Travel tips for First timers in Hanoi
I love Hanoi. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world, and it has a very special place in my heart.
If you didn’t already know, Hanoi is a blend of ancient oriental style and elegant French architectural works centred around Hoan Kiem Lake.
The walls are painted dusty yellow with orange rooftops, temples are tucked in every corner. It’s easy to get helplessly lost in a maze of backstreets and feel like you’ve entered another world. I usually get lost and end up finding a street food stall serving Banh Mi, Pho or Nem rolls.
Please tell me the Old Quarter is the first place you plan to explore. Fall in amour at first sight with the small streets, small houses and were built very close to others. Just like Hoi An, the city is full of color, light, and culture.
You must take a stroll along Hoan Kiem Lake during sunset. You can honestly spend hours perusing all of the different stalls and all of the cute trinkets and lanterns.
The Old Quarter really comes alive at night at Ha Tien Beer Corner. See vendors and live music fill the streets, and get tipsy on insanely cheap beer.
I am not a big fan of beer but I’m addicted to this vibrant atmosphere.
I gotta warn you. For you First time timers in Hanoi, the weather is wildly unpredictable. In winter, it could be horribly cold for a whole week, then heats up.
Hot, humid and wet- Hanoi in Summer got me changing two to three times. I don’t know how the Hanoian’s can eat Pho all year round with most places without AC!
Late afternoon it’s heavy rain and thunderstorms. I don’t mind much really. Like me, you’ll probably be seeking shelter in a chic cafe enjoying real Vietnamese iced coffee, aka Cà phê sữa đá. First sight of blazing sun gets me navigating the city streets and landmarks in no time.
But don’t let Hanoi’s fickle weather put you off! Don’t be surprised, be prepared!
I love mingling with the locals. It’s a great way to gain an insight into the local culture. From my experience the Vietnamese are shy but very curious and welcoming. Vietnam has many hidden gems clouded by tourist traps and having a local friend can be an invaluable source of information as they can advise you where to go and the best phở in town
Every time I make it to the other side, I feel grateful to be alive! “Stick with the crowd” locals say. Mimic the behavior of locals, and you’ll be amazed how quickly you assimilate to the chaos.
If worse comes to worse, stop in one of Hanoi’s cute cafes for a quick cup of courage which is what I do most of the time. (I just love coffee).
You might not be brave enough to go around on foot, but you can take a Grab taxi (another Cheap Uber ride) from A to B. Take Grab bike if you don’t mind being part of the road madness and look ridiculous like I do in their Branded Green Helmets.
Hanoi is beautifully falling to pieces in the most elegant way possible, there’s a series of gorgeous lakes, (Hoan Kiem and West lake) mouth-watering food, and a shopping haven. Hanoi may be known for its close proximity to Halong Bay, but the city itself has plenty of sightseeing spots.
Here are some suggestions to make your first trip to Hanoi a breeze…
Vietnam National Tuong Theatre
Binh Minh Jazz Club
Hanoi Rock City
Places to visit
Dong Xuan Market
Hoàn Kiếm Lake
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
Hỏa Lò Prison
Things to do
Join a cooking class: Apron Up Cooking Class
You must drink authentic Vietnamese coffee at these places:
Cong Caphe – propaganda themed decor will stir curiosities.
Highlands coffee – enjoy quality coffee from the 3rd floor with the view of Old quarter’s bustling traffic.
Oriberry – sip egg coffee whilst looking at the scenic lake views.
Hanoi has a great dining scene, with lots of choice. You’ll find mostly budget local places in the Old Quarter, with more high-end international offerings in French Quarter. Authentic Vietnamese dishes like pho and banh mi, you’ll not want to eat anything else!
Pho – (Noodle soup) Phở Gia truyền Bát Đàn
Bun cha Dac Kim (Grilled Pork & Noodles) 1 Hang Manh, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
Banh Mi (Baguette Sandwich) Banh Mi 25
Banh cuon (Rice rolls)- Bánh Cuốn Bà Hanh
French food – Cousins restaurant
Hostels + Partygoers
Old Quarter View Hanoi Hostel
Central Backpackers Hostel
Hanoi Party Backpacker Hostel
Hanoi Rocks Hostel
Hostels + Quiet
Babylon Garden Inn
Hanoi Backpackers Hotel – The original
Backy Posh Tel
Hanoi Trendy Hotel & Spa
Hanoi Guest House
Hanoi Antique Legend Hotel
Essence Palace Hotel
Use Grab App or uber for cheap Taxi ride.
Don’t get ripped off by Licensed like Taxi Mai Linh, Taxi Airport and Taxi Van Xuan.
The Three-wheeled bicycle will give you front row seats to the charms of Hanoi as your peddler navigates you leisurely around the Old Quarter.
Catch a local bus if you don’t mind getting lost.
Use Hanoi as a base to explore Sapa, Ha Giang and other attractions, such as Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island.There are heaps of travel agencies in every corner begging you to book a tour with them. It’s alright if you don’t like tours. I mainly use them for travel advice.
Halong Bay & Cat Ba Island
Hanoi has two main seasons: rainy (May-Oct) and dry (Nov-Apr).There’s not really a right or wrong time to visit Vietnam as most months of the year you will experience both sunshine and rain in varying quantities. You might actually have fun in such capricious weather!
Winter –November to April
The cool but mostly dead dry. Temperatures average 17-22°C with the coldest months being January – March.
Summer -May to October
When hot and humid, the region experiences its highest rainfall. July to September are the wettest months of the year. Severe weather can delay tours in Halong Bay and other areas.
I do hope that you find this guide useful. I’m only sharing some of the things I learned from my many trips there. If you have any suggestions or simply want to share your own experiences, then please feel free to do so in the comments section below.
Have you visited Hanoi? What is your favourite city in South East Asia?
You might want to read Herbert Victoria & Vietnam Beach