Vacay in Vietnam Part 2: Top Things To Do & Eat in Hanoi
Updated: Mar 26, 2019
Welcome to part 2 of my Vietnam blog series! In this post I'll be highlighting some of the fun things Jd and I did during our stay in the country's capital. Hanoi is such a fun and vibrant city for plenty of things to do, no matter what you're interests are. My hope is that after reading this, you'll be left with a couple of ideas when planning your trip.
Hanoi lies in the northern part of the country, and the Old Quarter was our "home base" if you will, during out stay in Vietnam. It was from here, that we would depart to go on multi-day trips. We were able to spend four full days in Hanoi and covered a lot of ground in that short time.
Things to see and do in Hanoi
Stroll around Hoàn Kiếm Lake (streets closed off Sundays)
Hoàn Kiếm Lake is located in the Old Quarter, and it is here where you'll find the Temple of the Jade Mountain. Admission to the temple is only a couple of dollars. The lake is lined with plenty of restaurants, and cafes. The gardens surrounding the lake are well kept which makes this area a nice to place to sit and people watch or read your favorite book. You'll find many people exercising here, taking photos, and even free street performances. Tip: The main roads are closed off on Sundays, making this place easily accessible.
Viet Culture Space Lotus Water Puppet Show
This is a fun activity to do when you are looking to fill some free time. The Viet Culture Space is along the lake; they offer multiple puppet showings a day. Again, admission is cheap and the runtime for the show is only 50 minutes. There are about 12 acts per show and each act tells a different story about Vietnamese folklore and culture. Honestly, I thought it was a hilarious show and really enjoyed it. Others in the crowd though felt it was a good opportunity for an after dinner nap. Tip: No need to book in advance since there are plenty of showings!
See the Train Street
This was one of my favorite experiences in Hanoi! I had never seen anything quite like it before. Locals live along the tracks; some of who have taken advantage of the rise in tourism by opening their own little cafes. When JD and I got here we grabbed some beers, grabbed a stool and sat against this woman's shop waiting for the train from Ho Chi Minh to pass through. As it was arriving, everyone removed the tables and chairs they were just relaxing in, off the tracks.
Locals and tourists pressed themselves against the walls or stood inside doorways for a few minutes before returning back to daily life. It was amazing! The locals were friendly to us and seemed to be amused by all of us with our cameras out taking pictures of something that to them is just part of life. Tip: Train times for the Lê Duẩn section of the tracks are 3:30pm and 7:30pm. Getting here can be a teeny bit tricky in terms of the streets you need to cross so just be mindful.
Here's the address: Ngõ 224 Lê Duẩn, Đống Đa, Hà Nội (Just a bit passed Hoàn Kiếm lake in the Old Quarter)
St. Joseph's Cathedral
This cathedral reminded me of my trip to Paris. There is a nice little square in front of it where you'll see many people taking pictures and hanging out. To the left and right are cafes, restaurants, and hostels. Address: 40 Nhà Chung, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Night Market (Friday-Sunday)
Try your bargaining skills and find great souvenirs at the Night Market. The night market runs weekly from Friday - Sunday, and is very close to the Hoàn Kiếm lake.
Other fun things to do include:
Get a massage
Places to eat and drink in Hanoi
This place isn't much to look at, but don't let it steer you away. It was the best Pho we've ever had. We kept going back to get our fix. Tip: Arrive early if you are looking to try any of the special soups as they frequently sell out. Address: 10 Lý Quốc Sư, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Banh Mi 25
This was one of my favorite places to eat. This popular chain serves Banh Mi sandwiches with a twist, and offer fresh juices and smoothies. I went with the beef and cheese banh mi and was not disappointed. Address: 25 Hàng Cá, P, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
The Note Coffee
Another cute place that's great for grabbing a light breakfast, or stopping by for a quick lunch, and a coffee break. The place is literally covered with notes written by visitors all over the world. The staff are really friendly, and are out daily waving you inside. Tip: Go up to the 4th floor for a great view of the lake. Address: 64 Lương Văn Can, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
This is adjacent to the St. Joseph's Cathedral and offers great outdoor seating overlooking the plaza. While there is no food, they offer great cocktails, coffee, smoothies, and teas. The insta-worthy interior design is really great too, and would be a great place to hang out. Address: 2 Nhà Thờ, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Cộng Cà Phê (Cafe)
This is a popular chain cafe that serves delicious condensed milk coffee, and the popular coconut coffee. You can visit one of the locations next to the lake.
