THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO HANOI

I spent 6 months (August 2019 till February 2020) staying in a small city about 100 kilometers from Hanoi. During my stay, I had a chance to make countless visits to the capital city of Vietnam and explore its nooks and crannies. I will be honest here – I am not a big fan of cities, and Hanoi can be a lot to handle for someone who doesn’t particularly like big cities (me!). But, I have to say that the second-largest city in Vietnam had me impressed. That being said, if you are planning your very first trip to the city, I have put together this ultimate guide to Hanoi (mainly for first timer’s) which will cover all possible aspects of traveling to the city.

Ultimate Guide to Hanoi
Hanoi Old Quarter

I have tried my best to include all essential information that you may need to plan a trip to Hanoi, including a lot of insider information. However, do not hesitate to drop me a message if you have any queries or require any help with your holiday itinerary.

Getting a visa

I have written a detailed post about getting a Visa on Arrival for Vietnam for Indian travelers before. You can read the post here. However, to sum it up quickly, here are a few things you must keep in mind about getting a VOA for the country:

  • To get a Vietnam Visa on Arrival, you must first obtain a visa pre-approval letter or visa invitation letter from a travel agent. Check Google reviews for the best travel agency to provide you this letter.
  • Provide the agent with the required details and pay the processing fee for them to arrange the letter for you.
  • Once you are at Hanoi, head over to the visa counter and hand over your passport, a copy of the visa invitation letter, two recent passport size photographs, and $25 for stamping fee.
  • Wait a few minutes for them to review your paperwork and stamp your passport

Alternatively, you can also get an e-Visa for Vietnam. To obtain an e-Visa, you can go to one of the websites such as Make My Trip and upload the necessary documents. It takes 3 to 5 business days for the visa to be approved and sent to your email after all the documents and the fee is processed.

A major difference between the e-Visa and the Visa on Arrival is that the former is only valid for 30 days and cannot be extended later. So, if you are unsure of the duration of your visit to the country and may extend your stay (which is highly likely given all that Vietnam has to offer), it is best to get a Visa invitation letter so you can get your visa stamped once you are in the country.

Hanoi in a nutshell

Hanoi, also known as Ha Noi, is the capital of Vietnam and its second most populous city – the first is Saigon (Ho Chi Minh). It is located in the North and is home to over 10 million residents.

The city is considerably massive and buzzing with people, however, most tourist activities (or popular activities) are centered around the Old Quarter. If you are visiting Hanoi for a couple of days, chances are that you will be spending most of your time in and around this neighborhood. Also, if you are in search of some of the best cafes and restaurants in the city, this is where you will find them.

Vietnam–Japan Friendship Bridge
Nhật Tân Bridge, also known as Vietnam–Japan Friendship Bridge

The most common type of transportation in the city is motorbikes, however, local buses frequent the streets as well. Interestingly, for such a pleasantly chaotic city, the buses are mostly right on time (a minute here and there at best).

Of course, the main language spoken here is Vietnamese. And, finding locals who speak fluent English, especially local vendors, can be a bit of a challenge. But, they are extremely warm and friendly. So, you can always try to use Google Translate or show a photo of what you need and they will try to help.

Everything is dirt cheap here (I am not kidding!). You can get proper local meals for less than a dollar (less that INR 75) and a can of Bia Hoi (local beer) only costs .43 cents (INR 32).

The local currency here is Vietnamese Dong (VND) and the common bills are 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, 20000, 50000, 100000, 200000, and 500000. They also have 500 VND bills but they can be used as bookmarks at best.

Sim Cards and Data is also extremely cheap here. Mobifone and Viettel are two of the most common service providers. You can easily get over 3GB data for less that $5USD (INR 325 approximately).

Best time to visit Hanoi

Technically, Vietnam has two main seasons – Dry and rainy. But, let’s take a month-wise look at the climate in Hanoi so you can decide what you like most.

Hanoi sunsets are beautiful (Image by Greg Taylor from Pixabay)

February to April – This is the Spring Season. It is considered to be a highly popular time to visit the city. The weather during these months remain mild with minimum temperature being 15°C and the maximum temperature being 20°C. The skies are mostly clear. However, you may experience a bit of drizzling towards the end of April.

May to August – Like rest of Southeast Asia, Vietnam experiences a hot and humid summer. The average temperature during these months can be around 32°C. Keep in mind though, this is also officially the rainy season. And, rain in Hanoi can be pretty extreme! In fact, it could rain for the entire day. I have experienced a week or more of constant rain during my stay in Vietnam (in August 2019). And, it may not be very ideal for you as a first timer.

