Jan 6, 2019
Coming From: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Airline: Air Asia
Airport Departure: Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX)
Airport Arrival: Hanoi International Airport (HAN)
Flight: FD 870, depart CNX 1:20pm, arrive Hanoi 2:50pm, $180 including 20kgs (high season rate)
Visa on Arrival: Jan 6 - Jan 27, 2019
Hotel: AZ Hanoi Hostel
Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
Money on Arrival: enough
From Chiang Mai to Hanoi
After Chiang Mai (Thailand), the cheapest airfare from skyscanner was Vietnam - HCMC, DaNang and Hanoi. I've just been to HCMC and DaNang so I chose Hanoi. It excited me to be in Hanoi again - ground-zero for the fabled Pho Noodle Soup and other inspired culinary specialties that established Hanoi as the gastronomic capital of Vietnam.
Unlike the entire 2018 where my cash hovered precariously within the $50 range (as in arriving a country with only $50 and winging my survival for the next 30 days), this time I was beginning the new year with enough cash - not a whole lot, but enough. Mike was kind enough to advance me some web development money for his third and most ambitious boutique hotel in Chiang Mai (only 7 rooms but swimming pool + bath tub in every room) - Arun Dara. I told him I would do it free for friendship, but he insisted on paying me. Well, that's Mike for you - his kind doesn't happen everyday. I also hope this is an omen of what the new year has in store for me - abundance, where my mind doesn't have to race too much where the next meal comes from.
Getting to Hanoi: Air Asia, Bus #86, Moto-taxi
Mike was kind enough to have his staff drop me off the airport. Despite my web check-in, I still had to line-up on the regular long line just to drop my baggage and pick-up my boarding pass. Air Asia seems to be week about that part of their process. Immigration was a breeze. I am grateful that there was no snag on these 2 - check-in and immigration. This is where the snags usually happen. Upon arrival in Hanoi, bus #86 was right there on the doorstep of the airport to take passengers to Old Quarter (VND35k, 30 mins). From the drop-off point, I took a moto-taxi to AZ Hanoi Hostel for VND40k. I booked for 3 nights at AZ Hanoi at $2.5/night - the cheapest in Agoda.
4 Years Back
Last time I was in Hanoi was still in Jan 2015, exactly 4 years ago. I was traveling with a local and we were hosted by a local family as well. I didn't have to do much planning or thinking. They took care of everything. Now, I'm on my own and it feels like my first time given all the new challenges.
AZ Hanoi Hostel
I just love this place! It's centrally located in the heart of Old Quarter, comfortable bunk bed in a dorm room, clean surroundings, reliable wifi, chill/dining area, friendly and helpful staff, a Kiwi staff who's a native English speaker and yes, breakfast included. Agoda listed them for $2/night and whoa, I was getting plenty for what I paid for.
Custom Google Mapping
I liked AZ Hanoi so I offered a barter-deal to the owners. They were handing-out a paper walking-tour map to their guests. It was very hard to use the bond-size map. What I did was put the walking tour inside Google Map plus their logo instead of the usual Google landmark icon. This way, the users were lost-proof and have a more convenient way of doing their walking tour. The owners liked it and we shook hands on the deal. Whoa! It's good when I work with people I like. Click this link and you'll know what I mean: AZ Hanoi Hostel Walking-Tour Map
I was just walking around Old Quarter when a sign on a backpack shop caught my attention, "full refund if fake". In a place known for fake Northface and the like, it's a relief to come across such a shop.The green Osprey Aether AG 70 got my attention. It had my name on it. My reliable Northface has served me well the past 15 years, but it needs to be retired. With the assurance the Osprey is not a fake, I emailed the shop for a barter deal - crossing my fingers.
Thai Tourist Visa
I left half my stuff in Chiang Mai in the hope that I will come back and stay for a longer term. Mike already prepared a room for my return (what a guy!). First was to secure a 60-day tourist visa...not just the 30-day visa-on-arrival. It was painless to get it from the Thai Embassy. No questions asked. I just presented a filled-in form, 2 passport pictures, flight to Thailand, flight back to the Philippines and bank statement. I'm glad I didn't have to go back to the Philippines or secure an invite from Thailand, to be given this visa. With the visa, I also booked my flight back to Chiang Mai. At least this part of my To-Do List is already done.
So far, so good. I feel blessed. Things have been falling in place - enough money, lodging deal, Thai visa, flight to Chiang Mai. Next, I have to finish the website for Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery - that was my donation for my stay in that magical place. Then Mike's hotel website. Then perhaps offer the customized Google Mapping to some establishments to make a little more cash on the side. I just feel thankful right now. I haven't had things this easy in a very long time.
