The First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Hanoi, Vietnam (2019)

The First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Hanoi, Vietnam (2019)

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Hanoi is my favorite city in Vietnam. I wasn’t so sure after our first trip from two years ago, but a recent month-long stay made it clear.

Among the cities we’ve visited, we found Hoi An to be the most charming and Saigon to have the best food, but Hanoi is the most liveable. It’s a big city, much bigger than Hoi An so there’s more to do, but it doesn’t swallow you up like Saigon. It’s home to about the same population size as Ho Chi Minh City but it feels more intimate and inviting.

In fact, we plan on living from city to city in the near future and Hanoi will probably be our first stop. It’s one of our favorite cities so far and one we can really see ourselves living in.

Spend a few days exploring its tree-lined neighborhoods with crumbling but charming French colonial buildings, and you may understand why.

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Around Hanoi

GUIDE TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. How to Apply for an E-visa to Vietnam
  2. Hanoi at a Glance
  3. Best Time to Visit
  4. Traveling to Hanoi
  5. Where to Exchange Currency
  6. Best Area to Stay
  7. Things to Do
  8. Side Trips from Hanoi
  1. Vietnamese Food Guide
  2. Where to Eat
  3. Which Cafes to Visit
  4. Points of Interest (Map)
  5. How to Get Around
  6. How Many Days to Stay / Sample Itinerary
  7. Budget / Summary of Expenses
  8. Travel Tips

HOW TO APPLY FOR AN E-VISA TO VIETNAM

You may need an e-visa to visit Vietnam depending on your nationality. I’m a Philippine passport holder so I can visit Vietnam visa-free for up to 21 days, but I wanted to stay for a whole month. I applied for an e-visa online through iVisa.com which allowed me a stay of up to 30 days. I paid USD 45 and the approval process took about 2-3 days.

Requirements and fees may vary depending on what passport you carry, so you can visit iVisa.com for more information and to apply. In my case, the process was quick and easy.

HANOI AT A GLANCE

Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital city. Located by the banks of the Red River in the northern half of the country, it’s the second largest city in Vietnam by population, behind only Saigon. It served as the capital of French Indochina from 1902-1954, before becoming the capital of a reunified Vietnam after the North’s victory in the Vietnam War.

Walk along its many tree-lined boulevards and you’ll see that Hanoi is an old city. It celebrated its millennial anniversary in 2010 though it’s said to be much older than that, having been inhabited since at least 3,000 BC. Vestiges of Chinese and French colonial influence are everywhere, particularly in the Old and French Quarters which are home to thousands of colonial-era buildings.

Known as the “City of Lakes”, Hanoi is home to over two dozen lakes and a climate that mimics the four seasons.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Technically, Hanoi has two main seasons – rainy (May-Sept) and dry (Oct-Apr) – though it does experience variances in weather that can simulate the four seasons.

FEB-APRIL: Spring is one of the best times to visit Hanoi. The weather is mild with temperatures ranging between 15-20°C (59-68°F). The skies are clear from February till March but it does start to drizzle more frequently come April. Please note that Spring may also coincide with Tet (late Jan or early Feb) which is the Vietnamese New Year. It’s the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture so expect many establishments to be closed during that time.

MAY-AUG: Like the rest of Southeast Asia, summers in Hanoi are hot and humid. The average temperature is about 32°C (90°F). On top of that, it’s officially the rainy season as well with July-August seeing the most rainfall.

SEPT-NOV: Like Spring, Fall is an ideal time to visit Hanoi. The weather is mild with average temperatures hovering around 25°C (77°F). Skies become clearer in November and leaves turn golden-yellow, making it the perfect time to explore the tree-lined boulevards around Hoan Kiem Lake. Fall is considered the most beautiful time to visit Hanoi.

DEC-JAN: For a Southeast Asian country, it’s said that winters in Hanoi can be surprisingly cold. The average temperature is around 17°C (63°F), but it has been known to drop down below 10°C (50°F). High humidity, wind chill, and a lack of building insulation make it seem even colder. Be sure to dress appropriately should you decide to visit Hanoi in winter.

