With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime


Posted by Heliocentrism on April 12, 2017

Friday March, 31st – Sunday April, 2nd 2017

“Where should I go to eat?”

Our first day in Vietnam Mark and I were very tired. We had been traveling for almost 24 hours by the time we got to Hanoi at 8AM local time. It was about 9:30 when we got to the hostel, but check-in time wasn’t until 1PM. We had them hold our bags and went out to eat and explore the Hanoi.

Hanoi is not an easy city for walking. One must be very vigilant not to get run over. But even in our exhausted state we managed to get to the Hoàn Kiếm Lake without being harmed. We walked around the lake for as long as we could then went back to the hostel and waited for 1-o’clock to come.

Once checked-in, we showered and went to sleep. Around 4PM we went back to the lake for phở. Over dinner we discussed our game plan for our time in Hanoi. We would do one thing per day and nothing more.

On Saturday our one thing was to visit the Hoa Lo Prison. This place has seen so much suffering. The prison was built by the French to torture the Vietnamese. Then taken over by the Vietnamese to inflict pain on POWs and other Vietnamese who had pissed off those in power.

a modded hoverboard

Next we went back to Hoàn Kiếm Lake. The area around the lake is closed off to traffic on the weekends. So, instead of cars and scooters whizzing around pedestrians, there were kids in Power Wheels and carts made from hoverboards. The kids were cute, but I trusted their driving even less than I did their adult counterparts.

On our lake walk we came upon a mall. I needed new shoes and decided I’d look for a pair in the mall. Most of my clothes and shoes are labeled “Made in Vietnam” so I thought I could find an affordable pair there.

I knew better than to travel with new shoes. I had a comfortable pair of waterproof Merrells that were several months broken in. By the time we started this trip they were at the right stage of worn in and I hadn’t needed to put a band-aide on my heels while wearing them for about 4 months.

Walking through the airport in Hong Kong I noticed a crack in the leather on the toe of my left shoe. On my first day in Hanoi there was a hole where the leather meets the sole on the side of my right shoe. Then each day after that, I discovered a new hole, crack, or tear. My shoes were falling apart quickly. I didn’t know how much time they had left.

I don’t have the money to shop in a mall with marble pillars.

The first store in the mall sold just Prada, the next just Gucci. I walked past a Versace store looking for something more in my price range. I found a Gap. The Gap doesn’t sell shoes. We found an Adidas store close to the top floor, but all they had were light, small-sized, overpriced running shoes. I needed something sturdier that would fit my US women’s size 10 feet for a reasonable price.

On our way back to the hostel we stopped off at a travel agency. There was a post on the side of the building of Halong Bay tour packages. The agent came out to tell us about all the trips she could offer. Mark and I asked her about the prices of the various trips.

“How much is this 2 night 3 day tour?” one of us would ask.

“Let me call someone about that one.” The agent would then phone someone and 2 minutes later she would give us a price.

“How much would it cost if we spent the second night in a bungalow on Monkey Island instead?”

“Let me call someone to ask.”

“What if we stayed in a hotel for the second night instead of the bungalow?”

“Let me ask someone about that one.”

I didn’t have a pen on me at the time, but she had one. I kept asking her to write down the prices for me, but she won’t. “After you pick one, I will write down the information you need,” she would tell me.

“We need time to think about which one we want,” I said. “We’ll come back in a few hours.”

“You should choose now because the price will go up,” she warned.

I didn’t like hearing that. Why would the price go up in a matter of hours? Why did she have to constantly call someone else about tour package prices? I was suspicious.

We left, promising to come back with no intention of doing so. Tour agencies are a dime a dozen in Hanoi. I was sure we could find a better one. Within 10 minute we did.

Mr. Manh and me with a bottle of water he gave me.

There was one a stone’s throw from our hostel. It had several tour packages on display just like the first one. The major difference was that there were also prices for the tours painted on the display too. Because of this we knew we would pay the same price for a tour as everyone else who came into this agency.

