With only one full day of sightseeing in between our trips to Halong Bay and Sapa (see below) we decided Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Women’s Museum and Hoan Kiem Lake were on the top of our must see list, although there are many other sights and museums in Hanoi that could easily take up days and days of your time if you get the chance.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum: Not a great start to our day of sight seeing, as we arrived at 11.30, and it is actually only opened from 8am-11am (do you research guys) we were a little disappointed after put 3km walk from our hostel in the blistering heat, but we did get a great photo of the outside.
Women’s museum: we had more luck with this on, paid the 30,000VD/ $2 entrance fee and spent the next 2 hours discovering how women in Vietnam basically do everything around here; work excruciating hours, provide for families, tend to crops and animals, tend to household duties. We struggled to figure out what it is that men actually DO in Vietnam.
Hoan Kiem Lake: A great place to people watch, sit on one of the benches or under a tree in the shade, or if you are so inclined, indulge in a little exercise. It seems the place to go for a run.
We chose to sit in one of the cafes on the lake and enjoy a drink and watch the world go by. It’s a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of the streets.
Hanoi is a great base for side trips to either Halong Bay or Sapa. We did both.
An absolute must for anyone visiting Hanoi! Halong Bay is located about 3-4 hours from Hanoi so you can do a day trip visit, a 2 days/1 night tour or a 3 days/ 2 nights tour. Tours can be organised once you get to Hanoi through your hostel/hotel or from any of the hundreds of travel agencies that line the streets in Hanoi. We booked the 3 days/ 2 nights “Party Cruise” tour through our hostel.
The tour cost $130USD/ $165 and included:
- Transfers to and from Halong Bay from Hanoi
- One nights accommodation on the boat in a twin room (although the cruise we went on was overbooked so they put three people in some rooms, the extra person on a roll away bed. It was a little squashy but worked ok for us as we are a group of three)
- Transport from the cruise to Freedom Island via Cat Ba Island.
- One nights accommodation on Freedom Island (a private island just for our tour group)
- All meals while on the boat and island
- Entry into Thien Cung Caves
- Activities including sea kayaking, swimming, cliff jumping for those that were brave enough, volley ball, football etc.
Alcohol was the only thing excluded from the price, but were reasonably priced with a beer setting you back 30,000VD/ $2, soft drinks were the same price, and mixed drinks and cocktails were 80,000VD/ $4.50. “Happy hour” was between 5-7pm but seemed to somehow extend all night with a buy 2 get 1 one free deal on all cocktails. All drinks you purchase go onto your bar tab which you pay the following morning which is great at the time, not so great when you look at the bill the next morning. Make sure you double check your tab as the bar staff tried to rip us off a couple of hundred thousand Dong (about $15).
If you are enjoying yourself too much, you do have the option to stay on Freedom Island another night (the price was a little steep for our budget $45USD/ $60 and was inclusive of meals, but no drinks) or you can be dropped off on Cat Ba Island on the way back to the boat and make your own accommodation arrangements (there are loads of hotels and hostels on the island). You will then be picked up by the cruise the next day and taken back to Hanoi.
TOP TWO TIPS:
- Try the Banana Daiquiris on Freedom Island.
- If you have the time (and extra cash) do the 3 day/ 2 night tour. As Halong bay is about a 4 hour drive from Hanoi, the majority of you time is spent travelling to and from on the day trips and even on the 2 day/ 1 night tour.
This again is a side trip from Hanoi (approx. a 7 hour train ride) and should not be missed.
After a recommendation from Katia’s parents who had previously visited Vietnam, Sapa was high on our ‘must do’ list so we had done loads on research before we left Australia. Thanks to Trip Advisor, we chose to trek with Sapa Sisters and they did not disappoint. We emailed them in advance to book in our dates for our 3 day/ 2 night trek and paid $116USD/ $150 each.
We found that this was a touch more expensive that some of the other tours offered but we liked the fact that the money is paid directly to the guides to ensure they get a fair wage rather than a tour operator in Hanoi taking their share before the money reaches them, for example.
The trek included all meals, accommodation in home stays and your guide, who if like ours (shout out to Ker!) was a wealth of information you just don’t get from a guide book.
For more information our trek, check out our Sapa sisters blog (http://thetruthfultravellers.com/2015/05/08/the-sapa-sisters/)