You can’t travel somewhere without reading up beforehand. That’d be silly. That’s why we googled how to get a bus from the airport to Hanoi Old Quarter. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. A year or two ago we used to research about our destination for hours on end, but we had more time in general. These days we kind of have a rough idea how to travel in Asian countries, and just read up on the technicalities.

 

GETTING TO HANOI:

Once you go out of Noi Bai airport, ignore all taxis and get the #86 bus on the left hand side. It costs 30k dong and will drop you off right next to the Old Quarter. The conductor on the bus was really helpful, we showed her the location on the map, and she let us know when to get off. Which is pretty amazing coming from Thailand. We got used to showing a map to somebody and they look at you as if you’re an alien.

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MONEY:

Landed in Hanoi with no dong in cash. We’ve learnt that exchange rate in Thailand is always a lot worse than at the destination airport. We forgot that we’d have to pay for our visas before reaching the airport exchange booths.

We just had a visa approval letter from email and passport photos, but luckily they accepted Thai baht. It worked out a few hundred baht more, but who’s counting? (We are, but anyways!) Only took about 20 minutes and we were exchanging moneys, 597 dong per baht. Later in downtown Hanoi we found a place with a better exchange rate for like 607 dong per baht.

 

PHOTOGRAPHY:

Hanoi is AMAZING, there are plenty of trees, the sun sets slowly, so it stays bright a lot longer, there’s French architecture everywhere and the streets are narrow with many cosy coffee shops, restaurants and bars. It feels a bit like Paris, just a lot more chaotic. The street food stalls and shops have tiny tables and tiny chairs, and there’s Vespas everywhere. Everything is within walking distance, there’s a huge lake and plenty of young people and families just walking, playing, eating and enjoying their time and the lengthy dusk.

In the morning the little lake area is full of people doing group aerobics, playing football, even pitching their own badminton nets in the middle of the road, on a Monday morning!

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OLD QUARTER:

We’ve unexpectedly spent quite a lot on electronics recently so we were on a savvy mode this time. The old quarter is awesome. We didn’t see a single tourist attraction, although we did see some famous chapel thing from the window of our van on the way to the train station. Everything was picture-worthy. We didn’t take a taxi, we didn’t take a cyclo, we just walked. All day every day. It was cool in the morning, and just warm during the day. To our benefit, it was cooler than Bangkok which made all the walking possible without feeling like sweaty dogs.

We ventured out to the end of the Old Quarter and ended up in some small dead-end alley just because we needed to find a toilet. We sat down for a beer, bought some crisps, took some videos, and just watched kids playing around with soap bubbles. One cheeky boy approached us, looked at the camera and asked “Oh, what are you doing?”, took a crisp and walked off. Then he came round again, gave another “I’m interested in your video” look and took another crisp.

We also met a guy who teaches English in Hanoi and he basically said that Hanoi is amazing not just to visit, but also work and live in. We walked past a school somewhere on a busy street and were swarmed by little kids! They were literally stuffing their faces into the lens and making funny faces, basically being kids. We were surprised to have a proper conversation with primary students – their English was pretty good!

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WATER PUPPET THEATRE:

**Spoiler alert** The show involves dragons and fire… Surprisingly, it was an exciting show. It only lasted half an hour or so, and cost around 200 baht, like 5 pounds. The musicians were wearing traditional costumes, playing traditional music, it was nicely choreographed, and the puppets were authentic. The theatre’s right on the main road across from the lake.

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HOTELS:

First hotel was awesome – Hanoi Focus Boutique Hotel. Our room had no windows, but it didn’t bother us because we just crashed each time we got back. Service was impeccable (I may have used this word a few times in Vietnam posts – it seems to be commonplace). We had breakfast on the 8th floor overlooking the busy streets. When we checked out the receptionist even gave us packs of Vietnamese coffee as a gift, what a service!

The second hotel was superb! Meracus Hotel 2. Funnily enough, we got a free upgrade for this free stay. The boat tour paid for our stay here and it was fantastic! Huge windows, balcony, bath, huge room, comfortable beds, good wifi, flawless service…

The breakfast was the best though. The menu was extensive, creative, and exciting. You could order anything you want, however much you want, and they cook everything just for you, serve it on a nice huge plate in a Michelin-star style. The breakfast was so fancy that we realized we wanted more of that. (#travelgoals)

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What struck us most was the service. If you look up on booking.com most of the hotels have very high rankings compared lets say to Thailand, perhaps 9 or some even nearly 10. Now we understand why it is so. You do really feel like a king and queen, and it’s so cheap it’s unbelievable. The hotel you get for 2,000 baht in Vietnam would be the equivalent of like 8,000+ in Thailand. Little things matter.

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The whole trip was as smooth as shea butter tissues, there was only one thing. On the last day after breakfast we sat in the lounge and were looking forward to being picked up by a fancy tour guide. A man with ripped jeans and worn down t-shirt came in and he blobbed like a sack of taters next to us. I thought how rude! Then he looked at us and said “Halong tours?”.  I immediately put on my “scammer-alert” hat and continued the conversation. He confirmed my name and first thing asked for the money. Being a responsible tourist and a polite man I asked if someone’s gonna help us with the bags, to which he anxiously answered “Yeah, you pay cash?”. He was drunk. I handed him the 400 bucks. My feet were in “Bolt” mode just in case. The butler of the hotel was looking down on him the whole time. It’s a shame, because the company looks so respectable.

 

Luckily, we made it to Halong Bay! Click HERE to read about our first ever luxury cruise!