- Peter Scott & Monica Kong
WHERE TO STAY IN HANOI, VIETNAM: HANOI ECOPARK REVIEW
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
The last time we visited Hanoi, Vietnam, was 13 years ago. It was the first stop on our 1 year, round-the-world trip. Those initial few days of jet lag and culture shock were overwhelming to say the least. We stayed in the Old Quarter, and struggled with the heat, the crowds, the touts and most of all, the traffic. This was pre-children for us of course, and we distinctly remember being in awe at the sight of families casually walking along with a stroller and a baby in tow, completely unphased by the surrounding chaos.
We knew this time around, with 2 kids, that we didn't necessarily want to stay in Hanoi for very long, but what if we stayed just outside of the city? We had heard of this place called ECO PARK from a travel podcast we listened to and saw quite a few listings on airbnb. It sounded like just the right kind of place to base ourselves for a month, with day trips into the city. (There are, as we found out, plenty of fun things to do in Hanoi with kids.)
Ecopark is located about 13km from the centre of Hanoi. Construction began in 2009, and it is a proposed 18 year project. In other words, it is still a work in progress. This huge, urban development has many high-rise buildings and low-rise villas with resort-like facilities such as swimming pools, gyms and tennis courts.
There are lots of outdoor areas that include a large lake, well-maintained gardens, walking paths, plus some incredible playground structures. There are also supermarkets, restaurants, movie theaters, international hospitals, universities, and even a golf course, all within this gated community.
We stayed at a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment in West Bay "B". At $700-$800 CAD/ $500- $600 USD a month, it isn't cheap for Vietnamese standards. However, after being on the go for 3 weeks in Laos, we were happy to get settled in one place for longer than a week.
We had a pool in our building but it was closed in January, during the cold and rainy season. Our apartment was nicely furnished and had a fully equipped kitchen which we made good use of during the holiday and covid-19 shutdown. The owners lived a few floors above, and they were very helpful with any issues we came across.
WHERE WE ATE
We love vietnamese food, and our intention was to eat out as often as possible! Unfortunately, a lot of places closed for over a week during the Tet (Lunar New Year) holidays, and some remained closed due to Covid-19. Overall, there were not a ton of cheap local restaurants around so we stuck to the few favorites we found and ate most meals at home. There are several Vinmart grocery stores and a couple of large supermarkets for all your self-catering needs.
-PHO: There was a very good pho noodle place called Phở Thúy Béo, near our place for 30,000 vnd/under $2 CAD. We ate there often.
-HIGHLAND COFFEE, a popular local chain coffee shop, has cheap banh mi sandwiches for 19,000 vnd/ ~$1 USD, which we often had for a quick and easy lunch.
-Nguyễn Sơn Bakery not far from our place, had decent pizza and burgers as well as fresh baguettes and some baked treats.
There was one new restaurant, called Bếp Ngon Eco, with fantastic Vietnamese food that we frequented often. We tried all kinds of dishes, including their hot pot. The owner speaks english, and the service is excellent.
THINGS TO DO
There are several small playgrounds around, but the main one is by the lake and consists of some impressive wood structures, playhouses and obstacle courses that will keep most kids content for a whole day.
There is a place where you can rent kayaks by the lake, and also several places where you can rent bikes, including ones for kids. (There are rental bikes across from the Westbay apartments- there is a phone number you can call and someone will come to assist you) The paved paths are generally flat and light on traffic, making Ecopark ideal for cycling with kids. Finding kid-sized helmets though, proved to be difficult.
There is also a weekend market, however, it was closed due to Tet New Year and covid.
Our stay included two free bus passes for unlimited use. Kids were free. There are many buses that can take you all over in and out of Hanoi. These special mini buses are exclusively for Ecopark residents. There are even apps for schedules and wait times. However, any information regarding their bus system is in Vietnamese. Getting on the bus from Ecopark was the easy part, but getting back was challenging. There are no specific bus stops or signs to say that this is the ECOPARK shuttle bus pick up point. We only took 3 buses into town. One was to AEON MALL and supermarket, and the others were to central Hanoi. After some trial and error, some luck on our side, and asking locals for direction, we got the hang of it towards the end. The other issue with their bus system is that it can get quite crowded after 4pm, on the return trip to Ecopark. We often didn't have a seat, and for a 30 minute, squished bus ride with kids, it was not ideal. Schedules below, of the main buses we took.
There is also an electric car option, much like a large, multi seat golf car, that provides transport within Ecopark for 10,000 vnd per person. (kids free) Route and schedule below:
Lots of well-maintained, urban green space
Free shuttle bus
Quiet and peaceful
Safe, with 24 hr security guards at each building entrance (almost TOO many!)
Great for riding bikes.
Hardly anyone spoke english. Signs, and menus were also lacking english.
It was not easy to figure out the bus routes, stops and schedules.
There were not as many food options as we would have liked.
Lots of empty homes and unfinished buildings. Some parts feel like a ghost town.
Not much else nearby just outside eco park.
You have to pay extra for the pool and gym use. Check to make sure it's open for use.
NO Recycling. We expected better from a place that is called "Ecopark".
Staying at Ecopark almost felt as if we were cheating, like we weren't experiencing Hanoi to its fullest. It was authentic in itself though, as there were no tourists and hardly any English written or spoken. If you like to be in the middle of all the action, then best to stay in the Old Quarter. During long term travel with kids, however, you need to retreat to a quieter place once in a while. Ecopark was our retreat. Honestly, we were sure glad to be away from the densely populated part of the city when covid-19 emerged. Despite the negatives, we still highly recommend this place for families, as an alternative to staying in the centre of Hanoi.