Heading to Hanoi

Hanoi was our last city together and the farthest north Emilie and I would be heading. We had heard that Hanoi would be a lot busier and dirtier than Ho Chi Minh City, so we were preparing for the worst. But I don’t think it was all that bad! We were also told that Hanoi, since it was in the north, would be a lot cooler. Unfortunately, that was also not true and we suffered through more sweltering days.

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They call this Vietnamese Spaghetti

They call this Vietnamese Spaghetti

Vibe of the city
Hanoi kind of had a cool city vibe. Emilie actually said that it was one of her favourite spots; she liked that it was less touristy and more real. I loved that there were such distinct streets and neighbourhoods. For example, our hotel was located on Toys Street where every other shop was a toy store. To get there we had to drive through Clothes Street. And to get to one of our favourite restaurants we walked down Shoe Street and Home Improvement Avenue. Basically, every few blocks had a different niche.

But people weren’t wrong about the streets being busy. Most of the shops exploded onto the sidewalk or opened restaurants onto the sidewalk so we spent most of our time walking on the road and trying to avoid cars and motorbikes.

Our favourite foods

Delicious pancake wraps!

Delicious pancake wraps!

We made a few awesome foods finds during our time in Hanoi, mainly thanks to Emilie’s awesome app, Happy Cow, that locates veg-friendly restaurants with good reviews. On our first night, we went to this fried wrap/pancake restaurant where you get to assemble the wraps yourself. We actually ended up going back there for our last dinner in Hanoi too. Another great find was a bun cha restaurant with delicious bun noodles. It was the spot where local food tours visited, so I think we made the right choice.

Our favourite smoothie place!

Our favourite smoothie place!

Right around the corner from our hotel was a bun stand that sold delicious chocolate buns. Our hotel breakfast was sort of lacking so this was a nice supplement. And then there was the great smoothie place that we stumbled upon. One night after dinner, Emilie and I were saying how much we would love to get some fresh smoothies. So we started walking, down Kitschy Home Decor Lane, and happened to find a tiny little smoothie shop on the corner with tons of cool combinations. So yum!

Hoa Lo Prison
Emilie and I aren’t huge museum people. We actually hadn’t done too many educational or historical activities throughout the trip. But we decided to pay a visit to Hoa Lo Prison while we were in Hanoi. The prison was originally built by the French to house Vietnamese prisoners and then by the Vietnamese to house American POWs. It’s the prison where John McCain was held. It was really interesting to walk through the actual prison and see the rooms and all of the old artifacts. But what was more interesting was the spin put on the museum. The treatment of the Vietnamese prisoners was depicted as very bleak and cruel while the treatment of the American prisoners was shown as pretty cheery. For example, there was an entire exhibit about the different torture devices used on Vietnamese prisoners. Meanwhile, the room talking about American prisoners showed them decorating a Christmas tree and playing basketball. Emilie and I both admitted that we don’t know enough about Vietnam’s history but the visit to the prison definitely wanted to make us learn more.

The lake
There’s this lake near the Old Quarter of Hanoi that is really pretty. On our first day in the city, Emilie and I decided to just walk around it. Our first stop was this red bridge that goes across the water to a temple. Except, they wanted to charge us to go across and the temple seemed pretty mediocre. So we just stood on one side and admired it. The gate was also quite pretty, there was a pagoda we could look at and the cutest group of little daycare kids walked by. They were all in a row and had to hold onto the shirt of the kid in front of them. Too cute!

How cute are these munchkins?

The Mausoleum & One Pillar Pagoda

On our last day in Hanoi, Emilie and I walked over to some of Hanoi’s most famous sites. It was a bit of a long walk, in lots of heat and, to be honest, the monuments at the end were a bit of a letdown. The mausoleum is where Ho Chi Minh is buried. And according to a Google search, CNN ranked it the 6th ugliest building in the world. I didn’t think it was all that ugly but it was a bit of a letdown. We couldn’t even get close to it, or else guards would blow a whistle and make sure you got back to standing behind the line.

