The Insider’s Guide to Hanoi

Hanoi has a wealth of amazing experiences for you to to indulge in. The following are our top recommendations.

If you’re in the mood for an epic mix of delectable cuisine, rich culture and vibrant city vibes—Hanoi is the place for you. Literally meaning ‘city inside rivers’, it’s located in northern Vietnam on the western bank of the Red River.

Hanoi as we know it today is a product of French, Chinese and Russian influences, revealing a rich history of foreign occupation and its impression on the Hanoian community. This compact capital city has much to offer for both short getaways and longer trips; it’s no wonder it often sits high on a traveller’s list!

Whether you’re a fresh or seasoned traveller, here are some useful tips to know as you gear up for a fulfilling break in Hanoi.

Prepare for the right weather

Vietnam’s varying weather patterns could be attributed to its long, narrow geography. The country has three different weather systems, so it helps to think of these regions as separate destinations when planning your trip:

North Vietnam: Hanoi, Halong Bay, Cuc Phuong, Mai Chau and Ninh Binh
Central Vietnam: Hoi An, Danang, Hue, Dalat, Quy Nhon and Nha Trang
South Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City, The Mekong Delta, Phu Quoc and Con Dao, Phan Thiet and Mui Ne, Ho Tram and Long Hai.

The best time to visit Hanoi is between September to November or from March to April, when the weather is most travel-friendly. During these months, temperatures range from 18°C to 30°C with relatively minimal rainfall, allowing you to do more with your days.

Learn to conquer Hanoi’s traffic system

If you ask anyone about their most thrilling experience in Hanoi, they’d probably share recollections of crossing the street. With more than 5 million motorbikes in Hanoi alone, it’s no wonder a task as mundane as crossing the street is an adventure on its own.

It may seem daunting at first, but just be sure to walk slowly and steadily while maintaining eye contact with the riders and drivers as you glide between vehicles. As long as you move at a predictable pace, the vehicles will be able to manoeuvre without crashing into you!

Add these must-try delicacies to your eat list

The easiest (and arguably best) way to experience a foreign culture is often through its culinary offerings. An obvious must-try is pho, usually eaten with rare cuts of beef paired with a flavourful broth made from bones, flank steak, ginger, onions, and aromatic spices. Most locals frequent Phở Gia Truyền Bát Đàn, a pho restaurant so famous that the queues start as early as 6am!

Treat yourself to a fusion of rice vermicelli and traditionally grilled pork with bún chả. The sour-spicy broth, made from fish sauce with chilli, garlic and lemon, complements the sweetness of the pork for a sweet and spicy kick. Every store keeps their own secret formulas, so don’t be afraid to try Vietnamese dishes repeatedly as you fuel up for more sightseeing. For the uninitiated, you can’t go wrong with Bún Chả Hương Liên, now commonly known asBún Chả Obama (the late Anthony Bourdain once dined with former United States President Barack Obama here).

Finally, you can’t visit Hanoi without a sip of its famed egg coffee, cà phê trứng. A unique concoction you probably won’t find anywhere else, the drink is a marriage between two unlikely ingredients – egg yolk and coffee. Said to be invented in 1946 at a time when fresh milk was scarce, a bartender named Nguyen Van Giang decided to use egg yolk as a milk replacement. Fast forward to today, and egg coffee can be found all over Hanoi, but for the real deal, it’s best to go to its source: Café Giang, located down a narrow alley in the city’s Old Quarter, is currently run by Giang’s son and family. The café welcomes a never ending stream of customers daily, all eager for a cup of the creamy sweet coffee.

Plan your routes around the city

Hanoi is often the wanderer’s favourite city for a reason – the compact layout allows numerous attractions, restaurants and accommodation options to be located close to one another. Most travellers often choose to stay within the districts of Hoàn Kiếm (Old Quarter and French Quarter), Ba Dinh, Tay Ho (West Lake), and Hai Ba Trung.

You could easily experience most of Hanoi on foot, but you could also hop on the city’s many modes of public transportation: motorcycle taxis, car taxis, cyclos (a three-wheeled bicycle taxi) and buses. There are also e-hailing services like Grab at your disposal. Alternatively, if you’re keen to experience the hustle and bustle of Hanoi’s traffic from a different perspective, you could rent your own vehicle of choice.

Some of the must-visit attractions in the region include the picturesque Hoàn Kiếm Lake; to the north of the lake is Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain), which sits on a small island accessible via a quaint scarlet bridge. Built in the 18th century and dedicated to General Tran Hung Dao (who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century), scholar Van Xuong and Confucian master Nguyen Van Sieu, Ngoc Son Temple is one of Hanoi’s busiest. Visible from Hoàn Kiếm Lake is also Thap Rua Tower (also known as the Turtle Tower), an ancient ruin-like structure built in 1886 that symbolises Hanoi’s patriotic pride. The tower is on a small island just off the edge of the lake so it’s not directly accessible, but with a good enough camera you can capture Turtle Tower in all its stunning glory.

Next, check out the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (the final resting place of Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh) or head straight to St. Joseph’s Cathedral—often described as the ‘Notre Dame de Paris of Hanoi’ for its neo-gothic style. Finally, if you’d like to experience an extraordinary Hanoi phenomenon, make your way to the city’s Train Street (between Le Duan and Kham Tien street in the Old Quarter) around 3.30pm to 7pm and watch as a train zooms through a narrow residential alleyway, missing passing homes and people by inches. Just make sure you plant yourself at a safe spot to see this!

Explore nearby destinations to spice up your itinerary

If time permits,take advantage of Hanoi’s strategic location to explore the rest of North Vietnam. Popular among visitors is Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Gulf of Tonkin famed for its limestone karsts and scenic emerald waters. It takes less than four hours to get to Halong City by bus, and from there you can opt to hop on a day or overnight cruise to explore Halong Bay’s many island attractions. While Halong Bay is open all year, the best time to visit Halong Bay is in November when the skies are typically clear and the seas are calmer.

A must-visit for nature lovers is Ninh Binh for its rivers and waterways, sprawling rice fields and overall laid-back, rural Vietnam vibes. Getting to Ninh Binh city will take around two hours by train from Hanoi, and you can explore the region by renting a bike or motorcycle, or taking a taxi. If you can do only one thing in Ninh Binh, make sure it’s exploring Trang An’s cave complexes by boat, a two-hour ride through cave tunnels and narrow waterways – the best way to soak in the area’s natural beauty.

To visit some of these sites, you may have to book tours in advance, but fret not, there are plenty of tour agencies located throughout the city for you to haggle your way to scoring a budget-friendly deal for your visits.

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