Bowl of Pho, Hanoi
A hearty bowl of Pho (Photo credit: Bill Kasman)

Hanoi Travel Guide

QUICK FACTS

  • The capital of Vietnam, with a metropolitan population of ~6.5 million.
  • A charming city that is over 1000 years old, Hanoi was the capital of French Indochina from 1902 to 1954, and the capital of North Vietnam during the war (1954 to 1976).
  • Nicknames: The Paris of the Orient, The Green City

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Currency: Dong (VND).
  • Spoken languages: Vietnamese. English is also widely spoken.
  • Best time to visit: from September to November.
  • Arriving via airport: taxis into the city charge 350,000 VND and up, but scams are rampant.  Buses (6000 – 7000 VND) and shuttles (40,000 VND) are also available, though each has its pitfalls.  Due to the aggressive cheating of foreigners in Hanoi, it’s highly suggested to book your room ahead, at least for a night, and have them send a taxi.

WHERE TO STAY

The historic Hanoi Old Quarter is where most new arrivals dig their feet in – with its Old Asian charm, diverse food scene, well-worn travel infrastructure, and bustling nightlife, it’s easy to see why. For a more luxury experience, base yourself in West Lake.

GETTING AROUND

  • Taxis are widely available, but extreme vigilance is required. Scams include meters set to speed up, driving in circles to rack up minutes, driving off with bags or change, and worse. Flat rates can be a good way to go if you know the general price.
  • Pedicabs are a good bargain for shorter distances. Always agree on a price first.
  • 10-minute distances run about 15,000 – 20,000 VND on a motorbike taxi.
  • Buses (5,000 VND) are a great hassle-free option, but will take time to figure out.

HANOI NIGHTLIFE

  • No official drinking age, and last call is typically at midnight (enforcement is hit or miss).
  • Modest venues serving bia hoi, unfathomably cheap local beer, are all the rave in the early evening hours and can be found all throughout the Old Quarter. Popular with locals and visitors alike.
  • Venues to suit all tastes can be found throughout the Old Quarter, from ultra-classy to ultra-backpacker. Of note are Minh’s Jazz Club, Funky Monkey, and Hanoi Rock City (venues tend to fall in and out of style quite frequently).

UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT

  • Go to the Ho Chi Mihn Museum for extravagant, yet interesting, treatment of a modest leader’s life and beliefs.
  • Don’t miss a tour of the former “Hanoi Hilton,” where American POWs were imprisoned. The museum drastically sugarcoats treatment of US prisoners, instead focusing on abuses of Vietnamese prisoners during French colonialism (though it’s not too hard to fill in the blanks).
  • Pop into Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, just off Hoan Kiem Lake, for a look at entertainment from another era that still holds magic for the modern audience. No trip to Hanoi is complete without this experience!

INTERESTING WALKS

  • Hoan Kiem Lake is a perfect place to take a nice stroll and soak up the beauty of Hanoi and it’s unique mixture of East and West.
  • Fashionable West Lake has a sizable 17-kilometer shoreline, and is another great area to explore on foot.

LOCAL WISDOM

  • Avoid discussing politics with locals unless they bring these topics up themselves, and even then, be cautious. Vietnam is still under Communist rule – while a vast discontent is brewing, avoid making citizens that live with this reality uncomfortable.
  • The traffic in Vietnam is some of the most dangerous in the world, and Hanoi is no exception.
  • Dangerous areas: scamming in this city tends to be very aggressive and in-your-face, and in some cases can turn violent. Stand up for yourself, but know when to remove yourself from volatile situations. As in any major city, exercise caution when walking alone at night.

Recommended trip duration: 2-3 days

RECOMMENDED HANOI GUIDE BOOKS


SEE ALSO:
Hanoi Travel Guide was last modified: September 6th, 2016 by Nick
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