Best Travel Ideas for First Timers in Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam is a vibrant city with so much to offer. It was one of our last stops in our month-long Vietnam trip and I sure can say that the trip ended the best way possible, as Hanoi left us with a great impression on Vietnam.

I would describe Hanoi as a hot mess, since it’s literally very hot most of the time. It’s very loud from all the traffic on the streets, but also pretty cool with something happening around every corner.

 

Night bus Hanoi Vietnam

On the overnight bus from Da Nang to Ha Noi

How to get to Hanoi

By plane

There are different options how to travel around Vietnam as the distances between cities are huge. The most convenient one is by plane, as there is a great airport just outside Hanoi.

For traveling inside Vietnam there’s a Vietnamese national airline VietJetAir, that offers daily flights for budget prices. For example flight from Ho Chi Minh City, which is located in the South of Vietnam, to Hanoi in the North costs only about 50 USD one way.

By train

Another popular option is taking a train. There are train stations in most major cities and it’s another convenient way how to cross the whole country. And the views that you’ll get along the way are well worth the long journey.

The prices are slightly more expensive than for a flight (starting from 60 USD and up from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi) and the travel time will be much longer. However it’s an adventure!

By bus

As we were in Da Nang, which is a city in the middle part of Vietnam, we decided to take an overnight bus. It would be just a good night sleep on a 10-hour bus ride and we’re there.

And it is actually the cheapest option how to travel in Vietnam. You can get from across the whole country by bus for about 30 USD. It takes more time, but the journey is comfortable and no luggage hassle like it’s in case of flights.

I’m sure 10 hour bus ride sound terrifying at first, these buses are actually very convenient way how to travel through the whole country And the cheapest option as well. All of the long distance busses are actually „Sleeper busses”, where you don’t even have an option to sit up. You will just lay down on a chair which is in a horizontal position and get comfortable for the ride. We used „Futa Bus” services through the whole country and were extremely satisfied.

If you can’t deside which option, bus or train, would fit you better for travelling in Vietnam, click here to have more insight what it’s like to travel by both as well as pros and cons.

Hanoi Traffic

Hanoi Traffic

How to get around Hanoi

Our first impression when arriving in the bus station were „extreme”. We were just woken up after a long night sleep and got out of the bus in the middle of crazy heat, noise and what felt like thousands of people around just going on with their day. We were suddenly approached with taxi drivers offering to take us to our hotel.

We met some cool Chinese girls on the bus and teamed up with them to get a taxi as all of our hotels were in the same area. As we found out taxi drivers ask very high prices if they see that the person is not local.

So we opted for Uber. Luckily one of the Chinese girls had a local SIM card with mobile data and was able to get an Uber which ended up takeing us to our hotel 4x cheaper than taxi.

!!!IMPORTANT TIP: If possible, always try to get a local SIM card with some amount of mobile data, so that you are able to get online and call UBER in order to get someplace. It actually goes for different kind of emergencies. In most countries you can rely on finding a cafe with free wi-fi, but in many parts of Vietnam it’s quite impossible.

Overall we learned that the best options to get around Vietnam are using such apps as UBER or GRAB, where you can also get a motorbike taxi. Using regular taxi as a foreigner will usually cost you much more than it should have.

Depending on the area you are in, Hanoi is very walkable. That was our own favorite option how to move around the areas that we were exploring.

 

Best areas to live in Hanoi

Hanoi street, Vietnam

Streets in Hanoi are never empty

For a first time traveler to Hanoi, the two main areas to consider should be Hoan Kiem, also called as Hanoi Old Quarter or Tay Ho known as the expat area of Hanoi.

Hanoi Old quarter is a very lively and touristic part of the town where everything happens. It basically consists of a labyrinth of small streets, little shops, cafes, hotels, markets, street food vendors and so much more. Spending time in this part of the city will give you a real taste of Vietnam.

Tay Ho is a beautiful area by the West Lake and is popular expat choice of living. In this part of the city you will have a mixture of cultures, different restaurants with European and American cuisines, more cosmopolitan life style. Many parts of this area actually made us feel like we are walking the streets of Paris. You can really feel the french influence over there.

Here are some great accommodation options to consider when visiting Hanoi. None of these will disappoint you:

BUDGET $:

Old Quarter View Hanoi Hostel – a nice budget hostel for as low as 9 USD per night in a dorm room. They offer both mixed and female only dorms. They are located in Hoan Kiem area, being very central to main attractions around.

 

Hanoi Brother Inn & Travel  – very centrally located hostel offers dorms for 7 USD per night, as well as private rooms starting at about 20 USD per night. They offer a great service, very clean rooms and the location is perfect for exploring Hanoi Old Quarter.

MIDDLE CLASS $$:

Hanoi La Selva Hotel – a beautiful designed hotel in the heart of the Hanoi Old Quarter. Short walking distance from everything you might need. Prices starts at 43 USD per night and are incredibly worth it.

