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By: Christine Khuat/Julio Moreno (HaLong Bay Tour: $25/500,000 VND, Train to Sapa: ~$5/100,000 VND, Tour of Sapa: $12USD/240,000VND)

Buying fruit from a Canoe in Halong Bay

Note: This article is part of a 3 part series detailing how to make the most out of Vietnam by exploring geographically from North to South (starting with this one, the North, then the Center, and South coming soon). In addition a 4th article on Phu Quoc Island is already posted (hit the link).

Note2: In this and any Vietnam article, the name “Saigon” and “Ho Chi Minh City” will be used interchangeably  as they are the same city. Saigon is the pre-communist name, and Ho Chi Minh is the current official name.

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

Take a flight from where ever you are to Hanoi, Vietnam, the capital of Vietnam. Visa information was already posted on the Phu Quoc Island article. You can either get there directly, or fly to Saigon first and fly North to Hanoi. Jetstar.com offers flights from Saigon to Hanoi for around $50 USD/1Million VND. From here you will most likely need a tour company. “The Sinh Cafe ” is a well established international tour company which can help with tours and even visa info. They have tours and info on both Sapa (which is not required) and HaLong Bay (which is required).

Skeezy Tips:

  1. It is recommended that you book the HaLong Bay trip first as it is more popular, and ask them about info on how to arrive to SaPa by other means if you don’t want their tours.
  2. BEWARE of copycat companies.  Many places will tout that they’re “Sinh Café” or “The Sinh Tourist,” but they’re not.  This is especially true in Hanoi.  Double check the address to make sure you have the right company.

AIRPORT TRANSFER:

  1. Jetstar has an airport bus that will take you to/from Old Quarter for 30,000 VND (~$1.50).  The journey takes about an hour each way.  For travel to the airport, visit their office at 204 Tran Quang Khai STREET where you can check in and get your boarding ticket before boarding the bus.
  2. Vietnam Airlines offer the same airport bus departing to and from their office in Old Quarter.  The ticket costs 40,000 VND ($2 if paying in USD).  The earliest bus leaves Old Quarter at 4:30 am and departs every 1-2 hours.  Book ahead and check the schedule.

Skeezy Tips:

  1. Book at least 2 weeks ahead to ensure cheaper airfare and better time availability
  2. You will be charged 50,000 VND (~$2.50) per ticket for credit card payments, plus the 3% foreign transaction fee by your credit card company.  A cheaper option is to pay at the post office.  Book your ticket online and opt to “hold payment” at a post office (or bank).  This option costs you 25,000 VND per ticket, but you must pay in cash.  NOTE: If you choose to pay in person (post office or bank) you must do so within 48 hours of your online booking.  In addition, this method does not work if you’re booking a last minute flight within the next 48 hours.
  3. SKIP all the frills (seat selection, insurance, check in luggage) as they WILL COST YOU EXTRA.
  4. The limit for carry on luggage (free of charge) is 7 kg (~15 lbs).  If your backpack exceeds this weight limit, opt for the 15 kg checked baggage for an additional 60,000 VND (~$3).  They WILL check and make you pay extra (more than what you would have paid online) upon check=in if you exceed the 7 kg limit.

The Stories:

Halong Bay: It is a natural bay formed by the delta coming out to the East of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Its beauty is world renowned and was a finalist of the New Seven World Wonders contest. It is known for its snorkling and fishing, traditional boat tours, overnight boat stays, and amazing natural island/rock formations. It is only accessible by tours but it definitely a site to see if you are staying in the Hanoi area.

A closer look of the rock formations in Halong Bay

Halong Bay as viewed from a boat

Sapa: Is known mainly for its amazing beauty and its ethnic minorities. A very intriguing spot that doesn’t get too many foreigner visitors, as it is not well known thus remains a little known treasure among “road less traveled” travelers. It is near the Chinese border, and historically a highly contested land. However, in recent times, its small town feel and cultural diversity (mostly Hmong minority) is what attracts visitors.

Lake in SaPa, Vietnam

The Hmong minority in Sapa

Other things to do:

1) Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh: Since you will already be in Hanoi, go see Ho Chi Minh himself. The Mausoleum is an indoor museum where you can actually see his body. Be prepared to wait in a long line, however there are very few leaders preserved in this way (like Lenin in Moscow and Mao Zedong in Beijing, must be a communist thing). Ho Chi Minh led the Viet Cong to a most improbable win, now only over the Americans, but over the French from colonization, and his legacy lived on to defeat the Cambodians of Pol Pot, and the Chinese in their brief 1980 invasion.

Other relevant info:

1) Pho Bo: For foreigners, Pho is the signature dish of Vietnam. Hanoi is the birth place of Pho and like any foreign food, you probably will get a tastier version in the source of its inception. Grab a bowl from a mom and pop shop.

