As opposed to most travelers exploring Vietnam, we commenced our adventure in Hanoi. Leaving the phenomenal Philippine paradise behind, we flew from Manila’s Ninoy Aquino airport to Noi Bai airport, Hanoi.
Did you know that you need a letter of approval before you are allowed to enter Vietnam? Well, we casually forgot about arranging this in advance. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal. It’s easy to obtain a rush visa from Vietnam Evisa for roughly 50 USD, depending on the hurry you’re in.
However, we booked our ticket from Manila to Hoi An on the 29th of January 2017 quite some time ago while still traveling Australia’s East coast. Not realizing the Vietnamese would be celebrating Tet at that time.
Tet is the Lunar (Chinese) New Years celebration in Vietnam, taking place in most South East Asian countries. It’s a 3 day public holiday. Long story short, it means that most of the Embassies are closed and arranging a rush visa is not an option. The only way to get in to the country on a Saturday, Sunday or a public holiday is if you pay. A so called penalty fee has to be payed in order to have a poor bastard, who has to work on weekends and public holidays, stamp your passport. My guess is that this poor guy isn’t actually that poor, as we payed 424 USD for two people to get a one month single entry visa 😩.
We looked at other options like flying somewhere else from Manila and wait there for Tet to be over, but that would cost us about the same amount of money, and have a big impact on our planned route through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. So, lesson learned: always check the required visa criteria way in advance!
Fortunately, Hanoi made up for this big bummer by being such an amazing city! Especially when you’re into food and beer, which happens to be kind of my thing.
Read on to find out about my favorite Hanoi spots which I’d like to share with you!
Where to Stay
When in Hanoi, you want to stay in the Old Quarter area. This part of the city is full of street food stands and cheap beer cafes! We stayed in the Rendezvous hostel which I would certainly recommend if you’re looking for a cheap and comfortable bed in Hanoi. Check for availability here!
By the way, the reception staff arranged a very reasonably priced and amazing rice field trekking tour in Sa Pa for us. Check out the beautiful photos in my post on this Vietnam highlight here!
There are loads of options when it comes to drinking tea, coffee or beer in Hanoi! The city is packed with little coffee houses and bia hoi corners. Below are our favorite picks!
This is where we started our days in Hanoi. This tiny juicery with a fresh colorful interior has some delicious smoothies and cold pressed juices on the menu. You can also create your own smoothies. I created one with avocado, banana, soy milk, spinach, peanut butter, cinnamon and chocolate chips as topping. Try it out yourself, if they haven’t put it on the menu yet!
Sitting in a decor of war memorabilia, you’ll enjoy great Vietnamese coffee and tea specialties. They serve both the traditional Vietnamese coffee here as well as modern varieties. Definitely try out the iced coconut coffee! Cong Caphe is a chain and you will therefore find them spread through the city of Hanoi!
If you want to escape the traffic chaos for a moment, this is your sanctuary! On the 11th floor of the Tirant Hotel you can enjoy great views over the city, while not being disturbed by the traffic noise. Pick a clear day! While it looks quite classy up here, beers are still priced at just 25.000 dong, 1 USD!
The beercorner is where it’s happening! This is where locals and tourists blend and every night feels like weekend here. You can easily sit here from afternoon till midnight. Cheap beer, snacks and loads of people to meet! We specifically liked the Green Pepper bar for it’s friendly and alert staff! You’ll find this bar right on the big crossing of the beercorner.
This bar is not in Old Quarter but definitely worth a visit after you’ve been to one of the many museums in the area. Like the military museum where you’ll find some impressive exhibits. Read on to find out more about some cultural activities in Hanoi! It’s not easy to spot, from the street you only see the stairs going up! Check out my Stamp account for the exact location!
Don’t have a Stamp account yet? Sign up using the code ‘reispost’, so you will automatically follow me! It’s an easy way to find all my favorite bars and restaurants as well as interesting spots around the world!
Where to Eat
Hanoi is the street food capital of Vietnam! Especially is Old Quarter you’ll find delicious Vietnamese specialties sold right on the street! Just take a seat on the mini seats and enjoy! Check out my Stamp account for the best locations!
Fancy a lunch or dinner in a romantic French ambiance? This is the place to go. It’s the complete opposite of what you experience on the streets of Hanoi. But that’s what makes it so special. We had lunch here and it was incredible! The food was served in very creative ways and tasted amazing. Try out the set lunch menu for only 265.000 dong, about 11 USD. We had some aperitifs and drank two glasses of white wine, which totaled our romantic lunch at about 1 million dong. This is relatively expensive for Vietnamese standards, but worth it! The next day you can eat for 2 USD to level it out 😉.
Banh mi 25
Looking for the best Banh Mi sandwich in Hanoi? Look no further! This is it! It looks like a street food stand, but due to the big succes they also have a little restaurant serving great coffee and juices next door! My advice: order the mixed sandwich and ask for a little bit of extra pathé!
There’s a lot to do and see in Hanoi! Just walking the streets is an inspiring experience on its own. But there are also some very interesting museums to visit. We arrived in Hanoi during the Tet celebration, and most museums were closed. Something to bear in mind if you’re planning on visiting Vietnam late January/early February. Below you’ll find a number of interesting tourist activities.
Vietnamese Women’s Museum
This museum exhibits the important role of the women in the Vietnamese history. The museum is divided in three main sections: the role of women during the Vietnamese wars, the role of women within the family and female fashion. There are interesting temporary exhibitions as well. When we were there, numerous beautiful photographs of old Vietnamese women were on display. At the time of writing, entrance ticket were only 1 USD per person. Definitely worth a visit!
The military museum in Hanoi is hard to miss. A big fighter jet is located at the entrance and the Hanoi Flag tower is located right on the courtyard of the museum. Most of the artifacts on display are seized French or US aircrafts and tanks. To me, the most impressive was the arty statue consisting of parts of destroyed aircrafts. The statue symbolizes the enormous amount (nearly 2000!) of enemy aircrafts shot down during the Vietnam wars.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
This is where the Vietnamese honor their previous leader Ho Chi Minh. Even though he reigned over 300 years ago, he is still a highly respected figure. As he is seen as the liberator of Vietnam. The balsamed body is on display. If you like to see it you have to get up early, as visitors are allowed between 08:00 and 11:00 AM. The earlier the better because cues can get as long as 5KM in peak season! And the doors to Mr. Ho Chi Minh’s bedroom will close at 11:00 no matter how long you have been in line.
Definitely an interesting and free thing to do, visit a market in Hanoi! There’s many interesting things to see on the food market. Fish are kept alive in small tubs. There’s live frogs in cages. And check out the picture of this beautifully decorated chicken! 😜
While wandering through the city of Hanoi there’s something interesting happening on every corner. Whether it’s the crazy traffic or a vendor trying to sell you some sort of food you’ve never seen before. Just try everything please, I tasted as much as possible and did not regret one thing I put in my mouth. But back to the subject here! If you like classic (French) architecture, Hanoi is your place. The city is full of beautiful buildings in which you’ll recognize the French influences. You’ll find yourself taking heaps of photos in the areas just outside of the Old Quarter.