"Arriving in Hanoi - at last!"
After years of longing to visit Vietnam, my wait came to an end in February, 2008 when me and my husband set off from Dubai to meet up with the Explore travellers in Hanoi. The flight was a long one, with a 6 hour stop over in Kuala Lumpur, but all went well and we were met by our taxi driver in Hanoi which we had arranged though our hotel. Glad we had, as the airport was very crowded and we were very tired!!! After a 30 minute journey we finally reached our hotel, Golden Sun, which was a 5 minute walk from Hoan Kiem Lake. It was a basic but very clean hotel and the staff were very nice and helpful - best of all, it had a power shower with lots of hot water!! (and very comfortable beds!). Never one to show my husband any mercy when travelling, I allowed him to have a few hours rest before we ventured out to look around the surrounding area and get something to eat. The first thing that struck me about Hanoi was the large amount of tourists walking around and the fact that it had started to rain! - oh no! Of course, I got sucked into the shopping as soon as we arrived - copies of travel guides on every street corner, imitation bags (even Crumpler, which I'd been after for ages!), cheap watches (which I needed for my trips), t'shirts, conical hats, etc, etc.
My main aim was to get tickets for the Thang Long water Puppet show which I had heard was very popular, so off we headed to the theatre which was 5 minutes from our hotel. Most shows were sold out, but we managed to get second row seats for the next day at 10am which was great to get some close up shots with the camera! For dinner, I was desperate to eat some of the famous PHO, but the restaurant I had been recommended didn't start serving until 7.30pm and we were HUNGRY! Along the same street (Ly Quoc Su), we stumbled upon "La" restaurant (which I had seen on other travellers' recommendation pages). Had a great meal here of lamb curry and a few drinks and it was cheap in our opinion, probably not by local standards, but compared to the UK/Dubai - VERY CHEAP! After our meal, we decided it was time to get a good nights sleep, ready for day 2!!
"Day 2 - Hanoi."
Had a nice breakfast of banana pancakes at the hotel and chatted to some fellow travellers from Canada. Made our way to the water puppet theatre for the early show which was quite popular. On the way we saw a parade of some sort complete with Chinese dragons, drums and dancers, all in traditional costume, so took a few shots. The theatre was very cold which made me feel for the puppeteers who have to stand waist high in (presumably) very cold water in order to work the puppets! The theatre is very small with a brightly coloured centre stage and has it's own live orchestra to provide the music. I, for one enjoyed the show which lasts around 50 mins and shows mini dance performances by the different puppets while a live commentary (in Vietnamese) tells the story. The history of the water puppets dates back to the first century A.D. when the farmers in the northern rice paddies used to put on performances with hand made puppets for their entertainment, so it's great to see the tradition lives on today!
Leaving the theatre, we decided to take a taxi to the Museum of Ethnology which was highly recommended by fellow travellers. Here there are over 15,000 artifacts from all over Vietnam and it shows examples of traditional housing in the outside area, handicrafts, archaeological finds and information about the different peoples and tribes that exist in the country. All in all, very interesting. From there, we got a taxi back to Hoan Kiem Lake and decided to go and see the Ngoc Son Temple which sits on an island in the centre of the lake, connected by a red bridge. More shopping was done before having a nice pizza at the "Stop Cafe" near our hotel on Ngo Bao Khanh - a lovely little street with lots of small restaurants/bars.
"Day 3 - before meeting our fellow travellers."
This morning we decided to visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, so we set off early to walk to the site. Thankfully there weren't too many people there in the queue, and we didn't have long to wait until we could enter. First, you have to pass your bags through the x-ray machine before leaving any cameras/bags at the luggage counter. From there you join another line to make your way into the Mausoleum which is heavily guarded. Hats have to be removed as a mark of respect before you slowly file past the glass covered tomb of the late Ho Chi Minh, who looks very peaceful it must be said. The queue must constantly be kept moving, so you don't really get much time in there, but it is interesting nevertheless.
