Cheap country whose capital abound historical attractions, and which access to the coast comprises the lush waters and limestone peaks of Halong Bay, UNESCO heritage.
How to get to Hanoi
To go from Mandalay to Vietnam by AirAsia, I had to make a quick stop in Bangkok. In this middle of the way I joined the group of Brazilians with whom I had planned the trip together. Diego, Renato, Fernando, Camila, Carol, Andreia and Thais were my companions in the following 12 days.
Pay close attention to immigration! It is necessary to obtain a letter of approval previously through the internet, as I did, or at an embassy. I paid 10 dollars for the letter and another 25 dollars for the stamp at immigration, in the case of a single entry of 1 to 3 months. For multiple entries in that period it would cost 50, or 135 for a year.
The official language of Vietnam is the Vietnamese (duh!), a tonal language characterized in its writing by different accents present even in consonants. Despite this confusion, one can get by just with English, spoken by a good portion of those involved with activities and places linked to tourism.
When we were leaving the airport terminal, we saw an unusual scene. A bunch of teenagers eagerly awaited the arrival of the Korean female band EXID, which we had no idea who were they.
We paid 500 thousand dongs (22 dollars) divided by 8 for a van from Noi Bai International Airport to See You Lily’s Hostel, distante from there, in Hanoi downtown. In comparison to the previous hostels, this one left to be desired, mainly in the cleaning question.
In the hostel’s alley there are some establishments for eating and drinking. That’s what we did next.
In the morning, we went out to see the center of the city on foot. The amount of motorcycles is absurd, and it is an arduous task to cross the streets. At least the vendors are not pushy, so walking by the sidewalks is fair.
We went through buildings from the French colonial period and the Hoan Kiem Lake, where the natives relaxed at the weekend.
On the other side is Ba Đình Square, where Ho Chi Minh leader proclaimed Vietnam’s independence in 1945. Around it there is a complex of Ho Chi Minh memorial attractions, such as mausoleum, house, museum, palace and gardens.
After lunch at a quite expensive restaurant in the noble area, we paid 40,000 dongs for the nearby Vietnamese military history museum. The most interesting part are the historical artifacts like guns, in addition to the large vehicles captured. In addition, the information in English is scarce.
We passed one of the stores with items from the expensive North Face adventure brand. The prices here are excellent, since the clothes and backpacks are manufactured there, and probably not legalized. For just 89 dollars I bought jacket, pants and gloves made with Gore-Tex, the fabric that at the same time is waterproof and breathable. How original they are I’ll never know, but at least the ones I got worked out well. Our whole group took advantage and bought it too, it even seemed that we were being sponsored by the brand where we were going to!
One interesting thing I noticed is that, unlike the surrounding countries, the goods trade is done in small stores, not on the sidewalks, leaving them free for pedestrians and motorcycles.
We chose to watch the traditional theatrical performance Four Palaces Show at the Viet Theater. With 2 daily sessions (6:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.), tickets cost from 125,000 dongs, but since it was relatively empty and there were 8 of us, we got a seat upgrade. The band that plays is cool and the clothes well elaborated, but it is a bit repetitive and monotonous.
Then it would happen in front of the Hanoi Opera House the Earth Hour, an event that takes place annually around the world with the lights switched off for 1 hour, to alert for the sustainability of our planet. In Hanoi there were musical shows and lively dances at that time with (famous?) artists.
When we left, we found several people gathering in circles of music and dance scattered around the center. Oddly, no one was drinking in the streets…
Unlike the place we went to end the night: the lively nightclub Ball 7 Bar. We were the oldest and the only foreigners there, but we enjoyed the globalized sound, not Vietnamese, nonetheless.
We got a discounted group rate at the Halong Bay Castaway Tour for doing a cruise for 2 days and 1 night cruise on Halong Bay, at 90 dollars each. A bus took us for about 3 and a half hours to the terminal where we took the boat.
The boat called Dragon Pearl had 2 floors and the roof, but the comfort and cleanliness were not the very good.
While we had a nice lunch with even shrimp, the cruise crossed the bay, passing through the vertical limestone hills and the greenish waters, listed as UNESCO heritage.
At one point the cruise stopped at a place where we kayaked through caves and on the edge of forests with monkeys.
Unfortunately, the weather was cloudy and windy for the whole time we were on the cruise, even getting a little chilly at night.
As soon as we finished dinner the best part of the trip started, which was the 3 hours of free draft beer. In the party we interacted with the other tourists of the boat, a group of Filipinos and another one of Swedes.
With a bit of hangover we got our last meals and returned, stopping briefly in Hanoi before flying with Vietjet Air to Da Nang for 409 thousand dongs.