1. When to go
The best time to visit Hanoi is undoubtedly March - April or October - December, when springtime and autumn temperatures are cooler. In winter, the city tends to be shrouded in a pall of gray mist. Summer is hot, humid, often wet, and largely uncomfortable.
You can easily get a visa on arrival (length is depending which nationality you are). Getting an approved letter online is the best way to sort 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.
You should contact a travel agency to arrange for your visa and they sent you an email of a printable letter to present at the airport when you land.
*Change at least 20USD 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 in the airport.
If you’ll land in Noi Bai International Airport, the airport in Hanoi, you can easily take a bus #86. The fare will cost around 40,000VND (around 1.90USD) and the ride will take about an hour. Let the driver know that you want to get off where is the nearest Hoan Kiem Lake in City Center of Hanoi. It will takes you more 10 – 20 minutes to get to Old Quarter by walk (it depends on where your hotel located)
You can also take the shuttle bus from the airport. Walk out of the arrival door and wander through the parking lot. Look for a van that has “Vietnam Airlines” printed on it. It should cost you 40,000VND (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 hotel or hostel.
There is a selection of transport available from Hanoi Noi Bai Airport taking passengers from the airport is taxi and on routes around the city cost you around 350,000VND (around 17USD). Just a word of caution. Never use any of the taxis parked outside the major tourist attractions or popular restaurants as many of them will either have rigged meters or take you on a longer journey than necessary. Most reputable cab companies are Hanoi Group Taxi (red label) and Mai Linh Taxi (green label). Those who plan to travel independently can also make use of detailed maps, which are available free online and at the main tourist information office.
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 hotel 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 more safe.
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 40,000VND for the Xe Om (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 idea how much it might cost or ask the driver to run the meter.
3.1. Airport pick-up
For international flights to Hanoi, there are 2 lobbies for tour guides to find their own tourists - Lobby A1 and A2. Our drivers will see the information screen given by the airport authority to go to lobby A1 or A2 to pick up you. However, for many times, the airport authority has changed the lobby from A1 to A2 or A2 to A1 for your flight without announcing by speaker. If standing there long and seeing no clients from your flight, our drivers will come back to the information screen to check. Maybe, you get out the custom for a while and cannot see your driver. Do not go back to Hanoi by taxi, just please come and wait for your driver at Lobby A1. Our drivers will find you.
3.2. Getting Around
3.2.1. Electric Bus
Hanoi’s golf-buggy-esque ecofriendly Electric Bus tour is actually a pretty good way to get your bearings in the city. It traverses a network of 14 stops in the Old Quarter and around Hoan Kiem Lake, parting the flow of motorbikes and pedestrians like a slow-moving white dragon. Nothing really beats haphazardly discovering the nooks and crannies of the Old Quarter by foot, but if you’re feeling a tad lazy, the bus is worth considering. The main departure point is the northern end of Hoan Kiem Lake, and there's another departure point outside Dong Xuan Market. A full journey around the Old Quarter takes around an hour, with a recorded English-language commentary as you ride.
3.2.2. Motorbike Taxi
You won't have any trouble finding a xe om (motorbike taxi) in Hanoi. An average journey in the city centre costs around 15,000d to 20,000d, while a trip further to Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum is around 35,000d to 40,000d. For two or more people, a metered taxi is usually cheaper than a convoy of xe om.
A few cyclo drivers still frequent the Old Quarter, and if you’re only going a short distance, it’s a great way to experience the city (despite the fumes). Settle on a price first and watch out for overcharging – a common ploy when carrying two passengers is to agree on a price, and then double it upon arrival, gesturing ‘no, no, no…that was per person’.
Aim to pay around 50,000d for a shortish journey; night rides are more. Few cyclo drivers speak English so take a map and your hotel calling card with you.
3.2.4. By Bus
Hanoi has a number of local buses that ply regular routes through the city, but Hanoi's smoke-belching lorries are extremely crowded, and using them is difficult if you don't speak Vietnamese. With the ready availability of fast, affordable local motorbike taxis and good metered taxis, few tourists bother with local buses.
3.2.5. By Taxi
Taxis can be hailed on the street, at hotels, and at major attractions. The meter should read between 10,000VND and 15,000VND (depending on the company and size of the cab) to start, and 4,000 VND to 6,500 VND for every kilometer (about 1/2 mile) thereafter. The three most reputable companies are Hanoi Taxi (tel. 04 353-5353), Hanoi Tourist Taxi (tel. 04 356-5656), and Mai Linh (tel. 04 38 333 333). You (or the concierge) can call ahead for pickup. Make sure the cabbie turns on the meter. Be sure to get your change; drivers often seek a surreptitious tip by claiming that they don't have the right amount to give back. Smile. Tell the driver that you'll wait until it's obtained, and it will materialize. Tips are greatly appreciated, but don't feel pressed to give any certain percent; just round up the meter or offer 5,000VND, and you are being quite generous by local standards.
