An unexpected trip to Vietnam // Hanoi to Halong Bay

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Our trip to Vietnam wasn’t planned at all.
Everything started with a wedding invitation from one of our best friends from Italy who got engaged with a Vietnamese girl. So we totally took advantage of this opportunity to book a few extra days in order to be able to visit this beautiful country. Unfortunately due to work commitments back home we only spent 9 days there but we surely made the best out of it!

Things to know before planning your trip to Vietnam:

  • Never underestimate the season you choose.

Vietnam’s weather can be hot but also very rainy. Try to avoid months like November and December if you don’t want to get really wet.

  • Vietnam can be a REALLY LOUD country. Especially if you’re planning a few days in big cities (Hanoi, Haiphong etc) keepin mind traffic is crazy and beeping motorbikes could drive youcrazy. Remember to pack some ear plugs if you don’t want sleepdeprivation to ruin your holiday. (You’ll thank me later)
  • It’s a huge country!

Choose wisely youritinerary. Plan enough time for each stop. There are so many things to see and do.

  • If you’re traveling on a budget, remember to bring with you a small and light luggage. Especially on public transports there’s little space for bags.
  • Say NO to tours!
    The best way to enjoy Vietnam is by exploring it without expensive guided tours. The country is actually quite safe so , unless necessary, try to avoid touristic ways to visit it.

Our trip started from Hanoi, the capital city.

Despite we landed quite late in the evening, we still managed to find money exchange offices open (and actually with a very good rate!) and a super cheap public bus going to the Old Quarter.

Using only cash in Vietnam is highly recommended to avoid any issue with credit cards. Everything is quite cheap so you won’t need a huge amount of money to carry around .

From Hanoi International Airport you can get Bus n. 86. It only took 30 min to the Old Quarter (as it wasnight time, so no much traffic around) for only 35.000 VND per person(2 AU$).

Once arrived at the Old Quarter we quickly understood how crazily chaotic that area can get. The traffic jam can be really overwhelming and getting to cross the road could easily become your worst nightmare!

(But don’t worry, you’ll learn pretty quickly).

Good thing is: restaurants and bars areopen till late, which was good since we were starving!

Finding vegan options around hasn’t been hard at all. Most of vegetarian dishes are actually vegan all around Vietnam. Only one little advice: MAKE SURE THERE IS NO EGG IN YOUR FOOD. Sometimes they tend to get confused. So, always double check, just in case!

Visiting Hanoi for only one day and in the rainy season hasn’t given us much opportunities to properly explore the area. We only managed to check out the Temple of Literature (entry 30.000 VND per person) , walking around the Hoan Kiem Lake, in the historical centre of the city, with a quick stop at Ngoc Son Temple, and experiencing the iconic train street.

We have mainly walked around but to cover longer distances we have found the best App ever.

Make sure you download GRAB. It’svery similar to our Uber, but cheaper and without the need to link your credit card for payments. Just choose CASH as your preferred way to pay. Easy as!

Where we have stayed

IBIZ CITY HOSTEL : located in the heart of the Old Quarter, it offers shared rooms but also private/double rooms (which was our choice). Breakfast included with few vegan options available.

Very noisy due to the position and to the 24h/reception. Bit outdated but clean and with A/C.

Where we have eaten

MINHCHAY VEGAN RESTAURANT: located in the Old Quarter, this 100% vegan restaurant is a bit more pricey than average but totally worth it! The menu includes many different options, from the traditional Vietnamese cuisine to the more western culinary culture. Highly recommended: HOT POT! Just remember to plan your day accordingly as it takes a while to eat it all!

HONG KONG DIM SUM : located only a couple of minutes walking from our accommodation, offers a variety of freshly made dim sum, with many vegan options. Open till late.

Our next destination will be the unmissable Halong Bay

There’s no way you can visit Vietnam without experiencing an overnight cruise in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. And since it’s only doable by boat, choosing theright company might be a bit overwhelming (especially due to the ridiculous cost). So after a long research we have decided to book a2day/1 night cruise followed by an extra night on Monkey Island.

We’ve been lucky enough to be on a medium sized boat, with a small group. The company has been very happy to cater for us as vegans so we got to eat delicious food on board and also at the Monkey Island Resort. During the cruise you get to discover few islets, grottoes, beaches with the chance to enjoy some time swimming or kayaking.

The highlight for us was spending the night in a very quiet little bay, relaxing and admiring the stunning calm scenery around us.

Disadvantages: it’s definitely a very touristic destination so..do not expect to be by yourself when stopping at Dau Go Cave or Tip Top Island. These are definitely two of the most visited spots and unfortunately the amount of people there can really break the peace and magic of the navigation.

Remember to wear comfy shoes and to always bring water with you. Both these sites require a bit of effort climbing steep stairways (90-steps to get to the cave and 400-stepsto get to Tip Top view point) but the view will definitely make you forget about that quite quickly.

Once arrived at Cat Ba Island ferry station, we said goodbye to the rest of the group to proceed towards Monkey Island, located south of the main Island. To get there, they will organise a complementary small boat service to pick you up from Cat Ba Pier.

We just thought we deserved a bit of relax so we booked an extra night at the eco-friendly resort overlooking the bay. Their bungalows are very cute and the view is absolutely breathtaking!

As the name suggests, this island is famous for its cheeky monkeys, enjoying their time on the beach stealing bottles and personal belongings from the tourists stopping by (LOL).

Just be aware that the trek that takes you from the resort to the beach is very challenging, so proper shoes are definitely a must if you want to attempt this trek.

Where we have stayed

We have booked our cruise + overnight stay on the island through the MONKEY ISLAND RESORT’s website. The name of our tour was 3 DAYS 2 NIGHTS TOUR HALONG BAY – LAN HA BAY – CAT BA MONKEY ISLAND RESORT. For both cruise and bungalow stay they have been happy to cater for our dietary requirements. Just make sure you mention it at time of reservation.

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