Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam. It is a city with more than one thousand years of history, one of the oldest in Southeast Asia. You would be likely to think of it to be slow, boring, unenergetic, compared to a younger city like Saigon.
But here is the thing. After several times travelling throughout the city, I really questioned that stereotype. Hanoi has so much to offer that once you get there, you would for sure fall in love with it.
To help you get an overview picture of how the city is like, what to do there and what to bear in mind, I would like to list out some of my guidelines here so that you wouldn’t miss out anything.
When to visit
Different from what you may think of Vietnam, Hanoi is bestowed with four seasons throughout the year. However, due to its latitude, Hanoi’s spring and autumn are not as long and distinct as what you might see in Europe or North America.
It’s hard to say which season is the best. Spring is cool and full of life but it can dizzle all day, making your trip quite inconvenient. Summer can be extremely hot and humid, which I would describe as “hell”. Surely it can be very hot too in the states, but the uncomfortable feeling that I experienced in Hanoi is something I would remember for life. However, summer is good for outdoor activities. Autumn is arguably the best season as the temperature is quite moderate. But typhoons are very likely during autumn months (2-4 in average), which may force you to cancel your trip. Winter, in the other hand, is dry and cold. Not as cold as in Europe or the US but it can be bitterly cold, especially when you have no heating system in Vietnam.
So in short, I would say if you plan a trip to Hanoi, just go for it. You may not know where this month is perfect for you until you get there. You also can consult weather forecast which is quite correct for most of the time but it can only predict up to a week before your trip.
You may find countless videos on the internet showing how dangerous crossing the road can be. But transportation is not as bad as you may think. In fact, there are a variety of means of transport that you may choose.
First of all, to get from the airport to your hotel in the city center, you may opt for the following choices:
- Taxi: You may find countless of taxi drivers waiting in the airport hall offering you a drive to the city center. But be careful as you may encounter scams. To get the best price, go straight to the designated taxi ranks and charter one from there. Also ask them the total amount of money you will have to pay first. The ideal amount is 300,000 to 400,000 VND. So is they ask for a much higher figure, get out and find another one. Also, most tours include include pick-up from airport. Therefore, if your tour already cover this part, you don’t have to worry anymore.
- Bus number 86: Orange buses running from the Old Quarter to the Noi Bai airport every 30 minutes, daily from 6:30am to 11:30pm. These buses stop at fixed location in the city like the Hanoi Post Office or Hanoi Station so be remember . It take around one hour and the price is 35,000 VND.
- Bus number 17: Running from Long Bien Bus Terminal in the Old Quarter to the airport from 5am to 10pm, this bus line is much older and not as comfortable as the 86. The seats are not as large and there are usually more people. The price, however, is very cheap at 9,000 VND. From international terminal, you’ll have to walk a bit to the domestic building.
- Shuttle bus: Often offered by airline, these shuttle buses are also a good choice but the price is quite high at around 40,000 VND.
- Private Car transfer: The best way of getting from Noi Bai airport to Hanoi center is by taking a private car. These private transfer service was operated by the local travel agencies, they would give you the full support when needed along the ride, so you don’t need to worry about finding your ride, barganing with the driver, the travel agency would help you feel most comfortable during the ride. (PIC)
When you get to the city, to get around, you may choose taxi as your first option. This means is most siutable in short-distance traveling, but for long distance, traveling by taxi is quite expensive. It would be more economic to rent a chater car for a day, the chater car can get you to the other Hanoi’s famous destinations, such as Tran Quóc Pagoda, the West Lake, the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. You don’t have to struggle to find your ride throughout the day, especially when you travel out of Hanoi’s main road.
Or else, you may pick something more challenging like motorbike.Travelling by a motorbike would be an unforgettable experience for any tourist as you can control the motorbike and get to the place by yourself. You can explore the beauty of Vietnam as you go.
For rental, it’s relatively easy to spot motorbike stores in the Old Quarter or West Lake area with English-speaking staff or owners which offer various types of automatic, semi-automatic, manual, and touring bikes with monthly, weekly, and daily rental services.
Here are a number of motorbike rental shops in Hanoi for reference:
The price may vary from store to store and depend on the type of motorbike you would like to rent but usually it takes around $5/day (an amount of earnest money is often required).
However, riding a motorbike is quite dangerous in Vietnam as the traffic condition is really bad especially during rush hours and road quality is also not very good. In addition, you may get into trouble with the police if you don’t have a licence. Last but not least, it’s important to search for the route you would take in advance if you don’t want to get lost. Finding the right road can be tedious if you’re a foreigner and getting lost can easily happen if you don’t pay close attention to the details on the map.
