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Getting there & away
Hanoi, along with Ho Chi Minh City, is a major international gateway. Hanoi's Noi Bai International Airport (tel. 04/3886-5047) is about a 45-minute drive outside the city. If you haven't booked a hotel transfer through your hotel, an airport taxi costs 230,000 VND for a sedan taxi, 250,000 VND for a van. To save a few dollars, you can take the Vietnam Airlines minivan into town. It costs $2 for a drop-off at the Vietnam Airlines office, but sometimes for an extra buck you can get the driver to drop you at your hotel if it's along the way. From town to the airport, shuttles depart from the Vietnam Airlines office and cost 20,000 VND. Call tel. 04/3825-0872 to get departure times.
To contact international carriers in Hanoi, try the following: Aeroflot, 360 Kim Ma (tel. 04/3771-8742); Air France, which has a helpful customer service desk on the southwestern edge of Hoan Kiem Lake, 1 Ba Trieu (tel. 04/3825-3484); All Nippon Airways (ANA), 9 Dao Duy Anh (tel. 04/3934-7237); British Airways, 9 Dao Duy Anh (tel. 04/3934-7239); Cathay Pacific, 49 Hai Ba Trung (tel. 04/3826-7298); China Airlines, 6B Trang Tien St. (tel. 04/936-6364); Czech Airlines, 65 Quan Su (tel. 04/3941-1320); Emirates Airlines, 9 Dao Duy Anh (tel. 04/3934-7240); Japan Airlines (JAL), 63 Ly Thai To (tel. 04/826-6693); Lao Airlines, 68 Tran Quoc (tel. 04/822-9951); Malaysia Airlines, 1/F Hanoi Towers, 49 Hai Ba Trung (tel. 04/3934-2304); Pacific Airlines, 152 Le Duan (tel. 04/3851-5350); Qantas Airways, fourth floor at 9 Dinh Le (tel. 04/3933-3026); or Singapore Airlines, 17 Ngo Quyen (tel. 04/3826-8888). Note that if you work with a local ground operator for day tours and trips in Vietnam, most will help with any reconfirmation or flight changes free of charge or for just the cost of necessary local calls.
For domestic connections, your only option (luckily, a good and affordable one) is Vietnam Airlines. The main, and most convenient, Vietnam Airlines office in Hanoi is at 1 Quang Trung St., a street that runs directly west from the southern end of Hoan Kiem Lake (tel. 04/3832-0320). Ticket purchases are made on the second floor (at a good discount from prices quoted at storefront travel agents), and it's an orderly business where you pick a number and wait for the next teller. They accept major credit cards as well as either U.S. dollars or Vietnam dong. The office is open from 7am to 6:30pm Monday to Friday, and in front of the building is a convenient stand of minivans that make regular connections with the airport for just 20,000 VND. A tourist information kiosk is also at the airport, as well as a lost and found (tel. 04/3884-0008).
Hanoi Railway Station, on the western edge of Hoan Kiem District (120 Le Duan; tel. 04/3942-3697; ticket office tel. 04/3942-3949), is a terminal stop on the Reunification Railroad. A comfortable, air-conditioned soft berth to Hue costs 460,000 VND, and it's 1,003,000 VND to Ho Chi Minh City. Buying tickets at the station is easy (but time-consuming), and any travel agent can handle it for a small fee. Both standard and luxury trains from Hanoi to Lao Cai, the jumping-off point for the popular hill town of Sapa, can be booked at traveler cafes in the Old Quarter and from any travel agent; often you can get a special rate on a deluxe overnight train to Lao Cai and your overnight accommodations in Sapa. Slow trains also connect with Haiphong and even to Cao Bang and Lang Son, but these are the kinds of rides that are for train buffs only.
Budget traveler cafes in the Old Quarter, mostly along Hang Bac or Hang Be streets, offer low-luxe seat-in-coach tours. Services and prices are similar: About 690,000 VND earns you an open-tour ticket from Hanoi to Saigon with all stops in between.
