Hello Vietnam! As I’m writing this post, I can still feel that excitement running through my body while reminiscing my holiday moments. I had such an incredible time in Hanoi though it was my first time there. I had wanted to visit Vietnam for the longest time and I didn’t know exactly what to expect – but the whole experience was just awesome. 🙂
A few days before our departure, I booked an airport transfer via Hanoi Transfer Service. It was highly recommended on Tripadvisor so we thought of giving it a try. It cost USD16 for one-way pick up from airport to city centre in a 4-seater car that takes max. 3 passengers only.
You can submit your request through this booking form on their website.
One of the staff will then send you an email within 24 hours with a onePAY.vn (Vietnam-based payment portal similar to PayPal) link to make payment.
As their local law doesn’t allow them to collect payment in USD, the amount will be converted to Vietnamese Dong based on prevailing exchange rate. Also, a 3% transaction fee will be added to the total. You can then make payment with any credit card.
Once this is done, you should receive an auto-email from onePay with a link to the invoice. Write back to the staff who sent you the earlier email to let him/her know that payment has been made and he/she will revert with a confirmation email. That’s it.
Upon arrival at Noi Bai International Airport, keep a lookout for your driver at the Arrival Lobby who will be holding a board with your name.
The moment we spotted our driver, he immediately helped us with our luggage and even waited for us as we wanted to check out SIM card prices. There was a row of retailers selling prepaid SIM cards from different telecom companies but we didn’t buy any.
It felt so good to step out of the airport because the day’s temperature was only 15 deg C. But alas, the cool weather only lasted for the first 2 days of our trip and it just got warmer throughout the rest of the week. Well, at least Hanoi wasn’t as humid as Singapore.
The whole journey from airport to Hanoi city centre (Old Quarter) took about 40 minutes. The initial 20 minutes was very smooth as we travelled on an expressway but traffic got busier as we approached the Old Quarter. No traffic jam, just moving more slowly. The driver didn’t talk at all throughout the journey because of language barrier. He wasn’t the smiley type of person too. Ok, I must say most of the locals we met were the same – friendliness was not their forte. Not that they were rude or anything, but rather, I thought the Vietnamese are more private, down-to-earth and unpretentious people.
Just before we arrived at the hotel, the driver picked up his mobile to make a phone call which I believed was to the hotel staff because the bell boy was waiting by the main road to help us with our luggage. Our hotel was located in an alleyway so cars couldn’t pass through but it was only a very short walk from the main road outside.
Driver was on time and really showed initiative though we couldn’t really communicate. Car was clean and comfortable. Ride was safe and smooth. Thumbs up for the experience.
As we were very happy with the pick up transfer, we also booked the return trip to airport on our day of departure which cost USD12 (260,000 VND). We went to their office personally (walking distance from our hotel) on our second last day and made payment in cash since we had leftover currency.
You can find Hanoi Transfer Service’s office here:
Their other branch is at 21 Ma May, Hoan Kiem.
Do note there are a few other transfer services by the same or similar name around Old Quarter and online too which I’m not sure if can be trusted so if you’re looking for a reliable airport transfer service, you might just want to approach this company that we’ve tried and tested.
This was the alleyway where our hotel was located on. Too narrow for cars but those with motorcycles and bicycles had no problems. I liked that this street was bustling with shops and people but yet it was away from the main road that was noisy and polluted.
Talking about pollution, if you’re heading to Hanoi, PLEASE BRING ALONG A MASK. You might even need a N95. The air quality there was just terrible. By the end of the first day, my sinuses started acting up and it was difficult to breathe especially when walking on the streets because those exhaust fumes would just hit you on the face. Not kidding!
I suggest that you bring along purifying skin care products too especially if your skin is prone to clogged pores and acne. Hubby and I have sensitive skin and our eczema just flared up suddenly when we were there. Must be due to bad air. Don’t say I never warn you!
Right, this must be the only least favourite aspect of my whole trip.
We stayed in Gem Boutique Hotel (previously known as Hanoi Gem Hotel) on 54 Ngo Huyen Street in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. On ground level was the hotel restaurant and the lobby reception was one floor up.
While they were rebranded as Gem Boutique Hotel, the entrance and lobby signboards had the name ‘Gem Premier Hotel & Spa’ instead. Confusing, lol.
