13 months
Dec 5:
good morning, vietnam!
Dec 7:
cyclo vs. moped
Dec 17:
ha long bay & cat ba island
Dec 21:
food, glorious food
Dec 22:
vung tau
Dec 24:
ambassador colonel sanders
  Dec 26:
ho chi minh low down
ho chi minh
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Halong Bay
Vietnam, Dec 17, 2004

hanoi low down

What we did: We spent approximately two weeks in Hanoi, and took a two-day side trip to Halong Bay. For the most part, we enjoyed simply wandering aimlessly around the city. We spent days meandering in and out of temples and shops and restaurants and parks. It is easy to envision spending several months here, just enjoying life day to day.

Overall: We really like Hanoi. To use a word that too many travelers use to mean too many random things, we love the "vibe" of the city. We’ll try to explain why. It feels old, but not backwards. The city is colorful and historic. The streets are lively and safe. It hasn’t yet embraced technology completely, and it doesn’t suffer for it. There are lots of people around all day, but it doesn’t feel overly crowded (except when you’re trying to cross the street). The weather is mild most of the time, and great at this time of year. It is often possible to walk to your destination, but if you don’t feel like it, transportation is easy to obtain and very reasonably priced. Locals still outnumber tourists in most places we go. In summary, it’s been one of our favorite places so far and we’d love to visit again someday to explore more of the city and the surrounding areas.

Thap Rua (Tortoise Tower), in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake

Peace: If anybody knows how great it is to *not* be at war, it's the Vietnamese. Until 1975, they had been at war with each other, neighboring countries, or colonialists on and off for over 100 years. Further, this happened mostly on their own soil. Because of this, many generations have known only war. Maybe that's one reason why Hanoi feels so peaceful. It seems like the people are simply happy to not be fighting with anyone at the moment.

Food: The food, both native and foreign, is great (at least after you figure out where to look) and usually very cheap. There are a lot of mediocre restaurants, too, but with a little practice, they are fairly easy to avoid. We also liked the available variety; we didn't feel like we came anywhere close to running out of things to try. (Also see vietnam: food, glorious food.)

People: The people are generally friendly (though reserved) and most speak a little English or are willing to communicate with rudimentary hand signals. Making conversation was, in most cases, not too difficult. And while sometimes we were given the hard-sell, we didn't feel like people were always hounding us to buy something. We enjoyed learning about the country by chatting with taxi drivers, hotel staff, friends we met, street vendors, shop and restaurant owners, etc. - everybody was very friendly.

Price: You can't beat it. You can eat for as little as $1-$3/person, and it's pretty good. Of course you can spend more if you like, but there are lots of great places to choose from in the lower-end (less than $10) of the price bracket. Mid-range hotels, often with breakfast included, ranged from $12 to $30/night. We commonly could negotiate a discount for staying for a longer period of time (5+ days). We stayed in a few different hotels before we found one that we liked, Hong Ngoc on Hang Manh Street. Of course, if you want to rough it you can sleep for even less, and there are also several upscale places if you'd like to splurge. Shopping is also cheap (and interesting, too - see below).

Exchange rate: US$1 = 15,750 dong

Specific places we visited/things we did (there's a ton of stuff to see and do in Hanoi - we did some of it, but there was certainly lots more to do - this is only a sampling):
  - Hung out with our good friend from home, (creator of the not-yet-famous chonga-dog). "John Moon" is also the name of a drink (currently gaining popularity) made with ice tea and cranberry juice. Go ahead, try ordering one the next time you're out.
  - Shopping (The shopping in Hanoi is fantastic. If only we had some way of getting things home, we would have bought our brains out, and still not spent that much money. Things are cheap and beautiful. Bring a duffle bag, or two, or three. And even if you don’t buy much, as was our situation, just wandering around the shops is a great way to spend time. We especially liked the lacquerware, purses, and the variety of household trinkets.)
  - Ngoc Son Temple (This temple sits on a peninsula jutting out into the lake in the center of the Old Quarter. We looked at it everyday, and visited it once. It’s worth a look, but it didn’t blow our socks off. We tried in vain to catch a glimpse of the famous turtles in the lake, but we had no luck.)
  - Hoan Kiem Lake (This lake is basically the hub around with the Old Quarter rotates. We learned to use it as our landmark for getting just about everywhere. There are nice places to sit around the lake, and we passed many hours there.)
  - Temple of Literature, formally Van Mieu (This was a nice half-day activity. The temple is beautiful and well-worth a visit.)
  - Water Puppet Theater (A great night out, especially now that the puppeteers wear boots and no longer are prone to catching all sorts of water-borne diseases.)
  - Halong Bay & Cat Ba Island (We did an overnight trip. It’s possible to do it as a day trip, but it would be too much driving. We recommend doing this – it’s a very typical trip, but we really enjoyed it – see vietnam: ha long bay & cat ba island.)

Have a peek at the vietnam: hanoi gallery to see some pix of the above!

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


I sure envy both of u having a whale of time. Your articles are delightful to read. I am planning to visit Vietnam probably in Dec. Any recommendation of good stay in Hanoi ? Many thanks in advance and happy travelling...

--KK Koh; Aug 8, 2005

The quality and price of hotels in Hanoi vary widely. We were on a budget so most of the hotels we stayed in are in the $20-$35 dollar range. We liked Hong Ngoc 3 hotel (the one on Hang Bac street; there are a few with that same name). It was clean, cheap and included breakfast. The staff is nice and helpful. We've also heard that the other Hong Ngoc hotels in the Old Quarter are pretty good.

We stayed in 2 hotels we didn't like: Hanoi Star 2 (too loud because of the gravestone engravers outside, and Pan Ang Hotel (too many bugs).

There was a new mini-hotel that opened in the Old Quarter called President Hotel that looked really nice, is in a good location and was cheap at the time. The Prince II is another one to check out, though it's often full.

You can also check out www.elephantguide.com to find out more about plenty of hotels in Hanoi. And lastly, you can usually just find hotels after you show up, and that way you can check out the room before you commit.

Hope this helps and hope you have a wonderful time in Hanoi. It's one of our favorite places in the world!

--Susan; Oct 15, 2005


Amazing - setting off to Vietnam later this week and was starting to get myself a little worked up - found your website and now feeling great again and looking forward to going. Your site is fantastic, cheers to both of you. Hope you enjoyed Australia. Take care and safe travels, you are inspirational.

--Tiffany N. (Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia); Mar 7, 2005