We talked to Mr. Manh. He was the owner and he spoke about the tour like he knew what was going on. There was no calling any mysterious people to ask for prices. We settled on a tour and paid for our tickets. Later we had the chance to talk about tour prices with other travelers in Halong bay. We all paid roughly the same amount per person.

Mr. Manh was such a lovely guy. The next day he saw us walking back to our hostel. He ran out to us and handed each of us a bottle of water. “It’s a hot day. I think tourists don’t drink as much water as they should. Take these.” Then he bid us a good trip to Halong bay and went back to his office.

On Sunday we tried to go see Ho Chi Minh. I saw him the last time I was in Hanoi. Then I was on a group tour of the city. The group tour had a reservation and skipped part of the line. Even with the skip we stood in line for 20 minutes.

This time Mark and I did not go with a group tour. We got up early and left our hostel around 7AM. The place opens at 8AM. We set off on foot and got to the mausoleum half an hour later, then tried to get in line. What we thought was the start of the line was the skip area for people with reservations. We walked even further back. About a mile and a half beyond the reservation skip section, was the start of the line. And the mausoleum hadn’t even opened yet!

We got to the back of the line and just kept going. The line was too long. We went to the nearby botanical gardens instead. Then walked back to the lake.

That’s how we spent the first 3 days in Vietnam… along with all the eating and drinking. I have a check list of foods and drinks to try while in Vietnam and have add more stuff to the list.

The picture above from top to bottom and left to right:

Avocado Milkshake

Creamy, sweet, and avocado like. I liked it. Mark didn’t.

Mountain Snow Coffee

What does that even mean? It tasted like regular milky iced coffee.

Coconut Water

I don’t like coconut water, but Mark loves the stuff. When he was done, the waitress opened it for him and he ate the jelly inside. I LOVE coconut jelly.


This is actually a drink from Korea. I couldn’t remember if it tasted like my beloved Calpis. It didn’t. It tasted like weakly flavored soda.

Coconut Coffee

It was creamy and coconutty. If you like coconut, you’ll like this.

Egg Coffee

It sounds weird, but it’s very creamy… heavily creamy. Stir well before you start. I didn’t and drank the top sweet creamy half before drinking the bitter espresso on the bottom.

Fruit Shakes/ Smoothie

Every restaurant in Hanoi sells shakes and smoothies. Most are real fruit blended with yogurt, milk, or just ice made after you order it. Sometimes they add lots of sugar, sometimes the only sweetness comes from the fruit.

Yogurt Coffee

Mark hated it. I loved it. The combination of coffee and yogurt tasted a bit like West Indian Vitamalt mixed with milk.


Cha Gio

deep-fried spring rolls. It’s flaky and greasy and wonderful.

Pho bo

Pho with beef. It’s starts off plain but delicious and you add spices, pepper, and limes to your liking.

Noodle with vegetables and seafood

It’s very good when done well.

The Obama Combo at Bun Cha Huong Lien

For about 4USD you get a pork soup, noodles, vegetables, over stuffed deep-fried spring rolls, and a beer or Fanta. This is where Obama and Anthony Bourdain ate for the show Parts Unknown. It tastes like BBQ soup. It’s meaty and great.

Coconut Jelly

The best part of the coconut.

Goi Cuon

Spring rolls not deep fried.

An assortment of spring rolls (some deep-fried)*

I love all types of spring rolls.

Mickey Ice cream

Macha flavored ice cream on a stick.

Banh Mi

Baguette sandwich made with Vietnamese seasoned meat. Mark can’t get enough of these.


(Việt Nam)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus.
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to Vietnam. Although some nationals can get a visa at the border for a few days, many cannot or will need a visa for longer stays.
    • Visit the Vietnamese embassy in your country to get a visa.
    • Or you can apply for a visa online if you do not live near an embassy or consulate.
    • Remember if you enter Vietnam on a single entry visa then leave, you must wait 30 days before returning to Vietnam on another visa.





