In this Destination Guide you will find information for : Hanoi
♦Currency: Dong (VND)
♦Zone: +7 GMT
♦Phone Code: +84
♦Best time to visit: Feb - Apr
♦Must eat: Dog meat, if you dare!
♦Must drink: Green tea
♦Don't miss: A walk down the Old Quarter at night!
♦Number of times visited: 1
Getting there and transportation: Arriving to Vietnam is only possible by plane when travelling from Europe or America. Even travelling from neighbouring countries it's also recommended to take a flight. Vietnam's major gateways are Hanoi (HAN) and Ho Ching Ming City (SGN) . The national airline being Vietnam Airlines flies across to Europe and America and has many flights to the south East Asian continent.
Alternatively other airlines offering good connections are Thai Airways, Malaysian Airlines, Emirates, Turkish Airlines amongst many more.
Within the country, getting to bigger cities is still advised to go by plane as distances are large. The road infrastructure is not developed enough to be safe in case of any break downs.
Travelling to smaller towns and to mountainous terrain is possible by local busses. But going solo can be very hard to organise trips without local guides as the lack of English speaking in the whole of Vietnam is quite common. Only workers in the specific areas of Hotels and tour companies are able to hold some fluent conversation in English.
Food and Drink: Perhaps the Vietnamese food is one of the most shocking cuisine's ever found, both in the preparation and the ingredients used. Despite from past tendencies where Vietnamese would eat "anything alive" the Vietnamese dishes have evolved, and come into civilisation with high quality ingredients to the point that it's one of the most famous international cuisines around the globe now for its flavours and variety in products. Vietnamese dishes are boiled or steamed rather than stir-fried, and a huge importance is placed on herbs and seasoning.
Buddhism introduced a vegetarian tradition to Vietnam, while later the French brought bread, dairy products, pastries and the café culture.
The quality and variety of food is generally better in the main towns than away in the towns and villages. Restaurants in Hanoi are very abundant, you will find them in every corner of the streets and many are often in the open air on the street, making it a true experience to have dinner mixed with the locals. You’ll never go hungry. There’s always some stall selling a noodle soup or rice platter and plenty of fruit and juices to refresh on.
Main food used: The centre of Vietnamese meals is rice, with noodles, vegetables, at breakfast or as a snack. Seafood and fish flavoured either fresh or dried with shallots, coriander and lemon grass. Vietnamese food tends not to be over-spicy; instead chilli sauces or fresh chillies are served separately. Spring rolls, combination of minced pork, shrimp or crab, rice vermicelli, onions, etc are rolled in rice-paper wrappers, and then eaten fresh or deep-fried.Soups and noodles, the basic bowl of soup consists of a light beef broth, flavoured with ginger or coriander, to which are added flat rice-noodles, spring onions and slivers of chicken, pork or beef. Meat, pork, chicken, beef and even Dog meat can be found in the Vietnamese dinning table. Snake is supposed to improve male virility. Dining on snake is surrounded by a ritual, which, if you’re guest of honour, requires you to swallow the still-beating heart! Duck Eggs, Another one strictly for stomach strong,, embryo-containing eggs boiled and eaten only five days before hatching!
Vietnam’s national drink is green tea, which is the accompaniment to every social gathering or business meeting and is frequently drunk after meals. As for Alcoholic drinks, there’s also rice wine, together with some local beer.
Transportation: Reaching Hanoi by plane is just the easy step. Getting to the city centre is possible by different means of transport.First, local busses serve the city but they don't reach right into the heart of the old Quarter. Bus number 17 connects the airport to Long Bien bus station but are not equipped for luggage storage and often services can run at odd hours (finishing in the evening) .Cost 5.000 VNMThe most common transport option is by minibus or van. If you are staying near the old quarter, the most reliable service is the Vietnam Airlines transfer service. They will go directly to the Main office of Vietnam Airlines (Between Tran Thi st and Quang Trung st near the Hoàn Kiếm Lake) from there you can make your own way by foot. Cost is 50.000 VNM per person. These minibusses depart every 30 minutes, but it's not a surprise if you are made waiting until the van is completely full.If you arrive late, private but official vans would be waiting just outside the arrivals level. Price is similar or cheaper to that of the airlines service. But expect a very compacted trip with other travellers, squashing your luggage and making room in any posible way.
Many locals offer cheap rides on their bikes. This being exciting but at the same time be warned you're at your own risk.
