It seemed that Hanoi and Hoi An were definitely our top places in Vietnam. Both cities had a different more eclectic vibe and we were able to find some of our favorite things within each city much easier than in Da Nang or Saigon. As we do in most places, we find what we like and then fall into a nice rhythm the rest of our time there. Hanoi was no different.
Our first day there we just enjoyed walking around the area in which our air bnb was. It was on the other side of the highway from the old town district, so it had a more local feel. We enjoyed ordering grab eats and watching some Netflix before planning what to do while in Hanoi.
The location of Hanoi makes it a popular spot to take off from to go to Ha Long Bay. Know as one of the seven wonders of the world, Ha Long Bay, attracts hundreds of tourists everyday on an array of different cruises. After doing some research we decided on a cruise through Ha Long Bay that actually anchored in a less busy bay just past Cat Ba Bay in Lan Ha Bay. Lots of weird names, but you get the point. Cruises within the bay can vary from 1 day to 3nights. We opted for a 2day 1night option and it was perfect for us because we didn’t have a lot of time in Hanoi, but wanted to see the bay. Then comes picking a boat, we went through a company called Lily’s Tours, we had heard other travelers from blogs use them and they had great reviews. They were able to go through all of the boats, 1 to 5 stars, and advise us which were better than others. We opted for a four star cruise, sounds fancy, but it wasn’t anything crazy. We just liked the location, reviews, and the fact that our room looked out directly over the water with two massive windows.
When you organize this through a tour agency they handle pretty much everything. We were picked up in a bus, taken two hours out to the harbor, escorted on to our boat and then we were off. Being only two days they tried to cram as much excitement in our short time as possible. There was a ton of traditional food and they served you two lunches, a dinner, and breakfast. It wasn’t anything too fancy, but all included was a nice perk. After lunch on the first day they took us on a smaller boat to a kayaking spot. We were able to get into a two person kayak and go through tunnels, pass over beautiful pink and green corals, and flow through gorges created by marble cliffs. We even were able to chat with our guide, a friendly young local, and some of the people on our cruise from California.
After our kayak tour we were given the option to jump off of the small boat into the bay. I wasn’t going to miss my only chance to swim in the South China Sea, so we jumped right in. The rest of our tour didn’t seem to keen on getting in the water so we made it quick, but it was worth it. After our swim, we were told that dinner would be ready soon and following dinner there would be a “cooking class,” squid fishing, and karaoke. The cooking class was underwhelming, we made spring rolls that were almost pre-made for us, but Scott ate enough for 10 people so he got his moneys worth. Then the squid fishing was just a hook with a line attached to a stick that you were supposed to bob up and down on the side of the boat. After some googling we learned that this is just a gimmick and no one ever catches squid, just a way to pass time. We weren’t feeling particularly up to singing so we went to bed and let the slow rocking of the boat put us to sleep.
The next morning was just as beautiful as we headed back towards land. On the way we took a short detour to Cat Ba island. There we were able to tour an old hospital cave that was used during the war and learned some interesting facts about the colors of the flag, the reasoning for the cave, and how Vietnamese celebrate today. It was quick but lovely change of pace from our regular travel.
Once back in Hanoi we enjoyed some markets, ate more food, and I studied A LOT. I took advantage of our last Vietnamese destination and got my nails and eyelashes done and Scott got a few massages. At the end, we were ready to move on from Vietnam, ready for some familiar faces of my family in Malaysia. Most of all, we were ready for some really good food.
*We were in Vietnam from the end of November to middle of December*