We were warmly greeted as we entered the lobby reception and were offered to take a seat on the couch while the reception staff checked us in.
Minutes later, the same bell boy who helped us with our luggage earlier came up from downstairs with fresh watermelon juice and sliced fruits. The mango was so good!
The reception lady came over with a map and started introducing some of Hanoi’s attractions and also recommended us some good eats too. Really didn’t expect her to do this. When the husband asked where we could buy a SIM card, she said we could pass the money to their bell boy to have him purchase for us.
We paid 100,000 VND (approx. SGD6.30) for a Vinaphone 8GB/30-day SIM card which was exactly what we wanted after researching online. No mark up of price. Cheap.
The staff also informed us that we could request for taxi anytime through the hotel reception. It runs by meter with no booking fee. Nice.
Really appreciated their honest and helpful service.
We were initially offered a free upgrade to a Family Suite but as it was located on the same floor as the lobby reception (too open, not much privacy), we declined and decided to stick with our original booking of a Junior Suite that was located on the 6th floor.
Though the room was called a Junior Suite, it was just a small but cosy room. Could see that it was newly renovated because some fittings in the room seemed incomplete and the floor was quite dusty too. Not a big deal though. We still liked our room.
The room had a French-style design. Basic but good enough. Bed was bouncy and comfortable. Pillows gave good support too. Could request for more pillows if you need to hug any to sleep.
The wash basin area was outside the bathroom.
Long, narrow window on the side but it merely overlooked the staircase outside because this room was in the middle of the building. No view to boast of. Two bottles of drinking water were given free-of-charge (placed next to the cups) everyday.
Rack with hangers, safe and fridge were all in the cupboard. The drinking water in the fridge were chargeable though. Just get your supplies from the convenience stores outside the hotel – so easy and cheap.
Decent bathroom size. Bronze vintage-style fittings. Well maintained.
Only basic amenities were provided so you’d have to bring along your own shower gel, shampoo, etc. Or buy them at the convenience stores.
Hairdryer was also provided. It was kept below the wash basin.
They use 2-pin sockets so bring along a travel adaptor if need be.
Tissue paper stacked in a flower shape – so pretty!
The breakfast buffet wasn’t extensive but good enough because we could order mains from the a la carte menu which were also part of the breakfast spread. We had different items on the buffet everyday – fried rice, mini sausages, fresh rice paper rolls, salads, fried spring rolls, vegetable fritters, etc. Standard items would include freshly squeezed juices (no sugar) and cornflakes/cereals with milk.
There would always be another 2 or 3 sweets like cakes or Swiss rolls as well as a few selections of fresh fruits. Must go for the mango – firm, crunchy and sweet!
Most of the items on the menu were local dishes with some Western style ones. We tried beef pho, crab vermicelli soup, fried spring rolls with vermicelli, fresh spring rolls, sandwiches, scrambled eggs and more. All were prepared upon order and tasted pretty good too.
Turn left as you walk out of the hotel and you should see Vinmart (convenience store) not far away. It opens from 6am to 10pm daily. Prices are quite reasonable. Two 1.5L Dasani drinking water only cost 16,000 VND (SGD1).
By the way, do note change is not always given for purchases because retailers don’t always have smaller notes like 200 VND (SGD0.01). It’s like our 1-cent equivalent – bill will normally be rounded up or down.
If you turn right from the hotel entrance and walk all the way down to the end of the alleyway, you’d see Shop & Go that’s open 24/7 if you need to grab something in the middle of the night.
Food choices are also aplenty on Ngo Huyen Street. There’s a very popular porridge stall at the end of the alleyway on the left hand side (which I shall blog about later), several banh mi stalls, restaurants as well as a pizzeria that’s always full house every night. Will never go hungry when here.
There are also spas, hostels, day tour operators and retail shops – there’s one that specialises in North Face apparel & bags just adjacent to the hotel.
The nearest supermarket from the hotel is Intimex which is about a 6 minute walk away.
You can get supplies from here too or explore it for unusual eats and products.
In my upcoming travel guide series, I will be taking you all on an adventure through Hanoi as we explore the city’s sights and sounds. Join us as we eat with the locals like the locals – a lot of delicious Vietnamese food will be coming your way. Stay tuned! 🙂