what to do in vietnam

A Day At the Tracks - How to Get to Hanoi's Train Street and When to Go



The first time I visited Vietnam, I travelled from Hanoi to Hue on an overnight train.

I had no idea that, shortly after leaving the station, the train passed right through the narrow streets of a lively, residential area – Hanoi’s Train Street.

Unlike most areas in Vietnam, you don’t have to worry quite as much about getting run over by motorbikes here… Though it’s still possible, most people are more concerned with the speeding train that passes through the area multiple times a day.

Keep reading to find out more about our day at Hanoi’s Train street, how to get there, and when to go.

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Every day, multiple times a day, residents of this teeny tiny street, located in the midst of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, stop what they’re doing, clear the tracks, and make way for the passing train. Before and after that, life carries on as usual.

This summer, instead of passing through on an overnight train, Andrew and I decided to go explore this unique neighborhood for ourselves.

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After spending some time walking along the tracks, we grabbed a seat on a couple of little plastic stools outside the Railway Hanoi, a cozy cafe in the middle of Train Street. It was the perfect spot to have a Bahn Mi and have a couple local beers. We shared conversation with fellow travellers aross the tracks while watching life unfold on Train Street.

We saw residents chatting on the tracks, families preparing meals, laundry being hung out to dry, tourists trying to snap that perfect photo, roaming roosters pecking at our sandwich crumbs, and children racing up and down the tracks.

It was all fun and games until the smallest one stepped on a loose railway tie and got a nail through her foot.

Basically, we saw everything but the train. 

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Getting There

Train street is located between Le Duan and Kham Thien. You can easily walk there from Hoàn Kiếm Lake or the Old Quarter in about 20-30 minutes.

If it’s too hot to walk, or you’re short on time, use the Grab app to catch a ride there!

When to go

You can wander down train street at any time of day, but if you want to pay a visit to the Railway Cafe, or catch a glimpse of the passing train (which we sadly did not), you’ll have to plan your visit carefully.

The Railway Hanoi is open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. everyday but Tuesday. It’s the perfect spot to have a bite and people watch while you’re waiting for the afternoon train to pass.

From Monday to Friday the train passes through twice - once at 6 a.m. and a second time at 7 p.m.

On Saturday and Sunday it runs more frequently, passing through at around 9:15 a.m., 11:35 a.m., 3:20 p.m., 5:45 p.m., 6:40 p.m., and 7:10 p.m.

Note that these times are all approximate. The owner of the Railway recommends you arrive at least 30 minutes prior to ensure you get a good (and safe) spot to view the passing train.

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Have you visited Hanoi’s Train Street? What did you think?

Let me know in the comments below!


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WHERE WE STAYED IN HANOI - GOLDEN CHARM HOTEL

MORE VIETNAM DESTINATIONS - HA LONG BAY - HANOI - HOI AN


Sustainable Tourism in HaLong Bay aboard the Au Co Luxury Cruise



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Named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994, HaLong Bay is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and a popular tourist destination in Vietnam for domestic and international visitors alike.

For years, waking up in the crystal blue waters of the bay on a junk boat amidst the limestone cliffs was at the top of my bucket list, and, in 2017, I finally made it there. According to statistics from the Halong City People’s Committee, so did about 7 million other tourists... with a majority of them flocking straight to the port to board their cruise in the bay.

As you can imagine, this mass tourism can have detrimental effects on the environment in HaLong Bay, however, I don't think tourists should let this dissuade them from visiting. There are companies who care about preserving the beauty of HaLong Bay, its wildlife, and the local communities who call this place home... companies like Bhaya Cruise Line.

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About Bhaya Cruise Line

In 2007, Bhaya's first ships set sail, and just over ten years later, with four different fleets and several cruise packages to choose from, it is already become the largest cruise operator in HaLong Bay. It is also one of the Bay's most reputable cruise companies.

In 2017, Bhaya launched several sustainable tourism initiatives designed to protect and preserve the environment, and to help local communities.

This summer, I had the pleasure of exploring the beauty that is HaLong Bay a second time aboard Bhaya's Au Co Luxury Cruise. I was very impressed with the ship, the staff, the off the beaten tourist track excursions, the food(!), and with Bhaya's overall dedication to leading the way for sustainable tourism in HaLong Bay.

Want to learn more about the Au Co Luxury Cruise, Bhaya's social and environmental initiatives, or how you can get involved?

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How to Get an Epic View of HaLong Bay - Hiking Bai Tho Mountain



 
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The first time I visited HaLong Bay, I, like most travellers, got picked up early in the morning from my Hanoi hotel, and was driven straight to the pier to board my cruise (...with one tourist trap restroom/souvenir/food pit stop along the way).

