At around this time last year, I was touring around a place I never thought I’d plan on visiting. Some travelers would usually prioritize countries which are famous for a landmark or an activity or a theme park, say Hong Kong because of Disneyland, Singapore because of Universal Studios, Thailand to go shopping in Bangkok, or Malaysia for a picture in front of the famous Petronas Towers. Out of sheer curiosity, I booked a flight for me, my brother, his girlfriend, my aunt, and cousin to Hanoi, Vietnam.
For five days, we explored Hanoi and realized how it resembled the Philippines in so many ways. We stayed in a small hotel in the Dong Xuan market area, which is in the Hoan Kiem district. Hoan Kiem district is named after the placid lake which is one of the scenic spots in the city. We availed of two tour packages from a nearby hotel – one to tour the tourist spots in Hoan Kiem and in Hanoi such as The Old Quarter, National Museum of Vietnam History, and the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. The other one was of course to see for ourselves Ha Long Bay. It’s interesting to know why the UNESCO World Heritage Site made it to the list of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.
Walking around the Dong Xuan market area, we felt like we weren’t in a foreign land at all! Well except that they were speaking a different language, which is Vietnamese or tiếng Việt. I was mistaken for a Vietnamese twice – at the hotel where we booked our tour packages and when we started the tour. The tour guide said that I look like them because I’m petite and tan.
We usually stroll around the Hoan Kiem lake after our tour or to while away time.
Walking around the lake is relaxing, plus I always have fun looking at signs and names of establishments in the area.
Our tours were tiring but equally fun and of course, we learned about the history of Vietnam.
The highlight of the trip was our Ha Long Bay tour. Ha Long literally means “descending dragon bay.” It was around two hours away by bus from Hoan Kiem. We went inside caves and saw some of the many islets in the entire area of the bay. It was exhausting but worth it. A visit to Hanoi would be incomplete if you don’t see for yourself the beauty of Ha Long Bay.
For the rest of our stay in Hanoi, we walked around the area and with the help of an iPhone map, located some of the landmarks that we should also stop by at.
I never regret having toured around Hanoi despite its simplicity and likeness to the streets of Manila. In fact, that made everything a bit easier for us. The people in generally were friendly, but expect that not everyone understands straight English.
I’d like to share some tips if and when you plan on seeing the country for yourself:
When buying something, you just point and ask how much. Sometimes, you don’t even have to ask because they will tell you how much. Just make sure you check your money carefully before paying because the many zeros on the paper bills make it confusing at times.
Bring US dollars with you because there are no money changers in the area which can convert Philippine Peso to Vietnam Dong. (current conversion: Php1.00 = 508.57VND)
Bring an umbrella with you in case your trip is scheduled during Hanoi’s winter season (November to April). During my visit there, it was cold at night and even drizzling at times.
Bring or download a map, or better yet, activate your phone’s GPS. In Dong Xuan, there are many streets and alleyways which might confuse you so you better have a handy map to check if you get lost.
There’s no Starbucks in Hanoi so if you’re craving for coffee, you have to settle for the other coffee shops. There’s a Highlands Coffee shop branch in front of Hoan Kiem lake.
Be careful when crossing! Motorcycles are all over the place. They don’t mind sometimes even if the traffic light signals them to stop.
Hanoi is where Kipling and The North Face bags are manufactured, so bring extra money for shopping! Authentic bags are sold even in tiangge-looking areas so make sure you know how to differentiate an original from a fake one. They’re about PHP1-2k cheaper than the ones sold here.
Bring rubber shoes and flip-flops for walking around the city. Sunnies and caps will also be useful in the afternoon. You’ll do a lot of walking around the city if you take the Hanoi City tour.
Hanoi is one hour behind Manila. Flight duration from Manila to Hanoi is about 2 hours and 30 minutes. For this trip, I spent around Php15,000 which included all my expenses (except for the unreasonably high travel tax and airport fees in NAIA).