September to November – Just like Spring, the Fall season is also a great time to visit the city. Vietnam celebrates the Mid-Autumn Festival around September/October. And, a visit to Hanoi during the time can give you a nice insight into a popular festival of the country. The skies are mostly clear during Fall and the average temperature is around 25°C. This calls for the perfect opportunity to enjoy the tree-lined boulevards and parks in the city.

December to January – Honestly, for a Southeast Asian country, the winters in Hanoi can be pretty harsh, even if you have experienced cold north-Indian climate. The temperature can easily drop down to 6°C with strong, chilling wind that almost cuts through your skin (speaking from personal experience). If you are planning on visiting Hanoi during these months, be sure to pack up gloves, thick jackets and cardigans, mufflers and hats to keep your neck and ears packed – basically all kinds of winter wear that you can think of.

Vietnam celebrates its most important festival in January/February. Tet holidays, or Vietnamese Lunar New Year, is the most significant celebration in the country. Literally, the entire country shuts down for 10 to 15 days in lieu of Tet. Public transportation, railways, restaurants, cafes, and almost everything is shut down. Most locals enjoy the festival by feasting and exchanging gifts with their family and relatives. Tet marks the first day of Spring and is also considered to be the ‘Day of Hope’, where everyone prays for a better year ahead.

Getting to Hanoi

At this point, I should clarify that I have written this ultimate guide to Hanoi mainly for first timer’s and Indian travelers, but it can cater to everyone else as well. The reason I have kept it oriented towards Indian travelers is due to the lack of information I faced when I was searching for them before planning my trip. Most websites and authors writing such guides are from the west, and so it is usual for the information to be directed towards their nationalities.

Image by Quang Nguyen vinh from Pixabay

That being said, traveling to Hanoi is extremely easy from all the major cities in India. The best way to travel to the city is through air. Noi Bai International Airport, or Hanoi Airport, is connected to all parts of the world. It is also the second busiest airport in the country.

There are direct flights from Kolkata to Hanoi operated by IndiGo. I use Skyscanner for my flight searches and booking as it gives me the best rates available across all airline websites as well as third-party booking sites.

Hanoi is also connected via air to New Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, and several other cities in India.

Getting around in Hanoi

It may seem like a big city, but honestly, I think it is quite convenient to walk to the main sights in Hanoi. Hanoi has fewer motorbikes on the streets as compared to say Saigon, and the streets here are comparatively narrower too. During my stay in the city, I have mostly from one place to another, except maybe twice – one time I needed to take a bus to the main bus terminal and another time my friend and I decided to take a cyclo to go to the Jazz club (honestly, we just wanted to hop on a cyclo).

For those who do not wish to walk around, install Grab – the second easiest option to get around the city. Once you have the app installed, you can book a Grab bike or a Grab taxi to get anywhere within the city.

Keep in mind that you need a Vietnamese sim card with active calling to install and order Grab. Connecting to an internet connection is not enough.

Another popular (and touristy) mode of traveling in Hanoi are the cyclos. If you are from India – cyclos are basically rickshaws except that the seats are quite lower and the driver is behind the seat and not in front of (Do I make any sense? Well, see for yourself).

Don’t forget to haggle with them; it can be a rip off otherwise (Image by Thomas Gerlach from Pixabay)

You can also get buses to travel from one point to another. The best way to know the bus number and routes is via Google Maps. But, irrespective of your preferred mode of travel, install the map if you don’t have it already.

I always download an offline map of the entire city I am about to visit. This way I have access to all the locations even if and when I don’t have internet.

Exchanging currency in Hanoi

I have spoken about this in my Vietnam Visa on Arrival post, but I will say this again. Exchanging to Vietnamese Dong is extremely convenient as long as you carry one of the major currencies with you (USD, EUR, GBP). Converting our Indian rupee to Dong may be a bit of a hassle because not a lot of money exchanges deal with Indian currency. And, even if they did, the conversion rate may be poor.

Exchange at jewelry shops for best rates

Personally, I exchanged my Indian Rupees to USD before leaving from here and had no problem getting Vietnamese Dong in exchange once I was in the country.

Also, you can easily exchange money at one of the many souvenir and jewelry shops. In fact, jewelry shops give you an amazing exchange rate.

I would avoid to do it at the airport because of high transaction fee and not-so-fantastic exchange rate.

