Hanoi is the capital and the 2nd largest city of the socialist republic of Vietnam. Located along the Red River Delta, Hanoi is known as the heart of Northern Vietnam. The Red River Delta region consists of 10 provinces nested between many famous and beautiful landscapes and seascapes that attract so many travellers every year.
Hanoi gets its name from “Ha” which means river and “Noi” meaning interior. For Vietnamese, Hanoi is known to be the hinterland between rivers. And as we move further exploring the capital, you’ll come to understand why this famous travel destination has gained massive popularity for tourism.
Through the years, the fusion of influences from 3 different cultures, Southeast Asian, Chinese and French has given birth to a unique and extraordinary culture.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE GOING TO HANOI
It’s the rich culture that leaves a lasting impression in the traveller’s mind. Proud Hanoians still stick to what they are known for, and that is the resilience between the inquisition of France and China And as you travel across Hanoi, you’ll be amazed by ancient pagodas, colonial buildings, museums of old, and the world’s most giant mosaic.
Moreover, as modernization continues, the ancient city begins to develop and meet the continuous preferences for Tourism. The unique blend of old and new architecture makes Hanoi a playground for budding photographers. Below are some of the things every tourist must remember to make their stay in Hanoi more convenient and remarkable.
REMEMBER: Find out the best places to stay in Hanoi
Seasons in Hanoi
Like the rest of Vietnam, Hanoi’s climate is split into 2 main seasons; a dry season from November to April and a rainy season from May to October.
Despite having 2 main seasons, Hanoi and the North of Vietnam still experience 4 seasons due to transition months. The average temperature in Hanoi ranges from 15 to 20 Celsius, and you can feel this from February to April (Spring). Meanwhile, the hottest months are from May to August (Summer).
Winter season in Hanoi starts from December lasting in February. It can be frigid during these months which drops the temperature to below 10 degrees. If you’re looking for a romantic backdrop during your visit to Hanoi then it’s best to visit between September to November (Autumn). Flowers begin to change colours, and the cold breeze of the atmosphere results in the perfect romantic setting.
READ MORE: Different seasons in Hanoi
It’s More Conservative/Traditional Than Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are the two most well-known cities in Vietnam. It’s an easy mistake to assume that they are similar, but in terms of tradition, Hanoi is a little more traditional and conservative than its counterpart.
The north of Vietnam is more conservative because it maintains and adheres to traditional cultural values, whereas Ho Minh City is more ‘open’ and cosmopolitan. By looking at stereotypes in Vietnam, you’ll notice that Hanoians way of living is more traditional and Saigonese are a bit more outgoing.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to dress a little more modestly in Hanoi. Learn more in our guide to what to wear and what to pack for your trip to Vietnam.
Drinking and nightlife in Hanoi are unlikely like the other pubs where you are still getting your next shot as the sun rises above you. In this city, the police and night patrolmen often enforce a curfew around 11 PM. With that being said, some bars and nightclubs operate until 2AM behind closed doors. You can always ask around at Hanoi hostels to find out which bars stay open until dawn.
With its millions of vehicles and hundreds of factories, Hanoi has developed somewhat of an air pollution problem in recent years. Although not as bad as China and only causing risk if exposed over a long period of time, you might want to consider purchasing a face mask if you will be driving a motorbike.
WHAT ARE THE FUN THINGS TO DO IN HANOI
There are many Hanoi places of interest, it offers many different kinds of entertainment, from visiting awe-inspiring Vietnamese temples to interactions with traditions from numerous districts of the city. With so much to offer, your stay in Hanoi can be as exciting as you can handle. We’ve recollected some of the activities you shouldn’t miss during your trip. So keep reading to see my must list of what to see in Hanoi before leaving.
Traditional Water Puppet Show
Water puppetry is the classic Vietnamese puppet show which dates back to the 11th century and was traditionally performed in rice paddies.
The Thang Long puppet theatre was first established in the late 1960s and shows 5 performances 365 days of the year. It houses the traditional art of performing the daily life of Vietnamese farmers, communal movie (dragon dancing), and stories of historical legends.
