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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 (Lodging as low as $15 a night, Flight from Saigon $65 roundtrip)

This is near the hotels where it's clean

Long Beach on Phu Quoc. The shore is only clean in front of hotels.

 

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

Take a flight from where ever you are to Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City International Airport. From there, take a flight to Phu Quoc (flies out once an hour). Once at the Phu Quoc Airport, take a taxi to Long Beach or to wherever you reserved your hotel. Most cheap ones are along Long Beach.
Visa to get into Vietnam:
1) If you live in the US: You can do it yourself by following the instructions on the embassy website. If you live near Washington DC, you can go in person, or you can also do it by mail. Another option is looking for a Vietnam Visa service site like “Same day Passport” with many locations around the US. Try to avoid websites that don’t have physical locations, as its harder to get your money back if you get scammed.[$70-$200, but call if you do it directly as they only take money orders.]
2) If in Korea: Almost any travel agency like SOHO travel (email:soho@sohotravel.kr) in Seoul can do it. For those of you in Daejeon, theres also Mode tour, in the 9th floor of TimeWorld.You can also do it yourself by going to the Vietnamese Embassy in Seoul [Starting from 70,000 Won].
Skeezy Tip: Some places like Soho will give you a discount if you buy your flight ticket from them. You can save about 20,000 won ($18) and their flight ticket prices are usually comparative to Kayak.com.

Story:

This place is totally worth a stop if you have a few days to spare in South Vietnam. While they try to promote it as “the next Phuket” once you get there, you will see that the charm is in it not being very touristy at all. There is a sad sense of a failure with lots of closed hotels all over the Long Beach Coast and trash everywhere there isn’t a hotel. But other than that, it is great to motorcycle around, and bathe in the beach. The interior of the island has many jungles and there aren’t many dirt roads inside, so travel with caution.

Things to do:

1) Motorcycle/Scooter ride around the Island ($5 for semi-manual, $7 automatic per 24 hrs to rent):

Nerdy glasses highly recommended

We tried to do this in about 3 and a half hours, and grossly underestimated the size of the island. You would take about 10-12 hours, so it is suggested you wake up early and spend all day on this. It is TOTALLY worth it, as you will find many market places where it seems they have never seen a foreigner. Also those glasses (on the picture) which seem nerdy are STRONGLY recommended, as there are many dirt roads and it will get into your eyes. You can buy a pair at the night market for $2 (40,000 VND) if you bargain.

Skeezy Tip1: If you rent a motorcycle from somewhere that is NOT your hotel, expect to be asked for your passport as collateral. This is common practice in Vietnam, Cambodia and Mexico from my experience and so far, haven’t had any problems getting it back. They just want to make sure you don’t ruin it. Many places rent bikes, but your best bet is to go with one through your hotel.

Skeezy Tip2: Get a free map from your hotel! or print out the one I posted below as it will be your lifeline if you get lost.

2) Long Beach, and Sao Beach

This is a natural pool, with the waters being extremely shallow for almost a kilometer

When we arrived, it was infested with Jellyfish the first day. However, they went away by the second day and the waters were very clear. The best is Sao beach, as the shallow waters are the clearest. However if privacy is what you want, rent a motorcycle and find your own secluded island.

3) Fine Fresh Seafood Dining (price varies on size of belly ~$5-7)


One of the great things about islands, is that they usually have super fresh seafood. If you’re a gastronomic enthusiast like myself, you know seafood taste varies greatly on freshness. Here you pick for the most part, food that is still alive, whether it be lobster, crayfish, or this strange looking shell thing I ate. The Night Market is Between #2 and Duong Dong on the map below. If in doubt, anyone you ask would know.

4) Snorkling and fishing tour ($15-$20)

$15 bucks gets you fishing and snorkeling in 2 spots, plus a visit to Sao Beach

This is actually really cheap to do. One of the most recommended and established places was “John’s Tours” (0919-107-086/0982-107-086). As the island itself is not a tourist hot spot, you will probably not see other boats out there fishing where you are nor snorkeling. The coral is surprisingly amazing, with lots of wish, and sea urchins about half a meter long (20 inches). Oh and you get to eat the fish you catch (everyone shares if you didn’t catch anything) and you can also try sea urchins for an additional 50 cents a piece.

Logistics:

Airplane: Vietnam Airlines is so far the only airline that flies to Phu Quoc.

Might have been low season (Sept) but the flights are hourly and they didnt seem full. Just to make sure, book ahead.

Lodging: (NOTE COUNTRY CODE FOR VIETNAM IS 84)

Beach Club: 84-077-3-980998, info@beachclubvietnam.com, beachclubvietnam.com

$12, $15 and $20 rooms depending on location. But all are literally feet from the beach, and they only have like 10 rooms, so I’d go with the cheaper option.

2) Freedomland (homestay resort) $20-$32;  84-01-226-586-802, freedomlandphuquoc.com

Skeezy Tip #1: Although more cheap lodging exsits along Long Beach, most dont have websites, so Beach Club is your best bet. They also have motorcycles.

Skeezy Tip #2: There is a baller hotel at the north end of Long beach, before reaching the night market. They have a giant chess set (which was sadly incomplete at the time). You can use it and no one would really know you’re not from the hotel. They also have ping pong, a nice restaurant, and a luxurious pool. If you are feeling like spending a bunch for this luxurious hotel, its $72 a night.

Tours:

1) John’s Tours $15-$20; 84-0919-107-086/84-0982-107-086,

2) Rainbow Divers: (Seasonal Scuba diving), From $75 (go to the website for complete rates on all services)

http://www.divevietnam.com/phuquoc

Maps:

#3 is Beach Club, #14 is John's Tours, #9 is Freedomland

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