My fascination with Vietnam began in the 1990s when my dinner table conversation would be laced with stories of the Vietnam wars. Growing up in a Bengali Communist household, I grew up on stories of the brave Vietnamese people and their fight for freedom. The fascination continued all through my childhood and into adolescence, with my love for collecting stamps, and my growing thirst to read up about the political scenario of Vietnam.

vietnam map

Large Detailed Map of Vietnam = click LINK for source

Presently, Vietnam is a fantastic country to travel to, with excellent transportation, great food, and a set of wonderful places to visit. I made my Vietnam travel plans keeping in mind that I had a limited amount of time to travel to both Vietnam and Cambodia, something I had been meaning to do for a long time. I ended up staying for about a week in Vietnam, and I intend to return there, and visit more places.

first look: Hanoi

My Journey to Hanoi from Kolkata

Buying Tickets and Making a Plan

I chose to go to Hanoi first, after contemplating for a while – I intended to enter Cambodia from Ho Chi Minh City, so it was much easier for me to book a flight from Kolkata to Hanoi with a transit stopover at Thailand. It cost me roughly 9000/- for my journey to Hanoi (about 6000/- for my trip to Thailand, and another 4000/- for a flight to Hanoi). After a lot of consideration, I picked Jetstar Airways for my transit from Bangkok to Hanoi.

Now, one important thing: If you want to go for a transit via Thailand, please get a Transit Visa from the Thai Embassy. It cost me about INR 3200/- plus service charge to get a double entry Thai Visa, but if you want you can always get a transit Visa on arrival. Just try and get the Visa done as soon as possible, and for that, refer to my Krabi Post . This post is also super-helpful if you want to chill in Thailand for a few days.

I landed in Bangkok at around 4.10 am, and was out of immigration and all the hoopla by 4.40 am. One thing – in Thailand, at least in the airports, in March 2017, THE MONEY EXCHANGES ARE NOT ACCEPTING INDIAN CURRENCY. I was carrying roughly INR 40000/- (a little over $570) in cash, and I was stranded in the airport WITHOUT and usable money. I quickly planned and used an ATM to take out 2000 Baht, but it cost me about INR 300/- as service charge, and that sucked. I ended up sulking and made up by walking around Suvarnabhumi Airport for a couple of hours until it was daylight, then took a cab to Khao San Road, and got a fix of coffee and some food there, and also convert some INR into USD around 8 am. I got a moneychanger to convert the cash, who gave me decent exchange rates as well. Here, please don’t go for the first moneychanger you see. Look around, you would see rates are different, and check the one which best fits your needs. For example, I got INR converted to Baht from one moneychanger, and then went and converted Baht to USD from another because he was giving a better exchange rate.

I returned around 12 pm to Suvarnabhumi Airport and quickly checked in because my flight was at 2.25 pm. At Check-in I was asked by the lady if I had a VIETNAM Visa Acceptance letter, and I did, so it was a breeze to get through that and security. I requested for a window seat and got one, so the entire process took me only about 10 minutes or so. Once I had finished checking in and clearing security, and moved towards the boarding of Suvarnabhumi International airport, I found an ATM which dispensed dollars, so I picked up some more (just in case), because at Vietnam and Cambodia, dollar was going to be the preferred exchange medium.

The two-hour plus flight to Vietnam was relatively unremarkable – you would have to pay to get water in the flight, so I suggest buying water BEFORE getting on the flight, since the price of water was $2 for a bottle (which I felt was pretty outrageous, given the fact that a meal was $3), and I thankfully had the good sense to buy a bottle of water right after I entered the international airport, which cost me about 15 or 20 Baht. I wasn’t too hungry because I’d eaten a lot of food at Khao San, and put my eye mask on as soon as I boarded and snoozed my way into Vietnam.

hoan kim

The addition of a Visa approval letter doesn’t help make things quick when you go – the quickest way of getting things done is to run to the Visa counter, get yourself an “On Arrival” form as soon as possible, and join the line. Start filling up your form while in the line. You would also need the following along with your filled up form:

1 – Your passport with 6 months of remaining validity

2 – Two passport size photos (4 cm x 6 cm)

3 – 25 USD for stamping fee at Vietnam airport (in cash)

Once you provide all details to the counter, you then wait for your turn. You would see names and passport photo flashing on the large screen on top of the counter – wait for your turn. It took me about 20 minutes’ wait to get my passport back, and I paid $25 to the lady at the counter who quickly gave me my stamped passport back along with a receipt.