I’ve been to Hanoi twice – the first time in mid-April and more recently in early September. It didn’t rain at all in April though I did experience periods of rain in September. April was a great time to visit though I think November and March would be even better.

Climate: Annual Monthly Weather in Hanoi

For more on Hanoi’s weather, check out these climate graphs from holiday-weather.com. I’ve also created average temperature and annual rainfall graphs with the most ideal months to visit marked in orange.

Average Temperature
Average Temperature in Hanoi, Vietnam

Annual Rainfall
Annual Rainfall in Hanoi, Vietnam

TRAVELING TO HANOI

Assuming Hanoi is your port of entry into Vietnam, then you’ll probably be arriving at Noi Bai International Airport which is about 45 minutes from Hoan Kiem District. There are several ways to get to your hotel from the airport.

BY PRIVATE TRANSFER: I’ve booked late night private transfers on both my trips to Hanoi, the first through my hotel and the second via Klook. I paid USD 18 through my hotel in 2017, and a little less than USD 14 through Klook in 2019. I suggest contacting your hotel to inquire about rates. If it’s more expensive, then you can book a private transfer through Klook.

BY GRAB: Grab is efficient and relatively cheap in Vietnam. I booked a Grab to go to the airport early in the morning and paid VND 268,000. At the time, that was less than USD 12.

BY TAXI: We didn’t ride any taxis, but taxi scams seem to be the one and only thing travelers complain about in Hanoi. Based on my research, it should cost you around USD 16-18 to get to the Old Quarter from the airport, so don’t fall for any scams telling you otherwise. Noi Bai has been called a hotbed for taxi scammers who either try to overcharge you or take you to the wrong hotel in the hopes of getting a commission. To avoid being victimized by scams, arrange for a private transfer or use Grab instead. They’re cheaper and more reliable.

BY PRIVATE BUS: Jetstar, Vietnam Airlines, and VietJet run private minibuses that shuttle people from the airport to designated stops in Hanoi (and back). I don’t know how much Jetstar or Vietnam Airlines charges but a one-way VietJet transfer costs VND 40,000 (less than USD 2). Follow this link for more information on airport minibuses in Hanoi.

We flew to Hanoi but there are other ways to get there depending on where you are. I suggest checking 12Go Asia to find route options available to you. You can click on the link or use the widget below.


WHERE TO EXCHANGE CURRENCY

The unit of currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). The best places to exchange foreign currency are at banks and gold/jewelry shops.

We’ve exchanged currency at gold shops and a bank, and rates at both were excellent. I’ve read you can exchange currency at hotels and some restaurants too, but the rates generally aren’t as good. Same goes for the airport. If you’ll be arriving by plane and need to exchange currency, then change a small amount at the airport, just enough to get you to your hotel, and change the rest in the city.

Thanks to traveler recommendations, I’ve exchanged currency at two gold shops in Hanoi – Vàng Bạc Kim Linh and Quốc Trinh. Both are in the Old Quarter and both gave excellent rates. You can refer to this article for a list of recommended money changers and banks in Hanoi.

If you’d rather not bring too much foreign currency with you, then an alternative would be to withdraw VND from an ATM. It’s more convenient and the rates are comparable. Just be sure to let your local bank know that you intend to use your ATM card overseas so you don’t run into any issues. In my experience, my ATM card works in some machines but not in others.

NOTE: Some ATMs may ask if you’d like to proceed “with or without conversion”. Always choose WITHOUT conversion so your local bank does the conversion. Proceeding with conversion authorizes the foreign bank operating the ATM to do the conversion, usually at terrible rates. According to this article, the difference in rates can be as high as 10%.

BEST AREA TO STAY

If it’s your first trip to Hanoi, then I think the Old Quarter in Hoan Kiem is the best place to stay. It’s at the heart of the tourist area and puts you closest to many of the city’s top attractions.

Listed below are some of the most convenient areas to stay in Hanoi, along with a color-coded map to help you better understand where each of these areas are. (Please note that marked areas are approximations only)

RED – Hoan Kiem
GREEN – Ba Dinh
BLUE – Tay Ho

I’ll provide targeted links under each description but you can book accommodations in Hanoi through Booking.com or Agoda.

