Life Of A Hanoi Expat: Weekend Getaway From The City

Living as a Hanoi expat, many feel lucky that they have found a home in this small tranquil city. However, no city can stand out of the lively working circle. No matter how much you love Hanoi, sometimes the urge to escape its daily busy routine hunts you down, when you eventually found yourself planning for a real “escape”. Well, not because you hate the city, but because the packed schedule tires you out during weekdays.

We, the team of some Hanoian and expats, have some evil suggestions for a weekend getaway from your favorite city – Hanoi.

1. Halong Bay 2-day-1-night cruise trip

Where would you hide after escaping from those noisy and annoying streets? Sea – emerald water below, sunlight above, snugging in a comfortable adirondack chair – you will want to immerse yourself in the peaceful sea. The North of Vietnam might not have some best beaches like the South but the region has a precious gift: the UNESCO World Heritage of Halong Bay that has been world famous for its natural beauty.

Bhaya-Classic-VII-2015-Overview (8)Although 3-day-2-night trip on a giant luxury cruise has been trendy recently, 2-day-1-night escape would be the best option for a weekend getaway. Choose a small boutique boat of 5-7 cabins if you love a cozy and private trip. After all, you’ve already got too much buzz, isn’t it the best to go for the small-cruise concept for more quietness? The new Premium Balcony Cabin has totally nailed it with a private balcony in every room, which gives you your own little space to just chill under the clear sky and sunlight, or read in the sweet sound of your cruise surfing on the water.

Bhaya-Classic-VII-2015-Deluxe-Twin-Cabin (1)However, if you’re more of an outgoing and sociable type, try some bigger cruise with a good crowd to network and be accompanied all the time. A cruise of 20 cabins with around 40 passengers creates and amazing community to blend in. Have some drinks in the bar, sit down for a chit chat with people from all over the world while enjoying the sea breeze on sundeck. Call it a day!

Bhaya-Classic-Relax-on-sundeck2. Road trip to Moc Chau

Have you ever dreamed of a heaven where lies a giant carpet of flowers and greenery? Well, that’s not a dream but the true heaven literally exist in Moc Chau. About 185km from Hanoi, the beautiful town is within the reach of a motorbike, which might take about 5-6 hours. In fact, there’s no better way to relish the scenery than doing a road trip to this famous highland. Feel free to make a short stop wherever you want since every single spot on the way is photography-worthy.

dong-cai-trang-moc-chauMoc Chau has different charm in different time of year, but all related to a certain seasonal flower. From January to March, during the loveliest season of spring, the town is lightened up with the pink blush of peach and plum blossom. Meanwhile, October is the peak season when every hills and fields are ethereally covered by blooming cauliflowers carpet. The fairy land attracts local photographers and backpackers as well as traveler-addicted expats from Hanoi. This scenery, I swear, is something you should revel in at least once in your entire life.

3. Day tour to Duong Lam Village

Duong-Lam-Ancient-VillageDuring your 2 precious days of weekend, you want not only an escape out of Hanoi, but somehow also wish to spend some time to rest at home. Prepare yourself for a day tour to some famous neighbor around Hanoi. One of the most favorite by local and expats is the ancient Duong Lam Village. Located just 40km outside of the downtown, Duong Lam Village is the hidden gem outskirt of Hanoi. A trip to Duong Lam Village is a special journey back to Vietnam traditional culture and architect. The typical ancient agriculture village of the Northern Red River is well preserved through the history. Hundred-year-old houses that were made of red brick are still standing strong, enough to cover a multi-generation family under its roof. The 8-hour-escape might be a splendid experience for you to go deeper into the rich culture of Vietnam

5 PLACES YOU HAVE TO SEE IN VIETNAM

HANOI

Temple of Literature Hanoi Vietnam

Temple of Literature in Hanoi

If you are business oriented, this capital is made for you. It has been more than 1 thousand years this city is living from trade, so be prepared to bargain the price on the streets  😉

From there, you can plan your trip to Halong Bay and directly look for the Halong cruise tours that will suit you the best.

