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Halong Bay tour & Hanoi accomodation

Posted by eklecticist on 7/6/2007 at 08:19

Hi all,

I'll be arriving in Hanoi with 5 other friends on 24th June and we will be staying for a week.

1) We are planning to take a 3 days 2 nights Halong Bay tour (kayaking!) with Handspan and instead of making an online booking with them via the website, we have decided to book directly with them or through our guesthouse in case the tour is cheaper. (When I was in Phuket, the island hopping tours were much cheaper and negotiable when we booked it directly with the agencies at Patong beach instead of booking online!) Anyone has got an experience with this? An recommended tours too?

2) Regarding accomodation in Hanoi, we have decided to stay at either Hello Vietnam Hotel or Good Morning Vietnam Hotel though I'm actually more inclined towards the former, after having read excellent reveiws at hostelworld.com. Hello Vietnam Hotel is about USD6 a night per person and located at 28 Thanh ha lane, Hoan kiem district. Is this a good/central district near the shopping/ markets/sights? Anyone got an experience with this ?

Also, am i likely to get a better rate with them face-to-face at the guesthouse? Because i was thinking of booking only 1 night via hostelworld.com and the rest of the nights at the hotel itself as we have not decided if we want to stay in Hanoi for 3 days first before going Halong Bay or vice versa...

3) Any recommendations for good shopping (the girls and I are looking forward to nice, cheap imported US brands that are made in Vietnam! )/ Vietnamese cuisine/ seafood (this will prob be at halong bay) ? Anyone knows any major shopping centres or factory outlet stores?

4) With about 3 days left after the Halong bay tour, what other places that do not require much travelling can we visit? A Vietnamese friend of mine recommended me a one-day Perfume Pagoda tour... Anywhere else?

Sorry for the overwhelming nature of the questions... I'm at work and absolutely cannot wait for the 24th! MANY THANKS in advance for any help/comments :)

#1 eklecticist has been a member since 17/5/2006. Posts: 6

Posted by CatBa on 7/6/2007 at 17:33

Handspan is a reseller of Ha Long Bay Tours, it doesn't own a boat. THEY ALSO OVERCHARGE.

However, Emeraude and < http://Tropical-Sails.com > DO own their boats - therefore they can give you a better choice of cabins, boats and sailing dates.

You should avoid Ha Noi travel agents like the plague - they have so many tricks to separate you from your money.

Some travel agents have 'white' people who come on with the 'I'm like you, I will give you a deal'. Don't believe it!

You said: "in case the tour is cheaper" - dream on and then get real.

One agency, with an Australian front guy, books hotel rooms through an on-line res system (which you can use just as well) and the he sells them to his customers at 10% above rack rate (published rates) and he walks away with a big smile!

Another trick is to book rail travel in a cheap class and charge you for a higher class relying on the fact you won't have time to complain.

I live in VietNam and have taken the time to recover money stolen from visitors - it takes time but in the end the fraud artists see the easiest way out. (Ask Camel!)

On the Perfume Pagoda tour there is another little challenge. When you board the small boat, often a Vietnamese female, complete with her wares, gets on and you are subjected to a hard sell. Then, when you return from the tour, the damn tour the boat operator demands a chunky tip!

As for hotels you are on your own. Just make sure you get the Vietnamese name, address and telephone number and don't be surprised if your reservation is vapourware - if another Traveller rolls up earlier with hard cash and gets your room!

Bottom line is deal with travel vendors directly before using an intermediary.

#2 CatBa has been a member since 5/3/2007. Posts: 349

Posted by somtam2000 on 8/6/2007 at 09:12 admin

Hi eklecticist,

Good questions and some pretty good info there from catBa.

Handspan do tend to get a lot of good feedback, though you may want to give our stories about the Ha Long Bay tours a read before settling on them -- it really depends on the type of experience you're after, and while Emeraude may well be very good, they are also very expensive...

Regarding accommodation in Hanoi. I'm not familiar with Hello Vietnam nor Good Morning Vietnam, but for US$6 a night in Hanoi rest assured you won't be getting very much! Even if you skip Hostel world and get a room on arrival -- how much could you hope to save -- perhaps a dollar a night -- hardly worth it...