HOAN KIEM: Hanoi Little Town Hotel

Hoan Kiem is the district that surrounds the lake of the same name. It’s the most popular tourist area in the city and where you’ll find the Old Quarter. Home to plenty of hotels, cafes, shops, and restaurants, you can realistically spend all your time in Hanoi without ever leaving Hoan Kiem.

We stayed at Hanoi Little Town Hotel on our first trip to Hanoi. It isn’t the most modern hotel but rooms are big and the location is ideal. It’s situated at the northern end of the Old Quarter, around halfway between Hoan Kiem and Truc Bach Lakes. You can book a room at Hanoi Little Town Hotel through Booking.com or Agoda.

If you’d like to stay in Hoan Kiem but don’t feel this is the right hotel for you, then you can search for alternate listings on Booking.com or Agoda. You can narrow your search to just the Old Quarter (Booking.com | Agoda) or Backpacker Quarter as well. Both are smaller popular areas within Hoan Kiem district.

Approximate Room Rate: USD 27 per night (as of November 2019)

BA DINH: AirBnB Homestay

Ba Dinh is the district west of Hoan Kiem and south of Tay Ho. It’s home to historical attractions like Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Temple of Literature, and Thang Long Citadel. On my most recent trip, I stayed right on the cusp of Ba Dinh and Hoan Kiem, one street away from Hanoi’s train street. After Hoan Kiem, I think the eastern half of Ba Dinh is the next best place to stay in Hanoi.

My AirBnB was massive and one of the best rooms I’ve stayed at in Vietnam. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I stayed there twice on two separate legs. You can book the same room on AirBnB or look for alternate listings in Ba Dinh on Booking.com or Agoda.

Approximate Room Rate: USD 13 per night (as of November 2019)

TAY HO

This is the area around West Lake, the biggest freshwater lake in Hanoi. It’s a quiet and pleasant area with beautiful hotels, but it’s a bit far from Hoan Kiem. Unless you’re staying at the southern end of the lake, then you’ll need to take Grab to get to the city’s main commercial areas. You can search for hotels in Tay Ho on Booking.com or Agoda.



Booking.com


THINGS TO DO

1. Explore Historical Hanoi

Hanoi is interesting. It may be old and crumbling in parts but it’s a city wrought with character. With its abundance of French colonial architecture, lakes, and tree-lined boulevards, its a fun place to experience on foot. Unlike Saigon, it’s a very walkable city and one that you could probably explore in a day.

Start early at Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple before heading southwest to Hoa Lo Prison. Make your way to the Temple of Literature (pictured below) then head north to Thang Long Citadel and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. If you have enough time and energy, then you can continue to Tran Quoc Pagoda before taking a Grab back to the Old Quarter. It’s a lot of walking but very doable.

Check out my post on Hanoi’s Old Quarter for more pictures and information. It’s easy enough to explore on your own but if you’d like to go on a guided tour, then you may be interested in this Hanoi day tour.
Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam

A look inside the Hoa Lo Prison, otherwise known as the “Hanoi Hilton”. Now a museum, this was once a prison used by French colonists for political prisoners, then later by North Vietnam for US prisoners during the Vietnam War.
Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam

Estimated Time to Spend: Full Day / Admission: Various (per attraction)

2. Take a Selfie on Train Street

I find it odd how ordinary train tracks have become such a popular tourist attraction in Hanoi, but that’s exactly what’s happened on Train Street. I guess we can thank Instagram for that.

You may have seen pictures of these train tracks running through a narrow residential corridor on social media. The tracks have become so popular that cafes have sprung up on either side. I think you’ll find clusters of cafes at different sections along the tracks but the pictures below were taken near my AirBnB, between Ly Nam De and Phung Hung Streets. I’d pass these tracks going to and from the Old Quarter everyday.

The tracks are easy enough to find and visit on your own, but if you’re a serious Instagrammer and want to be taken to some of Hanoi’s most picturesque spots, then you may be interested in this Hanoi Instagram tour. You’ll be taken around on motorbike to Hanoi’s most Instagram-worthy spots like Long Bien Bridge, Phung Hung Mural Street, and Train Street.
Hanoi train tracks, Vietnam

Note the sign below. These are active train tracks and potentially dangerous which is why it’s odd to find cafes with outdoor seating on either side. I was never here when a train passed through but they do travel along these tracks several times a day. I’m curious to see what people do when that happens. Do they pack up the tables and chairs? The narrow corridor seems just wide enough for the train to get through.

