Just returned from my trip to Hanoi, Vietnam. It was an amazing experience, although I must admit I ended up with severe sunburn… sigh 🙁
Now, you might be wondering why I chose Hanoi instead of Ho Chi Minh City. Well, the truth is, I’m not a big fan of bustling cities. Whenever I travel, I always gravitate toward places known for their natural beauty. That’s why I decided on Hanoi for my Vietnam trip.
By the way, this trip wasn’t exactly a solo adventure. Initially, I had planned to go solo, but my best friend surprised me by purchasing a last-minute flight ticket to Hanoi just a day before my departure. I arrived in Hanoi in the afternoon with Air Asia, while she landed at midnight with Vietnam Airlines. Thankfully, I had already arranged our accommodations a month in advance and made full payment. So, when my friend arrived, she only needed to cover the difference for the room upgrade.
I purchased my flight ticket in December 2017 for RM345.90. However, I also added extras like meals and seat selection, bringing the total cost to RM384.90. With AirAsia, I prefer not to rely on random seat assignments. I tend to get stressed when I end up in the middle seat, especially if the passengers next to me or in front of me lack manners. That’s why I always choose to invest my money in buying a front seat or a hot seat. For those who, like me, tend to get hungry quickly, I highly recommend pre-booking your meals. It’s only RM10.00, and it even comes with free mineral water in a cup. If you buy it on the flight, the price increases to RM15.00, and you have to pay for the water separately. Okie dokie?
Where to Stay In Hanoi?
Undoubtedly, the best area to stay in Hanoi is the Old Quarter or Hoan Kiem District. It’s close to everything you need and offers a wide range of hostels. So, if you’re planning a trip to Hanoi, make sure to book a hotel or hostel in this area. Personally, I stayed for 4 nights at Box Hotel Hanoi and 1 night at Finnegans Hotel.
- Box Hotel Hanoi: Just like its name, the rooms here have a compact design. I booked a standard twin room, but if you’re looking for a more affordable option, they also offer dormitory rooms. What I found great about this hotel is its location and tour services. I highly recommend taking advantage of the tour services offered at Box Hotel, even if you’re not staying here. The packages they provide are tailored for backpackers and offer fantastic experiences.
- Finnegans Hotel: For my final night in Hanoi, I decided to book this hotel (actually, wherever I travel, I always choose a slightly more luxurious and comfortable hotel for my last night to pamper myself). I must say, I had no regrets booking this hotel. It was an excellent choice, offering a great location, friendly staff, exceptional cleanliness, and affordability. I highly recommend it to others. Read more about the hotel here: Hanoi Finnegans Hotel.
My accommodation costs were as follows: $44 for 4 nights at Box Hotel Hanoi in a Twin Room without breakfast, and $43 for 1 night at Finnegans Hotel in a Honeymoon Suite with a balcony, including breakfast.
Firstly, I want to mention that if possible, arrange airport transfer in advance with the hotel you have booked. However, at the same time, don’t expect the airport transfer to be readily available upon your arrival. Both my friend and I had to take a taxi from the airport because there was no airport transfer service for us, even though we had already made the booking. It wasn’t just us, as we spoke to other travelers from different hotels who experienced the same situation. So, if your airport transfer doesn’t show up, don’t worry. Look for the “TAXI” signboard in the arrival hall. Make sure the taxi fare to the Old Quarter ranges from $13 to $18. Even $18 is considered quite expensive (my friend paid $16). If the price exceeds $18, avoid taking that taxi.
In addition, for getting around Hanoi city, you can use Uber and Grab. Grab motorbikes are widely available, and there are also bicycle rickshaws known as “beca.” The standard price for a beca here is 150,000.00 dong per person, but you can find some as cheap as 100,000.00 dong per person. However, since I didn’t have the heart to bargain, I paid 125,000.00 dong per person. In Hanoi, it’s actually easy to find transportation options. You can even rent a motorbike or bicycle if you prefer. If you want to stay active like me, walking is a great option. Hehe.