From the Mausoleum, we decided to walk to the nearby Fine Arts Museum which was nice to look around for an hour or so. We then walked to Hao Lo Prison where many patriots and revolutionary fighters were kept in horrible conditions. After the liberation of N.Vietnam, criminal offenders were kept here and several American pilots whose planes had been shot down over the country. The "Hanoi Hilton" as it is sarcastically dubbed is quite a sombre place to visit, but is interesting all the same.
Our meeting with our fellow travellers was due to be held at 6pm, so we made our way to our new hotel, the Chains First Eden. After sorting out our documentation and meeting our guide, Thw (pronounced "Tu") and the other travellers, we decided on an early night ready for the start of the tour the next day!
SEE MY TRAVELOGUE FOR DETAILS OF MY TRIP!
Explore Tour to Vietnam - Hanoi to HCMC.
"Starting in Hanoi"
Check in Chains First Eden Hotel for meeting with fellow travellers at 6pm.
Guided tour of Hanoi. See One-Pillar Pagoda, Confucious Temple, the Presidential Palace and Ho Chi Minh's house. In the afternoon we look around the Old Quarter with such names as Paper and Silk Street and take a look at the tube shops (so called as they look small but are very long). Have a chance to buy our silk sleeping bags ready for our journey on the Reunification Express train. Free time to see more of Hanoi and I get the chance to eat Pho at PHO 2000 restaurant, just down the road from our hotel. Very nice and cheap noodle soup, with a choice of meat such as chicken or beef with spring onions in it.
A bit of morning free time before heading off to Ha Long Bay by bus in the afternoon. We check into our seafront hotel and meet up later for a seafood group dinner, followed by a visit to the local market.
Today we take a cruise through Ha Long Bay and admire the giant limestone rocks which rise out of the sea. We visit some caves and a small boathouse where the family sells the fish it catches before having a great seafood lunch on board our boat. We return to Hanoi by bus in order to catch the overnight Reunification Express train to Hue.
After a restless night aboard the train, we arrive in Hue and check into our hotel, the Thanh Lich, which is a clean and newly renovated hotel not far from the centre. In the afternoon we take a cruise on the Perfume River and visit the Thien Mu Pagoda. We have a very nice group dinner at the "Y Thao Garden" restaurant complete with traditional Vietnamese music.
Guided tour to the Citadel where I take the opportunity of dressing up in traditional dress for a small fee and have pictures taken sitting on a throne! Very touristy, but funny! In the afternoon we take an optional tour into the countryside with some members of the tour group. First we stop at Thanh Toan Village where we meet some of the villagers and take photos of the ancient bridge. From there we go to Khai Dinh's Tomb; the 12th Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty and then on to the Tu Hieu Pagoda, before finally stopping at Ho Quyen or the Tiger's Arena. A worthwhile trip which we enjoy very much. Have a nice meal at the Mandarin Cafe, owned by the famous Mr Cu who sells his photos of Vietnam to the customers. I buy many of them very cheaply and they still look great in frames back home.
We set off early morning by bus across the scenic Col des Nuages (Pass of Ocean Clouds) on our way to Da Nang to visit the Cham Museum. After looking at the Cham sculptures, we carry on to the 5 peaks of the Marble Mountains which represent the 5 elements of water, wood, fire, gold and earth. We visit 3 of the caves there and then continue on to China Beach for a while before reaching our destination of Hoi An, colonised by the Portuguese in the 16th century and an international trading centre in the 16/17th centuries.
The day is free to explore the town which has retained much of it's old charm and is famous for its tailoring shops. My husband and I decide to do our own thing by visiting several of the towns old houses, shrines museums and sights such as the Japanese Bridge, the Quan Thang old house, the Museum of History and Culture and the Quan Cong Temple. In the afternoon we have
arranged to do a cookery course at the Red Bridge Cookery School which is good fun. We meet at the cafe meeting point, before being taken on a guided tour of the local market. From there we are taken by boat to the cookery school which sits in a lovely location by the river. Here we are given cookery demonstrations by the chef before practising several dishes ourselves such as fresh rice pancakes and eggplant in clay pot before testing other dishes prepared by the chef. Afterwards we are served a 3 course meal in the schools restaurant which is very tasty, before being taken back to the centre by boat. Have a great time here and would highly recommend it! Our evening is spent looking around the town by bicycle, shopping and taking night shots.
