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The capital city of Vietnam, still maintain its tradition yet at the same time you can find the influence of Communism wherever you go. Compare to HCM City, it is like Hanoi is the Beijing while HCM is the Shanghai of Vietnam
If you have enough time, you can check out Hue and Halong Bay which is not too far away from Hanoi.
In the Hanoi airport, you may enjoy free Wi-Fi at the waiting hall for international departure. The Wi-Fi is provided by Skycafe, and the password is 0123456789.
In 2012, taxi ride between the airport and Hanoi city is charged at a fixed amount - US$ 20 or 400,000 VND. The trip takes about 1 hour.
QT ANAM SPA - somewhere in Hang Trong Street, passed Bao Khanh. It has moved to this new location last month so pretty much every online resources are still directing you to the old address which was in Le Thai To. Anyway, this massage place is really good. I have had massage in China and Macau and I didn't really like it; and I thought I didn't like getting massage after all. It was until I came to this place and I have fallen in love with massage. Their service is wonderful. It would be perfect if they could lower their price somehow.
BIEN NHO Seafood Restaurant - 2B Trang Thi (right at the corner turning to Nha Chung street; there are also a Spanish and a Mediterranean restaurants). A very cheap place to have the finest Vietnamese seafood. Service is excellent. I was alone there but the waitress didn't ignore me the whole time. She talked to me the whole time even her English wasn't very good and make sure I was doing okay. When I said Vietnam was really hot at the time I came (August), she immediately put a fan right in front of me. How could you not like this place? It is close to the city center too!
MATCHBOX - Cao Ba Quat. 10 feet on the East of the Fine Art Museum. The Fine Art Museum is a must visit. After your visit, please go to this little restaurant where you can find interesting Vietnamese cuisine. The noodle they serve is not in a soup yet still very tasty. Something good to get after having Pho for quite a few times already. A chill place to hangout with a artistic interior design. They also provide free Wi-Fi!
Thu HUONG Bakery - 36 Trang Tien. Just a few steps away from the opera house and the Sofitel hotel, this bakery provides cheap and tasty bread and pastry, as well as ice cream and special drinks. Love it!
PHO 24 - a very popular pho (noodle) chain restaurant which also has shops around the world. It costs about US$ 3 for a bowl of noodle or 6 pieces of spring roll. So the food is cheap but it is quite tasty. PHO 24 can be found in both Hanoi and HCM. The one in Hanoi is right at the south side of the Hoan Kiem Lake.
Below from One Pillar Pagoda to Temple of Literature, are all very close together in the 'citadel' area of Hanoi. Suggest either starting your visit from Ho Chi Ming Museum or Temple of Literature; and walk in a circle along these attractions. (Click the picture to enlarge)
Similarly, from the Vietnam Cathedral to the Opera House is another sightseeing walk recommended. You can see all these attractions below by walking around the Hoan Kiem Lake basically. In the north side of the lake, you can find the old city' of Hanoi with plenty of shops and nicely decorated balcony bars and cafes.
Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam is a very interesting place. People may think it looks like either China or Thailand. In fact it is quite unique and pretty in a special way. People are nice and things are cheaper than Thailand. You can use US$ there most of the times and its a better to do that because of the better exchange rate. In popular places people understand English in general just they don't speak much. Vietnam is not dirty but there are a lot of geckos hehe. Below are pictures taken from Ho Chi Minh City and Mui Ne Beach Area.
From HCM City, you can go to a nearby beach area - Mui Ne by bus. The bus agency is in the city center near the public market. The bus takes about 4 hours so you will be leaving in the morning; and return in the morning as well.
Laos is an interesting country. If you have been to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand before, you may think Laos is just another similar country. Indeed, what you can do in Laos you can probably do also in Vietnam or Thailand. However, because of it's isolated condition as a land-locked country for most of the times in the past, the Laos people are still very lay-back and the country makes you very relaxing. No hassle, no harassing for business. Laos is opening to the rest of the world as what its neighbors are doing now; but you can still taste the primitively of South East Asia. Not like Vietnam and Thailand where there are always people going after you for spending your money.
