How do I get to Hanoi, Vietnam from Bangkok, Thailand?
August 2, 2005 2:17 PM   Subscribe

I will be traveling to Vietnam next week, and have some questions regarding getting/staying there.

My flight is to Bangkok, and I expect to stay several days while I wait for my visa application for Vietnam to clear. It's too late for me to arrange it here, so I will attempt to get one while I'm in Bangkok. I've been told that it shouldn't take more than 4 or 5 days. Is this correct?

What is the best way to get to Hanoi? My flight from Bangkok back home doesn't leave until the fourth of September, so I have some time to travel. I specifically want to see Hanoi (for at least a week or two), but I'm not opposed to seeing more of the area while I try to get there. Should I fly, take the train, or the bus? I'd rather not spend more than about $300 roundtrip from Bangkok, if possible. Is it possible? (I'm fairly flexible money-wise, but this is what I had in mind)

Do you have any recommendations for things to see, and places to stay while in Hanoi?

Finally, are there tailors in Hanoi that would be able to make me a suit or some dress shirts within three weeks? How much would this cost? (Thanks for you help)
posted by ar0n to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: As you fly into bangkok, take either the AirCon 516 bus (city bus, you can't bring "big bags" on it, but a backpack will probably pass) or the Airport Shuttle "A2" bus to Kho San Road. The A2 bus picks up right outside the international terminal and will have a line of western backpackers waiting. It's 100B ($2.50 US).

Once on Kho San, get some lodging and start hunting on getting to Hanoi. It's a very popular destination, so signs for travel to / from and visa services will be everywhere. Every single hostel will have a travel agency in the bottom. Every interet cafe as well. Many restuarants, too. There will be signs in the window that advertise prices to Hanoi -- I was in BKK in the spring, but I can't remember what the prices were. I'd look in the front of Lonely planet Thailand for the technical how tos and which routes are recommended. I hear that the boat is a total tourist trap (and uncomfortable to boot), so I think it's bus if you're cheap and plane if you're not. I think $300 US would easily cover the flights... the bus is probably on the order of $20 or $30 US.

I'm sure 4-5 days is enough time. And all I'm saying is that there are myriad choices and resources on the ground in BKK. It might not be good or as good as advertised in the window, but it'll work. So don't sweat it.

Don't have any info on tailors in Hanoi or anywhere in Vietnam. There are plenty of tailors in Bangkok and they could take your measurements and make your stuff while you get your arrangements set. Then you could pick up the goods before you leave. It would save having to travel a lot with suits and shirts stuffed into your bags. If you have 'em, it's best (I hear, didn't do it) to bring a shirt you love the fit of and jacket/pants, too.
posted by zpousman at 2:31 PM on August 2, 2005

Best answer: Yes, it's possible to get your Vietnam visa in Bangkok in less than 4 days. As I recall, it takes 3 days and costs US$50, and I think you can even get an expedited visa for a greater fee. Make sure you bring 2 passport photos to the embassy. Address is here.

There is no train service from Bangkok to Viet Nam. You can travel overland by bus or minivan, but this requires travelling through Laos or Cambodia. Both are wonderful countries to see, but both present their own visa/travel issues, and would take (and deserve) more than a few days each. You may also encounter difficulties crossing from Laos into Viet Nam.

So take the plane, either to Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. I recommend flying direct to Hanoi and spending all of your time in the north. That would give you plenty of time to travel up into the highlands at a relaxed pace. Road travel in Viet Nam is inefficient by Western standards, so trying to see the whole country in three weeks could be stressful.

In three weeks you could also fly or take the train down to Hoi An, a tourist-overun but still very pretty seaside town in the center of the country.

In Hanoi: See all the common tourist sights (Perfume Pagoda, water puppets, Uncle Ho's tomb), but do not, on your life, miss Ha Long Bay. Eat everything you see on the street, including the barbecue pork noodle soup that seems to be served ony for breakfast.