2) Relative cheapness: While Vietnam is already considered cheap, many foreigners will be surprised by HOW cheap. Consider that in the “tourist” part of town, a large bowl of Pho is $2.50 which might be considered cheap if you paid $6-7 in the US. However out of those areas, to Vietnamese people, its more like $0.60-$1.00. Also sandwiches can be bought off street vendors for $0.75 and full meals can be had for about $1. You can REALLY stretch your dollar if you know what you are doing.

3) Shopping in super markets: If you will stay a long time in Vietnam, consider shopping at the local market and you will find amazing deals on produce. The market places on the street also have great cheap fruit, including the amazing Dragon Fruit!

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By: Julio Moreno (Entrance to “El Pipila” monument 50 cents [5 MXN] for cable cart to the top, $2 (20 MXN) for a round trip cable cart trip; Entrance to “Alhondiga de Granaditas”: $4 [43 MXN])

Sky view of the entire Historical Guanajuato City from "El Pipila" Monument.

 

Note: Info on how to get to Guanajuato city was covered in the Guanajuato Part 1, it will be assumed you already read that article and can get from your country, into Mexico, and into Guanajuato City’s bus depot OR to the Guanajuato/Leon Airport (BJX).

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

Assuming you took the Guanajuato Part 1 advice and stayed very close to the Mercado [Marketplace] follow this simple google map. A= The tram to go up to the Pipila Monument, B= The “Alhondiga de Granaditas” (Popular Granary) and C= The marketplace.

Skeezy Tip #1: If you speak Spanish, try to bring your student ID everywhere in Mexico. Although they only offer discounts to Mexican students, they often don’t check where the ID is from and you will slide with a 50%-75% discount on entrances to museums, etc. If you get caught, claim ignorance and just acknowledge “OH! only NATIONAL students”.

Skeezy Tip #2: Bring cash as credit cards are rarely accepted anywhere in Mexico except for high end department stores and hotels.

Story:

La Alhondiga de Granaditas [The Popular Granary]: Granaries are nowadays where excess grains are stored in farm towns. However it is important in Mexican history as the last stand of the Spanish Army in Guanajuato. The Spanish Army was overconfident that the Granary was too well protected and that the rebellion army was too small and poorly armed. Their assumption almost proved true as the rebels were having a hard time penetrating the wall of the fortress. It wasn’t until an unusually strong miner named Juan José de los Reyes Martínez, nicknamed “El Pipila” mounted a flat stone on his back as a shield and made it to the front door of the Granary to set the door on fire. This allowed the rebels to finally enter, capture the granary, and conquer Guanajuato City. It marks an important victory and confidence booster for the independence movement.

Inside the "Alhondiga de Granaditas"

“El Pipila” Monument: This is the monument to the brave miner who risked his live and used his incredible strength to give the rebels a fighting chance. He later joined the rebels himself and was captured a year later by the Spanish army. He was executed but lives forever as a martyr and hero of Guanajuato. The monument is also situated on a nice hill that oversees most of the city. A panoramic picture from this point is the banner for this site.

The Giant Monument to the Hero of the Independence movement, "El Pipila"

Other Things to See:

1) “La Callejoneada” [The Alley-Walk]: What started as a pass time, has turned into a tradition and fund raiser of the students at the University of Guanajuato. They meet with a large group of people and take you along the alleys of Guanajuato, telling you stories and cracking many jokes along the way. Granted, none of this is funny if you don’t speak Spanish, but if you do, you’re in for a treat. (100 MXN; Although its in the street, they do check by taking you though a small alley and checking your ticket [a complimentary jar you get when you pay] You can buy tickets along Juarez street, or at the bus depot just like any other tour, or directly, as they hang out near Juarez Theater (map below) from the afternoon, until the beginning of the event at 9PM)


2) “Callejon del Beso” [Alley of the Kiss]: One of the legends of the city if of a couple who loved each other but had a forbidden love as he was a commoner and she was a Spanish princess. The legend says they lived across the alley from each other and would meet on the balcony, until her enraged father killed her. Now, every couple who goes here must kiss or suffer bad luck.

Couple Kissing in the Alley of the Kiss

Museum of Don Quixote: Don Quixote is possibly the most famous of stories in the Spanish Language. Writer Miguel de Cervantes is to Spanish Language literature, what Shakespeare is to its English counterpart. Since the University of Guanajuato is famous for the arts, this museum has been erected maintained to house not only original paintings of Don Quixote by famous painters, but many other art pieces in a 4 floor building. (20 MXN, 5 MXN for students)

http://museoiconografico.guanajuato.gob.mx/

Statue of "Don Quixote"

Teatro Juarez: Juarez Theater is a world class performance theater a little over 100 years old. The architecture is notable because its authentic Mexican architecture, using no non-Mexican architects. It is beautiful inside and if youre lucky, can still catch a play. (50 MXN for a tour)

