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Hanoi Itinerary – What to know before you go
This Hanoi travel guide details my personal experiences as well as my research on the subject of traveling to Hanoi. If you are thinking about visiting the northern Vietnam, my Hanoi travel blog should help you plan your maiden trip better. This blog post discusses everything from Getting there to staying, day trips and local sightseeing. I am hopeful that my recommendations on things to do in Hanoi should help you fix a Hanoi travel itinerary.
How to get to Hanoi
Hanoi has an excellent train as well as air connectivity. I personally used both of them, I came to Hanoi by train while I left by flight via Noi Bai airport, Hanoi. Both the train as well as flight connectivity are reliable. Also, the public transport within Hanoi is good and you shouldn’t have any problem getting to Hanoi railway station or Hanoi airport. For those who are coming from further South, best way to travel from Ho Chi Minh city to Hanoi is by flight.
How to reach Hanoi by Flight
Hanoi is served by major Asian Airlines including the budget carrier Air Asia. I took a flight out of Hanoi to nearby Luang Prabang and it was a seamless experience. Though, I admit flying to Luang Prabang in the small toyish airplane was little scary!
Hanoi airport to Hanoi city
Getting from Hanoi airport to old quarter is pretty simple. You can use the public bus from Hanoi airport to old quarter. Hanoi. Alternatively, you can make use of the Hanoi airport shuttle to old quarter, Hanoi from Noi Bai International Airport. Bus from old quarter to Hanoi airport is really cheap and takes about an hour or so to complete the journey.
How to reach Hanoi by Train
You can easily get to Hanoi as it lies on the North-South Vietnam Train Route. Hanoi is a major railway station, with train services from all over Vietnam. I reached Hanoi by train from Ninh Binh. It was a passenger train to Hanoi and I got a seat in the general class. The chairs were wooden and not that comfortable, nevertheless as the journey was short I didn’t have any problem. Also, traveling in a lower class is a great way to meet local Vietnamese.
Hanoi Railway station is located close to the center and hence you can easily reach from Hanoi train station to old quarter. Distance from Hanoi railway station Old quarter area is about 2 km from train station and takes about 30-40 minutes of easy walk. There is a bus stand nearby but buses usually take more time due to traffic jams.
As I was only carrying a backpack, I simply walked to the Old Quarters from Hanoi station. I guess it was much simpler than figuring out the right bus and navigate through the traffic of the city. When I first arrived at the Hanoi train station, I booked a hostel through the booking.com app. Put it in the Maps app and chose to walk to the Old Quarters.
How to get around in Hanoi
For your travel around Hanoi, take either a app based cab or a public transport. You can either book Uber or Grab (Southeast Asia’s version of Uber), both the services are reliable and provide a cheap way to get around Hanoi. Local taxis are handy and easy to get in but to avoid getting overcharged, you will have to know exactly how much it costs to get to a place.
How to travel in Hanoi: Alternatively, you can try the motorbike taxi, which is cheap and quick if you are going solo in Hanoi. You can easily spot these motorbike taxi in Hanoi, as they usually parked by the side of the road and even call for you if they see you walking alone on the street. As always, do negotiate and fix the price before taking off.
Getting a SIM Card in Hanoi
Every Hanoi Travel Blog guide will tell you to get yourself a SIM card. Get a SIM card when you arrive at Hanoi airport or you can buy a SIM card in Hanoi from a local mart (e.g. Family Mart). Use the 4G internet to book your taxi from anywhere.
How to get a Vietnam Visa on arrival in Hanoi
If Hanoi is your port of entry in Vietnam, then you must have a tourist visa to Vietnam. Vietnam tourist visa duration is from a month to several months, depending on your travel date. To get Vietnam on arrival Visa, you first need to apply online to get an invitation letter and then show the relevant documents at the Visa on Arrival counter in the Hanoi Airport.
Where to Stay in Hanoi
If you have decided how long to stay in Hanoi, it’s time to find cheap accommodation in Hanoi old quarter. Or maybe you prefer boutique hotels Hanoi french quarter!
Old Quarters is the best area to stay in Hanoi for tourists. Hanoi Old quarter is also a prime area for finding budget accommodation – hotels, hostels and guesthouses for every budget. You have the option to stay in 4 star hotels in Hanoi old quarter or a 3 star hotel in Hanoi.
I stayed in a budget hostel in Hanoi and wasn’t disappointed, as it was clean, air-conditioned and very professionally run. In fact, this is true for most of the hostels in Vietnam that I have seen. The plus point is that these hostels have a buzz going on, and they provide a good opportunity to meet fellow travelers. Perfect for the ones doing solo travel in Vietnam! Old Quarters is really the best part of Hanoi to stay.
Hanoi’s Old quarter is somewhat like Old Delhi: Crowded, noisy and messy. And I absolutely loved it! Be warned that, apart from a handful of buildings you won’t really see any ‘heritage’ buildings. It is just an old area, as the name says, that’s all.
Prices for dorms start at $5 and it’s not difficult to find a bed as the people are always in a flux, arriving and leaving. Several of the hostels offer ‘happy hours’ where they serve free beer, yay! Of course, it is watered down tap beer but at least it is served chill, great to cool off after a hot day.
There are plenty of Hanoi accommodation in old quarter for everyone.
Best hostels in Hanoi old quarter
- Central Backpackers Hostel – located close to the Hoan Kiem lake.
- Chien Hostel – Located right opposite to St. Joseph’s Cathedral.
- Hanoi Hostel – Extremely popular with backpackers and solo travelers in Hanoi. Located on Hang Ma street.