My transportation costs were as follows: $18 (Airport to Box Hotel), $13 (Finnegans Hotel to Airport), $7 (Taxi – we got lost somewhere around the Old Quarter), and $5.49 (Beca from Ho Lo Prison to Al-Noor Mosque).
When visiting Hanoi, it’s a must to take advantage of tour services. You don’t need to book in advance; you can do it once you arrive in Hanoi. There are plenty of tour services available in Hanoi. If you don’t feel like searching, you can simply book a tour at the hotel where you’re staying. The hotel staff can assist you with that. Alternatively, you can visit Box Hotel and book a tour there.
By the way, I initially thought that 6 days and 5 nights would be enough to explore Hanoi. Turns out, it wasn’t. I only had 4 days (excluding the arrival and departure days) to explore. On the second day in Hanoi, I took a tour to Ha Long Bay. The package included lunch and the journey took approximately 4 hours from Hanoi. If you want to save some money, you can skip activities like kayaking or the bamboo boat. Staying overnight (which I don’t really recommend) is an option as well. Actually, for Ha Long Bay, a day tour is sufficient. You can go in the morning and return in the evening.
On the third day, I took a 2-day 1-night Sapa Tour. The activities in Sapa included hiking and trekking. The package provided lunch, dinner, and breakfast, and we stayed overnight in a homestay with locals. I will share more details about this in my next post (Part II).
On the fifth day, I didn’t book a tour. Instead, I explored the city on my own. I googled the tourist attractions in Hanoi and navigated using GPS while walking.
My tour services costs were $45 for the Ha Long Bay Tour (Day Tour) and $50 for the Sapa Tour (2 days 1 night).
If you’re not interested in the Sapa Tour, I highly recommend taking the Tam Coc day tour ($40) and the Ninh Binh day tour ($40). I only skipped those tours due to a lack of time. Otherwise, I would have taken both. Maybe next time when I visit Hanoi again.
Food And Drinks.
For non-Muslim travelers, finding food in Hanoi is quite easy. However, for Muslim travelers, there are a few halal options available. You can visit Zaynab Restaurant (located near Al-Noor Mosque), Namaste Restaurant, and D’lions Restaurant. It’s important to note that there aren’t many halal restaurants in Hanoi. To make things easier, you can bring some food from Malaysia, such as instant noodles like Maggi.
If you’re traveling in a group, I recommend renting a portable WiFi device from Malaysia. However, if you’re traveling with fewer than 3 people, one of you can simply purchase a SIM card in Vietnam with unlimited data for 10 days. Then, you can share the internet using the portable hotspot feature on your phone. The internet connection in Vietnam is incredibly fast. I couldn’t believe it myself. Haha.
What To Pack?
Before heading to Hanoi, I did some research on the weather since I knew Hanoi experiences four seasons. I traveled at the end of February, which is still considered the cool season (although not extremely cold anymore). The temperature was around 20-21°C. Make sure to research the weather in Hanoi before your trip so you know what to pack. If you’re planning to visit Sapa, bring proper hiking shoes. Don’t make the mistake I did by wearing the wrong shoes. My feet were in so much pain, and my toenails turned purple. Hiking in the Sapa mountains can be quite challenging. Even those travelers in my hiking group said it was tough. Don’t forget to pack sunblock, slippers, enough clothes, instant noodles, and your travel essentials.
Safety in Hanoi.
Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before heading to Hanoi because you never know what might happen when you’re in a foreign country. Speaking of safety, in my opinion, as long as you take care of yourself, and know which places to visit and which ones to avoid, you should be fine. Dangers can exist anywhere. I’ve heard some negative stories about Vietnam, such as taxi scams, but Alhamdulillah (thank God), nothing bad happened to me. The taxi driver even taught me how to use Vietnamese dong, and the souvenir shop owner helped my friend and me with our money and reminded us to be cautious while using it because we were confused with the currency. One thing you really need to prepare yourself for in Hanoi is having the courage to cross the road. Apparently, there are no strict traffic laws here. Haha. And even if there are, they’re not like those in Malaysia.
Continue to Part II here – Solo Travel 2018: A Quick Travel Guide to Hanoi, Vietnam (Part II).