The moment you step out into the street from the hostel you experience an overwhelming amount of traffic, people and mopeds….everywhere. I’ve never seen anything like it, the people of Hanoi do not walk, they drive mopeds, down small streets, on the pavements…literally everywhere! You definitely have to watch where you’re going, we found walking in single file was the best way to tackle this. Crossing the roads can be an impossible task in itself, red lights mean nothing here, people still don’t stop, so by the second day we adopted a tactic of ‘look for the gaps and run.’ Although there were a few locals that would help us across the road.
My experience of Vietnam so far is that the people are very helpful, friendly and they will try their best to speak to you in English. Its not you’re typical ’tourist destination’ where the locals in some cities set up shops especially for tourists, trying their best to bring you into your shops and even some which can hassle you into buying their products. The locals in Hanoi are on the other end of the spectrum, I haven’t received any hassle to purchase anything since being here, the locals see you walk past and get on with your day. To be honest its rare to visit a place and not be overwhelmed by tourism, instead you can see the city in all its glory knowing that it will be exactly the same when you leave.
Getting to Hanoi City from Noi Bai Airport
The city bus is the best way to get into the city, the driver and conductor are really helpful if you show them a map they will let you know when to get off so that you are close to your hotel. The bus can be located outside the main exit of the airport, cross a road and look for an Orange bus with number 86 on it. For a 30 minute journey it cost 30,000 VND (£1). Bargain!
Where we stayed
Hanoi Rocks Hostel - Located in Old Quarter, Hanoi.
I’m usually one for staying hotels…nice hotels, so this was my first experience of staying in a hostel, to be honest I didn’t really know what to expect. Its basically like dormitories, we shared a room with 20 people, male and female, there were plenty of toilet facilities and shower rooms to use as well, downstairs there was a bar/club which served free beer at 6pm and 10pm every night and a reception located at the front of the building. Complimentary breakfast was served everyday 7:00am - 9:00pm which included fruit, toast omelette and sweetcorn. We only stayed here for two nights in Hanoi, but it was a great first experience at a hostel, the staff were lovely, very helpful, if I was the typical ‘partying’ type backpacker I would have loved this hostel even more, but I think the loud music until 1am could annoy me if I was to stay longer.
The city of Hanoi encompasses beautiful lakes. The one near our hostel, Hoan Kiem Lake was covered in trees, flowers with a bridge crossing it which lit up red during the night, such a beautiful sight and makes for a great photo! For the price of 30,000VND (roughly £1) you can cross the bridge and enjoy a whole view of the city from the lake.
Every night that we were there, Old quarter hosted a night market filled with thousands of different stalls selling; Thai pants, t-shirts, food, jewellery etc. It was also the only time in the city in which everyone was around on foot!
Hanoi is host to the longest mosaic wall in the world, however it is a bit of a nightmare to get to as its located along the side of a busy main road and you’ll need to walk over the bridge to get to it. Just be care of the traffic here and crossing the roads as my friend almost got run over by a moped at this point!
Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi, is a lovely little walk, as its like an open plan park, no traffic just the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, again its one of these areas where you can just walk around embracing the history.
We visited the Temple of literature on our first day, which cost 30,000VND to enter, but please be aware that you need to be covered to go in here so pack trousers and long sleeves! The temple was a host to beautiful gardens, with pink hanging lanterns and the ancient Asian architecture was everything I expected it to be.
On day two we visited Hoa lo Prison situated in Hanoi city, again this costs 30,000VND to enter. The prison is a great way to get some historical culture about Vietnam, it gives you a tour of the buildings including prisoners cells which is very creepy, explains the history of the prison and the story of USA troops who were incarcerated there.
If you make your way over to the other side of the lake and towards ‘French Quarter’ you feel like you're in a completely different country, its worlds away from the hussle and bustle of old quarter. This area has a more European vibe to it, the traffic is less, the architecture of the buildings in European in feel and the only problem with this area is the lack of authentic food, its mostly over priced western food catered to tourists, due to the time we was forced to eat in one of the places and it was not worth it! Stick to the local places if you can.
The walk through french quarter opens up into a space filled with Dior, Prada, Boss shops and a huge department store which could rival Harrods in London. Its crazy how one city could have different sides to it which are complete polar opposites! All of these shops are surrounded by Hanoi's Opera House; a beautiful yellow building.
Skyline rooftop bar can be difficult to locate in Old Quarter as its down a few ‘back streets’ so I would suggest finding it on a map first before setting out. But it is worth a visit! Located on the 11th floor of the hotel the skyline rooftop bar is a hidden beauty! The rooftop itself was filled with big chairs, glass barriers, candles and an amazing array of cocktails to choose from. From this view you can see the whole of Hanoi, stretching for miles and miles into the distance and at night the city just twinkles with millions of lights! The cocktails were pretty reasonably priced as well, if you’re like me from the UK you’re used to paying roughly £9-£12 for a decent cocktail, but here it was £4 and with THAT view, it was more than worth it.
Hanoi is one of those cities where you can wander around all day and come across really pretty sights which the travel book may not even suggest, so get on foot and explore the city yourself it is worth it!
Hanoi has the cutest cafes, in the most unexpected places. Lyns cafe near the west lake in Hanoi is the cutest little cafe and a great find for us! The cafe has a downstairs filled with settees and a vintage looking style which they seem to love here. We enjoyed Matcha Frappes and a Strawberry Frappe, which was delicious. I’m still longing to try egg coffee, I think that will be in Ho Chi Minh though.
La joules - Vegan restaurant.
Like many food/cafe places in Hanoi, the best things are hidden away in the most unlikely places and this restaurant was one of them. This purely vegan restaurant was small, but had a great feel to it with wooden tables and bamboo, the decor matched its menu perfectly. I had a potato curry with red rice and mango smoothie on the cutest little balcony which overlooked the street below. The food itself was amazing, full of flavour and spice, which I love!
There are a lot of places to get street food in Hanoi, which are mostly meat on a stick or rolls filled with an omelette which are very popular. So if you’re into your street food there is a few places to try. The second day, in French quarter was a bit more difficult to find food as it was more popular with the tourist there was a lot of western restaurants which due to hunger we was forced to eat at and hated it. Bit of advice, if you want an authentic Vietnamese food experience, eat in Old Quarter.
I couldn’t believe how cheap it was here, although the money looks a lot it really isn’t. The most expensive meal I have had here was £5 and that was the western food, everything else is around £3 for a delicious meal! Even the taxis are so much cheaper here.
We spent two days here and although I feel like we only really saw a fraction of the city, it was enough for me. I love wandering around a place all day on foot, getting the feeling for the culture, seeing things that way not be in the travel books and trying the food. I felt like two full days was enough to embrace this beautiful city.
As a heads up…Vietnam has WiFi everywhere! I’m currently writing this blog whilst on a bus to the airport for the next leg of our journey....
Below is a link to a video I made of Hanoi and HaLong Bay which includes all our favourite bits from the city!