Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam and is located in the northern part of the country. It is the gateway to Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is famous for its towering limestone islands and islets. Most of the popular tourist sites are near each other so a day or two days is enough to explore the city. Visiting the city soon? I have prepared here a Hanoi Travel Guide to help you with your travel planning.
Best Months to Visit Hanoi
Hanoi has a monsoon-influenced tropical climate with four distinct seasons (spring, summer, autumn, and winter). It experiences a considerable amount of rainfall during summer and has a dry winter. A lot of rain falls in the months of May to September. The warmest month is July and the wettest month is August. January is the coolest and driest month. The best time to visit Hanoi is from December until February when it’s dry and the temperature and humidity are much lower compared to the rest of the year.*
Visa Requirements and Immigration
Visa regulations are based on your passport/nationality. There are 24 countries that are eligible for visa exemption (free entry) in Vietnam for a certain period and 81 countries are eligible for an electronic visa. You can check the list of those countries here. The e-visa costs US$25 and is granted for single entry visits for up to 30 days. For a fast, convenient, but safe way to get a Vietnam visa, you can apply through Vietnam-visa.com. It is completely legitimate, timely, and secure for passengers.
Filipinos are eligible for visa exemption in Vietnam. They are allowed to stay in the country visa-free for 21 days. You just need to have a valid Philippine passport with at least 6 months validity. I wasn’t asked for a return/onward ticket at the immigration but Cebu Pacific Airline requires a return or onward ticket. Make sure to have one to avoid any inconvenience.
Tip: If you are undecided on how long you want to stay in Vietnam, you can book a bus ticket from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh, Cambodia in Baolau. That way you will have something to show as proof of onward travel. Just tell them you are traveling to the south and from there you are going to Cambodia. Then you can cancel your ticket afterward. Cancellation is permitted but with a small fee.
Another option is to book an onward flight ticket reservation. For only US$12, you’ll get proof of onward travel that is valid for 48 hours.
How to Get to Hanoi
There are many ways of getting to Hanoi. By plane, bus or train are the most common.
Hanoi’s airport, Noi Bai International Airport is located about 35 kilometers northeast of downtown Hanoi. It serves both domestic and international flights from different locations around the world.
The cheapest way of getting to downtown Hanoi from the airport is by taking the Airport Bus Express 86. It is available from 6:25 to 23:05. The bus is clean and wide. It costs VND 35,000 (~US$ 1.51 / PHP 78.45) and the travel time from the airport to the city center is about 45 minutes.
If you want a more convenient way of getting to your accommodation, or if you arrive in Hanoi after 23:00, you can take a taxi, book a Grab car or book a private car transfer with Klook. The private car transfer costs VND 308,531 (~US$ 13.3 / PHP 692) per car.
By Bus or Train
If you are coming from another place in Vietnam, with plenty of time and traveling on a limited budget, most likely you will be arriving by bus or train. The bus and train stations are located in the city center so you shouldn’t have any problem when you arrive.
Where to Exchange Money
Vietnamese dong (VND) is the official currency of Vietnam. There are money changers at the airport as well as at the city center. The exchange rate at the airport when I was there last June was US$ 1 = VND 23,200.
Do not exchange all of your money at the airport. From my experience, the exchange rate at the city center is way better. Exchange only enough VND to make it to your accommodation and to last for a day.
I haven’t tried using ATM there, but there are ATMs at the airport as well as the city center.
Internet Connection in Hanoi and Where to Buy SIM card
Free wifi connection is available in hotels and hostels in Hanoi. If you want to stay connected to the internet all the time, I recommend buying a local SIM card. They are very cheap and you can buy a SIM card at the airport or at any phone shop in the city center. Or if you are traveling with a group and you want to save some bucks, it would be best to rent portable travel wifi.
SIM card at the airport costs around VND 200,000 (~US$ 8.62 / PHP 448.28) and comes with unlimited data for one month. You can also purchase a SIM card online through Klook. It costs VND 150,000 (~US$ 6.47 / PHP 336.21) with 14 GB data at 4G speeds (2GB per day) valid for 7 days. The SIM card can be picked up at the airport upon arrival.
You can rent portable travel wifi here for VND 115,989 (~US$ 5 / PHP 260) per day per device. Up to 8 devices can connect to the router at once. The device will be delivered to your hotel 2 hours before your scheduled check-in and the hotel front desk staff will provide you with the router after your identification and redemption voucher has been confirmed.
Where to Stay in Hanoi
One of the best areas to stay in Hanoi is the Old Quarter. It is easily explored on foot and you’ll find plenty of restaurants, cafes, hotels, bars, shops and street food vendors here. Also, most of the famous tourist sites in the city are in this area. Most of the backpacker hostels, mid-range hotels, and even some high-end hotels can be found here. The French Quarter, on the other hand, has the bulk of luxury hotels.
When I went to Hanoi last year, I didn’t book a place to stay prior to my flight. I ended up walking around the Old Quarter at 2:00 AM looking for a place to stay and all the hostels are fully booked. Good thing Hanoi Friends Inn had a vacant room. You can read about my review of Hanoi Friends Inn here.
Last June I went back to Hanoi and stayed at Backy Poshtel. It’s a nice hostel, very cheap ( PHP 228 (~US$ 4.4) / night with free breakfast, and is very close to Hoan Kiem Lake.
