In a nutshell
Hoa Binh is the provincial capital and means “peace” in Vietnamese and offers exactly that as it serves as a great getaway from the crazy and busy streets of Hanoi, which is only a few hours away.
Why go to Hoa Binh
The city is the gateway to the country’s northwest region and is frequently visited by tourists making their way to the main trekking place, Mai Chau. Hoa Binh gives you a sense of relaxation in this extremely chilled and friendly place but still has a few things to go and see. The large reservoir which runs through the city is one of the main attractions and is well worth a look with tours and tickets available at the main entrance. The architects will enjoy gazing at the Soviet-built flat blocks on the right side of the river and there is a small museum with highlights including excavated human remains that are over 9,000 years old and a 300-year old preserved turtle. There are also boat tours that go to the islands on the lake and there are plenty of shops and a market to explore. Along the river you will find the majority of the restaurants and nightlife with prices generally a lot cheaper than Hanoi.
When to go to Hoa Binh
We recommend visiting the city in the dry season, which is from December to April and this is because there will be less rain around this time compared to the wet season. Hoa Binh is on the foothills of the mountains and therefore we took jackets, trousers, raincoats and other warm clothes as the temperature can drop quite a bit during night time. Generally, during the dry seasons there will be lots of sunshine with bright blue skies but you will always have the threat of rain because of the mountains being close by. However, if you do decide to come in the wet season then the prices will be cheaper including hotels and tickets.
Where to stay in Hoa Binh
In terms of accommodation, as long as you’re not looking for top quality hotels, you will find something that will suit you. The cheapest places are mainly found around the centre of the place with Hoang Lan Guesthouse (under USD10) being one of the better options to go for due to its location. Head to the riverfront for the higher quality hotels but our favourites including Hoa Binh hotel (USD20-50) and V Star resort (USD20-50). Hoa Binh hotel is found on the road to Mai Chau and includes clean and spacious rooms as well as having facilities like a sauna, bar and restaurant. V Star resort is along Phuong Huu Nghi and boasts a swimming pool, restaurant, bar and nightclub.
Where and what to eat in Hoa Binh
The two main areas for food are found either side of the river with the left side being the older part and there are some cheap and authentic Vietnamese restaurants found there. The newer part has more modern places with a wider choice of meals and we advise checking out Manh Ngan. This restaurant has several floors and has good value meals that include fresh fish and there is an English menu unlike most that we went to. Another great option is heading to the market for some cheap and tasty treats.
How to get around Hoa Binh
The main city centre is small enough to walk around and is a pleasant stroll whilst taking in the sights and smells of the place that maybe you would miss if you were using public transport. There are also bicycles that can be rented for a few dollars an hour or there is the choice of motorbikes, which will cost a bit more. If you fancy getting out of the city then there are taxis but make sure you take down their number as there won’t be many that you can flag down on the outskirts.
How to get to and from Hoa Binh
My Dinh bus station in Hanoi serves Hoa Binh and prices start from VND80,000 and takes around 2 hours though this can differ depending on the quality of the bus. If you are staying in the city the bus will drop you in town but if you are carrying onto Mai Chau it will drop you at the bus station.
The buses back to Hanoi depart regularly and either leave from the bus station or by the post office just opposite.
There are frequent buses from the Hoa Binh bus station that go to Mai Chau and this costs around VND80,000 and takes 2-3 hours.
The other popular way of getting to Hoa Binh is by motorbike and the best and quickest way to get there is following Highway 6 if you are coming from Hanoi. You can then easily get around the area as well as continuing your journey to Mai Chau by following the same road as well as nearby remoter places like Da Bac.
Is Hoa Binh a safe place to visit?
Hoa Binh is a very safe place with no reports of any criminal activity goings on in the city but do beware that when getting into a taxi, make sure that they put the meter on straight away. Like most places in Vietnam, they like to turn a blind eye and see if you will notice and then charge a lot more at the end of your journey. Just use common sense too like not having valuable items on show.