Finally, using apps is also quite popular. Transportation by both motorbike and car is provided by several service providers like Grab, Go-Viet or Be. But as the drivers are only monolingual in Vietnamese, you may find it hard sometimes. But it is definitely a fun experience.
As most shops and restaurants In Vietnam only accept payment in VND, you may need to change your money into VND.
There are money exchange stalls right at the airport so it is quite convenient. You can also change you money at any bank once you get to Hanoi.
Also, remember cash is more popular than credit card so it’s important to bring some cash with you at any time if you want to get on the bus or eat out at small food store on the street.
Vietnamese people are very welcoming to foreigners. So you will not face any hate or discrimination. In fact, many Vietnamese would love to take photos with you and kids will ask you to speak with them in English to practice their English. So if you encounter any of these, don’t feel awkward or surprised.
However, occasionally you may face cultural shock due to the difference in culture especially when you are not from Asia:
- Asking personal questions: One of the most “irritating” things that westerners generally have to face in Vietnam is being asked very personal questions like “How old are you?”, “How much do you earn a month?”, “Are your parents still alive?” etc. Don’t be mad as it is some kind of culture thing. Vietnamese in general love to know about the people they don’t know. Through these questions, they want to get closer to you. But if you don’t feel comfortable, just politely tell them.
- Eating on the sidewalk: It’s considered a feature of Vietnamese street food culture. People cook and serve their food in the sidewalk in front of their house. It may sound bizarre but trust me. Street food is delicious and shouldn’t be missed when you are in Vietnam. (PIC)
- People talking with each other loudly like they are arguing: This often confuses foreigners for most of the time. In the west, you might get used to taking in a very soft manner to show politeness, even if they are your friends. Therefore, Vietnamese people’s talking manner may leave you speechless. But talking loudly means being sincere and shows your close bond with each other.
Things to do
Hanoi City Tour
A tour throughout Hanoi is a journey to explore history and culture.
If you are interested in history. There are countless museums such Vietnam Military Museum, Vietnam History Museum or numerous temples and shrines dating back up to thousands of years.
But if you are more fascinated by Hanoi ‘s culture, then you can find it anywhere. Hanoi culture is rich and diverse. The streets are often narrow and full of people and vehicles. And from these street, you can feel a strong taste of Vietnamese culture lingering through the atmosphere.
Hanoi Food Tour
It would take days to mention all the food of Hanoi. That is to say how rich Hanoi cuisine is. We could mention several representatives here such as Pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup), Banh cuon ( Vietnamese rice steamed roll), Bun cha (Grill pork with vermicelli noodles).
To explore Hanoi’s cuisine, you could for sure go to luxurious restaurants. But to truly feel the essence of food, it’s recommended to go for street food. The food is often served right on the sidewalk in small chairs and tables. The price is very reasonable, ranging from several thousands to one or two hundred thousands VND.
Traditional Cooking Class
There are cooking classes opened for tourists. Don’t worry about how hard cooking can be. Most dishes instructed are very simple like Spring roll, summer roll which require much time and effort. Nothing is more delight than make your own food and try it yourself.
The dishes are not fixed so you can ask for vegan dishes or others if you want to.
Perfume Pagoda Day Tour
The Perfume Pagoda, known locally as Chua Huong or ‘inner temple’, is at the centre of a very revered and sacred site featuring a maze of mainly Buddhist temples built into the limestone cliffs of Huong Tich. At the heart of this complex lies the Perfume Temple or Perfume Pagoda in the Huong Tich Cave.
It is believed that the first temple was built here in the 15th century, although legend declares that the site was actually discovered over 2,000 years ago by a Buddhist monk who was meditating nearby. The mountain foothills are an area of great natural and spiritual beauty filled with streams, tropical plants and temples.
To get to the temple, there is no way rather than get on a boat directed by local women. The water way to the temple is so breathtaking that many would compare it to the beauty of Halong.
The best time to visit is Spring when the weather is very cool and the flowers bloom. The view is perfect for picnics and photos. Summer can be very hot but it’s the time when you don’t have to “compete” with other tourists for space.
Lang Toi Show (My Village Show)
Telling the story of life in the countryside of Northern Vietnam, this spectacular hour-long performance is famous throughout Vietnam thanks to its rhythmic dance, awe-inspiring acrobatics, and bamboo stunts. The show is also very impressive for the fact that 20 different traditional musical instruments are used.
Tourists can go to either the Hanoi Vietnam Tuong Theater or the Hanoi Opera House to enjoy this wonderful art. These are also two among the most iconic structures in the city.