According to this article on CNN, the situation is getting out of hand so the local government is forcing these cafes to shut down. Whether or not this is enforced remains to be seen. In case you’re wondering, the trains that go through here carry both passengers and cargo between Hanoi and Haiphong.
Hanoi train tracks, Vietnam

3. Watch a Water Puppet Show

If you’re interested in a cultural show that’s unique to Vietnam, then you may want to catch a water puppet show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. Located by Hoan Kiem Lake, you’ll be treated to an hour-long performance of water puppets reenacting Vietnamese folktales and legends while accompanied by a live orchestra.

I bought tickets at the gate for a show on the same day, but if you’d like to see it within the context of a tour, and perhaps with a guide explaining it to you, then you might be interested in this Hanoi city tour. It ends with tickets to this water puppet show.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theater, Hanoi, Vietnam

Length of Show: About 1 hr / Admission: Starts at VND 100,000

4. Blend in at Phung Hung Mural Street

This is another popular backdrop in Hanoi and one of the stops on the previously mentioned Instagram tour. Located on Phung Hung Street and parallel to Train Street is this wall with maybe 20+ murals depicting scenes from everyday Vietnamese life. They’re painted realistically with figures in actual size so they look almost life-like in your photos.
Trompe l'Oeil murals in Hanoi, Vietnam

5. Go on a Food Tour

If you really want to delve into the local cuisine, then there’s no better way to do that than by going on a food tour. I’ve taken food tours in many cities around the world and they always take you to deeply local places that aren’t easily found on Google. I went on two street food tours on my most recent trip to Hanoi, both of which were excellent.

This green papaya salad with Chinese-style beef jerky was one of the dishes I had on a Hanoi street food tour with Backstreet Academy. It’s a 2.5-hour eating binge that takes you to some of the best local spots in Hoan Kiem to try classic Vietnamese dishes like pho, ca cuon, and banh goi. You can check out my article on this Hanoi street food tour for more pictures and information. If you like it, then you can book the tour directly on Backstreet Academy.


The second food tour I went on was this fascinating chef-led food and market tour with A Chef’s Tour. It starts at 4AM and takes you to three of Hanoi’s busiest markets when they’re at their liveliest. If you enjoy street photography as much as street food, then you’ll probably want to go on this tour. On a side note, the chef who leads this tour offers a popular cooking class in Hanoi as well.

If you’d like to sift through more food tours, then you can check out this list of Hanoi food tours from our friends at Klook.

6. Go on a Coffee Tasting Tour

Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee in the world, behind only Brazil. They make great coffee which is why I suggest going on a coffee tasting tour. I explored as many cafes as I could in Vietnam but for me, the coffeehouses in Hanoi were the most interesting. The city is known for unique homegrown coffee creations, none more famous than ca phe trung or egg coffee.

It’s easy enough to go cafe hopping on your own, but if you’d like to go on a guided tour, then you may be interested in this coffee lovers walking tour with Backstreet Academy. I was taken to three of the city’s most historic cafes to try interesting coffee blends like egg coffee, yogurt coffee, and cinnamon coffee. I made a video of the experience which you can view on our YouTube channel.

Length of Tour: About 3 hrs / Cost: USD 26

7. Take a Cooking Class

We had so much fun taking this cooking class in Hoi An that we now try to take one on every trip. As much as we love exploring restaurants and going on food tours, nothing teaches you more about the local cuisine than a cooking class. It’s like looking under the cuisine’s hood.

Cookly is a booking platform that focuses on one-day cooking classes. They offer cooking classes in many cities around the world, including Hanoi. Because they focus solely on cooking classes, I don’t think there’s a better place to find a cooking class when traveling than on Cookly. Follow the link to check out their list of cooking classes in Hanoi.

As previously mentioned, one of the food tours I went on was led by Chef Duyen who also conducts a popular cooking class in Hanoi. This is her below. She’s energetic and really knows her stuff so you may want to check out her cooking class in Hanoi.
Cookly, Hanoi, Vietnam

Picture borrowed from Cookly.