Additionally, you can always use your credit or debit card at one of the many ATMs around the city as long as you don’t the withdrawal fee. During my time, I discovered that AGRIBANK ATM is the best for withdrawals because it only charges 22,000 VND (INR 72 approximately) cash withdrawal fee as opposed to others charging up to 66,000 VND (or more).

Please note, the cash withdrawal fee is not the same as your bank transaction fee. Your bank will charge you an international transaction fee over and above this. And, this fee depends on the rates offered by your bank.

As far as your bank has been notified of your travel plans and you have an international debit or credit card, withdrawing money anywhere within the country should be easy. I was told that my international card may not work online here, but I booked a train from Da Nang to Ha Noi with it, and it worked perfectly. Be ready to pay a service fee though.

As a first timer in Hanoi, you may also consider getting a FOREX card, especially if you are going to stay a long time in the country or travel to other countries after Vietnam.

Most jewelry stores and currency exchanges are located within the Old Quarter. For more information on currency exchange spots within Hanoi, read this detailed post by Travelvui.

Staying in Hanoi

If this is your first trip to Hanoi, it’s important to know which area is best suitable to your plans. Boasting French-inspired architecture, stunning Buddhist pagodas, tree-lined boulevards, and glistening lakes, Hanoi is a picturesque city that is fairly easy to explore.

This bustling city is divided into various neighborhoods, each offering a unique experience and a wide range of lodging, dining, shopping, and entertainment avenues. To let you decide where to book your stay, let us take a look at the pros and cons of some of the most popular districts of the city.

HOAN KIEM (CITY CENTER)

Image by My Luu from Pixabay

You should stay here if:

  • You are on a budget or backpacking, Old Quarter has some of the best and most affordable hostels and guesthouses.
  • You like splurging on lavish five-star hotels, French Quarter is the perfect place to be
  • You are here for the city’s nightlife
  • You like to be where all the action is a.k.a the Old Quarter

Pros of staying in the City Center:

  • Authentic local food and drinks (think Pho, Banh Mi, and Egg Coffee)
  • Numerous souvenir and handicraft shops
  • A wide range of cafes and restaurants for every budget

Cons of staying in the City Center:

  • The area is extremely busy, so if you like staying in a peaceful place, this is just the opposite of that. In fact, it coul dget extremely overwhelming with all the traffic, tourists, and motorbikes.

BA DINH

You should stay here if:

  • You fall in between backpackers and luxury travelers, and have a moderate budget set aside for your accommodation
  • You are in the city to explore its main historical and cultural sights

Pros of staying in Ba Dinh:

  • Away from the hustling and bustling lanes of Hanoi City Center
  • Filled with mid-range hotels, quaint restaurants, and friendly bars overlooking the Botanical gardens
  • Home to the main historical and cultural sites in Hanoi – Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, One Pillar Pagoda, and more

Cons of staying in Ba Dinh:

  • Not a lot of shopping avenues
  • Not many pubs and party places in the area

TAY HO (WEST LAKE)

Sunset at West Lake

You should stay here if:

  • You are on a moderate budget and don’t mind spending a bit more than affordable backpacker hostels and guesthouses
  • You are on a gastronomical tour of Hanoi and love to explore a wide range of restaurants
  • You would like to stay in a quieter corner of the city

Pros of staying in Tay Ho:

  • Quite a few international restaurants and beautiful lakeside cafes
  • Many Buddhist pagodas and stunning temples
  • Home to Tay Ho weekend market – traditional items and local cuisine

Cons of staying in Tay Ho:

  • Limited nightlife
  • Not a lot of accommodation options

I mostly use Booking.com for all my travel bookings, no matter where I am going in the world. I feel like they have a lot of variety when it comes to budget, type of accommodation, location, services, etc. But, I have also tried MakeMyTrip and Agoda occasionally. Irrespective of what portal you pick, it is a good idea to check TripAdvisor for detailed reviews.

Eating and drinking in Hanoi

I often find myself confused between my love for travel and that of food. But, then I am reminded that indulging in local cuisine is a part of immersing yourself in the local culture. Before I headed to Vietnam in August 2019, I spent a lot of time watching endless YouTube videos and reading travel blogs about Vietnamese food. And, by the end of it, I knew there are few things I absolutely cannot miss trying in Hanoi. Here is my top 5 recommendations for this ultimate guide to Hanoi:

PHO – VIETNAMESE NOODLE SOUP

I am going to start with the most obvious – Pho, also known as the Vietnamese Noodle Soup. Though it is widely popular all across the country, Hanoi is known to have some of the best spots for authentic Pho. An aromatic soup made of rice noodle, slices of beef, and a bunch of herbs, it is best enjoyed with droplets of soy sauce, vinegar, chili paste (if you have the stomach for it), and a dash of lime. Most locals prefer to have this dish for breakfast, but you could literally eat it at anytime of the day.

