Sunday, April 24, 2011

Exploring Hanoi Old Quarter Streets & Halong Bay Excursion

As soon as you step into Hanoi Old Quarter, you would notice that everything is centered around the old town.

One of the most beautiful colonial cities, very lively, comprising nearly 40 streets packed with shops selling all kinds of goods, often becomes the start or the end of the traveling point in Vietnam.

It's considerably quieter than Ho Chin Minh, yet retaining its vibrant atmosphere in an antique quarter. I felt exceptionally excited because this was my first solo backpack trip and first couch surfing experience.

The buildings were greatly preserved & vibrant, some were face lifted 
Modern & antique

The people were generally nice and approachable, those who weren't English literate might shy away if you ask for help, I was sure it's easy to get help.

The total Hanoi population was around 6 million according to the tour guide on the bus to Halong Bay, and Wikipedia said so too.

It was also believed that the total number of motor bikes hit nearly 4 million units in Hanoi alone, air pollution was at its highest rate, red alert!

Local seller

One of the commonly seen activities was the local sellers roaming around the town on foot or bike carrying goods with them to sell to the locals & travelers, there were fruits, shirts, pants, sandals & etc.

I would recommend anyone to take your time to walk the town, explore the beauty of the busy streets yourself at your own pace. Plus, a little research of the historical background of the streets and houses would absolutely help lifting your overall experience to the fullest in the Old Quarter.

Chinese chess lovers on the street

Although many of the streets no longer sell the products after which they were name, some still do. There's a list of the street names & its descriptions.

Today, the Old Quarter has become the unique classical feature of Hanoi, and one of the desired tourist destinations in Hanoi. I was in love with this little antique yet vibrant city very much, it's full of life!

Local selling carrying goods walking down the street

If you are a lazy, and with little time to spare, the cyclo/trishaw is an alternative to explore the town at ease, $1 per ride for 15-30min.

Typical passageway that links to houses at the back

Quiet alley
Tien on Call

Tien was my personal motorbike driver, recommended by Dr. Tuyet, he was a reliable person that anyone could count on. He helped me to negotiate prices on goods, taught me some useful Vietnamese language, very handy at times.

He’s so cute, we had real good time hanging out together at restaurants and bars, trying to guess what the other said because he spoke limited English, so we occasionally ought to draw on paper just to to be sure we were communicating correctly.

Tien, my next best Vietnamese friend

I promised him more businesses for him, if you are going to Hanoi & need a ride, please call him at +84 0978221346, he should be able to help you ordering food (cheaper than you order yourself), teach you some useful local words, most importantly roam around the town with his motorbike for a relatively cheap rate, only $8-12, 5-8 hours. Please tip him!

We hanged out at Puku earlier on my first day, a Cafe Pub with WiFi, here I finally felt I was connecting back to the world with my friends & family. Posted a few tweets and photos on Facebook then chilled with Tien, it's beer time! Heinneken 30,000 VND or RM7!

Puku, cafe & bar with wifi
Cozy little cafe
This shaky image was taken with the help from Tien while we were chilling at the cafe in the evening

You should tell him when to come back to pick you up from where he left you if you wish to stay on longer to spend time at a place. He's a very handy assistant, he helped me to buy my train tickets to Sapa while I spent my own time walking down the street at Hoan Kiem Lake, the legendary turtle lake.

Halong Bay Excursion

"Halong Bay" is literally translated as "bay of the descending dragons". Most people come to Halong Bay on a tour.

For about USD50 you can get a standard two nights stay of backpacker accommodation, and the prices varied depending on the type of quality you are getting, the junk, the food, the bed.

I woke up in the morning on my second day and Tien was there to take me to the travel agency to catch the bus with other travelers for the famous Halong Bay excursion.

Halong Bay is situated 170km east to Hanoi, traveling by minibus not more than 4 hours, and they stopped once at the souvenir center so we could use a break.

