Vietnam: Hanoi and Halong

“Diary Entry: 9-8-11

I am on a minibus, currently navigating the streets of Hanoi, en route to Halong Bay. After 3 days in Hanoi, I am looking forward to some comparatively quiet time. Hanoi is a most incredible city, and I wish I had more time to explore it. It has all the hallmarks of a developing South East Asian city, however it seems also very determined to get out of the ‘developing’ status as soon as possible. The rate of change is tremendous, and in many ways, they seem to be emulating what other developed SE Asian cities such as Singapore have done: good roads, daily street cleaning, well maintained public parks, and an emphasis on Services as an industry. It seems only just around the corner that food safety standards are adopted, road traffic made more stringent, and the prosperity skyrockets. It will be interesting to observe. I can also see how my Grandpa became so impassioned upon his visit here, the hurt and suffering that this country has been through is beyond comprehension, and the strong worded government makes pains to ensure it is not forgotten, that this country has beaten off multiple super powers, and are now independent and proud. It definitely reflects in the attitudes of the people – ‘service, not servants’.”

We arrived in Vietnam on a Saturday morning, just before lunch. One of the first impressions we had as we flew over the country was that it was waterlogged. Rice paddies stretched across the landscape, creating a patchwork effect much like the Canterbury reigon in New Zealand, and all the towns seemed to edge right onto a sizable lake.

Vietnam Landscape

Vietnamese countryside from the air

As our airport transfer wasn’t forthcoming, we decided to cab it to the hotel – a nerve racking experience after all the horror stories of taxi drivers exploiting the naivety of tourists and charging them an extortionate amount. We arrived at the hotel safe and sound, and more importantly, still with money in our pockets. We were staying in the Hotel Elegance, one of a chain of boutique hotels, highly recommended to us by a friend. The service and facilities here were second to none, with helpful staff, lovely rooms, and comfortable beds.

Hotel Room at Hotel Elegance

Hotel Room at Hotel Elegance

We spent 3 days making sorties to different parts of the town – exploring the Old Quarter, Ho Chih Minh Memorial park, Army Museum, and the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison. In between, of course, we gouged on Vietnamese cuisine, taking guidance from an array of suggestions from friends, guide books, and our hotel map.

Hanoi Streets

Streets of Hanoi

Old Quarter Hanoi

Old Quarter Wall

Hanoi City

Yean and Hanoi

Ho Chi Minh Museum

Ho Chi Minh Museum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Hanoi Army Museum

Hanoi Army Museum

Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature

Stamp Carving

Street side stamp carving

Of note were the restaurants Cha Ca La Vong, and KOTO. Cha Ca la Vong is a family restaurant, in a rather ramshackle (but clean) old shop house, that sell one food, grilled fish. While it is fair heart attack food, with a lot of butter involved, it was beautiful, tasty, and left us wanting more.

KOTO is a charitable restaurant that takes in street kids, gives them accommodation and income, and trains them up with amazing hospitality skills. The food was divine, and despite a substantially nicer interior (upstairs have nice plush loungers to rest on), the prices were not significantly higher than the other places we had dined at.

One of the interesting cultural oddities I noted in Hanoi is the wake up time for the city. I woke up early one morning to get out and experience the city as it woke up (an activity I highly recommend when in a strange city). I was out on the street at 5am, but I wasn’t the first. Already lining the streets were flower and fruit vendors, hawking their goods to the fairly sizable traffic already on the road. I got to Hoan Kiem Lake in the center of the Old Quarter shortly after, to find that what appeared to be half the city out and about jogging or walking laps of the lake, playing badminton, doing Tai Chi (or a Vietnamese variant of it), and even ball room dancing. Needless to say, I was impressed. Singapore seems to be the opposite, with the city still fairly sluggish and sleepy by 9am.

Early Morning Street Vendors

Early Morning Street Vendors, Old Quarter

Morning Exercise at the lake

Early morning exercise at the lake

After three days in Hanoi, we moved on to the second part of the trip, an overnight cruise through Halong Bay. We booked this through Ocean Travel, and chose the Glory Cruises option – with a newly refitted boat, and a good reputation, it was the easy choice. After a 4 hour mini bus drive across to the cruise terminal of Halong City, we were transferred to the ship via tender boat, and were on our way. It wasn’t long before we were cruising through incredible rock formations, green capped and jagged – reminding me of the legend of the Dragons Teeth that formed the islands of the bay.

Glory Cruises

Glory Cruises

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

Sunset over Halong Bay

Sunset over Halong Bay

Yean on Deck

Yean on deck

Cove in Halong Bay

Cove in Halong Bay

Rock Formations

Spoting shapes in rock formations

The accommodation on the cruise ship was lovely, and the service was great. For the first time whist on a holiday, we were forced into doing nothing, only to sit on the deck, sip a pina colada, and watch the islands move by. A wholesome experience overall, and nicely punctuated with side trips like a swim at a cove, a kayak through a floating village, and a walk through an extremely large cave system, where upon we spent an hour or so looking at rock formations and trying to see the animals and shapes that the guide was pointing out.