It is probably easier to travel into Laos from Vietnam or Cambodia or Thailand, by train or by plane. You can get visa on arrival for around US$ 40. If you go directly from HK, you need to stop over either at Hanoi or Bangkok.
Things in Laos are quite cheap at the time in 2013. A meal is like US$ 2; and a hostel costs US$ 10 per night.
My journey to Laos included Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and the capital - Vientiane:
I flew directly from HK to Laos, and my stop was Luang Prabang, the UN heritage city and it is a very beautiful city indeed. Temples are every where so you may only need to see the biggest one in the center of the city, which was the former palace.
I stayed at the Nagas 3 hotel which is a nice quiet place. A spacious penth-house costs around US$ 100 a night. But if you look for something with a pool and a spa, you may find something on the main street.
At Luang Prabang, I site-seeing the city, then took a bicycle to go to see the temple inside a cave, rode an elephant and at the end went to a very pretty waterfall. Guide tours are available every where on the main street. A day trip costs about US$ 50 per person.
Tour guides are generally helpful and good in speaking English. The one I joined is known as Laos Heritage Tour. They have good English speaking guides, who are also very caring. There was one time he wanted us to try some local foods and when we said yes, he immediately paid for everything.
There is a view-point also right at the city center called the Mountain Pousai (pronounced as pussy...). You should get to the top. It is not a very tall mountain and will take you only 20 mins, but the view is AMAZING.
Other than the outdoor activities, at Luang Prabang it is also very popular to take Laos cooking class. You can find it at almost every medium size restaurant. The cost per person is about US$ 40. They will teach you to cook a full dinner and there is lots of fun.
Then I took a bus for 6 hours to Vang Vieng - the backpacker's paradise because of the cheap hostels, water activities, cheap bars for alcohol and weeds.
I stayed at probably the best hotel in the city with the private scenic view of the mountain, just because it costs only US$ 150 a night for a 2,000 sq ft room. You can share it will a group of friends.
You can do hot-air balloon, kayaking, zip-lining and tubing in Vang Vieng. I had done other things but tubing so I decided to do that along the quiet, beautiful Meng River.
Finally I took another bus for 5 hours to arrive at the capital Vientiane. Just to feel how much development has been done. You can still see the French influence there. I like Vientiane that it is developing but still holding up its own culture - no Starbucks or McDonald can be found in there by far; but nice, al-fresco cafe is every where. Another thing is - massage is really cheap there even inside a nice hotel.
Siem Reap - Angkor
Picture beats thousand of words, but sometimes even a picture cannot justify the truth. Angkor Wat at Siem Reap, Cambodia is one of such cases. I always want to visit the Angkor Wat but I have never thought that I would fall in love with it, until I followed the crowd one day to see the sunrise over it.
No word is good enough to describe how magical it is when the sun rises over the Angkor Wat. Of course, the temple itself and the other temples at the big Angkor are architectural wonders.
You can always use US$ there, only that they will give you Cambodia money back for changes.
Visa can be obtained online through the official website for US$ 40, if you arrive by plane from overseas. You will receive your visa via email and you only need to present the hardcopy. If you arrive by land or sea from Vietnam or Thailand, you may get a visa on arrival after you give some 'benefits' to the people at the borders.
I stayed at a very cheap hotel - Chateau d'Angkor Residence. A suite with full kitchen, 2 balconies, 2 baths, breakfast daily, one way airport pick-up, not very big public swimming pool; and it costs US$ 70 per night. Staff are friendly and helpful.
Located just a side street away from the main busy street with supermarket right on the other side. 10 minutes walk from the bar area/old town.
August, 2017 (Version 6.0);
since January 01, 2007
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