SIDE TRIPS FROM HANOI

1. Ha Long Bay Cruise

About three hours east of Hanoi, Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam. It’s home to jade green waters and some 2,000 islets, most of which are made from limestone. Day trips to Ha Long Bay are possible, but in my opinion, it’s best enjoyed on an overnight cruise. If you’re spending enough time in Hanoi, then a cruise in Ha Long Bay is a must.

We booked ours through Klook and they have several Halong Bay cruises for you to choose from. Check out my post on the Ha Long Bay Cruise for more pictures and information.
Ha long Bay Cruise, Vietnam

2. Hoa Lu and Tam Coc

Northern Vietnam is known for its impressive landscape of towering limestone karsts. With several days to fill in Hanoi, we decided to go on this day trip to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc in Ninh Binh Province. About two hours south of Hanoi, highlights include a visit to King Dinh Temple and a boat ride along the Hoang Long River surrounded by rice paddy fields and limestone mountains on all sides.

We booked this Hoa Lu and Tam Coc day tour through Klook. Check out my post on Hoa Lu and Tam Coc for more pictures and information.

On a side note, you may come across information about Trang An in your research. It’s an area near Ninh Binh province with a similar landscape as Tam Coc. They offer comparable experiences so travelers are sometimes confused as to which one to go to. We haven’t been to Trang An but some people say that the experience feels more artificial than Tam Coc. You can refer to this article for more on the differences between Tam Coc and Trang An.
Hoa Lư and Tam Cốc, Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam

3. Sapa

Sapa is a mountain town in Lao Cai Province, about 5 hours northwest of Hanoi. Known for its trekking and rice terraces, it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in northern Vietnam. I spent a few days in Sapa so I’ll be writing a separate guide for it, but people looking to do a quick side trip may be interested in this overnight Sapa tour from Hanoi.
Sapa, Lao Cai Province, Vietnam

THE ULTIMATE VIETNAMESE FOOD GUIDE

Before our first big trip to Vietnam in 2017, Vietnamese food wasn’t one of my favorites. Now it’s second only to Japanese. I’ve become such a fan of Vietnamese cuisine that I created this ever-growing Vietnamese Food Guide. If you’d like to learn about some of the most popular dishes in Vietnam, then this guide may be of interest to you.
Vietnamese Food Guide

WHERE TO EAT

25 Must-Try Vietnamese Restaurants & Street Food Stalls

While the link above takes you to a general Vietnamese food guide, this one focuses on must-try Vietnamese restaurants and street food stalls in Hanoi. From nationwide favorites like pho and banh mi to northern delicacies like bun cha and cha ca, this list will show you where to find some of the best places to eat in the city.
Hanoi Food Guide: 25 Must-try Vietnamese Restaurants & Street Food Stalls

Twenty-five may be too many for most people so I’ve listed our top five favorites below to help you narrow it down. Do check out our Hanoi food guide for more pictures and information on each of these restaurants.

1. Bun Cha 74 Hang Quat

This may have been the single best meal I had in Hanoi. This place specializes in bun cha which is a dish of charcoal-grilled fatty pork served with sticky rice noodles and fresh leafy greens. It’s a dish largely associated with Hanoi and one of my absolute favorite things to eat in Vietnam. I’ve been to five different bun cha places in the city but Bun Cha 74 Hang Quat was my clear favorite.
Bun cha at Bun Cha 74 Hang Quat in Hanoi, Vietnam

Expect to Pay: Around VND 50,000 for bun cha and nem cua be

2. Pho Hang Trong

I think I’ve been to six or seven pho restaurants in Hanoi but I liked Pho Hang Trong the best. Located through a dark alleyway on the second floor of a building, it’s one of those “hidden in plain sight” eateries and coffee shops in Hanoi. The restaurant is inside someone’s home so you’ll be slurping your bowl of noodles in their living room. Pho doesn’t get any more homemade than this.
Pho at Pho Hang Trong in Hanoi, Vietnam

