Upon arrival in Hanoi, we took bus 86 towards the historic center for $35,000 each. We exited the terminal, passed the taxi signs and followed signs to Minibus. A man in an orange shirt helped us choose a minibus based on our destination.
Getting around for us was easy. We mostly stuck to the historic center, spending plenty of time wandering around and avoiding getting hit by zooming scooters (tip: walk at a steady pace into traffic and they will go around you).
There are plenty of hotel options around this area. We picked something midrange, with AC and breakfast included.
Cat Ba Island
We arranged for transportation between Hanoi and Cat Ba Island. The company handled the bus pickup and transfer to ferry, making things super simple for us. There are a couple in town, and we had a good experience with Cat Ba Express.
We stayed in the port city of Cat Ba, where the ferry dropped us off. Again, there are plenty of hotels around these blocks and they all seemed decent, though a bit outdated, and within walking distance from the pier.
Cat Ba Island was much more enjoyable after we rented a scooter from a shop across from our hotel. This gave us cheap, easy access to neighbouring beaches, the national park, and view of the island.
At the time of this post, Americans are required to apply in advance for a Visa to enter Vietnam. We were able to complete the process online and bring our documents to the airport, along with 2 visa photos.
Eats & Drinks
Bun bo Nam Bo: They serve one dish, and it happens to be fantastic! Dry rice noodle and stir fry beef, with all the toppings.
Dream Beans Coffee: If you’re like us, and simply can’t get enough of Vietnamese coffee, you might enjoy this cozy spot that gave us a mini lesson on how the coffee is brewed.
Lofita: We came here at the end of a tour. A nice stop for a drink with views of the cathedral square. We both LOVED the coconut coffee shake.
40 Háng Tre: Our tour guide gave us a few recommendations for street food. This was our favorite one, where we ordered Banh Cuon (rice paper rolls). Here are a few other street foods to sample:
- Bun bo nam bo
- Spring rolls
- Bun Mien Banh Da (Fried fish dry noodle bowl)
- Pho Cuon
- Bun cha
- Xoi (sticky rice)
- Banh mi
- Pho Chien Phong (Fried Pho Noodles)
Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba Family: The BEST! A menu with seafood of all kinds. Our favorite was garlic lemon oysters (for $3 USD!)
Casa Bonita: A nice selection of local and western eats. I loved the smoothies with chia seeds and oats.
Get Your Adventure On
Free Walking Tours Hanoi: My favorite way to start a trip is with a walking tour. It gives me a chance to understand the layout of the city center, take note of any sites I want to see more of, and get recommendations from the guide. For us, this tour provided the right amount of sightseeing and history about Hanoi. Afterwards, we were ready to get back to eating.
Hiking in Cat Ba National Park: Options for trails include a short ascent to a view point, which took us 1.5 hours round trip and a longer trek (~18km) from the entrance to Viet Hai pier, which we did with a tour company (Oasis). The trekking portion took us 4 hours, then we stopped for lunch and biked the last bit to the pier.
Boating & Kayaking in Ha Long Bay: We booked a tour once we arrive to the island. We spent a gorgeous day relaxing on the boat deck while we soaked in views of the famous rock formations around Ha Long Bay. The tour included a quick visit to the floating cities, designed for fish farming. We had a bountiful lunch provided, and spent the afternoon kayaking into different caves. Loved it all!
We didn’t want to rush through our trip, so we skipped the chance to do trekking in Sapa. This region is known for great trails and mountainous climbs.
Next time we head to Vietnam, we will most likely venture further south: Da Nang, Hoi An, Da Lat, and of course Ho Chi Minh city! We had a great experience and can’t wait to return to explore more.