Highly recommended dish on my ultimate guide to Hanoi
A yummy bowl of Pho Bo

Most restaurants will have two versions of this – Pho Bo (the beef version and the most popular one) and Pho Ga (the chicken version). Some places may also have a vegetarian version, but I am not sure. Pho Gia Truyen is one of the most famous places in the city to try this traditional Vietnamese dish. But, get there early because there could be a long wait.

Address: 49 Bát Đàn, Hà Nội

Hours: 6:00 am to 10:30 am and 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm everyday

Prices: About 40,000 VND to 50,000 VND for one

BÁNH MÌ – VIETNAMESE SANDWICH

Almost like a Subway but only ten times better, Bánh Mì is a classic Vietnamese sandwich consisting of a crisp baguette stuffed with pork, pâté, cured ham, a mélange of special Vietnamese herbs and freshly chopped vegetables like cucumber, carrot, radish, and coriander leaves. The sauces used in the sandwich are a wealth of flavors and textures – aromatic, sweet, savory, and spicy.

Honestly, I preferred the taste of Bánh Mì in Hoi An, but Banh Mi 25 in Hanoi did a damn good job. In fact, if you could go to only one Bánh Mì place in the city, then this should be it.

Address: 25 Hang Ca Street Hoan Kiem District

Hours: 7:00 am to 9:00 pm Monday through Saturday; 7:00 am to 7:00 pm on Sundays

Prices: About 20,000 VND to 40,000 VND for one

CHẢ CÁ – GRILLED FISH WITH DILL AND TURMERIC

This dish is so unique to Hanoi that the city has a street named after dish – Cha Ca Street! Typically made with mudfish or snake-head fish (because they are known to have fewer bones), Chà Cá is made in front of your eyes. A server would set up a nice hot pot on the table and bring everything you require to cook this dish – rice vermicelli, herbs, a bowl of roasted peanuts, and a dipping sauce (fish sauce with diced chili). And, in the pot, the fish would already be grilling with lots of turmeric and dill.

Recommended by locals as well as hundreds of people on TripAdvisor, Chả Cá Thảng Long Restaurant in the Old Quarter is the best place to try this mouth-watering delicacy.

Address: 21 Duong Thanh Street, Old Quarter Old Quarter, Hanoi Vietnam

Hours: 11:00 am to 9:30 pm everyday

Prices: About 120,000 VND for one

BÚN CHẢ  – BARBECUED PORK WITH RICE VERMICELLI

One of the best specialities of Hanoi, Bún Chà comprises grilled pork strips/balls (chà) served with rice vermicelli (bún). It is usually served with a side of fresh herbs and a dipping sauce. And, you also get some freshly cut vegetables (onions, carrots, cabbage) on the side. The dipping sauce is a combination of fish sauce with vinegar, garlic, chili, lime, and sugar.

Doesn’t this make you hungry?

One of the most popular places to enjoy this dish is the world-renowned Bún Chả Hương Liên – Yes! This is where Obama dined with Anthony Bourdain. In fact, the walls of this tiny but legendary joint is now plastered with photos of them two.

Address: 24 Le Van Huu Street in Hai Ba Trung District

Hours: 8:00 am to 9:00 pm everyday

Prices: About 40,000 VND to 50,000 VND for one

BÚN CẢ – FISH NOODLE SOUP

Another fish specialty, Bún Cá is made of lightly-fried golden fresh white fish served on a bed of rice vermicelli in a bowl of mild, aromatic broth with spring onions, dill herbs, and bean sprouts loosely scattered on top. A common breakfast meal for the working Vietnamese, the noodle soup is tender and easy to digest. For a little flavor, you can also add some soy sauce and chili paste, but it is as good without them as well.

Tucked away in an unimpressive alley within the Old Quarter, Bún cá Sâm Cây Si is the best place to try this dish (despite the low number of reviews on TripAdvisor).

