There are a number of good, high-end tour operators in Hanoi, all offering similar tours throughout the north -- to Halong Bay, Ninh Binh, and the Dien Bien Phu loop. Operators can usually assist with city day tours and arrange internal flights, hotels, and countrywide tours, as well as handle any onward connections in the region or back home. Most visitors contact these providers before arriving in Vietnam, but if you land at their counter on any given day, the folks at the tour companies below can help. With prices only a hitch above the midrange operators, the following five providers are a cut above others in their efficient service, creative and adventurous itineraries, and quality guides.
- Ann Tours, 77 Pham Hong Thai St., Truc Bach Ward, Ba Dinh District (tel. 04/3715-0950; www.anntours.com). Based in Ho Chi Minh City, Ann Tours also has an office in Hanoi and offers private deluxe tours to Halong Bay and elsewhere. Frommer's readers have written to share their good experiences with this operation.
- Buffalo Tours, 94 Ma May (tel. 04/3828-0702; fax 04/3926-3126; www.buffalotours.com). This reputable outfit offers a range of standard tours and some good eco-adventures, including cycling, trekking, and kayaking trips from the Mekong Delta in the south to the hilltribe hills along the China border in the far north. Their boat, the Jewel of the Bay, is a great choice for trips in Halong. The friendly and professional staff can handle any eventuality, including onward travel and connections in the region.
- Exotissimo, 26 Tran Nhat Duat (tel. 04/3828-2150; fax 04/3828-2146; www.exotissimo.com). You'll get comprehensive service throughout the region from this company.
- Handspan, 78 Ma May. (tel. 04/3926-2828; fax 04/3926-2383; www.handspan.com). This is an excellent option for organized trips around Hanoi, in the northern hills, and to Halong Bay, plus some great adventure options. Their Halong Bay boat is one of the most popular, and their eco-friendly adventures throughout Vietnam usually mean you'll break a sweat and get out to see "real" Vietnam.
- Topas Outdoor Adventures, 52 To Ngoc Van St. (tel. 04/3715-1005; fax 04/3715-1007; www.topas-adventure-vietnam.com). This Danish company is very professional and extremely friendly. They are best known for their outdoor/trekking tours (to Sapa and other parts of Vietnam), but they also offer the standard selection of 1-day city tours. Their guides are well trained and knowledgeable.
Midrange Local Tour Operations
- I Love Vietnam, 25 Hang Be St., in the Old Quarter (tel. 04/3926-2451; www.ilovevietnamtravel.com). Spawned as a hypothetical on the blackboard of a travel and tourism course, I Love Vietnam is a popular new tour agent with good local and regional tours for small groups. A Canadian-Vietnamese joint venture, their offices are on the second floor of Le Pub, a popular storefront bar on the eastern end of the Old Quarter. The helpful staff can make any arrangements.
- TNK Travel, 85 Hang Bac (tel. 04/3926-2378; fax 04/3926-2377; www.tnktravel.com). Offering all basic services, including budget transportation options like those offered at Hanoi's tourist cafes, TNK leads good private tours.
- Asiana Travel Mate, 7 Dinh Tien Hoang St., Hoan Kiem District (tel. 04/3926-3370; fax 04/3926-3367; www.asianatravelmate.com). Begun in 2006, this operator offers the standard set of day trips and excursions. Although their motto is "Responsible Travel and Sharing," they do not have any eco-specific tours. They are a government-run travel agency, however, so service is a lower quality than most privately owned operators.
- A-Z Queen Salute Café Travel, 50 Hang Be St., in the Old Quarter (tel. 04/3826-7356; fax 04/3926-2214; www.salutehotels.com). A local budget cafe that's gone upmarket, the Queen Salute Café hosts their usual roster of "Cheap Charlie" tours and now also provides specialized services and private tours. The company runs a few popular downtown hotels as well, and you can book directly with them on all-inclusive tours, to get significant discounts at their hotels.
