Located in the north of Viet Nam, Hanoi is a beautiful city that cannot be missed out from the journey along this beautiful country. Yet, how to explore this capital city of Vietnam might challenge you as a first-time tourist here. Today, we’ll help you with an overall guide about Hanoi.
In case you haven’t known, the little city is recognized as the City for Peace by UNESCO, and the oldest capital city among those in Southeast Asia.
On having evidence of human residence about 20,000 years ago and becoming the capital city of Vietnam in 1010, Hanoi is a city with such a long history and plays a central role in the politics, economy and culture of the country. Throughout the time, this city has expanded in terms of area and population to about over 8 million people living in 12 districts.
Because of the centralized services in the city, people from all over the country, especially the northern, have flocked to Hanoi to receive higher education or look for job opportunities. Therefore, you will find traces of cultures from diverse nearby areas in the city.
What time is best to visit Hanoi?
Unlike the all-the-year hot weather in Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), it can be cold or warm in Hanoi depending on the season. Therefore, your favorite weather will choose a suitable time for you. To be short, the weather throughout the year will be:
- December – March: cold, windy, temperature can be as low as 10 degrees Celsius
- April – May: warmer
- June – August: extremely hot, it can be 39 degrees during the peak of the intense heat
- September – November: cooler
There will be days with bright blue sky or ones with murky grey sky in each season. So it’s like a fortune wheeler to ensure your visiting time will be those perfect days. One more thing to note is the rain and humid times. February, March, or even April can be annoyingly humid, while the rainy season will start from August to October. Remember to bring appropriate clothes for your health and some face masks to avoid Covid-19 (of course!) and occasional bad AQI days
If you can’t make your decision, avoiding rainy times is the easiest option. Visiting on Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year), which might be in February or March, is also not recommended as businesses close and people go back to their hometown.
How to go to Hanoi?
If you’re starting your trip from another country, the answer is definitely a flight to Noi Bai airport. Nonetheless, chances are that you’re in another city in Vietnam like HCMC, Da Nang, Hue, and so on. In that case, there are 3 options for you: plane, train, and sleeper bus. The price decreases and transporting time increases respectively; consequently, the bus is not in consideration due to lengthy and tiring trip.
You want convenience, little travel time, and you have quite a good budget? Choose to have a flight. Vietnam Airlines (the so-called national airlines) and Bamboo Airways are highly suggested for those who want quality service. The price for a one-way flight from Saigon to Hanoi (probably the longest trip in Vietnam) currently ranges from $50 to $315 for these two airlines, not to mention there’re special deals from just $5. You can book tickets on their websites fly.vietnamairlines.com and bambooairways.com or through e-commerce websites/applications like Traveloka.com, Shopee, Momo, etc.
You want to explore the beautiful landscape of the countryside on the trip and have some time to spare? Going to Hanoi by train is for you! The time is much longer, about 38 hours. But it’s worth seeing the beauty of the country from day till night before exploring the capital city, isn’t it? At a cost of $40 to $55, you will have a seat on the train by Vietnam Railway. Online tickets are sold on dsvn.vn.
Which places in Hanoi to visit?
You’re in the capital city of national administration, politics, economy, and culture. Which are better than the historic places to grasp the essence of the city? Monuments, temples, agodas, museums, and places with history are a must to pay a visit. However, the number will be overwhelming if visitors are short of time. No more worries, we’ve created a list for you to choose from:
- Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Ba Dinh Dist.): It’s the resting place of President Ho Chi Minh, the founder of current Vietnam and the hero of the nation. If you’re able to pay a visit to the mummified hero, please show respect by being quiet and wearing formal clothes while going inside.
- Temple of Literature (Dong Da Dist.): Built in 1070, the place served as Vietnam’s first national university. Every Tet, people come here to ask for artworks of calligraphy, wishing for wisdom and luck in exams.
- Hoa Lo Prison (Hoan Kiem Dist.): Like its Vietnamese name, which means fiery stove, it was literally hell for Indochina and later American prisoners during Vietnam War. Here, you will go back time to observe the crime of humanity and resilience of prisoners through reconstructed statues.
- Many, many museums: Vietnam Military History Museum (Ba Dinh Dist.), The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long (Ba Dinh Dist.), Ho Chi Minh Museum (Ba Dinh Dist.), Ho Chi Minh Relics House (Hoan Kiem Dist.), Museum of People’s Public Security (Hoan Kiem Dist.), Museum of Vietnamese Literature Diagram (Tay Ho Dist.), Vietnam Natural Museum (Cau Giay Dist.), etc.
There’re a lot more museums and places with history; however, these are the most worth sightseeing to know more about the history of Vietnam and Hanoi in particular. For something more fun, scroll down to know what they are!
What to buy for gifts and souvenirs?
To keep a memory of a place for yourself, it’s best to look for the specialties of that place. If you want some souvenirs, you sometimes see people selling those at some of the tourist attractions mentioned in this article. But remember, those staying in a place with history may have spiritual power, so if you find an uneasy feeling after owning them, you should get rid of them immediately.
Additionally, souvenirs can be purchased in tourist-targeted shops, specifically those in Hoan Kiem District. You will find Hanoi-related models, cards, clothes, things like that. They’re meaningful, but always remember to negotiate for a better deal. Learning to bargain is what should be done for every tourist on their first visit to a city, right?
Foods as Gifts
If you want something more than just commercial souvenirs, foods and traditional clothes are best to buy. You can look for Vietnamese snacks in the supermarkets to enjoy on the trip in Hanoi, or Com (Young Rice) is the best. Soft, chewy, full of earthy flavor, it will give you an authentic feeling of an old city with over 1000 years of history. Banh Com, made of this rice, is also worth a try. The best Com and Banh Com are said to be sold on Hang Than street and by street vendors in Hoan Kiem district. An important note is that Banh Com has less than 1 week until its expiry date due to no preservative additionals, but Com can be kept fresh and yummy in an air-tight container in a freezer for a much longer time.