Adress: 5 Ngõ Trung Yên, Hà Nội

Hours: 8:00 am to 8:30 pm everyday

Prices: About 35,000 VND for one

Shopping in Hanoi

One of the greatest things about most Southeast Asian countries are its colorful and lively street markets. From traditional costumers to flawless second (or fourth) copies, these markets amaze me no matter how many times I visit them. Likewise, shopping in Hanoi is also most popular for its narrow shophouses and traditional markets, though the number of fancy stores and upmarket international brands are on a rise.

Walking the streets of the Old Quarter

As I mentioned earlier, if you are in this city for only a couple of days, it is best to stay around Old Quarter because this is where you find the best of everything. That being said, let us take a quick look at some of the best shopping locations in the city and what they are famous for.

HANG GAI STREET – SILK STREET

Set on the edge of the Old Quarter, Silk Street is one of the most popular shopping streets in Hanoi. The streets here are lined with stores selling an endless variety of high quality, fashionable silk materials, traditional Vietnamese apparel, and home furnishings. Receiving visitors and locals alike for several decades, the area also have many boutiques and tailor shops that could design tailored silk suits and dresses for you.

Most stores here accept credit cards. Also, it is best to avoid the street stalls and go to the stores for genuine silk material. Like most of the outlets all over the country, bargaining is a big thing here. Start with 50% of the price quoted and pay no more than 70%.

Aside from the obvious silk shops of the Silk Street, Hang Gai Street is also home to a few souvenir shops selling notebooks, lamps and postcards. The area also hosts notable art galleries such as Thang Long Art Gallery and Green Palm Gallery.

Address: Hang Gai Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi

Opening Hours: 9:00 am to 8:00 pm daily

DONG XUAN MARKET

The largest and the oldest market in Hanoi, Dong Xuan Indoor market was established in 1889. Located within a four-tiered Soviet-style edifice on the northern edge of the Old Quarter, the market offers a great variety of items such as fresh fruits and vegetables, souvenirs, clothing, as well as electronic and household appliances.

Dong Xuan also has a thriving wet market on the ground floor where locals buy there meat, seafood, and vegetables. The upper floors host numerous stalls selling t-shirts, fabrics, school uniforms, handbags, handicrafts, all of which are sold at wholesale prices.

There’s also a massive dining area within the market, with food vendors selling traditional Vietnamese coffee and local dishes for as low as VND 15,000. Engulfing the distinguished market are many more shops showcasing conventional Dong Ho drawings, Bat Trang ceramics, Binh Da embroideries and laces, and sand paintings.

Address: Dong Xuan Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi

Opening Hours: 6:00 am to 7:00 pm daily

HANG DAU STREET

Do you love shoes? Even if you want to say ‘no’, hold your answer (and your breath) as you step into a parallel universe of shoes, ONLY shoes. Men may not be too excited to visit here because the market largely caters to women (hence, all my ladies MUST go).

Most of the merchandise consists of popular brand names and have been created at Vietnamese factories. But, they have most likely been rejected as seconds, making them a great purchase with usually only a small imperfection.

You can also find plenty of fake reproduction bags where Hang Dau Street meets Lo Su.

Address: Hang Dau Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi

Opening Hours: 9:00 am to 8:00 pm daily

HANOI WEEKEND NIGHT MARKET

Held over the weekend i.e. Friday to Sunday, Hanoi Weekend Night Market is a thronging of local stalls and food vendors that attract hundreds and thousands of locals and tourists. Starting at 7:00 PM, the market stretched from Hang Dao Street and running north to the edge of Dong Xuan Market.

Locals grabbing a quick bite at the market

With prices starting as low as 15,000 VND, expect to find a wide range of inexpensive t-shirts, handicrafts, accessories, shoes, sunglasses and souvenirs. Additionally, the pedestrian streets here are home to quite a few prominent historical sites which are illuminated during the markets, making the area more upbeat and radiant.

The night market is also a great place to sample some of the most iconic Hanoi dishes including pho, banh mi, and bun cha.

Address: Hang Dao Street, Old Quarter, Hanoi

Opening Hours: 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm, Friday to Sunday

LOTTE CENTER HANOI

This is where the ‘crazy, rich Asians’ go when they have a craving for luxury and comfort. The 65-storey building is home to over 250 fashion and lifestyle labels, a hotel, a hypermarket, multiple specialty restaurants, a gymnasium, a health and wellness center, residential compunds, as well as the FINEST OBSERVATION DECK.

From clothes and cosmetics to footwear and watches, from home appliances and furnishing to golf kits and sports gear, the Lotte Center has it all. The Observation Deck on the top floor offers stunning photo opportunities as it provides unprecedented panoramic views of the city.