Best months to visit: March-May & September-November 

  SAIGON

War Remnants Museum Saigon

War Remnants Museum in Saigon

Its actual name is Ho Chi Minh (officials’ order) but everybody still call it this way. Today, there are more than 9 million citizens, which make it the biggest city of the country.

There is two beautiful museums to visit: the History Museum & the War Remnants Museum

Best months to visit: November-February

 HALONG BAY

Relaxing in Halong bay - Bhaya Cruise

Relaxing in Halong bay

www.bhayacruises.com

A trip to Halong Bay is compulsory, designated a world heritage by Unesco in 1994, a conglomerate of 2 thousands islands floating on blue hot water… Needless to say Halong Bay cruises stay forever in your head.

There are many Halong bay junks that offer Halong bay tours of 1 or several days.

Best months to visit: March-May & September-November.

SAPA

Sapa in Vietnam

Sapa

This old French seaside resort is now a famous destination for trekkers. Whether it’s sunny or cloudy, landscapes remains breathtaking.

Walk around on your own or book a tour guide to explore further.

Best months to visit: March-May & September-November.

NHA TRANG  

Sunset in Nha Trang Bay

Sunset in Nha Trang Bay

Simply the most amazing beach of the country, no more, no less.

You can relax or try out some scuba diving.

Best months to visit: February-October.

BHAYA CRUISES EARNS 2013 TRIPADVISOR CERTIFICATE OF EXCELLENCE

Bhaya Cruises, a leading cruise operator in Halong Bay, has recently been honored as Certificate of Excellence 2013 Winner by TripAdvisor®. This is the third year continuously Bhaya Cruises has been recognized as top performing cruise in Halong Bay thanks to its excellent services.

certificateOfExcellence_2013The accolade, which honors hospitality excellence, is given only to establishments that consistently achieve outstanding traveler reviews on TripAdvisor, and is extended to qualifying businesses worldwide. Only the top-performing 10 percent of businesses listed on TripAdvisor receive this prestigious award.

To qualify for a Certificate of Excellence, businesses must maintain an overall rating of four or higher, out of a possible five, as reviewed by travelers on TripAdvisor, and must have been listed on TripAdvisor for at least 12 months. Additional criteria include the volume of reviews received within the last 12 months.

“We are so pleased to receive a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, and most grateful to all our guests who have taken the time to review us on TripAdvisor. We strive to offer our guests more than just a cruise but a lifetime experience in Halong Bay with impeccable service and a broad range of culture and leisure activities. Positive traveler reviews on TripAdvisor are always meaningful gifts to our hard working and passionate team” says Mr Tran Thanh Nam, Chairman of Bhaya Cruises Company.

“The Certificate of Excellence award provides top performing establishments around the world the recognition they deserve, based on feedback from those who matter most – their customers.” said Alison Copus, Vice President of Marketing for TripAdvisor for Business.

Bhaya Cruises got recommended on The Independent UK

The Independent

A breathless week in non-stop Vietnam

Mark Stratton embarks on a turbo-charged seven days travelling from north to south – all made possible by the first direct flights from the UK

Mark Stratton

Sunday, 15 January 2012

‘Good Morning Vietnam!” boomed the taxi driver shuttling me from the airport to breakfast in Hanoi.

His Robin Williams impersonation wasn’t great. But I’d certainly arrived early enough – on the first-ever non-stop flight from the UK to Vietnam – to witness Hanoi waking up. The city’s parks swayed to tai chi; hungry patrons breakfasted on pho noodles at pavement food-stalls. Even Hanoi’s millions of motorcyclists had not yet reached the ear-splitting pitch that marks the daily rush hour.

