My adventure in Southeast Asia finally comes to a conclusion in Hanoi, Vietnam. I honestly couldn’t believe that we had made it to our final city. It felt like we had been traveling in Asia for a month, at the same time it felt like only 2 minutes had gone by. If you haven’t yet, I recommend reading my Phuket, Thailand post before reading about this last part of my journey!
This post is split into two parts – my adventures in the city of Hanoi, and my trip to the famous Ha Long Bay.
Cruise and I got a cab to downtown Hanoi from the airport (we booked our hotel the night before). Our hotel was supposedly in the “old district” part of Hanoi – the older part of the city that is a bit more historical. This was totally OK with me! I was excited to see some cool architecture and get to know what the city was like!
So as you can see from the image above, one of my very first impressions of the city, was that there were scooters EVERYWHERE! Intersections were nuts! There weren’t any real rules of the road that I could observe. Scooters just went whenever they felt like it, and cars/trucks did the same!
We did have to walk a bit through the city to get to our hotel, the “Hanoi Central Park Hotel.” It was tucked away in a super narrow alleyway, but we made it! We got complimentary tea and crackers upon arrival, were greeted by a very friendly staff and found…. rose petals on our bed. LOL!!! Cruise and I got a huge kick out of that. I guess the hotel staff assumed we were a couple and prepared a romantic setting for us. Cruise and I are just friends, so we found it hilarious.
After dropping off some of our stuff we decided to wander the city. We took a restaurant recommendation from the front desk and walked a short way to a place called “New Day Restaurant.” When we got there we could see why it was so heavily recommended, it was packed! It was also like a LABYRINTH on the inside! We were in the old historical district, so all of the buildings/stairwells/doorways were super small, narrow, crooked, and low. It was a really interesting to walk through! This place was huge once we got in there and started winding our way back and up several flights of extremely tiny and steep staircases. We finally got a table in one of their million back rooms.
I got a tofu dish in tomato sauce with veggies, rice, and beer. It all cost about 111,482 Dong (Vietnamese currency) which is about $5.00 USD. So good, so filling, and once again, so cheap!
After lunch we wandered around downtown Hanoi. The streets were narrow, very busy with all of the scooters and pedestrians walking about, yet also very pretty because of the trees that lined them.
We saw a famous Catholic cathedral (rare to be found in Asia), a few pretty gardens, and a very cool red bridge over the water that connected to a shrine. We didn’t go into the shrine, but just gazed from a distance.
Once it got dark we were ready for dinner, so we started back in the direction of our hotel to see what we could find. One thing that really impressed me about Hanoi, was how many vegetarian options there were available! Most menus had entire sections of strictly vegetarian options. I saw many restaurants that were advertised prominently was “vegetarian” or “vegetarian friendly” as well. It was awesome! We ended up going to a place called the Aubergine Cafe.
We both tried their special of the day, which was a pumpkin soup (omg, so amazing. After this trip I was a serious pumpkin fan. I didn’t know pumpkin was so popular in Asia!). I also got a vegetable curry dish and we both got fresh pressed juice on the side.
It was pretty late into the night at this point, and so we went back to our hotel to sleep. The next day we were going to Ha Long Bay. Visiting Ha Long, and seeing it with my own eyes has been on my bucket list for so long! Ever since I saw my first photograph I have wanted to go there. The next day I would finally be making that dream come true – I couldn’t wait!
Ha Long Bay
The next day we made a quick stop at a convenience store for snacks and then got picked up by our shuttle. We had a four hour bus ride to Ha Long ahead of us!
The bus ride itself wasn’t too exciting. We passed many rice patty fields and farmlands. We also passed through some very impoverished looking areas. It was a bit eye opening to see the vast difference between the city areas and the rural ones.
Finally, we made it to the Bay and waited for our Boat to pull up to the dock. There were many other boats in the water, and many other cruise lines. Our boat was smaller (and looked like it could have been a fishing boat), but I loved it! It had character. 🙂
After boarding we were shown to our cabins and then told to meet in the dining room for lunch before taking off.
