Vacation to Hanoi, Vietnam - Everything about our 7 day trip


We traveled to Northern Vietnam in mid-September for a week, and honestly, cannot wait to return to the country to see other regions.

Halong bay
Halong Bay

Our visit to Vietnam was a very last-minute plan. We'd initially decided on Europe, but with the whole Visa queue chaos going on, we shifted our sights to Asia, and then picked Vietnam. He has had his eyes set on Halong Bay ever since the James Bond movie ( Tomorrow never dies, I think), but he had to convince me a little about how this could transform into a 7 day trip. Being a fan of Vietnamese food, I was super excited to eat though. All in all, it was a wonderful trip and since I got sooo many queries about our trip, I thought I'd document the details before I forget.

If you've read our other travel blogs, you'd know that we like to focus on one city/region and take it slow. We don't like to cram in a lot during our vacations, thus making it hectic. We also do not travel with a travel agent, we like to plan as we go. We spend a lot of time researching what we want to see and where we want to eat (of course). 

So let's start:

This is a long post, so leaving some quick links:

1. Tickets, Hotel, Visa, Insurance
2. Itinerary
3. All about food - What to eat and restaurants we recommend
4. Cost
5. What to buy in Hanoi
6. Important details

Tickets, Hotel, Visa, Insurance:

Tickets - For the first time, we booked our Thai Airways tickets on and we got very competitive rates. Better than the airline itself. However, while the airline has several types of vegetarian options, the vegetarian option on translates to ovo-lacto-vegetarian. So we had to email the airline after we got the tickets to change the meal option to "Hindu Vegetarian" aka no eggs. With that set, we proceeded to book the hotel, visa, and insurance. We had a very comfortable flight with decent food and good entertainment.

Hotel - We've always booked using and we continued with it. A former colleague recommended Somerset to us and we loved the reviews/photos that we saw. We ended up booking the 2 bedroom executive at Somerset Grand Hanoi. The hotel is located in a good neighbourhood. It is a good walking distance from the happening Old Quarter area, but not bang in the middle of it. We liked it, as it meant that the hotel was quieter in the evening and we could pop in for all the fun when we wanted to. The hotel is also conveniently located so that the tour buses can pick you up. Somerset Grand is a service apartment, so you have a full-fledged kitchen for yourself and you also have a washing machine in the apartment to do your own laundry. They also have a good pool area and a gym. There is also a restaurant and a shopping area in the building. We got a room on the 19th floor and the view was beautiful. The apartment was large enough for the 3 of us and we loved the service. 

We never mentioned that it was Raj's birthday, but they set up a surprise with cake, flowers, and a card. It just made our day. So now I'm doubly recommending the hotel to anyone who asks. Most of the tourists stay around the Old Quarter area and you have some very reasonably priced hotels there. Most of the luxurious hotels are a little far away from this area and generally around West Lake. If you book those, plan for a mode of transport to the bustling part of the city - either rent a two-wheeler or book a taxi.

Somerset Grand Hanoi hotel in Vietnam
Somerset Grand Hanoi and view from our room

Visa - Vietnam has an eVisa for Indians. You can go to and submit your details and make the payment. Our visa arrived over email in 3 days. It is a very straightforward form, so you should not have any trouble. Carry a physical copy for checking at the airport. 

Insurance - It always makes sense to travel with Travel Insurance. We suggest checking online on what suits your requirement. We recommend including good medical coverage, especially since you are traveling to a new country.

Vaccination Certificate - Take physical copies of your Covid 19 vaccination certificate so you can get through the checking quickly. We were asked for this at the Thai Airways counters in Bangalore and Hanoi. They also checked for it during our transit in Bangkok at the gate. 

Air Suvidha - For anyone traveling to India, it is expected that you fill out an online health self-declaration form. The airline will share the form details over email with you. Please have it filled out before you board your return. This may be temporary in light of Covid 19. They checked for this at Bangalore airport once we returned. 


At a glance, our itinerary was as follows:
  • Day 1 - Landing in Hanoi and walk around Hoan Kiem Lake/Old Quarters
  • Day 2 - Hanoi sightseeing
  • Day 3 - Ha Long Bay Cruise
  • Day 4 - Ninh Binh Trip
  • Day 5 - Bat Trang Ceramic Village and Hanoi sightseeing
  • Day 6 - Rest day/ Shopping
  • Day 7 - Depart

Day 1 - Landing in Hanoi

We landed in Hanoi on Saturday morning. We had an airport transfer via  Agoda and it was decent. The agency sent us WhatsApp details of the driver and the car in advance. We used the airport wifi to communicate with him and it was seamless. 

