Our First Week in Vietnam: Flights, Hanoi, Cat Ba, Lan Ha Bay

Hi Friends! We’ve had a crazy, amazing first week in Vietnam and would like to share what we’ve been up to.

I’ll write more detailed posts about some of these activities, but here are some highlights to get started 😉

Day 1: Flight from Chicago to Tokyo

  • Took our first first-class flight ever! On a JAL 777…and we were in heaven
Best. Flight. Ever. We could get used to this…
  • $400/bottle champagne kept flowing. Personal TVs were massive. Pete had a million course Japanese-style meal. I chose the Western option, since I’m a scaredy-cat when it comes to food (especially airplane food), and it was still great.
Cheers to miles & points (and free champagne)!
  • The bed was the best one we’ve ever slept in on an airplane; Pete could even lay completely flat
Look at that smile! And those PJs!
  • We got our own pajamas and they were fantastic. Pete opted to keep his & wears them very often
  • Overall, obviously an unforgettable experience, thanks to Pete’s award redemption. Watch out for his post coming soon with a more in depth review and how we booked the flight.

Day 2: Layover in Tokyo, Flight to Hanoi

  • Long layover in the JAL first class lounge
Contemplating how lucky we are
  • I got a complimentary 10 minute neck/back massage
  • Then came the 5 hour flight in Business class on a JAL 787 to Hanoi
Our seats in business…not too shabby
  • Since Pete had all our necessary paperwork & cash ready, getting our visas in Hanoi was relatively painless. It cost $45 total per person
  • Took a taxi to our hotel: Hilton Garden Inn

Day 3: Hanoi

  • Breakfast buffet at hotel was sooo good. It was our first experience having “soup” (Pho) for breakfast
  • I tried a bidet for the first time (yes, this deserves a mention)
  • Immediately overwhelmed by the heat, humidity, and amount of people on motorbikes
Chaos abound in Hanoi
  • Met up with Kunal, Trevor’s college friend for happy hour at a fantastic place called Polite Pub
  • Ate dinner at Pizza with 4 P’s – on the pricier side (for SE Asia), but definitely worth it

Day 4: Hanoi (Day 2)

  • Thanks to jetlag, woke up at 6am and decided to walk around the Hoàn Kiem lake per a friend’s recommendation (thanks Sarah!). The amount of activity was amazing!
  • There were people working out, doing tai chi, dancing, and exercising in a group.
There were even massage trains…we saw a woman jump right in the middle!
  • The lake itself offered some beautiful views
Cau Thê Húc
Turtle Tower
  • Checked out the old quarter…we were completely overwhelmed by the humidity and the amount of people. We happily took a lunch break at Noodle & Roll and continued to be impressed by the food here
Pete’s beef pho; my tofu/veggie rice noodles at Noodle & Roll
  • Also worth mentioning…Pete took his first stab at the good ole’ bidet and by golly he liked it!
  • Kunal took us to a fun “speakeasy”-type bar called Cama ATK at night

Day 5: Hanoi to Cat Ba

  • On day 5, we finally ran into a bit of travel trouble. It wasn’t anything crazy, but things didn’t go as smoothly as they’ve gone the past couple months. Read about our hectic day here.
  • When we arrived in Cat Ba, it was the first time Pete or I had ever come to a city without any bookings. It was exhilarating!
  • It turned out to be really easy. Within 2 minutes of walking down the main street in Cat Ba Town, a friendly man approached us: “Ali Baba hotel?” We looked at each other and said, “Sure, why not?” He directed us to his clean and cheap hotel. It was $20 for the night (we were there during peak season) and had wifi and air conditioning.
  • However, there were also ants, the fan was broken, the shower wasn’t exactly a shower, and the mattress was confusingly hard.
At least you could multi-task?
  • After booking the next 3 nights in a mid-range hotel, The Sea Pearl, through Agoda’s iPhone app, we slept like angels.
  • One thing’s for sure in Vietnam – you get what you pay for!

Day 6: Cat Ba

  • Said a sad goodbye to the incredibly nice owner of Ali Baba and moved to the Sea Pearl for $47/night (breakfast included)
Pete’s smile says it all
View from our room at the Sea Pearl
  • The friendly family we met on the tourist bus suggested the tour company “Asia Outdoors.” Since they were conviently next door, we decided to check them out. We booked a full-day kayak tour with them for the next day.
  • We spent the rest of the day exploring the nearby beaches: Cat Co 2, 1 and 3 (in that order).
Cat Co 2: Where we spent most of the afternoon
Cat Co 1
  • We ate lunch at the seaside restaurant and decided to head back to our hotel the long way – around the cliffs and past Cat Co 3. The views were breathtaking.
Cliff path
  • I took the opportunity to pee with a view (wouldn’t you?). However, as we continued to walk the path, we passed a group of Vietnamese men giggling at us like children – they had definitely seen me peeing. Oops.
Cat Co 3: smaller beach, larger waves

Day 7: Cat Ba

  • We took a full day kayak tour of Lan Ha Bay for $22/person with Asia Outdoors.
  • It was very hot (no surprise there), but provided amazing views throughout the entire day.


  • Highlights: delicious, family-style lunch; meeting fun couple from Austin, Tx; chuckling when older couple fell out of their kayak while boarding the boat; army-crawling through a tiny opening from a beach to a lagoon
  • Lowlights: the trash that covered most of the places we saw, and the accompanying smell 🙁 It was heartbreaking to see pollution in this gorgeous area. Our guides did a good job of taking us to less-polluted places, but the idea haunted us throughout the tour that this place will soon be ruined by human waste
  • After the tour, we had a delicious dinner (another theme) at Family Quan Cat Ba restaurant for a total of $7, with drinks. I’d definitely recommend this restaurant for the prices and the service.

So there you have it – our first week in Vietnam! Stay tuned for more stories about our jungle trek in Cat Ba and our incredible homestay in Ninh Binh.

What did you think of this post? Was it too long or did you like the details? Let us know in the comments!

7 Comment

  1. Mary Ellen says: Reply

    Great post Brittany, you kept me laughing, I love your wit. What beautiful pictures. Look forward to reading more about your experiences.

    1. Brittany says: Reply

      Thank you so much! I’m always glad to hear someone appreciates my posts 😀

  2. Caren says: Reply

    I feel so lucky to be seeing the world through your eyes. Your pictures are incredible and your stories are so enjoyable. I have learned so much! And I had no idea that those state-of-the-art airplane seats even existed!!

    1. Brittany says: Reply

      Thank you so much! Responses like yours make us so happy to be sharing our stories 🙂

      1. Lucy says: Reply

        I also LOVE reading about your travel adventures and still chuckling about your ‘oops’ moment! And yes, the pictures you and Pete are sharing with us are absolutely stunning!

        1. Brittany says: Reply

          Thanks Lucy! We’ll keep trying to entertain 😉

  3. Lucy says: Reply

    I also LOVE reading about your travel adventures and still chuckling about your ‘oops’ moment! And yes, the pictures you and Pete are sharing with us are absolutely stunning!

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