”]”]

Where the magic happens

Diego Rivera House: Diego Rivera is widely considered, along with his wife Frida Kahlo, amongst the best paintors in Mexican history. Rivera lived in Guanajuato for some time, and his house is preserved as a museum with many authentic original paintings. Like is the case in most art houses, you cant take pictures. (20 MXN, 5 MXN for students)

Map: A=Teatro Juarez, B= Diego Rivera House

Torture Museum, Inquisition Machines: While a very small museum, they have many torture devices used during the holy inquisition. Some are just simple hanging devices while some get…creative for lack of a better term. The Inquisition was the Catholic Church’s attempt to weed out all impurities within its ranks, often leading to accusations very similar to the Salem Witch Trials. Sadly however, the Inquisition lasted more than 3 centuries and spanned the entire Catholic Domain, which at one point was 1/4 of the world’s population. (This along with the “Church of Murals” are in the higher levels of the city. It is however one of the offered tours [along with some useless museums] as the morning “tour of Guanajuato City” and is your most economical bet at 100 MXN. A round trip cab to just one of these could cost you just as much. You can find a tour with any tour company found along Juarez street, or at the bus depot, as noted before.)

I know what youre thinking. There are a lot of nails so it wont actually poke anyone. Thats why they put scorching hot coals to heat up the nails.

 

Church of Murals: This church, like many in Mexico, is just beautiful to see. What makes this one unique however is inside, massive canvas paintings decorating the interior of the church. Such artwork, religious or not, must be appreciated. (see above paragraph for info on how to get here)

Two of the four huge murals in this very unique church.

The huge murals in this church make it quite unique

 

Skeezy Tip: Apparently, everyone works free in this city as every small museum claims to have volunteers to guilt trip you into a tip. If you want to save face instead of flat out not tipping, its a good idea to bring 5 MXN peso coins with you

Tourist Traps to Avoid!!!:

The Museum of Leyends “Museo de Legendas”: is located at the told of the cable cart ride and is sold for a discount price with the cable ticket. It is under no circumstances worth it! The museum includes about 10 rooms of very backward 1950s mechanics of barely moving figures trying to tell a story over the squeaky and old voice over microphone. It explains the leyends of Guanajuato city, but does so in the most boring and corny way possible (wind moves a red sheet to show fire, a blue one to show water). What worse, even though you will be so bored by the 4th one, the doors seal in front of you and behing you so you have to wait through the whole thing.

Mummies Museum “Las Momias”: While this is one of the biggest things Guanajuato is known for, it is one of the least impressive. These are mummified bodies, however once you see one you’ve seen them all. Also, if you come late, there will be an enormous wait for something that would barely be worth it free. It is also the most expensive museum for this reason.

The Haunted House: One of the first stops in the “Guanajuato City” tour is this haunted house. It is not scary and the mechanics remind you of 1980s Disney, or worse! You can try it if you like, or you could skip it and say you already did it, and just wait outside. It only takes about 20 minutes to go through. (20 MXN)

Authentic Candy Stores: If you go on all tours, you will more than once be told to avoid the “fake candy” in the street and wait until they take you to the real thing. However, this is just another tourist trap as the tour guides are paid off to make that stop, and the candy is grossly over priced.

Wax Museum: A tiny museum with only a handful of wax people, and while it starts with Mexican icons, it progresses to US movie stars and nonsensical objects.

Logistics:

Airplane info, lodging, and everything else was covered in the Guanajuato Part 1 article.

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By: Julio Moreno (Entrance to Ruins: $4 (51 MXN), Bus to ruins $5 (70 MXN roundtrip))

Pyramid of the Sun, The largest pyramid in all of Mexico, and one of the largest in the world.

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

1) By Plane (international/MOST national) if you stay at Lafayette Hotel (info below):

Take a plane from wherever you are to Mexico City, Mexico (Benito Juarez International airport MEX). While they have taxis, the metro is 3 MXN (15 cents) compared to 255 MXN ($22 USD) if you take a taxi to downtown Mexico city. Follow the signs in the airport to the Yellow #2 line Subway Stop “Terminal Aerea” and take it towards “Pantitlan” (subway map below). Get off on “Pantitlan” and switch to the Pink #2 line (only one way to go). Get off on “Isabel la Catolica” exit. When you get off the subway, take a left on the exit, and another left on the first light, and follow the map below to the Lafayette hotel.

