Having lived in Vietnam for over three years, I still have yet to visit the country’s capital. Luckily, Benz, a friend whose opinion I value shared her travel story.
Here’s her story.
Travel Date: Jan 29-Feb 3, 2013
Seems long but we actually just had 4 full days there. Cebu Pacific flight on Jan 29 was at 10 pm so we arrived Hanoi at 12:30 mn and had 45 minutes ride to the city. Our departure from Hanoi was at 1 am so we arrived back in Manila on February 3 at 5 am.
Travel Companions: My barkada (friends) so it was an all adult trip of 6 persons.
Plane: Cebu Pacific PhP9,818/pax (240 USD)
Hotel: Somerset Grand Hanoi – 3 Bedroom Suite P9,000/night for 6 pax breakfast for 3 pax only each additional breakfast is at PhP429 (10 USD) + P3700 (90 USD) airport transfer fee for the van
Van: Hanoi Urban Adventure we got this on http://www.urbanadventures.com/hanoi_tour_ho_chi_minh_s_hanoi $47/pax
Ha Long Bay Cruise: Chartered Cruise via Indochina Sail (Prince IV) – $187/pax for 7 pax plus $130 transfer fee for the van
Food Fund: $50 per person
Pocket Money: $150 each for Didda & Me
We left Manila at 10:30pm and arrived at Hanoi around 12:30am. The travel time to the
hotel was roughly 45 minutes to 1 hour. We were able to check in around 2:30am . slept as As soon we were settled in our room, we hit the sack because we had a tour scheduled with Hanoi Urban Adventure at 8:30am.
We got a room in Somerset Grand Hanoi which is a 3 bedroom suite so that everyone will be in just one place. Awesome idea because we had super fun with our big room and a central place to stay. This way we have a dining room, kitchen, and a big refrigerator.
We woke up and left the room at 7:30am for breakfast. Buffet food is good but not much variety but those that are available are good. I love the way they cooked the omelette and super love their baguettes too — the inside was almost hollow while the outer crust was crispy. Yummy!
We started the day by exchanging some Vietnamese Dong at the bank beside the hotel. We gave Mitch $50 each as pot money for our expenses.
We took this tour from Hanoi Urban Adventures at $47/pax. Was it worth it? I think so but I think there must be another tour that’s better.
Started the tour with a visit to Ho Chi Minh complex. The first stop was his mausoleum (kinda like Marcos’ in Ilocos except this one is super duper strict – no talking, no laughing, even crossing of arms wasn’t allowed). We had to pay reverence to Mr. Ho. It felt too strict and was kinda scary like they’re going to imprison you if don’t follow their rules. Photos weren’t allowed either. They got lotsa guards to make sure their rules are implemented. In this complex, you can also find the Presidential Palace and the house where Mr Ho lived. We visited the Stilt House where he stayed next, also the One Pillar Pagoda where you pray for a son.
Next we went to Temple of Literacy then off to lunch for a bowl of Pho. Then to Museum of Ethnology then visit to a lacquer factory then the van dropped us off at the Old Quarter for a walking tour with the guide. I like the Ho Chi Minh complex, am not too keen on the Temple of Literacy but it wasn’t a waste of time either. Am not to happy with the inside of Museum of Ethnology (maybe it is just me) but I enjoyed the outside part where the houses of ethnic tribes were displayed. The lacquer factory was okay since I learned how it was made and have a renewed respect for the art. The walking tour in the Old Quarter was okay if the guide had been more empathetic. I love that we were able to snake around their wet market and navigate the busy streets and it was awesome seeing the lake at the end of the tour. We were all tired when the tour ended at 3:30 pm but still we walked a bit at the lake area and took the electric car tour around the Old Quarters. After that, maybe around 4:30 pm, we went back to the hotel, had the reception reserve us a table at Madame Hien Restaurant (I gave the reception a list of recommended restaurants and asked for the proximity of each and feedback and we ended up choosing Madame Hien because it was the closest to us and the description given by an FB friend was it was ‘life changing’). We walked to Madame Hien so that we can familiarize ourselves with what is around our hotel. Found the place and had dinner. The food is really good and for the food we ate we find the cost very affordable.
