Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, is located in Northern Vietnam and has quickly become a popular tourist destination. It’s known for its rich culture due to its French and Chinese influences. It offers a long history, amazing (and cheap) food culture as well as plenty of French-Colonial architecture. Hanoi is an extremely busy city. Its streets are completely swarmed with bicycles, motorcycles and cars.
You need to be extra cautious while walking along the streets as some of the sidewalks double as a path for scooters. It’s not official, but you’ll see many motorbikes zooming past if they feel like cutting traffic. It took me a little while to warm up to Hanoi due to its busy nature. However, I would still recommend staying a few nights in Hanoi to truly experience local Vietnam.
Where To Stay In Hanoi
The most popular districts are the Ba Dinh District (French Quarter) and Hoan Kiem District (Old Quarter). Most tourists stay in the Old Quarter. This is because it’s close to attractions, filled with cafes, shopping. It’s also extremely walkable. It’s very backpacker-friendly like most of SouthEast Asia, so there are plenty of accommodations to choose from.
How to Get Around Hanoi
The best way of seeing Hanoi is by walking. I strongly advise against renting a scooter here unless you’re a very experienced driver in Asia. The scooter traffic is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in Asia. You have to be extra aware as a pedestrian since there are no proper lanes on the roads. Additionally, a lot of the locals don’t actually follow the lights. It may seem that there’s hardly ever a good time to cross the road, but this is because there isn’t.
Do NOT hesitate. Use any small opportunity to cross. The bikes won’t stop will go around you instead. If you hesitate/stop, it will confuse the drivers and there’s a higher chance of them running into you. It takes a few times to get used to crossing the street, but you’ll learn in due time! If you need to get to distances that aren’t walkable, use the Uber-like app called “Grab.”
What to See
Ta Hien Street
Also known as Beer Street, there are tons of pubs, bars and delicious food vendors here. If you’re looking for a nightlife/a place to party, this is the place to be.
Hanoi Train Street
Visit the famous train street in Hanoi! This spot was made insta-famous due to its unique nature. There are train tracks that run through one of the narrow, residential neighbourhoods in Old Quarter. The train runs through twice a day: 7:30am and 3:30pm.
The street where the train passes through is located between Le Duan and Kham Tien street. If you want to see the train, the exact street is “Ngo 224 Le Duan.” We didn’t see the train and just went to the location in Old Quarter for photos on the tracks – just Google “Hanoi Train Street.”
There are a few cute local cafes that you can sit and enjoy the view for when the train passes through.
Hoan Kiem Lake
This lake is surrounded by beautiful trees and is a great area to sit/relax away from the busy streets of Old Quarter. It holds the temple mentioned in the next to-do item.
Ngoc Son Temple on Hoan Kiem Lake
If you’re looking for a another peaceful spot to visit, the Ngoc Son Temple (Jade Mountain) sits on a small island on top of Hoan Kiem Lake. The entrance fee to the temple costs 30,000 VND and is open from 8am – 6pm. If you just want to take pictures on the bridge like we did, it’s free to do so!
Roam the Streets of Old Quarter
You can wander around these streets forever! Old Quarter is such a unique blend of old and new with shops for practically anything and everything you’ll ever need. Enjoy the shops or just sit for a drink at any of the cafes at every corner!
There are a lot of museums and temples in and around the city that you can visit, but we didn’t visit them while we were there.
Visit the Hanoi Roundabout Beside Hoan Kiem Lake
I’m not sure what this roundabout is called, but it’s so fun watching the insane traffic go by! Do this from one of the many cafes located in this area! It’s also a really cool sunset viewpoint. Be sure to grab a spot at Legend Beer or Highlands Coffee early! We arrived too late so we went to the ToCoToCo Bubble Tea shop to the left of this building below. Sit on the balcony on the third floor!
Where to Eat
Excuse all the phone pics coming up! I’ve been travelling for four months now, and one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that the most delicious food we’ve eaten has been from the local food stalls. Often, we’d eat at restaurants just because they were rated highly on Google. To be honest, the food hasn’t been the most authentic at some of these restaurants.
Our absolute favourite foods have been from the spots that are packed with locals. If the menus weren’t in English, we usually pointed to something that looked delicious. We haven’t been sick yet! If you run into trouble, use the Google Translate App!
I’ve heard many stories about tourists getting overcharged/ripped off when buying food or items from vendors. Please be aware that this is apparently a common practice in Hanoi. There have been a couple instances where we’ve been charged a different price than the locals. We got overcharged once for our dinner. I tried to get my change back from the owner, but he said that our side dishes cost extra even though this wasn’t the case. So just be aware of this.
Have a bowl of Pho Ga (Chicken Pho)
It’s unlike any pho I’ve ever had (and I ate a LOT in Toronto). The taste actually differs from the North and South. We noticed they serve more chicken pho in the North and more Beef Pho in the South. In the South, they typically serve it for breakfast. In my opinion, pho in the North is the best! If you eat from a local stall, it usually only costs 35,000-50,000 VND.
Eat the Famous Dish “Bun Cha”
Bun Cha originated here in Hanoi. We visited the restaurant “Bun Cha Huong Lien” where Obama and Anthony Bourdain dined at but again – it was good/overpriced and we found that the street bowls were much tastier.
Have a Cup of Vietnamese Coffee
The cafe/coffee culture in Vietnam is HUGE. Try the famous egg coffee – a specialty of egg yolk + condensed milk mixed into coffee. It’s so good! I was drinking one or two per day. Possibly one of the most popular coffee cafes is called “Giang Cafe.” It’s located in a tiny alley, but then opens up to three full floors.
This place is super popular and gets packed so be prepared to wait. Their menu has dozens of different type of egg coffee including coffee with rum! The place itself doesn’t look like much, but trust me – the coffee is amazing!
The Note Coffee Shop
We visited a super cute cafe called “The Note Coffee” Shop. This whole cafe is covered in post-it notes that you can write on and stick on their wall. The coffee is so delicious and the servers are extremely chatty/friendly!
Eat a Fresh Roti Bun
Try the amazingly delicious roti bun from King Roti. I don’t have a photo of this crispy, fluffy, custard baked dessert, but have one and you won’t regret it!!
Eat a Banh Mi!
A delicious baguette sandwich filled with assorted meats, vegetables and hot sauce.
Eat a Banh Mi Doner Kebab
Prior to visiting Vietnam, I had never heard of the Vietnamese version of a kebab until Alex’s friend recommended it to us. It has all the elements of a Turkish doner kebab including shaved pork, pickled vegetables, and chili sauce inside a toasted, warm, triangular baguette.