Hanoi airport

After a good snooze at the hotel, we used the rest of the day to explore the Hoan Kiem area of Hanoi. The Saturday that we arrived was the autumn festival in Hanoi, so we got treated to some musical concerts and dances. But the lake area is very pretty on any weekend as they close it off to traffic, so you will see a lot of locals and tourists just strolling around. We had some donuts, iced tea, and something like an ice cream around the lake. We visited the Ngoc Son temple which is in the middle of the lake. This is very scenic and you can take some beautiful photos here. 

photos of hanoi - Hoan kiem lake
1 & 2 - Ngoc Sun Temple, 3&4 - Around Hoan Kiem Lake

Photos of hanoi around hoan kiem lake
1 to 3 - Around Hoan Kiem Lake, 4 - St. Joseph's Cathedral

We also used the evening to exchange some currency and purchase a SIM card. You can do both of these at the airport as well. While the sim card charges may be consistent (we did not check the plans at the airport), the forex exchange rate is slightly lower at the airport, as expected. We purchased a Viettel data only sim card which was sufficient for our stay in Hanoi for a week. We exchanged our USD for VND at Jeweller's street aka P. Ha Trung. Lower denomination notes and older USD notes will fetch you a lower exchange rate as compared to a newer $100. 

Then, we headed to book our day trips for sightseeing. While we generally do this before we reach the destination, the week we were set to travel had rain predictions due to a cyclone in the south. So we wanted to book the trips closer to the travel date as we could then plan on days when the prediction was slightly better. 

Day 2 - Hanoi Sightseeing

This day was all about Hanoi. After breakfast, we set out to explore the city on foot. If walking isn't your game, you can rent a two wheeler, book a grab taxi or book a day tour of Hanoi at any of the tourist agencies in the city. Hanoi is a beautiful city with a lot of parks and lakes. We visited the following places:

1. Temple of Literature 
2. One Pillar Pagoda
3. Train street
4. Military History Museum 
5. Tran Quoc Pagoda in West Lake

We glanced at a few of the monuments from outside:

1. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
2. Presidential Palace
3. Quan Thanh Temple
4. St. Joseph's Cathedral

When we went, we were allowed on the train street when the train was passing (3pm). But a few days later, while we were still in Hanoi, there was an incident with a tourist after which the authorities put restrictions around the train street. As per the latest news, the cafes have been closed and tourists are not allowed there anymore. But you can still stand at a crossing and witness the train at 3pm every day.


1 & 3 - Temple of Literature, 2 - One Pillar Pagoda, 4 - Tran Quoc Pagoda

1 & 2 - War museum, 3 - Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, 4 - West Lake

Day 3 - Ha Long Bay Day Tour

We booked our trip to Halong bay via Agoda. We booked the Small Group Halong Day tour organized by Dragon Fly tours. We were picked up from our hotel at around 7.45 am. The bus accommodates around 20-25 individuals. Once all were picked up, we drove to Ha Long Bay. Our guide Robert gave us some background about the language, food, culture, and history of the region. On the way, we stopped at a shopping center for coffee/breakfast and shopping for handicrafts.

Once we arrived at the jetty, he purchased the tickets and we boarded the cruise. It had around 50 people onboard (two bus full). It did not feel crowded, honestly. We had already communicated that we wanted a vegan meal and were provided one. The cuisine is mostly Vietnamese, i.e. - spring rolls, fried rice, noodles etc. The food is served on your table as we begin the cruise. You can purchase drinks on the cruise. After lunch, you can just walk to the deck or the roof and enjoy the sight of the beautiful rock formations.

We then stopped for a kayak or a bamboo boat tour of some caves. The kayak seats 2 individuals and the bamboo boat seats 4-5 and has a person who will row the boat. There is no swimming allowed in the bay.

We then cruised to see the Thien Cung Cave to see the stalactite and stalagmite formations. The day we went there, it was sunny but it had rained the previous day. This mix of weather gave us beautiful weather there and the sight of the light streaming into the cave was mesmerizing. 