#3 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,062

Posted by Nettiv on 9/6/2007 at 20:46

Hostelworld can be great - but my experience has been that hotel desks will argue with the rate that you've paid the deposit for, even if you have a print out! The most common excuse I've heard (both in Europe and SE Asia) is that "Hostelworld doesn't include taxes".

#4 Nettiv has been a member since 9/6/2007. Posts: 1

Posted by ernieh on 11/6/2007 at 08:47

Hi eklecticist,

I shopped around for Sapa and Halong Bay tours and I agree with I agree with CatBa Handspan as they one of the most expensive tour operators in Hanoi. A number of tour operators in Hanoi are known to be very dodgy so watch out. Sinh Cafe is one of the oldest and most reliable tour operators in Vietnam. Their is about 30+ store fronts that advertise Sinh Cafe tour operators.

A tour operator I would recommend is Ocean Tours (www.oceantoursvietnam.com). They received positive feedback from a number of travellers on Travelfish.

The Old Quarter area (north of Hoan Kiem Lake) is full of clothing shops. The best thing to do is walk around.

With 3 days left you could go to Sapa and do some trekking to hillside tribe villages. I decided to this trip on own.

Overnight train with soft sleeper cost VND 240,000 O/W ($15). Book your train ticket from the train station as travel agents in Hanoi will charge you almost $20.

Transfer from Loa Cai tarin stn. to Sapa is VND 25,000.

2 day of trekking cost $12 per day. It included an english speaking guide, food and homestay at one of the villages. I booked at CatCat Hotel when I arrived.

All together I paid $57 for the train, transfer and trek. The two other travellers that I trekked with booked the same from a tour operator in Hanoi for $99.

I stayed at Rising Dragon Hotel (www.risingdragonhotel.com) on 61 Huang Be Street (Old Quarter) area. I paid $13 for a twin room which included TV, fridge, AC and free breakfest and internet. It's a newer hotel and close to the where all the good shops are located (Old Quarter area). The normal rate was $15. Always ask for a better price as their is so many good inexpensive hotels in Hanoi.


#5 ernieh has been a member since 21/3/2007. Posts: 49

Posted by illummax on 17/6/2007 at 20:13

I agree with eklecticist on the Shih Cafe. The rates and service they offer were reasonable.

#6 illummax has been a member since 17/6/2007. Posts: 2

Posted by carmen75 on 18/6/2007 at 12:37

I'm with CatBa on this one, there are many dodgy tricks turned by agents. One that I've heard good reports on though is South Pacific Travel (www.southpacifichp.com), who also do Ha Long Bay trips with their own, and contracted boats. Emeraude of course is beautiful, but quite a bit more expensive.

#7 carmen75 has been a member since 19/4/2007. Posts: 8

Posted by HomerJSimpson on 18/6/2007 at 22:40

to be honest, I have just returned from the Fansipan/Vega tour of Halong Bay. This is what I got:

1) One night on the boat with 12 others, single accomodation with air con

2) All meals, apart from Day 1 breakfast, Day 2 dinner and Day 3 Dinner - all 5 course + meals.

3) 3 star hotel tay in Cat Ba Town.

4) Trek, kayaking, swimming.

Only thing not included was drinks.

I paid 85USD (with a 15USD single supplement)

The guide was excellent, and the service superb.

You can get cheaper if you forgo air con, but going real cheap means you share with 45 others, rather than a small group.

Handspan quoted 160USD for the same trip.

Hope this helps..


#8 HomerJSimpson has been a member since 18/4/2007. Posts: 6

Posted by gohmalaysia on 19/6/2007 at 11:08


Just back to Malaysia from Hanoi & Halong Bay on 16/6/2007.
We got the same deals as that of HomerJSimpson but each us paid USD72 (USD 154 for both) for a twin bed air-con room from Vega Travel, No. 24A Hang Bac Street Hanoi, situated in the Old Quarters. Easy to find.
Better get an air-con room for your night stay in the boat as the humidity can be torturous at this time of the year even for Malaysia humid standard.
Verbal feedback from others at the end of trip was that they had a great time. Our guide, whose name is Bar, speaks good English and such jovial fellow.
Good luck. Have a great time. Don't forget your swim trunks/atire before your trip.