Oh from the lake, we rode a taxi back to our hotel and since we were 6 people, we had to ride 2 taxis. When we got to the hotel, the meter showed 78,000 VND. But the taxi driver insisted it was 780,000 VND! I knew something was wrong but I couldn’t convert how much the cost was because my phone wasn’t with me and I just computed mentally. I knew it was too much. The other taxi cab meter just showed 20,000 VND. I was mad and up to now I’m still not over it. It was just Php1500 (36USD) but I’m still irritated that we were deceived.
[So sorry to hear about this Benz. 😦 Just a tip for other people visiting Vietnam, when paying taxi fare and you know something is wrong, just ask the help of someone in the hotel. – HS]
Woke up, had breakfast, and left the hotel at 8 am. I have been wanting to go to Ha Long Bay since 2009 so my research on which cruise/junk to use was done in 2009! I just emailed them again 2012 to get the rate. The rate we got was $187/pax (plus $130 van for transfer from Hanoi-HaLong-Hanoi) for 7 pax full board meal (lunch, dinner, breakfast & lunch), excursions (we went caving and kayaking on day 1 then went to a fishing village on day 2 rode the small fishing boat and visited the local school). We were fetched by a van at around 8:30am na we paid the other 50% (first 50% paid online upon reservation) then off we go. The trip was looooong, good for us who wanted to sleep more. We stopped at a factory that sells local crafts, they call it Humanity Center because the workers are the disabled that they train. They sell clothes silk & cotton, sleepwear, lacquer goods, paintings, embroideries, local food, etc. We did a bit of shopping and used the opportunity for bathroom break.
It’s the typical tour thing and the tour operator gets something but the good thing is the people there are not pushy at all, you can just go pee and ride back on the van and won’t feel bad at all. We were supposed to arrive the wharf at 11:30am but we got there at 12:30 because of the traffic! But as soon as we stepped foot on the wharf of Indochina Sail (they have 16 cruises of different sizes) it felt so luxurious. The crew knew what they were doing, pampering us with a coordinator who looked after our interest and guided us. The crew behaved like clockwork. We rode a small boat that brought us to our own Chartered Junk.
I don’t know the cost of a shared junk but as soon as I got the quote from the chartered one, I decided that I liked it. As soon as we boarded Prince IV, we had a bit of an orientation. They were also preparing our lunch by that time.We couldn’t stop taking photos and giggling because we enjoyed the service and we felt so rich. Hahahaha.
The food served was good and was just enough for the group. The food wasn’t overflowing but we felt full. We had lunch al fresco at the deck and we had the awesome view of Ha Long Bay as the junk cruised along. After lunch we are to arrive at a private cave and beach (Indochina have exclusivity of the place by paying rent to the government. They also maintain the place to make it tourist-friendly, as well as making sure the ambiance is just right) for kayaking since the weather was too cold for a swim. We just stayed at the deck where we had lunch and just drank in the view and just drown in the goodness of life. Hahaha. We were quite hesitant to explore the caves and do some kayaking since the weather was cold — not super cold but definitely not for water activities but then, what the heck — they (the crew) wouldn’t suggest such activities if it’s not okay, right? So off we went so ride the small boat again and we went down on the beach.
The cave is nice and wasn’t rough and there was a path we could follow. There were steps but were very safe and not scary at all. After spelunking, we rode the kayak around the area. We enjoyed the place so much that we took a lot of photos. Even if the person who’s taking the picture has no talent at all, he would still have gotten a beautiful photograph because the place is so pretty.
