Tag Archives: Halong Bay

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Vietnam – A Land of Many Faces (Top Tips)

Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam – pineapple seller

Vietnam is a land of many faces and places.  I say this because it was a huge surprise to me how big it was and how much it changed over our month of travel there.

Our itinerary was as follows:

Hanoi – Halong Bay – Hanoi – Hue – Da Nang – Hoi An – Nha Trang – Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Now you can do this route, like us, from North to South or from South to North.

The first thing that hit me in Hanoi was the incredible movement of this city – we stayed in the old quarter and just dealing with the ‘how to cross the street’ was a steep learning curve. The traffic and, especially, all the scooters is a bit daunting at first, but there is a method to the madness. I liked to time my crossing of the road with another Vietnamese pedestrian and follow their lead or to just go boldly forward albeit slowly and not stopping.

Currency

You pay everything in Vietnamese Dong, but, often, you will find things priced in US dollars and they will take them as well.  I suggest you use the local currency when you can and for those Aussies and Kiwi with ANZ bank accounts, there are lots of bank machines in Hanoi and Saigon where you can withdraw money out with no ATM fees except of course the bank haircut with the  exchange rate!  (warning: check this before you go, as things can change with banks at any time!)

Safety

I never felt unsafe in Vietnam during our trip and, of course, you take the usual precautions: do not leave phones anywhere or bags unattended. Keep your bag close to your body when walking around or strapped in front as I did, as it was a small back pack style bag.

Back Pack purse

How I carried my small back pack purse.

Transport

In Saigon, we found that Vinasun taxis were the best to use. Never had a problem with meters being turned on at a higher rate than was legal or being taken to any back streets or shady destinations and the drivers were all polite. Between Hue and Hoi An, I hired a private car and Cong, our driver was terrific and he charged US$69 for a leisurely drive to Hoi An. We stopped at several sites along the way, which included the new Dragon Bridge in Da Nang which breathes real fire and water.

Dragon Bridge

Dragon Bridge in Da Nang – it breathes fire and water

Relaxing on the train to Hoi An

We used trains for our journey between Hanoi and Saigon. I booked all of them via the hotels we stayed. You pay a small commission but, we got a soft sleeper, air-conditioned and bottom bunk in a four bunk cabin. Some people book the entire cabin. We did not and ended up meeting some lovely Vietnamese people including two guides on their way to Hue.

You can take some snacks and water with you on the train or there are food trolleys.  I ate the food and didn’t get ill.  My husband had a coffee and he liked it.

There are Western and Asian toilets as well as a wash up area in each carriage with running water. All of the trains are slowly being refurbished. We got old ones but they were perfectly fine. To give you an idea of cost our two tickets for a night train from Hanoi to Hue was US$90. We did get one upper bunk for the train from Nha Trang to Saigon during the day which was comfortable and near the air-conditioning. Our entire train costs to Saigon were less than US$200 for both of us including two overnight trains.

Be polite

We hardly got troubled by pushy sellers or beggars at all. When people did approach us, a polite no thank you, keep walking on and a smile always worked. We, also, learned a few Vietnamese phrases such as ‘Hello’ and ‘thank you’ which, always, went over well even with our terrible pronunciation.  This is a general rule of thumb throughout all of South East Asia, being loud and having arguments in public is not the done thing and considered very rude.  Please do not confuse South East Asia with mannerisms that maybe more typical of other parts of Asia.

King and Queen Banquet

King and Queen Banquet meal

Food and drink

The food is wonderful and we ate at street stalls through to restaurants. In the restaurants, they always put ice in your water and we never got ill once. Sometimes we would ask where the water came from and the answer was filtered. We, also, carried a small disinfectant bottle for our hands when there was nowhere to wash our hands.

Beer is cheap in Vietnam and they have excellent fruit juices. Also, a tip, drink fresh coconut water from the coconuts themselves – this is the best way to rehydrate and replenish lots of fluids, even better than drinking water.   Motto: a coconut a day will help keep the dehydration away!

Depending on where we ate, the meals can range from a few US dollars up to $30. We ate at several restaurants recommended on trip advisor and it was a good way to find a place to eat if you did not want to get food from a stall off the street.

Below are links to some of my favourite restaurants on our journey beginning in Hanoi and ending in Saigon. My favourite was Noir, in Saigon, where you eat in complete darkness and the waiters are blind or visually disabled. The food was great and the cause brilliant.

Cau go Vietnamese Restaurant – Hanoi restaurant we loved
Cherish Hotel Hue restaurant where we got to dress up as King and Queen
Samari Kitchen Hoi An restaurant
Coffee CongVien Hon Chong Nha Trang cafe – we liked to sit and watch the beach
Saigon restaurant where the waiters are blind

Tours we loved doing.

There were three tours that stood out during our trip to Vietnam. Halong Bay, Hanoi Kids and the XO Scooter tour through the streets of Saigon.  In the height of the travel season book all these tours in advance, otherwise you may miss out!

  • Halong Bay Cruise

    There are a multitude of companies selling cruises to Halong Bay. We went up market and did the 2 night and 3 day cruise with Viola Cruises booked through our hotel.  I would recommend to do the 3 day trip and not the one night trip as it gives you more time to enjoy the scenery, swim and kayak.  Plus, it makes the four-hour drive each way to Halong Bay and back worth the narrow seats and rather uncomfortable ride.

Hanoi kids is a charity where young university students who are learning or improving their English take you on a guided tour around Hanoi. They tailor the day to what you want to do and see. It is great to have a resident guide, as they take you to some of their favourite places which may not be on any tourist tour and it is free, yes free!  At the end of the day you can make a donation to the charity which we did and you pay for taxis, lunch and entrances for your guide. We really enjoyed our tour and would recommend it to first time visitors to Hanoi.