Vietnam Airlines has just begun flying from Gatwick to the capital, Hanoi, and the main commercial hub, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), each at opposing ends of the country. Is Vietnam, then, now within the realm of an exotic week-long break? I decided to find out during a turbo-charged trip flying “open jaw” in to Hanoi and out of Ho Chi Minh City. In between I’d experience one of Asia’s great rail journeys, plus Halong Bay: one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.

Vietnam has embraced the internet energetically, and before travelling I’d saved time booking everything online: visa, airport transfers, train ticket, day trips and accommodation. My hotel was a friendly new guesthouse called the Art Hotel in Hanoi’s atmospheric old quarter around Hoan Kiem Lake. There was no app available, however, to assist with my disorientation amid the old quarter’s frenetic maze of markets, cafés, street-restaurants and crumbling French colonial architecture.

Hanoi became Vietnam’s capital in 1010. The old quarter’s labyrinthine geography appears to have changed little since then. My survival strategy for exploring it (beyond not getting run over by scooters) involved allowing fate to deliver me hither and thither. I happened upon backstreet gems such as Bach Ma’s 18th-century temple dedicated to a white horse spirit, and a handsome 19th-century house at 87 Ma May, whose hidden courtyards and creaky wooden rooms were redolent of a forgotten age.

Besides baguettes, Hanoi’s most eloquent Francophone expression is the decadently opulent Metropole Hotel, which dates back to 1901. During the Vietnam War it played host to various anti-war celebrities, including Jane Fonda, while the hotel recently unearthed a forgotten air-raid shelter where Joan Baez part-recorded her protest ballad “Where are you now, my son?”. But the times, as her old flame Dylan noted, they are a-changin’.

Luxury outlets such as Bentley and Cartier surround the hotel, a reflection of communist Vietnam’s post-war economic liberalisation. Its reforms have mirrored China’s authoritarian capitalism. Hammer-and-sickle motifs on public buildings and visibly prominent green-uniformed soldiers are a reminder to the visitor that Vietnam’s one-party state remains a politically repressive regime, intolerant of dissent.

The arrival of top-end British motor cars and luxury French watchmakers would not have amused Vietnam’s revolutionary guiding light, Ho Chi Minh, with whom I would come face-to-face with later at his mausoleum. A short walk outside the old quarter, amid a stylish suburb of French Art Deco villas around Ba Dinh Square, and I joined a lengthy queue of Vietnamese filing into his monolithic mausoleum: a Soviet-style Parthenon. Inside, I had less than a minute to file by his waxy corpse (still with signature straggly goatee) as it lay in quiet repose inside a glass chamber flanked by expressionless soldiers with glinting bayonets. I exited at the propaganda-drenched Ho Chi Minh Museum, perhaps Hanoi’s most obvious expression of concrete neo-brutalism.

Hanoi is also responsible for some of South-east Asia’s tastiest street food, the best of which I sought with Belgian expatriate Yves from HG Travel, with whom I’d organised several excursions. Down Ngo Trang Tien near his office, we ate bun dau: tofu served with vermicelli-noodle cakes soaked in fermented squid sauce.

“Many visitors don’t like this strong taste,” said Yves. I did. The 75p dish combined hot chilli, slimy vermicelli and the pungent sauce, but somehow it worked.

Pavement eateries aren’t the limit of Hanoi’s culinary ambitions. That evening I dined at the Press Club, haunt of Hanoi’s well-heeled – a decadent whirl of white tablecloths, silver service and Asian woodwork. It may be the swankiest fine-dining eatery in town, but my three-course meal (featuring Australian tenderloin beef in green peppercorn sauce) cost just 975,000 dong (around £30).

The general manager, Kurt Walter, told me that since opening in 1997 the restaurant’s clientele has expanded from expatriates to a mix that now includes the Vietnamese nouveau riche.

Before heading south, there was time for an excursion eastwards, to the coast. After a three-hour drive from Hanoi, I was ensconced on a wooden junk marvelling at Halong Bay’s breathtaking limestone karsts: sharpened like shark-fins, or undercut to form stone toadstools, or in pitted rows resembling cavity-filled dentures.