Getting Around Hanoi
There are taxis, Grab car or bike, and buses around the city. If you know how to drive a motorbike and have an international driver’s license, renting is a good option. There are hostels where you can rent one. If you are staying in the Old Quarter, walking is probably the best option to check out some of the famous attractions in the area. Be very careful though especially when crossing the streets. The majority of the vehicles in Hanoi are motorbikes. It could get pretty scary to cross the street. The trick is to walk the same pace when crossing the street. The drivers will go around you.
If you are feeling lazy to walk, or the place you are planning to visit is a bit far and you are on a tight budget, I highly recommend booking a Grab bike. It is way cheaper than a taxi or Grab car, and you’ll get to your destination faster. My brother introduced this to me when we were in Hue, Vietnam last year. I was scared at first but eventually got used to riding in it.
Must-Try Foods in Hanoi
One thing I love about Vietnam is that the food is very cheap and really good. Here are some Vietnamese foods that you should try when in Hanoi:
Pho– One of the most popular foods in Vietnam. It is a Vietnamese soup that consists of rice noodles, herbs, broth and meat – you can choose between beef or chicken.
Bun Cha– It is a traditional Vietnamese pork dish that is said to have originated from Hanoi. It consists of grilled pork patties and served over a plate of white rice noodle and herbs and with a dipping sauce.
Vietnamese Spring roll– A Vietnamese dish consisting of pork, vegetables, shrimp and other ingredients and wrapped in rice paper.
Banh Mi– It is a Vietnamese style sandwich, made on French baguette which is often split lengthwise and filled with vegetables, meat and Vietnamese spices.
Lastly, I recommend trying out the Coffee Cheesecake in Highlands Coffee. It’s really good, I swear.
What to See in Hanoi in One Day
If you have limited time in Hanoi, here are some spots that you can easily visit. But if you have more than a day in the city, I recommend spreading these out to two days or more.
Located in the Old Quarter, this is a street where a train passes through narrow residential blocks daily. Many people visit this place for the ‘gram. The part that we visited had small restaurants and cafes on both sides of the street. It is a nice place to enjoy Vietnamese coffee and have a good view of the railway.
Hoan Kiem Lake
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It's been raining all day here in Hanoi, but I wasn't sad because I have nothing planned for today, and I've already been here last year. Just went out to have lunch, Vietnamese coffee and a massage. When I went out to have dinner it wasn't raining anymore. Since Hoan Kiem Lake is just a few minutes walk from my hostel, I decided to go there after having dinner. This is how it looks like at night. . . . . . #hoankiemlake #hanoi #vietnam #travel #travelvietnam #solotravelvietnam #femalesolotravelvietnam #southeastasia #southeastasiabackpacking #backpackingsoutheastasia
Hoan Kiem Lake is a freshwater lake located in the center of Hanoi and probably the most famous spot in the city. There are plenty of shops and restaurants nearby. Many tourists and locals hang out here late in the afternoon and in the evening. There are even some having Zumba sessions in the evening. Near the center of the lake, you can see the Turtle Tower, and at the northern shore of the lake lies Jade Island where Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain) stands. The temple can be reached by crossing the red bridge. It has an entrance fee of VND 30,000 (~US$ 1.29 / PHP 67.24).
I recommend checking out Hoan Kiem Lake in the daytime and at night.
St. Joseph Cathedral
It is a late 19th-century Gothic Revival church built by the French colonial government. It is located in the French Quarter and serves as the cathedral of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hanoi. While you are there, try also to explore the rest of the French Quarter. There you will find bookshops, galleries, boutiques, luxury hotels, and posh restaurants.
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is a UNESCO World Heritage site in Hanoi. This site used to be the political center of the country for 13 consecutive centuries. If you love history, you should definitely check out this place. It has an entrance fee of VND 30,000 (~US$ 1.29 / PHP 67.24) and is open from 08:00 to 17:00 daily except Monday.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Located in Ba Dinh Square, it is the final resting place of the most popular leader of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. The mausoleum was modeled on Lenin’s mausoleum in Russia. Security is tight inside the complex and visitors must be dressed appropriately (shorts, sleeveless shirts, and mini skirts are not allowed).
One Pillar Pagoda
Located in the same complex where Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum can be found, it is a little temple based on a single stone pillar rising in the center of a lotus pond. It is said to be designed to resemble a lotus blossom growing up out of the water.
Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature is a Temple of Confucius and Vietnam’s first national university. It is located to the south of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. It is one of the most popular places in Hanoi so it can get a bit crowded. The Temple of Literature is open from 8:30 – 11:30 and 13:30 – 16:30 every day except Monday and has an entrance fee of VND 30,000 (~US$ 1.29 / PHP 67.24).
West Lake and the Tran Quoc Pagoda
West Lake is the biggest freshwater lake in Hanoi. It is very big that when I went to check it out I ended up walking for around 30 minutes to get to Tran Quoc Pagoda. When I booked a Grab car, I just put West Lake in my destination. I didn’t know that the point I chose was on the other side of the lake, very far from the Pagoda.
The Tran Quoc Pagoda is the smallest Buddhist temple in Hanoi. It is located on an island near the southeastern shore of West Lake.
Hope this guide made you want to visit Hanoi or if you are visiting it soon, I hope you find this helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to write it down in the comments section. Subscribe to my blog if you don’t want to miss any of my posts. And please follow my Facebook page @iwentanyways and like my Instagram accounts @iwentanyways and @tnadeperalta for updates. You can also check out my highlights from my trip to Hanoi in my IG @tnadeperalta. Happy travels!