Transportation in general, Hanoi
Unlike Ho Chi Minh City, walking is a viable alternative to the motorcycles in Hanoi. Many of the sights are in relatively compact areas, and you will see a lot that you would have missed zooming through the streets hanging on for dear life. Some areas, like the Old Quarter, walking is the only way to enjoy the scenery.
There are many small travel agencies in the old quarter of hanoi offering U tours and trips to Halong Bay, SaPa mountain tribes...
I guess anyone may offer the same. There are some famous ones, but here is my experience:
1.- Kangaroo Travel. I tried first here, as I had read they were good in the LP guide. They were fool for the next day, when I wanted to start. Then I asked them if I could leave my rucksack (was heavy) there while I looked for something else, as I didn't have hotel yet and didn't want to carry it around. They simply said NO, they weren't very polite :-(((
2.- Sihn Travel. Then I went to a local agent of this all Vietnam company. They have many local little branches. I found the worst of all. The guy didn't speak any english and seemed to me a little dumb, so after 30 minutes trying to explain him what I wanted, I left.
3.- Then my motorbike driver advised me to go to ODC Travel, a new local company. They were kind, helpful, and convinced me with many photos, exhaustive details, and even comments left by other foreign travellers... I finally chose this and I must say it was a good choice. I had what I paid for, the service was OK, the boat wonderful and was highly satisfied.
This reminded me that AVIS ad of the 50s: "We try harder" (than Hertz, no.1). Sometimes small companies offer a more exquisite service because "they try harder"...
Address: 43 Hang Bo St. / 142 Hang Bac St.
Tel (84.4) 828 87 29. Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
On arrival in Hanoi, hundreds of taxi touts offering lifts into the city will greet the newcomer. Although they ask for US$25 they should be bargained down to US$10 or US $12. It is advisable to go for metered taxis only. From Hanoi airport, most fares do not exceed US$35. They generally range from US$20 to US$35 one way.
From the airport, minibuses represent another convenient option: Vietnam Airlines, for instance, offers transfers for US$4 one way. Minibus that will drop you off in town for US$4, or for an extra US$2 will take you anywhere you want to go in Hanoi. You buy your ticket at the little booth in the domestic arrivals area, where the price is clearly posted. You can also buy a taxi fare there for $20 USD. A taxi may be worth it, since the bus drops you at the Vietnam Airlines office in Hanoi at 1A Quang Trung,
As usual, everyone associated with the tourist trade (and some who are not) are running tours to the surrounding hotspots: Halong Bay (for the scenery; $23-40), Sapa (for the hill tribe weekend market; $40-45), and the Perfume Pagoda (part jungle cruise, part mountain hike; $15-17).
The best way of getting around Bai Chay and Hong Gai is by foot. If you prefer, check with your hotel for bicycle rentals. A bicycle shouldn't set you back more than 10,000-15,000 dong per day (about US$1). Ferries connect Hong Gai and Bai Chay continuously during the daylight hours.
The real attraction of the area is the bay itself, so a boat is a necessity. If you're traveling independently, you'll find a slew of private operators along the docks in Bai Chay. Bargain hard. You shouldn't pay more than US$8-$10 an hour, less if the skipper has hustled a few other indies aboard.
Halong Bay's sister cities of Bai Chay and Hong Gai are about 165 kilometers northeast of Hanoi. The repaving of Highway 18 (and the redesign of Highway 5) has cut a full 90 minutes off what was formerly a 5-6 hour trip from Hanoi. Previously, the fastest way to Ha Long was via Haiphong along Highway 5. From this bustling port city, travelers then had to take a couple of ferries along Route 10. This is still the more interesting route but, again, more time-consuming. If you're really in a rush, skip the road and go by Russian-built MI-8 helicopter!
The most expedient way of reaching Ha Long is to purchase an overnight trip from Hanoi-based Buffalo Tours. Better yet book one of their sea kayaking trips!
Independent travelers can arrange their own transportation. For the round trip, expect to pay US$50-$100. You'll also have to book your own boat in Halong Bay. Most for group of over 8 people will save money by this way.
A more adventurous option is to hire a motorbike and cruise out to the bay yourself. Small motorbikes can be rented in Hanoi. Try the Memory Cafe (33b Tran Hung Dao Street; tel: 84-4-826-5854) or the Mai Linh Cafe (22 Cau Go; tel: 84-4-824-4554).
If you have more money than time, or prefer a double shot of adventure, go by helicopter. Helicopter service aboard Russian-built MI-8 or MI-17 helicopters is offered on Saturday only. You depart at 8 a.m. from Gialam heliport, about 15 km from center of Hanoi. Free transportation to Gialam heliport from the Metropole Hotel departs at 7:15 a.m. The return flight is at 3 p.m. the same day. A ticket will set you back US$175 round trip/US$90 one way. Children under 6 pay half.
4/A ground package to visit Halong Bay by boat is sold on behalf of Halong Tourist Company for US$20 per person. Package includes round-trip car transfer from Halong heliport to the boat, boat trip (4-5 hours), lunch, and guide.
5/Contact Northern Flight Services Company (182 Truong Chinh Road; tel: 84-4-852-3451 or at Gialam Airport, tel: 84-4-877-1410). There must be a minimum of 10 passengers to make the trip. Confirm your trip by the Wednesday prior.
Train buffs can get to Haiphong by train in the morning, and then take the afternoon ferry to Bai Chay, or the ferry or hydrofoil to Cat Ba Island. From Haiphong, ferries depart for Hong Gai about three times a day. Schedules change constantly. The fare is about 15,000 dong one-way. Figure an entire day each way.
This is the friendship border between Vietnam and China. Wow!! is my feeling. This photo is still in the land of Vietnam before crossing. The taxi driver begins to tell us how those locals crossing by using the jungle trail just beside the custom checkpoint. Anyway we don't need that....
Which is a big expat hangout:
Halong Bay two day/one night tour with it's good value at $23 and a clean room, good bus, two boat trips and cheap food is provided.