“I’ve been here 100 times but never tire of their beauty,” said Dang Dong, my guide. During our four-hour cruise we watched foraging sea-eagles and ate squid, tiger prawns and cockles. Then it was time to shuttle back to Hanoi to catch the 11pm Reunification Express to Ho Chi Minh City.

She left on time. I boarded the rather functionally named SE3 service, which pulled out of Hanoi station with a groan of metal I’d heard before in disaster movies. I’d booked into a comfortable four-berth soft-sleeper cabin for a whopping 1.76 million dong (just £54). The 30-hour, 1,726km marathon south proved a scenic revelation.

Relaunched in 1976 after wartime partition, the rail route shadows two borders – those of Laos and Cambodia – while to the east the Gulf of Tonkin morphs into the South China Sea. My fellow passengers came and went, jumping off at exotic destinations such as Hue, the ancient imperial capital straddling the Perfume River; and Danang for Hoi An, a coastal port whose architecture has been richly augmented by centuries of foreign trade. I remained for the long haul, immersed in Graham Greene’s Vietnam classic, The Quiet American, and gazing seawards as the SE3 snaked through tunnels, along plunging coastal cliffs, past deserted beaches and rice-paddies being furrowed by buffalo.

I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City a mere 96 frenetic hours after touching down in Hanoi. During the 2002 remake of The Quiet American, Michael Caine and the rest of the cast stayed at Hotel Caravelle, which hosted journalists during the Vietnam War. Even after the hotel was bombed in 1964, they continued frequenting its Saigon Saigon Bar, which still swings away on the 9th floor. The hotel has been refurbished along with Saigon’s name: it is now Ho Chi Minh City’s most luxurious offering. I rolled in at 6am after two nights on the rails, eager for a bed that didn’t rattle.

The next morning, I learnt that Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are worlds apart. Founded in 1698, the southern city outshines its northern rival in size and population, and in the burgeoning capitalism epitomised by the designer soaked Dong Khoi Street, nicknamed locally “Champs-Elysées”. Its broader French boulevards prove even more hazardous to cross than in Hanoi – with relentless, molten streams of scooters.

There’s rivalry, too, between the cities. I was variously told the North Vietnamese were haughty, unfriendly, too serious, and obsessed by bureaucracy. Tittle tattle, maybe, but the cultural differences are still tangible between the Western-influenced south and the more communist north. There are also differing dialects and cuisine, with Ho Chi Minh City’s food influenced by its large Chinese contingency and its climate – it was a good 10C hotter than chilly Hanoi when I visited.

Many of the city’s highlights fall within administrative District 1 (the equivalent of a central business zone) including two must-sees around Tao Dan Park. Communist tanks stormed the Independence Palace on 30 April 1975, ending the war. The tanks are still mounted within this former South Vietnamese headquarters in attractive grounds of azalea and frangipani. The building itself has become the Reunification Palace, but retains its 1960s-era modernist interior that is full-on Thunderbirds retro, all curving sofas and leather-clad cocktail bars.

Nearby, the absorbing War Remnants Museum hosts sobering exhibits of Agent Orange’s lasting effects on the Vietnamese, alongside a gripping collection of wartime photography seen through the lenses of Robert Capa and his contemporaries.

Meanwhile, Ben Thanh market seduces visitors with souvenir shops, bars, spas and a nightly food market. On my last evening, I grazed there on banh xeo crêpes stuffed with bean sprouts, before migrating to Thuong Hien street to eat steamed crab claws and green mussels. But I preferred the grittier authenticity of Binh Tay market, 10km away in Cholon, established by Saigon’s sizeable Chinese community. I reached it by riding pillion on a xe-om motorbike-taxi (drivers tout for business on every street corner). It’s a handy service, but my safety helmet’s markings – “hope you are lucky” – probably said it best.

