South East Asia – 4 – 5 Days in Hanoi

After a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur (blog post in the link) we flew with VietJet to Hanoi (flight cost £40 each and lasted around 4 hours). Wow….what a place Hanoi was! It was nowhere like any of us had ever been before, so different from Europe! Hanoi has a beautiful blend of South East Asian, Chinese and French cultural influences. It’s one of the most ancient capital cities in the world filled with yummy street food, pagodas and temples that you can enjoy if you can survive the HECTIC Hanoi traffic!

Below I will give you a rundown of how we spent our 5 days in Hanoi.

Day 1

We took some Vietnamese Dong out the ATM at the airport as we had to work out ANOTHER currency. Don’t be fooled…when it says on the screen withdraw 300.000 it’s only the equivalent of £10! Then we ordered a Grab car from the airport which was an hour to the Airbnb (again very cheap)

This Airbnb was particularly gorgeous!! For 3 students travelling around SE Asia on a budget….2 double bedrooms, 2 bathrooms with showers, 3 TVs, a living room space, big kitchen, washing machine AND balcony space overlooking the Red River…this was pure luxury! I have used Airbnb on….16 occasions now and have had on the whole very good experiences.

If you would like money off your first Airbnb use my personal code when booking!

Getting out the taxi we were immediately hit with an even more intense heat than we experienced in KL….bring back the wipes and no make up days….all part of travelling they say!

We were excited to get out and explore our new location so we ordered a Grab car to the Old Quarter (unless your accommodation is exactly in the Old Quarter then you cannot really walk into Hanoi centre as it’s not pedestrian friendly).

For dinner we decided again to try a place that all the locals seemed to like and we were not disappointed! We stumbled upon a restaurant called Bo Nuong for a BBQ style dinner that you cook yourself at the table! IT WAS AMAZING!!!! Do NOT wear your best dress…oil may splatter on you (you have been warned)! We also ordered the traditional Hanoi beer which made a very good combo.

After dinner we walked further into the centre which was cool because it had a real backpacker/touristy vibe. Although nothing was western about the seating arrangements….everywhere you went you sat either on the street or in a restaurant on these child sized plastic chairs!!! Good thing we were fairly small but good luck if you are 6’2! Despite the little chairs we managed to find a stall selling 20p beers and coconut ice cream with mango….so it was still a good night!

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Day 2

After breakfast we took a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake also known to the locals as  Hồ Hoàn Gươm which means Lake of The Returned Sword. Legend has it that Emperor Le Loi was on the lake when a Green Turtle God surfaced and asked for his magical sword. After the Emperor had fought off the Chinese he returned the sword back to the Green Turtle God.

Whilst around the lake make sure to visit the beautiful 18th century Ngoc Son

Temple.img_0073img_0086

As most of you know I’m a little Instagram obsessed right now but I think it’s such an easy way to find cool spots while travelling! So….after seeing this quirky cafe all over my feed for months we had to stop for a drink at The Note Coffee! I honestly don’t think I’ve been into a more aesthetically pleasing cafe it was just so damn cute. The staff were also lovely and were happy to give us tips of where else to visit during our stay in Hanoi which lead us to the best restaurant in town but more about that later!

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Order a speciality egg coffee, keep the note you were gifted and write one for the next visitor.

This was a good egg coffee in such a cute little place….BUT….. according to the locals the best egg coffee is done properly when there is a thick creamy topping with very bitter black coffee underneath. We were on a food tour and our guide stated that egg coffee is like love….”sweet at the start and bitter at the end”...I will leave you with that thought!

After consuming our speciality coffees we had the best time taking the classic touristy shots on the tracks at Hanoi Train Street. People are literally all over the tracks taking pictures…drinking coffee…socialising…it’s a cool place, go see for yourself!

For lunch we tried one of the places that the staff in The Note Coffee recommended for the best Bun Cha in town. It did not disappoint (despite the tiny chairs AGAIN)!! Bun Cha is another traditional dish in Vietnam and is essentially noodles in a broth with meatballs, pork and mint leaves served with salad. You will find the restaurant by googling Nha Hang Bun Cha Dac Kim, Xin Thong BAO (not sure if its the name…the street or both).