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Next was the One Pillar Pagoda, which Ho Chi Minh had demanded be built after he had a dream about it. But it was also a pretty big let down. It was tiny! Like the size of a treehouse on one very thick pillar. I guess I’m glad we saw them, since they are some of Hanoi’s more famous monuments, but I definitely don’t think we would’ve missed anything if we hadn’t gone.

Unimpressive, right?

Unimpressive, right?

Spa Day!
Ever since we first arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Emilie and I have walked past tons of spas and the promise of $6 manicures. So on our last day in Hanoi, we decided to splurge and spend the afternoon at a really nice spa near where we were having lunch. We ended up paying for the more expensive pedicure, a whopping $15, for an hour worth of bliss. We were very tempted to add on a massage or something after we were done so we could stay in the heavenly spa a bit longer.

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Hanoi was also the last city Emilie and I were hitting together. We did two days in Hanoi, two days in Halong Bay, and another day in Hanoi. So after our afternoon at the spa, we had dinner back at our pancake/wrap restaurant and then the next morning, we were saying our goodbyes over pancakes. It was so wonderful to have a full two weeks of exploring Vietnam with Emilie. She was the perfect travel companion and our travel styles (air con breaks, cheap eats and in bed by 9) meshed perfectly. And if it wasn’t for her, I probably would’ve spent all day lying in the hotel with the air conditioning blasting and eating at the closest restaurant. I hadn’t travelled with a friend for a while so this was a really nice opportunity to do so and spend more time with Emilie in a new country.

Next up: Cruising Halong Bay!

The Hotels of Vietnam

I usually don’t spend a ton of time talking about my accommodations during a trip, but the hotels we stayed in during our Vietnam trip were almost an experience in themselves. Case in point: I am currently writing this from my upgraded hotel room on Phu Quoc Island where I can enjoy the air con and a view while I wait for the sun to tone it down a bit.

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Here was our criteria for selecting hotel rooms:

  • Close to the city center
  • Good reviews (4/5)
  • Clean
  • Good WiFi
  • Air conditioning
  • Within our budget

Bonus points:

  • Free breakfast
  • Two beds

Things we would’ve given more bonus points to, had we known at the time of booking:

  • Separate shower area with good water pressure and hot water
  • Outlets by the bed
  • An elevator
  • Nice staff

We very quickly adjusted to Vietnamese pricing and set our nightly budget at no more than $30 CAD/night split between the two of us. Most of our rooms came in around $22-27/night. I know, we were living large. It blows my mind how affordable all of these places were.

Here we go!

Hello House, Ho Chi Minh City

Our lovely hotel

Pros: The staff were the best here. They helped us carry our bags and one time when I left my shoes outside, they locked them up in a little cubby for me. Other pros here were the location (right in the main backpackers drag but off the busy street), yummy breakfast and cleanliness.

Cons: For me, the stairs were a big hassle with my suitcase. We were impressed by the room since it was our first stop, but it actually ended up being one of the smaller rooms of our stay and we had to share a double bed. It was also our first experience without a separate shower area meaning the entire bathroom would get soaked when you showered. But all of this was made up for with the superb service and delicious passion fruit juice at breaky 🙂

Verdict: Would stay again! But would pack a lighter bag or request a room on a lower floor.

Can Tho hotel

Pros: There were two beds. And the shower was technically separate.

Cons: This was probably our worst hotel stay of the trip. It was arranged by our Mekong Delta tour (more on that in my next post) so it wasn’t our fault that it was so bad. There were ants everywhere, the breakfast was awful, the WiFi didn’t work on our floor and, worst of all, the air con stopped working part way through the night and I thought I was going to die. The beds were also super hard and the shower head was mounted at belly button height.

