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I love Hanoi. It’s one of my favorite cities on earth, and it has a very special place in my heart.
Let’s begin with a video I made in Hanoi.
Guys! You’re absolutely right – I’ve stretched out my $10 in Hanoi to buy 7 things, including an Uber MotoBike. Sounds crazy, right?
Like & Share this video to win a hand-made Vietnamese postcard with a personal message sent to YOUR doorstep! Winner will be picked in 24 hours, and I’m shipping worldwide!
Posted by Drew Binsky on Thursday, January 19, 2017
Hanoi was my home-base for 4 months (from Dec ’16 – April ’17), and I only have amazing to say about this city. In fact, I’m having serious withdrawals writing this blog post, as I reminisce from my time there!
While living in Hanoi, I was able to obtain a good feel and understanding for Vietnamese culture, food, people and lifestyle — and I’m beyond excited to share my insights with you in this article!
My intention in writing this post is to give you insider information about things to do, eat and see during your visit to Hanoi, because I know it can be intimidating as a first-timer.
Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns while in Hanoi!
General Info About Hanoi
In this section, I’m going to tell you as many random things & tips that I think you should know before visiting Hanoi.
Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital and second largest city by population (behind Ho Chi Minh City). It’s located in the northern part of the country, and is home to some 10 million people in the metropolitan region.
The city is large and spread out, but most of the activity and touristy spots are located in the Old Quarter (unlike LA or Tokyo where everything is spread out). You will likely be spending most of your time in the Old Quarter, where you will find tons of cafes, restaurants, hotels, bars, lounges, markets, clubs, street food vendors, etc. It is, without question, the “most happening place” in the city — and for this reason, you can “see” Hanoi in 1 or 2 days (no need to spend a week there).
Another area of town that you may find yourself in is called Tay Ho (translated to ‘West Lake’). It’s where all the expats in Hanoi live, who mostly consist of English teachers. Tay Ho has all the fancy restaurants and foreign food to enjoy, so if you’re tired of eating Pho, then go here!
Hanoi doesn’t have many tall buildings or a financial district in a “downtown area” — in fact, most buildings are under 5 stories tall. If you want to see skyscrapers in Vietnam, then head to Ho Chi Minh city.
80% of vehicles in Hanoi are motorbikes, and it will certainly overwhelm you at first. Crossing the street is like playing Frogger in real life… and it doesn’t help that there are no street lanes!! My best piece of advice is to always walk the same pace when crossing the road, and the drivers will go around you. If you slow down or speed up, then you might be in trouble…
People in Hanoi – Most people in Hanoi (and the Vietnamese in general) don’t speak English or speak at a very beginner level. With the exception of workers in tourist places (i.e. hotels, restaurants, cafes) and college students, you will find the English levels lower than most countries in Asia.
To be honest, people in Hanoi are quite lazy, and are usually seen chilling outside on the street curb drinking tea and spitting sunflower seeds (it’s the thing to do in Hanoi). Nobody seems to be in a rush, and things just happen as they happen. Hanoians love sitting in TINY chairs and tables (like preschool-sized chairs) – and it’s pretty funny the first time you see it. If you are a tall person, then you might have some issues sitting down!
You will find a lot of backpackers in Hanoi (mostly Australians, Europeans and Americans), as Hanoi has been on the rise in popularity with tourists. Most of them will be hanging around the Old Quarter or Ta Hien Street (beer street) by night — more on that later.
Vietnamese Words to Know – Given the low English levels of the people in Hanoi, it’s in your best interest to learn a few Vietnamese words. Here are the essentials:
– “Cam On” = Thank You
– “Sin Chao” = Hello
– “Tam Biet” = Good Bye
– “Mot, Hai Ba” = One, Two, Three
Money & Prices – The currency is the Vietnamese Dong, and the exchange rate as I write this is $1USD = 22,000 dong. I know, it’s pretty inflated… When you go to the ATM machine, you will be pulling out millions of Dong and it will boggle your mind. You are a millionaire!!
With the exception of a few high end places, everything in Hanoi is cash only, so make sure to have twice as much cash as you think you’ll need. This is very important, beacuse being stuck without money is a nightmare.
