Travel Tips for Vietnam – Hanoi, Halong Bay and Ninh Binh

Northern Vietnam, nestled in Southeast Asia, boasts a remarkable blend of history, culture, and natural wonders. In November, my journey through Hanoi, Halong Bay, and Ninh Binh unraveled a captivating adventure. Here are some travel tips for Hanoi, Halong Bay, and Ninh Binh.

Travel Tips for Hanoi

At 28 km from Hanoi city center, Noi Bai International Airport offers cab services, SIM cards, and currency exchange counters. The rates for currency exchange at the airport were better than at any currency exchange agency around my hotel in Hanoi city. For the best currency exchange rates, consider using services available at the airport or banks.

The Grab App became my go-to savior in Hanoi. It’s hassle-free, and the cabs are reliably punctual with polite drivers. Whenever I needed to get anywhere across the city, I relied on the Grab App for smooth and convenient rides. I also used it to order dishes I wanted to try from restaurants I couldn’t visit due to time constraints.

Best Areas to Stay – Aim to book a hotel near the old quarters, church, and Train Street. It is here that most major tours commence. It’s the heart of Hanoi. The Old Quarter’s labyrinthine alleys offer a sensory delight. Areas near old quarters and Train Street exude the aroma of street food—pho, banh mi, and ca phe sua da. Dive into the city’s chaos! Take a leisurely stroll around West Lake to experience the city’s essence.

Hanoi night view

Water Puppet Show – Booking front-row seats for the water puppet show is must. Seriously, if you are not in few front rows all you will see is the back of heads of other people. This unique theatrical experience traces its origins back to the 11th century when farmers in the Red River Delta used flooded rice fields as their stage, entertaining villagers with elaborate puppetry. The narration is in Vietnamese, but they do offer a language translation headset at a counter just before entering the theater. The theater is located near Hoan Kiem Lake’s which has a tranquil beauty.

Water Puppet Show

Hanoi Train Street – Experience the thrill of standing mere inches away from passing trains as they navigate through the narrow alleyways of Hanoi’s Train Street, a unique and thrilling sight to behold. However, the over-commercialization of Train Street was a bit disheartening. Instead of experiencing the culture, it became more about buying and selling, especially during the daytime.

Hanoi Train Street

While I respect Cyclo and Boot Polish men, be vigilant for any deals you engage with them.

Visit the historic Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s oldest university built way back in the 11th century, follow the teachings of Confucius. You’ll feel the vibes of wisdom and learning seeping through its ancient walls. A visit to the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, the leader who led Vietnam to independence, is a must.

The corridors and cells of the French jail in Hanoi, or Hoa Lo Prison, which was used to house political prisoners during the French colonial period, are frightening. The prison was also used to hold captured US soldiers during the Vietnam War.

The city tour includes One Pillar Pagoda. Its design was inspired by the elegant lotus flower, and it’s a unique spot to snap some photos. Tran Quoc Pagoda in West Lake stands tall with its striking red exterior, giving spiritual vibes. There is a peaceful atmosphere at the Quan Thanh Temple. It’s got this incredible bronze statue inside that’s over a thousand years old.

Travel Tips for Halong Bay

Halong Bay translates to “Descending Dragon Bay,” and according to local legend, the karst formations were created by dragons sent by the gods to protect the region from invaders.

Choose the best travel operator, even if it costs a few extra dollars. Comfort is crucial for the full-day tour, considering the approximately two hour journey from Hanoi and the same time to return. The bus and cruise should be comfortable, especially during the hot season, choose travel with full AC. Avoid overly crowded cheap options.

There is usually not enough time on Ti Top Island. Confirm how long you would stay there. Under 45 minutes, you have two options: either relax and swim on the beach or climb about 450 steps to reach the peak of island. Prefer to relax and swim on the beach.

Halong Bay, adorned with more than 1,600 limestone karsts and islets, with myriad of mysterious caves. Venturing into these caverns was an adventure like no other. The Sung Sot Cave (Surprise Cave), with intricate stalactites and stalagmites, left me in awe of nature’s artistry.

Choose to Kayak in Halong only if you are an expert in Kayaking. The other option is a Bamboo Boat ride with 6 people on board, which is a better if you want to take pictures and have the boatman guide you to Luon Cave to experience the beautiful lagoon.

Overall, the Halong Bay Day Tours are very rushed and there is not enough time to relax. You can choose an overnight cruise in Halong Bay to witness its magical transformation at dawn and dusk. You can also get a chance to witness the bioluminescent plankton, creating a surreal spectacle at night, especially during certain times of the year, particularly the dry season.

Ninh Binh

Ninh Binh, known as “Halong Bay on Land,” is a beautiful place.

Unravel the history of Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam and Dinh King Temple dating back to the 17th Century. The story of how and why the capital of Vietnam was moved from Hoa Lu to Hanoi is very interesting. It feels great to experience the spiritual heritage at Bai Dinh Pagoda.

The sampan boat ride, rowed by locals, sails along the Ngo Dong River, passing through Karst hills, rice fields, caves, and winding waterways. The journey through caves and waterways feels like being on Skull Island, and this holds true to some extent. Ninh Binh’s beautiful landscapes were featured in the movie ‘Kong: Skull Island.’ The boats are typically rowed by elderly retired individuals who always appreciate a tip.

Mua Caves offer breathtaking views of the picturesque landscape. Trek up to the top of Ngoa long mountain to see spectacular rice valley during the golden hours of sunrise or sunset to witness the surreal beauty of the nature.

Mua caves

Vietnam is truly something special. The people there are so friendly, and the culture and beautiful nature is something everyone should see at least once in their life. If you’re looking for a place that’s welcoming, full of history, and absolutely stunning, Northern Vietnam is a must-visit on your travel list.