Destination Discovered: Hanoi, Vietnam
Coming at you with week two of ‘Destination Discovered’! This time I will take you on a journey to a thriving metropolitan city in Southeast Asia called Hanoi.
Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital and also the second largest city in the country. Hanoi is located in the northern region on the Red River delta, with a population just over 8 million. The city itself is sectored into 12 urban districts; Ba Dinh District (French Quarter), and Hoan Kiem (Old Quarter) are the most popular districts to visit while in Hanoi . Hanoi has become so popular that some have nicknamed it the ‘Paris of the East’ because of its French colonial-style era buildings, lakes, and vast tree lined boulevards.
How to get there
First and foremost individuals must apply for a visa, either beforehand or apply for a visa upon arrival. This process is pretty straightforward, and applying for a visa upon arrival is easy and will save you money in the end. Check your countries embassy’s website for details on visa requirements.
Next, you’ll have to fly to Hanoi if this will be your first destination in Vietnam. The Noi Bai International Airport is the only airport near Hanoi. It’s roughly 35km away from Old Quarter and takes about 50 minutes to get there with traffic by taxi or bus.
If you’re coming in by train you’ll be arriving 2km to Old Quarter. You’ll be able to walk or possibly catch a rickshaw to your hotel from the station.
You can set up transportation from the airport through your hotel for a premium, or get there yourself by taxi. Taxis are very simple to get, they are mostly metered taxis and will cost around $15-20 USD to get to the city. PonP TIP: Make sure you exchange a bit of money before leaving the airport. Taxis cannot break change in other currencies.
Once you get to the city you’ll mostly be walking around on foot, or catching a ride from a rickshaw. If you happen to need a taxi you’ll have to arrange it from you hotel because there aren’t many cars driving around in Old Quarter.
Vietnam is very inexpensive! This is probably one of the best parts about being there right now because you can get so much for so little. The hard part about traveling to Hanoi is wading through all the listings of hotels. I’ve never seen so many hotels in one area; this is mainly because Hanoi has more boutique style hotels that are smaller rather than mega hotels. However, there are plenty of mega chain hotels in Hanoi, too. Since there are so many hotels to choose from, I’ve broken my top 3 hotels into 3 categories: backpacker, mid-range, and luxury
Backpacker: Hanoi Backpackers Hostel on Ma May
I was surprised at how nice this hostel looked. This hostel is not short on amenities or fun, and the even offer private rooms to rent for about $40 USD. If you’re wanting to have a crazy fun time and meet lots of people this is the spot!
Mid-Range: Oriental Central Hotel
If you want a Vietnamese experience with a staff that goes above and beyond, look no further. First you can’t beat the rate of the rooms- around $50-60 USD. On top of that, each and every staff member was extremely accommodating. I will say from experience no words can describe how well we were taken care of. First, we had a flight delay us 10 hours and the hotel staff called our airline for us and changed our flight and rebooked us on different flights all within a couple hours. Next, the hotel had someone walk with us to exchange money, on top of that they also has someone teach us how to cross the streets. I believe I would still be stuck in Hanoi to this day if it weren’t for the gracious staff at this hotel.
Luxury: Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
Sofitel hotel is the elite hotel in Hanoi. If you don’t mind the splurge, you can stay here for around $300/night. You’ll also be close to all the high end shops and finer dining restaurants, as well as Ho Hoan Kiem lake. Another great thing about this hotel is that you can take a dip in their beautiful pool after a long hot day.
Things to do/see
Hanoi can be a bit overwhelming. You may feel lost, confused, and a bit out of your element. That’s okay just take a deep breath, put on some rap music and handle it. (That’s what I say anyway!) Try to start local, visit things around your hotel, and then move on from there until you get your bearings. The hotel I stayed at was truly amazing, they mapped out all the must-see sights for me. Here are the top things I would suggest for a first time traveler to Hanoi.
- Visit Coffee Street; <1 hour. Cost $1 USD
- Located on Nguyen Huu Huan Street, there are many shops that serve a good cup of Joe, but there’s one shop that does it best and that’s Giang Coffee. PonP TIP: Try the Vietnamese Coffee.
- Have a beer at beer corner; <1 hour. Cost .50 cents USD
- Located at the corner of Lyong Ngoc Quyen and Ta Hien Road. The pub stalls will keep adding more chairs as people arrive until people are almost sitting in the center of the street. PonP TIP: Try the Hanoi Beer.
- Walk the Lake of the Restored Sword; 1 hour. Cost Free
- PonP TIP: Don’t be alarmed when someone walks up to you asking to talk with you. The Vietnamese people desperately want to learn English; they do this by conversing with tourist. They feel the only way they’ll succeed in life is by learning English. If you have spare time let them walk and talk with you, you may even get a little history of the city!
- Shop till you drop; 1-2 hours. Cost free-$$
- You can find a ton of bargains and quality made items in Hanoi. I still love my short silk robe I purchased! Something in the states that would cost $60 I bought for $5. Plus, North Face galore!
- Watch a Water Puppet Show; 1-2 hours. Cost $11 USD
- Go on a street food walking tour; 3+ hours. Cost $20-40 USD
- Book a night on Halong Bay; overnight. Cost $80+ USD
- One of the most popular tours is visiting Halong Bay. It’s only 3-4 hours outside the city, and you stay on a ‘junk boat’ overnight. This is an incredible experience to see the magnificent bay and limestone cliffs. PonP Tip: Book your tour when you get to Hanoi to save money, they tend to give last minute deals.
Hanoi is still an up and coming city, therefore, Internet is still somewhat in the dark ages. You won’t be able to Yelp, 4square, Open Table, Instagram, or whatever else it is that people do to get themselves to the newest and hottest places; instead, you’ll have to rely more in instinct. So, in Hanoi if it looks good, and smells good, eat it! If you happen to come across these places listed below give them a try!
- Linh’s Kitchen– Barbecue, Vietnamese
- Pho Suong- Vietnamese
- Banh Mi 25– Delicatessen, Vietnamese
- Thein Loc Restaurant– Fish, Vietnamese