Address: 54 Liễu Giai, Cống Vị, Ba Đình, Hànội

Opening Hours: 9:00 am to 10:30 pm

Ultimate guide to nightlife in Hanoi

Hanoi may seem like just another busy Southeast Asian during the day, but come nightfall, the streets light up to show a very different side – one that I have come to adore (as much as I don’t like cities). Unlike popular belief, the nightlife in Hanoi is much more about clubs and Bia Hoi junctions, though they are pretty cool too.

HANOI AFTER DARK HERITAGE WALK

Hanoi’s skyline transforms dramatically as the sun sets. The fancy hotels and popular landmarks light up and bring about an energetic vibe around the entire city. Places such as the Hoan Kiem lake and the Opera House take on a different air as the evening begins to take over. And, all of this gives you (especially photographers) so many opportunities to walk around some of your favorite parts of the city. In fact, you may even notice things that you usually don’t notice during the day.

The Lake at Night

Start your walk by taking a gentle stroll around the lake where several locals gather to get some fresh air, stretch out their tired limbs, or just indulge in a chit chat with their friends and family. After that, head to the Old Quarter where the Opera House and some of the remarkable hotels of Hanoi await you with their glamorously lit up facade.

Take your time to breath in the magical Hanoi air and pause to enjoy the small, crooked alleys of the city.

Entry fee: Free

ORIGINAL WATER PUPPET SHOW

A famous attraction in the city, Hanoi’s water puppet show at the Thang Long Theater is based on 11th century traditions. While the farmers at the time performed these skits amid the flooded rice fields, the artists now use a pool to perform but they still hide behind a screen so it looks like the puppets are mystically floating over the surface of the water. Though these shows are popular all around the country, the North is known to be the true origin of this Vietnamese art form.

The puppets used in the water puppet show

The shows at the theater last about an hour and include approximately mini skits based on various aspects – small-town life, Buddhist mythology, harvest season in the countryside, but most significantly, the story of King Le receiving the magical sword from the massive tortoise in Hoan Kiem Lake.

Entry fee: Starting 100,000 VND

HANOI OPERA HOUSE

Situated with the posh French Quarter, Hanoi Opera House is not only known as an historical landmark in the city but it is also celebrated for its dedication to classical artforms. Built in 1911 by the then ruling French, the building depicts remarkable neo-classical French architecture featuring Gothic themes on the doors and domes with pillars, shuttered windows, balconies and a glass room.

The biggest theatre in Vitenam, the Hanoi Opera House can cater to over 600 spectators at a given time. Often argued to be more aesthetically appealing than the Paris Opera House, the edifice hosts several Vietnamese as well as international artists showcasing their work on traditional opera, authentic folk music, ballets, and a lot more.

I will be honest – this may not be everybody. I mean if you are on a shoestring budget, you may not want to splurge on a ticket to the Opera House. But, if you could, then I highly recommend that you do. By paying slightly over the usual, you can gawk at the awe-inspiring interiors and attend the shows on exhibit. Admiring the exteriors is absolutely FREE though!

Entry Fee: 400,000 VND onwards

BINH MINH’S JAZZ CLUB

I am a little too much when it comes to Jazz. Every place I visit, I try to find out the local jazz club and spend an evening grooving to the soothing jazz tunes. Though I am slightly biased towards the Jazz Club in Chiang Mai, Thailand (besides the fact that I had a massive crush on the band’s drummer..lol), I think Binh Minh is equally amazing.

Located in the heart of the French Quarter, this lauded club was established in 1998 by the world-renowned Vietnamese jazz artist, Quyen Van Minh. Portraying an intimate but friendly ambience, Binh Minh’s features a minimalist yet classy decor with warm lighting, comfortable indoor and outdoor seating space.

Additionally, you can choose from an extensive menu of imported beers and whiskies, cocktails, wines, coffee and a handful of western as well as local delicacies.

Entre Fee: Free but you are expected to buy at least a beer (good way to support the artists)

NIGHTCLUBS AND BIA HOI

Whether you like to dance away the night or enjoy a quiet beer with your buddies and admire as the life on the streets of Hanoi carries on till the wee hours, the city has something for all of you.

