I love Hanoi (I experienced this in my last Hanoi trip). It’s one of my favorite cities in the world, and it has a very special place in my heart. Hanoi is a blend of ancient oriental style and elegant French architectural works centered around Hoan Kiem Lake. The city is full of color, light, and culture. The buildings are painted dusty yellow with orange rooftops, temples are seen in every corner. It’s easy to get helplessly lost in a maze of backstreets and you’ll be whipping out google maps in no time.
Table of Contents
- I usually get lost and end up finding a street food stall serving Banh Mi, Pho or Nem rolls.
- 1. See the Old Quarter
- 2. Be Prepared For Unpredictable Weather
- 3. Don’t Be Shy. Meet the locals!
- 4. Watch Crazy Traffic From the Balcony
- 5. Take a Stroll along Hoan Kiem Lake
- 6. Try local Vietnamese coffee. You’ll love it!
- 7. Watch a show at the Water Puppet theatre or Hanoi Opera House
- 8. Explore Hoa Lo PrisonThe prison is a reminder of Vietnam’s dark past.
- 9. Try Local Street Food
- 10. Discover Hanoi’s Vibrant Nightlife
- 11. How to Get Around
- 12. Book A Tour
- 13. When To Go
I usually get lost and end up finding a street food stall serving Banh Mi, Pho or Nem rolls.
1. See the Old Quarter
Please tell me the Old Quarter is the first place you plan to explore. Fall in amour at first sight with the small streets and cute small houses. The Old Quarter really comes alive at night at Ha Tien Beer Corner. See vendors and live music fill the streets, and get tipsy on insanely cheap beer. Don’t count on the beer quality, but it’s dead cheap and the atmosphere is freaking awesome!
2. Be Prepared For Unpredictable Weather
In winter, it could be horribly cold for a whole week, then heats up. Hanoi Summers can be brutal. Hot, humid and wet it gets me changing two to three times. I don’t know how the Hanoian’s can eat Pho all year round with most places without AC! Late afternoon it’s heavy rain and thunderstorms. I don’t mind much really. It feels a bit cooler. Like me, you’ll probably be seeking shelter in a chic cafe enjoying local Vietnamese iced coffee.
“Don’t let Hanoi’s fickle weather put you off! Don’t be surprised, be prepared!”
3. Don’t Be Shy. Meet the locals!
I love mingling with the locals. It’s a great way to gain insight into the local culture. From my experience, the Vietnamese area tad shy but very curious and welcoming. Vietnam has many hidden gems clouded by tourist traps and having a local friend can be an invaluable source of information as they can advise you where to go and the best phở in town.
4. Watch Crazy Traffic From the Balcony
Hanoi is like the New York of rush hour traffic. If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. No, really. It’s chaotic, crazy, noisy, fascinating, hectic, nightmarish, even makes veteran travelers feel anxious. Every time I make it to the other side, I feel grateful to be alive! “Stick with the crowd” locals say. Mimic the behavior of locals, and you’ll be amazed how quickly you assimilate to the chaos.
Want to watch the whole Hoan Kiem Lake and the bustling streets from a high viewpoint, I suggest you try City View Café. As the name suggests, this place offers a great outlook of the center of Hanoi on the fifth floor.
Where to see the traffic
City View Cafe – 1-3-5 Dinh Tien Hoang St, Hoan Kiem Dis, Hanoi
Skyview Bar- 14 – 16 Thanh Ha St | Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
5. Take a Stroll along Hoan Kiem Lake
The lake view has a peaceful atmosphere, no wonder locals frequent there. Hoan Kiem Lake is more than a place to relax: A little like the legend of King Arthur, King Le Loi had a magical sword which he returned to a mystical turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake. There are other structures such as the Temple of the Jade Mountain and the Tortoise Pagoda. The Ngoc Son Temple is the star attraction, reached by the bright red Huc Bridge.
There’s so much going on around the lake, you can find a lot of bars, boutiques, restaurants, local entertainment which can be fun and exciting for tourists to experience. Don’t be surprised to find yourself spending hours perusing all of the different stalls and all of the cute trinkets and lanterns.
6. Try local Vietnamese coffee. You’ll love it!
You should not leave Vietnam without trying the local coffee! Here, the coffee culture is everything. The classic iced coffee poured over with creamy condensed milk will leave your mouth with a smooth sweet taste and yourself coffee drunk. There’s so much variety of coffee drink combinations such as fruit, smoothies, chocolate, yogurt, and even Weasel poo!! (It’s very good).
