This city is full of surprises. First surprise was the way everyone loved to horn each other, but in a way, its pretty convenient, considering the motorcycle-dense city and so many others trying hard to cross the road, like us, but in another, its kinda disturbing that they still horn each other even at 3am in the morning. Secondly, Hanoi is beautiful, because of the friendly children excitedly saying 'Hello' to you, if you look like an outsider and I adored the architecture. Sometimes you tend to forget that you're actually in Asia. Thirdly, Hanoi definitely offers beautiful openings to other places surrounding it. You can see padi growing on every inch of available land, so you can expect a cooling green scenery just about anywhere. Here goes my version of Lonely Planet:
Currency - USD or Dong. Currently, USD$1 = RM3.58, D4200 = RM1. From Malaysia, however, only few money changers have Dong (one in Ampang Park), and the rate is better in Vietnam itself, if you change you from USD, USD$1 = D17500.
Where to stay - We stayed at APT Hotel aka APT Guesthouse. Its a simple budget backpacker hotel, with fresh sheets and fresh quilt, clean room and bathroom (with face towel, batch towel, shampoo, toothbrush,soap, comb), with cable tv, well-stocked fridge and a heater we discovered only on the last day. :p Only USD20 per nite for double occupancy. Or stay in any of the hundreds of hotels in the Old Quarter. You'll be minutes away from the Hoan Kiem Lake (on foot- save on cab fare) and you can go shopping just outside the hotel at the nite market and the bright and lively shops surrounding you.
Where to eat - Breakkie - If you stayed at APT Hotel, however, do expect the same breakfast everyday; of eggs and bread with butter and strawberry jam and coffee (its free, so we didn't mind). If you ate non-Halal food, however, you could indulge Vietnamese's famed Pho Bo or Pho Ga and Pate Sandwiches (that made me salivate) at almost every corner of Hanoi. Or you could try out the cafes near the Hoan Kiem Lake, for their huge sandwich you could share for less than $4. Lunch and Dinner - Every corner or for Halal food, check out Nisa Restaurant and Tandoor Restaurant. Bit pricey (that's why we opted for Maggi lunch more and treated ourselves to gorgeous dinners) but absolutely delish. Nisa is where you could taste halal Pho Bo and Pho Ga. Yummy.
Where to go -
1. Hanoi - Old Quarter for shopping, Hoan Kiem Lake for a beautiful scenery, and the North Western part of the Ho Chi Minh Museum, Mosoleum (I don't know if this is the right spelling), President's Home, One-Pillar Pagoda, Ngoc Son Temple, Water Puppet Theatre, among others.
Packages we took up with APT Travel -
2. Halong Bay; unbelievable, and deserving of its status as the World's Natural 7 Wonders of the World, only USD$57 for a VIP 2 days 1 nite (on board). Food was the most fantastic seafood during our whole stay.
3. Huo Lom and Tam Coc; a day trip from Hanoi city, only USD$25, another unbelievable sight seeing. After visiting the original 2 Kings Temples, we were off on our own bicycles for hire of about RM20 to the restaurant (about 45min ride through the padi fields, the village and mountains!) A good buffet lunch, and a 2hour boat ride through Tam Coc (which means 3 caves) Do beware, however, that on your way back, the you'll be offered to buy some souveniers on board. Not bad a deal, actually, so go for it! And put aside a few dollars for tips. If you don't, they'll ask for it anyway, but its well-deserved anyway.
4. Perfume Pagoda; a day trip from Hanoi city, only USD$23, we may have come in the wrong season. Its more recommended to go in Spring, when the surrounding Peach Blossom blooms in full. However, the boat ride was most enjoyable, and do take the Cable Car to the Pagoda; its a long way up, but do walk down from the Pagoda, so that you could walk through the beautiful mountain scenery. Again, put aside a few dollars for tips!
What to buy - paintings...lots and lotsa paintings. I bought 11 ranging from oil, water and tapestry. Expect very detailed work of art.
Overall Budget - Without shopping and aside from flight, you only need about RM800 for food, lodging and all 3 tours. Nice huh?
Recommended? - Very much, especially for the young and simple, and for scenery lovers like me. I would love to come back, for Sapa and Hue next time. This is my first travel where I actually interact with other travelers; carpenter couple from Alaska, mother-son travelers from US, weird but happy-go-lucky guys from Palestin-Israel-Thailand (God knows which one's the truth), father-daughter travelers from Indon, couple from Sweden, a family from French province Canada, 2 very cute guys from Japan, 2 very chatty volunteers from India and 2 gorgeous girls from Australia.