#9 gohmalaysia has been a member since 18/6/2007. Posts: 5

Posted by rakhee2108 on 26/7/2007 at 19:02

Hi. I did a 3day/2night tour of Halong Bay last month. We booked at Et Pumpkin travel agent and the tour company's name was Trekking Travel. Max. group size = 16. The tour was excellent, the guide was nice and spoke good English and the company stuck to their itinerary so we got everything that we paid for.

Day 1: pick up from guesthouse. Drive to Halong Bay (3-4hrs). Board boat - seafood lunch. Afternoon - visit Surprising Cave (beautiful). Then swimming and kayaking around the islands. Dinner. Sleep on boat (fan room - NB: no electricity between midnight-6am).

Day 2: sail to Cat Ba Island. Option of cycling or trekking up island. Arrive at hotel. (3* with A/C). Lunch at hotel. Afternoon - visit Monkey Island. More swimming and kayaking. Dinner at hotel.

Day 3: Breakfast at hotel. Board boat - sail back to Halong Bay. Stop for swimming. Lunch at restaurant on drive back to Hanoi.

We thought the tour operator Trekking Travel was very good. The food was western-Vietnamese so was fairly simple. The seafood dishes were good. We paid $55 per person for this trip. However, we found others had paid much less for this trip. Kangaroo Cafe offered this 3day/2night trip for about $45.

#10 rakhee2108 has been a member since 8/3/2007. Posts: 55

Posted by timtom76 on 11/1/2008 at 10:49

i want to do a tour of halong bay but all these comments do nothing but put me off!! i have already had lots of people trying to rip me off!!!! is their any where down the coast i can go which is peaceful,hassle free and have no fear of being ripped off!! many thanks tim

#11 timtom76 has been a member since 16/12/2007. Posts: 1

Posted by beaune on 22/1/2008 at 13:47

wish i had found this site before my trip. Booked with Tonkin travel after reading good reviews. Found out from other travelers that we were overcharged -$30/pp for the Lagoon Explorer and $25/pp to have the train tickets delivered to hotel. There were 4 of us, such a steep commission I would rather do it myself to save a total of $220.

#12 beaune has been a member since 22/1/2008. Posts: 2

Posted by enk on 5/5/2009 at 22:34

Am trying to decide between 2 tours (2 days/1 night): One offered by Handspan -and one by Ocean Tours.

The Handspan tour is called Lagoon Explorer http://www.handspan.com/?opt=tour&cId=48&tId=87

The Ocean Tours tour is called Deluxe Cruise Away. http://www.oceantours.com.vn/Tours/TourDetail.aspx?TourId=101&CategoryId=12

Wondering what people think of these two companies -Handspan and Ocean Tours - and who would you recommend??

#13 enk has been a member since 5/5/2009. Posts: 9

Posted by brucemoon on 6/5/2009 at 06:27


On another of your posts, I advised that you read further before you decide.

I hadn't seen your post here.

Are you really being serious?

Did you read the material submitted above?

Catba, above, describes what Handspan are selling. Did you read that?

If so, I suggest you should have indicated why you still think Handspan has something to offer.

Asking Travelfish contributors to help you with a decision means that each Travelfish contributor will have to spend time writing, etc., to respond to you.

The least you could do is do your research first! Then, and only then, ask your question.


#14 brucemoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by rebeccafarrent on 7/5/2009 at 09:38

Hi all,

Actually I can not comment anything as I'm new here. But a friend of mine who has recently come back from her Halong bay trip told me that she was totally disappointed by Hanspan. When she stepped into their office in Hanoi, the staff on duty that day was not friendly and helpful. She did not feel welcome. I'm wondering if they are too much proud of their brand?

Just what I heard.

#15 rebeccafarrent has been a member since 2/5/2009. Posts: 37

Posted by enk on 7/5/2009 at 09:49

No need to respond to my post anymore. Have made a decision and will be booking this weekend. Thanks for your assistance all.

#16 enk has been a member since 5/5/2009. Posts: 9

Posted by brucemoon on 7/5/2009 at 10:39


Did you ask your friend whether it was a Handspan office, or a 'copy'?

When last there, I found 3 Handspan offices (and dozens of Sinh Cafe offices).

As I've written elsewhere, the Hanoi gov't doesn't care about travel agent trademarks and appears to allow anyone to open a 'travel agent' shop, copy the trademark and say they are that travel agent.

