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Exploring the Northern Capital of Vietnam - Hanoi Jan 4-7, 2015

Exploring the Northern Capital of Vietnam - Hanoi

Location: Hanoi, Vietnam

The Epic Ride to Hanoi
The epic 26-hour sleeping bus ride from Luang Prabang (Laos) to Hanoi (Vietnam) was numbing to say the least. It was dark and drizzling when we arrived Hanoi. After a few difficulties getting our bearing at the bus terminal, we finally got under way by riding a moto-taxi then a XeBuyt (local bus) to the flower market where we were to be picked-up by Tuyen's Hanoi friend. She would be our gracious host for the duration of our Hanoi trip.

West Lake
Hanoi is cold at this time of year. We had to bundle up. Our shire was a skip away from West Lake, the biggest lake within Hanoi. With its 18km circumference, you see the more established 5-star hotels (Sheraton and Hotel Inter Continental) and high-priced condos along its shoreline. It's an ideal place to jog or bike around, fish or just mood away with the lake's misty drape.

Exploring Hanoi by Bike
For the most part, Tuyen and I explored Hanoi on a bike, stopping here and there for what seems like something interesting. We biked around the lakes, visiting other neighborhoods and just stopped for food whenever we see a crowd of locals lining up to what looks like a popular place. Hanoi is where you find the best street food which is common knowledge in Vietnam. The internationally famous Pho rice noodle soup has its origin here in Hanoi.

Exploring the Northern Capital of Vietnam - Hanoi

Old Quarter
Old Quarter is the closest thing to Bangkok's Khaosan Road. The backpacker havens are here - tour agencies, dorm lodging, bus ticketing, cafes and eating places. The streets are narrow and the structures are old. Up to now, Old Quarter remains the enclave of family-run businesses who specialize in particular trades for generations.

Recent History
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam. A place is always better appreciated when you know the series of events in its history that shaped the people and culture to what it is today. Hanoi's history dates back to as early as 1010 as the political center of Vietnam. But let's fast forward to...

Cham and her Family
Our stay in Hanoi could not have been as comfortable if not for the kindness of Cham and her family. They provided us a place to stay and support for much of what we needed - bicycles, maps, taking us for breakfast and eats. They even invited us to dinner at their new place serving us Hanoi cuisine that cannot be bought in restaurants. Tuyen is lucky to have such generous and giving friends. To Cham and her lovely family, I am grateful.

--- TheLoneRider
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Reader Comments:

Jx BalizaJx Baliza
(6 Jan, 2015) eat at chaca la vong restaurant. the best. have fun in vietnam!

Van Cong VienVien Vietnam
(6 Jan, 2015) Good luck to you...see you

Medalaine PelegrinMedalaine Pelegrin
(6 Jan, 2015) hello Git!! you look great!

Viveca HutchinsonViveca Philippines
Boracay SandCastles
(Feb 3, 2015) Travelling light

Next stop: Boat Cruising on Halong Bay

Google Map

Hanoi (city), Vietnam

important places in Hanoi IMPORTANT PLACES

Noi Bai International Airport Noi Bai International Airport

hotels in Hanoi HOTEL

AZ Hanoi Hostel AZ Hanoi Hostel - Old Quarter location, backpacker-friendly, quiet, clean, affordable, breakfast included
27 Bat Dat Str, Hanoi, Vietnam


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Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) to Old Quarter, Hanoi by Bus

The airport is about 30kms away from the Old Quarter so it could be pricey if you cab it. For budget travelers, there is the air-conditioned tourist bus #86 which starts from inside the airport when you walk out the door and takes you all the way to Old Quarter for only VND35k, 30 mins.
NOTE: if you use Google Maps, it will tell you that you have to walk 1km to catch the #86 bus along the main road - this is wrong!

FYI / Tips
  1. Hanoi's Old Quarter is the backpacker area like Bangkok's Khaosan Road. The tourist establishments (hotels, restos, travel/tour agencies, cafes) are interspersed with local traditional businesses
  2. Grab XeOm or moto taxis are abundant
  3. street culture is alive and kicking at the Old Quarter. Family-owned and managed shophouses who have been doing their trade for generations are still around. Old Quarter hasn't been touched by shopping malls yet.
  4. best place to exchange foreign currency is with the jewelry/gold shops (see list on map). Worst place are the tour shops/hotels.
  5. BEWARE of resto tourist traps. Usually, they sell only one meal like Bun Cha. No menu, no prices. They are crafty in herding unsuspecting tourists (you will notice no local eats there) and serve them the Bun Cha without asking them (because it's the only thing they sell). You'll just be jolted when you receive the bill. I was had for VND 90k!
Things to do, Places to go in Hanoi
  1. Old Quarter - this is old Hanoi where family-owned business flourished with its specialty trade. The streets are narrow and busy. Nowadays, it's the center for backpackers visiting Hanoi
  2. lakes - Hanoi is littered with many big lakes, some of them have numerous pagodas along its bank. West Lake is the largest with an 18km circumference, ideal for joggers, hobby fishing and just finding quiet time
  3. Tran Quoc Pagoda - the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi lying on its peninsula by West Lake
  4. Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum - it's a massive marble structure housed inside an expansive park with manicured gardens

Vietnam FYI / Tips / Dos and Don'ts

General Travel Tips
  1. arrive early - in case there is a snag (visa snag, documentation snag, transport ticket snag, etc.), you will have ample time to troubleshoot the problem if you arrive early (to the airport, to the bus terminal, etc.)
  2. put detailed itinerary on the Calendar apps of your smart-phone according to timelines - this is where you do all your thinking and planning. Once written down, you don't have to think anymore while you are on the just follow the steps. This frees your mind for something else that might happen while you are already en route
  3. avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
  4. power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
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