YOGA by Gigit | Learn English | Travel like a Nomad | Donation Bank
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Next stop: Hanoi Food Tour with Harry
Hanoi (city), Vietnam
- 18-Day Mini-Life in Hanoi Jan 6-24, 2019
- Cafescape of Hanoi's Old Quarter, Vietnam Jan 6-24, 2019
- Peoplescape of Hanoi Jan 6-24, 2019
- Exploring the Culinary Specialties of Hanoi Jan 6-24, 2019
- Ca Tru Hanoi at the Dinh Kim Ngan Temple Jan 18, 2019
- Hanoi Food Tour with Harry Jan 16, 2019
- Hanoi Revisited Jan 6, 2019
- Exploring the Northern Capital of Vietnam - Hanoi Jan 4-7, 2015
Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) to Old Quarter, Hanoi by Bus
The airport is about 30kms away from the Old Quarter so it could be pricey if you cab it. For budget travelers, there is the air-conditioned tourist bus #86 which starts from inside the airport when you walk out the door and takes you all the way to Old Quarter for only VND35k, 30 mins.
NOTE: if you use Google Maps, it will tell you that you have to walk 1km to catch the #86 bus along the main road - this is wrong!
FYI / Tips
- Hanoi's Old Quarter is the backpacker area like Bangkok's Khaosan Road. The tourist establishments (hotels, restos, travel/tour agencies, cafes) are interspersed with local traditional businesses
- Grab XeOm or moto taxis are abundant
- street culture is alive and kicking at the Old Quarter. Family-owned and managed shophouses who have been doing their trade for generations are still around. Old Quarter hasn't been touched by shopping malls yet.
- best place to exchange foreign currency is with the jewelry/gold shops (see list on map). Worst place are the tour shops/hotels.
- BEWARE of resto tourist traps. Usually, they sell only one meal like Bun Cha. No menu, no prices. They are crafty in herding unsuspecting tourists (you will notice no local eats there) and serve them the Bun Cha without asking them (because it's the only thing they sell). You'll just be jolted when you receive the bill. I was had for VND 90k!
Things to do, Places to go in Hanoi
- Old Quarter - this is old Hanoi where family-owned business flourished with its specialty trade. The streets are narrow and busy. Nowadays, it's the center for backpackers visiting Hanoi
- lakes - Hanoi is littered with many big lakes, some of them have numerous pagodas along its bank. West Lake is the largest with an 18km circumference, ideal for joggers, hobby fishing and just finding quiet time
- Tran Quoc Pagoda - the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi lying on its peninsula by West Lake
- Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum - it's a massive marble structure housed inside an expansive park with manicured gardens
Vietnam FYI / Tips / Dos and Don'ts
- Hanoi Grapevine HCMC Update - for the latest events in Vietnam
- Vietnam establishments will not accept US dollars, unlike Cambodia. You have to use Vietnam Dong (US$1 = Vietnam Dong VND 23,255 = Php 53.20 as of Aug 1, 2016)
- Vietnamese smokers will smoke in air-conditioned establishments, air-conditioned buses packed with people including women, children and babies. They also smoke inside hospitals with no smoking signs.
- Vietnam ranks almost the same as Thailand and Cambodia for cheap price. Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia cost more
- internet speed is generally fast and reliable but during important events like Tet holiday, election, etc., it slows down
- Vietnamese generally do not speak or understand much English. It will be a challenge.
- best to dress appropriately, not revealing too much skin (Saigon is an exception - the ladies there set the trend in very short shorts)
- remove your shoes when entering a home or place of worship
- ask first before taking someone's picture. If they say no, don't persist or offer money
- best to carry your hotel's business card with you when going out. You can just show it to the cab driver or XeOm driver if they don't understand English
- leave your valuables, passport, travel tickets, etc. with the hotel's safety deposit box
- when lying down, don't point your feet or the soles of your shoes to anyone or to a family altar
- carry only enough cash for your needs that day
- don't lose your temper in public - Vietnamese people are warm, generous and polite. They look down on people who lose their composure
- don't take pictures of military installations - you can go to jail
- refrain from taking videos of minority people until permitted to do so
Lesser-Known Vietnam Destinations
- Phu Yen Province - by the beach
- Hoa Binh Lake - locals' alternative to Halong Bay
- Ninh Binh - Trang An Grottoes, Tam Coc, Mua Caves, Bai Dinh Pagoda, Van Long Nature Reserve
General Travel Tips
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
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