It puts a new spin on the term 'buyer beware'.


#17 brucemoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by waterbeo on 7/5/2009 at 23:54

Why haven't I heard anything about the so called Handspan? I do need to check it all again.
@brucemoon: No, just they register to the gov one name, but later on, show another brandname. The gov's too buzy wz other important things more than this... So, the merchandises freely to show whatever they want

#18 waterbeo has been a member since 7/5/2009. Posts: 9

Posted by brucemoon on 8/5/2009 at 06:36



is a 'would be' travel agent - con merchant.

He has made similar 'trust me' posts elsewhere on Travelfish today.

Believe what he writes at your peril!!!


#19 brucemoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by CindyVu on 8/6/2009 at 16:34

I have an ideal for you. I think you should book a tour through direct website of overnight cruise. Travel agent is not owner of these cruise. So the price is higher. I booked a tour from removed last year. removed is the famous brand name on Ha Long bay with high services. removed sent me newsletter about summer promotion valid from 1st May to 30 Sep, 2009. This is the good chance to save money for your holiday.

Happy traveling!

#20 CindyVu has been a member since 8/6/2009. Posts: 1

Posted by somtam2000 on 8/6/2009 at 17:06 admin

I'm leaving the message above this one (the post by "CindyVu") to serve as an example of just why we post the Vietnamese flag by posts originating from Vietnamese IP addresses. I've deleted the name of the business that is being spruiced to save them further humiliation, but they're an extremely well known Ha Long Bay tour operator.

CindyVu first spammed the Ha Long Bay feature stories -- first making clear their identity as somehow affiliated with the company, and then, after that post was deleted, they posted again, this time pretending to be a guest on a cruise -- which was also deleted.

They then had a breather for a few hours, returned to Travelfish, became a member, and posted the above. They've now been banned -- though they'll probably be back -- we've banned one agency in Hue over 70 times!

I've left the above to illustrate the importance of BUYER BEWARE when it comes to Ha Long Bay tours. Treat any post on Travelfish about Ha Long Bay with a good deal of caution -- unless it comes from a Travelfish regular -- ie someone who has a bit of a posting history.

First time posts, made from Vietnamese IP addresses, pushing Ha Long Bay tours are almost always spam -- there are exceptions to this of course, but the vast majority are spammers -- and I delete them as fast as I can.

Hope that helps!

#21 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,062

Posted by damiancd on 2/8/2009 at 17:46

Hello everybody!!!

you can find quite cheap tour to halong bay for 3 days and 2 nights..
as cheap as 34 dollars.....

expet be treated like cow and always the same food
change boat few time,change of itinerary,not doing all you be promised,wait for hours to get on the bus and boat,and so on....

one advise make sure you don't go with AZ Queen Travel.
so even if you buy it from an agency or hotel make sure they don't contract taht company. why?

just an example:
the boat is for 16 people,well they put 25
they force u to give them the passport(which is illigal, we gave them a Photocopy of the details and the visa) so at the end of the tour they will ask u to pay some money for any reason they made up;
even so some people gave them the original one and 4 people got it stolen..
so never leave money ,camera or passport anywhere even if they tell otherwise...not only the people on our boat got their belongins stolen but many more we met
and the last one cat bat national park is not worth it; only mud and trees...

hopefully you have a better expirience!!!

#22 damiancd has been a member since 22/7/2009. Posts: 3

Posted by terryturbojr on 19/9/2009 at 08:48

Wish I'd seen the previous post before I took my tour with AZ Queen Travel/A Z Queen Travel in Hanoi.

We took a cheap tour knowing it would be pretty crappy (normally avoid tours like the plague, preferring to do stuff ourself - this will be the last one we do for the remianing 2 months of our trip) but it ended up being more like a taxi service that we sat on. They were continuously ferrying people from one boat to another or to Cat Ba Island so the bit of Halong Bay you saw was the same two routes twice. On top of that due to this ferrying around the swimming didn't start till 7 (in the dark) and the kayaking was at 6.30am. The prime time afternoon slot was spent waiting in Cat Ba town for 3 hours (we were told we could explore the town - 3 minutes is fine for that) for our lift.

