The capital city of Vietnam – Hanoi, is much more than what first meets the eye. On first impressions, Hanoi in three words; scooters, crazy, scooters. From the moment that we got into the taxi from the airport, we realised that motorway lanes do not exist in Hanoi, traffic right of way doesn’t exist… (or at least they have their own system that only the locals are privy to) and everyone owns a scooter. Surely these situations are a nightmare waiting to happen? However, I couldn’t help but notice that I didn’t witness any road accidents whatsoever throughout my whole stay in Hanoi, which is crazy considering at one point, about 25 scooters were charging towards the side of our taxi on the way to our hotel. I had to shut my eyes and hope for the best, but the locals seem to know exactly what they’re doing so have some faith in your driver…. (unless you rent your own scooter in which case – definitely learn the rules of their road!!).
Prior to heading to Hanoi, I had done research and found that the best spot to stay in is the Old Quarter. I found La Beaute de Hanoi Hotel (because of the amount of insane reviews on TripAdvisor) and shortly booked it on booking.com. The hotel is located on a road that only scooters can reach so when the taxi pulled up onto the next door street, I have to admit, I felt slightly overwhelmed by the craziness that was ongoing around us. To tell you the truth – I was actually confused as to why people loved and recommended the Old Quarter of Hanoi. But then I realised… the Old Quarter is the magic of Hanoi.
In the Old Quarter, you really are right in the heart of it, and now I’ve stayed there – I wouldn’t chose to stay anywhere else. By the time I left Hanoi, I was in love with the craziness of it – it keeps you on your toes and every single street is so intriguing. So now I can agree with all of the advice on recommending the Old Quarter and in particular the lovely hotel that I stayed in – La Beaute de Hanoi Hotel.
I was in Hanoi for four days and did and saw as much as possible whilst I was there – as, let’s face it… it isn’t everyday that you’re in Hanoi! Below are the top ten things that I really enjoyed and one’s that I highly recommend whilst in Hanoi; there are some absolute must’s in there…
1. Have a drink up at SkyLine Rooftop Bar
My number one moment throughout my whole stay in Hanoi and absolute highlight, was watching the sunset on the rooftop at SkyLine Bar. It took me very much by surprise, as we hadn’t read any reviews… we just noticed a sign on the street at a hotel advertising the rooftop bar. I didn’t even fancy going up there as I was quite tired but my boyfriend really wanted to – slightly reluctantly, I went up. Oh my gosh – absolutely no regrets! I am sooo glad that I did! We originally went up for ‘one quick drink’ and came down 5 hours later after having a few drinks as well as dinner – it was honestly too magical to leave.
We went about 4/5ish – I ordered an avocado milkshake (heaven!) and watched the sun go down with the best 360 degree view over the Old Quarter. For the luxury that you get, it’s not even that pricey, for Vietnam, yes it’s more than average but nothing more than standard pricing in the UK. So you really cannot visit Hanoi without visiting the SkyLine Bar (find it here).
2. Visit Hoa Lo Prison
I’m not usually a museum kind of gal, or particularly fascinated with museums or those alike – however… Hoa Lo Prison I found extremely intriguing. We’d heard mixed reviews about it so were unsure whether to go for it – but I loved it! Hoa Lo Prison was used by the French for Vietnamese political prisoners and the later on used by the Vietnamese for the US prisoners of war.
It was very interesting and shocking to see how the different types of prisoners were treated. The way that everything is presented, is very graphic and life-like which gave a real insight into the Vietnamese prospective on both periods.
3. Go for dinner at Quan Bia Minh, Old Quarter
Okay so when you first get there, it really doesn’t look like much, but we went in as there were so many people of all nationalities eating there. So we gave it a go. The magical thing about this place is just how cheap it is! We got a dinner for two with a drink each for under £5 which was insane!
The food was so tasty, their milkshakes were delicious and the views looking over the streets of the old quarter kept us entertained (and shocked… Bentley’s were driving through the Old Quarter was quite an oxymoron!).
Very quaint and unassuming with 1000 wires right next to it (you’ll notice the crazy amount of wires hanging down so much in Asia – it shocked me at first, but now I expect it). Grab a beer and a noodle dish and soak up the Vietnamese atmosphere. Check it out on TripAdvisor here.
4. Stroll around Chua Tran Quoc
Such a peaceful temple and free to wander round. It’s set on West lake, so offers beautiful surrounding views as you stroll round. The gorgeous architecture is very photogenic and it’s lovely to see that it’s still such an active place of worship for the locals.