That being said, almost everything is cheap in Hanoi – I think it’s the cheapest capital city in Southeast Asia. Think $1 for a bowl of Pho, $0.50 for a taxi ride around the city, and $1 for a T-shirt!
Make sure to always bargain if you are buying any souvenirs from a street vendor or small shop (they always try to rip you off). Don’t be fooled.
Getting Around Hanoi– I would avoid taxis at all costs because the driver’s aren’t friendly and they might try to rip you off. Instead, take Uber or Grab – both are reliable taxi services, with cheaper prices and safer standards than regular taxis. Trust me on this! There are also buses, but I never once rode them. Walking is probably the best option, and you can walk anywhere in the Old Quarter within an hour.
Sanitation — Street Food is available everywhere and I recommend eating as much as possible! However, some tourists get food poisoning because of the water – so always make sure to drink bottled water and only eat fruit that YOU peel yourself. Avoid the women on the street trying to sell you doughnuts or pre-cut pineapples, because they probably used a dirty knife and/or they have been sitting there for days. See photo below.
SIM Cards – Get yourself a local SIM card for your phone! They are so cheap (about $5USD for 3GB of data, which will last you weeks of using the internet). Just walk into any phone shop and ask about SIM cards, and they will assist you. Or you can get yourself a TEP portable wifi device, which gives you internet access in 100+ countries.
Accommodations – I recommend both Air Bnb and standard Hotels in the Old Quarter. I have found some really cheap places on Air Bnb (as low as $15 per night), and most hotels will run you from $10-40 per night. There are tons of hostels as well (if that’s your thing) for a bed as low as $5 per night. But beware that most hostels are full of drunk Aussies taking their shirts off and acting like fools in the streets…
Arriving in Hanoi
There are a few different ways that you can arrive in Hanoi. The most common ways are by plane and by bus. Or you can arrive by your own motorbike, in which case you won’t need my guidance.
By Plane – Hanoi has a fantastic and modern airport called Noi Bai Airport, which is just 10 miles north of the city. It serves both domestic and international flights from hundreds of locations around the world. If you arrive at the airport, take an Uber to your hotel (you can use the wifi in the airport to call it).
**Make sure to check if you need a visa before arriving in Hanoi** (Americans and citizens from many other countries can apply for an e-visa online for $40). If you get an e-visa, you can pick it up at the airport if you print out the necessary papers. It’s easy.
By Train/Bus – It’s likely that you will be arriving in Hanoi via ground transportation from another place in Vietnam. If so, the bus and train stations are located in the center of the city and you should have no problem when you arrive. Make sure to print out the address of your hotel or Air Bnb (in Vietnamese and English) or have a screenshot on your phone, in case you need help.
Things to do in Hanoi
Below are my top 9 recommendations for things to do in Hanoi. As I mentioned earlier, the popular areas are all near each other and you can do everything on this list in 1 or 2 days.
Walk Around Hoan Kiem Lake – In the center of the Old Quarter lies Hoan Kiem Lake, an beautiful and charming lake with amazing views. Go here to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, especially on weekends, when they block off the streets for cars and it’s pedestrians only.
Get Lost in the Old Quarter – As I’ve talked about a lot already, the Old Quarter is where all the magic happens in the city. It’s noisy from all the honking horns, and the motorbike traffic is always heavy, but I suggest walking around to discover tons of restaurants, bars, cafes, clubs and all around good vibes. The Old Quarter is a collection of about 36 streets, which all specialize in selling something (like jewelry, pillows, shirts, baskets, toys, shoes, sunglasses, etc). Every time I roamed around the streets, I found another hidden gem. Make sure to check out St. Joseph’s Cathedral, a church that’s been there since the late 1886s. It’s a popular landmark and meeting place in the city.
Go to the Weekend Night Market – Only on weekends is the night market on the main street in town — I forgot the name of the street but you can’t miss it. Starting at about 7PM and going until about midnight, you will find hundreds of mini vendors side by side in tents selling everything from shirts to bluetooth speakers to lamps. It’s all fake products, but REALLY CHEAP and you can bargain for everything. As a rule of thumb, don’t buy it until you known down the price 50% from what they offer you.
