Hanoi was the city that kicked off our Vietnamese journey. It really was the beginning of an everlasting love for a beautiful country that we were lucky enough to visit. So here’s our guide on all things Hanoi! If you’re planning to visit or even thinking about it, bloody do it!
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What To Do in Hanoi:
Where do we begin? If you spent the entirety of your 30 day Visa in Hanoi, there’d still be stuff you’d miss. Here are a list of the best things we did during our stay that we know you’ll love!
The Temple of Literature:
We put this on top of our list as we had such a great morning together here. It was the first thing we did in Hanoi as we love anything cultural and historical. While it isn’t the biggest place, you’ll get caught up there for a good few hours. There’s so many great learning and photo opps within the temple grounds, particularly around the lesser trafficked side sections. Go in with an open mind, ready to learn about the wonders of Vietnam! Confuscious is the main focus of the temple, a great man from Vietnam’s colourful history. It’s only 30,000 Dong (£1) to enter and a 20 minute walk from the old quarter, just watched out for the roads there! Our words don’t do the temple justice so you really must visit!
The Imperial Citadel:
A beautiful UNESCO world heritage site that we did on our second day in Hanoi. It’s a good 30 minute walk from the old quarter, so plan your journey accordingly to maximise your time there. You’ll get lost in the beauty of the Imperial Citadel, easily 2-3 hours of adventures here. There’s lots to do and see here, often having exhibitions at the centre of the Citadel gardens. Education is also a big part of the Citadel, with plenty of interactive games & learning experiences dotted around inside. It cost us 100,000 Dong (£3-4) each to get in so definitely check it out and learn more about Vietnam’s history!
Hoa Lo Prison:
A very dark place to be honest, not something you’ll want to go to if you’re feeling a bit blue. History of the Vietnam War by the bucket load, with pictures & stories from some of the prisoners held captive there. Make sure you read the testimonials from world leaders which can be found to the left of the Prison entrance. There’s some really powerful info on display here and it’s refreshing to see the stories told from a different perspective. If you have an interest in war-related history, this is an ideal place to visit!
Something a little more lighthearted now. This was something we’d seen way in advance before actually getting to Vietnam. It’s one of ‘THE’ famous Insta backdrops and we’re guilty of chasing those shots. You’ll soon see why upon arriving here though, the street is bursting with personality and makes for some wonderful pictures. Even if it isn’t as lax as it once was (there are guards at the entrances now as too many tourists were messing around and it become dangerous), it’s still got a certain bustle about it. Tiny little coffee shops & restaurants reside either side of the tracks. Vibes all round as you sit on the tiniest of chairs and get waited on while trains pass. This level of quirky is what Vietnam does best! You’ll end up kicking yourself if you don’t come here!
Temple of the Jade Mountain (Den Ngoc Son):
Located on the centre of Hoan Kiem Lake in the heart of Hanoi. Another cultural hub featuring another deep dive into Confuscious & Ho Chi Minh. It was only 30,000 Dong (£1) each to enter which is reasonable. Bear in mind though that it is a very small temple, it does have a beautiful platform overlooking the lake. Be sure to go into the temple itself as hundreds of people pray there daily and it’s an interesting insight into other faiths. Definitely worth it if you’re in the area!
These are free from most hostels that we saw & a fantastic way to meet other travellers & learn more about the history of Hanoi. You’ll visit markets in the backstreets (which were disgusting to be honest, there was a ton of live animals in cages and it was cruel). Make sure to get the Egg Coffee when you stop at Giang or Xiang, the coffee shops famous for it. It really was amazing to us (sadly not Vegan-friendly though) but an unexpected treat! The highlight of the tour is the bridge out of Hanoi. It takes you to the outskirts of the city, which are far less buys, providing some much needed relief from the hustle & bustle. You’ll gain a lot of knowledge from this so don’t miss out, it’s free!
Water Puppet Theatre:
One of the quirkiest things to do in the whole of Vietnam. Well-planned and the epitome of Vietnamese entertainment in our eyes. The show goes on with beautiful Vietnamese puppets, all donned in traditional attire. Lights illuminate the watery stage & the puppets perform Vietnamese songs & choreography (we wished we could understand what the songs meant)! The beauty is though, you don’t need to understand it to appreciate how much goes in to each show, it really is marvellous! It lasts just an hour and costs around 120,000 Dong (£4) per ticket but well worth it. Located just opposite the KFC along the edge of Hoan Kiem Lake. Be sure to check it out for something very unique.
