The last place I went during my 2016 sister trip was Vietnam. A majority of our time was spent on a boat in HaLong Bay but we also stayed in Hanoi for a few nights.
You need a visa to enter Vietnam if you are from the US (you can apply for the visa online). Upon arrival in Vietnam you will have to pay $25 dollars (USD) to get the physical visa for your passport. Make sure you have CRISP new bills. They will not accept old or crinkled money! My sister and I were almost denied from the country because our $20 bill was wrinkled (we both had slight panic attacks). Thankfully, a few nice Irish women in line in front of us gave us some new money and we were able to get into the country.
Along with crisp dollar bills you will need a passport photo (bring extras just in case but they only used 1 photo for us)
Don’t be alarmed when they don’t give you your passport back before you pay for the visa. After they read our visa on arrival paperwork and took our passport photo they kept our passports behind the counter. Then we had to wait in another line until our passport photo appeared on a screen to pay the $25 dollar fee and get our passports back.
Moped Tour of Hanoi:
The first thing we did in Hanoi was the Hanoi Night Lights Food Tour lead by Paloma motorbike tours. All of the drivers are females which according to their website is because females are more cautious drivers (pretty funny since I am definitely known to have some road rage now and then). We got picked up at our hotel around 6pm and headed out to a coffee shop to have a Vietnamese egg coffee. It sounds really weird but it was actually pretty good.
After coffee we rode around Hanoi’s Old Quarter and HoanKiem Lake. We happened to be there during EARTH Hour which was being held in front of the Opera House. I wasn’t familiar with Earth hour since we don’t do it in America, but its a really cool concept. The event is held worldwide annually encouraging people to turn off their non-essential lights for one hour as a sign of commitment to the plant.
After that we stopped at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum which is located in the center of Ba Dinh Square. For those who don’t know, Ho Chi Minh was the Chairman of the Communist Party of Vietnam. Across from the Mausoleum there is a park with large speakers all around it (I am assuming there is where propaganda would play).
After exploring the city we stopped at a restaurant to get some traditional Vietnamese snacks (which was essentially a meal) and later a full Vietnamese dinner.
Boat Cruise on HaLong Bay:
After a 4 hour bus ride from Hanoi we arrived in HaLong Bay. We boarded our ship called the Paloma and took off cruising for the next 3 days.
On our first day we went to Bai Tu Long Bay and explored the Thien Canh Son Cave. Our weather wasn’t great (Halong Bay is in Northern Vietnam so it was a little bit chilly in March) but it was still fun to do a little exploring.
The next morning we started out the day out with a Ti Chi class on the sun deck followed by breakfast. After breakfast we transfer to a smaller boat and cruised to Bai Tu Long Bay where we kayaked through the Cong Dam area. The scenery was great but I was a little surprised on how polluted the water was. It was not somewhere I would recommend swimming.
Later that night we had a spring roll cooking class / competition on the boat. I was up against a Vietnamese lady next to me…so needless to say I did not win the competition.
Floating Fish Market:
On our last day we went to the Vung Vieng floating fishing village. To get around the fish market we traveled by bamboo boats. I felt extremely bad for the woman pushing our raft. It’s hard to imagine that she does that all day.
Out of everything we did in Vietnam, my favorite part of the trip was getting to know the people we met on the Paloma. We had few fellow sister travelers (who my sister and I want to be when we are older), as well as some awesome Irish folks. Traveling is always more fun when you are surrounded by great company!