Hanoi City is the capital of the amazing country of Vietnam
Famous for its Phὁ and fascinating war history with the USA; however right now, Vietnam is popular for the backpackers and tourists for its affordability, unlimited attractions to see, exciting activities to do and many more. I hope this Backpackers Guide to Hanoi will help you out!
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Hanoi.
I won’t lie; I was so worried and anxious if I should go to Vietnam and the idea of backpacking solo. I’ve been stressed and pressured what to expect and if I’m doing the right decision. A lot of travellers told me “You’ll be fine, you’ll meet a lot of people, you’ll never be alone”. Together with my backpack, I flew to Hanoi City and hoped for the best.
Here, I will share my first time experience in Hanoi City, from transportation, accommodation, where to eat, what to do and extra tips!
Backpackers Guide to Hanoi
WHEN TO GO
Don’t be fooled with the fact that Hanoi City is located in Southeast Asia and summer dresses, tank tops and shorts are enough to pack, don’t copy my mistakes. When I was packing and still living in Denmark, I sold and donated all my winter clothes because, why bring it to a tropical country. Alas, that was stupid.
Hanoi City is located in the North of Vietnam. It has winter and it starts from December and ends in the middle of February. Temperature would be between 10 – 20 degrees Celsius, so prepare some warm jackets and hoodies. What’s the good thing about it? Less tourists. Whilst from March to May, it could be a little bit warmer, though not necessarily sizzling summer. Skies will be often clear but rainy season will start, so prepare your umbrellas and rain coats.
Then June to August is the hottest time of the year. Brace yourself as after you stepped out of your hostel, you’ll be sweating again. Temperature could reach until 40 degrees Celsius and the average is 30 degrees. This season is also the rainy ones, expects some regular downpours and take a raincoat with you. September to November could be same as March.
You can easily get a visa on arrival (length is depending on which nationality you are). Getting an approved letter online is the best way to sort the visa process.
If you will be crossing borders by lands, they normally give less (days) validity of the visa. Make sure you have read the rules about your visa requirements and you have sorted it before entering Vietnam.
I got a 3 month multiple entry visa because I’m planning to do some volunteering. I contacted a travel agency to arrange for my visa and they sent me an email of a printable letter to present at the airport when I land.
I landed in Hanoi City in the evening around 20.00 (8pm), it took me an hour to get through the immigration. The queue for the visas was a bit long and the service was a bit slow, FYI.
*Change at least 20 USD in the airport to Vietnamese Dong, buses will only take Vietnamese Dong. Don’t change too much, the currency exchange rate is not very good at the airport.
If you’ll land in Noi Bai International Airport, the nearest airport in Hanoi, you can easily take a bus #17. The fare will cost around 9,000 VND (0.40 USD) and the ride will take about an hour. Let the driver know that you wanted to go to the City Center of Hanoi, it will be the last stop and it will take you to a bus station.
You can also take the shuttle bus from the airport terminal 1. Walk out of the arrival door, turn right and wander through the parking lot. Look for a van that has “Vietnam Airline” printed on it. It should cost you 40,000 VND (1.90USD). The ride should take 45mins to 1 hour. They will drop you off at Vietnam Airlines office, it is in the Old Quarter. You can also pay a little bit extra for them to drop you off right in front of your hostel.
Remember to plan this part of your trip, because Hanoi City could be chaotic. And being ripped off by cab or motorbike drivers is not on your list.
If you don’t know how to reach your hostel from the bus station, you can easily take a motorbike – Xe om (believe it or not, even you have a big bag, they can make it fit into their motorbikes) or a cab if you wanted to be safer. The cab companies that have a good reputation are Mai Linh and Vinasun.
Make sure you have the full address of your hostel and let the driver know where to go, if your hostel is around Old Quarter or the city center, it should cost you (from the bus station) 30,000 to 40,000 VND for the Xeom (1.33-1.78 USD). Don’t jump in without agreeing on the price. But if you plan to take a cab, either haggle for a price, if you have an idea how much it might cost or ask the driver to run the meter.
HOW LONG TO STAY
Hanoi City is an interesting city, plenty of historical attractions are advisable to visit. However, I would suggest 3-4 days will be enough, unless you feel like you wanted to be more like a local, then a week would be great.
