Our flight arrived in Hanoi around 5 p.m. By the way, this is the only airport where they check whether the tag on your checked luggage matches the tags you received when checking in said luggage, so keep them with you until you exit the airport. 🙂
We had booked a pickup with our hotel and the trip took about an hour from the airport and cost 17€. Once again Lonely Planet recommended booking a ride with your hotel to avoid all the scammers at the airport, but once again it was very peaceful at the airport and nobody was forcing rides on anyone, so clearly some actions were taken since the writing on our guide book in 2016.
We chose Silk Queen Hotel and it was good value. I think we paid 130€ for four nights. The room did have a window (unlike a lot of hotel rooms offered), but the view from the window was another window, which was located maybe 1 m from our window. 😀 There was no pool and the breakfast was simply awful. It seemed like there are a lot to choose from but all the food looked either like leftovers from yesterday’s dinner or didn’t taste good. The location was great though and the hotel was very clean.
The day we arrived, we really didn’t have time to do anything else except go out for dinner. As we have been eating local food for over two weeks now, we headed to a hamburger joint called Chops and I swear this was the best burger I’ve had in my entire life. In Hanoi! I wish I could’ve eaten more, the burger was awesome. 😀
We walked back to the hotel and Hanoi is very different from Ho Chi Minh City as it seems older and has a lot of narrow buildings built right next to each other (apparently the land in very expensive, so narrow is the way to go). But the height of buildings was usually just 3-4 floors, so it didn’t have nearly as many tall buildings and skyscrapers as Ho Chi Minh City.
After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and went to bed early as the next day we were heading to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and we needed to be there early as during the time of our visit it was open just from 8 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. (I see on the website that at the moment I’m writing this, they have added additional opening hours in the afternoon, but it is still closed Mondays and Fridays). The mausoleum is also closed in October when the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh is sent to Russia for maintenance, so check the website before you go.
We took Uber to the mausoleum and the driver dropped us off on a completely different side of the site than where the entrance was. I guess this is the thing a taxi driver would’ve known, so there a downside to using Uber. And of course you couldn’t just cross the field, but there were guards making sure that we walked all the way around it. It’s not like walking usually is a problem, but my boyfriend has hurt his foot the day before and walking was very painful for him.
So we headed to the entrance (which is by the way on the left side if you’re facing the mausoleum) and eventually saw a bunch of people standing in line, so we figured out that this is the entrance. I turned out the real entrance was a bit further ahead and this was some sort of alternative line, but strangely enough we too were allowed in. 😀
I’ve read online that you’re not allowed to have bags with you (or that you might have to put them into storage for the duration of the visit), so I left my backpack at home. I saw that some people needed to store their bags, but a lot of people had small handbags and they were ok. But I would’ve really hated to store my bag because the way the visit goes you would spend a lot of time just retrieving it. I will explain more later.
I also needed to use the bathroom, which was a big mistake. 😀 There actually IS a bathroom, but the floor is covered in what I hoped was water, but what most likely was pee, there wasn’t any toilet paper, and Vietnamese people don’t know how to wait for your turn and I think about ten people passed me before I learned to block the hallway. Otherwise I would’ve never reached a stall. I always carry paper in my backpack, but now I had to leave it in the hotel, so the experience was rather unpleasant. So yeah, pee at home. 😀
Anyway, the line we were standing in eventually merged with the line from the real entrance. People were ordered into single-person lines and they moved slowly, but surely towards the mausoleum. Oh, and here too, you needed to wear clothes, which covered your knees and shoulders. There is no stopping inside the mausoleum and of course no pictures. The body looks very frail and almost plastic.
You are guided outside on the other side of the mausoleum and the only allowed exit is towards the Presidential Palace, which we didn’t want to see, but when we tried to walk towards the Ho Chi Minh Museum, which we did want to see, we were told that we can’t walk in that direction despite there being a sign for it. So we ended up walking to the Presidential Palace area for which of course we had to pay a bit over 3€ per person. The visit to mausoleum is free, so maybe this is a way to get revenue, but it was super annoying.
