“Kiss me goodbye and write me while I’m gone. Goodbye my sweetheart, hello Vietnam.” – Dave Dudley as quoted in “Hello Vietnam”
Vietnam – it either makes you crazy or makes you totally fall in love with it, in my case, it was the latter. Before I dive into details about how I fell in love with this country, let’s try to answer the most important question first- where in Vietnam should I go? There are two major cities you can visit with a one-way ticket from the Philippines: Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Even though Ho Chi Minh is more popular than Hanoi, I decided to choose Hanoi, for one and one reason alone: I am not a fan of westernized cities. I mean the Philippines is full of that already, I want a place that will show me the real, authentic Vietnam. So after a long thorough research, I’ve read that the north can offer me what I was looking for. Also, to ease confusion from dozens of blogs I have read online Ho Chi Minh city is NOT the capital of Vietnam – it’s Hanoi, get those facts right.
Where to stay
If you are staying in Hanoi for short-term, I suggest you book your stay somewhere in Old Quarter, close to Hoan Kiem Lake (see map pin for Old Quarter here.) because that is where all of the “tourist” spots are close at. But, if you’re staying long-term (or 3 weeks – like me) then I suggest you stay around Tay Ho and get a room overseeing the lake. It’s a hell lot more peaceful and quiet in Tay Ho, and the cheap restaurants are also there. Room Rates are almost similar anyway, so you don’t have to worry about that. In my case, I booked my 9 days stay in Hanoi using Airbnb, at Lac Long Quan, Tay Ho. My host’s name is Michael, a cool Vietnamese who speaks perfect English, which is a very rare find in Vietnam, and he is very responsive whenever I message him about random questions regarding the city. To know more about his place, you can check out this link.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored recommendation, and also, it is good to know that most places in Vietnam have stairs because most houses are 2- 3 stories high. Beds are also a bit hard (but still comfortable), but these are common in Vietnam unless you stay in a high-class hotel. In which I stayed at for the last two days after my Hoi An trip. Check out Pan Pacific Hanoi (to be described in full detail in my next post)
Tickets to Hanoi from Manila, are way more expensive than Ho Chi Minh, and you can only book it through Cebu Pacific. My ticket cost about Php 8,900 (round-trip). Food is relatively cheap, and you can definitely eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner for about Php 150 per day if you eat local dishes. Museums are mostly free, and transportation (uber) is also cheap if you just ride motorbikes all day. For a complete budget list, see details below:
- Travel Tax – Php 1,750 ($35)
- Airport Transfer (I highly suggest you use Uber, so you don’t get ripped off) – Php 600- 800 ($12-16)
- Food per day – Php 150- Php 200 ($3-4)
- Accommodation per night – Php 520 ($10.4)
- Transportation around the city (Uber motorbike) – Php 50 – 150 per ride ($1-3)
- Collateral Expenses – Php 200 – Php 300 (Museum Entrance Fees and etc.) ($4-6)
You can definitely save more if you book in a shared hostel room around Old Quarter or walk around the city instead of riding a bike. The only reason I use a motorbike, is because my place in Tay Ho is quite far from the city center (Old Quarter) it will take about 20 minutes to go to Old Quarter from my Airbnb place, so it will usually cost me around 30k -40k VND per ride (which is equivalent to about a hundred peso or $2)
DO NOT – I repeat, DO NOT EVER exchange your money at the Airport! They will give you the worst possible rate that you will regret for the rest of your trip. Getting conned and ripped-off is everywhere in Vietnam, and it starts at the airport. But, if you did your research, and you are a smart traveller, there will be many ways where you can avoid getting scammed. I am proud to be a very thrifty and street-smart Filipina, as the Philippines is my training ground for haggling and avoiding scams – so I know exactly how they operate.
The best place to get your money exchanged in Vietnam is through a Jewellery Shop.
Tip: Find the jewellery shop where there is a lot of people lining up to get their money exchanged – this usually means that those places have the best rates. For a more specific location, the jewellery shop I usually go to is called: Công Ty Vàng Bạc Quốc Trinh or basically anywhere at Ha Trung Street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi.