Nevertheless, it all depends on how much you wanted to see, how much visa validity you have and your budget. Plan your trip ahead to at least have some guidelines and may be able to save some pennies. In my experience, changes of plans add some thrill with your trip, so don’t fix your itinerary tightly if you’re up for some extra adventures.
WHERE TO STAY
Doing a first time backpacking or traveling is undeniably exciting and scary at the same time. It will be a lot easier and better if you will stay in a comfortable and secure place. But, as a typical backpacker, they normally try to live in a tight budget, unless they’re doing a luxury backpacking. If you’re solo, I recommend not staying in a private room, for socialization purposes.
So, where cheapskates and adventurous souls go? HOSTEL! Right, Hostel is your best option. Hanoi is very touristic place and popular as a starting destination in Southeast Asia, number of hostels here is huge.
I will suggest staying at See you at Lily’s. I stayed there for 4 days, and my experience was amazing. Located at the heart of the Old Quarter, close to most of the attractions. This hostel is very accommodating; from the staffs, guests and owners. I easily met fellow backpackers and even made friends.
If you love to party without going away from your hostel, I recommend you to stay at Vietnam Backpackers Hostel. A place to meet young backpackers and bring out your party beast soul. They have two hostels in Hanoi, one is The Original and the other is Downtown.
Related Article: Looking for affordable accommodation? The ultimate list of Best Hostels in Hanoi: Click here.
WHAT TO EAT (Must try!)
As I mentioned earlier, Phὁ is their traditional local food. It’s a noodle soup with chicken and vegetables. If you want to feel more like a local, remember to try this. It’s easy to find a place that offers this amazing Vietnamese dish, you can find it from corner to corner, costs around 30,000 – 40,000 (1.33-1.78 USD).
If local or other travelers will learn that it’s your first time, they will more or less suggest to you to try Egg Coffee, it is a traditional Vietnamese drink (hot) made out of egg yolk, sugar, condensed milk and Robusta coffee. I got mine from a hippy coffee shop when one of the owners of See you at Lily’s took me there.
Bun Bo Nam Bo is a dish that has originated in Hanoi, it is a bowl of round and thin noodles, beef, sweet and salty concoction, peanuts and fried onions. This dish can easily be found around the corner, at a very cheap price.
WHAT TO VISIT / WHERE TO GO
Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son or also called as Sword Lake and Turtle Tower is popular both for locals and tourists around Hanoi. A lot of students from school trips also pays a visit to this remarkable attraction of the capital.
Hoa Lo Prison was built in the time of French occupation but later on used for American prisoners. Despite that there is not much to see in this prison, it holds a very important history during the war between American and Vietnamese.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is must see as the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh is displayed and open for viewing here. However, the rules are quite strict. Visitors have to pay respect when visiting this place; no shorts, no tank tops, no smoking, no hands in your pocket and no taking of photos. The guards will assist you into two lines and the only chance to see the body is through a moving line, visitors are not allowed to stop and look for a long time into the embalmed body.
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
One Pillar Pagoda is one of the two most iconic pagodas in Vietnam. It was built by Emperor Ly Thai Tong. According to the court records, Ly Thai Tong was childless and dreamt that a bodhisattva Avalokiteshvar handed him a son while seating on a Lotus flower. Later on, Ly Thia Tong married a peasant girl and gave birth to a boy. Ly Thai Tong then built this pagoda as a thank you for receiving a son.
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in One Pillar Pagoda.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral was built in 1886 for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. It’s the church for nearly 4 million Catholics in the country. This church serves mass several times of the day. Sunday evening is the busiest one and a large number of crowds will be scattered around.
This is a shoestring sample budget of 4 days trip in Hanoi City. But of course, if you want to treat yourself a bit, for beers, coffees and a small touch of luxury, I suggest you can start with this budget then adjust it depends how much you are willing to spend.
Sit at any local restaurant and order a Pho before starting your exciting day. Walk around the Hoan Kiem Lake and enjoy the view of the remarkable lake of Hanoi City. Then visit the temple of Ngoc Son. Inside you will see a very creative and impressive temple. Souvenirs are also available. From this area, you will see the beauty of Ngoc Son, the tower in the middle of the lake which is legendary. You can spend your morning here before taking a break for lunch.