Water Puppet Show
When go to Hanoi, don’t forget to enjoy a specialty of Vietnam: Water puppet. Although puppet can be found around the world, water puppet is something that can only be found in Vietnam. The topics of the puppet show are very simple, mainly about the life of Vietnamese farmers in the countryside. But you will be amazed by how skillful the puppet masters control their puppets from the back of the stage. The art of water puppet will be something you will remember every time the flashbacks of the tour show up.
The water puppet theater is located right at the north of Hoan Kiem lake, which is quite convenient to get to. The tickets can be booked online.
Places to visit
- Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum: Famous among Vietnamese as the place where the forefather of modern Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh’s body is being kept.
- Ho Chi Minh Museum: Dedicated to the life of Ho Chi Minh as well as his devotion to the creation of Vietnam as a nation. (PIC)
- Vietnam Women Museum: One of the most interesting museum in Vietnam. Showcase different costumes of Vietnamese women from different ethnicities. (PIC)
- Hanoi Opera House: An architectural landmark boasting intricate French colonial style. (PIC)
- Hoan Kiem Lake: The heart of Hanoi. Famous for the legend of returning the holy sword to the Golden Turtle God. (PIC)
- West Lake: Surrounded by historic structures including Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest in the country, and Quan Thanh Temple, one of ancient Hanoi’s four sacred temples. (PIC)
- St. Joseph’s Cathedral: The oldest church in Hanoi, built by the French colonists in 1886 on the site of the Bao Thien Pagoda. (PIC)
- Temple of Literature: The first university of Vietnam. Constructed in the 11 century and famous among students as the place to ask for luck before exams.
Northern Vietnam Tour from Hanoi
Halong Bay Tour
As the title suggests, Halong bay will be the highlight of this itinerary. Together with the essence of Hanoi within the first two days, a trip to Halong on the last day is absolutely a good way to feel the fullest of Vietnam.
Located to the Northeast of Hanoi, it takes around 4 hours to get from Hanoi to Halong by bus. Therefore, the trip will start early in the morning so that you will have more time to enjoy Halong.
Often well-known worldwide as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Halong attracts millions of tourists every year. The bay is famous for countless limestone islets emerging above emerald green sea water. The beauty of Halong is compared to a Chinese ink painting. But Halong is also famous not just for its incredible landscape but also its seafood. The seafood here is highly valued and often gets praised as the best in the country thanks to its environment. Therefore, a taste to Halong is a must for any tourist.
Ninh Binh Tour
In you have time, spend some to visit Ninh Binh, another popular destination in the northern part of Vietnam on the third day.
Located 94 km to the south of Hanoi, Ninhbinh is one of the destinations that you should never take off your list when travelling to Vietnam.
Ninhbinh is renowned for not only its natural landscapes such as Tam Coc but also its man-made architectures including Bai Dinh – The world’s largest buddhist temple.
Located outside of Ninh Binh town, Tam Coc is one of the best nature destinations in Vietnam although it remains firmly off the tourist trail. Tam Coc is known for its karst landscape which is similar to the better known Halong Bay, although here you will find some scenic limestone hills which are dotted amongst emerald green rice paddies.
On the other hand, Bai Dinh is a colorful Buddhist temple complex that is located on a scenic hill close to Ninh Binh town.The temple was built in 2014 and has quickly become one of the top attractions in the area.The entrance leads to walkways which are lined with 500 stone arhats (images of enlightened Buddhists) and inside you will find the Phap Chu Pagoda which extends over some three tiers.There is also a bronze Buddha inside which weighs 100 tons and is 10 meters high as well as two smaller gilded Buddhas.
Sapa is a small town in the northern border of Vietnam famous for its breathtaking landscape and colorful culture of ethnic minority groups residing in the area. Visiting Sapa, tourists would not only be able to enjoy the original beauty of nature but also have the chance to enter a very different culture where tradition and modernity coexist.
There are many way of transportation that get you form Hanoi to Sapa, you can choose either train, private car, sleeping bus, limousine van, or the cabin bus. Travel time is around 8 hours, therefore the most appropriate time of travelling is night time, when you’ll be spent all that time on sleeping while traveling to sapa, so you actually won’t waste any minute. If anything, you’ll get to save a hotel night.
If you don’t want to deal with the planning or navigating, you can also take a tour from Hanoi. A21 Tours offers a 2D1N tour. They will pick you up in Hanoi, tour you around Sapa, allow you to stay overnight there, and drop you off back in the capital after the tour. It will be using a bus, which reduces the travel time to only 6 hours.
The price of the tour varies depending on where you choose to spend the night. Options are usually a homestay or a hotel in Sin Chai, Ta Van, Cat Cat or Ham Rong.