Hanoi has the reputation of being somewhat of an acquired taste. At first glance, Hanoi feels downright crazy. Motorbikes packing the roads, their blaring horns harmonizing into a shrill musical score. Dirty water being thrown out into the streets, sometimes directly onto your feet. Unidentified and often unpleasant smells mingling with the scent of cooking food. The sensory overload that hits while walking Hanoi’s streets is unsettling for almost everyone on their first visit. Factors in the death-defying risk crossing the street make you only want to your safe hotel room. However, give it a day, Hanoi will grow on you as you and your bestie take time to get on well with each other. But first, take a look at this article to decide things to do on your first trip.
Meaning Lake of the Returned Sword, Hoan Kiem Lake is at the center of Hanoi city life, at least figuratively anyway. Located in the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake is where people gather in Hanoi to rest, eat lunch, play, or simply take a walk around the perimeter of the lake. Ngoc Son Temple, an 18th century temple, sits on a tiny island in the lake reachable via the bright red bridge connecting the island to the northern shore of the lake. If your list about things to do in Hanoi is still either blank or messy, spend several hours relaxing on a stone bench or jogging around the lake. That’s how Hanoi could make the first (and good) impression on you.
Be interested in culture and history? Or just simply prefer a moderate beginning for your “things to do” plan, Temple of Literature - or Van Mieu - Quoc Tu Giam in Vietnamese will make you surprised for its existence in a growing city. A quiet, green oasis, the Temple of Literature blooms in stark contrast with the concrete city surrounding it. With many landscaped courtyards, gardens, and pavilions, this place is definitely one for the photography-inclined
Built as a temple to Confucius in 1070, the Temple of Literature was centered more on academia than religion. A place of study for the wealthy, The Temple of Literature was Vietnam’s first national university, and many monuments still remain on the grounds dedicated to the scholars who graduated here. Your arrival should be as early as you can because the temple is a popular sight and can get very busy even just a couple hours after opening. During Tet holiday, you can see calligraphy events and lots of traditional performances on the yards.
The night market in Hanoi is only open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. It’s all the same stuff you’ll find during the day, though, so don’t despair if you’re not in Hanoi over a weekend. If there’s nothing there you can’t buy in the daytime, why go to the Hanoi’s night market at all? Because the atmosphere is better, streets are quieter and there is less insistence from shopkeepers when you look through their wares. You can even get better deals and find the best stuff among several shops selling the same things next to each other. It’s just a more pleasant shopping experience in general. Everything here seems so delightfully cheap by western standards that even if you don’t like to shop, you’ll still probably find yourself shopping. And haggling is the name of the game, so prepare yourself.
Plus, there’s food – loads of choices cooked fresh right in front of you while you shop. (More on eating in Hanoi below.)
The most important point on the “things to do” list or actually “things must do”, the favorite thing about visiting anywhere is food. Eating may be one of life’s necessities, but in Vietnam it’s one of its greatest pleasures, too. There are so many foods known as Hanoi’s speciality with reasonable price. Some of them are bun cha (BBQ pork and noodles), pho xao (stir fried noodles with beef), bun nem (spring rolls), banh mi (Vietnam’s version of a sandwich), and of course, everyone’s favorite – pho (beef noodle soup), most of which will be offered when you explore the Old Quarter Hanoi.
Eating pho in Hanoi for some solo travelers is exceptionally unforgettable just because it tasted out of this world. If you stop by Bat Dan street, you will have your meal served on communal picnic tables while you are sitting on flimsy plastic chairs elbow to elbow with strangers. You may find that weird, but taste unhurriedly to feel that serving and eating style as a part of the charm of eating in Hanoi. Besides these outdoor cafe-style places that you will see all over the Old Quarter, another place to get delicious and cheap food is from the street vendors. They move from place to place, but you won’t have any trouble finding them.
Beer drinkers, you’re going to want to pay attention to this one. There is literally a place where beer costs less than a gumball from a machine (wait, do those things even still exist?) and it’s right here at the intersection of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen. Known as Beer Corner, the “pubs” around this intersection in the Old Quarter serve freshly-made local beer, without preservatives, for just 20 cents (5,000 VND) a pop.
