On the banks of the Red River lies Hanoi, the capital and second largest city of Vietnam. After years of Chinese and French occupation and war, the city is incredibly resilient, with it’s blend of cultures and many of the old colonial buildings still stand particularly around the Old and French Quarters.
THINGS TO DO
The central point of the city and the meeting point of the Old and French Quarters is by Hoàn Kiếm Lake, with its tree lined banks and shaded seating. If you hang around here long enough, you may get approached by friendly students wanting to practice their English with you. We spent a most enjoyable 20 minutes chatting and learning more about Hanoi and talking about our home towns.
Hỏa Lò prison was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel and we spent a very interesting, yet eerie afternoon exploring the building and learning about the conditions in the prison from when the French built it, to when the Vietnamese held American prisoners. It is only a fraction of the size that it was as many of the bricks used to build the prison were removed to build elsewhere in the city. The entry fee is 20,000 dong and you can also buy a cheap guide book on entry which is definitely worth doing.
For a taste of Vietnamese culture, head over to Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre and catch a show of the traditional Vietnamese art. It is best to read more about the stories before you go to give yourself some idea of the narratives.
For some evening entertainment, check out the night market on Hang Ngang and sample a few of the treats on offer there.
Walking around Hanoi, you will see that the streets in the Old Quarter are named after the trade they were known for and there are still many shops open today with the same trades. The French Quarter has streets named after prominent figures in Vietnamese history which gives you a look back at the interesting past of the city.
Taxi is the main transport in the city and there are no shortages of drivers at the airport. Make sure you agree your fair, but it shouldn’t be any more than £20 (600,000 dong). We booked a transfer with the hotel directly for around £18 as we arrived fairly late in the evening and there was no bus.
WHERE TO STAY
We spent 5 nights at the friendly Rendezvous Hotel, with private en-suite rooms for around £15, including breakfast. It is located in the Old Quarter, close to many places to eat and a good few beer corners, where a glass of cold fresh beer is around 5000 – 10000 dong, perfect for the hot weather.
WHERE TO EAT
Our favourite spot for bun cha was at Mr Bay, about a 3 minute walk from the hotel on Hàng Điếu. There are also other dishes to try here, but the bun cha was our favourite.
Former US President, Barrack Obama also visited Hanoi in 2016 and ate at Bún Chả Hương Liên where you can order the Obama combo; a different style of bun cha with more soup.
For a good lunch, you have to have the infamous banh mi, a baguette filled with meat, pate, vegetables and a chilli sauce. There are many places to eat this sandwich, but if you are in the Old Quarter, Banh Mi 25 has a sandwich hard to beat.
Vietnamese Egg Coffee is also a delicious treat; strong coffee topped with sweetened, beaten egg yolk. You can find this at Cafe Phố Cổ, and although the service could be better, you get a fantastic view over the lake from the roof terrace. We also recommend you try the coconut iced coffee at the coffee chain; Cong Capche (our favourite branch is the one on 35A Nguyễn Hữu Huân in the Old Quarter, it has great sofa seating area and AC on the top floor).
- Click here to read our next post covering how to do Halong and the untouched Bai Tu Long Bay from Hanoi
- In the hot season, temperatures can reach 40c in the city – make sure you wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water. Avoid being outside in the midday sun (you’ll notice the streets are eerily quiet until 3pm)
- A city walking tour of Hanoi is a perfect way to learn more about the history and discover some unique places. We did one with Intrepid, but can also suggest hanoifreetourguides.com where local students volunteer to show you around the city for free (at the same time a good opportunity for them to practice their English).
- Avoid withdrawing cash from the popular banks such as Vietinbank, Vietcombank, Agribank etc. They all charge hefty withdrawal fees for foreign tourists (regardless of amount withdrawn). We used VPbank and MB Bank ATMs, where no withdrawal fee was charged (do check with your home bank if they charge you anything additional).
Gallery Preview below, to see more our photos of Hanoi click here.