After this, we boarded our boat and were served iced tea. We cruised back to the jetty. We then boarded our bus and went to an Oyster farm. Here you can see how pearls are made and can also purchase pearls.

On the way back, the bus stopped at a small shopping mall for tea/coffee. Most of us purchased local snacks here. They were reasonably priced. 

We reached our hotel at around 7.30pm. 

We preferred a day tour, however, you can also book a 2 day, 1 night cruise trip and take in more of the bay.

Halong Bay
1&2 - Halong Bay views, 3 - Us on the upper deck of the boat, 4 - Thien Cung Cave

Halong bay
Halong Bay

Halong bay
1 & 2 - Thien Cung Cave, 3&4 - Oyster Farm

Day 4 - Ninh Binh Day Tour

We booked this tour at Timeline Travel. We were picked up between 8-8.30am from our hotel. This tour bus had around 18-20 people in total. Our guide, Bao explained to us the nuances of the Vietnamese language and a little bit about the tourism industry in Vietnam. We stopped at a shopping center/coffee shop en route.

First, we went to Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam. Here Bao, explained to us the feudal history of Vietnam. This is a temple of the Emperor and his family. We spent some time exploring the temple.

After this, we stopped at a bicycle rental place and went for a 30 minute bicycle ride around the village. This was the scariest bit for me as I had not ridden a bicycle in 20 years and well, what they say is true, you never forget to cycle, once you learn. Though I had a shaky start, I managed to bike through the village. The roads are mostly just mud and stones, so it can get a little difficult to bike there when combined with the highly humid and hot weather. Pro tip - Carry a bottle of water with you. We left ours in the bus, and it was a huge mistake. 

The restaurant for lunch is right next to the bicycle rental. So after returning, we headed for lunch. Lunch here was buffet style and had vegan options.

After lunch, we headed towards Tam Coc caves in a bamboo boat. This was the highlight of the trip. The sights are really beautiful. This area is called Halong Bay on land and it is exactly that. Limestone rock formations all along the river. We went through 3 caves on this one hour long ride.

Then we drove to the Mua caves and were given a little over one hour to explore the area. Here, you can either visit the cave or the viewpoint. Almost everyone goes to the viewpoint. There are 500 steps to the top of one viewpoint, the one that takes you to the dragon. When you are climbing the hill, take a moment to view the sites around you, you can see some beautiful rice fields and ponds. The little path from the top of the hill to the dragon is rocky and not very safe. So use your better judgment to climb those few extra steps.

From there we headed back to Hanoi and reached the city around 7.30pm.

We preferred to book a day trip, however, you can decide to stay a few nights in the region to explore it better. 

Ninh Binh
Mua Caves View Point

1,2,5 - Boat ride along Tam Coc Caves, 3 to 4 - Hoa Lu Ancient Capital

Day 5 - Bat Trang

This was an unplanned day. We decided in the morning that we will go to Bat Trang Ceramic Village. We booked a Grab taxi and went to the village. On the way, we saw the mural street from the cab. We strolled through the village and purchased a few ceramics. You can also book a day tour here where you can do some pottery.

From Bat Trang, we went to Hanoi to see the Imperial Citadel and the Hoa Lo Prison Museum. Hoa Lo Prison can be disturbing, so visit only if you can stomach it.

We took it easy the rest of the day. We booked massages and then just strolled around Hoan Kiem lake. The lake area was our favorite as it has people playing music, and some senior folks dancing. It was a very relaxing place. It can make you fall in love with Hanoi.

Bat Trang Ceramic Village

Some glimpses of Hanoi

Some glimpses of Hanoi

1 & 2 - Hoa Lo Prison, 3&4 - Coffee shop, 5 - Currency exchange, 6 - Market

Day 6 - Shopping

This was our last day in Hanoi and we spent the day shopping for souvenirs, and stuff to get back. We purchased some more ceramics, coffee powder, mung bean cake, dried fruit, jackets and some other knick-knacks.

All about food

If you love crusty bread and strong coffee, this is the place for you. The french influence is visible in the bread and croissants all over the city. We love Vietnamese food, so we enjoyed it. 

Vietnam is a meat eaters paradise, but at least in Hanoi, we easily found vegetarian/vegan fare. 

