Help a Reader Travel: Hanoi

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Welcome to another post of helping a reader travel! As I’ve mentioned before, I have not been to every destination (unfortunately), but do get questions from friends and other blog readers on all sort of travel destination questions. Thus far, we’ve been able to help other readers travel to MauiThe Greek IslandsPacific Coast HighwayArgentinaCosta RicaCape Cod & The IslandsIcelandGenevaCanadian RockiesRomeIsraelPeruLas VegasStockholm, Chicago, and Paris.

So this weeks travel destination includes Hanoi, Vietnam. I received the following email from reader Jon:

“I am taking a month long trip to Southeast Asia and was hoping to find out more information about Hanoi, Vietnam. From the research I’ve done it looks like Ha Long Bay is well worth it, but I would love for any recommended companies to use and the amount of nights one should go for. Also, how many days would you recommend in Hanoi and any hotel recommendations? My primary reason to Vietnam was for Ha Long Bay, but since my itinerary isn’t set in stone, are there any other places in Vietnam you’d recommend going to? Thank you all in advance for the help!”

Jon – Ha Long Bay sounds amazing! I was actually all set to go there last year as part of a Southeast Asia trip, but after more research cancelled that stop as it was in January (the rainy season). While it is cheaper and less crowded to go to during that time, I personally didn’t want to risk it. However, from those that have been during the non-rainy season, I’ve heard it is amazing! From the research I’ve done, there is a Hilton in Hanoi, but might be a little distance from where you ideally want to stay. Other non-chain hotels there are pretty cheap. I’ve been to Ho Chi Minh City, which I loved (for 2 days) although, I know some people aren’t a fan of the huge hustle and bustle city. You can read more about my trip report here.

If you’ve been to Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, or any other part of Vietnam, let’s help out reader Jon by commenting below.

Also, if you have any upcoming travel where you need some help, feel free to email me at to be a featured “Help a Reader Travel” Monday special. Thanks!

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Steve B
Steve B
11 years ago

Suggest he googles Bai Tu Long Bay, it’s essentially the same place but you turn left rather than right and you get the clear unpolluted water with hardly any boats rather than the somewhat polluted Ha Long Bay.

The Red Dragon/Dragons Pearl/Prince (and a couple others but they are all related) are a good choice, mid range but very good value for money, small & intimate boats with about the same number as staff as guests and the food is just brilliant. Would also recommend 2 nights, 1 isn’t enough when you work out the trip each way from Hanoi is 4 hours, so a 2 day 1 night tour is actually < 24 hours on the boat. The trip really is worth it on the right boat, this place really is amazing.

Tripadvisor is a good place to check out any other cruise boats, note TA does get fake reviews from time to time, particularly in VN but they are usually fairly easy to spot!

11 years ago

First, if you’re in your 20’s and going solo, then a great way to meet people is to stay at the hostels/guest houses in the Backpacker area in Old Quarter. For approximately $15/night, you get a very nice (but modest) room for yourself and you’ll meet tons of other travelers. The backpacker area is Old Quarter (around Ma May Street, Hang Bac Street, Hang Be Street).

However, if you’re more of the hotel type, the is the Sofitel in that same general area but has all the posh accommodations you could ask for (including a very nice outdoor swimming pool).

Getting around is very cheap via Taxi. If you’re feeling adventurous, go into Old Quarter and rent a motor scooter for like $15/day. That being said, you’ll need a good sense of direction and a great map.

As for Ha Long Bay, most of the tour guides are the same and all charge around the same price. You’re best bet is to go to Old Quarter and use a local travel agent when you arrive. You don’t need that much advance booking to get something as the tour operators are plentiful. The one thing you’ll want to get a sense for is if the Ha Long Bay tour is full of young backpacker kids in their 20’s or more of the 30s/40s crowd. You should do the 2 (or 3) night trip. That’s plenty of time there.

Other places in Vietnam. I’m not a fan of Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) unless you’re a war history fan.

A better spot to go is Hoi An on the southern side of Vietnam (where you can get custom suits, shirts, dresses for very cheap among the 1000’s of tailors). You’ll need a few days there for the initial fitting, follow up fitting and final, but 3-4 days is a lot faster than the 30-90 days you’d have to wait for a US custom suit. I recommend using Yaly Couture if you go there.

