Why you should add Hanoi to your RTW travel list
- The energy in this city is unmatched. Though chaotic and often frustrating, there is a palpable energy that cannot be missed. It’s one of those cities you just have to experience to understand.
- Cause you can get a steaming bowl of pho in an alleyway for $1. And a bia hoi (locally brewed beer) for $0.25. And a super sweet, delicious, creamy iced coffee for about $0.75.
- Crossing the street is an adventure in itself.
- The city is 1000 years old. ONE THOUSAND! How old the city you live in?
- It’s the jumping off point for one of the highlights on Vietnam – Halong Bay.
- Also the gateway to the Vietnamese highlands
- Asia collides with Europe as traditional pagodas sit next to colonial homes
Indie Travel Tips
Hanoi, and Vietnam for that matter, are not your typical tourist ghettos like nearby countries and cities. There are plenty of indie experiences to be had in this 1000-year-old city.
- Eat on the streets. It’s safe. It’s fresh. It’s authentic. It’s delicious. And best of all, it’s cheap!
- Get up early one day (about dawn) and head to Hoan Kiem Lake in the center of the city. It will seem like every local resident of Hanoi is up early, exercising, walking, talking, and just spending time together before the work day begins and the day gets hotter.
- Explore the old quarter by foot, getting lost around every corner.
- Stop at a roadside bar for some home brewed beer called Bia Hoi (sold for rock bottom prices, usually the equivalent of about a quarter) or a roadside coffee shop for some iced Vietnamese coffee, a decadent, super sweet coffee drink.
Known as the “Paris of the East”, Hanoi is bustling with fast motorbikes, lively marketplaces, and Eurasian architecture dotting almost every corner. Work your way through Hanoi’s old town in a cyclo-rickshaw or walk through the chaotic streets at your own risk. Either way you’ll enjoy a unique, distinctly North Vietnamese experience. Visit Hao Lo Prison, better known to Americans as the Hanoi Hilton. It’s now a museum chronicling the history of the building from French Colonial time through the Vietnam war, when American POW’s were among it’s inhabitants. Tour the house and grounds where Ho Chi Minh conducted his operations from during the Vietnam war and pay respects to his embalmed remains within a fortress like mausoleum.
Using your own two feet is a great way to see the Old Quarter and much of the city, but be careful – crossing the street in Hanoi is an art – watch some locals do it first before trying your hand at it. There are plenty of other options for getting around this city:
- Taxi: Taxis are plentiful in Hanoi, but you have to know how to play the game. Don’t just jump in a cab and assume they’ll put the meter on and be honest – chances are they won’t. Either make the driver use the meter or agree on a price before getting in and taking off. If he won’t do it, get out and find another taxi.
- Motorbike taxi: Probably the fastest and cheapest way to get around, but not for the faint of heart. They dart in and out of traffic, narrowly missing accidents, but if you can summon up some bravery (or stupidity), these are great ways to get around. Like with taxis, agree on a price before hopping on.
- Cyclo: A bicycle taxi that works much the same as a motorbike taxi, agree on a price beforehand.
- Renting a motorbike: Renting and driving motorbikes around Vietnam is popular among travelers, but avoid this in a city like Hanoi unless you are extremely experienced. A great way to see the city and country at your own pace, but not the safest.
- Bus: The cheapest way to get around Hanoi, the buses can be confusing and difficult to decipher, but if you have the patience, this is a fantastic and cheap way to get around.
Read: Hanoi Travel Facts.
There are all manner of accommodations in Hanoi. Be sure to check out hostels in Hanoi for your cheapest option. There are also a glut of guesthouses and hotels for any and all price ranges. You can get a bed for as cheap as a few dollars or spend hundreds on a top of the line hotel.
One thing to point out about accommodations, especially if you are arriving in Vietnam through Hanoi, is to be careful if you don’t already have accommodations lined up. Touts are ready to jump on unsuspecting tourists and offer them “a great, clean, cheap place” to stay. It may be “great, clean, and cheap,” but it also may be none of these things. The touts in Hanoi are aggressive and fantastic salesmen, and they do get a commission when they lead travelers to the hostel/hotel/guesthouse of their choice, so just be aware.
Photo credits: Manuel Casella