Even with this I'd had an enjoyable enough time though thought for the 40 bucks it was fine value for money but then one of the staff robbed 1.2 million dong out of my money belt. It normally nevers leaves my waist but I had to take it off for the kayaking for half an hour and then 1.2 million went missing in that half an hour. The staff's soul response was 'no one can get in your room when it's locked, sorry.'

So whilst a cheap tour is all good if you just want to see the bay I'd avoid these guys at the minute as, with my incident and the one above 10 days ago, there definitely seems to be a thief aboard their boat at the minute.

#23 terryturbojr has been a member since 18/9/2009. Posts: 2

Posted by cupthehand on 19/9/2009 at 09:38

Does anyone have any experience with these guys http://www.hanoibackpackershostel.com/ I was gonna stay there and do both a Halong Bay and a Sapa Valley trip with them.

#24 cupthehand has been a member since 22/5/2009. Posts: 6

Posted by terryturbojr on 20/9/2009 at 18:00

I've spoke to a few folk who've been on the Hanoi Backpackers one. Seems to be a big piss up really - loads of young Westerners partying - and gets good reviews if that's what you're after. It was $109 for 3 day/2 nights.

#25 terryturbojr has been a member since 18/9/2009. Posts: 2

Posted by dot86 on 20/1/2010 at 18:15

Has anyone heard of Paloma Cruise? I found this tour online and want to know whether they are legitimate.
I am trying to find a 2 day/one night tour at Halong Bay just before Vietnam's Chinese New Year. Both Handspan and Ocean Tours do not operate during this period. Any suggestions?

#26 dot86 has been a member since 20/1/2010. Posts: 2

Posted by Jnmaxine on 10/6/2011 at 14:45

My boyfriend and I are actually here in hanoi and are dying to leave. This is our last stop before heading back to the states. We did the halong bay tour (glory cruise ship) 2 days/1 night. If we had more time we would've easily stayed 1 more night. Halong bay is absolutely beautiful. However Hanoi overall is nothing to rave abt unless you enjoy musuems, which we would've liked to do and was scheduled on our itinerary. Unfortunately when we got here we were told the musuems are closed fridays and Monday's. due to our flight arrangement back home we could not do any museums and have been wandering around Hanoi with not much to do. The food also is not anything special. The locals are not az friendly as in the south. The street vendors are over priced so definitely do not settle on the first price offered. Watch out for pineapple ladies trying to throw bamboo carriers for photo ops and then try and charge you 500,000 dong (approx 25.00USD). My suggestion is the halong bay tour 2 nights/3 days, and 1 day in Hanoi to visit museums then continue on to sapa or try our hoi an for 3 days minimum or however many days you have left after the halong bay tour. 5 whole day in Hanoi is wayyy to many days to spend in this city. Hope this helps!

#27 Jnmaxine has been a member since 8/3/2011. Posts: 6

Posted by podus on 23/8/2011 at 14:04

me and one other have found ourselves stuck in Hanoi for about a week (the downside of booking flights waay in advance) and after reading what seems like everything on this and other forums about halong bay tours, we have finally decided to go with Kangaroo Cafe's 2day 1 night tour. i will post back here with a follow up on how it was, to hopefully help others out with any decisions :) we'd like to go with someone more "reputable" like handspan or ocean tours, but sadly the $135 pricetag is far too much for us. although i've read a lot about how much the owner (max) sucks, it seems to be largely unfounded. he seemed like a sour kinda guy, but not the all-out racist a-hole that one forum paints him as. who knows. the pics of the boat look nice, and there's a max of 14 people...

i would also like to add that wing hotel in Hanoi (just around the corner from Hang Manh st on the northern end) is NOT a great place to stay - it's run by muppets, and the "included" breakfast does not seem to exist. they're rude and useless, and i'd just like to warn people off staying with them.

podus, Hanoi

#28 podus has been a member since 23/8/2011. Posts: 4

Posted by heddenswest on 11/9/2011 at 19:23

We're heading to Ha Long bay at the end of September and just found a company that is called Ethnic Travel. They do Ha Long bay tours, treks, etc.
Does anyone have any experience going through this company?

Any recent trips to Ha Long bay that you would recommend?


#29 heddenswest has been a member since 7/1/2011. Posts: 32

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