Halong Bay I First Time Visitor Tips- Hanoi & Halong Bay



Hanoi sure does know how to get your senses fired up. It is probably the busiest city that I’ve visited and I definitely had a near breakdown a couple of days in. While in search of the lungs of Vietnam’s capital we were moved on by men in uniforms, and guns! Luckily, our friend from Scotland lives in Hanoi so he recommended the top tourist spots and some local haunts, which you can read about in our guide.


The limestone pillars of Ha Long Bay have been on my radar for a long time and it was to be the highlight of our five-week trip to Southeast Asia. Little did I know that I would be pretty underwhelmed by our Ha Long Bay cruise and annoyed at the pollution in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Avoid the mistakes we made…


Our two-day trek through the Sapa Valley in the north of Vietnam ended up being my ‘Ha Long Bay’, it is lesser-known but made such an impact on our travels. We met women from the Hmong people (there are four tribes) who trekked with us through the mud and rain, chatted with like-minded travellers from all over the world (one of which, Pete, we met two years later at a music festival in Austin and is now coming to Scotland for our wedding party!), and stayed with locals, washing in a natural watering hole before we trekked the next day. Bliss!

Sapa Valley in Vietnam


Vietnam uses the Vietnamese dong (VND ₫). For best rates see here. ATMs are widely available in the cities and you will feel like a millionaire when using them. Most credit cards are accepted.

Tipping in Vietnam is not essential but appreciated. Vietnam is the cheapest place that we have travelled to. A beer on the street is as little as 15p!

Vietnam has an extensive public transport system; we used planes, trains, boats, bikes, and automobiles during our eight-day stay. Lots of expats and locals drive scooters and mopeds, please be careful with your ankles and do not wear flip flops when riding. Taxi drivers will try and rip you off, agree on a price and write it down.

You can research and book transport in Vietnam and to onwards destinations with Bookaway here.

We organised our visa for Vietnam through the Visa on Arrival scheme. There are lots of companies who will try to fleece you regarding the visa. Be prepared to queue for your visa when you arrive in Vietnam. UK citizens do not actually need VOA anymore if they are visiting for less than 15 days.

There is accommodation to meet every type of budget in Vietnam. Hotels in Hanoi start at £8.12 / $10 and go up to £160+ / $200+. Hostels are cheaper with dorms starting at £3 / $3.69 – quality may be dubious so read reviews before booking.

Airbnb is growing, there are pockets of private rentals throughout the country, prices averaging at £77 but there are entire homes for £30.

Vietnamese food is up there with the best! Street vendors only sell one type of food so make sure you are at the correct corner for duck or chicken! Fast and fresh food is prepared on the streets of Hanoi and best enjoyed dining from the plastic tables and chairs on the street. Dishes will set you back £1-2 / $1.23 – $2.46.


Don’t ruin your trip by getting sick – check out our filtering and purifying water bottle guide

Cinderella you will go to the ball with our best trekking footwear review

 Sapa Valley Vietnam