Image credit: Quoc Huy Ttran
As soon as we arrived into this city, my heart fell in love. Hanoi is youthful, vibrant and has a great energy. As a tourist, it was the first time I felt like I could merge into the crowds of local Vietnamese and less of a target for street hawkers and vendors trying to sell you “authentic” Ray Bans or tailored suits.
We stayed in ‘Hanoi Rocks’ Hostel, which is still to this date, the best budget accommodation I’ve ever had. There is a massive bar downstairs with $2 beers, velvet couches and cool graffiti artwork. We paid $6USD per night at which looking back is seriously the best value for money! The staff are young, friendly locals who are more than happy to have a chat, share music recommendations and talk about their opinions on serious subjects such as women’s rights and equality in Vietnam.
We had the best time eating amazing food, wandering around the city streets viewing the architecture and night markets. After making friends with an old acquaintance from New Zealand (small world) and a number of other travelers, we went to experience a lively location called Beer St which comes alive at night with locals and travelers sprawling off the footpaths and into the streets on white plastic tables drinking the local beer that usually costs a whopping 20cents per plastic glass.
We made friends with a number of jovial locals and a Korean sports team while we played drinking games and laughed and conversed in broken English. Although this spot is famous for turning into the social beer drinking hub at night time, technically it’s not super legal to be drinking in the middle of the streets. We discovered this in a rather hilarious display when word broke out the police were driving past and everyone started to scramble yelling “Go! Go! Go!” as they shuffle all of the plastic seats and tables off the streets and out of sight. Just as suddenly as this happened, the police moved on and the merry drinking resumes and everyone comes out of the shadows and back onto the road with new beers in hand.
I almost forgot to mention, I managed to squeeze in a little yoga session at a Hatha Studio at Zenith Yoga Studio & Café which helped me find some zen in-between the beer and pho consumption. It was a great little studio with a number of locals and expats attending. Please excuse my poor quality snap chat image below.
- Try to spend at least 4 nights in Hanoi – There is so much to see, eat & drink. By far my favorite city in Vietnam.
- The night markets here are good quality and the items being sold are different than the souvenirs you find throughout the rest of Vietnam tourist destination. If you want to take home some trinkets, craft your haggling skills for Hanoi.
Cat Ba Island (AKA A Slice Of Paradise)
This island is too picturesque for words, but here goes…
From the moment we got shuffled onto a random small boat away from the rest of the tourist groups and then on to a random old bus (None of these modes of transport had been previously mentioned by our hostel guide) we finally made it into the heart of Cat Ba island.
This gorgeous little slice of paradise is a lush tropical island with incredible, green limestone peaks reaching up into the air with emerald green waters below. Sandy beaches nestle down below these twists and turns of breathtaking rock faces with quiet fishing villages nestled below.
Quiet and peaceful, this island doesn’t feel like it’s been bombarded by tourism companies and developments just yet, which makes the experience all the more special.
We hired canoes from a local company and decided to take ourselves around without a guide for a paddle in between green rocky islands which dot all around the coastline, creating a beautiful, yet mystical feel to the calm, jade bay.
If you paddle out far enough, you will come across a floating fishing village in the center of Ha long Bay.
We could have spent at least a week here, searching for secret beaches and riding motorbikes around the winding cliff edges and lush green valleys. This was my most adored destination and I can’t wait to get back to visit again.
- Don’t visit Ha Long Bay without spending at least 2 nights at Cat Ba island. You won’t regret it!
- Try and avoid taking a day tour around the island by a cruise company and explore at your own pace by renting canoes, motorbikes and visiting coves and untouched sandy beaches.