Today we visit "My Son" by bus, which is the holiest of the Cham sites and houses many stone temples. We return to Hoi An in the afternoon where my husband and I decide to hire bicycles for a few dollars and go off into the countryside to visit the pottery village. From there we head to the beach for a while, before taking another look around the town. We have a nice meal of papaya salad and spicy chicken curry at Tam Tam restaurant in the centre which is very reasonably priced. Highly recommended!
After a short drive to Da Nang airport by bus, we fly to Ho Chi Minh City; Vietnam's largest city and former capital. After lunch at a local restaurant we take a guided tour of some of the sights such as the Reunification Hall and the War Remnants Museum. We also take a walking tour with the group in the afternoon, where we see the Central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral and the People's Commitee Hall. For dinner, my husband and I decide to walk to "Com Nieu Saigon" restaurant where the waiters throw the crispy rice (com nieu) baked in clay pots, across the restaurant to each other. (I had seen this once on a TV travel cookery programme with Anthony Bourdain and vowed I would go one day!). Have a nice meal here, which of course includes the crispy rice.
We drive to Cai Be this morning and take a boat to the floating market there. We visit a local family on their boat and get the chance to swap groceries with them for freshly cut pineapple. We visit local houses and see how rice paper, coconut sweets and popcorn are made; of course buying lots as souvenirs! There are also many bottles of snake wine to buy, which I decline to taste! We have lunch in a traditional restaurant where we are offered snake wine again (my husband tries it this time and says it tastes like whiskey) and have a chance to hold the resident python! (my husband obliges again!). From here we go by boat to our homestay in a long house on the river where we get a chance to relax and enjoy a home cooked meal as well as a beer or too. We sleep in dorms here with mosquito nets and outside bathrooms - all good fun - apart from the mosquito bites (despite using lots of repellent!
Today we leave the homestay and explore the Mekong Delta by boat. We visit several local industries and see how hand made tiles and bricks are made before visiting a local school and market. We drive back to HCMC in the afternoon.
Today we travel by bus to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, which provided an underground command base for 10,000 Viet Cong troops, playing a major part in the 1968 Tet Offensive. We get a chance to go into some of the tunnels and our guide explains the history of the place. A must-see when in Vietnam! At this point we head off with another guide to our Cambodia extension trip, while many of the group head back to HCMC and home.
The trip overall was great and I would highly recommend it. Saw lots in a short space of time and everything was organised well by the helpful guide.
Chains First Eden & Galaxy Hotels, Hanoi
My husband and I travelled to Vietnam in May 05. Loved the country so much I have convinced some girlfriends to visit Hanoi late March 2006 on a package deal.
Hotel offered is the Chains First Eden. I am very happy with the location but have no knowledge of this hotel and cannot locate a web site & very limited information.
As one friend has never been overseas I would like to make sure her trip goes well.
Any thoughts & reviews on this hotel would be greatly appreciated, including room & breakfast details.
I understand the Galaxy Hotel is next door & is of a higher standard. I would appreciate any thoughts on this hotel as well.
Thanks to all who read & reply.
RE: Chains First Eden & Galaxy Hotels, Hanoi
Have you tried www.tripadvisor.com. They are usualy pretty good on reviews
RE: Chains First Eden & Galaxy Hotels, Hanoi
when I was planning my trip to Hanoi last year, I remember considering both of them. in addition to checking tripadvisor, (a good idea, btw), check out the hotel reviews on both fodors and frommers, where I had initally heard of them.
RE: Chains First Eden & Galaxy Hotels, Hanoi
-Chains First Eden hotel : in some point of view, it's like a business hotel more than for tourists. If you stay for a half a month or more, it'd good idea. Location not in centre of Old Quater, quite quiet part actully.
-Galaxy, 3* nice hotel. But depend on your taste, Chains first eden, in my opinion , is better. Galaxy is bigger with the reasonable price.