Including Ninh Binh Province and Halong Bay cruise
This was my first time in Asia and it was a culture shock - particularly the traffic. Vietnam is filled with cars and millions of scooters. It is a site to behold.
Warning: The traffic in Hanoi can only be described as "organized chaos." Crossing any street is intimidating but once you learn how, it becomes easier. Since it appears that scooters and cars don't stop for anything or anyone, the trick is to walk very slowly across the street. The drivers don't drive quickly and when they see you they will make their way around you or stop. They are very courteous. If you run, you don't give them enough time to stop, so it becomes dangerous.
We arrived in Hanoi in the late morning and transferred to the Marvellous Hotel in Hanoi's Old Quarter. This is a small and lovely boutique hotel with renovated and spacious rooms.
We decided to hit the streets of Hanoi and head toward Hoan Kiem Lake, located in the centre of the city. On route we did some window shopping and went down some of the quieter side streets.
The architecture in the Old Quarter is interesting as many of the buildings and shops (known as tube houses) are very narrow, sometimes only three metres wide but can be about 50 metres long, while some of the newer or renovated buildings are several stories high. It is common for them to have courtyards in the back for shared space with their neighbours.
We stopped to have a refreshing beer in a small bar and toast to our adventure. After our beer, we walked to the lake which was filled with people sitting on benches enjoying the views, walking along the trails, and visiting the temple. The Ngoc Son Temple is located on a small island where a palace once stood. It is connected to the shore by a beautiful bridge. We walked around the perimeter of the entire lake before making our way back to our hotel for a rest.
We walked to a specialty fish restaurant called Cha Ca Thang Long. This restaurant only has one item on the menu, fish which is cooked table-side. This is a traditional Hanoi dish and is delicious. It is served with rice noodles, some green vegetables and special fish sauce.
This is a small and lovely boutique hotel located in the Old Quarter. The rooms are renovated and spacious. Their customer service is excellent. They serve a generous breakfast. Highly recommended.
Orchid Cruise offers luxury cruises in Halong Bay. Activities on the boat include kayaking, fishing, cooking class and a boat tour to the caves. The rooms are spacious and the food is beautifully displayed and delicious. There is a very good spa.
Guides and Tours
Asia Tour Advisors
We booked all our tours in Vietnam and Cambodia through local tour company Asia Tour Advisors. They provided excellent and knowledgeable guides as well as wonderful drivers in all locations. They were prompt and reliable. All the activities were interesting and well-planned. The customer service they provided while planning our trip was excellent.
Our contact was David Hong Luong
Cha Ca Thang Long. This restaurant only has one thing on the menu, fish which is cooked table side. This is a traditional Hanoi dish and is delicious. It is served with rice noodles, some green vegetables and special fish sauce.
Koto Restaurant We had lunch at this restaurant located across from the Temple of Literature. They serve very good Vietnamese dishes. This restaurant is unique because they have a special training program for disadvantaged youth, so it's a win-win!
Anh Dzungh We had lunch at this restaurant which specializes in dishes made from goat. The restaurant is located in a beautiful garden and courtyard of a local shop.
Ambassador's Pagoda This was built between 1936-1942 in Chinese style, and contains some beautiful stone buddhas. It is the centre of Buddhist studies in Vietnam. There is a very tall Pagoda tower in the centre.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum This grand and solemn complex contains the embalmed corpse of Ho Chi Minh - one of Vietnam's beloved heroes. Past the mausoleum, there are beautifully landscaped grounds to Ho Chi Minh's modest homes which is built on the complex of the former Presidential Palace.
Vietnamese Women's Museum. This engaging museum describes the important role women play in Vietnamese society - from family life and culture to the role in the American War as soldiers, protestors and activists.
Hanoi itinerary in 5 days
Hanoi, Vietnam's capital, lies in the northern part of the country. It is a colourful city of lakes, parks, large boulevards, restaurants, shops and temples. Its chaotic streets and crowded sidewalks make this lively city very unique.
The city is home to seven million people. French colonial architecture can be seen in the tree-lined streets of the French Quarter, while the traditional Old Quarter is bustling with people, small shops and authentic restaurants. It is not unusual to see locals doing tai chi by the lake or vendors selling their goods on the sidewalks.
The city is also home to several beautiful temples and pagodas, interesting museums and Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum. There are also many reminders of the horrific Vietnam War (known as the American War to the Vietnamese) where so many people lost their lives.