Tip: Be sure to never pay drivers more than the arranged amount, if you pay with a higher note, chances are that you will not see any change. Drivers don't speak English so it can be quiet difficult in arranging directions. These vans promise to take you direct to your hotel, but they will sometimes try to cut corners and drop you off further away.Be firm with the driver and don't get off the van till you are sure you are close to your accommodation.
Having GPS aid will help you entirely in reaching your destination.
Once in the city you will see that public transport is not exactly visible. As with many cities in Vietnam, the infrastructure is not developed. Therefore local people move by private cars and Motorbikes around the congested city. Small Tuk-tuk style bikes are aslo available for tourists, as well as, golf cars which make a city tour around the old town.
Weather and Temperature: Hanoi is located further north of the Equator, and on a higher sea level, meaning that temperatures are not as humid as other popular Asian cities such as Bankok or Kuala Lampur. It's more pleasant to walk around with a light sun tan during most of the year, however Winter temperatures (November to April) are between 15-23C. The best time to visit Hanoi is during the spring (February to April) and autumn (August to October). The temperatures are more moderate and rainfall is lighter. Summer's (May-September) can get quite humid and sticky, reaching an easy 30C!
Old Quarter: This is the heart of Hanoi, and it's the most relevant, popular area for tourists as it hosts many Hotels, Hostels, restaurants, hip cafes, bakeries, boutique shops, art galleries, Buddhist temples and pagodas, markets and night life entertainment. The Old Quarter, located near Hoan Kiem Lake, is Hanoi’s major commercial district.
It's ancient commercial streets which are dating back about 1,000 years. Most of the specialities (cotton, jewellery, herbs, and silk) have changed over time and have been replaced with a variety of modern-day commodities and services, visitors can still appreciate some of the original goods as well as get a feel of rich old Vietnamese customs.
One of Hanoi’s most common sights, is that of streets packed with scooters, bicycles and cars trying to make their way around pedestrians like packed sardines! And not only the streets are narrow, but there are many sidewalk vendors and people simply stopping by, making it very far from circulating peacefully around the streets. Visitors have no choice but to face the traffic in the local style but the experience of exploring the historical area is a must-do and truly well worth it.
What to see and do? Hanoi, being the capital has an interesting mix of cultural buildings blended in with the city's highly dense population residential areas.
You can find governmental institutions in majestic buildings, art galleries, museums, parks and lakes in the city. The best area to be able to see everything is staying in the Old Quarter where reaching all the places of interest can easily be done by foot.
Other places of interest are the Military History Museum (a must see Museum to understand Vietnam's recent History plus seeing real remains of military and Air force equipment, entrance is 20.000VND), Hoàn Kiếm Lake, (next to the Old Quarter), Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum(large memorial set in a park background), St. Joseph's Cathedral, Hanoi Opera House, Ho Chi Minh Museum, Trấn Quốc Pagoda, (is the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi, located on a small island near the southeastern shore of Hanoi's West Lake).
Accommodation: For a traveller on a budget, Hanoi is a paradise of Hotels and Hostels offering travellers very competitive rates. A basic Hotel will cost anything between 10-20 USD a night. However the amenities provided are very limited, Hotel staff might not speak good English and rooms are not in the best of states. When travelling to Hanoi, don't expect luxury even if you paid higher prices. Specially in the Old Quarter, it can be often dirty and mice and rats are not uncommon to be seen. To avoid any problems stay in well reviewed Hotels.
Tip: When in Hanoi (and Vietnam) take a printed Copy of your reservation to the accommodation, as sometimes Hotels can overbook and not confirm your booking, therefore creating a problem and refusing to help specially if they don't speak good English.
Suggestion: Whilst in Hanoi, don't only limit your stay to the city, as there are many opportunities of exploring the outskirts by organised tours. You can choose tours most likely from your Hotel/Hostel, or from side street travel agents located within the Old Quarter. They offer one day tours or multiple days.
The tour made by the author was the Hoa Lu and Tam Coc Full day Tour, including visiting Ancient Temples, (built in honor of the emperors Dinh Tien Hoang and Le Dai Hanh), boat ride (during 90min visiting 3 natural caves around the Ngo Dong River), lunch, Bicycle Hire and visiting the tea and rice plantations.
Recommended Duration: For a first time traveller Hanoi is worth visiting for at least 4 to 5 nights as there are plenty of tours to take and enjoying the city as well as the outskirts is highly recommend. However if you only staying in the city 2 or 3 nights would be enough.