I was always curious about what Vietnam was like, but it wasn’t in my list of top places to visit. However, when I was planning the rest of my trip, it turned out that flying from Hanoi back to the USA was the cheapest flight I could get. I had seen lots of pictures of Hanoi from my friends, and the scenic views and the food enticed me. So, I decided to take the leap and buy my ticket, and I’m definitely glad I did.
Although I enjoyed Vietnam a lot, I was very wary in terms of trying the street food because everyone kept telling me that I was going to get sick (thanks for believing in my immune system, guys). In addition, everyone kept telling me that I needed to be careful. In the end, Vietnam wasn’t filled with hooligans trying to poison my food like I had originally thought, but you do have to be aware of your surroundings!
I passed by a stall selling some meat, and the guy just sneezed into the meat without covering his mouth. I would just recommend keeping an eye of how your food is being prepared, and then decide if you think it’s clean enough for you or not. Usually, sit-down restaurants are pretty safe.
Also, be careful when dealing with money. Although I don’t think I was scammed when I was in Vietnam, there are definitely some fishy looking people. I would recommend just watching how much the locals pay, and then you paying yourself and seeing if you’re paying the same price.
However, despite these factors, I liked Vietnam very much and I would want to visit Hanoi again! The food is fantastic and everyone was quite nice to me. You just have to do your research and be aware of how you portray yourself!
I got into Noi Bai International Airport pretty early in the morning, and I was surprised on how fast I got through immigration and customs. Once I got myself organized, I had to buy a SIM card at the information counter, since the international SIM I was using didn’t work in Vietnam. Usually I would buy a local SIM in town, but I was only in Vietnam for 2 days so I thought it didn’t matter too much on where I got my SIM card. However, I did some research online and it seems like buying it at the airport isn’t a scam.
After I got myself squared away, I took the local bus 86 to the Hanoi city center. Just follow the signs towards the bus stop and just say no to the taxi and minivan drivers - you might need to walk a while. The bus to the city center costs 35,000 VND, no matter where you get off. I thought I was being scammed when I got on because I saw on websites that it was 30,000 VND. However, when I was leaving Hanoi, I saw a posted sign at the arrivals hall that the bus costs 35,000 VND, so they must have raised the price. I would recommend telling the driver which stop you want to get off at. When I was on the bus, it seemed like they were combining stops into a few stops. So instead of dropping me off at the bus stop close to my hostel, I had to walk about 10 minutes or so.
I left my big backpack at my hostel, Central Backpackers Hostel - Old Quarter. The hostel was pretty nice, however if you aren’t into drinking you might feel a little lonely. The hostel has a rooftop bar and restaurant, which was nice, but it felt like everyone there only liked to drink. But despite that, I would recommend this hostel! However, one weird thing that they did was that they took my passport until I paid at check-out.
I started my explorations at Bach Ma Temple, and then I headed towards Hoam Kiem Lake. As I was walking, I noticed that basically everyone drives like a madman! If you thought LA traffic was bad, Hanoi is on an entirely other level. Basically everyone goes where they want to go, and I felt like the traffic lights were just there for decoration. It was absolute chaos and I had to be pretty careful any time I was crossing the street. Luckily, I’ve gotten pretty good at jaywalking during my travels, so I was fine.
I decided to walk on one side of the lake and the lake itself is very nice to walk through! However, I didn’t like how there were lots of tourists and lots of hawkers trying to sell you toys, fruit, and other things. But despite that, I really enjoyed the lake.
After walking around the lake, I got a little hungry so I began to walk towards The Hanoi Social Club because my friend recommended that restaurant to me. However, on my way I saw a pho place that looked absolutely amazing. So, I couldn’t resist but give it a try and it was great! The menu is pretty simple, and I didn’t need to speak a word of Vietnamese to order my food and pay.
After I ate the pho, I still went to The Hanoi Social Club to eat because why not? After I ate there, I had a mixed feeling about the place. The restaurant felt like it catered exclusively towards foreigners, so all the dishes weren’t what you would want to eat if you wanted to try some authentic Vietnamese food. However, I thought the soup I got tasted very good! It’s a little pricey for Vietnamese standards, but I really like the ambiance and decor of the restaurant - it’s laid out in a very relaxing way, and you don’t feel like you’re being rushed. I would definitely recommend this place if you want to get away from Hanoi and how fast paced it is, or if you just want to take a rest from walking and need to refresh. However, if you want some Vietnamese food, this place is not it!
After eating my 2nd lunch of the day, I walked towards the Temple of Literature. You have to pay to get in, but show your student ID to get a discount - I only paid 15,000 VND! The inside is cool to see, and the temple itself is quite grand for how small it is. After going to the temple, I went to the Thang Long Imperial Citadel. It’s definitely a cool place to visit, and it’s also ___ wonder of the world?. The buildings are quite old and filled with history. However, the part I liked the most was how you could see how the French influenced Vietnam.