Day trip to Ninh Binh Province - Hoa Lu and Tam Coc
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We were picked up by our guide and driver and made our way to the Province of Ninh Binh, enjoying the beautiful scenery along the way.
Our first stop was Hoa Lu, which used to be the ancient royal capital of Vietnam between 968 AD and 1010 AD. We visited the Dinh King Temple and Le King Temple built in the tenth century and learnt about the history of these two kings in the Chinese Wars. The colourful temples were filled with interesting artifacts and buddhas.
From there we continued to Tam Coc which literally means "three caves." This beautifully scenic area is filled with rice paddies and limestone towers. There are small homes along the fields. It is absolutely breathtaking. We rented bicycles and cycled through the rice paddies, stopping along the way for photos.
After the bike ride we stopped for lunch at a lovely restaurant, called Anh Dzungh, which specializes in dishes made from goat. The restaurant is located in a garden and courtyard of a local shop.
Following our delicious lunch we went on an enchanting boat ride up the little Ngo Dong River. Our bamboo boat meandered through the golden rice paddies and sailed by some lovely small hotels and huts, as well as pigs and goats grazing along the shores. The driver of our boat alternated between using his feet and arms to row. We went into the three large caves with their interesting rock formations that this river is known for.
After the boat ride we headed back to Hanoi.
This evening we decided to take it easy and have dinner at our hotel followed by a massage at the hotel spa. The food at our hotel restaurant was quite good and the massage was very relaxing.
Hanoi city tour
Today we had a tour of Hanoi's cultural and historic sites. After breakfast we were picked up by our guide and driver and went to the Ambassador's Pagoda which was built between 1936-1942 in Chinese style, and contains some beautiful stone buddhas. It is the centre of Buddhist studies in Vietnam. There is a very tall Pagoda tower in the centre.
From there we visited the grand and solemn mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh which contains the embalmed corpse of Ho Chi Minh - one of Vietnam's beloved heroes. Past the mausoleum, we walked through beautifully landscaped grounds to Ho Chi Minh's modest house which is built on the complex of the former Presidential Palace. As he aged, he moved to another modest house on the complex which was built on pillars and constructed from a variety of rare wood.
Close by is the lovely one-pillar pagoda which is one of the oldest structures on the complex dating to 1049.
We stopped for lunch at Koto Restaurant across from the Temple of Literature and had a nice lunch of Vietnamese specialties. The food is very good and this restaurant is unique because they have a special training program for disadvantaged youth so it's a win-win!
After lunch we visited the Temple of Literature which is the largest and probably the most important temple complex in Hanoi. It was built in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius. It consists of two main buildings with a courtyard in the centre. This is the site of Vietnam's first national university.
We then drove through the French Quarter, admiring the beautiful architecture including the Opera House and toured the Ngoc Son Temple in Hoan Kiem Lake.
From there we took a Cyclo tour of the Old Quarter, which was a great way to see the area. A Cyclo is a three-wheel bicycle taxi. The Cyclo drivers took us through the small bustling streets where we could see the lively city and its people going about their daily lives. It was amazing. I highly recommend doing this activity as it gives a different perspective of this bustling city.
After a rest back at the hotel. Our guide picked us up and took us for an evening food tour of Hanoi. This was a lot of fun as he took us to small authentic food establishments with delicious and unique food including steam rolled rice pancakes filled with beef, topped with crispy onions and special sauce, beef noodle salad, and very tasty Pho.
Halong Bay cruise
After breakfast and checking out we were picked up by the Orchid Cruise company and driven to our cruise at Halong Bay.
Orchid Cruise offers luxury cruises in Halong Bay. Activities on the boat include kayaking, fishing, cooking class and a boat tour to the caves. The rooms are spacious and the food is beautifully displayed and delicious.
While the cruise was lovely, unfortunately the weather was mostly rain and fog and therefore we could not fully enjoy the beauty that Halong Bay is known for.
After breakfast we got onto a smaller tender boat and headed to the scenic caves which were interesting.
After lunch on the cruise we were taken back to Hanoi.
We had a few hours before heading to the airport, so we decided walk through the beautiful French Quarter and visit the Vietnamese Women's Museum. This engaging museum describes the important role women play in Vietnamese society - from family life and culture to their role in the American War as soldiers, protestors and activists.
Upon returning to our hotel we were picked up and taken to the airport for our flight to Hue.
We arrived in Hue and checked into our hotel. See my Hue and Hoi An itinerary for details.