Text page


Vietnam forum

Trip Report - North Vietnam

Posted by aroomwithaview on 6/11/2022 at 07:58

Just returned from a 3 week trip to North Vietnam. Overall, I was thrilled to return not only to Vietnam, but to overseas travelling after a rather difficult 2 years. I went the slow travel route, about a week at each destination allowing for poor weather, possible illness ( I did get a nasty cold towards the end which put a dampener on things) and to get a feel for the area and develop a little rapport with a coffee shop worker or a local pho bo vendor. 

Hanoi. It's bouncing back quickly and the buzz is generally back. Most, if not all, of the foreign owned restaurants in the Old Quarter seemed to have disappeared. Backpackers are returning and, I must say, what an arrogant bunch of kids they are; maybe that's me being a middle-class, middle-aged traveller, who doesn't dress in "adventure wear" or Teva sandals and faded t-shirts, anyways, I digress. Hanoi has always had some grumpy residents, and that's still the case. However, if you walk around with an air of humbleness, and treat the vendors respectfully, you'll be greeted with smiles and kindness. I think in general they're very grateful to get the tourist dollar back, but there is some resentfulness towards Western travellers. One young fellow threatened to spit on me, but overall I had a good experience with the locals in Hanoi. Also, Koreans seem to be a force now and many of the local youth are enamoured by Korean culture. Ba Dinh district is my favourite. There's some peaceful lakes surrounded by coffee shops such as Ho Huu Tiep.

Cao Bang. What a find! The town is peaceful and laid-back. Spent a week up there. The thing to do is visit Ban Gioc waterfall, which lived up to expectations. However, the entire area is surrounded by magnificent karst scenery. You can either go the motorbike route, or, play it safe like I did, and hire a car and driver who knew the best spots for photography. Phong Nam district was an absolute highlight. Some of the best scenery I've seen in SE Asia is to be experienced there. Food options weren't awesome in Cao Bang, and very little English is spoken. There was an extremely decent pizza restaurant called Pedro's, which was a nice change to noodles, rice and banh mi. I found a good breakfast place on the river selling Bun Bo Hue. I stayed at the mighty Jeanne Hotel, a 1 star hotel with 5 star service! They were nice people and spoke English quite well. 

Ninh Binh. An old favourite. Hired a quality bicycle and cruised the karst scenery with google maps. There's zero need to go on an overpriced tour when you can do it so easily by yourself. The lookout Hang Mua Peak and Hoa Lu, the ancient capital, have become tourist traps with aggressive locals trying to push you onto their parking spaces which you'll pay for. Don't get sucked in like me by paying 10,000 VND for a ticket to the peak, which turned out to be the guy's parking ticket which should have been free. There's a booth to get the proper ticket which is 100,000 VND. I stayed in town as I didn't want to be marooned on a homestay or in a slightly crass place like Tam Coc whose restaurants seem to be squarely aimed at foreigners. Ninh Binh has developed heaps since my last visit a decade ago, but the scenery is still magnificent. 

I got around mostly by limousine minivans. They are comfortable, but the drivers are insane and aggressive and you're not always dropped off door-to-door so you'll have to possibly take a taxi to the pickup point and a taxi to your hotel. I've done enough locals busses. I was a little disappointed that the train to Ninh Binh was fully booked 3 days before travel. Perhaps try and book 5 days in advance. 

It was nice being on the road again, and even though Vietnam is modernising rapidly, it's still very much Vietnam and Hanoi is such a fantastic city. 

#1 aroomwithaview has been a member since 31/3/2015. Posts: 13

Posted by exacto on 6/11/2022 at 12:35

Thanks for the detailed trip report. I'm glad you had such a good time.

Apart from the train to Ninh Binh, did you notice if other things were booked out a few days in advance too? Did you make advance bookings for accommodation, for example, or just turn up and book a room on arrival? Were other forms of transportation readily available?

Finally, are the locals wearing masks or have they stopped? I ask because I am in Thailand at the moment and about 90 percent of locals are still wearing masks. That's a bit less than two months ago, however, when masks were universal with the local Thai population. Regards.

#2 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,848

Posted by aroomwithaview on 6/11/2022 at 20:50

Hi exacto,

I booked the limousine vans maybe 1-2 days' in advance. They are pretty much hassle free and reasonably priced. For example, Hanoi to Cao Bang (about a 7 hour trip), was 380,000 VND. 

There's always local busses going, but in Hanoi, I find it a pretty stressful experience at the main bus station. Depending on where you're going, I'd take the train for a nicer experience, but try to book 5 days in advance. There are various websites to do this. It seemed it's basically the train, limousine vans, local bus and sleeper/long distance bus. I'd take the train option every time if I could. In cities, taxis are the way to go (Mai Linh are honest) and Grab. Your hotel can organise a Grab for you. I tried it myself, but the driver called me and drove away when he saw it was a non-Vietnamese speaker, however, a friend managed to use Grab without the driver calling him up. 

There seemed to be an abundance of accommodation where I went. In Cao Bang, there's a bunch of 1-5 star hotels on the main road next to the river, but they aren't all on the hotel booking websites. Personally, these days at least, I like to book my accommodation in advance as I don't like walking the streets with my luggage looking for somewhere to stay and I enjoy the planning process. However, in the places in visited, I doubt you'd have any issues finding a decent dig for the night. Tourism hasn't fully bounced back (will it ever?) yet. 

In relation to masks, I'd guess 30% - 40% wear masks. I heard it's mandatory, but the police don't enforce it. Naturally, there's still a bit of unease in the air and if you've got a cold, definitely wear a mask to escape the dirty looks. I sneezed on the minivan and a local woman immediately changed seats away from me. 

#3 aroomwithaview has been a member since 31/3/2015. Posts: 13

Posted by somtam2000 on 18/11/2022 at 08:57 admin

Thanks for the report, interesting stuff, particularly what you say about some of the travellers you came across, as here in Bali, many of the travellers busting in after a couple of years at home could do well to chill out a bit. Good to hear about the vans—that is a mighty affordable price to Cao Bang—and yes, beautiful area!

#4 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,097

Posted by aroomwithaview on 23/11/2022 at 08:50

Hi somtam,

I guess we were all backpackers at some stage and felt obliged the wear the backpacker uniform (back in the 90s it was Teva sandals, quick drying shorts and a Beer Lao t-shirt with the enviable dry-sack slung over the shoulder to show you'd been to Bali or tubing at Vang Vieng whilst carrying a Lonely Planet in one hand and a bottle of water in the other).  I did feel, however, that the arrogance level had increased somewhat; possibly due to not being able to spread their wings for 2 years and the feeling as though SE Asia is theirs and middle-aged punters wearing polo shirts shouldn't be there. 

Anyways, it's good to see people out there travelling again. Hopefully another trip next year is on the horizon; not sure where, though. 


#5 aroomwithaview has been a member since 31/3/2015. Posts: 13

Please login to add your reply

You need to be a Travelfish member to be able to add a post to the forum. After logging in you'll be returned to this page automatically to add your post. Not a member? Join up here.