After visiting the citadel, I went back to the hostel to check in and get settled because I had to wake up early tomorrow for a tour. I wanted to get dinner, but it was raining pretty hard so I decided to wait until the rain had passed. Then, I went to Bun Cha Ta Hanoi to eat some bun cha and I highly recommend going here to eat! The person that greeted me and served my food was very friendly and attentive, and I could tell she was very enthusiastic about practicing her English. I would recommend getting the #1 on the menu, which includes the bun cha and some spring rolls! While I was eating, the waitress sat with another girl eating by herself and began to strike a conversation. I thought that was something very nice to do! Usually service staff don’t do anything like that, and I thought it was a personal touch even if I wasn’t the one she talked to. After I ate, I went back to my hostel to get some sleep.
I had to get up quite early, as my tour guide told me that he was going to pick me up at 7:45am. I was really excited about visiting since one of my friends went there earlier this summer and loved it! In addition, I saw pictures online beforehand and it looked absolutely stunning.
Although you could probably arrange transportation and the tour by yourself, it is infinitely easier to go with a tour group. I personally like to do things by myself vs. with a tour, but at this point in my trip I just wanted a day where I didn’t have to worry about anything and have everything taken care of. For my tour, I bought a 1-day tour on Klook, and my provider ended up being Charming Vietnam Tours/Dragonfly Cruises. I chose to use Klook because I’ve used them in the past for my Tokyo DisneySea tickets, and I was very satisfied with my experience! There are many tour operators out there, so it’s important to find a reputable operator. However, I was very happy with my experience with Charming Vietnam Tours and would recommend them to anyone wanting to explore Ha Long Bay!
My day started off with the tour guide spotting me in the lobby of my hostel. I was surprised he was able to find me among so many people. Wei, my tour guide, was friendly and very talkative - you could tell that he could talk all day long. Wei told me that we were going to walk around the Old Quarter to other hotels to pick up some other people. I originally thought that a coach would pick me up and that would go around the Old Quarter, but I realized that made no sense - with the insane driving patterns, the narrow streets, and how big the coach was.
As we were picking up other people, I was able to meet two different groups of Taiwanese people. To me, this was a great relief because I finally met some people my age and I was able to converse with them. After we picked up more people, we eventually got to the coach, which was waiting at the tour operator’s office. We ended up having assigned seating, which was a little odd but I suppose it was efficient. After we picked up everyone, we were off to Ha Long Bay!
During the initial stages of the drive, Wei told us that the drive there would take 3.5 hours, with a 30 minute break mandated by the government. So, we would be on the road for a total of 8 hours, with 4 hours at Ha Long Bay. During our 30 minute break, I instantly realized that this “government mandated break” was probably a bunch of BS. This was because the place they dropped us off at was essentially a huge warehouse selling all sorts of things - artwork, backpacks, jewelry, food, snacks, backpacks, clothes, and more! You could also see workers just sitting with sewing machines and such. All I could think of was that it seemed like a 1960s sweatshop. It was clear that they wanted us foreigners to spend money at this place. However, what I thought was very amusing was that there was a huge lawn area filled with marble statues of anything and everything. You could buy these statues and have them shipped to you anywhere in the world for a fee! I would never think to just casually buy a marble statue while traveling, but never mind that.
After the break, we kept driving towards Ha Long Bay where we were finally able to get on the boat. First, we were served lunch, which involved assigned seating as well (I was grateful for this because as a solo traveler, I would have felt weird just joining a table). The lunch involved lots of different dishes which I thought was very good, considering the fact that it was on a boat. At my table, I was able to talk to a group of Malaysians who were also traveling in Vietnam.
Over the course of lunch, we passed through a very scenic part of the bay, so I went outside to take pictures. In my opinion, I thought it was incredibly pretty! The scenery and the overall ambiance reminded me of the Li River in Guilin, but a little different. I now understood why everyone kept raving about this place and why lots of people visit - it’s simply beautiful to see! I would definitely recommend.
Halfway through, we made a stop at Thien Tung Cave where another tour guide took over for a while. We walked through the cave, and it was really cool looking at all of the rock formations! Throughout the tour, our tour guide would point out various structures and explain to us what they looked like. It was interesting because everyone sees different things and a lot of it comes from your imagination.
After walking through the caves, we went to another part of the bay where you could either choose to kayak or sit in a small bamboo boat. At first, I wanted to go to the bamboo boat because I didn’t want to get wet and have someone move the boat for me, but my new friends wanted to try kayaking. So, I just went along with them because why not? We got in the kayaks and started to go around the bay, and I can safely say that this was the biggest highlight of my visit to Hanoi so far. It was very nice to take in the view up close, and we were able to go inside a few tunnels where a regular-sized boat wouldn’t had been able to fit! Kayaking was very tiring but I was very glad I decided to do the kayak instead of the bamboo boat. If you get a chance to kayak in Ha Long Bay, I would definitely recommend this!
After the kayaking, we started to make the trek back to Hanoi, which was another 4 hour bus ride. I was dropped off first because I was the first one to be picked up, and I was dead tired but I was also hungry. So, I decided to eat some banh mi at Banh Mi 25, and it definitely hit the spot. There are meat and vegetarian options on the menu, and they made my sandwich pretty fast! I was very happy to eat this after a long day of sightseeing. After finishing the sandwich, I started to walk back towards my hostel to get some sleep because I had an early flight the next day.
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