Our overnight location was beautiful, and despite the presence of about 15 other ships, it was extremely quiet, with only the faint drone of the generator and the lapping of the water against the hull to disturb the silence.

The next day we were back on land at mid day, after a hearty brunch that filled us up for the rest of the afternoon. Another 4 hour mini bus trip back to Hanoi was spent dosing and occasionally taking pictures out the window. After being dropped off at the hotel, we had a couple of hours to spare before we had to head to the Airport, so we dined at a quaint French cafe, and then found a small coffee store where we brought a bag of Vietnamese coffee to add to our collection of Borneo, Cameron, and Himalayan tea that we’re building up at home.

Cafe de Paris

Cafe de Paris

Finally it was time to race to the airport, only finding out there that the flight had been delayed another hour. Note to self: NEVER run out of books to read whilst waiting in the Hanoi airport at 9pm. There’s not too much to do there.

Vietnam is now high on my list of places to recommend, and I’d love to get back there for a more extensive trip one day – I feel a bit disappointed with myself that we didn’t get far out of Old Quarter, which turns out is the main tourist area, and I’d love to see more of Hanoi, for instance the water theme park, the business district, and the West Lake area.

Oh well, next time.

Sunset over Hanoi

Sunset over Hanoi

132 thoughts on “Vietnam: Hanoi and Halong

  1. I adore Vietnam! It’s one of my favorite countries in the whole world! In fact, I have some almost identical photos as some of yours! I first went there when I was 18 back in 1996 and it has changed DRAMATICALLY since then! Been back twice for two weeks each time and am dying to go again. So fun to see your pictures and read your adventures!

  2. I love the first in the “Streets-of-hanoi-series”. I want that framed on my wall – seriously! Great post – thanks for sharing and congrats on making f.p. 🙂

  3. I love the picture ‘streets of Hanoi’ in black and white, such charm and you can really feel the nerve and uniqueness of the Hanoi streets. I used to live in Hanoi and your pictures takes me back there; thanks:)

  4. I’m glad to see u enjoyed a good time in VN . Hope to see u again here . everyone is welcome !

    There was one thing u confused , shuttle buses are always avlb bettween airport and city , much cheaper than cabs but less comfortable , of course

    One more thing , I don’t agree with what u meant by ‘… a nerve racking experience after all the horror stories of taxi drivers exploiting the naivety of tourists and charging them an extortionate amount .We arrived at the hotel safe and sound, and more importantly, still with money in our pockets ‘ . Don’t listen to rumours , there are good and bad guys everywhere . I was cheated by a cab driver in Hongkong like rumours u heard , no place is absolutely safe if u don’t know how to protect yourself . By asking help from the ground service staff when u arrive at any airport , u can avoid troubles from the local cheaters . I suggest Airport taxi and Mai linh taxi in VN , all cabs are equipped with taxi meter , u pay the amount displayed on it , that’ s all

    I appreciate your nice words abt our country , it’s really an effective promotion for VN tourism . But it will be perfect if there was not these ugly rumours

    Thank you , anyhow

  5. Great post! I spent about two years working in Vietnam. It’s such a beautiful country. My happiest moments were spent with the many friends I made there. Your post brought back wonderful memories.

  6. I’m glad you enjoyed Hanoi and Halong Bay. So did we, though your trip was quite different from ours where we travelled from Hanoi down to Ho Chi Minh City. It was a bit hectic. When I finish posting our Cuba trip I will start thinking about doing Vietnam.

  7. I never thought that Halong Bay would be so enchanting! I never knew that this place existed if not for the Amazing Race. And then, I saw your blog entry! Now, I am so determined to include Vietnam in my travel list. 🙂

  8. Thank you for writing this about Vietnam, I know so many people that have a horrid view of Asia (despite the fact they have never been there, or even close) so its really nice to read something like this. Your photos are stunning as well!

  9. Vietnam is a beautiful country. I hope you have another opportunity to visit Vietnam. A city a highly recommend adding to your tour list is Hue. It’s known as the ancient city, but you’ll get to see a hybrid of ancient and modern, old vs. new. It’s just beautiful… but I’m partially biased since I am from Hue. =)

  10. All the photos are great but I really love the ones on Halong Bay. I once worked with Vietnamese refugees so I’m always interested in photos about Vietnam. Thanks for sharing this collection.

  11. Thank you for sharing the beauty of one of my favorite places in the world. Hope to return one day. I have lovely memories of all of the people I met there, though I have only been to the south. Beautiful camera work. I appreciate the feel of the adventure. Congratulations for being on Fresh Press as well!