Going to my Hotel from Noi Bai Airport

I got out of the airport and a host of cab drivers surrounded me almost immediately. Now, this is the thing: In Hanoi, you don’t have a lot of reliable taxi services, so it is a good idea to ask your hotel to pick you up from the airport. Any price under $15 is acceptable, you can negotiate for less too. The airport is roughly an hour’s drive from the Old Quarters, where I was staying, so it is probably okay to pay the amount for convenience’s sake. If you really want a good cab service, I have seen that Mia Linh cabs are good, but you should always clarify with them about going via meter, and keep Google Maps open (make it offline) to see where the cab is headed. I ended up splitting my cab fare with a guy from Netherlands, who spoke to me at length about the way he was travelling around South East Asia and would be in Japan at the end of March, and of course, I was fascinated. We ended up paying more than what we were thinking of paying, but the man did drop us at our hotels, so we were quite satisfied paying $10 each.

Hanoi Graceful Hotel

While picking hotels, especially to one I have not been to before, I tend to read a lot of reviews online, checking what people are saying about the location, the rooms, the service, etc. Based on all these factors, I booked Hanoi Graceful Hotel, located at 21 Hang Phen, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, Vietnam, which fit my budget perfectly.

hanoi graceful hotel

Now, the reason why I picked Hanoi Graceful Hotel was simple – after reading through the numerous reviews, I saw that most commented on the service, the excellent breakfast they had, and the rooms, which were clean, cozy and comfortable. I honestly wasn’t expecting much from them, but the hotel ended up being a favorite, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to visit Hanoi, because of its convenient location (quite close to the famous Night Markets, but in a slightly quiet area), peaceful and quiet ambiance, and the fact that it was close to a couple of ATMs, the very famous Hoan Kiem Lake, and a few really good food stops (one being right opposite).

bathroom fittings at Hanoi Graceful hotel

Also, they were super nice when it came to catering to my needs, and not only booked me a cab at 6.30 am on the day of my flight to Ho Chi Minh City (which was supposed to take off at 8.45 am), but also packed me a simple breakfast of bread, cheese, butter, jam, and sweetened milk. I have to admit – the bread was plain white bread, and I have never had anything like that after Vietnam. The baguette at Hanoi was also something I could sing paeans about – soft, milky, beautiful in one word.

hanoi graceful hotel stay

After I had checked in, the lady at the reception (I think her name was Moon) provided me with a map of Hanoi (which proved to be of immense help, I kid you not), a sheet which discussed how to shop at the Night market, and she also gave me change for a $20 which was converted into 440000 VND. As I had landed there on a Friday, the night markets were bustling after 7 pm, and these markets stay open till 11-12 pm., with plenty of options to eat, shop, or just plain browse.

Hoang Kim Lake

Here are some tips while buying at the Night Market in Hanoi:

  1. ALWAYS bargain, until and unless you see a fixed price shop. At fixed price shops, you can bargain down something if you are buying more than 2 pieces.
  2. If you are not interested, don’t make eye contact with the people in the shops. Eye contacts generally indicate your interest.
  3. Bargaining in VND is always better than in dollars.
  4. I bargained down a couple of things for about 50% of its price, so start really low (For example, if someone says 100,000 VND, start with 30,000, or if they say $5, you say $2. Eventually you’ll settle somewhere in the middle, depending on your bargaining skills and the willingness of the seller to sell the product).
  5. Do not be rude or unpleasant. I realized that the best hagglers were those who would smile and flirt and be nice – niceness gets you a lot of free stuff as well. As I was a female solo traveler, I got a lot of things just by being nice – like the free coconut ice cream from this one seller, or an extra pair of chopsticks from this lady who “liked my smile”.

night market hanoi

I would say that apart from Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, I really didn’t get the chance to see a lot of the city, except walking around the Old Quarters, for which, I feel quite sad. Maybe next time I’m there, I’ll go see more sights. Here’s a video to help you check out what you can do in Hanoi when you have some time in your hand.

Continued in Part II.

Written by Poorna Banerjee

    32 Comments

  1. Marina 2017-05-01 at 11:15 pm Reply

    I always like Hanoi with its crowded motorcycle and the food! Yum!