But what if you don’t drink beer, should you still stop by? YES! Even when you don’t fall for beer, you would fall for the atmosphere at Beer Corner, an ideal place to meet other travelers, expats, and locals. Everyone sits on little plastic stools on the edges of the streets (that eventually become impassable for cars as the night goes on) and it’s easy to strike up conversations among people. Before 9pm the environment is surprisingly kid-friendly and all sorts of non-alcoholic drinks and street food are available in addition to cheap beer.
So, it feels a little strange saying that one of the things you should do in Hanoi is leave Hanoi, but it’s true. There are so many day trips and overnight trips available to take from Hanoi. Walk down any street in the Old Quarter and you’ll be able to spot travel agencies with lists hanging in the windows of all the places you can go. The cheapest way to book an overnight trip out of Hanoi is to book it in Hanoi itself. Anyway, remember ravel agencies compete with each other, so use that to your advantage when haggling to get the most pocket-friendly price for yourself.
One of the most obvious places to take an overnight trip from Hanoi is Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Vietnam. Day trips are always available, but given the driving distance is four hours each way, you’d be regretful not to stay overnight. Plus, waking up to see the sunrise above the rocks and islands in the bay is a once in a lifetime sort of thing you will want to add to your list of things to do. Other activities included are mostly the same for all tours, so the difference in price usually comes down to how luxurious the boat and meals provided on the trip are.
Another great option for an overnight tour, especially if you don’t plan to go all the way up north to Sapa, is a visit to Mai Chau, a rural area around four hours’ drive west of Hanoi. With rice fields grow in valleys at the base of mountains, roads are made of dirt and gravel, and people live in beautiful stilt houses made of bamboo and timber, Mai Chau is so much more than a charming destination. Staying in private bungalows or sleeping in one of the stilt houses in a common room with other travelers will probably be memorable experience in your “things to do” list.
Cheap hotels are a dime a dozen in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, generally they all offer similar lodgings with breakfast included. If you’re looking for something a little bit more luxurious, the Essence Hotel & Spa is a popular choice, and for those whom money is no object, the Sofitel Metropole is recommeded for sure!
Because Hanoi is located in the northern region of Vietnam, it experiences all four seasons. This means winters are cold, summers are hot, and spring and autumn are the most comfortable seasons temperature-wise. Rainy season is from April to October with June, July, and August getting the most rainfall. Generally, if your goal is to enjoy the most comfortable temperatures and the least amount of rainfall, you’ll want to visit Hanoi in either March and April or September to November.
From the airport, if you haven’t booked a transfer through your hotel, you’ll need to take a taxi to get to the Old Quarter. Metered taxis in Hanoi are notorious for trying to rip tourists off, so make sure you agree on a price before getting in and don’t budge on it when you get to your destination. Alternatively, you can book transportation to your hotel online through various companies.
Once getting around in the Old Quarter, unless you have mobility issues, you’ll have no problem walking everywhere mentioned on this list. If walking isn’t an option, you can hop on one of the cyclos for shorter journeys, and motorbike or metered taxis for longer journeys. Just be aware of dodgy taxi meters if you go that route.
While pick-pocketing and petty theft are not uncommon in Hanoi, what you really need to be aware of is your safety on the roads. There are no designated paths for walkers and there are no crosswalks, and even scarier, there don’t appear to be any rules for drivers either. Crossing streets in Hanoi seems like risking our lives every time. The motorbikes don’t stop, which means it is extremely important not to stop after you start walking across the street.
As for avoiding theft, all the usual rules apply. Don’t carry lots of cash. Keep your wallet someplace harder to reach than your back pocket. When walking along the streets, keep your purse or camera on the shoulder furthest from the road. That’ll prevent people on motorbikes from snatching your valuables and driving away. Same goes for your phone.
Another note is on food safety: If you get sick from eating in Hanoi (or anywhere for that matter), it’s more likely to be due to eating foods you’re not accustomed to rather than a case of food poisoning or parasites. Regardless, there are obvious steps you can take to prevent the latter including avoiding tap water or uncooked things that have been washed in tap water, such as salad, and never eating anything that looks like it’s been sitting out long before. Generally, if you eat from busy places and order a hot meal, you should take it away home or another place.
Overall, options are always open to your decision as long as you take time. However large, tranquil or energetic, classical or fashionable, ... , you would find some of those character interesting or some places fascinating. Nevertheless, first impression is so important, so hope that Gonexp.com has helped you to build up a good one on Hanoi with our list of Things to do in Hanoi above.
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