Drinking at Tạ Hiện Beer Street
Thanks to a new friend we had made at dinner, we discovered Tạ Hiện. It is a fun and busy street lined with bars. You'll find both locals and visitors hopping around after 9pm. We visited Tom's Bar, and it was nice to sit outside soaking in the atmosphere.
Eat Bun Cha at a Local Restaurant
This was a really tasty dish that I recommend trying. Bun Cha is a popular local soup dish that includes grilled meat and some vegetables. This dish became even more popular after President Obama and Anthony Bourdain paid a visit to the local restaurant in the photo below. Sadly, it is currently under renovations, and is transforming into a new restaurant.
However, you can still visit their second location.
We decided to opt out, and went to this small local, yet popular, restaurant instead. Address: Bun cha Dac Kim at No. 1 Hang Manh, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
Nhà hàng Mediterraneo Restaurant
If Vietnamese food is not your thing, this restaurant had really amazing dishes. I ordered the linguine pesto. You could tell the ingredients were fresh and that the pasta was handmade. Since I've been living the Seoul the last 6 months, I was really craving decent Italian dishes. This restaurant is close to the cathedral. Address: 23 Nha Tho St. | Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, Vietnam
Where to Stay
Honestly one of the greatest things about Vietnam is the affordability! There are many quality hostels, and hotels for cheap in the Old Quarter. The Old Quarter also isn't that big so it doesn't matter too much where you choose to book. Tip: Most tours offering day trips out of Hanoi will offer free pick-up anywhere in the Old Quarter only. During our trip we stayed at the following; Golden Holiday Hotel, Hotel Trendy, and the Sunline Paon Hotel
Tipping while optional, is still expected in Vietnam as many of those working in Hanoi travel from farther villages, and may not always make a high living wage. For tours that we booked or any taxi services, our tour guide told us it was customary to tip only a couple dollars per person. For the tour guides themselves we gave a little more, between 5-10 dollars. It's up to you though, and tipping more would obviously be greatly appreciated.
Crossing the Street
At first, it was really intimidating at the thought of crossing streets like in the photo below with hundreds of scooters zooming by. After a day or so we got the hang of it. When crossing the street it's best to move at a slow, yet consistent pace. You can even walk with your arm out as a signal to drivers. It's okay to stop in the middle of the road, but whatever you do, be sure not to run or back track. Scooters will easily navigate around you. Be careful of oncoming cars or buses as they are less likely to stop. Tip: Ignore the traffic lights too. Everyone else does, and if you wait for the pedestrian light to turn green, you'd be waiting all day. Take a deep breath and go for it!
Honestly, we felt very safe during our stay in Hanoi. The people are lovely. We never noticed anyone hanging around that looked sketchy, but of course we made sure to never put ourselves in a compromising situation. Hanoi at night is an exciting place so it's worth taking a stroll.
These were some of the basic phrases we learned and used. A little bit goes a long way, and people really appreciate it.
Xin chào (Shin Chao) - Hello!
Cảm ơn (Cam Eun) - Thank you
(Insert your order) + làm ơn (Lam Eun) - I would like_please.
Phòng tắm - Bathroom
Tạm biệt - Goodbye
Vâng (Vung) - Yes
Không - No
There you have it! I really hope you enjoyed reading and are feeling excited about booking your next trip to Vietnam. Stay tuned and subscribe for the next post's in the Vietnam Blog series. (You can read part 1 featuring Ha Long Bay, here.)
Feel free to reach out with questions. :)
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