Expect to Pay: Around VND 30,000 per bowl of pho

3. Chả Cá Thăng Long

Cha ca is another dish with its roots in Hanoi. It’s a fantastic dish of breaded catfish pan-fried with a forest of fresh dill. It’s served with rice vermicelli, roasted peanuts, and coriander, along with a dipping sauce made with nuoc cham, vinegar, and garlic. I’ve had cha ca three times in Vietnam and Cha Ca Thang Long for me, is still the best.
Cha ca at Chả Cá Thăng Long in Hanoi, Vietnam

Expect to Pay: Around VND 129,000 per person

4. Bánh Mỳ P

To be honest, I found the banh mi in Hoi An and Saigon to better than the banh mi in Hanoi. But I’m willing to wager that any Hanoi banh mi is still better than most of the banh mi you’d find outside the country! I think I’ve had close to ten banh mis from different places in Hanoi, but this grilled chicken banh mi from Banh My P was my favorite. The bread is fantastic.
Banh mi at Bánh Mỳ P in Hanoi, Vietnam

Expect to Pay: Around VND 12,000-35,000 per banh mi

5. Quán Gốc Đa

I don’t know if there’s a collective name for these dishes but Quan Goc Da specializes in Vietnamese fritters. They offer many different types but among their most popular is the banh goi, which is like a Vietnamese empanada filled with minced pork, mushroom, glass noodles, and a quail egg. They’re served with a basket of fresh leafy greens and a nuoc cham dipping sauce.
Quán Gốc Đa in Hanoi, Vietnam

Expect to Pay: Around VND 4,000-12,000 per fritter

WHICH CAFES TO VISIT

13 Instagrammable Cafes

As described, Vietnam is known for its coffee. Hanoi has some of the most interesting cafes in the country serving tasty coffee creations like egg coffee, yogurt coffee, and coconut coffee. I’m a big coffee drinker so I visited as many cafes as I could, all of which you can read about in our list of Instagram-worthy coffeehouses in Hanoi.
Hanoi Coffee Guide: 13 Instagrammable Cafes in Hanoi, Vietnam

Like our Hanoi food guide, thirteen cafes may be too many for most people so I’ve listed my three favorites below. Do check out our Hanoi coffee guide for more pictures and information on each of these cafes.

1. Cafe Dinh

This was one of the cafes we visited on the Hanoi coffee lovers walking tour with Backstreet Academy. Cafe Giang is recognized as THE place to go to for ca phe trung or egg coffee, but what most people don’t know is that Cafe Dinh is owned by the same family. Located close to Hoan Kiem Lake, Cafe Dinh serves the same egg coffee as Cafe Giang in a quieter, much less hectic environment.
Ca phe trung at Cafe Dinh in Hanoi, Vietnam

2. Tranquil Books & Coffee

Tranquil Books & Coffee doesn’t have the history of Cafe Dinh but it was one of my favorite cafes in Hanoi, largely because of its cozy interior and relaxed vibe. It felt like you were in a study or library. If you’re a digital nomad, then this would be a great place to get some work done.
Iced milk coffee at Tranquil Books & Coffee in Hanoi, Vietnam

3. Hidden Gem Coffee

Hidden Gem Coffee is one of those “hidden in plain sight” establishments as I was referring to earlier in this guide. Their entrance is barely noticeable from the street, but go through the alleyway and you’ll find what has to be one of the most charming cafes in Hanoi. They serve a pretty mean ca phe trung here as well.
Ca phe trung at Hidden Gem Coffee in Hanoi, Vietnam

POINTS OF INTEREST IN HANOI

There are a LOT of places recommended in this guide. To help you visualize where everything is, I’ve pinned them all on this map. Zoom in for a closer look.

HOW TO GET AROUND

As described earlier in this guide, I find Hanoi to be a walkable city, much more walkable than Saigon. Hanoi has narrower streets and what seems like fewer motorbikes, so crossing the street was never an issue. I walked around everywhere, often logging close to 20 km a day, and never had a desire to ride public transportation. Distances between attractions never seemed that far and there was always something visually appealing to keep me interested like trees, lakes, or cool architecture.

With that said, not everyone may want to walk as much. If you don’t, then you can get around using Grab, either by car or motorcycle. Personally, I prefer Grab Bike. They’re much cheaper and get you to your destination faster. I used it a lot in Saigon.