For a bit of action, you can check out some of the most happening nightclubs in the city including:

  • Playboy Establishment – the first of its kind in Hanoi; free cocktails for ladies on Wednesday from 8:00 pm to midnight
  • Dragonfly Bar Lounge – value-for-money cocktail menu; a lot of expat and young Vietnamese crowd
  • Hero Club Hanoi – Dj set within an old Soviet truck; themed nights with awesome promos on drinks
  • Infinity Club – popular hangout place for Hanoi’s stylish lot; 10-minutes walk from Hoan Kiem Lake
  • The Bank Hanoi – the largest nightclub in the city; visitors include expats, tourists, and well-dressed Vietnamese

To immerse yourself in the beer culture of Hanoi and to enjoy a glass or two (or seven) of the fabled Bia Hoi, check out these places:

  • Bia Hoi Junction – best place to meet other backpackers and young locals; found at the intersection of Luong Ngoc Quyen, Ta Hien, and Dinh Liet Streets (Old Quarter)
  • 1A Duong Thanh Street – lined with several street bars; more locals than foreigners making it more authentic
  • Standing Bar – a classy watering hole known to serve interesting flavor infused local craft beers; home cooked meals available
  • Ta Hien Street – popularly known as the ‘Beer Street’; known for its beer as well as plenty of local food joints

Things to do in Hanoi

By now, you already know that most activities and attractions in the city are centered around the Old Quarter and the French Quarter. Though I have covered most of the interesting things to enjoy in Hanoi, there are sill quite a few touristy things you can enjoy in the city.

TRAIN STREET

One of the most instagrammable (or maybe the most) spots in the entire city, the Train streets steched from Le Duan and Kham Tien street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Most information on the internet states that there are two trains per day, but I have been there to know that there is a train almost every hour or hour and a half.

Train Street from the balcony of one of the cafes

During the day, the tracks sees several fruit and vegetable sellers, little kids playing with one another, dogs and cats roaming freely, locals drying their clothes, and bikes parked. And, during the night, the whole area changes into a happening hangout spot with the many bars and restaurants setting their tables and chairs for prospective guests. BUT! All of this is only until a train comes along. And right before it does, there is a frenzy worth watching as the kids are pulled indoors, bikes removed, table and chairs taken inside the restaurants.

Until recently, visitors were allowed to stand at a safe distance by the tracks and experience the rush of a train whooshing past them. However, a considerable number of near-death incidents (due to certain ignorant idiots valuing a photo over their precious lives as well as shops not conforming to proper regulations), the visitors are now restricted to the restaurants and cafes. This means that you are not allowed to be at the location unless you are escorted by one of the shop owners or a local.

Please check the latest news before planning a visit.

THE LONGEST MOSAIC IN THE WORLD

Certified by the Guiness Book of World Records, Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural is hard to miss, especially if you are driving from the airport to the city. Completed in time for the city’s millennial celebration in 2010, the mosaics display various periods of Vietnamese history as well as tributes from other countries.

Long Bien Bridge

The mural starts around the highway around the Hanoi Opera House and runs east towards the highway along Tran Tien until you arrive at the intersection where a ramp leads up the highway. It also covers the Long Bien Bridge (another noteworthy site) which was initially constructed by Gustav Eiffel. Yes! the same French civil engineer known for the Eiffel Town and the Statue of Liberty.

Conceptualized by Nguyen The Thuy, a journalist and an artist, the wall has been built by 20 local and 15 international artists from countries like Spain, France, Netherlands, and the USA.

HO CHI MINH MAUSOLEUM COMPLEX

Located in Ba Dinh Square, Ho Chi Minh Memorial memorial is one of the most visited places in Hanoi. If you are interested in history and culture, this would be a perfect spot to spend some time at. The final resting place of Uncle Ho, the most popular and iconic leader of Vietnam, the mausoleum is home to the corpse of Ho Chi Minh that is kept behind a glass case.

Modeled after Lenin’s mausoleum in Russia, the memorial was opened to public in 1975 and has been attracting several locals and foreigners ever since. It houses a priceless collection of military orders, mementos, photos of the Communist Party’s earlier achievements, the great August and October revolutions, exhibits related to Ho Chi Minh’s political activities, and much more.

Within the mausoleum complex, you will find the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh Museum, One Pillar Pagoda, and Ho Chi Minh House.

Keep in mind that this place is much more than a local attraction for the Vietnamese and hence, the area has tight security and the visitors are expected to dress respectfully. Phones and cameras aren’t allowed inside the mausoleum.

Also, the opening hours of the Mausoleum may vary depending on the month of your travel so check beforehand.

Lastly, there is no fee to enter the complex, however you are expected to pay a nominal fee of 40,000 VND each for the Museum and the House.