    • Poorna Banerjee 2017-05-02 at 6:30 am Reply

      One of my favorite getaways so far.

  2. Haley 2017-05-01 at 5:04 pm Reply

    Useful information, If I go to Vietnam, it most likely will be from India. Thanks for sharing. Safe travels.

    • Poorna Banerjee 2017-05-01 at 6:23 pm Reply

      Its quite easy from here! Hope you have a great trip ahead!

  3. Robert from Uncensored Travel 2017-05-01 at 1:41 pm Reply

    Vietnam here I come!

    • Poorna Banerjee 2017-05-01 at 1:44 pm Reply

      From your blog I feel you are an adventurer. Go for it!

  4. Pia 2017-05-01 at 8:27 am Reply

    I´ve been to Vietnam, especially, Ho Chi Minh, a couple of years ago. I loved. I didn´t have the chance to go to Hanoi or anything which is located in the North. Would love to do so. Love your post, it´s very informative and gives a great picture of how things going on there.

    • Poorna Banerjee 2017-05-01 at 1:58 pm Reply

      thank you Pia, you should check back for my next post on Halong Bay.

  5. Alok Verma 2017-05-01 at 6:14 am Reply

    Very descriptive blog about Vietnam, adding it to my bucket list

    • Poorna Banerjee 2017-05-01 at 6:42 am Reply

      🙂 its a beautiful place.

  6. sophie 2017-04-30 at 9:37 pm Reply

    Great post! Gotta try this very soon too! Thanks for sharing! Cheers!

    • Poorna Banerjee 2017-04-30 at 10:06 pm Reply

      🙂

    • Poorna Banerjee 2017-05-01 at 2:02 pm Reply

      🙂 thank you!

  7. Nikhil NA 2017-04-30 at 5:18 am Reply

    Great Post…
    One day i will visit Hanoi…

    • Poorna Banerjee 2017-04-30 at 4:22 pm Reply

      thanks. and please do!

  8. Harmony,Momma To Go 2017-04-30 at 1:27 am Reply

    I’ve never been to Vietnam these are great tips- crazy about the money didn’t India just change their currency or something?

    • Poorna Banerjee 2017-04-30 at 4:23 pm Reply

      Well, a lot of their money became useless. But yeah, thats a bit of a warning.

  9. Kelly 2017-04-29 at 3:39 pm Reply

    I am so sad that I didn’t get to visit Vietnam while I was in Southeast Asia. Such a wonderful place and the culture looks amazing!

    • Poorna Banerjee 2017-04-29 at 4:27 pm Reply

      Follow the next posts on my blog. I am sure you would love them!

  10. Fumiko 2017-04-29 at 2:10 pm Reply

    Thank you for tips in Hanoi ans Hanoi grace hotel looks great!!

  11. Siddharth and Shruti 2017-04-29 at 6:45 am Reply

    Vietnam is on our bucket list! Thanks for the visa tips.

    • Poorna Banerjee 2017-04-29 at 6:50 am Reply

      Most welcome!

  12. Christina Holthuis 2017-04-28 at 5:26 pm Reply

    Unfortunately I skipped Vietnam on my last SE Asia trip, but definitely bookmarking your article when I go soon 🙂 Thanks for all the info!

    • Poorna Banerjee 2017-04-28 at 9:00 pm Reply

      thanks for reading!

  13. Neelie 2017-04-28 at 1:05 pm Reply

    I loved Vietnam and Hanoi, especially the old quarter. Did you try one of those delicious home brewed beers the locals brew there?

    • Poorna Banerjee 2017-04-28 at 9:00 pm Reply

      I did!

  14. Tina 2017-04-28 at 11:55 am Reply

    Hanoi is always fun to explore and visit.

  15. Alexxa 2017-04-28 at 11:50 am Reply

    I loved Hanoi. So many memories. Thanks for resurfacing them 🙂

  16. Kellie 2017-04-28 at 10:14 am Reply

    I love Hanoi! Great photos.

    • Poorna Banerjee 2017-04-28 at 10:21 am Reply

      thank you so much! Next stop, Halong bay!

  17. JM Kayne 2017-04-28 at 10:12 am Reply

    I have many friends in Vietnam and I wanna visit there soon! Thank you for these tips and info!

    God Bless!
    JM Kayne | http://www.iamjmkayne.com

  18. Danica 2017-04-28 at 10:07 am Reply

    Nice

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