Known for its centuries-old architecture, exciting nightlife, and delectable cuisine, Hanoi, Vietnam is one dynamic destination that reveals something new to travelers with each visit. As one of the world’s most ancient capitals, the eclectic mishmash of old and new in plain sight is truly one of a kind. At the heart of Hanoi, tourists can discover some well-preserved museums and colonial buildings – including the Temple of Literature – making it a fantastic place to explore by foot. However, just a short ride away from Hanoi’s city center is its lush countryside. Here, travelers can escape the hustle and bustle of the city center by driving by picturesque rivers – like the famous Ha Long Bay – verdant landscapes, and charming villages. Living here since 2017 and working as a communications specialist for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security, Eisen Bernardo shares travel tips from the perspective of a Hanoian.
Before you go
Hanoi is a very laidback city. However, the weather can be crazy. From April to August, it can be very hot and rainy at the same time. So, do not forget to bring comfortable clothes. During the winter season (late November to February), the temperature can go down to as low as 12 degrees. A jacket is essential during this time.
Must do’s and must see’s
Hanoi is known worldwide for its delicious food. Having a food trip in the streets of Hanoi is a must. Tourists should try at least five traditional Vietnamese dishes. Drinking is also a favored pastime here. There are many IG-worthy cafés around the city center as well as in West Lake. Visitors should also try to drink in a Bia Hoi (a streetside draught beer restaurant).
As for cultural attractions, there are numerous temples (like the Temple of Literature); museums (I highly recommend the Museum of Fine Arts and the Ethnology Museum); landmarks (check the Flag Tower, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Citadel of Thang Long, St. Joseph Cathedral, and Long Bien Bridge); lakes (Hoan Kiem and Tay Ho); and of course, shows (water puppet and the bamboo circus at the Opera House).
What to avoid
Hanoi is relatively safe compared to other major cities in Southeast Asia. But, I recommend that tourist should refrain from riding cyclos (bicycle taxis) and some regular taxis. I experienced overpriced rides before.
Traveling on a budget
There are many boutique hotels in Hanoi that provide excellent service – some even offer free breakfasts. Book there and not at expensive hotels. Also, eat and drink in streetside restaurants and bars – not only is food highly affordable in these places, but you get to experience authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Moreover, install transport apps (i.e., Grab, GoViet, Be) for more fixed fares.
How to get around
Vietnam is a motorcycle country. Renting a motorbike for a day can only cost you 5 to 10 USD. It gives you a real taste of what it’s like being a Hanoian. You can also get into the narrow alleys in the Old Quarters (which is the city’s center) very easily.
Best foods and places to eat
My personal favorites are bún chả (barbecued pork with rice vermicelli); bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwich); bún cả (fish noodles); bánh cuốn (steamed rice rolls); pho (Vietnamese noodles), and of course chả cá (grilled fish with dill and turmeric). Hang Dao Street is considered the one-stop food street in Hanoi. Also, try Vietnamese coffee (egg coffee, coconut coffee). Streetside restaurants and cafés are just everywhere in Hanoi. As long as you are not picky, you will discover a lot in terms of food. Additionally, visit Ta Hien (which is known as Beer Street). There are numerous streetside bars there serving great drinks and finger foods.
- Ride a motorbike along the mosaic wall
- Lotte Tower Viewing Deck
- Go to Au Co flower market at night
- Visit art cafés/gallery (like Manzi)
- Visit the Trinh Cong Son walking street in West Lake
- Eat in a Vietnamese buffet restaurant
Best time to visit
November to January is the best time of year to visit because it’s cooler. Walking around Hanoi can be so much fun. And of course, you will enjoy eating and drinking is more enjoyable with cold weather.
There is a Pinoy restaurant in West Lake serving traditional Filipino dishes. There are also Catholic/Christian churches where you have the opportunity of meeting other Filipinos in Hanoi. The Philippine Embassy in Hanoi is also in the city center and just walking distance from the famous Bun Cha Obama restaurant.
Living here since 2017, Eisen Bernardo works as a communications specialist for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security.
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