So we ended up seeing the palace area, Ho Chi Minh stilt house, his car collection, and One Pillar Pagoda, which were not that interesting. 😉
So after you get out from the Presidential Palace area, you are quite far away from the place you entered and if you need to get your stuff back from the storage, it is really a pain. So I suggest to bring only small bags with you.
After this we finally headed toward the Ho Chi Minh Museum, which keeps the same hours as the mausoleum. The entrance cost the same as the palace (10 000 Vietnamese dong or just over 3€) and it was probably the strangest museum I’ve ever been to. 🙂
The museum illustrated the life of Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam during that time with a collection of really abstract sculptures. There are plenty of explanations in English, so I don’t think that a guide for this museum is necessary.
After this we headed back to the hotel because my boyfriend’s foot was still hurting, it has started to drizzle, and we woke up so early that we could use a nap. 🙂
In the early afternoon I went out to get us banh mi sandwiches from a highly recommended place called Banh Mi 25. Walking in Hanoi is no easier than anywhere else on this trip as the sidewalks had everything else on them except the space to actually walk.
There was a continuous line for this small shop where something like 8 people were either taking orders, making the sandwiches or “supervising”. 🙂 The banh mi sandwich itself was actually quite good, but I still think the one we had in Ho Chi Minh City was the best.
In the evening we once again had a street food tour with Hanoi Motorbike Street Foods. This company actually has a copycat rival with just a letter difference in their url, but worse ratings on Tripadvisor, so pay attention to what you book. The cost was $59 per person, so it does cost much more to do the tour rather than to eat out somewhere, but we have found them to be a lot of fun. And this tour was fantastic as well despite being much less organized than the tour in Ho Chi Minh City. This time it was only my boyfriend and I and we had two young women driving us and especially the other one (Teddy) was super informative and provided us with interesting information. The part that was a bit awkward was that they didn’t eat with us, they just talked to us while we ate, but the food was super good and we got a cool ride on the back of motorbikes across Hanoi as well.
We got to try egg coffee of which I had just heard like a week before our trip and I’m not really a coffee drinker, but it was very good. 🙂
The next day we had an early departure for Halong Bay, but I will write a separate post on that.
And the day after Halong Bay was our last full day in Hanoi, but unfortunately both of us had some stomach issues on that day, so we spent most of the day in the hotel. Luckily it was raining anyway, so we didn’t feel too bad about staying in. In the evening we went to the place called Standing Bar, where my boyfriend wanted to try local craft beers and I had a cider and some snacks.
Super cool place with a view over the Trúc Bạch Lake, but clearly catered to the expat crowd and rich Vietnamese as the prices were pretty high and it was located in the expat area. We passed it on our street food tour and our guides told us if we want to spend a lot of money on something, this was the area. 😀
After the bar, we headed to the restaurant called Duong’s Restaurant & Cooking Class, which was absolutely amazing! The restaurant was on several levels and the food was great and prices were very reasonable. We chose the local tasting menu and were presented with wonderful Vietnamese flavors and gorgeous presentation. Warmly recommended!
On the last day my boyfriend’s flight was leaving early in the morning and mine was in the evening due to him coming to Asia much earlier, so I booked a long appointment at a spa. I’m not really a spa person, but I guess on this trip I decided to try staying at a resort and now also going for like a 5-hour treatment in a spa. There are spas everywhere, but I googled and saw that Ciel Spa had really good reviews and was located nearby my hotel. Their web site sucks though, so we walked there the day before and booked my appointment. Anyway, I spent my last day here, which was ok. I’m still not a spa person, but massage was good. I was relaxed, but also bored out of my mind as I was left a couple of times just to rest for I have no idea how long. Maybe just 15-20 minutes, but it felt like eternity to me. Also there is a bit of a language barrier as masseuses know the basics (“madam, turn”), but anything more complex will stump them. Also I’ve never been called “madam” so many times. 😀 So the staff were really attentive and the place was very clean and new, and at least on Tripadvisor a lot of people loved it. 😉
So after the spa I walked back to my hotel to retrieve my luggage and asked them to call me a taxi to the airport. The taxi was metered and I had no issues. I think the trip cost around 17€, so just as much as the pick up arranged by the hotel.
Hanoi was definitely my favorite city during this entire trip as it was big, but seemed small and had all these quirky streets, friendly people, and some really nice food.