We’ve been wanting to take a trip to SE Asia and as I am a huge fan of Pho we thought let’s head to Vietnam (yes sometimes I plan my vacations based on food…)! So I eagerly started working on planning our trip. Usually I love to create my own itinerary and coordinate all of the travel myself, however, I have been pretty busy lately and figured I would try and let someone else do it for me this time. So I did some searching online and found a couple well rated companies on Tripadvisor. Well after quite a few emails and comparisons on pricing, I opted for Classy Travel.
The reason I selected Classy Travel was the speed of their response to my emails as well as a full itinerary at what I felt was a reasonable price for our 9 day, 8 night itinerary. Additionally, they provided a letter of invitation that is necessary to get a Vietnam Visa. Our itinerary included all ground transportation, hotels and most meals and we were set to visit Hanoi (to see the city), Sa Pa (to see the countryside and rice terraces), and Ha Long Bay (to see the beautiful landscape).
For airfare we opted to pay about $100 more per person to fly Asiana Airlines as the flight is almost 5 hours and no one puts baby….err… Scott in a corner! Trust me, he needs the leg room Lol. After the trip, we both agreed this was money well spent!
So as soon as you arrive to Noi Bai Airport, you head to immigration, but not so fast! You must get your Vietnam Visa (the Visa desk is across from the immigration counters). These are the things you need to process the Visa (and be sure to have it or be prepared to pay a hefty sum or be turned around on a plane back from where you came):
1. Invitation letter from Vietnamese Travel Agency (word of warning, check your letter to make sure that the dates are correct dd/mm/yyyy format. If it is incorrect or you don’t have this document, you will be told they have a travel agent on site that can do this for you for the low fee of $140 per person. Don’t let them stick you with this ridiculous charge and get everything taken care of before you arrive)
2. Two passport size photos (don’t worry too much about size, we saw them accept anywhere from 2 cm x 3 cm to 4 in x 4 i, but do make sure you bring them as you’ll pay a steep markup for the Visa office to take them for you. We heard anywhere from $20-$35).
3. Visa Application form (I recommend you fill this out in advance, you can download the form here. If you forgot it or don’t have a printer, they will provide you the form at the counter).
When you have everything, go to the Visa application desk with all of your documents and they tell you to take a seat in the waiting area. Make sure you pay attention to the tv screen on the left by the “Visa fee and passport return” desk. The announcement of the names is extremely muffled, so you’ll want to look for your picture. Once you see yourself up there go and make the $25 Payment per person (for US Citizens) and they will give you your passport back with the Visa inside. Then off you go into the immigration line.
Once you make it past customs, I highly recommend you stop to exchange some money. The rate at the exchange counters were very reasonable and there were no transaction fees. The actual rate when we arrived was 22,282 VND and we were able to get 22,000 VND for 1 USD.
Next stop that I recommend is to get a SIM card, as they are so inexpensive and it will be invaluable in helping you navigate the city. Our Mobifone SIM card was 250,000 dong (which is less than 12 USD) and came with Unlimited internet, 10 minutes free international calling and 60 minutes domestic calling. The plan was good all over Vietnam for 30 days. We had excellent signal in Hanoi and pretty good signal in Sa Pa. Ha Long Bag was very spotty, but even the wifi on the boat had trouble out there.
We were picked up promptly by our driver and off we were to our hotel. We decided to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn which, is about 15-20 minute walk from the Old Quarter where most people stay. We liked that our hotel was a little more off the beaten path and quiet. The service at the hotel was excellent and rates were very good.
Next order of business was getting some food!
We stopped in at a restaurant near our hotel that had good reviews:
Nga Hang Ngon
26 Tran Hung Dao Street, Hanoi, Vietnam
The food was delicious and hit the spot after a day of travel. After filling up with some yummy food, we were eager to start our Vietnamese adventure! I can’t wait to share our experiences exploring Hanoi in my next post!