One of the easier things to do is book a day tour here in Hanoi. I found one that I booked that would take me to the largest Buddhist Pagoda and an ecological zone. The Bai Dinh Buddhist Pagoda is the largest pagoda in Vietnam and one of the most ornate. I was able to walk through a lot of the pagoda today and enjoy both the beauty of the pagoda plus the natural space its in. As you walk the pagoda, you gently incline up steps down long hallways with beautiful artwork surrounding you. The pagoda is a popular day tour destination so there are a lot of people yet due to the size of the pagoda you feel somewhat alone at times. Photography is allowed and they do not seem to enforce some clothing standards like long pants thankfully because today was really warm!
Trang An was the next stop which is a beautiful ecological zone with emerald green river waters and wondrous limestone karsts much like Halong Bay. You ride in 5 passenger rowboats through grottos with low ceilings, wave at other boats and as I put my hand in the emerald green water, it was warm! I could not help but think it would have been truly nice to take a swim in it. All around you as you cruise, you see the limestone karsts poking up, beautiful blue skies, and lush vegetation. My other boat passengers were quiet the entire trip but other boats had friendly Vietnamese tourists which would yell “Hello” at me and wave.
After about two hours of cruising this beautiful ecological zone, we returned to the boat dock and then slowly headed back to our tour bus. Here are the pictures from today’s trip. I think that it was a great one day tour to take so if you have an opportunity and you are in Hanoi, give it a shot.
Just a word about day tours…
Now just a word about day tours. I booked my tour through a very nice travel agency at the Hanoi Old Centre Hotel in the old quarter. They were very responsive to my needs and answered all questions and ensured I was happy before with the proposed itinerary and after with follow-up emails to ensure that the trip went well. The tour guide we had spoke very good English and was very familiar with the history and geography of the areas we went. The tour cost included full transit including the Bus and boat rides and lunch. It does not include beer or drinks with lunch but for the cost of these I did not feel that it represented a large fee. I bought a larger water bottle for 20,000 VND and a beer after the boat ride for 15,000 VND.
I think other tours do things about the same as far as the services and support go but I felt that the staff at the Old Centre Hotel took pretty good care of me. When I took the Halong Bay tour, I felt more like a number and we had no ability to change the tour activities. Everything was rushed and mornings came early because they felt we had to have X number of activities. You may want to enquire with the tour operator on the flexibility to make changes as you want.
I am looking at a tour on the Red River next week which I would do right before leaving for Hue. I don’t really want another long bus ride type thing and this would be closer but still let me see the Red River past one quick look when I was out walking.
My advice FWIW for tours here is to check a few. Don’t just book Viator because I have found they do not cater to solo travelers at all and their itineraries are fixed. You can find local agencies that are reputable by simply searching and then sending the tour company email about what you would like.
I spent $55 today on the tour and I feel like I got plenty of value. Transport and activities were reasonable. Food was excellent! Our tour guide also ensured we knew the timings for things and how long it would take going there and returning to Hanoi. You can expect a longer day since by evening you will hit the evening Hanoi traffic around the old quarter.
If you get to Vietnam, hope you consider a tour for a day trip. I think they are very good ways of getting around to see things.