Finally, for some Vietnamese countryside, check out Sapa. It’s somewhat close to Hanoi.

Paul G
Paul G
11 years ago

I was there about 1 month ago. I stayed at the Intercontinental and it’s away from the old district and the 20 minute drive got a little old every day. I’d try the Sofitel or something more downtown. The cultural center is well worth a visit for sure. Make sure to have crisp new dollar bills as well. They will NOT take a ripped or old dollar bill when getting your “Visa on Demand” in the airport.

Feel free to email me with questions, Deals We Like has my permission to give you my email.

11 years ago

I have a trip coming to Vietnam, including Hanoi and Halong Bay. Will be spending 2 nights in Halong Bay because it takes so long to get there.
I’ve been using Trip Advisor to get some tips about what to do in Hanoi. We are staying there 4 full days. So far this is what I’ve got for my list:
Vietnam Women’s Museum
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
One Pillar Pagoda (Chua Mot Cot) (replica of original, might be worth a quick trip)
Walk around Old Quarter
Temple of Literature & National University (away from the city)
Hochimihn Mausoleum
Hochiminh Museum
Opera House (Nha Hat Lon) for concerts in evening
Thang Long Water Puppet Theater
Vietnam Military History Museum
Hoa Lo Prison (where Jon McCain was held)

11 years ago

Was in Hanoi last month. Ha long bay is really all that. Go with aurora cruises if you want a reasonable priced tour of the area. It is better to go with the 3 day tour in stead of 2 to truly experience the place. $97 got us a two bed deluxe cabin with a balcony at the back of the boat and includes all food.
In hanoi, if u are not looking for chain hotels, stay at the hanoi holiday diamond hotel in the old quarter. It is a 3 star hotel with 6 star service and cheap. Highly recommended. It is rated number 9 of 400 hotels on tripadvisor. Go see a water puppet show (also in the old quarter) and if u have time, catch a flight to na thrang or hoi an, both places highly recommended over ho chi minh city. However if u are heading south to ho chi minh city, check out the mekong delta and the cuchi tunnel. Safe travels!

11 years ago

Folks, for Ha Long Bay I did what I hadn’t done ever and booked a tour with a tour operator kumuka travel which is Australian

They offered a tour which was I think four nights long including one overnight on a boat in the bay

I recommend this company as it was a small ‘adventure’ tour well organised, suitably free of gift shops with exposure to locally run hotels which were basic but comfortable.

When it rains and the road down the hill is a mudslide and AWD won’t cut it, it’s nice to have someone knows what to do to get you to the bottom.

By the way if they ask you where you went on return to USA and you list Vietnam, immigration have a long list of extra questions they ask you and record the answer.

11 years ago

I stayed at the Charming II Hotel in Hanoi, in the Old Quarter, and it was a GREAT hotel. All of the major points-based chains were in more business-y districts, but I’m glad our hotel wasn’t. It wasn’t that far from the lake.

We organized a boat tour of Ha Long through the hotel, it was with a company called “Indochina Junk Tours.” It was a very well-kept boat, and you can have either a private one or with up to 6 other people. We did the 2-day, 1-night with an extra night in Ha Long City; I’d recommend the 3-day, 2-night otherwise.

11 years ago

I spent 30 days in Vietnam and loved it. For me it is the most amazing country I visited in Asia. People are very friendly and food is simply amazing. As Mariana mentioned above those are great places to visit in Hanoi. I spent a weekend in Halong Bay but only got day tours taking a boat in the morning and returning in the end of the day.

As for good places to eat, here are my top choices (not sure if they still exist since it has been a while I visited Hanoi):

16 Nam Ngu Str. Hoan Kiem Dist.

Wild Rice
6 Ngo Thi Nham Str.

Moca Café
14-16 Nha Tho

Le Tonkin
14 Ngo Van So, Hoan Kiem

Bobby Chinn
No. 1 Ba Trieu St., Hoan Kiem Dist.

I-Box Bar & Café (Bar)
32 Le Thai To, Hoan Kiem Dist.

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