In the afternoon, 10-minute walk from the lake, you can visit the St. Joseph Cathedral. Tourists come and go in this place at any time of the day. If you’re keen to attend a mass, you can find the schedule on the side of the Cathedral. Not so far from the Cathedral is Hoa Loi Prison. It is open from 8am-5pm, here you can see the historical event of the Vietnamese war against the USA.
Gear up your energy with heavy breakfast because Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum will require a bit of a walk. It’s 3.3 kms from Hoan Kiem Lake, it will take around 30-35 minutes. A strict but well-maintained mausoleum, where you can view Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body. Remember to dress properly or else you will not be able to admit inside. Royal Palace and Ho Chi Minh’s house and the car is also available for viewing. One Pillar Pagoda is a very short distance from Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, take a small walk and enjoy this iconic Pagoda. End your day with a cold Hanoi Beer and enjoy the rest of the evening.
Walk around the Old Quarter and start your day with the local Egg Coffee before heading to the Temple of Literature which is dedicated to Confucius. This is also the first Vietnam National University which is built in 1070. Then head back to the Old Quarter and enjoy a fulfilling Bun Bo Nam Bo for lunch. Some local beers and dancing would be great to end a long day in the busy city of Hanoi.
Before checking out of your hostel, have a relaxing morning and walk around the city. Shopping area is everywhere and cheap souvenirs can be found in every corner. Sit around the Hoan Kiem Lake while watching a busy morning of the locals and their fascinating traffic.
Get a Sim Card
Even you will be staying only for 2 weeks or so; it’s quite smart to have a local sim card. I bought mine around 90,000 VND (4 USD) with calls and SMS and unlimited mobile data for a month (VIETTEL). Having a sim card with internet connection is your another emergency tool, I got lost a lot of times around Hanoi, and GPS saved me always. You can easily avail this through small kiosks and travel agencies across the city.
Get a city map
Ask a city map from your hostel. It will make your traveling around easier. Hanoi is a big city, but most of the attractions are within walking distance. Street names are also easy to spot, or else turn your eyes into any shops’ printed tarpaulins to figure out where you are.
Some hostels will ask for your passport
Don’t freak out when the receptionist in your hostel asks for your passport and say that they have to keep it. This is normal in Vietnam, this serves for the hostel’s security purposes.
Xeom is the motorbike taxis, you can easily spot them as they are all around the city offering travelers a service to get to where the passenger wants to go. This is the cheapest mode of transportation throughout Vietnam, but you have to keep in mind that this is dangerous as well. First is because traffic in the city is crazier than you can imagine, second is, as a foreigner, you have no idea where they might take you. Taking xeom to go on the other side of the city should cost you 20,000 – 40,000 Vietnamese dong (2-4USD). Don’t jump in without negotiating any price.
Get familiar with Vietnamese Dong bills
Vietnam will make you an instant millionaire. 1USD= 22,000 Vietnamese Dong. All their bills are in paper form, they don’t use coins. Make sure to familiarize yourself with their money, because some of them look the same.
WHERE TO GO NEXT?
Ha Long Bay trip is one of the famous trips to do around the North of Vietnam. A homestay in Sapa with See you at Lily’s, where you can live with a local family is also a must do when visiting Vietnam. Here you can see how the locals get by their everyday life, a chance to taste local dishes will also be offered. The popular Buffalo Run of Vietnam Backpackers Hostel is another option, the trip will last for a week where you will be starting in Hanoi. You will get through heaps of great attractions and hidden gems throughout the way to Hoi An.
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Halong
Vietnam is a great country with lovely and friendly locals. I would say that Vietnam as my backpacking’s starting point was a great decision. I love a lot of things, places, foods and people here and will definitely come back when I get the chance.
Note: The tours and accommodations were provided complimentary by Vietnam Backpacker Hostel and See you at Lily’s. All opinions in this article are my own.
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About the Writer:
Hello! I am Mary Charie Ramos Ylagan I’m a bookworm, ice cream hyped (only chocolate flavour or something with chocolate on it, ah, I don’t even know why I’m babbling about this), writer and a traveller. I am a private person, like very. One of my friends even said that maybe I was a hooker before. But if you are highly curious about my personality (which I profoundly doubt), we should travel together. I’m sarcastic in an annoying way but my very close friends love it, though! Pulling some jokes is like a hobby to me, although this gives me hard time to open up my feelings. That’s why I looove my blog, it lets me express myself in a different angle.
Join me on my adventures here amaryroad.com.