Plan for the day
Our plan was to fly into Hanoi from Singapore. Our flight should touch down in Noi Bai International Airport by about 3.35pm. We had booked an airport pickup from our hotel at Hanoi Old Quarter. For the evening we would explore the Old Quarter vicinity around our hotel.
Noi Bai International Airport
We touched down at Noi Bai International airport at 3.30 pm, five minutes before schedule. Many years ago we transited at Ho Chi Min International Airport and the airport was rather old and messy. We were pleasantly surprised that the airport building at Hanoi was pretty modern, spacious and very efficient.
In less than 30 minutes we clear custom and got our luggage. We exited the custom-door and entered into the arrival hall which were crowded with relatives/friends meeting their incoming love ones. We expected our hotel-chauffer to be among the crowd but could not find him. We exited the building and on the pavement outside the building we found him.
Our driver was holding a cardboard with my name on it. He explained that he was not allowed to enter the arrival hall to wait for me. From the airport to our hotel at Hanoi Old Quarter was about 28 km and the journey about 40 minutes.
We could also get to Hanoi Old Quarter by local bus (bus 96) for vnd35000 (usd1.50) per person. This trip was all about “relaxing” and Vietnam being a relatively inexpensive country (compared to Singapore) would mean we could easily afford a lot of “comfort” within our budget. So we opted for a private airport pickup from our hotel at a cost US18 (vnd420000).
Data sim card
We did not see much of the street scene on our way to Hanoi Old Quarter because we were busy activating our data cards and making them work! We had bought two data sim cards at Singapore Changi International airport before flying out.
The risk of buying data sim card outside the destination country was that it might not work. But the price of the sim card at SGD$15 for 8G for 15 days was too attractive to ignore. Even after the 8G data was used up, surfing was still possible at reduced speed. So we bought two Vietnam Sim Cards at the “Changi Recommends” booth in Singapore airport terminal.
We activated the cards while we were being transferred to Hanoi Old Quarter. The activation went fine as we had “Welcome messages” from the Vietell (telco) informing us that the activation was successful. But one card had no access to internet and the other one was surfing at ultra slow speed! Though we were seasoned travellers we depended a great deal on the internet to make our trip successful. It definitely upset us (especially me) when I had no data access!
Once we reached our hotel we used the hotel wifi to contact Changi Recommend luckily our whatsapp messages for “help” were replied and after an hour we received more messages from Viettel telco informing us that we had 8G of data available.
Hanoi Old Quarter
The Old Quarter (Phố cổ Hà Nội) had been in existence since the imperial times. In the olden days this quarter was a residential, manufacturing and commercial center where each street specialised on one specific type of manufacturing or commerce. Today the old quarter was a great tourist attraction.
The old quarter was a maze of narrow three to four storey houses. Each looking very different from the unit next to it. Our hotel “Classic Street Hotel” was a typical narrow unit along a busy street. Our driver brought us directly to the door step of the hotel and a staff came down from a flight of stair to carry up our luggage.
We contacted (whatsapp) Vani of Lily Travel Agency in Hanoi to inform her of our arrival and she sent a taxis to pick us up to bring us to the agency (the ride was free). We had booked several items from “Lily Travel Agency“; two ways transfer on Sapa Express between Hanoi-Sapa, two ways transfer on a VIP Limousine between Hanoi-Tam Coc and 2night-3day Halong bay cruise on La Paci Cruise. We had already paid 20% deposit when we confirmed our bookings some one month ago so we were at the agency to pay the outstanding 80%.
We had came to know Lily Travel Agency from the many good online reviews it had received from happy tourists a couple of years ago when we were planning a visit to Vietnam that did not take place. So for this visit we again contacted Lily Travel Agency to discuss our needs and Vani (the staff that attended) was great!. She answered all my queries tirelessly and quoted us rates very good rates for the stuffs we needed. Lily Travel Agency’s rates were “lesser” than those we would have gotten if we were to book with the respectively companies website directly.
Booking a Sapa Express bus (28 seats) one way trip to Sapa was US$14 person via Lily Travel Agency whereas booking the same ticket on SapaExpress online website was US$16 per person. It was the same with the 3day-2night Halong Bay cruise on La Paci Cruise. If we were book the same trip on La Paci website or on booking.com, it would be 50% more.
We finalised all the small details with Vani so that she knew which hotels in Hanoi to pick-us-up and let-us-off before and after our visit to Sapa, Halong Bay and Tam Coc. We had booked four nights in three different hotels in the Old Quarter. We were using Hanoi as the base in between our 4day-3night trip to Sapa, 3day-2night to Halong Bay and 4day-3night to Tam Coc.
Our first Vietnamese meal was eaten at An’s Restaurant sited on the same street as Lily Travel Agency. We had pho, vegetabl, tofu, coffee and tea and it costed vnd177000 (sgd10.50, usd7.50). After dinner we also stopped at a roadside stall to try out some local dessert. It was some grass jelly with coconut shaving and some fruit (not sure what) and for a cup of it costed vnd15000 (sgd0.90, usd0.65). It was fun sitting like the locals on low stools on the sides of the alley eating the dessert.
Road side dessert
We decided to do a slow walk back to our hotel as it was just 900 metres away. The Old Quarter was so vibrant and messily attractive and it would be interesting to weave our way back to our hotel. We activated our google map to navigate our journey “home”.
The bikes, cars, van and buses on the road were “crazy”, the drivers and riders were not obeying any traffic rules. They were snaking around each others and the pedestrians as they moved forward. Honking sounds came from all directions, peeee…peeee… po-orr…po-orr…filled the air. Crossing the roads was a huge challenge to us, but we managed.
Accommodation at Hanoi Old Quarter
For our first night in the Old Quarter we booked a double room at Classic Street Hotel. It was a room with ensuite toilet, street view and breakfast. We were very careful to ensure that we booked a room with window with a street view.
We booked our double room at Classic Street Hotel from booking.com. The cost of one night was vnd691958 (usd 29.7) which included tax and service charge. Our double room was on the upper floor, the room was spacious and nicely decorated. The ensuite toilet was clean and large and the shower was good.
The interior of the hotel was definitely more lovely than the street outside.
Our room had a small balcony that looked over the street below. Though our room faced the street it was not noisy at all. With the balcony glass door closed our room was peaceful and cool ( air-conditioner running well).
Our room “package” came with breakfast too, served at 7am in the dining room on the ground floor. Unfortunately we had to leave for Sapa at 6.30am. Our hotel receptionist was a fantastic lady she suggested packing us something simple to bring along since we would miss the hotel breakfast.