When the hotel staff back in Hanoi booked our trip for us I had told them I was a “strict vegetarian” and would like “strict vegetarian” meals on the boat if possible. The word “vegan” is completely unknown to them, so many times on this trip I had to describe myself as a “strict vegetarian” that did not eat meat, dairy, fish or eggs. Not eating fish or eggs is what weirded them out the most when they heard this! The boat staff was more than accommodating though. Just like in Phuket, the staff prepared special meals just for me, and were so nice about it.
Our lunch was made up of rice, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, sauteed bok choy, fried potato (french fries). Just for me there was also a plate of roasted soybeans, fried taro balls, breaded bamboo shoots and fluffy bread cubes (I’m not sure what to call them, but it was sweet tasting bready material!). It was ooommmggggaaawwwd good! Everyone was jealous that I got a special plate of these delicacies (especially Cruise, when he tried one of the taro balls!).
After lunch our boat left the dock and we began our cruise into the bay. I can’t describe how excited I was for this moment! Cruise and I went up onto the top deck to relax and look out into the bay. It was much cooler here than it was in Phuket, after all we were much further north. Cruise and I were both wearing our sweatshirts and long pants again, but I didn’t care. The scenery around me was breathtaking!
We took this trip in February, so the Bay was pretty foggy with a crisp chill in the air. I loved it though, because it made everything look so mysterious! Our boat slowly glided through the water and navigated through different twists and turns in the bay. Limestone mountains rose out of the water all around us – the ones closest looked green and lush, while the ones far away looked eerie and ghost-like. Honestly, it was so cool!
After about 30 minutes of sailing we came upon an island for a stop at a very famous cave in the bay – Dong Thien Cung.
It may be hard to see from the photos, but once you got inside the whole cave was lit up with different colors. The reflections off the wall made it very pretty on the inside!
Our guide informed us that the cave was only recently discovered, and that it carried with it stories of many shapes you could see in the stalagmite/stalactite formations. In the photo below there is supposed to be a Gnome in the rocks.
Here’s another example. In the photo below there is supposed to be a piece of “male anatomy” and “female anatomy” found in different parts of the cave….yeah…
After our short stop to the cave, we got back on the boat and continued our slow sail through the bay. Cruise and I went to the rooftop deck again and relaxed on some lounge chairs while taking in the view.
This time we cruised the bay for an hour or two. Exploring random corners, going deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of mountains rising out of the water. I couldn’t get over how cool everything looked, shrouded in mystery by the fog and mist.
Cruise and I relaxed, talked about life, and talked about memories we had made on the trip so far. It was a really nice experience, made very memorable by our extraordinary surroundings.
I even got a small coffee to sit there with and sip on! I very rarely (like maybe 2 times a year) have coffee, but every once in a blue moon I get in the mood for a small cup. It warmed me up as I sat there with the cool February air around me.
After a few hours our boat finally anchored in one of the many coves of the bay so we could go kayaking! I was SO excited for this! I love kayaking, and I had been wanting to go kayaking on our trip pretty much in every country we were in so far. Finally I had my chance!
I’m not sure where Cruise was looking for that photo, but trust me, he was excited to kayak too! We shared a kayak, me in front and him in the back and set out.
Kayaking in the bay was so cool! Besides getting to go up really close to the cliffs/shores, we came across an interesting man-made structure at one point. Once we got up next to it we saw that it looked like an Oyster farm? I think that’s what it was at least. We also saw a floating village out on the water, one that people actually lived in full time.
We had a fun little photo shoot out there, since I obviously wanted some kayaking pictures.
Cruise went rogue at one point and hijacked my camera there for a bit! I got it back eventually!
…Yeah, we had some fun times out there!
Before I got back onto our main boat I even managed to get Cruise to take a photo of me in the kayak out on the lake! It was so much fun, and I was so happy I finally got to kayak on this trip!