Take a Motorbike Taxi – If you see an old guy chilling on top of his motorbike on a sidewalk, he is likely a driver and will take you anywhere around the city if you ask him. You can also use the apps Grab or Uber to order a motorbike taxi. It’s cheap, a great way to feel like a local! Note – you might want to get a face mask to avoid sniffing up all the fumes on the street..
Fine Dining at Tay Ho – As I briefly touched earlier, Tay Ho is the area where all the expats live (who are 80% English teachers). If you are looking for a nicer meal, or foreign food, then head up there! It’s about a 10 minute drive from the Old Quarter, and it’s located half way between the airport and the Old Quarter.
Drink a Beer on Ta Hien Street – Also known as “Beer Street,” Ta Hien street is THE place to party on any night of the week. In this area, everyone is sitting outside on small chairs, drinking beer and eating BBQ with their friends before heading to the clubs until the early hours of the morning. Grab a local beer and wander around Ta Hien to see street performers, and all around happiness!
Visit Museums – Hanoi has a variety of museums scattered around town. I am not really a museum person myself, (and admittedly haven’t been to any in Hanoi), but if you are into museums, then check out Hoa Lo Prison, Ho Chi Minh Museum and Fine Arts Museum. I’ve heard they are great.
Go to the Water Puppet Show – The silliest recommendation in this entire blog post is the Water Puppet show at Thang Long Water Pupper Theatre. For one reason or another, it’s a huge tourist attraction. Basically, you pay $5 to enter a small theatre and see the “classic puppet show” in water, which consists of strange instruments, and an even stranger play that’s entirely held in Vietnamese. Bring some beer and get ready to laugh.
Venture to the Snake Village (Le Mat) – For all you adventurous people out there, there is a village about 7 miles northeast of Hanoi called Le Mat, which specializes in selling snake. Many restaurants around town will serve snake at your table. When you walk inside, they let you choose which snake you want out of the cage (while it’s still alive), and then they kill it at your table before cooking it in the back. They serve the snake in about a dozen gourmet-style dishes like stir fry, soup and fried.
Watch this video to get a better idea of what I’m talking about.
WARNING: If you are a vegetarian, or easily feel uncomfortable, please skip this video.
A few days ago, I ventured out the Snake Village of #Hanoi, for an interesting and cultural experience. I am a fan of trying whatever the locals are eating (in any given place) — but this was one of the wildest meals of my life.
Would you ever try eating snake?
Thanks to my Vietnamese friends for helping me film this video Bui Ngoc Thieu Minh Tuan Thế Anh
Music: Ben Sound
Posted by Drew Binsky on Sunday, March 26, 2017
Things to Eat in Hanoi
Pho – The most classic Vietnamese dish, and one that’s rising in popularity around the world, is Pho. It consists of rice noodles with beef or chicken, onions, garlic and cilantro in a sour and tasty broth. The best pho in Hanoi is at a place called GIA TRUYEN on 49 Bát Đàn, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm — but it’s only open from 6-10PM every night. You can’t miss it because the line will be wrapped around the street.
Banh Mi – This is a Vietnamese style sandwich, made on a French Baguette and loaded with tons of vegetables, meat and Vietnamese spices. The best Banh Mi Place is on 38 Dinh Liet Street and has a giant blue sign in front called Banh Mi Pho Co. It’s located near the main square about 20 meters from the Aldo sign.
Bun Cha – a Hanoi specialty, bun cha is only served in Northern Vietnam and it’s my favorite dish in the city. It’s pork fatty meatballs, grilled over a fire, and served in a soup alongside rice noodles and tons of green vegetables and cilantro. The best bun cha is at a place called Bún Chả Hàng Mành on hàng mành street. Look for a big red sign and a 3 story building.
Spring Rolls – Vietnamese spring rolls is made of vegetables mixed with shrimp or chicken, and either fried in lots of oil, or served more health wrapped in rice paper. I prefer the one wrapped in rice paper – make sure to dip it in the peanut sauce!
Egg Coffee – Hanoi is very famous for egg coffee, and it known to have the original recipe in Vietnam. I know it sounds gross, but it’s REALLY tasty! It’s just coffee with raw egg mixed on top, and it tastes more like a yogurt or custard than anything else. You can get it hot or cold (hot is better), and make sure to mix it with your spoon before drinking. There are egg coffee places all over Hanoi, but the best and original place is called GIANG CAFÉ – you have to go here because it’s incredible. The building and recipe hasn’t changed since 1939, and it’s quite touristy inside because everyone knows how great it is.