You’ll see a lot of cyclos or pedal-powered rickshaws in Hanoi as well. They’re relatively cheap but slow, so I think they’re more for sightseeing rather than a practical means of transport.

No matter how you get around, I highly recommend using the Google Maps app (iOS|Android) to navigate. It’ll tell you all the possible ways you can get from point A to point B using any city’s public transportation system. I use it to navigate on every trip and find it to be very reliable.

HOW MANY DAYS TO STAY / SAMPLE ITINERARY

As previously mentioned, you could probably breeze through Hanoi’s top attractions in a day, but why would you want to? It’s such a charming city with great coffee and food that you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t slow down and stay for a few days.

Not counting any side trips, I’d say two days is a minimum, but stay longer if you can. Here’s a sample 2D/3N Hanoi itinerary to help you plan your trip.

DAY ONE

• Hoan Kiem Lake
• Ngoc Son Temple
• Water Puppet Show
• St. Joseph’s Cathedral
• Hoa Lo Prison
• Train Street
• Phung Hung Mural Street
DAY TWO

• Temple of Literature
• Hanoi Flag Tower
• Thang Long Citadel
• Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
• Quan Thanh Temple
• Tran Quoc Pagoda

BUDGET / SUMMARY OF EXPENSES

Vietnam is relatively inexpensive. Assuming you’ll be sharing a hotel room with one other person and staying in Hanoi for a couple of days, then a budget of around VND 700,000 per day should be plenty. This takes into account your hotel room, meals, transportation, entrance fees, and pocket wifi rental. Here’s a quick breakdown of expenses:

ACCOMMODATIONS

This is highly variable, but accommodations in Hanoi are pretty cheap. You can stay at a good mid-range hotel in the Old Quarter for about USD 25-30 a night. The last AirBnB I stayed at was huge and I paid just USD 13 a night. If you’re traveling on a budget, then expect to pay as little as USD 6 a night for a hostel dorm room.
MEALS

Food is cheap and delicious in Vietnam. If you stick to street food, which I’m personally happy with, then a food budget of around VND 100,000 per day will be enough. Add more if you plan on having coffee everyday.
TRANSPORTATION

As described, I got around everywhere on foot in Hanoi. I didn’t take Grab Bike but based on my experience in Saigon, then a daily transportation budget of around VND 100,000 should be more than enough.
ENTRANCE FEES

If you go to all the places in our suggested itinerary, then expect to pay VND 260,000 in entry fees.
POCKET WIFI RENTAL

Renting a pocket wifi device from Klook will run you USD 5 per day.
TOTAL

This comes out to about VND 688,000 a day per person. Ren and I are middle of the road travelers who enjoy good food and drink, so the recommended budget works for travelers like us. Adjust accordingly based on your own travel preferences.

TRAVEL TIPS

1. Plan your Trip with Sygic Travel

What’s the hardest part about trip planning? For me, it’s how to make an efficient itinerary. It’s easy enough to learn where to go, but figuring out how to organize it all is the difficult part. Thankfully, there’s Sygic Travel.

I’ve been using this trip planning app for many years now. It allows me to plot points of interest on a map so I can see where everything is and create as efficient an itinerary as possible. Follow the link to check out my 5-day Hanoi itinerary on Sygic Travel.

DOWNLOAD: iOS / Android

2. Rent a Pocket Wifi Device

A reliable wifi connection is a must these days. You’ll need it to do research, book rides on Grab, and learn how to say “where’s the best bun cha” in Vietnamese. Ren and I never ever go anywhere now without renting a pocket wifi device first.

We rented a 3G pocket wifi device through Klook. We prefer pocket wifi devices but if you’d rather buy a sim card, then you can get one through Klook as well. You can either pick it up at Noi Bai International Airport or have it delivered to your hotel.
Pocket Wifi, Vietnam

3. Check for Discount Tickets

There are many websites that offer deals on tours and activities, but for trips to Asia, my favorites are Klook and KKday. They offer a wide selection at the best prices. In Hanoi, we’ve bought three deals from Klook – a Hoa Lư and Tam Cốc day trip, an overnight luxury Ha Long Bay cruise, and pocket wifi rental. We were happy with all of them. Follow these links for a complete list of Hanoi and Ha Long Bay deals on Klook and Kkday.