After kayaking we both took turns showering, getting dry, and changing clothes. The water was surprisingly warm, and so nice after we had both gotten pretty wet from kayaking! There was a small circular window in the shower that let you look our on the bay. It was surreal! Standing there as hot water poured over you, while cool mist floated in from the open window that let you look out at one one of the most beautiful bays ever, with mountains all around you. And then a woman floated by on a small boat loudly asking if I wanted to buy some goods…while I was in the shower…lol! The same thing happened to Cruise apparently.
Like…I’m in the shower lady! I don’t have my purse on me to buy something! I never thought I’d get propositioned by a merchant to buy Pringles or fruit loops while in the middle of a shower, in the middle of the ocean in Vietnam!
Soon after we had dinner. It was a delicious spread that encouraged everyone to share plates family-style. I once again had a separate set of plates just for myself that consisted of veggie spring rolls, fried noodles with veggies and fried potatoes (french fries).
After dinner our boat guide told us we had a few options for leisurely activities. We could have a karaoke party, go fishing, or just hang out on the upper deck/go to bed. The choice was obvious…KARAOKE PARTY!….for just Cruise and I…
We were so excited to get a little karaoke party going, but no one else on our boat wanted to! There was a young Korean couple on the boat with us, a lone Chinese guy traveling, some French/Canadians, an elderly couple from Austria, and the boat staff but no one wanted to start a karaoke party! Their loss, Cruise and I got out the karaoke machine anyway!
A quick word about the karaoke machine: it was very old. About 90% of the songs on the machine to choose from were Vietnamese, and about 10% were in English. The English songs we had to choose from were all older too, not really our generation. There was also an awkward mix of Christmas music (Like The Little Drummer Boy, and Silent Night… like I’m not going to sing either of those at karaoke, lol!) and Disney songs. Super weird, haha!
Cruise sang “Under The Sea” from The Little Mermaid, I sang a song or two, and one of the boat workers sang some Vietnamese songs (he was amazing too, like a really good singer!). It was dark out, and we noticed that our boat was tied next to another boat of about the same size. Now THAT boat had a bumping karaoke party going on! One of the workers from that boat hopped over to ours, invited me and Cruise to join them, and so we did!
That party had about 8-10 Vietnamese workers from between the two boats, me and Cruise, and then a Swedish couple from the other boat that was about me and Cruise’s age. What a random mix of people to find myself with in the middle of the ocean! Also, the Vietnamese LOVED karaoke, like frickin’ lOVED IT. They were clapping, dancing, drinking, offering us drinks, and getting SO into it. They even showed enthusiasm when me, Cruise or the Swedish guy sang one of our awkward English songs we had to choose from! Everyone was having an absolute blast.
There was one worker that was especially hilarious. He kept the beers flowing and danced like nobody was watching!
I think the climax of the night for me was when I found myself singing the entire GhostBusters Theme song…what? Haha. I had mentioned that the English song selection was really random and strange to choose from! It was one of the few English songs I recognized, and so I sang it! Never in my lifetime did I ever imagine I would one day be on a boat, in the middle of the ocean, in Vietnam, with a bunch of Vietnamese people, a couple of Swedes and singing the GhostBusters theme song. What a night to remember!
The next morning we began our slow journey back to the dock where we started the day before.
I will forever be in love with that place because of how breathtaking the scenery was, and how it made me feel. It might be cool to one day visit Ha Long Bay in the summertime, when it is less misty, but I would do the same trip in the winter again because I loved the bay when it was misty and surreal.
Right before lunch we were told we were going to be given a “cooking class” in the dining room. How cool! I excitedly followed everyone below deck to learn how to make a traditional Vietnamese dish.
So what were we making?…
Spring…rolls..? Our “cooking class” ended up being our guide just telling us to take the carrot/lettuce/noodle shreds they set out on the table and roll them up in a rice paper… Ta-da! Cooking class! Lol. While the “class” was not quite what we were expecting, lunch came out soon after and it was delicious just like everything else had been so far.
Everyone had rice, veggies, and sauteed cabbage to share (among other things). I also had my own special plate of breaded corn kernels, fried potato and sauteed noodles with onions and green beans. It was amazing!