*Pro tip: don't buy anything but snacks here (and don't even buy those unless you absolutely have to)... Seriously. All of the souvenirs are sold at ridiculously high prices, and most of them can be found in the markets you'll likely visit at some point during your Vietnam travels*

Anyway, this time around, I decided to spend some time in HaLong Bay prior to our cruise, and I'd highly recommend you do the same. Not only was I well rested the day of our cruise, I was also able to explore and enjoy more of the area. The highlight was hiking Bai Tho Mountain and getting the most incredible view of HaLong Bay. Keep reading to find out how you can do the same!

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 Getting to HaLong Bay from Hanoi

Since we were going a day early, our transport to HaLong Bay wasn't included or supported by our cruise company, and when our Airbnb's contact fell through at the last minute, we were stuck trying to arrange transportation to HaLong the night before. I was stressed at first, but after a quick google search came across TravelerTick.com, an extremely easy to navigate site with lots of routes and transportation options.

A limousine bus from Hanoi to HaLong bay cost us $19 per person and we were picked up and dropped off at the door of our accommodations (something other bus and shuttle services claimed they weren't able to do).

With only 5 other people on board, we had loads of room and an extremely comfortable ride. 

Visit their website for more information about transportation routes and prices.


Hiking Bai Tho Mountain

After checking in to our homestay, we put on some sneakers and headed to hike Bai Tho Mountain. I'd seen loads of pictures of this spot when planning my Vietnam trip and absolutely had to check it out for myself.

To get there head to Hàng Nồi road. Walk down the street (almost to the end) until you see the "Good Store."

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This is where it gets interesting...

To get to the mountain trail you have to go through someone's house. The entry way is just to the left of the Good Store.

When we arrived, we were greeted by the woman sitting outside (presumably the owner of the house) who knew exactly what we were there for. She showed us through the house... past a bird cage... a chicken coop... a bunch of dogs... and to a very much locked gate... (surrounded by barbed wire... with a large hole... that we then climbed through to begin our ascent up the mountain trail).

Side note: this trail is technically closed for tourists, and since it's located in her backyard, she is capitalizing on the opportunity - (can't say I blame her). The "Admission cost" is 50,000 VND per person (roughly $2), but its well worth it for the view you get at the top.

The hike will take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour depending on how quickly you go (and how many photos you stop to take along the way).

To be honest, I hadn't anticipated it being quite so strenuous and hadn't packed any water. All I had were a bag of dried mangoes (that I gave to a German girl who had stopped along the way with low blood sugar).

*Pro tip - DON'T BE LIKE US. Bring snacks and water!*

When you get to the top there are quite a few good spots for photos. Snap away (and recharge with your snacks and water).

Though the sunset views are surely incredible,  I would recommend going earlier in the day, as making your way down might be a bit tricky after dusk!

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Where TO STAY IN HALONG BAY

If you're looking for a cozy place to stay in HaLong Bay, I'd highly recommend the HaLong Ginger Homestay. With several options ranging from a queen sized en suite and dorms to adorable garden cottages, there's something for everyone. You can even book the whole house if you're travelling with a large group! 

During our stay, they were renovating the space beyond the two triangle cottages for their cooking school. Though the property is already beautiful, it will look even better once this construction is finished!

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 To book your stay contact homestayginger@gmail.com or view their options on AirBnb.

Sign up for airbnb and get $40 in travel credit!

 
 

 Looking for more Vietnam tips?

The Best Way to Get From Hue to Hoi An - Biking the Hai Van Pass with Le Family Riders

After a bumpy, sleepless, and slightly scary, overnight train ride from Hanoi, I arrived in Hue and quickly suited up to keep heading South in the best way you can in Vietnam... by motorbike.

A few months prior, two of my friends in Seoul had visited Vietnam and made the trip between Hoi An and Hue with a motorbike tour company called Le Family Riders. They highly recommended the bike ride, and, after making the trip myself, I too have nothing but praises for this company.

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Keep reading to find out why biking the Hai Van Pass with Le Family Riders was a highlight of my backpacking trip, and one of my favorite travel experiences to date... You may just decide to put it at the top of your Vietnam to-do list, too! 


Bright and early that morning in Hue, I was promptly picked up by Uy at the train station. He's the head driver for this family run company, and there's no surprise as to why. I was a bit nervous about the ride, but he was so candid and professional that my worries were quickly put to rest. I strapped on my helmet, put on an orange vest, and, with my two backpacks in tow, zoomed off with Uy to meet the rest of the crew.

The first question I asked my friends when they told me about this trip was, "What about your backpacks?"... No, we did NOT make the whole journey to Hoi An with two people and all my stuff on the bike. Before I tell you about the trip itself, know that luggage is not something you'll have to worry about with this company.