  • Don’t worry if you cannot get Vietnamese dong from your local bank back home. You can get your dong at the bank in Vietnam. (DO NOT get money at the airport. You will never get a good rate. Use an ATM/bank.) Don’t get too much; no one will buy it back from you. Many hotels, fancy restaurants, and tour agents will take US dollars or Euros. Though who knows what exchange rate they will use? You will need dong for taxis, small shops, and local restaurants and vendors.
  • When you get to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh pick up a map of the area from any hotel, hostel, travel agency, or tourist information center. Once you have one of those you’ll be able to find anything.
  • Having a map of the area in Hanoi is very important. Every block has a different street name so once you know the name of street something is on you can easily find it with a map.
  • Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you bring a picture and the address of the hotel. One common trick that taxi and motorbike-taxi drivers like to pull is to take you to the wrong hotel. When you say, “I asked for ABC Hotel!” They will tell you that the name changed. They usually get a commission for bringing tourist to certain hotels.
    • Sometimes hotels do change names. But most likely a hotel will not change names between the time of your booking accommodations and your arrival without telling you.
    • Also, asking the average Joe on the street for ABC hotel will do nothing. Locals don’t stay in hotels, so they don’t remember hotel names. But Mr. Joe will know where 123 Hanoi St. is.
  • Also for taxis, NEVER agree to a flat rate fee. The flat rate fee will always be way higher than it should be. Always demand that the cab driver use the meter. If he doesn’t want to use his meter, get out. Taxi drivers are a dime a dozen. This is true in most countries.
  • For motorbike taxis, settle on the cost of the ride before getting on. Ask fellow travelers for advice on how much a ride should cost.
  • Watch out for cyclo drivers that claim not to have change as a way to get more money out of you. If you need to, wait for one of those fruit vendors to come along and buy something from her to make change. You really should ask the cost to your destination and make sure you have exact change before you get in the cyclo. 
  • It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.
  • There are companies that charge 10USD to take you from Hanoi to the airport. They are all around Hanoi. Use one of those instead of jumping into a random cab.

Mark enjoying free Fresh Beer

Old Quarter View Hostel Hanoi

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 21.034730, 105.851142


  • 42 Hàng Giầy, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam


  • +84 94 321 65 89



  • booking@oldquartviewhanoihostel.com


  • 5-9 USD / night


  • Check in – 13:00
  • Check out – 11:00


  • Free Breakfast
  • free “fresh beer” from 18:00 to 18:30.
  • Towels & sheet are provided and changed everyday.
  • I recommend ordering an airport pick-up through the hostel.

Hỏa Lò Prison

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 21.025249, 105.846522


  • 1 Hoả Lò, Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam


  • +84 4 3934 2253



  • bqldtnthl_sovhtt@hanoi.gov.vn


  • 30,000 ₫
  • 20,000 ₫ for the pamphlet.
    • All the information in the pamphlet are written in English on the walls throughout the prison.


  • Daily 8AM – 5PM


Vietnam Real Tours

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 21.035402, 105.851107


  • 32 Hàng Giấy, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam


  • +84 914 898 129
  • +84 976 242 887


  • tienmanh601@gmail.com


  • I’m not sure if his prices are lower than other package tour places, but his prices are posted on signs around the office.
  • Also, when you ask him a question about costs, he can tell you right away. He didn’t have to call anyone on the phone first, unlike other package tour places.
  • The costs of the tours are what you see posted on the walls plus 10% tax.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
(Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh)

How to get there:

  • 21°02’11.6″N 105°50’05.5″E

It is about a 30 minute walk from Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. It shouldn’t cost too much to take a taxi, motorbike taxi, or a cyclo.


5 Pho Ngoc Ha Hanoi, Vietnam


  • +84 4 942 1061



  • It is free to enter, but you are not allowed to bring anything like a purse, camera, water bottle, etc in with you.
  • There are lockers you can rent for a fee. If you are on a tour, your tour guide will hold your stuff for you.


  • 8:00 – 11:00  Tues-Thur & Sat


  • It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.



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