- Opening hours: 3PM – 9PM
- Cost: $4-$8
- Best time to go: Anytime between 3 PM to 9 PM
- Get your skip-the-line ticket
Sunset at Hoan Kiem Lake
Alongside with the perfect sunset at Hoan Kiem Lake is the ancient turtle tower. The lake is known as the “Lake of the Restored Sword” which is a great place to walk and jog while waiting for sunset or sunrise. And because of the reflection in the river, the rays of the sun create a wonderful effect which just happens to be a great Instagram shot.
- Location: Hang Trong, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, Vietnam
As the sun sets in Vietnam, people tend to go into a corner where you can buy beer dirt cheap. Apart from being a popular destination for tourists wanting to know how much draft beer can he/she handle, the place itself is vibrant in history.
- Location: Corner of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen
- Cost per beer: 0.23 – 0.32 USD for one large glass of beer
- Best time to go: 4:30 PM – 5:00 PM
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is one of the places to go to learn about the most prominent leader of Vietnam. Known for being the leader who led the revolutionary war in attaining peace and independence for Vietnam, this is a must-visit attraction to learn about such an important and recent part of Vietnam history.
Ho Chi Minh‘s body has been preserved inside a glass box which is kept in the Mausoleum.
- Best time to go: Be there at 7 AM to avoid the long queue of tourists
- Dress code: Wear something to cover your knees and shoulders
- Dont’s: Don’t take pictures or wear short-shorts/revealing clothes
- Costs: $1.7 / 40.000 VND
- Location: #25 Hung Vuong Street
Hoa Lo Prison
If you’re looking for something a bit more shocking and thought-provoking, then consider taking a trip to Hoa Lo Prison. The ‘Hanoi Hilton’, as it was sarcastically nicknamed by American POWs, was for the torture and interrogation of political prisoners where many of the gruesome relics and horror stories can still be seen haunting the place today.
Most of the exhibits relate to the Vietnamese revolutionaries during the French era and US prisoners of war who were shackled and tortured to death.
- Best time to go: Open hours are from 8 AM-5 PM
- Cost: $1.5
- Location: Hoa Lo, Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi
Day Trip to Trang An
A journey to these ancient landscapes is definitely worth the time and trip. Tran An is a beautiful province, and a trip there involves being on a boat surrounded by lush green, limestone cliffs, small caves, and valleys. Being recognized as a heritage site, Trang An is likely to be the highlight of your Ninh Binh trip.
- Travel time: The trip along waterways is approximately 1 hr 30 minutes to 2 hours
- How to get there: The distance between Ninh Binh to Trang a tourist destination is between 7 – 10 kilometres. You could hire a taxi or a motorbike and make your way on the narrow roads to Trang An
- Book your tour
ALSO READ: Best caves to explore in Vietnam
Day Trip to Perfume Pagoda
Legend has it that perfume pagoda was established 20,000 years ago by a Buddhist monk who was meditating nearby. Today, the area is vast in the natural and spiritual beauty of streams filled with tropical plants. Surrounding the river is archaic temples preserved by locals.
The location of the inner temple (Perfume Pagoda) as regarded by Buddhists is at the centre of the sacred site featuring a complex of shrines built into the Huong Tich mountain. Another activity to witness is the Perfume Pagoda Festival.
The pilgrimage takes place between mid-February to March. After 45 minutes of rowing in the boat, you’ll have the opportunity to witness a dragon dance with light incense dedicated to the God of the Mountain. Throughout the day, travellers get to experience how Buddhist monks celebrate their festivals with prayers, food offerings, statues of deities, and incense.
- Distance from Hanoi: You can reach Perfume Pagoda for about a 2-hour drive starting from Hanoi
- Range costs: $25-$40 for day tours
- Check this tour
Overnight in Halong Bay
An Overnight stays in Halong Bay as the sun goes an incredibly mesmerizing experience. You’ll see the sea during its brightest green colour, and as the night goes on you’ll see mist emerging from the karat islands and rocks.
Although Halong Bay has become very touristy, it is still a great experience that is highly recommended for a short trip from Hanoi. As long as you go there knowing there will be many tourists, you will still be taken aback by its sheer beauty.