The Hotel is on Motolinia Street, which is only a pedestrian road. After you settle down,  continue north on Motolinia road until the end (3 blocks) and you will bump into the subway Blue #1 line entrance “Allende”. Take the subway direction “Cuatro Caminos” and get off on “Hidalgo” exit. Switch to the Dark Green #3 line direction “Indios Verdes”. Get off on “La Raza” and switch to the Yellow #2 line, direction “Politecnico”. Exit Autobuses Del Norte (Bus Depot). From the exit, you will see the huge depot in front of you. Enter it, turn left and you should see desks with pictures of the pyramids saying “teotihuacan”. They cost 35 MXN ($3) each way. Once on the bus, just follow the crowd into the gate. You will exit from the gate closest to the Moon Pyramid (the smaller one). On the exit, cross the street and wait for the bus. They leave and come by around every 15-30 minutes.

You could also NOT switch on “La Raza” and get off instead on “Potrero” which is also a (less simple) bus depot which has buses that go to Teotihuacan.

2) By Bus:

If you have no heavy luggage, you will most likely arrive to the “Autobuses Norte” bus depot (as it is the main bus depot in Mexico City), so before you exit, turn right and you will see desks to Teotihuacan. OR, you could go outside, take the same route back described above in reverse.Using the subway, take Autobuses Del Norte –> La Raza–> Hidalgo –> Allende and walk south along Motolinia Ave to Lafayette hotel. Drop off your stuff in the hotel and return here.

SUBWAY MAP:

Skeezy Tip #1: You will probably use the subway a lot in Mexico City. You probably want to buy a bunch of tickets as lines can get ridiculously long in certain stops.

Skeezy Tip #2: Many places offer tours to see the pyramids for 350-400 Mexican Pesos, RIP OFFS! Use this guide and you can go round trip, using subways for 76 Mexican Pesos

Aztec god Quetzalcoatl (the snake) in his temple

Story:

Teotihuacan was once upon a time, was one of the largest cities in the world, having 200,000 people at its peak. It was built around 200 BCE and thought to have fallen apart by 700AD. Its name means birthplace of the gods, according to Aztec mythology. It consists of 2 large pyramids (the Pyramid of the Sun and the Moon), the avenue of the dead, the Jaguar temple, and numerous other minor temples. It is believed that the pyramids were used to make sacrifices to the gods, but the site was abandoned long before Europeans first arrived. The two largest pyramids are amongst the largest in the world, and the sun pyramid is the largest in all of Mexico. Teotihuacan is not to be confused with the “Aztec City” which is a suburb of Mexico city, nor Tenochitlan, the Aztec (Nahuatl language) name for their capital and what is now Mexico City. The actual site lies outside of Mexico city, but within the State of Mexico (There is a City, State, and country with the name “Mexico”).

Despite popular belief, “Aztec” is not a single ethnicity but everyone who fell under the domain of the Mexica people of Tenochitlan and their allies in Texcoco, and Tlacopan who together formed the “Aztec Triple Alliance” or “Aztec Empire”. The Aztec Empire was the most powerful political entity in the entire new world at the time of European contact, dominating most of what is now Mexico. Most, including the capital city of Tenochitlan, were destroyed mostly by disease and partly by superior Spaniard weapons.

Pyramid of the Moon

Logistics:

Airplane: Use Kayak.com or vivaaerobus.com

Lodging:

1) Hotel Lafayette, $15 (180 MXN) 1 person, $20 (230 MXN) 2 people; Phone# 52-55-5521-96-40

They don’t have a website, but it is so “budget” and hidden, its never full. The location is also phenomenal as its a few blocks from the main downtown square “El Zocalo”.

2) Hostel Moneda; $13 shared, $18 Private (pay online American dollars)

Very clean, next to El Zocalo, free internet, and English speaking staff

3) Use either Hostelbookers or Hostelworld hostel search engines.

4) Couchsurfing.org, to crash in a Mexican person’s house for free!

There are many people who sell nice arts and crafts.

Avenue of the Dead

Other things to do:

1) Best Tacos on the Planet:

As a side mission, you can eat Mexico’s most common and famous food, TACOS. But not just any tacos, I am talking about the best tacos I have ever had in my life. You can reach it by taking the subway Dark green #3 line and exiting Indios Verdes. Take exit E, and you will come out in a flea market of sorts.You will come out of the subway onto a row of shops right in front of you. DONT TURN, go straight and it leads to another Exit E (north and south side). On this strip, look for a taco place with using the pictures below to guide you. If you cant come out on Exit E (some times before 5:30PM its locked) look for exit E once you come out onto the surface. Think geographically!

You can also combine this as dinner as you come back from the pyramids. Instead of the bus depot, say you want to get off on “indios verdes”. You will be dropped off in front of a green pedestrian bridge. Use the bridge to cross to the other side. As you come down the last set of stairs of the bridge, GO STRAIGHT IN THE SAME ORIENTATION AS THE STAIRS and you will come across a row of shops (this is where Exit E is) and the taco place will be on your right.

LOOK FOR THIS sign and THIS GUY!

Look for this sign

Co-Owner with his Siblings. You'll be lucky if there is a place to sit. It will nonetheless be worth it.

Best Taco Ever

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