5. Cycle around West Lake
I have to admit – we walked around the lake… but didn’t actually cycle in the end as we couldn’t find the bikes (haha!) but we were told about how wonderful it is to cycle and a fabulous option to see everything. So if you can find the bike hire, definitely go for it (I’m sure a spot of Googling would have saved us the confusion but we were very happy strolling around).
We walked to the lake from the Old Quarter (a few wrong turns but a sense of achievement once we finally found it) and it was super interesting to see the difference between the traditional Vietnamese Old Quarter behind us contrasting against the new and modern Hanoi sky scrapers being built in front of us. Hanoi is very much a developing city that I’m sure has great things to come…
6. Eat or drink in the Old Quarter Circle at night (Quảng trường Đông Kinh Nghĩa Thục)
On our first night in Hanoi, we hadn’t got our bearings yet but just needed to quench our thirst and settle our hunger. We ended up at the main circle in the Old Quarter, really throwing ourselves into the deep end of Hanoi! There are quite a few western options including Dominos, which surprised us, however we opted for a more local restaurant but if you do come here for dinner – you get a lot of varied options. But the biggest highlight for us was the view down to the road. We ended up being mesmerised by what lay below us, it was like we were hypnotised and couldn’t take our eyes off the road – the amount of motorbikes and scooters and families of 5 on one scooter was insane! I very much enjoyed soaking the atmosphere up whilst being in a safe spot looking down onto it – relaxing with a drink whilst not being caught up in the craziness.
7. Visit Ha Long Bay
Most people who visit Hanoi are generally there to visit Halong Bay. Originally, we had planned to only stay a day in Hanoi and do Ha Long Bay for longer, but it worked out we did it the other way round. Ha Long Bay was absolutely stunning, being a wonder of the world (one of the new 7 wonders of nature), there was no doubt about that. The limestone rocks shooting out of the water were such a beautiful sight… all 1960 of them! I felt like we were in a dream world, we went kayaking through the caves and arches and it was magical being so close to the water and the islets.
The only disappointment for me, was the fact that it was incredibly touristy and over-crowded, however this is something we have to cope with these days when there’s so much hype around the place. We went with V’Spirit Cruises, which you can book here and were lucky that it was such a beautiful day, we had lunch downstairs on the boat, then headed up for sunbathing whilst sailing through this wonder of the world. The tour also included visiting the biggest cave I’ve ever seen and return journeys from and to Hanoi. I’ve captured the most beautiful sights in Ha Long Bay so it is worth a visit there if you can overlook the crowds!
8. Grab a coffee at Cong Caphe
So Vietnam is famous for it’s coffee – and I can see why. As a coffee lover myself, I was in heaven! Iced coffees are my fave and this cafe literally looked so cute, I had my eye on it as soon as we got to Hanoi, so the last day we squeezed in a coffee and it did not disappoint. We sat down outside and looked down onto the busy streets (a recurring theme of mine throughout this blog post, but you will understand why once you get to Hanoi)… delicious coffee, very cute ambiance and interesting views. Tick.
9. Have lunch opposite the Opera House at Cafe Terrace
Our first lunch in Hanoi did not disappoint. Offering beautiful views of the Opera House and a deliciously tasty meal – what more could you want for a lunch? We were just walking past and decided to go in, I hadn’t received any recommendations to go – and I’m glad that I didn’t research it before hand as since then I have Tripadvisored Cafe Terrace – only to discover some bad reviews! We had no problems when we ate there and it was a very pleasant lunch!
10. Visit the Vietnamese Women’s Museum
This museum was really interesting to get an understanding of the Vietnamese culture and history on in particular, the Vietnamese women. So if you’d like to learn about the culture that you’re surrounded by in Vietnam, definitely take an hour or so to explore round and learn. I would recommend going at the start of your Vietnamese trip so that then throughout your journey you can recognise things and understand your surroundings. I have to admit, we stayed here a little too long (my boyfriend lingers over every detail – which is great.. but not when you stay in one section for over an hour). It was interesting to learn more about the Vietnamese whilst in Vietnam, however I thought that Hoa Lo Prison was more intriguing.
So from scooters, crazy, scooters, to lasting impressions of Hanoi – my three words now to describe this city would be:
Diverse, intriguing & great-food (can that count as 1 word please?).
So there you have it – my top things to do in Hanoi. Let me know if you’ve been to Hanoi in the comments below and what you recommend doing there.