And the crew knew how make our experience awesome like putting up the sail of the cruise because it looks good. It was really unnecessary because the boat is motorized but the sail did add character to the experience so they put the sail up as soon as we went out then parked the cruise where it can be viewed when we are atop the cliff upon entering the cave. After kayaking for 30-45 minutes, we went back to the boat and shortly the boat cruised again towards the place where we will stop for the night.
We went back to the deck to lie down at the lounge for coffee and tea (unlimited water, coffee & tea, there are softdrinks & beer and wines for sale). Some took a nap while I read a book. We couldn’t stop sighing as we super duper loved the experience.
Dinner was served at the living room/dining area because it was too cold outside and maybe too dark. Since we had a long day, we all called it a night at 10:30 pm.
We woke up at 7 am for breakfast and then around 8 am, we went to the fishing village
where we took a small fishing boat (2 passenger per boat). We then visited their
town, school and around the area, and also checked out the pearl farm. Then we were back to the boat by 9 am to prepare, take a bath, etc. Our check out time was at 10 am, then lunch at 10:30 am and back to Indochina Wharf by 11:30 am.
We drove back to Hanoi and arrived at 3:30 pm and stopped at a different Humanity Center.
Two of our friends didn’t feel well so they opted to stay put at the hotel while us 4 left for Quan An Ngon for dinner. The food was good but since we knew we will be visiting the night market to try some street food, we didn’t eat that much.
We took a cab to the night market, walked around, then walked to the lake again. From there, we rode a cyclo to the hotel. Before we rode one, we made sure how much we were paying. We had a happy ride back to the hotel and I’m sure we paid more than we should (5USD for each cyclo with 2 passengers) but it was okay because it was the rate we agreed on.
We were also happy that we were able to try so many street food too.
We left the hotel around 11 am and went to see the Opera House. The shops around were nice and we also wanted to walk around before our lunch reservation which was at 1 pm. We wandered around, got lost, and bumped into a group of Vietnamese girls wearing their traditional dresses so we asked to have our picture taken with them. There also was a park with a LOT of brides having their photos taken. Maybe around 20 brides around that area.
By 12:30 pm, we rode a taxi to the Green Tangerine. The food here was the best! We spent all our pot money here!
The area around Green Tangerine is love. There were a lot of handmade products and nice tasty local goodies. We roamed the area for an hour or two — kinda whiling away the time because our flight was still at 1 am.
We went back to the hotel, packed up, napped, watched TV, ate fruits then around 7:30 pm, we walked to the sidewalk restaurant we saw the night before. We had 800,000 dong left and we crossed our fingers hoping that our money was enough. We knew they don’t accept credit card.
The night before, we saw people ordering hot pot, grill, pho, etc. Luckily, we picked the one where one of the servers could speak English. It was one awesome yet affordable meal.
Back to hotel, we showered, did some last minute packing and left at 10 pm because we already did web check-in. We still arrived at the airport early and found out that our web check-in didn’t make a difference. It was chaotic and we were in line for almost an hour! We boarded at 12:30 am and arrived Manila at 5:30 am.
The trip was super fun because we had great company. The place was great too and most of all we get to experience luxry at the price we can afford.
- Their fresh orange juice is so yummy, sweet without the bitter taste.
- Their baguette are super yummy too.
- Try the Banh My (Baguette Sandwich) with liver pate, egg, leaves, chili etc.
- Make sure you eat Pho (Noodles) it taste so flavor-full and fresh yet so light and feels so healthy and clean.
- Buy fresh fruit from the street to enjoy in your hotel room. We bought mangoes (Thai variety); cherries (expensive but it is big and really juicy and taste fresh and so yummy); orange and atis (so meaty and yummy).
Benz Co-Rana is 1/2 of the successful Weddings At Work. Their online site gives insights and the best information about Filipino and Chinese weddings. If you don’t know how to get started on your wedding preparations, just log on to Weddings at Work. 😉 You can also check out her blog at MimmaBenz.com.
*All photos used in this travel story are owned by Benz Co-Rana.
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