PHUNG HUNG MURAL STREET

I absolutely loved this place!

Walking around the Mural Street on my visit to Hanoi

Another Instagram hotspot, the mural street is is located within the Hoan Kiem district and runs almost parallel to the Train Street. Constructed in conjunction by the Vietnamese and Japanese Government and opened to the public in 2018, it is acclaimed as the most beautiful street in Hanoi, and rightly so!

A cultural space for locals artists and visitors, this indispensable art project features 19 arched murals depicting the city’s past including Hang Ma street during the Mid-Autumn festival, painting of Dong Xuan market, small grocery stores, and tinkling trams. Stretched over 200 meters, the masterpieces at Phung Hung Mural Street preserve and promote Hanoi’s heritage and enable locals and visitors to learn more about the city’s culture.

Travel and safety tips

Vietnam is generally extremely safe, even for women traveling on their own (like Yours Truly). However, like any other place in the world, there are regular annoyances and typical hazards that you must be aware of – so you can avoid them.

Let me be clear – I am not trying to scare you or put you off traveling. Not at all. In fact, I am only sharing these tips so you can have a memorable holiday and don’t fall into tourist traps (which every country has!).

TIP#1 PETTY CRIME

Petty crime like pickpocketing, petty theft, snatch-grab is, unfortunately, an issue in the big cities such as Hanoi. However, with increased patrolling in recent years, it seems to be in control. I never faced any issues during my visit but one of my friends did have her phone and purse snatched. Again, it matters where you are at and how prepared you are. A good idea is to use a money belt for your valuables and keep it hidden under your clothes.

TIP#2 CROSSING THE STREETS

My first few days in Vietnam were terrifying. I couldn’t figure out how to cross the road – first, it was right-handed (India is left-handed), and second, everyone seemed to be moving all at once (pedestrians, bikes, cars, buses). After bumping into several people, and observing others like a lost puppy, I finally learned the trick! When in Hanoi (or anywhere in Vietnam), let the vehicles go around you as you confidently walk across the streets with a standard pace. And, no matter what you do, DO NOT STOP in the middle of the road. Just do not.

TIP#3 BEWARE OF GREEN TAXIS

It is best to use Grab bikes and taxis whenever necessary. Green taxis or other such local taxis may have their meters rigged, meaning you will end up paying way more than you should.

TIP#4 BOTTLED WATER

It is best to carry your own bottle of water with you, however if you must, ensure that the bottle you buy is sealed. Remember, most stomach problems are caused to unsafe water.

TIP#5 CURRENCY

All those additional zeros on the bills can be extremely confusing. Moreover, some of them even look similar – 10,000 and 100,000/50,000 and 200,000. Double check the currency before handing it out.

TIP#6 TRAVEL INSURANCE

I cannot emphasize this enough but whenever you travel to any destination out of your country, please invest in travel insurance. It is obvious to feel that nothing would go wrong if you took all the precautions, but something can always go wrong. And, it is best to have insurance for those unfortunate, unexpected mishaps. I usually buy one from my bank (Axis Bank in India provides Tata AIG insurance), however, I hear World Nomads is pretty good but a bit expensive though).

TIP#7 COMMUNICATING WITH THE LOCALS

Vietnamese people are extremely helpful and friendly. And, to be honest, it took me a bit of time to realize that because of a major difference between them and Thai people. Vietnamese are a bit loud (Ha! So are we) and they don’t quite have the worldliness you expect out of a country, but they are getting there as the country is exposed to tourism more and more every year.

Locals love to invite you for meals, coffee, and tea, as well as a night out at their local Bia Hoi joint. And, it is absolutely okay to join them. Don’t hesitate if they seem over-friendly. Most of them are genuinely eager to show you around or help you in exchange for a chance to practice some English.

HAVE FUN

Vietnam, unlike other SE Asian countries such as Thailand and Indonesia, is still pretty unexplored and beautiful. While the big cities like Hanoi and Da Nang have almost everything you need to enjoy a comfortable, memorable holiday, several of the smaller cities are still developing.

That being said, Hanoi is an amazing city to visit. So, don’t forget to have fun while you are in Hanoi. After all, it is not everyday that you get to explore such a mind-blowing place, is it!

If you like the post, don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments. Also, if you wish to share additional information or ask anything extra, connect with me here or via social media. 

3 thoughts on “THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO HANOI”

  1. Pingback: What Should You Know About Solo Travel in Vietnam? | The Grounded Hippie

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