As Vietnam's capital city, Hanoi is as hectic as ever. With cars honking repeatedly, traffic that never seems to stop and streets lined with food vendors, this city always seems to surprise you.
We didn't stay in the city for too long, since we spent most of it on different tours. We also stayed in the Old Quarter, which is where most of the budget accommodation is.
Things to do
Vietnam is known for the beautiful Ha Long Bay. It's on most people's to-do list when they visit. Going on a tour is your best bet for seeing it up-close. Depending on your time or budget, you can do a one, two or three day tour with various activities included. However, if you have the time, I'd recommend the three day tour that takes you through Cat Ba Island and Monkey Island.
Sapa is where the terrace rice fields, mountain views and villagers are. It's a place you don't want to miss. You can do this either on your own or with a tour. However, given the transportation costs, it actually might be cheaper with a tour.
Silk, fake North Face clothing and stores selling trinkets are all over the Old Quarter. Wander around and you'll find different districts selling a variety of things.
Wander around the Lake
The area around the lake has a lot of coffee shops, although overpriced. In the middle of the lake is a pagoda. There's also a bridge that leads to a temple, but you need to pay a small fee to see it. If you're craving some western food, they have a Popeyes, Burger King, Domino's and KFC there.
Where to Eat
Street vendors and restaurants line the streets, so it's not difficult to find a place to eat. We switched up where we ate everyday, but it's mostly similar. However, there's a few main Vietnamese foods I'd look out for:
- Pho Ga - Chicken noodle soup
- Bun Rieu - Rice vermicelli soup with a tomato broth. Usually has meat (beef or crab), tofu and blood in it.
- Banh Mi Thap Cam - Assorted sandwich with various meats, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, chilies and pate.
- Banh Bao - Steam bun with ground pork and egg
Personally, we're not a huge fan of the food in the North. Due to the climate, they have less resources than the south, so their dishes lack some of the flavours of the South.
Where to Stay
Hanoi Backpackers Hostel (The Original)
This is a pretty popular place among backpackers. It's filled with young people who are looking for a fun time. They offer free breakfast, free walking tour and free water refills. They also have mixed dorms as well as female dorms. We enjoyed it since it was quite clean and easy to talk to people. Price: $6 USD/bed.
Lucky 2 Hotel
This is fairly priced for a private room. They offer private rooms at $9 USD per person, so $18 USD for the room. They offer free breakfast. Their rooms have two double beds and are spacious and clean.
This was also reasonably priced for a private room. The room was smaller than our room at Lucky 2 Hotel, but had similar cleanliness. We were told it was $12 USD for the room, but when we got there, they told us it was $15 USD. So we ended up negotiating it down to $12 USD since we didn't want their breakfast.
- Some of the tourist restaurants may charge and service fee and tax. Local restaurants usually don't.
- Always pay for purchases in Vietnamese Dong to save money with the conversion rate. Also, always ask for the conversion rate since some may inflate it to scam you.
- You'll need to literally play Frogger when you cross the streets, especially in the area by the lake. We learned that when you see an opening, you need to walk slowly across the street and the cars and motorbikes will avoid you. It's terrifying.