Let’s continue with my little ad hoc series about travel tips. After Singapore, it’s now time so summarise what to best see and do in Hanoi. Just remember, when you read my tips, they are all from my point of view, from an art & food loving person who travels with her husband, friends and sometimes even with her parents – but without kids.
1/ Where to stay:
Hotel de l’Opera (29 Trang Tien street in the Hoan Kiem district) is close to the opera (the name is a bit of a giveaway) and has quirky design rooms, that surround a courtyard that doubles up as restaurant. The rooms are big and colorful, but I found the lighting to be a bit tricky and dark in some corners. But overall, it is a pleasant stay, the service is very attentive and the breakfast is good.
The Moevenpick Hanoi (83A Ly Thuong Kiet street in the Hoan Kiem district) used to be the M Hotel (and I stayed there back in 2008) – so I can’t tell you how the hotel is under the new branding, but under the previous one, the location was great (just minutes away from the railway station and Quan An Ngon restaurant) and the rooms were big and quiet. I’m presuming it will be even better now!
Of course, if you want to splurge, go and stay at the Hotel Sofitel Legrand Metropole (15 Ngo Quyen street in the Hoan Kiem District) – the queen of hotels in Hanoi. Just walking past it made me want to go inside and just experience an afternoon tea!
2/ What to do:
Well, first and foremost, you have to explore the Old Quarter. You can do this by food and just walk around.
You don’t need to worry, you can just go and stroll around, there is nothing to be afraid of – even if you turn down a wrong street, chances are that after a few turns you either appear at the lake, the market or one of the main streets, so you can reorientate yourself again.
Walk around the Hoan Kiem lake – especially in the morning when you see everyone out there in their sleepwear doing exercise such as tai chi. Actually, you don’t need to go that early – I’ve seen aerobic classes in the evening too!
Then, if you only are going to see one temple, make it the temple of literature – which is basically the oldest university in Vietnam! It is so much more than a temple or an university, it is an amazing place where history feels so alive – but in a good way, it is a green lush park, and you can see the names of the people taking the final exams on stones next to you. It really is my favourite place to visit in Hanoi.
I haven’t written a special blog post about it, but the Tran Quoc Pagoda is definitely worth a visit too. It is one of the oldest pagodas in Hanoi and was built in the sixth century. It was moved several times and given different names, but it now stands next to the West Lake and is a beautiful site.
Of course, the Ho Chi Min Mausoleum complex is also interesting – if you’ve never been. You just have to time it carefully so you can see all the sights in one go, as some are only open in the morning, others close for lunch and then Monday/Friday are not the best days to visit.
Strolling through markets is also a great past time – you could visit Dong Xuan market in the northern part of the Old Quarter, it’s such a great experience. Not necessarily for buying souvenirs, but just to see everyday life. Plus there will be great examples of sleeping shopkeepers, if you visit after lunch!
What to eat:
Maybe I should have called this section ‘what to drink’ – because the answer is coffee! It does not matter if you don’t really like it, you should still try it as it really is great. There are so many different versions (hot or cold, sweet or very sweet, with ice cream or without – or maybe with an egg?). As you could probably gather, my favourite Vietnamese coffee place has become Cộng Càphê, which is a local chain with about 5-6 outlets. The one in the old quarter at 35A Nguyen Huu Huan, Hoan Kiem District is nice, as it has a balcony from which you can overlook the neighbouring streets.
Alternatively, if you need strong Western coffee, try Puku coffee. They serve good espresso coffee and are open 24 hours – we went there at 6.30am after our visit to the flower market… and we got breakfast served immediately (18 Tong Duy Tan, Hoan Kiem District). By the way, if you want to find out more about coffee places in Hanoi, here is a great post I stumbled upon!
Ok, on to food… and as you can guess, street food is the way to go in Hanoi! Promise me you try Bun Cha (go to 1 Hang Manh for the biggest and best portion), then go and have some Banh Goi at 52 Ly Quoc Su Street, next to the Cathedral. Banh cuon is amazing too, especially if you can find one of the small street vendors to make it fresh for you!
Quan An Ngon is a safe place – especially on your first evening in Vietnam, when you don’t know where and what to eat. They serves pretty much everything although a tiny bit pricier. We went to the one that is close to the Railway station on 18 Phan Boi Chau Street.
I have to admit – we didn’t go to any fancy or posh restaurants – the street foo din Hanoi is so good, we just indulged on lots of different snacks and dishes!
At night time
There are many things you can do – and I recommend you try two very different things. One on evening go and visit the water puppet theatre that’s so famous in Hanoi. For over a thousand years, performers in Vietnamese water puppet theatre have performed in a chest-deep pool of water, with the water’s surface as a stage. Water is an excellent medium for puppetry: it conceals the puppeteers’ rod and string mechanisms and makes for exciting effects like waves and splashes.
On the other evening, visit Minh’s Jazz Club (65 Quan Su, 3rd Floor, Hoan Kiem district). It is on the third floor of the Hog Life Cafe and plays jazz almost every night. There’s no cover charge (but of course, drinks are a little more expensive than at a bar or restaurant, to cover the cost) and Minh showcases some of the best local talent. He himself teaches saxophone at the Hanoi Conservatory and moonlights here. It is a great experience, and if you are free between 8pm and midnight, you should visit it. We enjoyed it very much and will be back again!
How to get there:
It’s easy from Hong Kong, you just get a direct flight that takes about 90 minutes from Hong Kong directly to Hanoi – then it will take you almost the same time to clear immigration (remember that you probably need to apply for a visa), get your suitcase of the carousel and take a taxi into the centre of town… the airport is about 45-60 minutes drive away from the city.