Top Tips for Visiting Hanoi – Vietnam

Old Quarter, Hanoi by Andrea Schaffer (Flickr)

If you’re planning to tour South East Asia then Hanoi is an absolute must-see. But with so much to see it can be difficult to know where to start.

I spent a good chunk of last year living in this city so here are my top tips for what to do when you get to Hanoi.

My four ways to spend your time in Hanoi:

Go Shopping
Eat The Street Food
Visit The Museums
Enjoy The Nightlife

Go Shopping

Shopping in Hanoi by Xiaojun Deng (Flickr)
Herbal medicine shop in Hanoi by Xiaojun Deng (Flickr)

One of the best things about Hanoi has to be the shopping. Whether its knock-of trainers or one-of-a-kind, hand-made crafts, you won’t be leaving this city empty handed. Here are my favourite places to shop in Hanoi.

Old Quarter

Old Quarter is a great place to explore and the shopping is fantastic. The area is almost a thousand years old, and the streets are named after the different goods that were traditionally sold there. Now it’s very much catered towards tourists, but that doesn’t you won’t find anything good. Personally I couldn’t keep away from Shoe Street. You can buy a pair of “converses” for about 200,000 dong, not much more than a fiver! And they’re really good quality, I still wear mine all the time!

Hanoi Social Club

This restaurant is a great place for lunch. It’s not unusual to find live music here and it has a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere. There’s also a lovely little shop tucked away on the first floor. The area around this restaurant in general has excellent shopping. There are lots of clothes shops where you’ll be guaranteed to find something a bit wacky.

The night market

The night market in old-quarter stretches on for miles and there’s a real range of stuff. There’s loads of cheap clothing, but it’s also a good place for something a bit more unique. I got some beautiful handmade paper earrings from a very friendly local. Just always make sure you’ve always got one hand on your bag.

West Lake

West Lake, or Tay Ho in Vietnamese, is the other side of town from Old Quarter. The lake is truly huge, and if you head to Xuan Dieu street you’ll get some great views. My advice would be just to wander around. You’ll find some good restaurants, and there’s even more shopping to do.

If the weather is hot and sticky than a good place to relax is in one of the many pools around West Lake. My personal recommendation would be the pool at Thang Loi Hotel. Its not too pricey and you get to overlook the Lake as you swim. Definitely recommended if you fancy an afternoon off sightseeing.

Eat the Street Food

Hanoi Street Food by Greg Willis (Flickr)
Tasty street food: Banh Tom (Shrimp Fritters), Greens, & Sauce – by Greg Willis (Flickr)

Whatever you do don’t miss out on the street food. I don’t know anyone who got food poisoning while we were there, so be brave and give it a try! Chicken Street (Pho Ly Van Phuc in Vietnamese) serves only BBQ chicken, and for a side you can get delicious honey-grilled bread. Or if you’re feeling really brave why not try a barbequed chicken foot? Otherwise Pho, noodle soup, is the most-advertised dish, although my favourite was Bun Nem: spring rolls and noodles with a spicy sweet broth.

Visit the Museums

Hoa Lao Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam by David McKelvey (Flickr)
Hoa Lao Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam by David McKelvey (Flickr)

If you want to learn a bit about Vietnamese history and culture then there are some awesome museums in the city which you can’t afford to miss! Here are my two favourites:

The Prison (Hoa Lo)

This is an intense experience. Here you can walk around the old French prison for Vietnamese political prisoners. There are some shocking stories and the reconstructions of life for the prisoners are haunting. You’ll also see what life was like for the American POWs, and whether or not you believe the stories about Vietnamese generosity towards their “guests” you’re guaranteed to leave with plenty to think about.

Vietnamese Woman’s Museum

I would really recommend this museum. Here you can learn about the traditional way of life for women in the different Vietnamese tribes. There’s some great clothing on display, and some very interesting local customs to learn about. It also looks at the role women played in the Vietnamese War. Again a lot of the stories are quite shocking, but some are truly incredible.

Enjoy the Nightlife

Hanoi Nightlife by Felix Triller (Flickr)
Hanoi Nightlife by Felix Triller (Flickr)

Don’t worry, the curfew won’t stop you having a good night out. There are plenty of clubs that stay open past midnight. Head to West Lake for a more civilised drink, or venture down to Phuc Tan for something a bit different.

Hanoi Rock City

Hanoi Rock City is probably the best club in West Lake with a large dance floor and excellent cocktails. My only advice would be not to go if it’s raining since it’s mostly open-air. However if you get there and it does start raining then the more sheltered Madake Bar is just around the corner.

Phuc Tan (sometimes called The Lighthouse)

If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous then Phuc Tan is an absolute necessity. Buried away behind a winding alley and sitting on the edge of a swamp, Phuc Tan is so messy and so much fun. Avoid the loos at all costs and don’t wear your best shoes because they will get ruined. But don’t let that put you off. Just keep an open mind and have a good time!

  1. If you get a chance, it’s also worth taking rides on a cyclo and a motorbike/scooter in the city. The traffic seems crazy but once you’re in it, it doesn’t rally flow that fast and is a great experience.

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