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I had no intention of extending my stay in Halong.
I decided to spend my final 8 nights in Hanoi before flying on to The Philippines. I stayed in the Old Quarter (where most Tourists go).
The Hanoi Old Quarter was what I was expecting… just another big city tourist area like District 1 in Saigon (I’m not a fan of big cities) with Tourist Shops, Tourist Restaurants and Tourist Bars inter-mingled with Chinese Style Shops, street stalls, and local cafes.
Many people say that Old Quarter Hanoi has more ‘character’ than District 1 Saigon; I couldn’t see much difference between them… except for the fact that Saigon has a much longer summer.
I made my way by Tourist Bus from Halong to Hanoi. The whole trip took 6 hours door-to-door with 4 hours of that cramped into small seats next to the over-flow of luggage.
The Tourist Bus dropped me off about 50 metres from my hotel.
This was one of the reasons for and benefits of booking the Tourist Bus and not a standard ‘local’ bus.
A local bus would have dropped me off at the Bus Station far from the Old Quarter – and I would have incurred the cost of a taxi from my Halong hotel to the Halong bus station and another from the Hanoi bus station to my Old Quarter hotel – which would not have come cheap. A local bus would have been ‘false economy’.
Where as, the Tourist Buses are designed to take Tourists from their Old Quarter hotels to / from Halong Bay.
GETTING TRAVEL MONEY:
I bank with the ANZ Bank, New Zealand.
The ANZ have ATMs in Hanoi which means that I can avoid Foreign ATM Transaction Fees. It is worth checking whether or not this is true for your own bank (and whether or not your own bank has business agreements with other banks in Hanoi). If so, you can usually ‘exceed’ the local bank transaction limits and not pay ATM fees.
You will find that the ‘local bank ATMs’ are limited to VND2m per withdrawal… which means that you lose a significant percentage in fees on every transaction.
SAFETY & DRUGS:
Hanoi is known for its ‘drive-by snatchings’. Don’t display or carry anything that can be easily ‘snatched’ out of your hands or off of your person.
This includes things like necklaces which can be ripped from your neck and handbags or laptop bags that can be ripped from your shoulders.
In particular, do not stand on the side of the road with your smartphone in hand (checking google maps, etc). If you have to, always step far away from passing motorbikes.
A rule of thumb is ‘if you don’t need it, don’t carry it’.
Other than the chance of drive-by thefts and pick-pockets, Hanoi seemed reasonably safe. You don’t feel uncomfortable walking home late at night / early in the morning. But, caution is always advised.
The expats in Hanoi seem to have no problem getting hold of Marijuana. In many ‘pubs’ the expats openly ‘skin up’ and pass their joints around. The locals and owners don’t seem to care.
I still had my Viettel SIM card that I bought on arrival in Saigon. It was topped up in Nha Trang and again in Hoi An. After the poor WiFi in Quan Lan and Halong, I had to top it up one more time in Hanoi before leaving for The Philippines. VND50k gave me 900MB of Data for 1 week.
Vietnam is, generally, very good for internet access with almost all Accommodation, Restaurants, Cafes, and Bars offering decent and reliable Free WiFi. Obviously, some are better than others.
Sometimes their wifi is so slow that you appreciate being able to ‘fall back on’ your own mobile data plan operating at 3G speeds.
ACCOMMODATION / WHERE TO STAY:
I decided to make sure that my final 8 nights in Vietnam were comfortable ones.
The hotel was one of AGODA’s ‘3 Star Secret’ deals… it was being offered at US$16 / night which was a ‘45% discount’.
I had already determined that I needed to pay about US$14 to get a GRANDPAcking Standard Double Room anyway – so this meant that I was paying another US$2 / night (VND45k) to get a buffet breakfast. You can easily pay that for a simple breakfast out on the streets…
With these ‘secret deals’, you do not know the hotel until after you have booked and paid for the room with your credit card.
I had already shortlisted the Atrium on BOOKING.COM as one of my favourites, so I was happy with the result.
I booked a GRANDPAcking Standard Double Room.
I was given a room on the 3rd floor. The hotel has a lift but it stops ‘between floors’ so that you have to walk up half a flight of stairs to get to / from it.
