Following last month’s Chinese new year getaway suggestion, HERE! Offers another convenient alternative for leaving China’s borders over the holiday period. Check out the gem that is Hanoi.
Vietnam’s capital Hanoi may seem a tad far from Dongguan, but it can be a quick win depending on which travel option you take. Flight is the obvious first choice and even though Chinese New Year is peak season, a Hanoi return ticket from Shenzhen, Guangzhou or Hong Kong is available for around 2,000 RMB per person. The cheaper route entails a couple of hours by bullet train from Guangzhou to the capital of Guangxi province—Nanning—before switching to the regular train for a few hours to the bustling border of Dongxing/Mongcai. This is then followed by a final connecting bus that will steadily trundle you to the Vietnamese capital over several more hours. All told, this way can be done for about 1,000 RMB per person, providing you are prepared to put the time and effort in. The standard visa on arrival for most is a two-week stay, with Chinese nationals being required to pre-arrange their visa beforehand.
Once in Vietnam, it’s time to get your head around your Dong; the local currency that is. At present 1 RMB equates to roughly 3,380 VND, so it can get slightly mind-boggling if using a 500,000 note to pay for something. Conveniently enough though, American dollars are also widely accepted in most places. Vietnam is relatively cheap compared with China and if you shop around, there are some great deals to be had in terms of accommodation and dining out. My personal favorite area to stay in was away from the tourist traps at the CBD district of Mi Dinh, where what I consider a decent abode can be had for under 200 RMB per night; although if slumming it there are hundreds of hostels in the Old Quarter going for around 100 RMB. I also became accustomed to snubbing a Western style breakfast in favor of the less expensive “Bun cha,” a traditional dish consisting of vermicelli rice noodles, chopped beef and nettle leaves in hot water. Delicious.
As to be expected, a culturally historical city such as Hanoi has a plethora of attractions to see and experience with hospitably in spades. Despite the events of the American and Chinese wars respectively, Hanoi’s personality feels like that of a flourishing survivor. Main points of interest are West Lake and for the livelier, Ta Hien Street in the bar area of the Old Quarter. I personally couldn’t resist a trip to the National Museum for the local take on Vietnam’s history and former ruler “Ho Chi Minh.”
After absorbing a couple of days in Hanoi, it is an absolute must to venture a few hours out of the city and head north-east to Ha Long Bay. A short boat trip from shore and you will find yourself in the heart of a surreal floating village surrounded by ornate karst rock formations. The visual spectacle further impresses should you choose to enter the limestone caves within and admire the various strategically lit stalagmites and stalactites.
The two most pleasant things that remain ingrained in my memory are the people and the food. The distinctive enticing aromas while passing the quaint little makeshift restaurants and the beaming smiles on the faces of locals, as they eagerly practice their conversational English. The main downside for me was the swarms of mopeds everywhere. Make sure you have eyes in the back of your head when crossing any road! That aside, Hanoi is a very remarkable city and I would suggest a visit if one has the chance, especially with the time to explore a little such as during the holiday. I have had love affairs with several South-East Asian places, but Hanoi will always reserve a special spot in my heart!