Where to Drink Great Coffee
Xofa Café & Bistro – 14 Tống Duy Tân, Hàng Bông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Giảng Cafe – 39 Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Hàng Bạc, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Cafe Lâm – 60 Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Hàng Bạc, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
7. Watch a show at the Water Puppet theatre or Hanoi Opera House
The Water Puppet Show brings to life Vietnamese myths and traditional customs. There’s no English translation, but seeing the art form and colorful puppets inaction speak volumes about Vietnamese culture.
The Hanoi Opera House: A stunningly, beautiful building in Hanoi modeled on the Palais Garnier in Paris, is a must go. The interior is even more stunning than the exterior. And of course, you can also get tickets to ‘Lang Toi’, or ‘My Village.’ Check out acrobats, dancers, and jugglers bring a rural Vietnamese village to life on the stage as you hear live music on classic Vietnamese instruments.
Where to book tickets
GetYourGuide.com – Thang Long Water Puppet Show
LuneProduction.com – Hanoi Opera House
8. Explore Hoa Lo PrisonThe prison is a reminder of Vietnam’s dark past.
You can walk through the cells that where POW (locals and Americans) had suffered. The walls of some cells on the dark had been cut away and replaced with glass so that you can peer into the tiny, dark and even dirty solitary confined cells. It’s the site where Senator John McCain had been imprisoned in 1967 for 5 years. You can actually see McCain’s flight suit displayed along with many photos of his comrades.
Cost: 40’000 VND
9. Try Local Street Food
You probably have tried spring rolls and Pho soup in your hometown, but nothing beats authentic Vietnamese food. And it’s cheap! Dishes like pho and bun bo, you’ll not want to eat anything else! Find locals and travelers of all walks of life even President Obama sitting at a corner of a grubby open-air restaurant on low plastic stools, enjoying freshly made dishes with cold beers in hand.
“Most of the best dining in Vietnam is still done on the streets.”
While budget street eateries are found everywhere, Vietnam’s culinary scene has been jazzed up its local dishes taking it to the fine dining ranks.
Where to Eat Good Street Food
Bun Cha / Bun Cha Ta Hanoi -21 Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Lý Thái Tổ, Hoàn Kiem, Vietnam Also, head to 67 Hang Dieu for some of the best bun bo nam bo in town.
Pho – Two great spots for pho are Pho Gia Truyen (49 Bat Dan) and Pho Lam Nam Ngu (7 Nam Ngu).
Where to Dine
Hanoi Serene Cuisine Restaurant – 16 Bat Su, Hanoi
Duong’s 2 Restaurant – 101 Ma May St, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiem, Hanoi
10. Discover Hanoi’s Vibrant Nightlife
There’s plenty to see after the sunsets. Lively bars and glitzy nightclubs are conveniently based around Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter, where you can enjoy all sorts of booze as well as mix and mingle with fun-loving locals and expats. However, a night out in Hanoi is not complete without sitting back on plastic stools and enjoy Bia Hoi (Vietnamese draft beer) along the bustling streets.
If you’ve got more energy after your day trip, there are several amazing nightclubs such as club Savage and Hero. From eccentrically themed venues to exclusive clubs with Western pricing, you’ll find a bit of everything here.
11. How to Get Around
Use Grab App or uber for a cheap taxi ride. Don’t get ripped off by Licensed like Taxi Mai Linh, Taxi Airport and Taxi Van Xuan. Hop on a Cyclo. The Three-wheeled bicycle will give you front row seats to the charms of Hanoi as your peddler navigates you leisurely around the Old Quarter. You can also catch a local bus if you don’t mind getting lost.
12. Book A Tour
Use Hanoi as a base to explore Sapa, Ha Giang and other attractions, such as Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island. There are heaps of travel agencies in every corner begging you to book a tour with them. It’s alright if you don’t like tours. I mainly use them for travel advice.
13. When To Go
Hanoi has two main seasons: rainy (May-Oct) and dry (Nov-Apr).There’s not really a right or wrong time to visit Vietnam as most months of the year you will experience both sunshine and rain in varying quantities. You might actually have fun in such capricious weather!
Winter – November to April
The weather is cool but mostly dead dry. Temperatures average 17-22°C with the coldest months being January – March.
Summer – May to October
When hot and humid, the region experiences its highest rainfall. July to September are the wettest months of the year. Severe weather can delay tours in Halong Bay and other areas.