. Book your hotel in advance. I personally recommend those that are near Hoan Kiem Lake as these transients are accessible to almost all the attractions (and sumptuous food!) in the city. If you are traveling on a budget but prefer privacy on your lodging, I suggest you get a hostel. If you’re not into much luxury, most of these hostels can already satisfy your basic room requirement (bed, breakfast and bath). There are many hostels near the Hoan Kiem Lake that offer reasonable price. I stayed at Hanoi City Hostel along Hang Ga Road in Old Quarter basically because they got many positive comments from different travel sites and I never went wrong.
2. Arrange a hotel and airport transfer in advance. If you are already eyeing a hostel to stay, check if they also offer hotel transfers. This will minimize your stress in getting to the city proper that is many kilometers away from Noi Bai Airport. Rates are generally reasonable, slightly higher than airport taxis but you are assured that you will get to the exact hotel address (there are some stories of bad taxi drivers that bring you in front of your hotel then will tell you that the hotel is already full; then they’ll bring you to other hotels for a commission). This will also spare you from being ripped off by some taxis. Oh, by the way, it is hard to look for a money changer if your arrival is during the wee hours of the night as most establishments within the airport are closed. If you already arranged an airport taxi, it will as well save you from the hassles of looking for foreign exchange as taxis won’t accept dollars for payment. Airport transfers will be included in your hotel bill and will be charged to your account upon check out.
3. Walk. Don’t ride. Hanoi is such a beautiful city to explore by foot. For you to fully appreciate its beauty, wear comfortable and lightweight footwear and walk around. I chose to walk many kilometers around the city and it gave me the opportunity to exercise and breathe fresh air along Hoan Kiem Lake! Most of the hostels offer free maps, even hotel receptionists extend extra mile in explaining which sites to visit first, what are the do’s and don’ts, etc. If you’re not fond of walking, or if somewhere in the middle of your walking you felt your feet burning, there are motorcycles and cyclos around every corner of each street but make sure you agree on the price first before hopping in to avoid rip off. I suggest you get an approximate idea on how far is one point to another point so you’ll get the hint how much to bargain. Being street smart is still the best weapon against rip offs!
4. Learn the art of declining an offer without casting the word NO. I learned it from our tourist guide during chitchat while waiting for our bus from Halong Bay going back to Hanoi. I personally witnessed how gentle and nice Vietnamese people are to tourists (as I never experienced any harsh treatment from anyone, even from vendors and cyclo drivers). If they try to sell or offer you something you’re not interested at, simply smile and just say “thank you, I’m good” nicely, then walk away. This will avoid you from hurting their feelings.
5. Never be afraid to try eating on streets. Don’t be too delicate and cynical on street foods! Most of the very tasty yet very affordable bowl of steaming hot pho (noodle soup) can be found along streets and street corners. To make sure that the food is safe (as food handling may sometimes look unhygienic), see if most of the customers eating are locals. That simply means that it is generally patronized and food is okay. A big bowl of pho bo can cost around 30,000-50,000 VND per serving. If your tummy is slightly reactive, just keep a tablet of loperamide in your pocket.
6. If you opt to avail travel packages, check on your hotel first before closing a deal from travel agencies. Some of the hotels offer booking services for travel packages to different tourist destinations in Hanoi and all over Vietnam, even in neighboring cities/countries. Check for the price, package inclusions if they offer great deals. Some offer the cheapest rates yet the inclusions in the package are just so-so. I availed a Halong Bay day tour from the hostel where I stayed and they arranged the booking at my convenience. The experience was really worth my 38 USD (package covered transportation from Hanoi to Halong Bay and vice versa), lunch, cruise around the bay for four hours including entrance fees (but if Fisherman’s Floating Village is included in the itinerary, boat ride and kayaking will cost you 130,000 VND separately as this will be paid directly to the indigent locals of the Village). I enjoyed the entire sightseeing experience and picture taking; the only downside was the bus broke down and made us wait for two long hours before we were transferred to a backup bus. It was such a thrilling incident as I needed to catch a late night flight after that trip but that doesn’t spoil my entire experience as I was really in awe at the marvelous view of the Halong Bay. And, oh, I must mention that the tourist guides were commendable because they remained composed and very accommodating despite everyone’s stress
7. Motorbikes and traffic in Hanoi. If you’ve ever been in Ho Chi Minh, street traffic in Hanoi is almost the same. Motorbikes are all over the streets; they even pass on sidewalks and beat the traffic lights. Crossing the street may be very challenging to Vietnam first timers but don’t worry despite the massive volume of motorbikes, drivers proceed with 60 kph as the fastest and is generally safe. Just walk straight with a constant pace, don’t hold back, as the motorbike drivers will adjust for you.
8. As much as you can, buy your goodies at night market, not during the day. According to the hotel receptionist, most of the good buys and deals can be found during night markets. But be informed that this only opens during weekends (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). Most of the goods being sold in night markets are generally spill overs from day market stalls, with tourist-friendly prices. If you shop in regular stalls during the day, prices may be a bit higher.
9. Vietnam travel is one of the cheapest travels in South East Asia. Don’t be afraid to splurge while you’re anywhere in Vietnam as most of their products and services are not too costly (that is, if you’re not going to avail products and services through high end establishments). Also, if you haggle in markets, don’t bargain way too low as most of the vendors there belong to the indigenous groups. Buy and spend your Dongs wisely. My overall budget during the entire three days, three nights trip? Around 337 USD only (all in, inclusive of expenses in Philippine Airport fees, airfare, food, accommodation, some shopping, and an organized trip). I will prepare a separate write up about it later