A Hanoi Primer:
Know Before You Go

2:33:00 PM

We've covered all the fun stuff and hopefully, I've got some of you inspired to see and experience Hanoi for yourselves. I know you're itching to book that trip but hold up, there are still a few things you need to know before you go.


This post will cover: flight specifics, currency, changing seasons, what to wear, where to stay, budget and some observations to help manage expectations should you decide to travel to Hanoi. Grab some popcorn because this will be a loooooong one.


How to get there (by plane, obviously)

I flew with Cebu Pacific on a direct flight. Cebu Pacific flies out to Hanoi thrice a week, and is probably the only Philippine carrier that offers direct flights from Manila to Hanoi. I got a two-way ticket from a seat sale that cost me PHP 4, 600+ (98 USD).

If you choose to fly with Cebu Pacific, be ready to camp out late because they have a fixed schedule of 22:20 departure from Manila with a 00:30 ETA to Hanoi. Going home, departure from Hanoi is at 01:00, ETA to Manila is at 05:00. All in local time. Average flying time is three hours on a good weather day. Hanoi is behind Manila by an hour.

If you are adamant at avoiding Cebu Pacific (we all have our airline woes), you can fly with PAL or Air Asia to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) and get a domestic flight to Hanoi from there. It'll be an additional two hours up in the air with Vietnam Airlines. Tiger Air offers connecting flights from Manila to Hanoi as well but with a 20-hour (at most) layover at Singapore, it's just not worth it.

Filipinos don't need a travel visa to enter Vietnam.

From Noi Ba to Hanoi

The best way is to arrange airport service with your hotel but if like me, you end up missing your service because the flight was delayed (or you decide to DIY the commute), there's always a line of taxis waiting outside. I tried Grab but there were no registered vehicles nearby at the time. This is something to be expected since arrival is at wee hours of the night.

If you employ a regular taxi, make sure that you have the complete address of your hotel or wherever it is you're staying. It's likely that the driver will not be able to speak in English so, to save you the hassle, have the complete details prepared.

For security reasons, make sure to send a snap of the license plate and the driver's name to your hotel. (Noi Ba has free, fast WiFi.) The ride from the airport to Old Quarter cost me 360, 000 VND (Vietnam Dong) or 16 USD / PHP 700. Noi Ba is almost an hour away from the city proper.


Let's talk Dong

Now, after securing flight and airport service, the next thing you'll need to take care of is money. Vietnam's currency is Dong, and it is a depreciated currency against the dollar. You'll know what I mean when I say everyone's an easy millionaire in Vietnam.

The best way to get the exact amount of Dong that you'll need is to convert it to USD. The exchange rates are as follows:

1 USD = 22, 000 VND,
1 USD = PHP 47
therefore PHP 47 = 22, 000 VND
(as of February 2016)

You won't find a money changer in Manila that carries Dong (not even the ones in NAIA), so you'll have to get all your pesos converted to USD before you leave.

And since arrival at Noi Ba is past midnight, it's safe to assume that the money changers at that airport will be closed, unlike the ones at NAIA that are open 24h. They do have ATMs that accept VISA and MasterCard—you can at least get money for a cab ride. (Take note of the 50, 000 VND or 2.25 USD penalty for internationally-issued cards.)

Some hotels accept USD, but you'll need VND to get around and make purchases.

You can find money changers almost everywhere in the Old Quarter. Most hotels will convert USD to VND as well, but the one that I frequented to was a travel agency two to three houses away from the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel (to the direction of St Joseph's Cathedral). Their office opens at around 8 or 9 in the morning, and the lady that serviced me was rather nice and welcoming.

The highest banknote is 500, 000 VND (or 22 USD / PHP 1,000), followed by 200, 000 VND and 100, 000 VND. I prefer to carry mostly 20, 000 VND and 50, 000 VND for security purposes and faster transactions. I never saw coins.


When and wear

December to February is snowless Winter. The coldest I experienced was 12 degrees (Spring in North America and Europe)—and for us who are used to a summery climate almost all-year long, the cold can get uncomfortable if not properly dressed. I wore thick, long-sleeved sweaters, which were sufficient for the most part but it's best to bring windbreakers. I saw some stalls at the market and discount stores near Hoan Kiem Lake that sell them for 350, 000 to 500, 000 VND or 17 to 22 USD.

Winter, they say, is not best time to visit Halong Bay as it can get bitter cold and too misty for sightseeing. Many will disagree to point out that the mist actually adds to the view. We were fortunate to have clear weather when we visited. The temperatures were a little too cold for my liking, but never too cold to stand outside and appreciate the scenery. If you're planning on heading out to Sapa, you might get a chance of snow.

February to April is Springtime. Temperature ranges from 15 to 20 degrees. Still cold, bring a cardigan. If you visit in February, you might catch Tet which is a big celebration of Lunar New Year in Vietnam. I came a week before Tet and it was already a colorful time.

May to August is Summertime. At 32 degrees on average, I'm guessing it feels a lot like Manila. Wear breathable clothes. September to November is Fall. Around 25 degrees, it may just be the perfect weather.


Where to stay

I stayed at Especen Hotel—a mid-range, budget hotel in the Hoan Kiem district.

Especen is not easy to find from the main road (gave me and the cabbie a hard time), as it's tucked in an intersection of smaller alleys but if you can find St Joseph's Cathedral at Na Tho Street, it's only a few turns from there. Especen will hold your passport as security deposit. I booked the standard double bedroom which has a king-sized bed, air conditioner, cable TV, sizable wardrobe with mini fridge, and private bathroom with hot water. I got it for a $17/night rate. The furniture are aged, but the room is clean.