Local buses arrive at and depart from the following stations: Gia Lam Station (Nguyen Van Cu St., Long Bien District -- across the Long Bien Bridge and a few clicks to the east of town) runs minibuses and coaches to Haiphong, Halong Bay, Lang Son, and some destinations in the far northwest; Ben Xe Nam Hanoi (Southern Bus Station; 5km/3 miles south of the city) runs regularly to all stops along the southern coast, starting with Ninh Binh and going as far as Ho Chi Minh City, as well as to Dien Bien Phu and the far northwest; Ha Dong Station is north of town and runs buses regularly to Lao Cai (near Sapa).
If you are the adventurous type or simply bored temporarily of the city atmosphere, then consider a cruise in the northern countryside. A round trip will bring you to a lot of charming villages and through hills and valleys with stunning nature. Main roads are generally in good condition and you can easily do a couple of hundred kilometers a day. The villages and provinces are generally safe at night, and you get to see a lot of Vietnamese culture such as various tribe folks. While bus services are in fact available (albeit not always reliable), a recommended alternative is to rent a bike or car and make the trip on your own. Motorbikes in decent quality can be rented for as little as US$5 a day, and many places have suggestions for routes.
- Ha Long Bay's spectacular ocean karst topography is the most popular side-trip from Hanoi. A 2 day, 1 night Ha Long Bay cruise could be bargained down to USD45 at travel agencies. If contacting directly to the guide (on the pier in Halong city or when the bus comes to pick up tourists) price could be USD40 or less. This price includes transportation, accommodation, all tickets and entrance fees, kayaking and food. Ask all the options to be written on your receipt and take foto of your receipt, since guide will collect it. Guide will try to scam you - ask to buy admission ticket, pay for kayaking, etc... Food is very limited on the boat, so it might be good idea to book tour without food (USD10 less) and bring your own. Drinks (even water) are not included and are quite expensive on the boat-50,000 dong, while on the mainland shops 5,000-10,000 dong. Furthermore some cruise charge 10,000 dong/bottom the guests who take their own soft drink or water and 300,000 dong for alcohol drink. Boats and cabins are ok (it is well-controlled industry). There are hundreds of cruise boats leaving everyday, most are quite similar. People who pay more, for 'deluxe' cruise often are being send on the same tour with who pays minimum price. All cabins on the same boat are nearly same, just specify in advance whether you need twin or double. Be careful in kayaking, they might give you half-broken paddles, but if it finally breaks completely, they will charge you. Beware some guild cut some program to see only 1 cave instead 2 caves.
- The Sapa mountain region, home to ethnic minorities, gorgeous mountain scenery, and trekking paths connecting many tiny mountain villages is the second most popular trip. It is accessible by bus or train to Lao Cai, then onward by minibus or hired motorbike. Sleeper bus 11-15$.
- Ha Giang is also a mountainous area with even more impressive landscape than Sapa. There aren't many tours to Ha Giang, so most travelers have to figure out their own ways. But once you get to Ha Giang, you can rent a scooter and have one of the most amazing rides among mountains, valleys and escalated rice fields. Ha Giang gets a lot more popular among backpackers in the last few years, so you will most likely find young European tourists on the way. Buses are available from My Dinh bus station.
- Perfume Pagoda, (Not reasonably reachable by public transport. Tours are available anywhere in Hanoi.),. An ancient Buddhist pilgrimage site about 60km southwest of Hanoi. A full-day excursion that involves a boat trip to the main site, where you will hike (30-45min) or take a cable car up a mountain 90,000 dong/1 way,170,000 dong/round trip. Some travel companies are known to promise a trip up, but only provide a trip down. This saves the travel company money. Make sure to ensure if your ticket is for up or down. Some tour include cable car in the program some is an addition the customers buy after, so before decide to buy the tour should ask the agent include cable car or not. Near the top is a large limestone cave containing Buddhist shrines and statues. There are various other temples and grottoes along the way. The boat trip may include a hidden "tip" not covered by the company you book with. Additionally, the boatkeeper might pickpocket you. The boatkeeper might pickpocket you, and still demand a tip after being caught pickpocketing. The boatkeeper and tour guide might use the local police to intimidate you into paying for the luxury of being pickpocketed, along with a tip and thank you to the police and tour guide. Tour from USD15 including transport, lunch, and admission.