Like I mentioned briefly we went on a street food tour at night which we booked through Airbnb. It was AMAZING! The company was called Local Vietnam Tours and cost £21 (so worth it). Our guide Dung was super friendly and made sure that we all had a fantastic time sampling the best of Vietnamese cuisine.

Day 3

After speaking to our guide Dung on the food tour he convinced us to spend a day enjoying his hometown of Ninh Binh which used to be the ancient capital of Vietnam. We would definitely have missed out on something very special if we did not go on a tour here. We booked through the same company (Local Vietnam Tours) for £26 and the tour lasted all day and included lunch. What an incredible time we had on this tour but it was INTENSE! The drive to Ninh Binh was 3 hours from Hanoi and on the way to guide explained some more about the history of the Provence and our schedule for the day.

I have never been so exhausted as I was at the end of that day (don’t let this put you off it’s just a little warning). We started the day by taking a boat trip down the river then we went for a buffet lunch. After lunch it was all systems go again and we cycled (in 35 degrees heat with 1000000% humidity) around the rice fields before hiking up to some beautiful ancient temples. So yeah….it was a little tiring….and hot…very hot!

When we got back to Hanoi it wasn’t too late so we went around the Night Markets to pick up some authentic souvenirs such as handmade jewellery and bookmarks.

Day 4

You can’t visit Vietnam without visiting Ha Long Bay and that’s what we did on our fourth day! We booked the tour through Charming Vietnam Travel which we found on TripAdvisor….but you can book through their own website for cheaper (£27).

Translated Ha Long means “descending dragon” because the legend states that the at the beginning of the country’s history Emperor Jade sent a mother dragon to help fight off the invaders wanting to take over the country. Ha Long Bay is supposedly where the mother dragon descended to protect the Vietnamese from the invading ships and she liked the peaceful bay so much she decided to make it her home.

Being out on the water with the cruise you definitely get the sense of mystic and magic that this beautiful place holds. During the 1 day cruise you get a buffet lunch onboard, visit the caves within the limestone rocks and get the chance to kayak in the emerald green waters.

Overall we did enjoy this trip but it is every bit as busy and touristy as you would expect. In my personal opinion it is still a MUST DO!

Day 5

Wanting to squeeze in as much as we could during our time in Hanoi before our flight we still managed to fit in the Prison museum and grab one last Vietnamese iced coffee (bitter coffee with condensed milk).

Hanoi House Cafe

I hope you have enjoyed reading about what we got up to in Hanoi! As always, any questions/advice please contact me via wordpress, email, twitter or facebook using the links at the top of my blog homepage!

Stay tuned for the next post about Siem Reap and the temples!

South East Asia – 2 – Pre-Trip Planning

It’s only 3 weeks until I head off to South East Asia and the countdown is officially on!

This blog post is going to be about how I have prepared for my first long-haul trip so far and will include how I have planned my accommodation, budget, medical care, activity planning and packing.

Accommodation

Am I really going on holiday without staying in an Airbnb? Probably not… unless its with my parents! I have stayed in many Airbnb’s around the UK and Europe and highly rate them for their affordability and experiences! To date, all my Airbnb’s have been clean and full of friendly locals willing to offer advice about the destination.

So far we have booked to stay 3 nights in Kuala Lumpur for £84, 4 nights in Hanoi for £171 and a beach bungalow on the island of Koh Rong Samloem for £132 for 3 nights.

We have another accommodation further down the island booked through booking.com and only need to book a couple of nights in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap!

If you would like money off your first Airbnb use my personal link when booking!

Budgeting

I have been working between part time and full time hours between university since the start of the year and have been trying to put £200 aside each month. In addition, the reduced section at the supermarkets have also been surprisingly helpful….I’ve started saving a lot on my weekly shopping and tried some new dishes! I was also lucky enough to borrow a backpack from a friend for the trip which has saved me between £60 and £150!

Medicine

We got a couple of injections from our local doctors a couple of months in advance so our bodies had time to absorb the medication. The travel nurse was very helpful advising us about the best medications to bring and injections to get according to the places we were travelling to. She advised to bring anti-malaria tablets, lots of suncream, anti-histamine, antiseptic and to buy an insect repellent with at least 50% of DEET. We will also include some Electrolyte powder in case of dehydration and normal painkillers.