Some Vietnamese foods you should try:

1. Pho - This noodle soup is considered the national dish of Vietnam. It has a flavorful broth with noodles, herbs and may be vegetables like mushrooms. 

2. Bahn Mi - Our favorite of all Vietnamese foods. Bahn Mi is a sandwich made by stuffing a small crusty baguette with pickled vegetables, some stuffing (either mushrooms, tofu, avocado or even falafels), some spread and herbs. 

3. Bahn Xeo - This was a little difficult to find. Bahn Xeo is a crepe filled with some stuffing, in our case, it was thinly sliced vegetables like carrots, cucumbers etc served alongside herbs and rice paper. You are supposed to stuff the rice paper with the herbs, the crepe, and the stuffing and dip it in the sauce and eat. We absolutely loved the one we tried in Hanoi.

4. Fresh rolls / Goi Cuon - Thin rice paper sheets stuffed with fresh vegetables served with a dipping sauce.

5. Spring rolls - These are similar to the fresh rolls, but deep fried and have vermicelli and some other vegetables in them.

6. Che - This is a dessert soup. We had one with cold sweet coconut milk with various toppings. On a hot day, this is the dessert to go to.

7. Coffee - There is no dearth of options for coffee in Vietnam. We tried several ones and absolutely recommend an iced milk coffee. 

8. Croissants - The croissants and other bakery items like danishes and pain de chocolat were absolutely delicious. They mostly have an egg wash over them, so check with the bakery first before purchasing.

For those who do eat egg, Egg Coffee is very popular and must be tried. Draught beer or Bia Hoi is also extremely popular in Hanoi. You will find it at every street corner.

Vietnamese food
1. Banh Xeo, 2. Bahn Mi, 3. Che, 4. Basque Cheesecake, 5. Croissant, 6. Iced Milk Coffee

Vietnamese food
1. Ice cream, 2. Assorted fruits, 3. Avocado Salad, 4. Mapo Tofu, 5. Sweet Potato Danish, 6. Cake

Vietnamese food
1. Stir fried Tofu, 2. Fresh rolls, 3. Donut, 4. Spring rolls, 5. Pho, 6. Mooncake

Vietnamese food
1. Bahn Mi, 2. Pho. 3. Pesto pasta, 4. Mochi, 5. Boba milk tea, 6. Ice tea

Restaurants we recommend:

1. Chay Food  - This eatery may be tiny, but dishes out amazing Bahn Mi or Pate Bread as they call it. Absolutely loved it. Had their Pho and Pasta too, they were good. The Thai curry wasn't what we expected, so I'd give that a pass.

2. The Veg - A nice cafe with good ambience. We tried their Fresh Noodle Rolls, Mapo Tofu, Avocado Kale Salad, and stir fried Tofu with lemongrass. Also tried the Kombucha. The black rice that we chose with one of the meals wasn't to our liking, but everything else was.

3. Vegan Bahn Mi - This comes highly recommended all over the internet. This is a tiny place in a very tiny street. Very easy to miss. We liked the homely feel it gave us. We tried various Bahn Mi here and their dumpling. We liked the Bahn Mi, but they are very light, so you may want to grab more than one.

4. Met Vietnamese Restaurant and Vegetarian Food - We tried the Bahn Xeo here as it was the only one serving a vegetarian version of the dish. Absolutely loved it. Also ordered a curry, which was good too.

5. Anh Hoa French Bakery - For croissants, bread and other bakery items. The plain croissants were amazing. We tried some sweet potato danishes as well.

6. CoBa Bakery - Their coffee with condensed milk (iced) is highly recommended. We also tried their croissant and moon cake. Croissant was amazing, so was the Basque cheese cake. Both these may have egg, so please check before buying.

We also tried Mochi in a little place, Boba tea in a random cafe near Train street, Donuts from a street hawker, Green rice from a street hawker and Che at a little shop near the Dong Xuan Market.


While the Vietnamese Dong is a weak currency, Vietnam isn't as cheap as you would imagine. When they say 50 VND, they mean 50,000 VND. A decent coffee costs anywhere between VND 25,000 to 50,000 which when converted to INR is 85 to  170. So you will be spending almost the same amount you may have in India or more. The exchange rate when we travelled was 1 VND = 0.0034 INR and 1 USD = appx 24000 VND.