- Bat Trang, a village world-famous for its pottery, 9km southeast of Hanoi. It is accessible by taking Bus 47, which originates at Long Bien. Just hop on (the bus will be clearly labelled with the number 47 and the text "Long Bien - Bat Trang"; bus fare is 5,000 dong one-way as of Dec 2013) and take it to the last stop, which is directly opposite the pottery market (haggle for lower prices, and insist on paying in Dong). Head back up the street to the factories to see artists at work.
- Cao Bang, featuring the beautiful Ban Gioc waterfall, is five hours away by bus, near the Chinese border.
- The Cuc Phuong National Park, the largest national park in Vietnam and an easy day-trip from Hanoi,
- Co Loa is the oldest ancient capital in the region; a little visited site slightly northeast of Hanoi.
- Tam Coc/Hoa Lu: Located in Ninh Binh province, this day trip is a combines heritage tourism and natural landscape tourism. Hoa Lu is the site of the first capital of Vietnam in the 10th century, and was home to two kings-- Dinh Bo Linh (Dinh Tien Hoang) and Le Hoan-- there are now two shrines dedicated to these two kings. About 30 min away from Hoa Lu is Tam Coc [three grottoes]-- also known as Halong Bay on land. It features karst landforms surrounded by paddy fields, and is accessed by little wooden boats. Boats, with a boatman, are for hire at USD3.50/trip, 2 passengers to a boat, which takes about one hour. Obviously, the front seat is the better seat. This is an excellent alternative to Halong Bay for those who have short attention spans, as the boat trip takes a mere hour versus Halong Bay tourist boats which take 5 hours. One minor annoyance involves pedlars on boats hawking their wares, and your boat rower trying to sell you embroidery. This is especially trying at the halfway point when the boats are about to turn around for the return trip. A large number of hawkers on boats will be waiting at that point and will attempt to pressure the passengers to buy souvenirs or snacks, while your boatman makes no attempt to move away. Either buy a small item/snack/drink, or politely but firmly turn them down. They'll generally give up after a few uncomfortable minutes. After boat trip,there is bicycle trip around the village, but some tour agency tactic do not write in the receipt so the customer have to pay addition for rental bicycle 60,000 dong. Trip can be booked in Hanoi for about USD18-20.
- Laos: You can go to Luang Prabang for 42$ but this trip is know as a "nightmare bus". Alternatively you can go to Dien Bien Phu then take a local bus to Muang Khua, switch to river boat to Muang Ngoi and Nong Khiaw from where minivans go to Luang Prabang - that in total will give you the same price but much pleasant trip and opportunity to see and sleep in beautiful Laotian small towns and villages.
Beware: almost hotel, hostel or guest house in Hanoi sell tours and there are many tour agent counters around the city, especially Sinh Cafe. But the rate of the same tour, same agent is very different. So before decide to buy the tour, the tourist have to check several counters compare the price, don't forget to ask what include,what exclude (VAT-Value Add Tax,assurance,bus,guide,meal,entrance fee,boat,bicycle,etc.) aviod to buy too expensive tour or pay more after.
Extending your stay in Vietnam can be done with relative ease in Hanoi. The cost will vary depending on your country of origin as well as your visa type (1 month single entry vs multiple entry vs 3 month entry etc). The most common way to extend your visa is to have an intermediary broker the transaction rather than going directly to the Immigration office to do the paperwork yourself. Every hostel, hotel, and trip agency is able to do this for you, at widely varying prices, so you should definitely ask for the cost at two or three different places to ensure you're not getting ripped off (getting a quote takes about a minute, as asking for visa extensions is a rather common request at most places). As a point of reference, a one month single-entry visa for a US citizen was quoted in June 2014 at prices ranging from $32 to $50 for an additional month extension (you can extend up to 3 months at a time, but the cost for it in the said situation ranged from $140 to $150 so it may be best to request extensions month by month), with a 4 day processing time (excluding weekends). You relinquish your passport to the broker. Please remember to get a receipt. The extension adds 30 days on top of the expiration of your original visa. For what it is worth, Hanoi City Hostel on 95 Hang Ga street did the job flawlessly for US passports for $32 (July 2014).
See more Hanoi travel guide at here.