A QUICK GUIDE TO HANOI
Updated: Dec 28, 2018
Being the second largest city in Vietnam, Hanoi is a bustling city full of colours, scents, noises and interesting corners everywhere you look. The options of things to do are endless for any visitor and we'd say that 2-3 days are more than enough to explore the Vietnamese capital.
If you choose to travel across all of the country, Hanoi will either be your first or last stop (if you start your journey from Ho Chi Minh City). It is connected with several Asian cities, like Singapore, Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok etc, with direct flights held by regional ariline companies and the fares will most of the times be low. Vietnam Airlines is said to be the best choice, but you can also fly with more budget friendly companies, like TigerAir or AirAsia.
Once you arrive at Hanoi's International Airport, you'll have to get through VISA procedure, which might take a while. You can apply for your Visa online (we applied for ours at GoVietnamVisa) from back home, fill a form in and complete the procedure at the airport. You'll also need to pay an extra 25 USD, when you get there so make sure to have the exact amount with you (in USD not VND).
Most locals use motorbikes for their commute and if you wish to rent one, you'll only have to pay a few dollars. Be careful though as the Vietnamese drive a bit differently than what you might be used to and remember to have your international driving license with you.
Other popular ways to get around in Hanoi include bikes and taxis and of course you can always move around on foot. We also used Grab, which we would describe as Uber's cousin in SE Asia.
WHERE TO STAY
Hanoi is full of low budget (luxury or not) hotels and hostels so it won't be any hard to find accomodation. We stayed at Splendid Holiday Hotel and could only recommend it. We would suggest staying inside Hanoi's historical centre, the city's most picturesque part, where you'll get as close as possible to the residents' daily life.
Also, please have in mind that if you're interested in booking tours, most travel agencies provide pick up services, only if your hotel is located inside Hanoi's historical centre.
WHAT TO SEE
Ho Chi Minh mausoleum
This is definitely the most significant historical sight, Hanoi has to display. As you can probably tell by its name, this is where the final residence of Ho Chi Minh is found. Remember to be dressed respectfully when you visit, as the Vietnamese adore their their natioanl hero, as a demigod. Right next to the mausoleum, you'll find the Presidential Palace complex, where Ho Chi Minh's house and office are located.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Right on the borders of Hanoi's historical centre, you'll find Hoan Kiem Lake, a serene oasis where locals get gathered in the evening, to enjoy a walk, a scoop of ice cream or some cold (?) beer.
St Joseph's cathedral
Only a breath away from Hoan Kiem Lake, you'll find this neo-gothic catholic church, the oldest one in Hanoi.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
Located on an island in Hanoi's West Lake, you'll find the Tran Quoc Pagoda, which happens to be the oldest Buddhist temple in the city. You can walk there after visiting the HCM Mausoleum, or take a tuk tuk. We'd suggest the latter.
Hanoi has no lack when it comes to museums, especially War and History ones, which comes with no surprise if we think of the country's turbulent past.
WHAT TO EAT/DRINK
Most local restaurants have small plastic tables and stools on the sidewalk, and that's where food is served. Sometimes part of the food preparation also takes place on the sidewalk! At first, you might find that dangerous but if this makes you feel any better, nothing bad happened to us, although almost all of our meals during our stay in Vietnam were served on the sidewalk, so give it a try.
The most popular dish in Hanoi is Bun Cha (grilled pork and noodle) and you'll find it almost anywhere. Fried rice dishes, seafood, soups and salads are also very popular. All restaurants will provide you with chop sticks and spoons, most of them will also have forks available and some eateries will be surprised if you ask for a knife (happened to us, hehe).
When it comes to drinking, coffee is our very first suggestion! Iced or hot, with or without condensed milk, it's one of the best coffee varieties we've ever tasted. But our favourite one was -hands down- the egg coffee, which we could only find in Hanoi.
Sweet, creamy, delicious, absolutely perfect! Try it before you judge * wink, wink *.
The local Hanoi beer was also a widespread choice (each region seems to have its own bottled beer!) and we would describe it as light and cheap.
Last but not least, drinking coconut water out of a...coconut is also popular, so why not give it a try and add an even more exotic touch to your journey?