Ticket rates will vary depending on when you book them and in what season. It was around 35k round trip per person when we booked. We booked Thai Airways as it was the fastest from Bangalore. Air Asia was definitely cheaper but had a huge transit at Bangkok. Indigo operates direct flights from Kolkata as of today. You can definitely save some expenses here if you book early and select the airline carefully.

Hotel is one place where you can reduce costs. You can choose either a budget or a luxury hotel and that will determine the overall budget of your trip.

The day trips we booked cost us around USD 40 to 50 per person. These rates differ based on which site you book them with or which tour operator you select and what kind of discount they offer. Lunch is included in both these tours. Tips are not included but are expected. 

We spent around VND 130,000 on the various entry tickets per person. Taxi or bike rental is beyond this. 

We usually had breakfast at the hotel and lunch and dinner at restaurants. We spent almost VND 10,00,000 on food per person. A lot of it was on iced drinks as it was very warm and humid when we traveled. This is again something one can save on if you eat in cheaper places and mostly street food. The street food was rarely vegetarian, so we stuck to restaurants that were vegan mostly. Fruits like Longan are cheaper in Hanoi, so you can hoard them. 

The last thing you probably spend money on is shopping, and this is very much within your control. 

At the end of it consider you may need around $300-350 per person for shopping, food, and trips

What to buy in Hanoi

1. Ceramics - You have pretty ceramic bowls, plates, cups, and other decorative items. Buy them either at Bat Trang or at stores across Hanoi city. We purchased cute cups at Cerender Ceramics, while this isn't the cheapest store in town, it had some unique and quirky stuff. We also bought a few things at Authentic Bat Trang. We bought a few things in Bat Trang Ceramic Village too.

2. Coffee - You have a huge choice of coffee, from instant to traditional. You can buy it based on your taste. We also bought the coffee filter there and I like using it for even my regular Indian filter coffee.

3. O Mai - This is a Hanoi specialty. Dried fruit like apricot or plums flavored with spices, lime or ginger. We highly recommend buying from O Mai Hong Lam as they give you a sample to taste and the labels are in English.

4. Jackets/ Shoes/ Bags - A lot of factory seconds outlets are all over Hanoi. The authenticity of the goods is not guaranteed, but if you like something, bargain and purchase. We got good windcheaters for VND 225000 each. It has a North Face label on it, but like I said before, we don't know if it is authentic. There is a shoe street in Hanoi too which is famous for factory seconds and again, the disclaimer applies.

5. Vietnamese Conical Hat or Non La - Buy this just as a souvenir. They come in really small sizes too, just for decorative purposes, which is exactly the size we bought.

6. Mung Bean Cake - We bought the Taro flavor here for folks back in Bangalore and people liked it. So did we. It was mildly sweet. 

7. Rice paper sheets, Nori Sheets, Glass Noodles, Rice, Sauces - If you want to cook authentic Asian food at home, then you may want to grab some of these from any of the supermarkets.

8. Clothes - If clothes/bags and other accessories in wholesale are your game, then step into the Dong Xuan market and go crazy. However, do not forget to bargain.

1&4 - Ceramic, 2 - Mung bean cake, 3 - O Mai

Some other details

  • Vietnam has had a violent past with wars and colonialism, however, the people are warm and kind. We never got scammed here.
  • The language is very nuanced and the meaning of the same word changes based on the tone. So do not attempt to speak unless you know the language. Download the Google Translate app and use it around. We felt this was the most difficult part of our trip as English is not spoken fluently in most places. The tour guide operators are mostly the ones comfortable in English.
  • Tipping is expected, but not mandatory. At least on the various trips we took.
  • In a lot of the tourist spots outside of Hanoi, there are locals who will take your photo and later sell it to you for $1-2. You can purchase it if you want.
  • Hanoi felt very safe to us, we walked until 10pm and were never scared. But use your discretion while traveling at night.
  • Hanoi has smog. This is the worst part of the city and something we never expected. The view was rarely clear from our 19th floor hotel room due to this. 
  • As per the locals, two wheelers do not always follow the traffic rules, so be careful while crossing the streets. It was a lot better than in Bangalore, honestly. If you are riding a two wheeler, follow the traffic rules and be careful.
  • There are a lot of folks on the internet sharing information on how a trip to Vietnam costs only twenty thousand rupees. Be aware that they are mostly not including the airfare in their calculations.

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