As Vietnam’s capital city, Hanoi, is the perfect place to get a taste for this amazing country. It has culture, history, shopping, wining, dining and more motorbikes than you can shake a stick at. Get lost in the maze of the Old Quarter, give in to those delicious smells of street food and haggle at the markets like a local. You’ll fall in love with this city sooner than you think.
How To Get There
Fly / The No Bai International Airport is the closest (25 miles/45 km) to Hanoi city centre. While cheaper options are available, I would recommend organising a taxi or pick-up service through your hotel or hostel (between $15-25 depending on your accommodation). You can get a local bus (5,000 VND/$0.25) but these are known for being unreliable, slow and aren’t the best option unless you know exactly where to get off. If you grab a taxi from the airport, agree a price before you get in as it’s a long journey and you’ll end up paying much more if it’s metered.
Bus / You can get to Hanoi via bus from quite a few locations – Sapa, Hue, Vientiane.
There’s a pretty direct road from Sapa to Hanoi making the journey a lot less bumpy and it only takes 5-6 hours. The price is totally dependent on what kind of bus you get – the smaller the bus and more comfortable the seats, the more expensive. An average/mid-range price is probably around $10-15.
Train / From Lao Cai (Sapa) to Hanoi (145,000 to 600,000 VND depending on the time of day and type of seat) and from Hue to Hanoi (500,000-850,000 VND depending on what seat you pick). Hanoi is the North terminal of the Reunification railway in Vietnam so you can travel to and from Hanoi to any town or city on the line.
As Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital and a solid favourite on the tourist trail there are plenty of places to stay for all kinds of budgets. All you have to do is separate the wheat from the chaff.
We stayed in the 3B Hotel in the Old Quarter. It was a great mid-range hotel, reasonably priced, excellent location and very helpful staff. They arranged for us to be picked up from the airport, helped us to arrange our Ha Long Bay trip and stored our luggage free of charge while we were on said trip. The included breakfast was substantial but nothing special and the hotel isn’t luxurious in any way but it was a great base during our stay.
We also stayed in the Central Backpackers II for a night. This is one of two hostels in the backpacker district owned by the same guys. Pretty bog-standard dorm, free breakfast and a free beer happy hour. Perfect if you’re staying in the city for a few days, want to meet other travellers and are looking for a budget option.
How Long Should I Stay?
Whistlestop / 2 days. While you might not see all there is to Hanoi, you’ll certainly get a lot done in this city in a couple of days.
Taking Your Time / 4-5 days. It’s a big city after all with plenty of museums, statues, markets, restaurants, bars and all manner of places to visit.
Things To Do
Plenty! Wandering around the Old Quarter, visiting the Water Puppet Theatre, Hao Lo Prison and Women’s Museum, exploring the outdoor and indoor markets scattered across the city and walking around the various parks and lakes were our favourites but there are many other things to do. The best way to explore the city is on foot (or motorbike if you’re feeling brave!). Walking around some of the parks and wandering down the odd side street here and there is a wonderful way to get to know Vietnam’s capital.
Eating and Drinking
There are so many great options for places to eat and drink in Hanoi. For example, in one afternoon, we sat on the floor and had some delicious street food and then later on stopped by a super cute Westernised coffee shop and had lattes (they were the same price as a full lunch each!) Scandalous! There are some great street food options in the Old Quarter so make sure you wander around and explore. General rule of thumb is, if the locals are eating it, it’s probably good!
If you’re after bars and after-hours entertainment, there’s plenty of pubs and clubs down the backpacker haven, Beer Street (the North end of the Old Quarter). If chugging down cheap beer alongside drunk travellers isn’t your cup of tea, then venture further West into the city and you’ll find small restaurants and local bars that will be bit more laid back and authentic.
The Women’s Museum. It was a personal highlight and has plenty of interesting information on women’s roles during the war and some beautiful historical posters.