The buffet breakfast was simple but adequate and included:
- Free all-day tea and coffee
- A chef to cook your eggs how you like them
- Fried noodles or rice
- Fried green vegetables
- Fried slices of Vietnamese sausage
- Slices of Tomato / Cucumber
- Slices of cold meat (and, sometimes, cheese)
- Bananas and one other fruit
- White bread and a toaster with butter and jam
- A couple of other variable items
Getting breakfast included not only sets you up for the day but helps to save money. It is usually better to pay a little extra for a hotel with breakfast included than to go for a cheaper hotel and seek out your own breakfast.
My Atrium Room was not as nice as the pictures but was OK. What AGODA failed to say in the hotel room description (prior to booking) is that the room had no window – something that I feel should have been mentioned ‘up-front’ and not after the room had been paid for.
The room was listed as 18sqm but several of those sqms were hallway. This meant that the room, itself, was on the small side.
The cable TV was Vietnamese focused. The movie channels were ‘dubbed’ and there was only 1 movie channel that wasn’t: Cinemax (which didn’t have the best movies).
The ensuite had a separate shower cubicle – which was a nice change from the ‘wet rooms’ that I had been staying in for the past 2-3 months.
The aircon was so noisy that I had to open the casing to stop it vibrating; this exposed filters that were covered in dust – they, obviously, had not been cleaned for a very long time.
The next morning I asked reception to have a look at it for me. I was staying 8 nights and didn’t want to put up with it for that long. Besides, I had no window to open for fresh air so I needed the aircon.
They said ‘yes’ but no-one came – or, perhaps, they did but didn’t do anything about it.
The Hanoi roads are chaotic and there are no pedestrian pavements for you to walk on… well, there are but they are always ‘blocked’ by street stalls, shops spilling onto the streets, and parked motorbikes. You end up walking on the road with the busy traffic.
You have to take constant care when walking around and look in every direction at every junction. I always walked on the left side of the road so that I could see on-coming traffic… but that isn’t always the case because (in South East Asia) it is common for traffic to drive up a street the wrong way if it gets them to where they want to go faster (or means that they don’t have to stop).
This, in my opinion, makes scooter or bicycle rental unrealistic for most GRANDPAckers.
Around the Old Quarter, you can walk everywhere.
To go further afield (to, say, a shopping mall for a day out) you will want to catch a taxi. As always, agree prices up front; taxi drivers in Hanoi are notorious for ripping off Tourists.
One group of Tourists that I met (from NZ) jumped in a taxi to go 4kms to a shopping mall. The going rate should be about VND10k / km. The taxi meter started at VND10k (as it should) but at 1km it kicked up to VND300k. The taxi driver had set the meter at VND300k / km. They told the taxi driver to stop so that they could get out. They, obviously, refused to pay and a heated argument ensued. They did not pay.
The Hanoi Old Quarter is not the cheapest place to be. This surprised me a little bit because many sites show Hanoi as one of the cheapest places in the world. This may be true in the suburbs, but it is not so true in the Old Quarter.
There are some rustic ‘local cafes’ and ‘street stalls’ where you can get ‘standard fare‘ for about VND30k. This is typical of the whole of Vietnam. I haven’t bothered taking pictures because they are all the same as pictures that I have provided in other postings for Vietnam.
As a good example: a street stall baguette in the Old Quarter will cost VND25k (and VND20k on the edges of the Old Quarter). In Hoi An, you pay VND15k and VND10k, respectively. In Cat Ba you paid VND20k and VND15k, respectively.
If you sit down in a street-side Bia Hoi, the simplest meal will cost you VND50k. This might be a small plate of deep fried chicken wings (with no rice).
A simple burger (the size of a Burger King Jnr) with a small french fries costs about VND70-90k in the cheapest places (like Gecko’s)… in ‘pubs’ you can pay up to VND200k for the same.
There aren’t many ‘middle-ground’ options. You are either eating cheap for VND30k or western for VND100k plus.
I fancied an Indian one night so went down to Foodshop45 (which gets good reviews). I had 2 spicy poppadoms with dips, a Chicken & Cashew curry, and a Plain Naan for VND150k. It was nothing special.
Again, the Old Quarter is not the cheapest place to be.
The cheapest Bia Hoi charge VND5k for a small draft. Some ask as much as VND15k. Compare this to somewhere like Hoi An where you pay VND3k and get 3 for the price of 2… which doesn’t seem right given that Hanoi is meant to be ‘the home of Bia Hoi’.
The Bia Hoi bars near where I stayed were good at the weekends as the surrounding streets were cordoned off to cars so that local bands could set up in the middle of the street and play music (no charge). It is a nice way to spend an evening with the band playing a mixture of western covers and Vietnamese music.
