There were points throughout waltzing around this city when, if I hadn’t have known otherwise, somebody could have quite easily convinced me I was in the streets of a French town. If you want to understand the vibe you get in Hanoi, then picture France and China smashing head first into each other and you’ll get a pretty good idea. France definitely left behind a couple of things, namely it’s architecture and it’s coffee culture (which I may have taken advantage of – see lesson 46).
A lot of things I read before turning up to Hanoi suggested that the best thing to do in this city was actually to get out of it, but I disagree entirely, you can see it growing by the day – ten years down the line it might even merit the term cosmopolitan and I guarantee its skyline will boast a few more skyscrapers. Its streets are a hive of activity, particularly the incredible old quarter, the street eats are delicious and will continuously encourage you to undo your belt one more notch at every corner and the nightlife is pretty damn insane. There is more to this city than what meets the eye – its got a lot of character.
The only thing I will say that I didn’t like about this spot is the fact that there is a lot of rubbish on the street. Though these are cleaned every night, the attitude is to drop all litter and leftovers on the street, and this means that towards the end of the night, it can be quite a test to avoid it all.
So the craze currently in traveling Vietnam is cycling or motorbikes, so if you’re doing that then I advise getting a map to get into this city because I cannot direct you even vaguely. If you are arriving at the airport then there are multiple ways for you to get into the centre. There is an abundance of taxis, although be aware that not all of them speak English so it would be worth having the name of where you are staying at the ready. You can also hop onto a shuttle bus for about 100000VD which isn’t bad. These guys will also take you to the door of any hostel or hotel that you want. The cheapest method is the bus, if you come out of the airport turn left towards the bus terminus. Be aware that it might not stop for you.
Where to stay
If you are on a backpacker’s budget then Hanoi is the perfect spot for you as there are copious amounts of backpackers hostels and as a place Vietnam is pretty cheap. I can vouch for Central Backpackers Hostel, they have locations in both the Old Quarter or in Central. It’s literally 5USD per night including a free breakfast on the roof terrace. The rooms are clean and there are lots of trips for you to choose from organised there – not too shabby. Vietnam Backpackers Hostel is also ace and hosts some pretty decent parties. They have hostels all over Vietnam and again have a lot of excursions ready for you to just write your name down.
What to do
Hoan Kiem Lake
This is the historical centre of Hanoi and here you will find a hive of activity constantly encircling the lake. It’s not unheard of to spot turtles surfacing in the water, which many believe to be good fortune. This lake gets the name from the mid 15th century legend of King Le Loi, who defeated a Chinese army with a magical sword given to him by the Gods. Upon coming to Hanoi, said sword was then taken by a giant golden turtle and restored to its Godly owners…So it goes. If you arrive here in the morning then you’ll catch 6am Tai Chi with the locals. Take a stroll around the whole of it.
Ngoc Son Temple
Literally translated this means Temple of the Jade Mountain and can be found on the northern point of the lake. The temple is popular for both locals and tourists.
Đinh Tiên Hoàng, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi
Whilst having a stroll around the lake, take a detour and have a peep at St.Joseph’s Cathedral to the west – it’s honestly like looking at a mini Notre Dame so you can clearly tell the French were here. Plus around here you get a real hit of France. Streets and squares lined with insane coffee shops, lots of locals sat sipping with their friends. I felt like I was back in Europe for a second.
40 Nhà Chung, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi
Top tip: Try Cong cafe. Order their iced coconut coffee. Fall in love. My rather ace food blogger friend mentioned in her coffee write up – if she wrote about it then it’s got to be good because she’s kind of a pro.
Another french treat for you is the National Opera House. Worth a glance. Won’t take a minute.
1 Trang Tien St, Hanoi
The Old Quarter
So, in my opinion this is the gem of Hanoi. We’re talking street food galore. Your belly will thank you for dropping around here.
Ta Hien – Beer Street
Don’t think this requires any explanation
Dong Xuan Market
The largest market in Hanoi- filled with countless stalls and well worth a short explore.
Đồng Xuân, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội
Hire a TukTuk
See lesson 43 for how this panned out – but in all seriousness, it’s a great way to take in the city.
Hoa Lo Prison Museum
If you’re a budding historian, or just generally interested in Vietnam’s recent history then take a look at Hoa Lo Prison Museum which was mostly used for Political Prisoners by the French. Here you will see relics indicating the way these prisoners were treated, such as the guillotine. Lots of prisoners escaped from these walls.
Hoả Lò, Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi
Go and see a Puppet Show
The Thang Long Puppet theatre is a must in visiting this amazing city and has been a tradition in Vietnamese culture for centuries. There are numerous shows every day where you can go to watch these amazing wooden puppets depicting the life and spirits of Vietnamese people.
57B Dinh Tien Hoang, Hanoi
Get your nails done
Despite being one of the last types of people to do this under normal circumstances, Hanoi is littered with nail spas that’ll do it for pretty cheap. I guess it’s a case of why not if you have a spare half an hour. I mean, what’s not to love about being pampered every once in a while.
Visit Halong Bay
It’s true that you can’t visit Hanoi without taking a trip to the beautiful Halong Bay, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Honestly, if nothing else, you can finally reenact scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean with an apt landscape to support your role. There are a variety of options for visiting this gem – day trips, two days, three days and even a few weeks. It’s not
exactly a small place, boasting 1969 islands. Plus, you can be as chilled as you want, different companies offer all sorts of different itineraries, to solid days of drinking and partying, to chilled mornings with tai chi and somewhere in between too. I opted for a two days and one night trip and despite only being a short stint I felt like I’d been away for weeks.
Most of these companies only really require you to book a day or two in advance, and the majority of hostels and hotels throughout Hanoi will give you the option to do this when you arrive and may well have ties and deals with certain cruise companies.
Other trips out of Hanoi
Unfortunately I have not had the opportunity as yet to get to these spots, but I’ll be back in September to try them out. These are a couple of trips that people have recommended to me. Again, most hostels and hotels in Hanoi will have the option to do these.
Trekking through mountains and rice fields whilst dining with the locals
This is like the Halong Bay of the land. Huge limestone rocks like Halong, but rice paddies in between instead of opal water.
Make sure you munch on…
Bún Chả – Cold vermicelli noodles with vegetables and pork with the option to drown in a subtle fish sauce – a personal favourite.
Pho Ga- traditionally a Vietnamese breakfast but don’t feel like you have to play by the rules with this one as you can get it anywhere anytime and it’s really quite delicious. In simple terms, it’s basically a chicken noodle soup, but that doesn’t do it the justice it deserves.
Bánh mì – this is basically a really good sandwich, usually filled with pork and vegetables but there are a variety available on the streets of Hanoi. If you’ve been in Asia a while like I have, it’s a blessing to get your hands on such good bread.
Cà phê – Vietnamese coffee is out of this world. Don’t actually get one because you’re opening the floodgates to addiction.
Top tip: Check out my pretty awesome friend’s blog dimsumdiet for more on street eats – she uses fancier words for food than I do.