I have also purchased travel insurance for £45 that covers £10 million for medical charges (better to be safe than sorry)!

Planning

Like I mentioned in the previous  I have loved looking at the Lonely Planet guidebooks for information about the history of the destination, must see attractions and a few off the beaten track suggestions.

In addition, I have been following various travel bloggers such as Highlands2Hammocks, Flip Flop Wanderers Marie Fe and Jake Snow who have all given me cool tips and serious inspiration for travelling South East Asia!

Before we were going to book more internal flights and accommodation last week we looked over our mini travel itinerary. THANK GOD we did because we would not have had time to breathe, never mind enjoy our experience because our plans were jammed packed! Unfortunately we have decided to miss out Da Nang, Hoi An and the Elephant Valley Project but this choice will definitely allow us to immerse ourselves in the culture of each city even more now!

Packing

It’s still a few weeks away so there is no point getting my clothes all creased yet…plenty of time for that! Butttt I have already decided that I will pack:

– 3 pairs of shoes (trainers, sandals and flip flops)

– 2 long skirts

– 1 play suit

– 2 dresses

– 1 shorts

– 2 pairs of light long trousers

– However many t-shirts I can fit

– Scarf/ shawl for visiting the temples

– 1 swimming costume and 2 bikinis

– 1 microfibre towel

– 1 beach towel (sand cloud)

– Small make-up bag ( moisturiser, BB cream, waterproof mascara, lip balm, matte lip gloss and a duo eyeshadow)

– Water bottle

– Travel adapter

The benefit of travelling with other girls is that we can share toiletries/ make- up etc!

Next time I write a blog post it will be after Asia!! In the meantime check out my Instagram  and Facebook 😀 

South East Asia – 1 – The Start

Firstly Happy New Year!!!

I know…long overdue…I hope you are getting on well with your New Year’s resolutions or currently breaking them because how were you ever realistically going to give up chocolate for a year…?

Anyway, it’s time to write the first blog post of the year as the flights to Kuala Lumpur have been booked and it’s time for planning to commence!

My friends and I knew that we wanted to discover somewhere new together after final exams in May and before graduation in July. After some weeks of research (which will be explained more later) we decided on South East Asia for 3 full weeks in June. This blog post is going to give you a little insight of my top tips before planning long-haul travel!

1. Initial Research Is Key

Google really is your best friend here. It is important to do some initial research before parting with your well saved funds to make sure this is the destination for you. A quick google search will tell you if you require visas, if the country has lots to offer that you are interested in, how easy it is to move around within the country and if you require any vaccinations prior to your adventure.

2. Budget-friendly Travel Requires Sacrifices

When we were checking out flights on our favourite flight comparison site (Skyscanner) we noticed that it was around £150 cheaper to fly out of London. However, as we are based in Edinburgh we decided that it would in fact cost almost the same amount after travelling down to London and paying for over-night accommodation.

In the end there were 2 flights that we were torn between, both were good but neither perfect. Without bottomless pockets we were between a Qatar Airways flight that included an 8 hour stop-over in Doha on the way there and an emirates flight that would lose a day of our holiday period as it left in the early hours of the morning.

We decided to pay £506 to fly with Emirates because the journey time was much shorter. Even though we could have enhanced our trip by stopping over and exploring Doha for a few hours we decided that this was an unnecessary addition onto our already long trip. The girls and I also thought that we would not do the city justice as we would just be longing for our final destination!

3. Research Some More!

Your flights are booked and you want to get down to business! I LOVE looking at other blogs for inspiration. My favourites for this trip so far are….

Where Charlie Wanders

Be My Travel Muse

Lovin

Also, I cannot get enough of Lonely Planet’s travel guides for detailed itineraries, hidden gems and cultural tips!

So far our 3 week itinerary looks like this….. ( as event management and business students we are in our element)!

The green sections are internal flights with the current prices next to them.

I have heard some fantastic things about the Perhentian islands from blogs like this and would love some chill out time between soaking up the new cultures!

We are still very flexible with our plans and will be looking into accommodation, internal flights and attractions soon.

If you have any advice to share with me go ahead in the comments section!

I’ll keep you updated.