Time for the drinking part! You’ll find no better place than Beer Street, located not far from Hoan Kiem Lake. Beers work out at around 10p in some bars and we don’t need to tell you how unbelievable that is! You’re more than likely to end up here at some point in Hanoi, hopefully with a few people from your hostel! Bars are either side of the street & the music is pretty deafening so you’ll have a hard time conversing which leaves one thing to do: DANCE! Do remember that different countries have different etiquette though so enjoy yourself be don’t act like a prick!
Stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake:
So you can do this after your big night out on Beer Street to nurse that hangover. It’s also a great time to tie in the Temple of Jade Mountain & Water Puppet Theatre too (see above). The lake itself is absolutely stunning and has a bunch of great features around it. Turtle Tower (on the lake itself) has a brilliant story surrounding it of a magical, talking turtle that aided Ho Chi Minh in his conquest for Vietnam. Vietnam really has a ton of history & myth that is so interesting but way less well-known to outsiders than other countries histories.
Ha Long Bay:
Although this isn’t actually in Hanoi, it is very close & easily accessibly from there. We’ll be posting about the Ha Long Bay experience seperate from this post as there’s too much to cover here. A true once in a lifetime opportunity to sail round the beauty of Ha Long should not be missed! With duration varying dependent on which cruise package you pick. You’ll have to decide between a party cruise or a relaxing cruise. There isn’t a fat lot of difference apart from the drinking as both types end up seeing most of the same attractions there anyway. Definitely explore the option/ look at brochures of Ha Long with hostels in Hanoi as it’s so worth seeing!
How to Get to Hanoi:
We’ve actually covered this in our last post ‘Getting Into Vietnam from Laos’ as linked so check it out below!
What to Eat in Hanoi (Local Food):
Bánh Mi/Banh Xéo – The pinnacle of Vietnamese delicacy, if you’re anything like us, you’ll love both of these! Bánh Mi is the most common and is effectively a sub sandwich (that tastes a LOT nicer in our opinion). The best version we had was at Bánh Mi 25, a small chain of restaurants which were specialists of Bánh Mi! The mushroom jerky & tofu were the stars of the show, we’d actually say it’s the best tofu we’ve ever eaten. Banh Xéo are Vietnamese savoury pancakes that can literally be filled with anything. The most common variation for Veggies is the egg pancake filled with beansprouts & cabbage with salad on the side and an incredible dipping sauce. It sounds really plain but is mouth-watering goodness! The best version we found was shown to us by our lovely German friends, Maja & Eike. No idea what the place was called but it was in the centre of Hanoi and the shop specialised in Banh Xéo & Vietnamese ‘donuts’ which were savoury. Make sure to also check out The Veg restaurant, located just off of Hoan Kiem Lake opposite the McDonald’s, it was AMAZING!!!
*Tip for Veggies*
Chai or Chay means vegetarian or ‘eats like Buddha’ so bear that in mind when going into restaurants as a lot of Vietnamese food staples are meat based. We had a tough few days at first locating veggie friendly places so learning this phrase or word definitely helped us a ton. We didn’t see it in/on restaurants all over Vietnam but it was in all of the major cities!
How Much Did it Cost?
Hanoi, being the Northern capital of Vietnam, was actually pretty pricey compared to the super cheap Laos where we’d just been. Food, anywhere around Hoan Kiem Lake/the heart of Hanoi was around 100,000-200,000 Dong per main (£4-7). This doesn’t sound like a lot but you can eat a LOT cheaper than this to stay in budget. Of course, every now & then you need to treat yourself. We recommend eating in local Vietnamese restaurants for the cheaper, family-run finds. Accommodaton was pretty cheap & we recommend the two hostels below for great service, activities & friendly staff:
We hope you’ve enjoyed this post & got some insight into the stunning Hanoi. Be nice & give us a follow here & on our socials below:
Stay Safe & Much Love,
Matt & Mik
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