Motorbikes, honking, narrow streets, street food, different smells and motorbikes, or did I already mention those? Welcome to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. For many, Hanoi will be the first destination and the start of a Vietnam itinerary. I’m also not surprised that many travelers get a culture shock, feel overwhelmed and wonder why they started this journey in the first place…
But rest assured! Hanoi certainly has something fun to offer and also offers plenty of opportunity to continue traveling to other awesome destinations!
Top 6 things to do in Hanoi
1. Old Quarter
The nicest neighborhood in Hanoi is without a doubt Old Quarter. You will find nice eateries and cozy ho(s)tels with many backpackers. I really enjoyed walking through the streets of Old Quarter and taking in all the impressions. Locals are everywhere selling their products, different smells come to you and all this is accompanied by humming and honking engines. A party (or nightmare) for your senses!
Crossing the street in Hanoi can be quite exciting and often enough I was convinced that my destiny was to stay in the same place forever. It’s therefore certainly useful to know exactly how to cross streets in Hanoi. Start by letting the traffic know you want to cross by standing a little on the road. Always walk down the street at a leisurely pace. The motorbikes then determine whether they drive in front or behind you. It is therefore important not to make unexpected movements. Always keep a close watch. If you follow these tips, you will be fine!
2. Hoan Kiem Lake
If you are in Hanoi and still want a bit of peace from all the traffic, go to Hoan Kiem Lake. This lake is located in the Old Quarter district. In the lake is a small island that can be reached by a red bridge. It’s also nice to walk around the lake, a nice walk of less than 2 kilometers. Furthermore, there is not much to do around the lake so you do not have to make time for it, but it is fun to visit.
3. Water puppet show
North of Hoan Kiem Lake is the famous Thang Long Water Puppet Theater where you can watch Vietnamese water puppet shows. These shows date back to the 11th century and are accompanied by traditional music. The puppeteers move the dolls underwater with a bamboo stick.
A ticket costs between 100,000 and 200,000 Dong and shows are given between 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM.
4. Train street
Of course, the famous train street cannot be missed during your visit to Hanoi in Vietnam! A train track runs right through this small street, where once in a while a train passes by. When the train is coming, the locals warn each other and all the stalls and things are put aside for the train to pass. Such a thing is only possible in Asia, right?
5. Aeon Mall Hanoi
This gigantic, originally Japanese shopping center is highly recommended to visit when you’re in Hanoi. In addition to a branch in Hanoi, the mall is also located in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam.
You will find a huge supermarket on the ground floor with, among other things, no less than four rows of noodles. There’s also a bakery where you can buy very tasty sandwiches. You can also visit a lot of different restaurants and eateries with the best Asian dishes.
The Dreamgames arcade hall is located on the third floor of the Aeon Mall. With 200,000 Dong you can buy 55 coins that will give you a few hours of playtime. There are all kinds of arcade games including dance, racing and shooter arcade machines, Air hockey and of course karaoke booths. Because they can not be missing in Vietnam! There’s also a Kids Arcade Hall next to the arcade.
In the Aeon Mall there is also a cinema and a bowling alley where we were the only ones playing a game.
Especially in the evening many Vietnamese visit this shopping center and seem to really make it a day out with the whole family. I also saw no other tourists and most of the employees didn’t speak a word of English. I really liked this!
6. Street food
The best Vietnamese street food you’ll eat in Hanoi! Walk around for a while and you will come across enough places to eat. Try the traditional dishes such as Bánh Mì (Vietnamese sandwich), Phở (tasty soup), Bánh Bao (Bapao type sandwich), Bánh Xèo (rice pancake), fresh and fried spring rolls and more! Did you know that the recipe for Bánh Xèo is also on my website.
If necessary, check Tripadvisor in advance to find the best eateries, take a street food tour or a cooking course!
Where to stay in Hanoi?
Hanoi is gi-gan-tic and there are a lot of ho(s)tels where you can stay. One of the nicest places to stay in Hanoi is near Hanoi Old Quarter (Hoan Kiem). This is perhaps the nicest neighborhood close to the sights. Here you will find enough budget hostels and fancy hotels, so there is something for everyone.
Onward travel from Hanoi
There is a good chance that you will reach Hanoi by plane. When you fly into Vietnam, don’t forget to arrange your visa for Vietnam!
Sapa: The connection between Sapa with the most beautiful rice terraces and Hanoi is excellent and there are several transport options. You can take the train from Hanoi to Lao Cai and then change to a bus. Or travel with a direct cheap local bus (not very recommended) or sleeper bus. Sleeper buses leave both during the day and at night and are quite comfortable. The journey takes approximately 6 hours.
Ninh Binh: You can easily travel by train or bus between Hanoi and Ninh Binh / Tam Coc. This ride takes about 2.5 hours.
Cat Ba: From Hanoi you can easily travel to Cat Ba; the most beautiful alternative to Ha Long Bay. Tickets cost around 250,000 and 350,000 dong and the journey takes about 5 hours. I paid $ 15 for the bus, ferry and drop off at the hotel with Goodmorning Cat Ba. A bus company that I definitely recommend.
Bus tickets to any destination are often very easy to arrange via your ho(s)tel.