There are also caves, lagoons, and sea gipsies you’ll meet and greet as you cruise by. It may be a little bit crowded, so expect some pollution in the water. But still, there are places less polluted where you’ll never be able to take your eyes off the beautiful sceneries and views. The emerald and calm water of Halong can also be a perfect place for kayaking that leads you to hidden tunnels and caves.
- Distance from Hanoi: The distance from Hanoi to Ha Long is about 170km, and riding a shuttle bus takes around 3 to 5 hours
- Costs: $13 for the entrance fee for a day cruise and $25 for an overnight journey
- Book an overnight tour to Ha Long Bay or check this best Halong Bay cruises post
Overnight in Sa Pa
Sa Pa is home for the majority of ethnicity in Vietnam. So, upon arriving in the northern mountains expect to see local tribes and nipa hut villages. You can let the time past by hiking the highest mountain peak (Fansipan) and viewing national parks, cathedrals, or Cat village. These are the places commonly travelled when journeying to the northern part of Vietnam.
If you’re a lover of outdoor activities such as trekking, you should visit Sa Pa for its rugged scenery and mountains. Many travellers come here to escape the heat of the city while enjoying fields of greens, stunning waterfalls, and subterranean caves.
- Distance from Hanoi: Traveling to Sapa from Hanoi is a 352 km journey across the mountain tops. So, we recommend to take an overnight train to Lao Cai for 8 hours and continue the trip in a van for about 45 mins to Sa Pa
- Range Costs: $30 for transportation
- Get on a train from Hanoi to SaPa
ALSO READ: How to get to SaPa from Hanoi
WHAT TO EAT IN HANOI
Now that you know the general tips on fun things to do in Hanoi, let’s talk about the food you shouldn’t miss when n visiting Hanoi An undeniable fact about the Vietnamese is that they love their noodles. They eat noodles throughout the day and utilizing several delicacies such as Pho, Bun Bo Nam Bo, Bun Cha, and many more.
Vietnamese foods rely heavily on the balance of saltiness, sweetness, spicy flavours, and the taste of the fermented fish sauce. You’ll notice this as you try and slurp your noodles. They also incorporate several herbs, citrus, tamarind, and chilli peppers in every dish which brings out the rich taste of pork, seafood, and chicken.
Some Vietnamese dishes are well-known to foodies all over the world, so you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t take the opportunity to find out why for yourself.
WE RECOMMEND: Book a food tour to experience Vietnamese food better
Pho or Vietnamese rice noodles is a delicious soup which can be found everywhere on the streets of Hanoi. This delicacy consists of beef or chicken broth, rice noodles, herbs, and sliced pieces of meat. They usually serve this in a bowl mixed with its ingredients and pour the hot soup upon order.
- Cost: $1.80
- Best Place to Try: Pho 10, Hanoi
Bun Bo Nam Bo
Bun Bo Nam Bo is a noodle dish served with tender marinated beef. Today, ingredients have many variants, but in general consists of rice vermicelli noodles, stir-fried beef, sprouts, roasted nuts, pickles, papaya, carrot, and fresh herbs.
Its taste is a combo of sweet and sour blended with homemade or crafted fish sauce. Bun Bo Nam Bo is about the balance of green, fresh, and nutritional foods that can allure you with its healthy components and heartwarming taste.
- Cost: $1-$2.5
- Best Place to Try: Hanoi Street Food
Bun Cha is made up mainly of three ingredients: sauce, grilled meat, and vermicelli noodles. The sauce is a combination of vinegar, fish sauce, white sugar, chilli, onions, and garlic. The meat, whether pork ball or pork pieces, are marinated and grilled to a certain tenderness then mixed with pepper, oil, minced onion, and salt.
- Cost: $1-$3
- Best Place to Try: Huong Lien
Travelling to new places is always a great way to escape after a hard day’s work. Vietnam continues to become more popular among travellers from every corner of the world because of its magnificent scenery and affordable lifestyle. It’s a place where you should explore at least once in your lifetime. There are so many things to experience, and it doesn’t cost a fortune.
Hanoi really is a unique city that has so much to offer. Vietnam, as a country and Hanoi, in particular, has had a very tough history but against all the odds, has managed to overcome so many struggles. Witnessing the rich culture of Hanoi and seeing it blossom impacts the heart of almost every traveller.