The idea is a few days of cruising around Halong Bay, one of the most magnificent natural splendours of Asia. The best way to appreciate Halong Bay is by boat or junk whatever you name it.

Few could fail to be impressed with Halong Bay, with over 2,000 limestone islands jutting out of the green waters.

IndoChina junk at Halong Bay
Halong Bay, the splendors of Asia

It was easy to book Halong Bay package, the agencies were everywhere. The fee for me was $40/pax for one night, $60 for two nights, shared room with or without air conditioning, inclusive of two lunches, dinner, breakfast and transportation. The package also included a stop for visiting Hang Song Sut cave.

Indulging Asian food

Soon after boarding the junk, lunch was served, they could even cater for vegetarian and non-seafood lover. The tour guide would request you to inform them earlier on the journey to Halong Bay so they could make the special arrangement for you.

Crap shell

Crispy spring roll

Steam lala

Crispy fried chicken

Steam fish

Friend tofu

The drinks on boat were ordered and paid separately, wasn’t sure how much was a can of Coke or Pepsi, but a can of Tiger beer was fairly cheap at 30,000 VND, less than RM7. Beers were simply irresistible!

The view from the upper deck on the junk was sensational, weather was fantastic, we had the Sun sticking out and was around 23 degrees.

The blue sky
The clusters lime stones at Halong Bay

Dock at Hang Sung Sot cave

The day was usually getting darker around 5pm, and it should be completely dark by 6.30pm.

The soft soothing wind, the sound of the waters flapping over the boat. The junk’s engine should have stopped by now, having my own sweetest moment at the top of the deck all by myself before dinner, the mind was exceptionally calm & relaxed…

The light in the dark would guide us through the storm

The night with laughters and beers

The night was exceptionally quiet, I was able to listen to the music being played from the junk rested about 100 meters away. They played some oldies..

Then dinner was served.

Steamed sweet shrimp

French fries


Fried tofu

Crunchy fried potatoes

Fried chicken slice

I met some of the most fascinating individuals from all around the world with plenty of backpacking experience, they were unbelievable!

The newly wed lovely Israeli, traveling for couple of weeks for honey moon
Every Israeli man or women has to take part in servicing the military. The men would serve up to minimum 3 years after high school, and the women 2 years.

French mid wives, entering 4th week of their 6 weeks Asian trip, they would work and travel at any part of the world

The night usually ended with laughters and beers, every individual I came across they must have some exciting stories to tell, some talked about their trip, or homeland, or people they had met along the way, or their dogs and cats.

The clear night sky was the greatest thing we had on that night, relaxing under the shining stars.

The next day I exchanged contacts with some of my new friends, left group after breakfast and went on to another junk with a Switzerland uncle as the rest would spend another night at Cat Ba Island which I didn’t sign up for.

We spent an hour kayaking around the limestone islands, watch out for the big boats around you, make sure you don’t get in their ways and run down by them.

Returning to the jetty at noon was also enjoyable, I took pleasure of relaxing on the deck, the Sun and the gentle breeze were my friends. We then headed for a fine lunch before the bus took us on 3 hours drive back to Hanoi.

Viet house restaurant

Lunch before leaving Halong

Crispy spring roll

Sweet orange soup

Golden fried shrimp

My incredible experience in Halong Bay excursion ended here.

Halong Bay outfit!


  1. Very informative post... and your photos make me wanna go to Halong Bay!!! But not backpacker style of course! :)

  2. Haha Jean, too bad, it will be a lot of fun! But quite easy, just double up my budget of $30 a day to $60, and you will be able to live like a queen!

  3. OMG. i am so gonna make my first backpack trip next year after graduation!!!! saliva dripping after reading ur blog post!!!! between, i like the tattoo u had. hahaha

  4. your photos are great!

    I went to Hanoi/Halong Bay around 2 weeks ago and your pictures remind me of that fun trip!

    I'll add you in my blogroll if you don't mind

  5. hey, may i know which trip/travel you use for the Halong bay?

    Thank you