  12. Huh! Hanoi still reminds ME of a hideous war that me and my fellow alumni came all too close to being drafted into back in the early 1970s. The ONLY good thing Pres. Nixon did was cancel the draft as my roommate and still best friend was about to be inducted.

  13. I was in Hanoi and Halong Bay only two months ago and all your pictures made me feel like it was only yesterday we had seen it all! We also spent a night onboard a cruise in Halong Bay like yourself and I would honestly recommend it to everyone, it was amazing!
    Love the pics!

  14. I’d also like to add, if you ever go back Id definately recommend going to Hoi Ann. It was an old fishing town which is slowly becoming a tourist attraction with many big hotels being built or having already been built. We stayed in the Hoi Ann Pacific which was amazing! It was half way between the beach and the town and getting a taxi into town only cost around $7 australian dollars! Hoi Ann also specialises in having many stores which make products for you. The can make shoes, jackets, shorts, shirts honestly anything you wish! They have tonnes of magazines to browse or even we took in pictures of different things we would like made up and they did them all in a day! It is great there with some very lovely restaurants and bars along the river also.

  15. Beautiful images! I am supposed to go to Vietnam ( lao Cai & Sapa ) this week. I am in china right now, because of of China National holiday, all the consulate of Vietnam is closed for a week 😦 I am stuck in Kunming, Yunnan.

  16. Funny, I just came in to write my own post about Vietnam, and your blog appeared in my dashboard. Nice coincidence!
    Sad I’m leaving in a few hours (heading to Lao), otherwise I would have gone to the restaurants you listed in Hanoi. Oh well, maybe next time.
    Happy travels!

  17. I am Vietnamese here and never have I seen such stunning pictures. Sometimes i envy photographers. they have good photos to show and view the world in a different perspective.

  18. You make my hometown even more incredible than what I used to know.
    Hope you’ll take a tour to the Southern someday too. There are still a lot for you to explore and enjoy.
    Thanks a lot for the post and pics.

  19. Very good job, the pictures are awesome. Always wanted visit the South-East Asia, but never found time nor money (especially).

  20. I read your blog it is very interesting..

    I also share interest in travelling but my interests are people. Your blog gives a very good insight of the place where your are visiting.

    My blog address is

  21. What a wonderful post. I will be in Vietnam next month. I plan to do both Hanoi and Ha long Bay. I am really excited! 🙂 I know you mentioned that you regretted not going further afield than the Old Quarter but would you recommend that as a good base while in Hanoi?

  22. Beautiful Vietnam, I was there 2006, Hallong bay, Hanoi and going south. But that most amazing thing are the people, kind, warm, happy, smiling, forgiving! a place to be, a place from where we can learn a lot!

  23. Thanks for bringing me good memories from my past visits to Hanoi some 20 years ago. Cha Ca fish restaurant seems to be popular still today, but looks like the menu has not changed at all.

  24. thanks for sharing this post ^^ read yours makes me miss my country a lot :X miss my Ha Noi and Ha Long sooo much. it seems that everything doesn’t change that much like people told me. and love your first photo of street of Ha Noi

  25. Vietnam is one of the prettiest places with regard to advertising as well, especially billboard advertising since a large section of the population spend the time outdoors here

  26. Hola!
    Permíteme presentarme soy Lucy administradora de un directorio de blogs, visité tu portal y está interesante, tienes temas muy buenos. Me encantaría poner un link de tu web en mis sitios y así mis visitas puedan visitarlo también. Si estás de acuerdo no dudes en escribirme
    Éxitos con tu blog.

  27. I went to Vietnam a few years ago, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay were my favourite places, it is such a beautiful country. Your lovely photographs have brought back some amazing memories, I would love to go back!

  28. I was just there at the end of August on honeymoon. Ha Long Bay was surreal–paradise tempered with garbage and pollution.

    I just climbed some of your routes at ET Rockville. They were challenging in a refreshing way and resistant to onsight climbing. I’m looking forward to more!

  29. Stunning and surprising, the scenes evoke a surreal sense because my mental images are based on stories and ideaologies recounted from times of war. Thank you for opening my eyes and senses to a different perspective.

  30. Your pictures and words have taken me right back to my trip with my husband to Vietnam 3 years ago. It sounds like we traveled very similar itineraries!!! We absolutely loved Halong Bay, we ended up booking a cruise, and ended up being the only couple on it. We had 5 staff catering to our every need (which we’re not used to). I can still to this day recall all of the exquisite 5 course meals that our own personal chef cooked for us. It was to die for!!! And that’s not even mentioning the breathtaking scenery. I think the overnight trip only cost us $100 Canadian!!!!
    Thanks for sharing, you’ve taken me right back there, and your pictures are breathtaking!!! Happy travels!

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  32. Your entry made me wanna visit Vietnam in an instant! I never thought I’d be dreaming to go to this country most especially the Halong Bay. 🙂 Credit to you. 🙂

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