After lunch we docked, got on our shuttle bus, and began our 4 hour trip back to Hanoi.
We saw some pretty farm lands on our way back again. It was scenic, and very beautiful at times.
Once back in Hanoi, Cruise and I decided to wander around the streets at night for a bit and grab some dinner. We were both having dreams about that pumpkin soup we had a few nights before, and so we went back to the Aubergine Cafe!
We both got the soup again, obviously, shared some veggie spring rolls and split a tomato/cucumber salad. I also got the eggplant dish this time (Cruise got it the first time we went there and it was really good!). I’ve never cared for eggplant until recently. I’ve tried to make it at home and it never turns out right, but whenever I have it in restaurants I love it! I just haven’t learned how to cook it properly I guess! I also got a salad with noodles and some kind of peanut sauce.
After dinner there was a dessert cafe that Cruise really wanted to seek out. We couldn’t find it during our first night of exploring, and since this was our last night of the trip together (last night in Hanoi), we absolutely had to find it!
Good luck was on our side, because we found it! Cruise got like 4 different things on the menu (his sweet tooth is out of control!), and I picked out a Hot Black Sesame Seed Pudding to try. It tasted like hot chocolate pudding, it was really yummy! The photo above is the last photo Cruise and I took together on this trip. Sadly, it had come to an end.
I absolutely loved Vietnam. I loved Hanoi, I loved Ha Long Bay, I loved everything about this amazing trip in Asia. It was made even more memorable by having an awesome travel partner like Cruise to share these unique experiences with. We surfed together, climbed a volcano, swam in the ocean, explored caves, rode elephants, trekked through the jungle, laughed so hard our sides hurt, immersed ourselves in foreign cultures, sang karaoke in two different countries, and stuffed our faces with all the amazing flavors these countries had to offer.
I was sad the trip was over, but I was also overflowing with happiness. I was happy about the amazing memories I made and felt overflowing gratitude that I was fortunate enough to go on this trip in the first place. Going to Asia had been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember, so this trip was literally a dream come true! My world view had expanded once again, and as I sat in the airport reflecting on my journey I knew without a doubt that I would return one day.
I hope these posts were insightful to you, if you took the time to read them. If you are planning a trip to any of these countries I hope my tales will be able to help you! Vegans should rejoice, because traveling this part of the world was extremely easy as one. Those low on budget should also rejoice, because everything was insanely cheap! From hotels/hostels, to food, to transportation… I could not recommend this trip enough. So go do it! Buy your tickets now and don’t plan anything else – just see where the journey takes you once you’re there. That’s what Cruise and I did, so trust me, you won’t regret it!
Closing thoughts about Hanoi
- Once again, people were incredibly friendly! I can’t decide where I thought people were the nicest – Thailand or Vietnam. In both countries I felt extremely welcome (despite being American) and felt that everyone I met was genuine, helpful, and kind.
- I think Hanoi might have been the most vegan/vegetarian friendly city overall. It was very easy to be vegan in all the other countries as well, but I think I remember seeing more advertisements for vegetarian options here than anywhere else.
- Once again, everything was insanely cheap! $1.00 USD = 22,301.50 Vietnamese Dong.
- Once outside the urban areas, the level of poverty I saw was surprising. I think in some parts of the country, things definitely seemed 2nd-3rd world to me.
- Vietnamese music is very beautiful! I found myself very interested in the language as well. While listening to the Vietnamese karaoke songs I found myself deciding that I would look up Vietnamese music once I returned home – I liked it a lot!
- You definitely have to get used to crossing the street whenever here. This was true in most places. There aren’t many rules of the road, so if you see an opening, just do as the locals do, and go for it!
- Vietnam seemed to have less of a religious influence than Thailand, in the sense that I saw far fewer temples/shrines (barely any, actually).
- I felt very safe in Hanoi. Once again, it seemed that the streets were alive at all hours of the night. I could picture myself strolling out at 2am into a crowded buzzing street full of happy people exploring various shops/street carts/markets.
- Driving and scooters be cray cray here.
Thanks for reading! 🙂