3.2.6. By Car
Renting a car is convenient, but driving yourself is not recommended. Book a car with a driver from $40 a day (or $5 per hour, minimum 3 hr.). If an upscale hotel quotes you more, call one of the tourist cafes or any of the travel agents listed above. A rented car or shared taxi is a great way to make your own itinerary around the city or to destinations throughout the north. Note that in the city center, however, a big car can get stymied by the heavy traffic, so if your constitution is hearty and you like to throw caution to the wind, go for a cheap and maneuverable motorbike taxi to get you through the city traffic and small alleyways of the city.
3.2.7. By Motorbike
If you're feeling especially brave, you can rent your own motorbike. Navigating Hanoi's busy streets is harrowing, though, and most motorbike riders use their rented two wheels to get out of town instead of around in town. Most tourist cafes and mid- to low-range hotels can arrange rentals, and there are a few good storefront rental agencies. Try Mr. Cuong's Motorbike Adventure, at 1 Luong Ngoc Quyen St., on the east side of the Old Quarter near the city's major ring road (tel. 04 3926-1534) -- the best place to rent a big honkin' Russian Minsk motorbike for $7 per day -- or Mr. Hung's Vietnam Adventure Tour, at his in-town office just north of Hoan Kiem Lake, 5A Dinh Liet St. (tel.04 3926-0938), or at his repair shop on the city ring road at 162 Tran Quang Khai St. (Mr. Hung's provides bike rentals as well as comprehensive in-town and rural tour options and guides.) One-day rentals of 100cc motorbikes start at $6. A 1-month rental of a little hair dryer-style model (a Honda Dream or Wave) can cost as little as $50. Wear a helmet (it's now a well-enforced law, and all the locals are doing it), go slow, honk to alert other vehicles when passing, and stay alert. Inexperienced riders might want to think twice about cutting their teeth on a motorbike in crazy Hanoi traffic.
Warning: -- Riding on a motorbike, whether your own or on the back, presents a Catch-22: It's the fastest and most affordable way to navigate city roads, but it's also your best bet for a trip to the emergency room or worse. Take caution and, wherever possible, try to put as much steel between you and the chaos of the road as possible. In other words, take buses and cars when possible.
3.2.8. By Bicycle
Rental costs for a bike are about $1 per day from a hotel or tourist cafe. The traffic is daunting, but the brave quickly learn how to just stay to the right and join the flow. Helmets are generally not available.
4. 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 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 maybe able to save some pennies. In my experience, changes of plans adds some thrill with your trip, so don’t fix your itinerary tightly if you’re up for some extra adventures.
5. Where to stay
Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam is a place that is always busy and bustling. A trip to this cultural capital is like walking through an area forgotten by time. Amidst the many motorbikes and buildings, you can walk through the Old Quarter for wander around the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake. We first visited Hanoi a couple of years ago during our month long trip when we traveled from South to North. Since then, we have explored it on numerous occasions which is why we decided to put together a list of our top recommendations on where to stay in Hanoi, best hotels and hostels.