And don't miss the street food in Bangkok, either. It's the best in the world.
posted by soiled cowboy at 2:45 PM on August 2, 2005

ar0n, I should be back in Thailand (I live there) in September. If I'm in Bangkok at that time I could happily show you around town. Email me if you're interested, my address is on my profile page.
posted by soiled cowboy at 3:00 PM on August 2, 2005

I highly recommend going to SAPA. One overnight train from Hanoi and absolutely incredible. Ethnic minorities, mountains, what more can one ask for?
posted by ig at 3:34 PM on August 2, 2005

I would stay away from Khao San Road and stay instead around Soi 20-25, where there are lots of nice and inexpensive hotels where you can get a meal a day, laundry and a very clean room for about US$35. Bangkok can be tough but yes - as soiled cowboy said, the street food is delicious, second only to Saigon (from what I've heard; have been to Bangkok but not Saigon). Do a full day at Chatuchak market if you can, the floating markets, various Wats, get an hour or so done at the blind massage school. I'm jealous! There's also a Vietnam street food blog called Noodlepie that may be helpful.
posted by luriete at 3:34 PM on August 2, 2005

Also, Soiled Cowboy's namesake (Soi Cowboy) has plenty of skanky sex clubs if you're into that sort of thing, although it really squicked me out. I found the more elegant cultural aspects of Bangkok much more appealing.
posted by luriete at 3:36 PM on August 2, 2005

Wait times at the tailor vary depending on how intricate the suit and how much you want to pay.

I had a friend who worked at Nike in Saigon for several years who had custom tailored shirts (casual short sleeve button downs) done pretty cheap. Each shirt takes a few hours.

If you want a knock-off designer suit, you'd have more luck in a more "western" dressing country, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, China or Hong Kong, especially Hong Kong.
posted by b_thinky at 5:04 PM on August 2, 2005

My husband and I went to Vietnam in 2004. You should check on getting a visa in Vietnam -- that's what we did. We waited at the Ho Chi Min City airport while they processed our visa applications (we brought photos). It took about 45 minutes, max.

From Hanoi, we took the overnight train to Sa Pa -- highly recommended. Halong Bay is gorgeous and you can get great seafood there on the tourist boats. Be sure to stop at some of the islands if you go there.
posted by nancoix at 6:52 PM on August 2, 2005

For Hanoi attractions, I second the usual stuff already mentioned, but especially Ho's Presidential Palace (in a gorgeous park), the History Museum (see the amazing bronze drums) and the Women's Museum (much more interesting than it sounds).

We also found 3 restaurants we loved -- Al Fresco's (American and Australian), Mediteranneo (Italian -- only about a block from St. Joseph's cathedral) and Cafe des Arts (high end French for a mere pittance).

You can go see John McCain's old uniform at the "Hanoi Hilton" along with his prison cell. Be sure to walk a few hours through the streets in the Old Quarter (market area).
posted by nancoix at 7:07 PM on August 2, 2005

Best answer: Just do the 1night on the boat for Halong Bay (I recommend Kangaroo cafe - a bit dearer than the others but sooo worth it - and not dear versus western prices) Don't bother staying on the island - so underwhelming. You won't need/want more than the overnighter because the best part is the cruise of 4 or 5 hours and although it's idyllic, it's also boring as batshit -- looking at beautiful islets of limestone has its limits. Hence, a good cruiseboat with nice people and good food is an important adjunct IMHO. There were a dozen when I did it (and I've been down there about 4 times in various guises) with Kangaroo Cafe and they were the best bunch of people one could hope for. We had a ball.

Avoid anything that includes visiting a 'cave' - ALL overrated and so not worth it.

One of my favourite day trips is to Tam Coc - easily and cheaply arranged from Hanoi. You get the majesty of the limestone formations that commence in Halong Bay combined with the gorgeous green changing countryside and ricepaddies and a 3 hour wonderful boat cruise. Really cheap and really really enjoyable. It's easy to conclude that this is actually better than cruising Halong Bay.

