Vietnam Hanoi 2002.04.12 - 04.16

Capital of Vietnam

The only place Wes had visited in Vietnam prior to this trip was Hanoi. He told Masami his memories of the city in 1997: thousands of bicycles and only an occasional motorbike, sporadic electricity supplemented with lit candles at every storefront, and cheap merchandise directed only at locals.

Today Hanoi is a developed urban center. Budget hotels, restaurants, and travel agents line each block, interspersed with Internet Cafes and bootleg CD shops. Roads are congested with motorbikes and occasional vehicles. The rate of development in 5 short years is astounding.

Two worthwhile trips can be arranged from Hanoi. One is to Halong Bay. The other is to Perfume Pagoda.

The attraction of Halong Bay is the 3000-plus limestone islets rising from the Gulf of Tonkin. The water is growing more polluted over time, but the scenery is still outstanding.

Tours to Halong Bay are one or more days in duration. Since the bus ride alone from Hanoi to the boat dock in Cat Hai is 4 hours, we definitely recommend a tour lasting 2 days or more.

Solo travel to Halong Bay is easy, but the overall price is cheaper through a tour. For instance, the 3-day all-inclusive tour is equal in cost to the transportation roundtrip from Hanoi and transportation around Cat Ba Island. Additional costs incurred on one's own would be meals, accommodation, and entrance tickets.

The 3-day tour itinerary (cost US$22 / person at Kim Cafe Travel, located in Prince 79 Hotel, address: 79 Hang Bac Street, Hanoi):

Day 1
  • Bus from Hanoi to Cat Hai, lunch.
  • Boat through the islets to Cat Ba Town on Cat Ba Island, with one stop at a large limestone cave.
  • Dinner and accommodation at a hotel of reasonable quality.
Day 2
  • Breakfast, bus transport to a trailhead on Cat Ba Island.
  • 10 km guided walk with lunch.
  • Boat transport through the limestone islets.
  • Dinner and accommodation in Cat Ba Town.
Day 3
  • Breakfast, boat transfer to Cat Hai, lunch, bus to Hanoi.

Perfume Pagoda is a complex of pagodas 60 km southwest of Hanoi. The main attraction is a large cave 3 km up slippery steps with various spots to gain luck. One corner has a money donation to bless your animals with luck. A thick stalactite has a smooth surface for money rubbing to bring wealth. Pray in the center to increase fertility. Watch the locals perform their various rituals and enjoy the day. Tour prices are between US$8~9 at any hotel or travel agent in Hanoi.

All trains and tourist buses coming from the north and south stop in Hanoi. The Hanoi Airport services all domestic airports and Hong Kong and Bangkok.

A fisher-woman latches onto our tourist boat in Halong Bay to sell cheap fresh seafood. After buying crab and shrimp, the kitchen staff on our boat boiled them for us for lunch.
Thousands of limestone islets dot the Gulf of Tonkin. Photos don't do the scenery justice.
Vendors within the main cave of Perfume Pagoda sell holy plastic trinkets to offer the gods for good luck.

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