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Travel to Hanoi for your next vacation

Updated on October 7, 2014

Hanoi was the perfect introduction to Vietnam

Hanoi provided our introduction to Vietnam. It is probably the most chaotic place I have every visited and I loved it. The city is over 1000 years old, the streets in the centre, known as the 36 streets, enchanted me. We walked every one of them. I loved that you get to watch so much of everyday life take place right before your eyes on the street.

Hanoi is a photographers dream, I snapped over 600 shots, lucky for you I have limited this page to a dozen or so - my friends on the other hand had to sit through the whole lot!

If you want to see where we went you can check out my Google map that lists all our favorite spots.

All the photos on this page are my own. Please ask permission if you wish to use them.

What we loved about Hanoi - Thing you really should experience in Hanoi

  1. The Temple of Literature
  2. The early morning walks around the lake
  3. The fresh and healthy street food
  4. Vietnamese Coffee
  5. Vietnam Ethnology Museum

Hanoi Kids - Free English speaking tours by university students

We spent our second day in Vietnam with two great kids from the Hanoi Kids organisation. The kids are all uni students who take tourists on free guided tours of their city as a way to improve their English skills and learn more about other cultures. This was without a doubt one of our best experiences in Vietnam.

Our "kids" were funny and insightful and had fantastic English skills. We really enjoyed learning more about Vietnamese life and culture while we strolled around the city. They took us to the Ho Chi Minh Memorial Complex, Uncle Ho's house, The One Pillar Pagoda, The Temple of Literature, and after a great lunch at Quan An Ngon we took at taxi to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnography.

We were together from 9am-6pm and had lots of laughs and a genuinely great time. I would highly recommend getting in touch with this organisation. You can book full or half days and they plan the day around your interests.

2.6 million people live in central Hanoi - another 6.4 in the metropolitan area. There are over 1000 people for every square kilometre which makes for some pretty crowded streets.

A butcher in the centre of Hanoi

Hanoi 36 streets butcher
Hanoi 36 streets butcher

People run their businesses in whatever piece of space they can find. This woman set up on a busy street and trimmed meat per customer's orders.

Coffee and a view of the city - My favorite cafe in Hanoi

I read about this cafe in one of the travel forums. We went here most days when we felt we needed to escape the traffic and just watch the world go by. We tried 3 of the places but liked the Highlands coffee place the best. The prices were reasonable, the western coffee was ok and the view of the lake and the crazy intersection great entertainment.

The amazing view from Highlands Coffee at Hoan Kiem Lake

View over the lake Hanoi
View over the lake Hanoi

I loved this funny looking green lake. It is the centre of all the action in Hanoi. We could not sleep our first morning due to jetlag and headed down to the lake just after 5.30am thinking we would have it all to ourselves. It was a hive of activity with what seemed like half of the city stretching, running, walking and doing all sorts of gyrations. From sunrise till way after dark it is an outdoor gym, meeting place, lunch spot and a place to romance your loved one. We decided to join in and headed there by 6am every morning for a quick walk the 1.8km around the lake.

Vietnam Ethnology Museum - An interesting indoor and outdoor museum

We particularly liked the outdoor section of this museum. There were several different ethnic minority houses on display - you could enter and poke about inside. Our Hanoi Kids guided us around and explained what we were looking at. I think this is one place that benefits from a guided tour.

The museum is closed on Monday and is about 5km from the centre of town and did not cost very much in a taxi.

Unlike the South the North of Vietnam has a cold winter - in fact it can even snow.

You will need a rain poncho

We thought it would be cheaper to buy one there - it wasn't really and when we needed one desperately in a down pour it was tough work bargaining them down and we paid about 3.50 for each for our and we managed to tear in 1/2 an hour... they are made to local sizing. Pack a couple in your bag.

Cha Ca La Vong restaurant in Hanoi - The famous fish restaurant.

cha ca la vong fish meal
cha ca la vong fish meal

This old family restaurant has only one dish only on the menu, stir fried fish with herbs and rice noodles served with tea or beer. About $15 will feed two which is expensive by local standards but we enjoyed it.

Where to eat in Hanoi

We enjoyed meals in Newday restaurant, Madame Hein and several unnamed little corner soup stalls. Newday was our favourite. We had two really great meals here, at really reasonable prices.

Crossing the road is the scariest thing you will do in Vietnam.