Verdict: Could not pay me enough to stay here again

Full House, Hoi An

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Pros: Oh, we loved this place! The owner, Lee, was so sweet. Our room was on the second floor (and the actual second floor this time, unlike in HCMC) and had two single beds with outlets right above them. There was an air conditioning unit and a fan. Plus, while the shower wasn’t separate from the rest of the bathroom, it was the best water pressure we had all trip. Oh and the breakfast – best banana pancakes ever! And a full plate of fresh fruit!

Cons: The only downside of this place was that it was a bit of a walk into town. We picked it because we thought it would be good to be halfway between town and the beach. Turns out we were about a 20 minute walk into town and maybe a 40 min walk to the beach.

Verdict: Would 100% stay here again! They even gave us little magnets as souvenirs when we left!

Hong Thien Ruby Hotel, Hue

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Living life large in Hue

Pros: We were upgraded at this hotel to a better room and it was well worth the wait (while we waited, they also gave us a fruit platter and fresh juice, so really no complaints). We each got our own double bed, there were outlets a-plenty and the whole room felt very luxurious.

Cons: While there was a separate tub/shower the hot water didn’t last long enough for a full shower. And the breakfast area in the morning was pretty crowded. More importantly, the staff seemed a bit insincere and sales-y, which kind of put us off. But we were only there for one night, so it wasn’t too bad.

Verdict: Would probably stay here again if I ever find myself back in Hue.

Hanoi Heart Hotel, Hanoi

Pros: We were smack dab in the middle of the Old Quarter, which was convenient.

Cons: We did not enjoy this hotel. Mainly, the staff were extremely sales-y and definitely travel agents first and hotel staff second. We had a few issues with them: wanting to charge me $1USD/minute to place a collect call to my bank and overcharging us for laundry. All of our interactions with them just felt very uncomfortable. And then there was the room. On our first two nights, we were in a pretty good room: two beds, separate shower and an elevator to our room on the 6th floor. But when we returned from Halong Bay for another two nights, we got moved to a dump. Our room was on the 7th floor directly across from the kitchen. There were ants everywhere, the bathroom was teeny and smelled like paint, and the elevator only went to the 6th floor so we had to take a narrow staircase up with our heavy bags. It was a major downgrade. The staff sort of smiled and apologized but didn’t do anything to fix the issue. Also, their breakfast was incredibly oily.

Verdict: Would not stay again

Halong Bay & Cat Ba Island hotels

Our cabin on the boat

Our cabin on the boat

Pros: So on our Halong Bay cruise we stayed one night on the boat and a second night on Cat Ba Island. After our terrible hotel experience with our Mekong Delta tour, we were pretty nervous. Turns out, we didn’t have to be! Our night on the boat was actually quite comfortable. And the room on Cat Ba was large with separate beds and tons of space. Plus, the food on the boat was delicious!

Cons: The boat didn’t have WiFi which might make it the only place in Vietnam without an internet connection.

Verdict: If I were to cruise Halong Bay again I would be happy to stay at both of these places once more!

T & T Resort, Phu Quoc Island

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King bed = my dream

Pros: Again, I was lucky enough to get an upgrade! My room has a king sized bed (I’m traveling solo now so one big bed is better than two), a balcony and a separate shower with a rain shower head and plenty of hot water. It’s a really nice room, which is great because I’m spending a lot of time in it getting ahead on my writing. But the best part of this hotel is that it is literally around the corner from the beach!

Cons: Unfortunately, this is the first hotel of the trip that doesn’t offer free breakfast. I didn’t realize what a luxury it was to just go downstairs and have a banana pancake and cup of coffee. There is a restaurant right across the street but it’s a bit overpriced.

Verdict: I love it. Can I just stay here longer?

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Technically I’ll be staying at one more hotel in HCMC but it’s one by the airport since my flight is at 5:30am (gross). I’m hoping it’s clean and air conditioned – cross your fingers for me!

Up next: The tourist route through the Mekong Delta!