4. Get Travel Insurance

Whether or not travel insurance is necessary is a point of contention. Some swear by it, others say you don’t need it. In my opinion, it’s on a case to case basis. If you plan on doing any physical activities, anything that could land you in the hospital, then I think you should get it. But if all you’ll be doing is shopping and eating for a few days, then you probably won’t need it as much.

Personally, we don’t buy insurance before every trip but when we do, we buy it from World Nomads or SafetyWing. They’re both leading travel medical insurance providers used by many digital nomads. Check out my article on why we buy travel insurance for more information. You can follow the links to get a free quote from World Nomads or SafetyWing.

5. Let Motorbikes Avoid You

It’s more of a concern in Saigon but motorbike traffic is something every traveler needs to be aware of in Vietnam. There are motorbikes everywhere so crossing the street can be a challenge. If you’re too tentative, then you’ll never get off the curb.

As a local explained to us, the secret to crossing the road in Vietnam is surprisingly simple – let the motorbikes avoid you. I know it sounds easier said than done but it actually works. Walk slowly and steadily, cross with confidence, and let the motorists avoid you. We tried it a couple of times and as nerve-wracking as it is, it really does work.

I think the Vietnamese are trained from a young age to expertly navigate traffic and avoid pedestrians. On some streets, the flow of traffic is literally non-stop. Just find the best place to cross, wait for the right time, and proceed with caution. As long as you don’t do anything stupid or reckless, then you should get to the other side in one piece.

6. Pay Only in VND

I read how some establishments like hotels, restaurants, shops, and even night market stalls will accept payment in USD. Don’t do it. You’re losing money every time as the rates they give you are heavily skewed in their favor. As much as possible, pay only in VND. As described earlier in this guide, banks and gold/jewelry shops are the best places to exchange currency in Hanoi.

7. Don’t Be Confused by the Currency

Vietnamese currency can be very confusing. The multiple zeros on banknotes are confusing enough, but some denominations look very similar to each other. VND 100,000 banknotes for example, have a similar greenish hue as VND 10,000 bills. I’m very careful with money as it is but in Vietnam, I made sure to look closely at the notes before handing them over to the vendor.

Tourists overpaying in Vietnam because of banknote confusion isn’t uncommon. In fact, it happened to a woman who was on the Hoa Lư and Tam Cốc tour with us. If I heard correctly, she meant to give a VND 50,000 note to pay for a soda but mistakenly gave a similarly red VND 200,000 bill instead. Not realizing her mistake until it was too late, she called it the most expensive can of Coke she’s ever paid for.

I don’t mean to make generalizations but a Vietnamese-American tourist on the same tour said that Vietnamese vendors won’t correct you if you make that mistake. So unless you want to overpay for a can of Coca-Cola, then be sure to check your money carefully before handing it over.

8. Bring the Right Power Adapter

Vietnam has Type A, Type C, or Type F electrical outlets so be sure to bring the right power adapters for your devices. Electrical voltage is 220V and the standard frequency is 50Hz.

Have fun!

No way am I an expert on Hanoi but I do hope that you find this guide helpful. I’m only sharing the things I learned from our trips. If you have any questions or comments, then please feel free to leave them in the comment section below. You’re welcome to join our Facebook Travel Group as well.

Thanks for reading and have an awesome time traveleating in Hanoi!

OUR GEAR

These are some of the things we brought with us to Hanoi. If you’d like to see all our gear, then you can check out our “What’s in Our Backpack?” post. (NOTE: The following links are Amazon affiliate links.)

Disclosure

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There are 4 comments for this article
  1. Honeydel Lopez at 4:28 pm

    Hi! Just want to ask po if peso of usd yung pinapalit niyo sa vietnam?
    Thank you!

  2. Diana Rose at 9:40 pm

    Hi po.thank u for sharing your Vietnam tour..i, my husband and my 2yo daughter plan to visit Vietnam on the next few months and I read in your article that you only pay 229usd or 8,541 php for 2d1n double deluxe..just want to know if 229usd is for the payment for the 2 of u?thank you so much..

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