One week after leaving London, the evening timing of Vietnam Airlines’ Friday departure permitted one last excursion; 60km outside Saigon lie the remarkable Cu Chi defensive tunnels, dug on three levels by the Viet Cong in the 1960s. My guide, Dam, and I potholed through sections of the 250km complex, which survived B52 bombing, and rediscovered the surface in plenty of time for my flight.

I arrived back in London at 6am on Saturday morning weary but with the weekend to shake off jetlag. Slow travel it wasn’t. But a non-stop flight seemed tailor-made for a non-stop destination. Vietnam never pauses for breath.

The Itinerary

Friday: Depart Gatwick on flight VN0144 at noon

Saturday: Arrive Hanoi 6.40am Hanoi sightseeing

Sunday: Hanoi sightseeing

Monday: Daytrip to Ha Long Bay from 8am-6pm; board SE3 Reunification Express to Ho Chi Minh City at 11pm

Tuesday: All day on Train

Wednesday: Arrive Ho Chi Minh City at 5am. Sightseeing

Thursday: Sightseeing

Friday: Cu Chi Tunnels excursion from 8am to 2pm. Depart Ho Chi Minh City on flight VN0141 at 11.15pm

Saturday: Arrive Gatwick 6am

Travel Essentials

Getting There

Vietnam Airlines (020-3263 2062; vietnamairlines.com) flies non-stop from Gatwick to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City twice weekly; £618 return. Open-jaw fares start at £780.

Staying There

Art Hotel, Hanoi (00 84 98 234 5239; hanoiarthotel.com). Doubles start at US$38.50 (£26), including breakfast.

Hotel Metropole, Hanoi (00 84 4 3826 6919; sofitel.com). Doubles from £175, room only. Hotel Caravelle, Ho Chi Minh City (00 84 8 3823 4999; caravellehotel.com). Doubles from $200 (£133), room only.

Getting Around

For train reservations, see vietnam-trains.com. A single ticket from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City in a four-berth cabin costs 1.76m dong (£54).

Visiting There

Local operator HG Travel (hgtravel.com) can arrange excursions and tours to destinations such as Cu Chi and Halong Bay (bhayacruises.com).

The Press Club, Hanoi (00 84 4 3934 0888; hanoi-pressclub.com).

More Information

British passport-holders require a visa, available for £44 from the Vietnam Embassy, 12 Victoria Road, London W8 5RD (020-7937 1912; vietnamembassy.org.uk). Authorisation letters for visas on arrival can be obtained from myvietnamvisa.com for £12.29, plus a US$25 (£16.70) stamping fee on arrival. Vietnam Tourist Board: vietnamtourism.com

Bhaya Cruises is the Silver Sponsor for YouPlanet Hanoi Launch Event

YouPlanet.com is a social media online-network enterprise designed for travelers and businesses in tourism-related industry. Their online functions serve to members and partners all over the world and now they are ready to take a part in Vietnam’s booming social network. The launch event of YouPlanet in Hanoi is going to take place at The Match Box Restaurant & Café on 31 Aug 2011.

Youplanet Vietnam and Co-organisers have decided to support an NGO organisation-Vietnam Relief Services (VRS) with projects on local scale to build & improve communities in Vietnam. Their aim is to raise funds and awareness during the Youplanet Launch.

The Launch Program will have 3 main parts: Business Lunch Network, Travelers’ Network and Chambers’ Network. Then, on the second day of 1 Sep 2011, there will be an After-Party DJ Show.

On this ocassion, Bhaya Cruises is proud to be the Silver Sponsor for the YouPlanet Hanoi Launch Ceremony. We hope to build the cooperation between both sides in the future to develop the social media online network in Vietnam tourism industry. You will find Bhaya Cruises on the official website of YouPlanet.com

Bhaya-Silver-Sponsor-YouPlanet-Launch-Event