 

Hanoi Golden Holiday Hotel – this hotel has it all. Perfect location in the Old Quarter, delicious breakfast, extremely clean and great wi-fi. For the price of approximately 45 USD you’ll experience great comfort.

UPSCALE $$$:

Lotte Hotel Hanoi – staying here will make you fell like a king. Beautiful rooms, amazing pool and a WOW moment is what you are up for staying here. Rooms start at about 160 USD per night.

 

Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi – this is as luxury as it gets in Hanoi. Located in a historical building near the Old Town, it offers great service, royal rooms and amazing food experience. Prices starts at around 300 USD.

 

Things to do for First Timers in Hanoi

Hanoi, Vietnam

Local ladies doing a morning work out. Always easier to keep fit as a team.

1.Wander around Hanoi Old Quarter to experience the unique character of this old city.

Here you will duck and dive to avoid the swarms of motorbikes that race through the narrow streets. You will pass hundreds of small shops, street vendors, locals living their lives right on the sidewalks and so much more. It’s going to be intense, but unforgettable.

2.Visit Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre.

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. You will hear traditional Vietnamese folk music and see a puppet performance of the water. This is a unique experience as this form of art is more than 1000 years old. It was first invented by Vietnamese farmers who performed the puppet theatre over the flooded rice fields. What a unique way to learn more about this culture!

3.Experience Vietnamese tough history in Hỏa Lò Prison.

Many parts of Hanoi still shows marks of Vietnamese history with French and Americans, and one of the brightest examples Hỏa Lò Prison – nowadays called the “Hanoi Hilton”. This is a notorious prison that has housed a lot of torture and tough times. This visit will give you an insight how Vietnam has changed through the decades.

 

Phở, an incredibly delicious Vietnamese noodle soup

4.My personal favourite of all – Enjoy a steamy bowl of Phở.

Use the opportunity to taste Phở at the place were it was created. It is the most popular Vietnamese dish – a noodle soup with beef or chicken. There’s an option to add some lime juice, which makes the taste heavenly.

You can get Phở at absolutely any cafe, big or small. Vietnamese themselves normally eat it for breakfast, but this delicious soup can be enjoyed any time of the day. My absolute favourite place where I had the best chicken pho was Phở Huyền, located at 31 Chau Long street, Hanoi.

5.Try Vietnamese coffee.

This is another unique experience. Vietnamese coffee is usually served in a small glass and coffee fills just a tiny part of it. You are supposed to fill the glass up with ice cubes and let them melt, to make a nice cold drink.

If you order white coffee, a sweet and thick condensed milk will be added in the glass. It tastes unique and great all at once. There are some caffees where they offer Vietnamese coffee with coconut milk. If you ever see that on menu, make sure to try it. Coconut coffee tastes incredible there!

 

Flower market, Hanoi, Vietnam

A typical flower market in Vietnam

6.Visit local Quang Ba flower market near Tay Ho district.

It’s a unique experience to see beauty of Vietnamese flowers and the buzz that happens around them. The variety and abundance of flowers will surprise you and handmade pots and pottery will add to the beauty and magnificent aroma in the air.

It’s an exciting experience as everything happens during the night-time. The market opens around 11 pm and stays open until early morning. The best time to visit is around 1am – 2am when you will experience totally different Hanoi.

7.Take a city tour in Cyclo.

Cyclo is a bicycle rickshaw where you can sit back and relax for a tour around the area and through the intense traffic. It will be an adventure worth experiencing! The best chance to find a Cyclo is near Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter. However they can be found all over the Old Quarter. Just make sure to agree the price with the driver before you get in.

8.If you are into museums, visit the Vietnamese Women’s Museum.

It portrays lives of Vietnamese women of different “levels”, as well as their roles in society and culture. Vietnamese women manages to do a lot with so little, as many parts of the life here are still so underdeveloped. Sometimes we were quite shocked, how people even manage to live like that.

9.Be an Extra in a Vietnamese movie.

There are many opportunities for foreigners to be as extras in local movies. That would for sure make an extraordinary and fun-filled day in Hanoi. When your trip comes closer, just Google for such opportunities and see if anything is available. I’ve heard there are also several Vietnamese Facebook groups where such opportunities are posted. It’s well worth a look.

 

Halong Bay, Vientam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

10.Go out of Hanoi for few days to see some wonders of the world.

Northern Vietnam has some of the most beautiful things I’ve seen during my travels. Two of the best options for an easy Hanoi getaway are visit to spectacular Halong Bay (read about or experience in Halong Bay here!) and the natural mountain beauty of Mai Chau (read about our stay in Mai Chau here!).

Have a wonderful time in  Hanoi and let it surprise you! 😉

We’d like to thank “Indochina Voyages” for taking us on amazing Hanoi city tour and allowing to experience different sides of it. Visit their site to see more of great things that Vietnam and other SE Asian countries can offer.

 

Are you getting ready for a long flight to Hanoi or any other destination?

Check out our tips about How to make yourself feel good during a long-haul flight. It might make your upcoming trip so much more comfortable.