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Yu's mom met the group in the morning and everyone's luggage was put into a truck that was driven to Hoi An later that day. All you'll need is a small backpack filled with essentials for the ride. I thought I had everything I needed - sunscreen, my bikini, GoPro, toilet paper, money, extra camera batteries... but as far as essentials go, there was one unexpected thing that I, unfortunately, forgot.

What happened next was a nightmare come true... (Spoiler alert: Travel isn't always perfect. There are road bumps... and I refuse to look back on this trip with rose colored glasses and forget that this part happened... It wouldn't be honest. I also refuse to leave this part out, because, without telling this bit of the story, I can't quite give the proper praises to this amazing company)... buttttttt, it might also be a bit TMI, so skip ahead about four paragraphs if you're easily grossed out... or a dude... or both.

So, here's what happened...

Our first stop for the day was a teeny little (likely family-owned) open-aired restaurant where I ate some noodles for breakfast and we all had a cup of Vietnamese iced coffee, (which you have to try if you haven't already - it's so bomb).

Before leaving for the second leg of our ride, I went to the bathroom and realized that unbeknownst to me, I'd at some point started my period... Every. Girl's. WORST. NIGHTMARE... and, my personal nightmare come true on that particular day... at the start of my 128 kilometer motorbike ride down the Hai Van Pass.

I used the last of the toilet paper in my backpack to create a makeshift pad (poor planning... should have packed more toilet paper) and went on about my way thinking I'd outsmarted mother nature. Wrong.

Not only had Mother Nature decided to hit me with the red river of reassurance twice that month, but she also decided that, on that day... the day of my 3+ hour motorcycle ride... said red river was going to flow with a flippin' vengeance. So, long story short, about 15 minutes in to the second leg of the ride, I started to feel reallllly uncomfortable. As embarrassed as I was to mention my lady problem to Yu, my male driver, I knew I had to... and so I did.

Yu could not possibly have handled my awkward news any better - (the guy clearly has a sister... a sister who I actually borrowed a pair of shorts from later that day). When we arrived at our next stop, I got a tampon from an Irish girl in the group... and I know this is probably something I should have done to begin with, but, when backpacking Southeast Asia, these can be hard to come by, and I didn't want to deplete anyones, likely, limited stock. Yu called his mom, who agreed to meet us with the truck at lunch so I could get a change of clothes from my backpack.

Aside from mild cramps and Mother Nature's annoyingly horrible timing, my lady problem was solved...

...Meanwhile, we'd arrived at a swimming hole, so I threw on my bikini, jumped in, and continued to enjoy the day.

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After enjoying a swim, we headed on for a seafood lunch by the water. This can be said for most meals I ate in Vietnam, but OH MY GOD THE FOOD WAS INCREDIBLE. We had a few beers and an awesome, extremely filling, spread (all of which was included in the cost of the ride). We stuffed ourselves silly, and continued down the Hai Van Pass.

We made a few necessary stops for epic photo ops, stretch breaks, and, of course, cups of coffee. Then, it was smooth sailing down the coast to Da Nang, a beach-side city, not far from Hoi An, where we explored caves, temples, and hiked to catch the sunset (which, as you can see, was epic).

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After leaving Da Nang we only had about 30 kilometers to go. We arrived in Hoi An well after night fall... which was perfect because it allowed us to catch our first glimpses of the lanterns this city is so famous for. The drivers directed us to their family's tailor shop (something else the city is known for) where you could get literally any clothing item you can think of made. Whether or not you get clothes made at the Le Family's tailor shop, this is definitely something you should do while you're in Hoi An... so save room in your luggage!

Finally, one by one, the drivers took all of the riders and our belongings to our hostels and hotels in Hoi An.

By the time I arrived at my hostel at the end of the day, my butt was a little bit sore, and I was a whole lot exhausted... but it was the best kind of exhausted. Despite my unfortunate lady problems, my trip with Le Family Riders was exciting, fun-filled, and absolutely beautiful. The drivers made everyone feel welcome, safe, and they made sure we all had a killer time.

I'm SO glad that I took this trip with Le Family Riders.

Not only was I able to see a lot of Vietnam, but I learned a lot too.

Thanks again to Uy and the whole Le family for the incredible experience (and to Alexa and Maggie for the recommendation)!

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If you're planning to go from Hue to Hoi An, (or vice versa), THIS is the best way to do it.

Interested in booking a ride? 

Check out their website at lefamilyriders.com

or shoot them an email at lefamilyriders@gmail.com to sign up!


What’s your favorite thing to do in Vietnam?

Let me know in the comments below!

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I was a guest of Le Family Riders, but, as always, all thoughts, opinions, bad luck, (and TMI stories) are my own.