Hanoi is the Capital of Vietnam found in the North (vs. Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon, the largest city in Vietnam, in South Vietnam). It is the second largest city in the country and serves as a political center.
Vietnamese currency is the Dong with the smallest bill at 1,000! I was a millionaire in Vietnam… Which doesn’t say much, really. Exchange rates can be found here.
Language will be a barrier so it’s important to know a few basic phrases. Though they still won’t understand you unless you can pull off the accent as well.
(By the way, this post is more about the information and not much about the experience. The “cute” post with all the photos (at least those salvaged from my stolen phone) are HERE. Hehe!)
How To Get There
Flying to Hanoi isn’t very convenient when coming from Manila. Most flights head to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC – commonly known as Saigon) but Cebu Pacific recently started flying directly to and from Hanoi twice a week. Unfortunately, the flight schedules are less than ideal in a city with a 12 Midnight curfew.
From Singapore, I believe Jetstar has affordable flights. And coming from HCMC, I’m pretty sure you can find cheap domestic flights! 🙂
From the Noi Bai airport, a taxi is the only way to the main city so make sure your Hotel provides you with a serviced car/cab!
Where To Stay
Most travelers stay in the Old Quarters or French Quarters. This area maintained the original street layout of old Hanoi with streets being named after the goods sold along it. And so, we have Silk Street and Leather Street and Silver Street and so on. There are numerous hotels to stay in here and you will be surrounded by great shops, cafes, and eateries!
If you don’t expect the sun and moon of the hotels, then you’ll be alright in Hanoi. I stayed in Hanoi Deluxe Hotel which was quaint but clean and comfortable with a friendly staff.
Hanoi Deluxe Hotel. US$18-35/room/night http://hanoideluxehotel.com/
Hanoi Old Centre Hotel. US$25-$60/room/night http://www.hanoioldcentrehotel.com/
Hanoi Elite Hotel. US$40-$90 http://hanoielitehotel.com/
May De Ville Old Quarter Hotel. US$50-$100/room/night http://maydevilleoldquarterhotel.com/
And here’s a big, luxurious one!
Hotel Sofitel Metropole Hanoi. http://www.sofitel.com/gb/hotel-1555-sofitel-legend-metropole-hanoi/index.shtml
How To Get Around
Walk. All you need is Google Maps and you’re good to go! If you like walking as I do, most everything is walkable.
Taxi. They’re metered so you know exactly how much to pay. But most cab drivers can barely speak English and they may not understand your pronunciation so best to show them where you’d like to go on a map (Google Maps, you rock.)
Motorbike. There are guys in street corners that offer you a ride on their motorbikes. They overcharge, though, so best to ask your hotel how much it should cost. These guys are NOT legit. Hehe.
Bike. If you’re brave enough, why not ask your hotel where it’s best to rent a bicycle for you to use? 😀 If I stayed longer, I may have tried this out for an afternoon. 😉
Pedicab. I didn’t ride a pedicab just ‘coz I didn’t see any local on one. Loads of foreigners take pedicab rides around the old quarters, though! I’m guessing these guys have tourist rates, though. So, again, ask your hotel how much they should cost you.
Where To Go
Hoan Kiem Lake. Ngoc Son Temple. Turtle Tower. The Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Restored Sword) is the largest lake in the city of lakes – Hanoi. It’s HUGE. In the north area of the lake is the Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain) which you can get to through the Huc Bridge (Morning Sunlight Bridge). The south area of the lake has the Turtle Tower. The legend that surrounds this lake is pretty interesting so read up!
National Museum of Vietnam. This is in the right side of Hoan Kiem Lake, separate from all the other sites below.
Temple of Literature. The most popular of all the Temple of Literatures (there are several), this temple served as the first university in Vietnam. Today, it is still one of the most important historical sites in Hanoi and even appears on the Vietnamese Dong – 100,000 bill.
Vietnam Military History Museum. Vietnam’s military history is very interesting as their wars against their (French, Japanese, American?) conquerors helped shaped the identity of the country. Naturally, there are 2 sides to every story. In the museum, you will see weapons, pictures of war, tanks and aircrafts, etc. The museum tells the story of a united Vietnam, never acknowledging South Vietnam’s government or their defiance of the socialist rule. Hmm. Pretty intriguing. Time to read up!
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. It is huge and the garden that surrounds the building is pretty, but off-limits. I didn’t get to enter as it was closed (only open in the mornings) but in its central hall is the embalmed body of Chairman Ho Chi Minh. Every hour, the guards change. But, rest-assured, they all strictly enforce the rules – no shorts/skirts (don’t show your legs), no crossing of arms, no hands in pockets, no photography or video recording, no smoking, and no noise!
Ho Chi Minh Museum. This museum is dedicated to their late leader Ho Chi Minh and also tells the story of Vietnam’s struggle against foreign power. Once again, two side to every story. And… The winners often write (subjective) history. Which makes me question world history in general… Good thing I don’t know much about it. HAHAHA.
EVERYWHERE. I particularly enjoyed shopping at the boutique shops in Hang Non street!!! If you’re a lady looking to buy clothes and shoes… FIND THIS STREET. 😀 A whole bunch of local girls shop here so I’m pretty sure it’s the place to be!
Oh. And when shopping… Bargain!
Outside the City
Halong Bay. One of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, Halong Bay is definitely worth visiting if you have the time. Tours range from day trips to weekend stays either in hotels or junk boats. You can ask your hotel about it, search online, or even walk around the Old Quarter to find agencies that provide tours! http://www.halongbay-vietnam.com/
There are loads of other interesting places to see like Sapa and the Cuc Phong National Park. You can bike around, trek, or lounge, it’s really up to you! Check this site to find out more. http://www.hanoitraveltours.com/
What/Where To Eat
Hanoi is one amazing food trip. 🙂
Cha Ca La Vong (Resto/Dish). 14 Cha Ca Street. Beware of copycats right across the original! Cha Ca La Vong, the only thing on their menu, is grilled fish cooked right in front of you with turmeric and dill leaves, served with rice noodles and peanuts. Put as much chili as you’d like. SO GOOD. I want to eat this again but the dish isn’t found anywhere else!!!
Bun Bo Nam Bo (Resto/Dish). 7 Hàng Điếu, Cửa Đông. A bowl of beef noodles and veggies. This isn’t as soupy as Bun Thang or Pho. It’s pretty good. But I honestly didn’t enjoy it that much. I guess it just isn’t my taste. But still, it’s worth trying for yourself!
Little Hanoi (Resto). Ta Hien Street. These guys have other branches but this one is the original. Order their fresh rolls, oh so good!
Bun Thang (Dish). Cau Go Street. Bun Thang is a soup dish (add chicken!) served in various eateries. Just pick a place on Cau Go street. This dish is de-lish!
Quan An Ngon (Resto). 18 Phan Bội Châu, Cửa Nam. This restaurant is a must-see. They serve Vietnamese dishes galore under a huge tent in a courtyard of an old villa. Waiters are very helpful. And it’s always full of both foreigners and locals!
Pho. I don’t think I need to tell you any more about Pho. Hehe. :p
Also try The Highway on Bat Su Street which is where I tried eating crickets! They have a whole slew of delicious familiar and unfamiliar dishes there you can try. And Gecko is another safe bet with various branches around Hanoi (Old Quarters, mostly).
Okie dokes! That’s about it for the basics. To find out more about my experience, check out my Hanoi video on my YouTube Channel or read the next post!