- ET Pumpkin, 89 Ma May St. (tel. 04/3926-0739; fax 04/3926-2085; www.et-pumpkin.com). Offering adventure travel and all of the usual northern itineraries (in fact, the company has a branch office in Lao Cai, the access town for travel in Sapa), ET Pumpkin is a dependable organization catering to groups and individuals.
- Queen Travel, 65 Hang Bac St. (tel. 04/3826-0860; fax 04/3826-0300; www.queencafe.com.vn). With upmarket private tours at midmarket prices, Queen Travel is an old standby in the Old Quarter. The company can arrange almost anything and put together specialized itineraries on demand.
- Kangaroo Cafe, 18 Pho Bao Khanh, east of Hoan Kiem Lake (tel. 04/3828-9931; www.kangaroocafe.com). A long-popular tour operator and cafe run by Australian expats, the Kangaroo Cafe is a good, safe choice for midmarket tours anywhere in the north and in southern Vietnam as well. The staff speaks a cool Aussie slang, some mixed with a nasal Vietnamese accent, and they make you feel at home (their breakfasts aren't too bad, either).
- Hidden Hanoi, 137 Nghi Tam (tel. 04/3719-1746; www.hiddenhanoi.com.vn). Hidden indeed, this small tour provider runs unique walking tours around the Old Citadel (which now houses Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum and museum) and the Old Quarter. With a focus on connecting with Vietnamese culture, the company teaches language and cooking at their center north of the city near West Lake. Arrange to meet up with their good walking tours in town at preordained meeting places.
Budget Tourist Cafes & Open Tours
Tourist cafes are small eateries/Internet cafes and travel agents all rolled into one. Tours are often bare-bones and services are basic -- and often crowded -- but the cafes are a good option for tours and transport or for 1- or 2-day excursions to sights like Halong Bay, the Ninh Binh area, or the far north. For higher-quality information and service, I recommend the companies in the sections above. But tourist cafes get you where you want to go, have consistent daily departures, and cost just peanuts.
Hanoi is the home base of many of Vietnam's large tourist cafes that sell budget "Open-Tour Tickets," which are no-frills seat-in-coach tours to just about anywhere along the country's length. Below are the best of the many:
- Sinh Café, 52 Luong Ngoc Quyen St. (tel. 04/3926-1568; fax 04/3926-1621; www.sinhcafevn.com). This is the biggest and most popular cafe tour company in all of Vietnam. Their services are good throughout the country, and their offices are quite helpful elsewhere; sadly, in the north, things get a little confusing with this outfit. Just about anybody with red paint and a paintbrush is putting up the distinct Sinh Café logo above shops in the Old Quarter. Most do, in fact, act as consolidators for the company, but often what you get is not the genuine item or, worse, a really bad local company taking advantage of you. What complicates the matter is that Sinh Café is in cahoots with Hanoi Toserco, a big government travel agency, and the two cooperate in a number of offices, the largest at 48 Hang Bac St. I've heard some bad reports about the Toserco trips, so try to book through the main Sinh office on Luong Ngoc Quyen.
- An Phu Tours, 50 Yen Phu, Hanoi (tel. 04/3927-3585; fax 04/3927-4135; www.anphutour.com). Like the other tourist cafes, the folks at An Phu have reliable transport services. Their office in Hanoi is just an outpost, really: Their operation is based in the center and south, particularly in Hoi An, where they offer more extensive services and budget day tours.
Make Friends with Vietnam Heritage
Friends of Vietnam Heritage (www.fvheritage.org) is a group of Hanoi residents and expatriates who get together to celebrate Vietnamese culture and history in informal gatherings in the hopes of preserving its rich tapestry and introducing it to the uninitiated. They hold events, show films, and host special lectures, in addition to offering many group meetings: a pottery group, a museum group, a cultural history and civilizations group, a traditional-medicine group, and a Buddhist group, among other informal gatherings. The organization has published a few useful guides to local temples and pagodas, and sponsors a small meeting room and free lending library at 63 Ly Thai To St. (on the ground floor of the Development Center; ask for "Friends of Vietnam Heritage"), which is open from 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday. It's a great way to connect with some friendly and very engaged Hanoi residents and expatriates.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.