5.1. Best Budget Places to Stay in Hanoi
5.1.1. Hanoi Rocks Hostel
If you’re looking for a fun, modern, but still clean hostel to stay at, this is your place. Hanoi Rocks offers dorm room beds with a strong AC, basic but great buffet breakfast, and nice common areas. This place is great for solo travelers who want to meet other people! Apart from the clean rooms, the offer free beer, and free walking tours. Yup, you heard me. This place is quite social so don’t go here if you want a quiet night’s sleep! (Prices start at $5 a night with free breakfast)
5.1.2. Vietnam Backpacker’s Hostel- Original
Located right in the heart of Hanoi’s Old town, staying here is definitely a good idea for budget backpackers. The hostel is very lively and social, often throwing parties and organizing events. They have a great roof top bar area as well. The hostel offers free walking tours around the old quarter which is a great way to get your bearings around the area. The rooms are kept fairly clean and is overall a good choice if you want to meet other people. (Prices start at $5-6 a night for a dorm and $28 for a private room)
5.1.3. Box Hotel
Ever wondered what it was like to sleep in a box? Well, staying in this hostel is a good way to find out. The rooms are small but very modern, clean, and well maintained. They have lockers where you can store your belongings as well. The best part for us is that they have a curtain which you can pull across your bunk giving you a bit of privacy. The hostel provides breakfast of eggs, toast and fruit for an additional charge of $1.50. Overall, if you’re looking to get a good night’s sleep, this place would be our choice. (Prices start at $6 a night for a dorm bed and $14 for a private room)
5.2. Best Mid Range Places to Stay in Hanoi
5.2.2. Golden Moment Hotel
This 7 story hotel building has everything that you need for a comfortable nights stay while in Hanoi. It is centrally located and is a five minute walk from Dong Xuan Market and Hoan Kiem Lake. The rooms are spacious and is equipped with a small refrigerator and a kettle where you can make coffee or tea. All in all, this place isn’t a bad option for those that are looking for affordable places to stay in Hanoi. (Prices start at $45 for two people including a buffet breakfast)
5.2.3. Oriental Suites Hotel & Spa
This hotel is relatively new so all the rooms and amenities are pretty modern. Located near the Old Quarter, this is a great choice for those that want to splurge a little bit. The room comes with a breakfast buffet with fairly good variety. The rooms are well decorated and super comfortable. Upon check out, the staff give you a small farewell token which is such a great touch! Definitely recommend staying here. (Prices start at $50 a night for a deluxe room)
5.2.4. Conifer Boutique Hotel
This quaint boutique hotel is a great choice for those that want to stay near the Old Town. They have different types of rooms which are all beautifully decorated. The rooms are spacious and all have interesting layouts. Apart from the well designed rooms, the staff here are beyond helpful and friendly! Definitely helps make your stay better. The breakfast that comes with the room is open for three hours and has a good variety of options. (Prices start at $50 a night for two people with breakfast)
5.2.5. Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy
This boutique hotel is one of our top picks for where to stay in Hanoi. The rooms are so beautifully decorated and very trendy. The breakfast selection is great (although not extensive). The staff in this place are particularly well trained and very friendly. They go above and beyond to help you out and are always so accommodating. (Prices start at $53 with breakfast for two)
5.3. Best Luxurious Places to Stay in Hanoi
5.3.1. Hotel de l’Opera Hanoi
If you’re looking for a luxurious yet conveniently located hotel, you need to check out Hotel de l’Opera. Their staff are very attentive and helpful which really adds to the overall experience of your stay. The rooms are luxurious and have some of the softest and most comfortable beds ever. The views from the rooms is noteworthy and so is the breakfast buffet selection. (Prices start at $96 for two people)
5.3.2. Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
This luxury hotel is an ideal place to stay in Hanoi. The rooms are very well decorated and are done up in a French Colonial style. Small touches like putting macarons by your bedside everyday is what makes this place so popular. The outdoor pool and spa was a welcome treat and is perfect after a full day of sightseeing around Hanoi. Definitely worth the steep price tag! (Prices start at $240 a night)
So there you have it! Hopefully, you now know where to stay in Hanoi, within your travel budget. These places were recommended based on our personal experience in Hanoi and that of friends.
One of the reason of visiting Vietnam was its currency. You can do a lot without spending much. But Vietnamese currency confused the hell out of me. 22,000 Vietnamese dong is equal to one U.S. dollar. However, the good thing is U.S. dollars are widely accepted. Even in smaller town like Sapa. So don’t bother to carry too much of the Vietnamese dong. Also, ATMs are everywhere. Credit cards are accepted in major outlets.
I detest shopping but Hanoi converted a non-shopper into a shopper. The hard-to-imagine cheap prices would tempt anyone. I was no exception. A small stroll through the market ended up in a shopping spree. Hanoi Old Quarter is lined up with various fashion stores, souvenir stalls, and trinket sellers. It’s a great place to buy your backpacker items. Very cheap prices at a decent quality. But if want to escape the hustle and bustle of Hanoian streets and prefer an air-conditioned mall then head to the Vincom City Towers where you’ll find luxury brands, replicas, good eateries, multiplex and a gaming arena.
8. Sample Itinerary
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 minutes walk from the lake, you can visit the St. Joseph Cathedral. Tourists come and go in this place 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 Lo Prison. It is open from 8am-5pm, here you can see the historical event of 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 3.3km 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 car is also available for viewing. One Pillar Pagoda is 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’s 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.
9.1. 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 90,000VND (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.
9.2. 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’s printed tarpaulins to figure out where you are.
9.3. Some hostel will ask you 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.
9.4. Xe Om
Xe Om is the motor bike 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.
9.5. 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.
10. Where to go next?
Halong Bay trip is one of the famous trips to do around the North of Vietnam. A homestay in Sapa, 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, 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.