Why go to Hanoi?
You'll likely sail through famous Halong Bay, an awe-inspiring site
Traffic can be terrifying; be careful
Explore winding streets and dine on French-influenced cuisine in kinetic, dazzling Hanoi
Hanoi Cruise Port Facilities?
Many large cruise ships anchor in Halong Bay, and tenders take passengers on about a 10-minute ride into the tourist town of Bai Chay where an old car ferry is used to load and unload cruisers. Getting to land from the tender can be a difficult transition for handicapped walkers and those in wheel chairs; so contact the ship for help before getting on the tender.
Bai Chay, which along with nearby Hong Gai is collectively known as Halong Bay City, is the main tourist area for Halong Bay. Turn left from the tender pier and walk about 15 minutes to shop for souvenirs, coffee and other goods at tourist markets. Cafes there offer refreshments, and Internet access can be found at Emotion Cybernet Cafe for about 400 VND per minute. Adjacent "hotel alley" is another source of Internet cafes and Wi-Fi access.
At the Halong Bay commercial pier, a boardwalk offers souvenir stalls, casual cafes and outdoor disco stages.
Good to Know?
In Hanoi, motorbike traffic can make crossing a busy street rather terrifying. Tag along with locals to cross, because there is safety in numbers. Negotiate cab fares upfront to avoid "add-ons" at the end of the ride. And of course, don't wear flashy jewelry and always protect your valuables from pickpockets, especially in busy markets.
A junk cruise on Halong Bay can be the highlight of your trip or a major disaster. Many commercial junks are in poor repair and fall short of Western safety standards. The lower the ticket price, the more likely you'll find yourself on one of these sketchy junks. In this case, you get what you pay for. Booking once you've arrived in Halong Bay also increases your chance of getting ripped off or falling victim to bait and switch. Do your homework on TripAdvisor, Cruise Critic and other boards to find the junk trip right for you, and reserve it in advance.
Getting to Hanoi: The best way to get to Hanoi from any port is to arrange transport via your ship's shore excursion shuttles or a car or van with a driver hired from a reputable tour company. Taxis can be a cost-saving option, especially for three or four passengers (five will fit in some cars and vans), but their numbers are limited. Most taxi drivers do not speak English, so make sure the fare is settled before getting in the car. Also, be wary of English speakers around the port areas who are willing to negotiate with taxi drivers. If they ask you to pay them instead of the driver, be aware that you are probably being overcharged. Shop around if possible.
In Hanoi: A taxi is the best way to get around in the city. You also can arrange a driver and guide before the cruise. If a taxi driver tries to negotiate a flat rate, it probably is not to your advantage; reputable taxi companies will have metered cars. Two reputable taxi companies are Hanoi Taxi and Taxi CP. Public buses are not recommended.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money?
The main unit of currency is the dong (VND), which comes in both notes and coins. For updated currency-conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. U.S. dollars are also widely accepted: Carry plenty of crisp $1 and $5 bills to buy souvenirs (if you use larger bills, your change may be in dongs). You can find ATMs at branches of Vietcombank in Halong Bay and Hanoi.
Vietnamese is the official language. English is spoken in hotels, restaurants and tourist shops in Hanoi but is less widely spoken in Halong Bay. For a spur-of-the-moment translator, look for a 20-something who might have studied English in school. Older folks might speak French (from the country's days as a French colony).
Where You're Docked?
Cruise ships dock at a number of different ports in the Hanoi area: Halong Bay, Haiphong and Cai Lan. Most ships dock or are tendered at Halong Bay, about a 3.5-hour drive from Hanoi, because it's one of the deeper ports and a wonderful tourist destination in its own right.
Cai Lan is a relatively new deep-water port about 10 miles from Halong Bay and two to three hours from Hanoi. It is a busy cargo port serving only a handful of cruise ships and has no passenger amenities.
Haiphong is Vietnam's third largest city and northern Vietnam's most important seaport. The port city is located on the Red River, about 62 miles from Hanoi. It is still used by cruise lines, including Crystal, Oceania and Regent. The ships dock in the container port where there are no tourist attractions or facilities, although there is dining and shopping in Haiphong city. Hanoi is about a 1.5-hour drive from the port.