From Chaotic Hanoi to Peaceful Ha Long

The first impact with Hanoi is chaotic. It's a bustling city and it's not very walkable. Sidewalks are occupied by restaurants plastic tables, locals hanging out outside of their shops and parked vehicles. Motorbikes and cars don't have much sympathy for pedestrians. Don't expect them to stop until you make your way to the center of the crossing with a decisive attitude. WHERE TO STAY:

Icon 36 Hotel & Residence in the heart of the Old Quarter. Rooms are clean and staff is very nice. They give you a lot of info and suggestions at check in and they are always available to tell you more if you need.

WHERE TO EAT:

Recommended restaurants and food to try in Hanoi: Countryside (get a morning glory for your green veggie cravings), Cha Ca Thang Long. There is no menu, just one dish. It's fresh fish and rice noodles prepared in a frying pan on your table. This dish is typical of the region and it's delicious.

Hanoi is the starting point for many buses to take you to Ha Long Bay. After a couple of days in the city, you will appreciate a gateway in a peaceful place surrounded by nature. There are a lot of companies that offer cruises so do your research because it's a package with meals included and you want to make sure food is decent. It's a common touristy activity, but it's a unique must do experience.

We chose Paloma Cruise they organize the pick up at your hotel and the drop off (Old Quarter only). The drive takes around three hours. It's a smaller boat and we liked that. They offer a variety of activities: kayaking, swimming, a visit to fishermen village and a cooking class.

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I recommend two nights if you have the time and budget (we were the only ones). The second day they transfer you to a smaller boat while the rest of the people are visiting the fishermen village and they take you to a secluded beach and prepare lunch for you on the beach. Unreal. The crew set up a table for us on the shore, cooked and served us. Hero (our guide for the day) took good care of us and spoiled us with flower creations on the plate. All this for a really modest price. In the afternoon they take you back to the main boat to join the rest of the group. Activities highlight: at the fishermen village (scheduled for the last day) you get transferred to small local boats that take you around the bay and back to the main platform. Please leave a tip for the fishermen before you leave. The last activity before check out is a cooking class. They will teach you how to make perfect spring rolls and the best will win a prize. You will eat your creations during brunch before leaving the boat.The food is delicious and it will fill you up (starter, two mains plus a side dish and dessert/fruit). I have never eaten so much in my life!

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The food on the boat is delicious and it will fill you up (starter, two mains plus a side dish and dessert/fruit). I have never eaten so much in my life!

Ha Long Bay is a natural masterpiece. There are more than 1,000 rock formations coming out of the water of the bay. They extend beyond your view and imagination. The experience will transport you into an intimate connection with nature and you will feel regenerated.

TravelChiara Townley