A local bottle of beer (like a Bia Ha Noi) which costs VND10k in other places in Vietnam starts at VND20k. A Tiger which can cost as little at VND10k (somewhere like Cat Ba in Happy Hour) starts at VND30k.
Go into a Pool Bar or Sports Bar or Pub and a beer typically starts at VND30k for local beers and VND40k for a Tiger. Even in Happy Hour, you will be hard-pushed to get a Tiger for under VND20k.
In Old Quarter, Hanoi you need to search out the Happy Hours to keep in budget.
WATCH OUT for the western bars… start drinking ‘shorts’ or wine and the costs can easily get out of control… I had a bit of a party in the Goc Pho Corner Pub and bought a round of 3 Whiskeys and a round of 3 Jaeger Bombs (on top of my Tigers) – my bill at the end of the night was over VND700k!
The Goc Phu Corner Pub was my favourite. Good music and lots of expats to meet and talk to… with a splattering of Tourists passing through. You get a good quality game of Pool there (they have some excellent expat and Vietnamese players). Don’t under-estimate the local Vietnamese girls… they can play. The place has an Happy Hour between 5pm and 8pm with half priced Tigers for VND20k. The trouble is that it is easy to stick around for the rest of the night (having too much fun) and before you know it, you are walking out at 2am!
If you go into westernised pubs, I suggest that you ‘pay as you go’ so that you know what’s going on and ensure that there are no ‘cost surprises’ at the end of the night.
WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO / WHERE TO GO:
There are plenty of Tour operators to choose from. All of which offer the ‘standard fare’ of trips to Halong Bay, Sapa, etc and tours of the city. A day trip to Halong Bay including a 4 hour Halong Bay Cruise costs about US$65 (it is a long day and includes about 8 hours of Tourist Bus travel).
I didn’t do any. After 3 months in Vietnam, I had seen what i wanted to see.
A walk north to Tay and Truc Back Lakes offers some peace.
PRICES / SHOPPING:
The Old Quarter is riddled with all sorts of shops selling everything from hardware to souvenirs. If you are a good ‘negotiator’, prices are good.
I needed some light-weight walking shoes. I went down to the ‘shoe store’ streets just north of Hoan Kiem lake and found a pair of Nike shoes that I liked (not trainers but those new material type slip on ones). He asked for VND370k. I signalled for him to bring the price down. He entered VND345k into his smartphone. I entered VND300k. He agreed immediately and we shook hands.
This is about NZ$21. I know from looking in NZ before I left that they cost over NZ$100 back home.
You can get the latest fabric trainers (like Nike and Adidas) for about VND600k. They would cost over VND2m back in NZ.
Clothes are also a bargain – if that’s what you are looking for. Many of the ‘branded’ clothes are fakes. If you want to guarantee ‘originals’ you will have to go to the modern Shopping Malls and pay the premium.
It is a 3 story Mall with lots of clothes stores and very little walking space between them.
I needed to get to Hanoi Airport (Noi Bai) for my Cebu Pacific flight to The Philippines.
The ‘typical’ taxi fare is about VND350k. Some airlines (like Air Vietnam) provide a shulle bus for VND40k – but their offices are not in central Old Quarter, so you may still have to add a taxi fare to get from your hotel to their office. Pre-booking may be wise. The trip to the airport from the Old Quarter takes about 1 hour.
My flight didn’t leave until 1am so I had plenty of time to kill after checking out of my hotel at midday. So, I decided to burn up some time and catch a local bus.
There are 2 local buses that get you from the Old Quarter to the Airport. Depending on where your hotel is, you either catch the Number 7 or the Number 17. The Number 17 bus stop was 50 meters from my hotel so I caught that one. It takes 1.5 hours to get to the airport and costs VND9k.
Hanoi is, obviously, a Retirement destination for those who like such city life.
However, I will not include it in my Retirement Reviews because there’s is nothing special for me to add that is not already on the internet.
You can, probably, tell from this posting that Hanoi is NOT the paradise location that I am looking for.
A western quality 2 bedroom apartment close to the Old Quarter will cost you between US$450 and US$600 / month. This should include standard utilities, internet, and cable tv. Electricity, however, is usually additional to that.
Hanoi has a shorter summer than places down south, so aircon is not needed as much. You should, therefore, expect your electricity costs to average US$50-75 / month (rather than the US$100 / month in places like Phu Quoc or Hoi An).
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