#2daysin Northern Vietnam: a comprehensive 2-day travel guide

From the capital city of Hanoi brimming with delicious cuisine, to amazing landscapes in Halong Bay so surreal they will definitely blow your mind, Northern Vietnam sure won't disappoint.

Hanoi and Halong bay was one of our stop on our mini Asian trip. We went last february which is just after the chinese new year (Tet holiday), we could still see some decorations, and as expected the road is still busy with motorbikes and taxis.

Hanoi is such a culturally rich city. Ive never felt much like this in a city before.

Walking around in Hanoi seems daunting at first, especially when you cross the streets. There were street lights and all but I just dont understand how it works as some cars and bikes wont stop even though the red lights are on. After a while, Ive managed to get on with it and copied how the locals cross the streets which is just to carry on and the cars will stop or avoid hitting you. Sounds scary but believe me, you'll be ok.

When to go?

Offcourse if you like the distinct summer, june to august would be the hottest time in the city, while the winter bit is from december to mid february which can get you a 10 to 20 degree celcius day. Otherwise, best time i would say is the spring and autumn season as it is not too hot and not too cold. Spring and autumn is from mid february to may, and september to november, respectively.

Getting around

Hanoi is extremely well connected by public transport. You can hire a motorcycle taxis (Xe Om). It is one of the most convenient and most inexpensive way to travel around. A 2km journey can cost 20k to 30k vietnamese dong. You can also get a taxi (grab taxis), a cyclo or a bus.

So without further ado, below you’ll find a guide to the best instagrammable locations in Northern Vietnam to prepare you for your next trip. Enjoy!

Day 1

Hanoi Train Street

The train street in Hanoi has become one of the most popular spot in Vietnam, despite the fact that this was not made for tourism. Lying in the old quarter in Hanoi, it is quite in the centre of the city. The houses in the street are so close to each other, more especially the rail ways are so narrow that people stop what theyre doing when the train passes.

When you visit this place, you will also acknowledge the daily life of people of Hanoi, and explore new things you can only see in this place.

  • Getting there: It is quite easy to walk around in Old Quarter, several minutes walk would do. Use google map so you wont get lost.

  • Entrance fee: None

  • Best time to go: Train times Mon – Friday 7 pm; 7.45 pm; 9.30 pm; 10 pm. Weekend 6 am; 9 am ; 11.20 am; 3.20 pm; 5.30 pm; 6 pm; 7 pm; 7.45 pm; 8.30 pm; 9 pm ; 11 pm

  • Instagram tip: Train only passes once on specific times so be ready. It might be daunting if you miss the train but there's some more opportunity for you to catch it. And also, the train is sometimes not on time.

Wall Art

Apart from the train street in Hanoi, you can find street art as well. Being in Vietnam will make you appreciate the local and the rich culture. Street arts will depict the culture of Hanoi.

  • Getting there: several street art can be located in the train street, and around the city.

  • Entrance fee: Free

  • Best time to go: Daylight

  • Instagram tip: Take several photos in different angle. Play with the angles, and then just chose the best one later on.

Bun Cha Huong Lien

This cafe is popular because former potus Barack Obama and Anthony Burdain shared a table here. Bourdain and Obama drank Beers and had some bun cha — a traditional dish in Hanoi that involves self mixing vermicelli rice noodles, herbs, and sometimes spring rolls into a bowl of sweet yellow broth, along with charcoal-grilled pork patties and grilled pork slices, all served in separated small plates.

  • Getting there: Getting around is easy. Make sure to visit the original cafe which is located at 24 Lê Văn Hưu, Phan Chu Trinh, Hai Bà Trưng, Hà Nội. The cafe is so successful they've opened Bun Cha Huong Lien 2 in the other side of the city.

  • Entrance fee: none, but you need to pay for your food afterwards just outside of the cafe

  • Best time to go: avoid lunch time as it is jam-packed

  • Instagram tip: make sure lighting is enough, and focus on food is applied.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

The resting place of the revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. A traffic-free area of monuments, gardens, memorials and pagodas. It is usually congested with Vietnamese citizen who wants to pay respect to the father of their country.

  • Getting there: few minutes walk from the city centre of Hanoi

  • Entrance fee: free

  • Best time to go: open 8am to 5pm except for public holidays

  • Instagram tip: there is a photo area which you can find after you get out of the mausoleum

Dos and donts: Dos: pay respect, be quiet whilst in the queue and inside the mausoleum, Donts: dont wear shorts, dont take pictures inside the mausoleum (vietnamese guards are everywhere with rifles), dont use your phone while in the que and inside the mausoleum

Tran Quoc Pagoda

Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest buddhist temple in Hanoi. It is widely popular for its deep cultural and buddhist value.

  • Getting there: located beside the west lake in Hanoi, several minutes walk from the city centre

  • Entrance fee: free

  • Best time to go: sunrise or sunset

  • Instagram tip: make use of reflections from the lake to get the best photos

Day 2

Halong Bay

Halong bay is a UNESCO heritage containing 1600 islets topped with forest. This location is considered as one of the most photographed spot in the world, which is not really shocking as it is such a beauty.

  • Getting there: we were looking at tours online from Hanoi to Halong bay prior to arrival and it was quite pricy. We decided to just go for a tour which we found locally. They collected us in our hotel and provided all our needs during the day including cruises, entrance fees, lunch buffet, and transfers.

  • Entrance fee: the tour cost about £30 which was actually a good deal

  • Best time to go: early morning as it is almost a 4 hour journey one way from Hanoi

  • Instagram tip: focus and daylight would do, but if you are very keen to get the best photo, you can hire a sea plane or hike up to the Bai Ho mountain to get the best views. I settled for the cruise :)

Trivia: Ha Long means descending dragon in vietnamese, which plays a prominent role in Vietnamese culture.

Street Food

When I travel to different places, I always try the street food and the fine dining (see separate blog post here). This time Ive tried ____ and boy it was heavenly amazing.

  • Getting there: street foods everywhere

  • Entrance fee: none but you pay for your meal

  • Best time to go: 5pm onwards

  • Photo tip: lighting and focus

Có ban đi! 2 days of culturally enriching experience in Northern Vietnam!

#2daysin #vietnam #asiase #hanoi #halong

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