Travel to Hanoi for your next vacation
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
- The Temple of Literature
- The early morning walks around the lake
- The fresh and healthy street food
- Vietnamese Coffee
- 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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Hanoi Travel Planning - The best blogs on Hanoi and Vietnam
Travel fish is a travel blog/website that is focused on Asia. There is some really helpful content here for independent travelers.
- Our Man in Hanoi
- The City That Never Sleeps In
Ain't that the truth. The blog was written by Aussie Expat who lived in Vietnam from 2009 till 2012.
- Blue Dragon Orphanage
An organisation doing amazing work with street kids in Hanoi
- Needs Cheese
Blog of a documentary photographer based in Hanoi... really great images.
- KOTO Hanoi
KOTO is a training organisation for street kids in Vietnam. KOTO stands for Know One Teach One. The provide hospitality training to young people to give them the skills to find work and have a better life. They run a cafe by the Temple of Literature