My husband was a bit wary of this tour which I had booked, he quickly changed his mind. It was a great morning, whizzing around Saigon, seeing the sights and I never felt unsafe.  It cost us each US$40 for over three hours and included a few snacks and drinks along the way.

Good luck on your trip to Vietnam!
Any questions, please submit through the comment form below and I will do my best to get back to you within 72 hours of posting!
Mural

10th month – April Video Blog on You Tube

Below is my video blog on our travels round the world on you tube from April:

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Week 46 – Walking in the past – UNESCO World Heritage site – Hoi An

‘Live like there is no tomorrow’

[How this works is, each week, I will write to someone on my list, picked randomly and I will post it online on this blog – just in case the letter doesn’t reach its destination.  The letter includes a card with a random quote, which I hope you will enjoy (at the top of this blog page).]

Most of this week has seen us in a city called Hoi An – a world UNESCO Heritage site for its old town.

Fabrics

Some of the fabrics I chose from.

Also, its well-known for its tailors, so I got some, much-needed, clothing made, as its hard to buy clothing, of any quality, that would fit a Western sized person.  So my first few days focused a lot on getting the clothing made, priced and fitted.  I was lucky to have met some New Zealand women on my cruise in Halong Bay who recommended the tailor I used and, so far, the clothes are great and very comfy (Photos of outfits at bottom of blog.)

The Old Town of Hoi An is beautiful.  Twice a day they shut it down to all mopeds – cars are not allowed at any time – and it becomes very peaceful and old worldly.

Reaching Out Tea House

View from Reaching Out Tea House – run by people with no hearing or speech disabilities

Old House Quang Thang

Old House Quang Thang

The buildings are 300 years old with some gorgeous architecture.  You buy a 10 day pass into the old town which includes 5 sights of a possible 22.  I was lucky and saw 7 of the sights.  They have old houses where people’s families live intergenerational for hundreds of years and you can walk around and take photos – like an open house.  I got to 2 of these homes – Old House Dec An and Old House Quan Thang – both beautiful.

Old House Duc An

Old House Duc An

Burial Urn

Burial Urn at the Museum of Sa Huynh Culture

I went to one museum – Museum of Sa Huynh Culture and visited the Japanese bridge with a temple.

Japanese Bridge

Japanese Bridge

I went to 2 Assembly Halls which are very similar to clan houses in Malaysia – a cross between a temple and a shrine to the ancestors of a given family.

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My favourite of the sights to visit was the Traditional Art Performance which was a 20 minute show with singing, live players and dance.

Musicians

Dancers and Musicians

There are a lot of tourist shops, but I didn’t feel overly hassled and a polite ‘no thank-you’ was enough.

There are some stellar places to eat and drink, such as: Reaching Out Tea House, Samurai Kitchen, Miss Ly’s Restaurant and Hoi An Roastery.

I have a real passion for tea, what is something you seek out when you are traveling, as a must experience, when you can do it?

Love

Debx

Photos of outfits made:

Kata Beach

Week 43 – Sunsets, Beaches and Sails – Thailand and Vietnam

‘What’s stopping you?’ (That’s right – nothing!)’

[How this works is, each week, I will write to someone on my list, picked randomly and I will post it online on this blog – just in case the letter doesn’t reach its destination.  The letter includes a card with a random quote, which I hope you will enjoy (at the top of this blog page).]

Nai Yang

Nai Yang Beach, Thailand

This week has afforded me to see some lovely beaches, gorgeous sunsets and join in on a really nice cruise through Halong Bay.

Halong Bay

Halong Bay, Vietnam

We’ve covered a fair distance as we had quite a few early mornings with short-haul flights to get us from Thailand to Vietnam.

So, we started at a lovely beach – Nai Yang, Thailand which was 5 minutes from the airport, but you would never know it!  Highly recommend staying here, if you ever needed to do an early morning flight from Phuket Island, Thailand.

Then one night at a comfy hotel in Bangkok which had a gym and nice pool, but attached to the airport.  Once again, great for that early morning flight, as it was quiet, good food and made for easy travel over a sky walk to enter the airport 5 minutes later.

Hanoi

Hanoi, Vietnam – pineapple seller

Then it was another quick, early morning flight to Hanoi, Vietnam.  Now this is a city which is a real feast for the senses.  It’s hard for me to describe, but my first impressions have been full of excitement and anticipation.  We, only stayed one night.  Then it was a cruise for 3 days in Halong Bay.  This is a beautiful area where we saw a small portion of over 1000 limestone islands. (extra photos of the cruise at end of blog)

Limestone

Limestone Islands, Halong Bay, Vietnam

Our first day was in the very tourist area of Surprise Cave

Surpise Cave

Surprise Cave, Halong Bay, Vietnam

and a hike up one of the islands to a look out.

lookout

View from Lookout Halong Bay, Vietnam

The second day was the jewel and hardly any tourists.  We saw a fishing (floating) village, Fairy Lake Cave,

Fairy Lake

Fairy Lake, Halong Bay, Vietnam

did kayaking,

Halong Bay

Kayaking, Halong Bay, Vietnam

swam in the ocean and then saw a pearl farm.

Pearl Farm

Nursery of Pearl Farm, Halong Bay, Vietnam

The food was all banquet style

Fish in a net

Fish in a net, Viola Cruise, Halong Bay, Vietnam

with evening squid fishing, karaoke and socializing with other travelers.

Needless to say, back in Hanoi and having a few days rest while we wait for our India visa.

Love Debx

Photos of Halong Bay Cruise: