Things to Do in Hanoi – Vietnam
Although Hanoi is slightly smaller than Ho Chi Minh City, it is the Capital of Vietnam. The city feels like two different worlds colliding. Hanoi Old Quarter with its crammed streets, bursting with small shop houses, has outdoor eateries sprawled along the sidewalks.
The busy roads are filled with cars, motorbikes and bicycles, and the streets and small laneways can be described as a bustling yet organised urban chaotic warren. And the noise. Hanoi Old Quarter is filled with car engines revving, motorbikes buzzing around, the sizzle of food as it cooks and many, many people buying, selling, working, walking, eating, sightseeing, shopping and more. Hanoi Old Quarter is a hive of activity.
Things to Do in Hanoi – Accommodation
There are heaps of cheap hostels and hotels in and around the Old Quarter. A walk around the main backpacker area (around Ngo Huyen St) you will find many hostels and hotels, bars, and travel agents. Hang Bong Street (a relatively busy main street) also has a high number of lower-priced hotels which are in handy walking distance to the lake, the old quarter, and many restaurants, markets, attractions. Hanoi is a little more expensive for hotel rooms compared to other smaller cities in Vietnam, so keep this in mind when planning out your budget.
Things to Do in Hanoi – Old Quarter
If you are staying in the old quarter you will get to explore this vibrant and bustling area each day. If you are staying in another part of Hanoi, be sure to make a trip to the Old Quarter, as it is one of only a few areas in Vietnam that has kept its traditional buildings, shop houses and roads in their original condition. This area has it all, restaurants, street eateries, fresh produce markets, clothing, shoes and gift shops, as well as bars and is only a short walk to the Cathedral and Lake Hoan Kiem.
Things to Do in Hanoi – Lake Hoan Kiem
Cruise around the lake for a bit of a break from the hectic vibe of the Old Quarter. The lake has walking tracks and nicely landscaped gardens and lawns around it and is within walking distance to the Old Quarter. Check out Ngoc Son Temple that you can access via a bridge on the edge of the lake. There are statues of large turtles and other information on Vietnam. There is also a large temple right in the middle of the lake named the Tortoise Tower.
Museums, Museums, Museums…
Visit a few of the many museums in Hanoi, some of these are the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Fine Arts Museum, Army Museum, National Museum of Vietnamese History and the Museum of Ethnology are just a few. If in doubt of which ones you might be more interested in, take a look on Trip Advisor and read the many descriptions and ratings of each museum to gain a greater insight into which you would prefer to visit.
Other Things to Do in Hanoi – Worth a Look
Ho Chi Minh’s Presidential Palace – This area is a large complex that includes houses of Ho Chi Minh, the Presidential Palace, a large landscaped lawn area and a pond.
One-Pillar Pagoda – this is near the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and is a simple traditional pagoda in the middle of a man-made pond.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles to Hanoi
Being the Capital of Vietnam, the Airport at Hanoi (Noi Bai International Airport) operates both domestic and international flights with a large range of carriers, from low cost to more boutique airlines, flying in and out of Hanoi daily. It is important to note that the airport itself is located approximately 50 minutes north of the city, although in peak traffic this trip can take a little longer!
So leave time for travel when planning flight times if flying out of Hanoi. When arriving at Noi Bai Airport, there are many fixed price taxi stands right outside the doors, alternatively, you can arrange for transport pickup from your hotel if available.
For those on a backpacker budget, I might also mention that there are shuttle buses at this airport, that run from the airport to Vietnam Airlines Office in Quang Trang Street (and from here you can get a taxi or motorbike ride to the old quarter), which works out to be significantly less than the taxi from the airport but a little more hassle.
There are two train stations in Hanoi. Gia Lam Station services train to Nanning in China, and all other trains depart from Hanoi train station. You can catch a train from Hanoi to Hue, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City.
You can quite easily buy the “open ticket” for bus travel in Hanoi, and this is a really budget-friendly way to travel either from Hanoi all the way south the Ho Chi Minh City, or starting at Ho Chi Minh City and travelling your way up to Hanoi (like I did). From Hanoi, the next stop on the way south is Hue, which I an overnight trip in a sleeper style bus. I have outlined the stops available in my Ho Chi Minh City post, but if your starting your trip in Hanoi it might be useful to list again.
Hanoi – Hue – Da Nang/Hoi An – Nha Trang – Dalat – Mui Ne – Ho Chi Minh City
*Some trips are long and done overnight in a sleeper style bus, where you will get a seat that can be tilted down, with not overly much room to move around, while other shorter trips are only a few hours and will be travelled in a normal seated bus. It is important to take note of the travel times of each trip and prepare yourself and a small bag.
Long overnight trips only have a few stops along the way, and from my experience, I recommend taking some food and drinks for the trip (think dried fruit, nuts and seeds, fresh fruit and other favourites that keep well in your day pack or handbag).
As well as food and drinks some other items that may make your trip more pleasant maybe face wash and toothbrush (for the stops at roadhouses to freshen up after dinner), face wipes, hand sanitiser, toilet paper and maybe a book for the daylight hours of the trip. And as always, keep your belongings in view.
At night I had my small backpack with valuables and food locked with a small padlock, which was also locked to my seat and rested beside me so I did not have to worry. I also had locks on my large backpack which was stored under the bus in the luggage section. I would advise travellers on buses to do the same.
Trips from Hanoi
Ha Long Bay day trips, overnight trips and three-day trips can all be arranged from Hanoi, with tours running daily. The one day trip is a long day, as Ha Long Bay is approximately 3-4 hours drive from Hanoi. Speak to a few travel agents and your hostel or hotel to get an idea of prices and the different tours available (and check out my one day experience of Ha Long Bay).
Sapa can be accessed from Hanoi, with several tours offering different prices and inclusions. Sapa can not be done on a day trip. There are a lot of travel agents around the Old Quarter, and may even be an in house travel agent at your accommodation that you can sit down with and talk to about the different tour packages available for Sapa. And always, once you decide on a package type, shop around for the best price.