Where to Party in Hanoi
While in Vietnam, you will meet old friends, and new friends – and they will invite you to go out for sure. If you are all foreigners, then you probably don’t know where to go! well here are some of my recommendations:
- Tom’s Bar (You can dance here – but I didn’t)
- Spy Bar (Good place to chill)
- Hanoi Backpacker’s Hostel (beside Medallion Hanoi Hotel)
- Walk through the entire street of Ma May, Old Quarter Hanoi (that’s where everyone is after 9 pm)
Places to see Around Hanoi
Vietnam has a very rich culture, accompanied by a very intriguing past. They are, after all, the only country in the world to ever resist the American forces and win (thanks to the help of the Soviet). Before the war, Vietnam was actually colonized by the French, and which is why there are basically THREE languages written in all museums: Vietnamese, English and French. You will also see a lot of French Infrastructures around Hanoi – to the point that they even have their own little “French Quarter” right by the east-side of Hoan Kiem Lake. Anyway, if you are looking into touring around the City of Hanoi, these are the places I highly recommend:
Ho Chi Minh: Mausoleum (Free), Museum (25k VND) & Stilt House (25k VND)
Ho Chi Minh was a Vietnamese Communist revolutionary leader who was Chairman and First Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Vietnam. He was also Prime Minister (1945–55) and President (1945–69) of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam – in short, he is definitely loved by the Vietnamese.
Okay – I’m going to tackle these three places in one go since they are literally beside each other. Those prices on top are the entrance fees for each place. To get a smooth ride on these three places, I suggest you start at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum first (see photos below).
IMPORTANT: Dress Code is conservative- no shorts, sleeveless or anything too revealing.
Ho Chi Minh’s remains/body is locked in a glass case, inside the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. It is heavily guarded by Vietnamese Military officers, so be very very conscious of your actions. Do not under any circumstances, act suspicious or they will surely reprimand you. Photos are also not allowed inside the mausoleum, so they will request to have your camera surrendered before you can enter and see Ho Chi Minh himself. After the very short look at Ho Chi Minh’s remains, you will arrive in front of the Mausoleum itself, to take photos of this infamous tourist spot.
After you have entered the Mausoleum, follow the rest of the crowd or ask around about “Ho Chi Minh Stilt House” which is located right in front of the Mausoleum. The stilt house is where Ho Chi Minh lived from 1958 to 1969. If you don’t have your own tour guide, simply listen to what the other tour guides are saying, and try to be very subtle about it. This place has a man-made lake and traditional Vietnamese Stilt houses.
After the stilt house, you will immediately arrive beside the Ho Chi Minh Museum, where you can read all about Ho Chi Minh and the infamous Vietnam war. For more photos, see below:
One Pillar Pagoda (Free)
There will be many other pagodas in Hanoi, just as there are many temples in Bangkok, but the only reason this Pagoda is very famous is that- it is literally in the middle of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum, so it will be hard to miss. In my case though, I did not bother going up to the pagoda itself, because it’s packed with tourists. I took a photo and left.
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology (40k VND)
This is probably one of my most favourite museums in Hanoi, showcasing life-size structures of Vietnamese Ancient houses, vehicles and decors. If you missed this while visiting Hanoi – it will be very very disappointing (unless of course, you actually visited the old villages yourself, but that’s quite a sketch to go to.) Vietnam is very good at preserving heritage sites and artefacts, that almost everything looks exactly how it was when they first found it. I personally enjoyed climbing up the houses and pretending like a traditional Vietnamese girl, sitting by the bamboos and staring by the window, waiting for my lover (lol).
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long (30k VND)
Listed as one of UNESCO’s Heritage Places, the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is the powerhouse for Vietnamese Military during the Vietnam War, and also the resting place of one of the biggest ancient palaces in Vietnam. The reason why I recommend this place is because this is the first time I have ever entered a BUNKER or a BOMB SHELTER. Like, there is literally a hallway where you can climb down stairs and enter a military underground base, with all the maps and equipments used during the war.
Vietnam Military Museum (20k VND)
If you’re a curious little cat who loves guns and artillery (like me), then this is the place for you. All the military equipment, planes, guns and everything else that will remind you of the war is in here. It is by far, one of the largest collection of military weapons in Hanoi. Just in front of their flag tower, you will be greeted with U.S. Made, Soviet-made and Chinese Equipment that will surely delight the inner bad-ass in you.
Hoa Lo Prison Museum (20k VND)
As I’ve mentioned, Vietnam was once colonized by the French – and this prison is one of the standing proof of this piece of history. Hoa Lo prison served as the prison camp for Vietnamese revolutionaries during their struggle against freedom from France – this is evident by their terrifying, real-life French guillotine, located at the centre of the museum. During the American War (or Vietnam War) this place was renamed as “Hanoi Hilton” by the American Prisoners of War. All-in-all, if you want to see that HEAD SLICING THING – you better not miss this.