Do not miss Sapa. Pay the higher price on the train, again, cheap by our standards (not the 5-star carriage - just first class, so you get a room with 6 people). Do as many walks around Sapa as you can and ask pointedly to get montagnard guides and not Vietnamese -- do this and you will meet amazing girls who will regale you with great stories about their heritage and introduce you to others of the 5 or so hill people groups in the area. Don't be scared of the long walk - about 18km - it's not that difficult as it goes around the mountain (but there are various options available). (There's a link on my profile page to photos - many in Sapa)

Stay in Hanoi as much as you can otherwise -- it is an AWESOME place on myriad levels.
Pfft - I'm jealous and I want to go back.

Tailors will be easily found. A suit might cost $50 tops I would think. Your hotel will know someone - otherwise, you'll find a shop easily - there's enough around the Old Quarter - allow 2 days for sewing and refit.

The 2 best and wholistically wonderful restaurants to go to are:
1. Hoa Sua - charity restaurant training street kids run by Vietnamese (govt. I think)
2. KOTO (know one teach one) - run by Vietnamese-Australian -- again, charity restaurant training street kids.
More details in an FPP I did a few months ago. The food at both places is awesome. (Also see 'Our Man in Hanoi website' - English guy volunteering at KOTO)

Lastly, don't miss the Temple of Literature. 1000 years old - great atmosphere and very cool, although not the top of the list in terms of eye candy, still, it's a wonderful little place.
posted by peacay at 3:10 AM on August 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't recommend the cruise boats in Halong Bay, but rather a kayak trip. Seriously, a 3-4 day trip by kayak there is amazing! They have a full camp set up on one of the islands, with a great cook, outhouses, nice tents, etc. The guide is usually some kind of eco-guide, and very knowledgeable of the history, fauna, boats, crazy monkeys on the islands, fish, and little caves. There are lagoons with tight entrances: where you have to lay down in the kayak and pull yourself through the tunnel at low tide, only to arrive in the most spectacular isolated lagoons in the middle of an island. I used Handspan, and I can heartily recommend them. They arrange your transfers to Halong Bay, the ferries, motos to get to the boats, all food, great MEC equipment, safe guides, etc. It is a trip of a lifetime. Here's one of the photos that you will get from Halong Bay: the islands are soft limestone, and erode around the edges from the sea water and waves. The result is that the islands look like little sprouting mushrooms, and you can paddle right underneath the overhang. Totally amazing.

From Hanoi, you should definitely go to Sa Pa. The kids are incredible: they know four or five languages, can guide you through the maze of villages and trails like no other, and will crack you up with their drama and jokes. Seriously, go there for a week and explore all of the villages in the area; day-trips or overnight hikes can be arranged there, as can moto trips by road, or, what I did was hire three of the kids to take me whereever they wanted. This was one of their grandmothers, and this was their hut deep in one of the local villages, and their terraced rice crops outside of the Black H'mong territory, run by Red Zao women.

Also, from Hanoi you can easily get to Hoi An, a small town that was largely preserved during the Vietnam war (what they call the American war). There are gorgeous temples there, and oodles of tailors. I found the Kangaroo trips and people a bit "rah rah" for my liking, but you'll always find fellow travellers there if you're looking to hook up with someone for a trip or other tips.

You're right that you can get visas in Bangkok fairly quickly, and if you're in a rush, it can happen even faster with some extra dollars. I took about 20 passport photos on my trip, and I used almost all of them (not just in Vietnam, but take a whole bunch with you) and I am so happy I didn't have to sort out pictures there.

If you have time, go to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. If you're not rushed, go slowly and enjoy the trip and the Khmer people. If you are rushed, there are flights from both Vietnam and Thailand. It's worth every penny, and will likely change in a few years so see it now!

Have fun, I'm jealous!
posted by fionab at 11:01 AM on August 3, 2005

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