Besides, O Mai is another thing to try and bring home for your family and friends. They’re sweet and sour, good for your health and well-loved snack/medicine for the royal family in the past and people of all ages these days. You can buy them at Hong Lam, a famous brand specialized in providing quality O Mai in beautiful packaging. O Mai Tien Thinh (21 Hang Duong St.), O Mai Gia Loi (8 Hang Duong St.), O Mai Van Loi (Hang Da) are also known for producing delicious O Mai for many family generations.
Are you (or your gift recipients) a chocolate lover? Try Maison Marou Hanoi for delicious chocolate with amazing flavors, including those relating to Vietnamese cuisine like Pho!
Clothes and Jewelry as Gifts
Traditional clothes are a good choice. Ao Dai is more well-known to the world as Vietnamese traditional clothes. Nonetheless, there are now more options as various Viet Phuc (Vietnamese traditional clothes) are recently on the rise. You can find Ao Tac, Ao Vien Linh, Ao Nhat Binh, and many others online or at some shops. If you want to buy on e-commerce platforms, search Việt Phục on Shopee and there’ll be some options with good reviews.
To look up close at store, you can visit the address on the Facebook page of V’style – Viet Co Phuc cach tan (V’style – Modernized Vietnamese Traditional Clothes) or Thuy Trung Nguyet (Moon in Water).
Clothes go with jewelry. Hi’de Maison (116 Pho Duc Chinh St.) is a place to shop handcrafted silverware, from Kieng (traditional Viet necklace), earrings, rings, to haircombs and cutlery. Silver Soul Studio is another place offering high-quality handmade silver jewelry inspired by nature on the 2nd floor of 174 Xa Dan 2 alley.
For some gifts ideas, you can visit Crabit (adorable stationery store), The Craft House (board games and creative items), LiuLo Arts & Craft (creative, artistic heaven),…
What are local experiences in Hanoi you should try?
Wander around Hoan Kiem Lake to explore the Old Quarters. The weekdays will make the streets a little bit crowded, busy and a bit scary for first-time crossing the streets, but you just need to stay calm, look for a space with no furious upcoming riders and decisively go ahead. Or go at weekend, and you will see no vehicles around the lake but people playing, dancing and singing everywhere. Another lake to visit is Ho Tay (West Lake). You will see people running, jogging around the lake or others going to a cafeteria nearby with their friends. Couples also love to go here to enjoy a moment with their lovers.
The Train Road, or locally Tran Phu Street, is a destination for something unique. There’s a railway with actual trains passing daily despite houses less than 1 meter away from them on two sides. You should have some coffee, or even Pho (the famous noodle), at the time of the train coming, and take some pictures to tell your story of a bizarre experience.
As for people with artistic souls, exhibitions here and there in the Hoan Kiem district are worth your visit. Yet, if you want to know what the young here are interested in, you can look up if there is an exhibition at VCCA in Royal City shopping mall. Paintings, sculptures are sometimes displayed here without any ticket, making it a perfect place for many gen Z to check-in. Water Puppet Show at 49 Dinh Tien Hoang St. (Hoan Kiem Dist.) is good as well to immerse in Vietnamese culture.
To relax your muscles after long days of going around, some sessions of hair washing or massage is amazing. Dao’s Care in Tay Ho Dist. or Nha Ba Gian in Hoan Kiem Dist. are good places, considering the medicinal herbs and traditional methods.
What to eat in Hanoi?
Going to Hanoi, no wonder that Pho and Banh Mi are must-try. But there are many other foods to enjoy. Here are your savory list to try:
- Xoi: sticky rice with various toppings like eggs, pate, stewed pork, sausages, etc.
- Different types of traditional rice noodles like Bun: Bun Bo (beef), Bun Ga (chicken), Bun Cha, Bun Rieu Cua (crab meat), Bun Dau Mam Tom (cold noodle with shrimp paste and other toppings)
- Banh Cuon: soft rice pancakes
- And even skewers on the streets are our recommendation for you in the journey of Vietnamese cuisine.
When it comes to desserts, Trang Tien ice cream on Trang Tien street is where you go straight ahead. Popsicles and ice-cream cones from natural ingredients are what the shop served for years in Hanoi.
You must also put Che in your food list, especially when you’re in the Hoan Kiem district. In summer, you can eat:
- Che Dau (black/mung/red/white bean)
- Che 4 Mua, Che Hat Sen (Lotus Seed)
In winter, these 2 followings are best to warm up your stomach:
- Xoi Che Ba Cot
- Banh Troi Nuoc
Ca Phe, Vietnamese coffee, must be on your list. Its flavor has already crossed the border and gained the love of the whole world, You can try the classic black coffee or Bac Xiu, and the local Egg Coffee at many coffee shops. The coffee culture has flourished in Hanoi in recent years, so you’ll easily find one, especially in the Hoan Kiem district or Tay Ho district.
In addition to coffee, another caffeine beverage you should try is tea. A perfect place for you to enjoy different types of tea with some pastries in a calming atmosphere is The Social Tea Hub on Tay Son Street. Phuc Long teashop chain is another destination for tea lovers.
If the foods and drinks are a means to join with local life, you must try the beer corner on Ta Hien St. at night. Sitting on a chair apparently for a 6-year-old, you have local beer and side dishes to have some fun with your friends and people close by. What a way to end the day!