Temple of Literature (30k VND)
Similar to the Temple of Literature in Hue, this one serves as a temple-ground to honour Vietnam’s finest Scholars. This used to be a University, exclusive to the noble families, but became available for all during 1442 – in celebration of the equality amongst the rich and the poor. In the long run, it became a famous tourist site that displays writings and studies of renowned Vietnamese Scholars.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Otherwise known as “The Lake of the Returned Sword” is one of the major hangout spots in Hanoi – because well, the bridge is undoubtedly Instagram-worthy. Legend has it, that Le Loi King saw a shining metal by the lake, and welded it into a sword, and was later on believed that it was a gift from the heavens to fight his enemies. This sword has won him many battles, until one day a tortoise rose above the water, asking the king to return the sword to the Dragon King, in which he did – giving the name “Hoan Kiem Lake”. I did not make this story up!!! The monk explained it to me!!! (you liked that legend didn’t you?)
Ngoc Son Temple (3k VND)
Well, this temple was made out of the hoan kiem legend, and has since then been visited by tourists around the globe! To be honest, it is like many other pagodas in Hanoi – the only thing that is special about this one is the bridge.
Vietnamese Women’s Museum (3ok VND)
Women played a huge role in the history of Vietnam (generally, I think women played a huge role in the world!) and this is celebrated through this wonderful Women’s Museum. Some of the most interesting learnings I have read or learned here are:
- Vietnamese women used to paint their teeth black, as a sign of beauty. The darker and blacker the teeth, the prettier they are
- It is not only men that offer her wife’s family “dowry” before marriage, a woman must do it too, as a sign of commitment
- Women’s wealth and skills are measured by the number of fabrics? or clothes they are able to make
- During the war, women served as the foundation of every Vietnamese family, since their men were at war
One thing I don’t miss about Vietnam is the crazy motorbike! I thought driving in the Philippines was insane – well, wait til’ you visit Vietnam! I literally had to pray and hold my breath everytime I am riding some type of a vehicle. It’s not only that – even crossing the street was an impending death sentence. I have no idea how I survived! But, I really do love Vietnam, especially Old Quarter. It’s one of those places where everything is so cheap, you literally would want to buy everything.
Rooftop Bar (Pan Pacific Summit Lounge)
I would go to the famous Lotte Tower Roof Top, but since I stayed at Pan Pacific Hanoi, my reservation at this place was FREE. I invited all of my friends for one last drink of Sangria here at The Summit Lounge. It was so beautiful and cosy at night, the best place to conclude my trip in Vietnam!
There are many other things you can do that I didn’t bother to write because I never tried them – but I think if you have more time and lots of Dongs, you can probably do the following:
- Watch the water puppet show in Thang Long
- Learn about Vietnamese arts and do one yourself at Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts
- Learn more about Hanoi at the Hanoi Museum
- Want to know which uniform is which? visit Hanoi Police Museum
- Discover the conflicts in Vietnam at the Museum of Revolution
- Walk around with your loved on at Bao Son Paradise Park
TIPS on how not to get SCAMMED:
- Get your facts straight, and do your homework. If you want to buy something, research the proper price.
- Haggle. Haggle. Haggle. Don’t be the rude person who throws a fit or gets mad when haggling – that doesn’t work at all! Just smile, be nice, and give the lowest price first, or mention another store that offers a much lower price (even if there wasn’t any store like that). It is also very helpful to learn some basic Vietnamese words like GIAM GIA (or pronounced as “zam za” which means “discount”), or CAM ON (which means “thank you”)
- Learn how to count in basic Vietnamese – come on, you can do this. Vietnamese numbers are not that difficult to remember, or type the price on your calculator and show the vendor.
- Smile a lot when haggling, and when they insist on their overpriced item, just walk away – and they will chase after you, with the price that you want (or not). (just like men- you know how this one goes girl! walk away and be chased 😉 )
- Only go to restaurants or street foods with prices on display, and stick by it – count your change properly if they gave you the right amount and argue if you didn’t. Better yet, always bring a change, so you won’t always be worried if they pocketed some of your money.
Day trips close to Hanoi:
- Learn more about Bavi National Park, Ninh Binh, Tam Coc, and Halong Bay on my next blog post.
To end this very long post here is a very special beer from Vietnam – I think it’s time for me to get back there, have another thrilling adventure and ENJOY VIETNAM – it really is a great country, as long as you don’t get bad things affect you, as all bad things happen in life anyway! CHEERS or should I say… vô!