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Everything you need to know about Hanoi

Hanoi, the Capital city of Vietnam, recognised globally as one of the most ancient, is packed with historical pagodas and colonial architecture.


After Vietnam fell into ravage during the war in 1955 – 1975 when the North and the South were in constant battle, it was hard for the country to re-establish itself. The Vietnam war was a long and disruptive fight dominantly for and against communism within the country. It could be said that the longer war went on for over 100 years fighting for independence. The war ended in 1975 when communist forces seized control of South Vietnam, therefore unifying the country as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Vietnam’s capital now surges with scooters contesting for right of way surrounded by the forever sounding traffic horn, admirable historical attractions and echoing bustle, especially in the Old Quarter. The city has evidence of French and Chinese occupation but remains to have Vietnamese culture at the core. We arrived from Bangkok into Hanoi, this being the best option financially at the time, but if you book far enough in advance you can get to Hanoi from London for example for £345 one way. It will always be cheaper if you can book things like flight tickets and some accommodation in advance. Find out how to book cheap flights in our blog ‘Everything you need to know about booking flights’.

After flying into Hanoi, we found it easier and less hassle to get a taxi from the airport. First tip, know the currency rate, it confused us greatly. At the time of writing this blog 1GBP equals 28,730.22 Vietnamese dong. My tip would be to call 30,000 VDG – 1 GBP to keep it easy. We booked the taxi through the hostel we stayed at for ease of travel.

What to do?

Hanoi is a great place to explore by foot with fascinating historical attractions to discover and the Old Quarter being a must for backpackers and more than likely the home to your accommodation.

Old Quarter

Home to 36 streets of shopping opportunities, backpacker central for accommodation, street food and drink is the Old Quarter. The first thing we noticed was that the streets seemed to individually sell specific items which is really bizarre. If you want flowers go to Hang Luoc (Flower street), if you want silver go to Hang Bac (Silver Street) etc. It’s incredibly strange but amazing at the same time. When visiting these stores the locals will even drag you into their store to have a look at their products on offer. This is where knowing your currency is important, remember 30,000VDG being 1GBP! Barter with the shop owners but not so to be disrespectful. The amount of souvenirs and products on offer is incredible. 

Hanoi streets

Now to relax with a beer, and where better than Bia Hoi Junction where the draft beer found is some of the cheapest you will find at around 20 pence for a tall glass of chilled, decent beer. This may not even be the highlight as you cram in with many locals and tourists alike on plastic stools enjoying your cold tipple. However, there are a mountain of great restaurants and coffee shops to explore offering more appropriate seating arrangements. Nightlife in the Old Quarter is hectic with bars and restaurants offering live music, DJ’s and Jazz. One of our more favourable memories was sitting eating what the locals call a ‘hot pot’ and having the police drive down the street. It is illegal to have seats and tables in the street and so the whole restaurant with food, drinks and people moved. We were relocated half way down another street until the police passed through, and then moved back immediately after. It was all rather amusing.

Hanoi food   

Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the restored sword)

Referring to a 15th-century legend where a gigantic turtle reclaimed the sword for its master. The lake is located in the heart of the Old Quarter with Turtle Tower emerging on an island in the middle of the lake. Other landmarks like Ngoc Son Temple are a must visit watching the locals light insent sticks and give offerings to their dead relatives. A great place to sit and enjoy a traditional Vietnamese coffee gazing over the views of the lake.

Hanoi coffee

An Interesting Tradition

Locals would buy items made out of paper like paper money and then burn them as offerings for their dead relatives. The idea is that the more offerings offered the better their afterlives would be which is a common Tet tradition throughout East Asia, mostly in China and Vietnam. The biggest thing we saw was a life-size paper scooter being thrown into the fire. The woman below was burning dollar bills.

Hanoi burning money

French Quarter

Coinciding with Hoan Kiem Lake, the French Quarter has landmarks such as the Hoa Lo prison and Hanoi Opera House. You will also find a number of lovely restaurants and higher end hotels. Water puppetry is also on offer in the French quarter having originated in the 11th Century. It is a traditional art form and is performed with puppeteers being in a waist deep pool and therefore appears the puppets are moving above the water.

Thăng Long Imperial Citadel

Made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010, this impressive citadel captures Vietnam’s history and holds artefacts dating back between the 6th and 20th Centuries.

Hoa Lo Prison

It was a prison, now a museum which was used by the French and later by the North Vietnamese to imprison U.S prisoners during the Vietnam war.

Hanoi prison

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum/Museum/Stilt house

All located within a short walking distance of each other. The Mausoleum serves as a resting place to Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh, the leader to which Southern city Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City.

Den Bach Ma Temple

Not the biggest temple by any means but quaint and beautiful with its decoration. The temple is believed to be the oldest in Hanoi originally built in the ninth century by King Ly Thai To in honour of Bach Ma.


  1. Watch the intense, chaotic traffic, it can be overwhelming at first. When crossing the road there are no rules, you have to weave in between the traffic. We promise you’ll get used to it!Hanoi roads
  2. Pickpockets are more common in touristic areas. While it’s generally safe keep all personal belongings close to your body.
  3. In the Old Quarter especially it can get crowded, if this is not what you’re looking for try a stroll at sunset around Hoan Kiem Lake.
  4. Hunt for traditional Vietnamese souvenirs widely on offer throughout the Old Quarter with excellent prices.
  5. Try the local street food like the traditional Banh Mi, you won’t be disappointed.
  6. If travelling South or North by motorbike, Hanoi is the perfect place to rent or buy your motor. 

Vietnam motorbike

Hanoi is a great place to start your Vietnam journey diving directly into senses and experiences that we have only really witnessed in South East Asia.
We both prefer escapes that leave the city life behind and therefore would not recommend staying more than 2 days upon arrival. When leaving Hanoi to Hạ Long Bay, Mai Châu, Sa Pa or Hà Giang for example you will always arrive back in Hanoi as it acts like a transport hub to other regions in the North of Vietnam.

Travelling Translated

Travelling Translated

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