Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and a with a rich historical background. Although is not as big or as vibrant as the old Saigon, It can be hardly argued that it earned its right to be the capital, after being the stronghold of the north Vietnamese army. My stay in Hanoi was rather a short one, but enough to see some of the main landmarks.
At Hanoi’s airport, there are several offices with the information sign on them. Take into account that they are privately owned, they are not the property of the government, so their information will be biased towards the products they sell. The options for transport are pretty much narrowed to taxis, private cars, and buses (also refer to my post about transport in Vietnam). If you haven’t arranged a private pickup with your hotel you might either grab a cab (Mailihn or Vinasun). You can always take the bus, there is little mention of it when you arrive. This is the cheapest option, around 6000 Dong (less than 0.50 USD). This will take you to the center of the city (near Hoan Kiem Lake) where it would be cheaper to take a cab to the hotel, or even walk. For a cab from the airport, you will be looking to pay around 200.000 VND to town.
The city of Hanoi has interesting places to visit, like the tranquil Hoan Kiem Lake in the middle of the city. In the early morning, people are doing Tai chi around it. The lake was near where I was staying, in the old quarter area which I think it was a bit noisy, but centrally located. Although when I say “noisy” it’s not from daily life, not the party. Hanoi is a more traditional city where venues close early.
From the old quarter it was easy to go to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum (check times before going, usually morning is the time to go), as a day tour I also went to the temple of the literature, enjoyed the local food in the french quarter, and visited the Vietnam military history museum. My main objective when going to Hanoi was taking a tour to Halong bay, I’ve heard many comments about how it is not as beautiful as it used to be, how overrated it is now, and so on, and so on. But I always thought that if you have a place you long to see, then go and make yourself a self-impression of it. Maybe at the end, you will find out that it was (as everyone said) not that great, but what if not?.
Hanoi, and some areas in Vietnam, in general, are famous for the scams. It is important to be very clear about the negotiated price as I mention in my main post of Vietnam.
Also known as the dragon bay, due to the mountains over the water and the shapes that they create, it appears like a giant dragon is exiting the water. Halong bay is an icon of Vietnam and a UNESCO heritage site.
Halong bay is not that far from Hanoi, around 180 km, so you would imagine it is a short ride, right? well not really, the roads are not motorways, so it will take around 4 hours each way. Because of this, I would recommend staying at least one night (ideally two), avoiding as much as possible going for a day tour, it’s too much to pack in such a short time. The Best thing to do would be to book a tour from a reputable company, and according to your travel style, you don’t want to go in a younger crowd party boat if you just want to relax.
For me the bay was a must see, I’ve always seen photos, and read about it. The views of the mountains in the middle of the water look majestic and surreal, so I was not going to miss that. At the end I was glad I went there, it is an amazing place to visit and the views are astonishing. My stay over there was for two days and there was enough time to visit the caves, go to the beach, party in the boat, go to the top lookout on the mountains, kayaking around the bay, and even have a cooking class. It was a nice tour, but I think many things need to be improved, the tourism needs to be more sustainable and limited to reduce the impact in the area, the water is getting lots of rubbish from littering from locals and tourists. So I would recommend that before you book a tour, look for the eco option, and during your stay in the bay be mindful of the environment.