There are plenty of hostels and hotels in the neighborhood, as well as travel agencies and small shops (of the sari-sari store nature), to add to the convenience of being 5 to 10 minutes away from Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem lake. It's a great location.

I was satisfied with my accommodations but if you'd want more options, I would suggest to keep your search within the Hoan Kiem district, specifically the Old Quarter area since that's where most of Hanoi's biggest attractions are.


Managing expectations

  • In terms of language: Unlike in the Philippines, English is not widely-used in Vietnam, but it wouldn't be too difficult to find a local who can understand and speak a bit of it. The average Hanoian is able to answer basic traveler inquiries (how much is this, how do you get to *place*, please take me to *place*), but others may not be able to carry a conversation. If you're struggling with communication, the Old Quarter is littered with expats and foreign tourists who might be able to help.
  • On scams: Vietnam, at large, is notorious for scams. And it's not a baseless rumor, considering that the hotel I stayed in (owned and run by locals) put up a few notices on their website about it. While it's not right to assume that every Vietnamese is out to get you (they're generally nice and courteous people), it pays to run through the most common travel scams and how you can avoid them.
  • Bike is life: If I could give Hanoi a moniker, I'd call it Moped City. I knew way before I booked that motorbikes and scooters were the main transportation modes in Vietnam, but how it actually looks like is something that you can't imagine. There are swarms of scooters on the main road, on the inner streets, even on the narrowest of alleys. There are probably more scooters than there are cars in all of Hanoi.

    And if you're bad at crossing the road, having hundreds of mopeds coming at you from every direction, at any given time, will make that simple activity extra hellish. Let's just say none of my 25 years in semi-ghetto Manila has prepared me for a single road-crossing experience in Hanoi. The only tip I can give is: BE BRAVE, AND TAIL A LOCAL. DO NOT DIE.
  • Budget-friendly city: Hanoi is a city that accommodate travelers of all budget sizes and regardless of whether you're a backpacker, flash-packer (like me!) or straight-up rich, I doubt that you'll be able to blow all your money (even if you try so hard) for a few days in the city. (Unless you get scammed. It's the easiest way to be broke in Hanoi.)
  • Something to amuse you: If you're of a Chinese descent and it shows in your facial features, don't be surprised if you get mistaken for a local. It started happening to me even before I boarded the plane to Hanoi. 

Getting around

Hanoi is a fairly walkable during colder seasons. I only road a cab twice when I was there—once to get out of the airport and the next was to get to Hoan Kiem Lake, only because my legs were killing me from all the walking. The most I'd walked was 24, 000 steps (10 miles!) around Old Quarter and to Hanoi Creative City and back to the hotel in one day.

I was able to go around (and not get lost!) with a downloadable map of Hanoi on Google Maps. Location services on smartphones should work even without data or WiFi connection.

If you're not up for walking, you can rent motorbikes or ride with local bikers. They have rickshaws pushed by a pedal bike called cyclos, too, but that one's too touristy for me. Metered taxis abound.


Budget

I know some of you have been waiting for this. Time to reveal my budget for Hanoi!

But before we go into details, let's get one thing straight: I am not a backpacker, so don't expect a shoestring budget. There are a few "luxuries" that I cannot let go of when I'm travelling, like a comfortable bed, WiFi and a clean bathroom. I will not share a room with strangers. I also don't mind eating in restaurants when street haunts are packed with people.

That said, I enjoy bargain shopping and activities or interesting spots I can check out for free.

Disclaimers aside, here's everything I spent for my 4D/4N trip to Hanoi:


ITINERARY
EXTRAS
Hotel (4N stay at the  + one breakfast + car service to airport)
3550
Shopping (personal items)
2000

Other transportation
40
Souvenirs
1400

Food (meals, snacks & bottled water)
800
Total
PHP 3,400

Halong Bay
2000
Flight with return ticket
4,600

Water puppet show
200
+15kg add-on baggage
600

Total
PHP 6,590
Philippine travel tax
1620


Total: a little over PHP 16,810. Excluding the flight, I blew PHP 9,990 in cash or around PHP 2,500 per day. It was already a good deal for flash-packers like me. It can be cheaper for you if you: stay in a dorm-type hostel instead of a hotel, ride the bus to the city instead of a cab or airport service, do away with shopping for personal items and take a friend with you to split the bill. I'd say, PHP 1,500 a day would suffice. I recommend using the Budget Your Trip tool to help estimate daily spendings, depending on what kind of traveler you are and where you're going.

Also in this series: 

***

Whew! This concludes Awesome in Manila's mini-series on Hanoi, Vietnam. If you're curious about something that we weren't able to cover, post your question below and I'll do my best to answer it. If you've been to Hanoi and want to share your experience (maybe a few tips, too), leave it in the comments as well.

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1 comments

  1. Wow what a coincidence! I am off to Hanoi by June for a backpacker hostel review. I took care of my flight but my accommodation is sponsored. Php 16k is very reasonable price for a 4d4n trip. Actually I am setting aside a little over Php20k since I wont be spending for my bed. The Halong bay is on my top list btw, still hunting for the cheapest cruise tour there. I got 7 days so my next research is how to get to Ho chi minh from Hanoi :)

    http://www.mariaronabeltran.com/

    ReplyDelete

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