Planning your trip to Vietnam? Head to this post first to read about some things to keep in mind as you prepare + see our overall itinerary!
Hanoi was our introduction to Vietnam (& Asia, at that!) & it was a chaotic, interesting, and delicious welcome to say the least. Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam with a population of over 8 million, so it’s a big and busy city. Overall, I found the chaos to be sort of fun (good luck crossing the street), the food to be absolutely delicious, and the air quality to be horrifying. We spent 2 full days here & it was plenty.
where we stayed:
Hanoi Paradise Center Hotel & Spa – Good location, comfortable enough, and quiet (it was down an alley but not in a creepy way). It had good enough Wifi to work and take calls. The staff was very nice and accommodating and helped us book tours and airport taxis. At around $50/night, we realized for the same price or slightly more we could’ve gotten something way nicer, so while it checked the boxes, overall it wasn’t anything I’d go out of my way to recommend.
things to do:
Take a food tour
Take a food tour to try and learn more about the local cuisine. We took this Airbnb Experience with Hanh and it was awesome. (I tried duck fetus though which I would NOT recommend lol). I’ll list some of the places we went with Hanh in the “what to eat” section in case you want to try them out for yourself.
Explore the lake
Walk around the lake and check out the Ngọc Sơn Temple, which is over the red bridge on the lake.
We went to Omamori, a spa that employs the blind and visually impaired, and it was lovely. I also went to Sen Việt Foot Massage and Nari Spa for foot massages closer to our hotel, and both were wonderful. We went out of our way to Omamori because it was recommended by a friend, but there are so many places so just go for a casual body or foot massage, so go somewhere near your hotel — just check the reviews on Google Maps first.
Visit the Hoa Lo Prison Relic
I recommend going through it with the audio guide. This was the prison that the French used to imprison the Vietnamese while they occupied the country, and later was known as the “Hanoi Hilton” for American prisoners during the war. It was fascinating, we loved it.
Check out Pub Street
Head to Pub Street in the evening for drinks. We were super jetlagged while we were in Hanoi (falling asleep at like 9pm) and if you know me, you know I can barely stay up past 9pm to begin with… but if you want to go out at night, this is the place!
Take day or overnight trips to places closeby
We took a trip to HaLong Bay (a must!). People also recommend Sapa, which we didn’t have time to do.
things to eat:
There are SO MANY places & I’m here to say the street food and casual restaurants were my favorite by far. See below for some of the places we loved!
Red Bean Ma May — At one point we wanted something a bit nicer & we went to this place because it had great reviews. It was the type of place where they come and pull out your chair and put your napkin on your lap for you, which I usually hate, but the food was delicious and the prices were nothing compared to what we’re used to in NYC. I wouldn’t recommend doing this everyday because the street food is just soooo good, but if you’re wanting a nicer date night this place was great!
Giang Café — This is considered the place to try Viatnamese egg coffee, which in my opinion, is disgusting. But you have to at least try it. It’s basically a latte but the coffee is incredibly bitter, and the “milk” is actually a combination of sweetened condensed milk and egg.
Bubbles — You can get a delicious bahn mi here for about $1 USD.
Leo’s Cocktails & Co. — Fun, cute, well branded cocktail bar. We went when it was pretty quiet at around 8pm but it gets busy at night! The bartender was so nice and even carefully crafted me a mocktail based on what I told him I like (spicy and not too sweet) because their other mocktail options sounded too sweet for me. It was delicious, and Ryan loved his real cocktails too.
Hanoi Social Club — I’m putting this on my list to tell you not to go here 🙂 It came recommended by friends and blog posts alike as a “place to get Western food” and we learned on day 2 to just… not try to eat Western food. It was weird and gross and the Vietnamese cuisine is so delicious. I will eat my avocado toast and sandwiches when I’m back in the States!
And below are the places we went on the street food tour that we also loved:
Bánh xèo, Nem cuốn — For bánh xèo (pronounced bon chow), which is a Vietnamese crispy rice pancake usually filled with pork and shrimp that you put in a piece of rice paper with veggies, roll up, dip in fish sauce or peanut sauce, and eat.
We were warned of scams in Hanoi several times before we went, particularly with taxi drivers overcharging or running a faulty meter. If you need a ride, try to use the Grab app, and book your airport transfer with your hotel ahead of time to avoid this.
Generally we found the city to be pretty walkable, even though it’s densely populated and busy. Most places that we wanted to go was within a 5-30 minute walk.
English speaking was abundant enough to get by.
The air pollution is literally awful. Your hair will smell, your clothes will smell, your eyes will probably burn. I get why so many people wear masks here. We were only there for a couple of days so it was okay, but any longer and it probably would’ve taken a toll on me.
Hanoi was a sort of crazy introduction to Asia to be honest, but I genuinely liked our time there! From Hanoi we headed to HaLong Bay on an overnight cruise that is an absolute must. Head to this post to read about our experience on the water!