Sugarcane Juice – You can find sugarane juice from a street vendor for as cheap as $0.30. While you can find this all over Southeast Asia, the one in Hanoi is sweet and delicious and you should try it!
Fruit Juice – As Vietnam is a tropical country, the fruit is as fresh as it gets. The best fruit stand is on Bat Dan Street – it’s open really late!
Pho – Yes, this is the 2nd time I am telling you to eat pho beacuse it’s just THAT DAMN GOOD!
Best Day Trips from Hanoi
You can book all tours at any tour agency in Hanoi (there are literally hundreds of tour agencies on the streets of Hanoi). It’s not necessary to book any of these tours in advance before you visit Hanoi, as there is always availability even during peak season. Most tours are all-inclusive, meaning you will pay one fee which will cover all transportation, accommodation, and food costs. Extra activities will be at your own expense.
The following are the best day trips around Hanoi.
Ninh Binh – Ninh Binh is a small, quaint city just 50 miles south of Hanoi. It’s best known for it’s topography and stunning landscape, which is comparable to Ha Long Bay with regards to tall mountains, caves, and greenery. The best way to capture its beauty is by taking a boat ride along the river. Ninh Binh only about an hour ride each way, making it the most convenient day trip from Hanoi. Day tours to Ninh Binh range from $10 – 40 USD.
Ha Long Bay – Ha Long Bay is the main reason why people visit Vietnam. It’s the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls of Vietnam, and it simply cannot be missed on any trip to Vietnam. It’s one of the best displays of nature I’ve ever seen in my life. You can take either a day trip, or a 2-3 day trip from Hanoi (I recommend taking a 2 day trip). It’s about a 4 hour drive each way from Hanoi. If you take a 2 day trip, you will sleep overnight on the boat and wake up to the best sunrise you’ve ever seen. Day Trips to Ha Long Bay are about $40, and 2 day trips are around $80.
Sapa Valley – Sapa Valley is my favorite place to visit in Vietnam outside Hanoi. It’s a little far to make a day trip (7 hour drive each way on a sleeper bus), so you will likely have to spend the night in the village or a homestay. Sapa is famous for it’s green countryside and rice terraces, which are alongside steep hills. Most tourists go here for trekking (half day, full day or 2+ days), where you will visit several villages and see how people live their lives in happiness without materialistic goods. It will take you back in time. The locals who live there are part of the Hmong tribe – they speak their own dialect and look physically different than people in Hanoi. It’s really a great experience and I couldn’t recommend it more!
Nightlife in Hanoi
Hanoi isn’t as crazy of a party city as Bangkok, Bali or even Ho Chi Minh — but there are a some fun things to do at night. Most of the partying takes place of Ta Hien street (Beer Street), or at the scattered bars in Tay Ho. Here are some of my favorite venues.
Polite Pub – If you are looking for for a chill night and live music, head over to Polite Pub. They have one of the best assortments of wine and cigars in Hanoi, and the atmosphere inside will keep you all night long. Head there around 9PM so you can grab a table, or else it will be too crowded to get in.
Club 1900 – One of the wildest nightclubs in the city, and located right on Ta Hien Street. This place get crowded at about 11PM and goes until 3-4AM. Expect to hear loud EDM music and dance all night at this massive club. Also – don’t be shocked if you see people doing whip-its out of a helium balloon — they sell them in the back and they make you high for like 5 seconds (I don’t recommend it).
The Rooftop Bar – Located on the top floor of a business building, the rooftop bar might have the best view of the Old Quarter. It’s a great venue with a DJ playing live music, and it offers a nice selection of cocktails and food (you can go for dinner and then stay all night to party). You can’t miss this place in Hanoi!
As you can probably tell from reading this post, I am obsessed with Hanoi and I have a deep love for the city. I hope reading this post has given you a better understanding of what to expect when you visit. If you have any further questions about Hanoi, please contact me and I’ll get back to you!
Don’t forget to find & book your hotels in Hanoi on this link 🙂
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