North Vietnam on Less Money

We always read about North Vietnam or hear people talk about it in movies, but I really wanted to see it in person.  I understand that I saw something very different than what my father did and many others when they were there in the 60s, but I experienced a place with natural beauty where the people were very kind and welcoming.

I decided to go during Tet earlier this year, which is their New Year celebration.  In Vietnam, this is normally a time when people close their shops and restaurants in order to go back to their hometowns and spend time with family. Flying into Hanoi on New Year’s Eve actually saved me several hundred dollars on flights, as most people are already home with their families and not traveling. I used CTrip  to book my flight and hotel, which I often find is cheaper than Expedia or other discount sites,  The hotel I chose, The Essence Hanoi Hotel and Spa, was in the Old Quarter and only a few blocks from Hoan Kiem Lake in the Center of the city.Pic 1

Since quite a few places are closed on New Year’s Day, I used that day to go to the spa located in the hotel. For 880,000 Vietnamese Dong ($38), I got the “Mother Earth” package, which is a 70 minute, full body massage with warm Basalt stones. I could have styed ALL day!  After my massage, I went for a stroll around the lake and had a cup of coffee in one of the many outdoor coffee shops. Later, I had a very nice dinner in the hotel restaurant. After traveling, it was nice to spend a day relaxing.

The following morning, I was off to my cruise.

Side note… to enter Vietnam you must have a Letter of Invitation, which can be gotten  from almost any travel agency or tour group online before you arrive.  This will be used to get your Visa on Arrival in the airport in Hanoi. I had my visa application already filled out which made my entry much quicker. Normally, you pay agencies a separate fee for the Letter of Invitation, but since I was going on the cruise, the Cruise company provided my letter, which was included in the overall price. Transportation from my hotel to HaLong Bay was provided by the cruise line.

So back to my trip… I was picked up by the cruise line van and in a few hours I was at Halong Bay. I decided that since many places are closed during the first few days of Tet, I would use that time to take my tour of the Bay.  Almost all of the cruise lines were operational since they are catering to foreigners, who aren’t celebrating Tet. Halong was beautiful! The meals on the cruise were great and the service was excellent.

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By the time I returned two days later, most shops had reopened and the Old Quarter was full of people. If you look through my photo gallery, you will see there was no shortage of people in the streets of Hanoi during Tet.

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During the day, I shopped and bought silk scarves and dresses (which are so cheap), toured the city and its museums, and at night I enjoyed the bars and restaurants and street food of Hanoi. I wish I had time to go to Sapa… but I will on my next trip to Vietnam.