How to survive crossing the road in Hanoi - You will need to watch this to survive

We used the Frommers Vietnam Guide to help plan our trip

Frommer's Vietnam: with Angkor Wat (Frommer's Complete Guides)
Frommer's Vietnam: with Angkor Wat (Frommer's Complete Guides)

Unlike a lot of places we have travelled Vietnam did not have very many free brochures or maps in English. It really helped to have our own guidebook on this trip. In fact it was one of the few times I felt it was essential.

 
Golden Legend Hotel Hanoi Breakfast
Golden Legend Hotel Hanoi Breakfast

Where to stay in Hanoi

Walking distance to the Lake if possible.

We stayed at the Golden Legend Hotel. For $55 a night we had a very comfortable room with flat screen TV, super comfortable bed, lap-top and wi-fi and the friendliest hotel staff I have ever encountered. I would recommend this hotel without hesitation. The day after we arrived was my birthday and we came back after a full day out and about to a gorgeous chocolate cake, bottle of local Delat red wine and fresh fruit platter.

Each morning a simple breakfast buffet was laid out and a menu of cook to order food including a different soup and fresh juice choice each morning was also offered. On my birthday I was offered Crab soup for breakfast as a special treat. There are only about 12 rooms here from memory which means they can provide extra attention and care.

We were about 2 mins walk to the Lake and just far enough off a main road to avoid traffic noise. I really want to go back.

What we could have missed - Things about Hanoi we did not love so much

  1. The Hanoi Hilton (Hoa Lo Prison,) Prison Museum - We got so lost walking here and then when we did it was full of tour bus visitors and we were rushed through and felt there was not enough here to make it all worthwhile.
  2. The motorcycling parking on the footpath - particularly in the rain. Walking down the sidewalks was a struggle at times and I found I preferred to get up early and see lots before peak hour started. We made sure we were in a bar with a view by the time the afternoon rush started.
  3. The persistent cyclo drivers - I know they have to make a living but it really did get annoying.

Time for a break - It never ceased to surprise me where people slept

While ATM's are plentiful they had often run out of money by mid-afternoon.

Get your cash early.

The ANZ atm by the lake allowed the largest daily withdrawals.

Hoan Kiem Lake Hanoi
Hoan Kiem Lake Hanoi

The Banana Lady

On our last day in Hanoi we wanted to tire ourselves out so that sleep on the train to Denang would come easily. We walked from our hotel out to Westlake.

We planned to visit the old temple by the lake, and explore the back streets on the other side of the lake. We found an interesting local market where the shoppers did not even dismount from their motorcycle to make their purchases. We also came across a temple that we recognized from an episode of The Amazing Race and were able to watch some martial arts lessons.

On the way home we ran into the banana lady. She was targeting tourists offering photo opportunities. For 20,000 Dong (about $1.50) you could carry her bananas and take a photo. We had seen these people quite a few times and said no but this lady was persistent.. she followed my husband for a while all the time smiling and asking him if he wanted to see how heavy the baskets were. Eventually he agreed but I like the shot of her negotiating better than the staged one.

My Google Map

All my stops on this Hanoi Holiday

While researching this trip I made a Google map of all the attractions, photo spots I had read about, hotels and food tips. I have made this map public so feel free to grab it and use it for your travels. You can access it here.

Would you like to visit Hanoi?

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    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 5 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      I've been to Denang, and loved Vietnam.

    • Bill Armstrong profile image

      Bill Armstrong 5 years ago from Valencia, California

      On my list of priority countries ;)

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

      If I ever make it to Vietnam I will be sure to visit the Highlands Coffee at Hoan Kiem Lake as the view is astounding. Actually all of your trip looked exciting other than the roads - Yikes!

    • srsddn lm profile image

      srsddn lm 5 years ago

      It is amazing to see a person on scooter seat blissfully ignorant of what is happening around. It can happen only in Hanoi. Wonderful lens.

    • FionaCarroll profile image

      Fiona Carroll 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Really? You've never taken off your shoes, rolled up your trousers, pulled your shirt up over your face and gone to sleep upside down on your three inch wide scooter seat in the main street outside the local shops?

      Wimp!

    • PaulaMorgan profile image
      Author

      Paula Morgan 5 years ago from Sydney Australia

      I am so Jealous! I would love to live there for an extended period.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      We are here in Hanoi now and will be here for 18 months in the next 3 years. Love it.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      We're here in Hanoi over a month. I have only been hit by a motorbike once crossing in the pedestrian lane, nothing catastrophic, but it made me mad.