Living in Perth means that Asia is just a short flight away, and Vietnam is one of my fave spots to hop over to. I just love Hanoi, especially the old quarter.
The easiest way to get there from Perth is fly via Singapore, and the best part is that there’s only an hours difference, so hardy any jet lag!
The best way to spend a couple of weeks in Northern Vietnam is to fit in trips to Halong Bay and to Sapa. On this trip we stayed in the Oriental Central Hotel, which ended up being one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in. Not because it was particularly fancy, although the rooms were beautiful, but because the staff were so incredible! It’s in a great location, in the middle of the old quarter, reasonably priced. We started out with a superior room, which was around 60 bucks a night, and then upgraded to a deluxe room for the end of our stay which was around 90 (and so worth it). The superior room was great, but the deluxe room was much bigger, and on a higher floor. The staff were super attentive, remembered our names from the first day, and were so helpful at arranging our trips.
Before arriving, we hadn’t booked anything other than our first 3 nights accommodation, but we knew that we wanted to do a junk boat trip in Halong Bay, and a trekking trip to Sapa. Instead of booking at a tour place out on the street, we decided to book everything directly through the hotel, and it was the best decision. We planned to do Halong Bay first, and then Sapa, so after probably an hour of going through all of our options with the lady on the tour desk at the hotel, we ended up booking a 3 day/2 night trip to Halong Bay, followed by a night back in Hanoi, and then a 3 day/2 night trekking trip in Sapa, taking the over night train there and back.
Unfortunately the weather had other ideas, and they day before we were due to go to Halong Bay, all trips were cancelled because of a typhoon! Now this was when we realised that we had made a great decision booking through the hotel. We heard about a lot of other travellers who just lost their money on the cancelled trips, but the Oriental Central staff couldn’t have been more helpful. Within a couple of hours, they had switched around around trips so that we were heading on the overnight train to Sapa the following night, doing our trekking, then heading back to Hanoi and doing our Halong trip afterwards when they hoped the weather would have cleared up. They didn’t charge us a penny to change all of this around, and even arranged for us to have access to an empty hotel room in the afternoon, so that we could get a shower before jumping on the train (since we had to check out in the morning).
Now for the highlights of the trip –
During our few days in Hanoi we did a serious amount of walking! There’s so much to see, and it’s more fun wandering between all of the site than taking cabs, so make sure that you wear comfy shoes!
- Do an early morning walk around Hoan Kiem lake (you’ll have lots of locals working out with you)
- Visiting the Hoa Lo Prison
- Look at all the old war tanks and aircrafts at the Historical Military Museum
- Check out the Ho Chi Minh museum and mausoleum
- Take a walk around the Opera House
- Have a drink or two at one of the rooftop bars, getting a great view of the city
- Drink some bai hoi for about 15c
- Rest your weary feet by getting a massage in the Old Quarter
- Explore the Old Quarter, stopping for a beer at Beer Corner
- Drink as much Vietnamese coffee as you can get your hands on!
I love an overnight train! You would think that all the noise and rattling of a train would make it difficult to get sleep…but the opposite is true. The rocking of the train makes you sleep like a baby!
The train has rooms with 4 bunks, and you can booked a shared cabin, or pay extra to have a double cabin. We got a double cabin to ourselves, which meant that we had heaps of extra space, and could stick our bags on the upper bunks.
Arriving in Sapa, the weather wasn’t too bad on the first day, but we were warned that the second day could be a bit crazy, with the tail end of the typhoon hitting the area. Our trekking group was quite big on the first day, but the second and third days were so wet that everyone apart from 4 of us backed out! No way were we going to let a bit of rain stop us from exploring, so braved the torrential rain and had a brilliant couple of days getting soaked and slipping and sliding around in the mud as we wandered through the beautiful countryside!
On the last day, we had time to shower and grab a couple of beers in Sapa before taking the train back to Hanoi.
It’s a bit of a mission to get from Hanoi to Halong Bay, the bus takes a good few hours, and does the usual stops at touristy places full of tack….but hang in there, it’s worth it!
We got a double cabin with a little balcony on the boat, and it was so cool! On the boat, all of the meals are provided, so the only extra is drinks. For 3 days, the boat cruises around Halong Bay, stopping for little trips in caves, a bit of kayaking, and a wander around a floating village and pearl farm.
An extra bonus was that our boat did morning Tai Chi lessons on the roof of the boat!
After our 3 days up in Hanoi, we headed back to Hanoi for our last couple of nights before heading home to Perth.
Have you been to Vietnam? Where were your fave spots? Let me know for my next trip!