To sum it up, there are plenty of places to stay in Hanoi. If you are wondering where to stay in old quarter Hanoi, the answer is the old quarter – just look for a decent option.
Where to eat in Hanoi old quarter
Well if you are looking for best food in Hanoi old quarter, you have come to the right place! There is not one but many best restaurants in Hanoi old quarter. Well, if you eat seafood, you are already in heaven! Whicever Hanoi food guide you read, sea-food is the best food to have in Hanoi.
There are several restaurants in old quarter Hanoi, but for vegetarians, it’s a bit of struggle to find reliable dining options. As everywhere when in doubt, try an Indian restaurant in Hanoi old quarter.
Just as in Ho Chi Minh, sit down at the small street bars and drink like a local. You’d also find several chic or hip Vietnamese street bars, which are always crowded with young Vietnamese. This Hanoi eating guide recommends you go for street food in Hanoi old quarter. But be cautious of what eat and make sure the food looks fresh and is prepared hygienically.
Getting grocery in Hanoi
There are plenty of mini marts abound in the old quarter area, just as Ho Chi Minh city head to VinMart for cheapest prices. In VinMart a 500 ml water bottle would cost you around 3000 Dongs.
Things to do in Hanoi
If you are going to Hanoi you must be wondering what to visit in Hanoi. I have an entire blog post on the best things to do in Hanoi. And in this one I picked a handful, which should come handy if you are only looking for things to do in Hanoi in 3 days.
Top tourist attractions in Hanoi Vietnam:
1. Hanoi Old Quarter
What to see in Hanoi old quarter? To answer your question, Old Quarter itself! Undoubtedly, one of the best attractions in Hanoi is the Old Quarter. So, what are the things to see in Hanoi old quarter? Wander around the old town in the evening, there are beautiful buildings from the French era. You can visit one of the several churches where you will clearly see the old French influence. If you had enough of walking around, sit down in a local cafe and have Vietnamese coffee and baguette. Guzzle homemade brew sitting on one of those small blue plastic stools on the street. Truly among the best things to do in Hanoi!
2. Hoan Kiem Lake
Top tourist attractions in Hanoi Vietnam include the serene Hoan Kiem Lake. I wold strongly recommend you to take a stroll around the Hoan Kiem Lake. Sometimes in the evening, you can enjoy street performances near the fountain (again located near the Hoan Kiem lake). You can also visit the Ngoc Son Temple, Confucian in origin, located right on the lake. Hoan Kiem Lake is one among top tourist places in Hanoi Vietnam.
3. Hanoi Water Puppet Show
If you are looking for fun things to do in Hanoi Vietnam, Water Puppet show is your best bet. There is Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, located near the Hoan Kiem Lake. The water puppet show lasts for few minutes and the ticket costs a meager $5. Though the water puppet show in Hanoi is played in the Vietnamese language, you can still enjoy it. Watching a puppet show is surely one of the interesting things to do in Hanoi.
4. Hanoi Weekend Night Market
The night market of Hanoi is one of the places of tourist interest in Hanoi is the night market. Keeping with the tradition of many other South East Asia cities, Hanoi too has a night market. In the old quarter area of Hanoi, is where the weekend market takes place. When it comes to things to see in Hanoi, the night market has to be on your Hanoi bucket list.
A great no. of local vendors descend on the street selling all kind of stuff. It is great for trying local Hanoi food and shopping cheap souvenirs. The market starts around 7 in the evening and goes on till midnight. Weekend night market is undoubtedly one of the top tourist attractions in Hanoi.
Day trips from Hanoi
There are several day trips from Hanoi that one can undertake. Best thing is most of the trips are also available as package at rock bottom price. What can I say Vietnam is cheap!
1. Halong Bay Day Trip
Halong Bay is the prime reason a lot of tourists come to Vietnam. In all honesty, I too was attracted to Vietnam first by looking at the stunning pictures of Halong Bay. It’s only natural that Halong Bay is one of the best things to do in Hanoi.
There are several Halong bay 1 day tour packages available – Halong bay 1 day tour, Halong bay 1 night cruise and so on. If you are on a budget I will recommend you the Halong bay backpacker tour.
Is Halong bay boat tour really worth the hassle of a long, tiring day trip, specially if you haven’t been to Ninh Binh… Oh, ah! Wait a minute… Ninh Binh, what’s that?
If you are short on time and had already been to Ninh Binh, you can even consider skipping Halong bay, which actually looks like a tourist trap. Check the detailed review of Halong Bay boat trip, Vietnam in my Halong Bay trip guide.
How much the day trip to Halong Bay costs?
Let’s say Halong Bay trip isn’t that cheap, a typical day tour to Halong bay costs around U.S. $34. Yes, that ‘s correct $34, this is exactly what I paid for. This very basic tour includes the transfer fees by bus, the boat fees, and lunch. If you are getting it cheaper than this, ask what fees are included in the Halong bay package and what’s not.
Importantly, when it comes to food preference, if you are vegetarian do specify your preference beforehand. I didn’t do it and really had a tough time being the only vegetarian on the boat.
What do in Halong Bay?
Halong bay cruise itinerary: You can do kayaking or rowboat (a local will row for you) from makeshift the island, right in the middle of the Halong Bay. The Halong Bay kayak boat ride takes you through some really wonderful caves. The tour lasts for 30 minutes. Note, that you have to pay a separate fee for the kayak as it is not included in your Halong Bay day trip package.
Kayak or the rowboat cost the same – 130,000 V.N.D
Halong bay day tour itinerary also include the trip to beautiful Thien Cung Cave. You need to do a bit of hiking to reach the entrance. Colorfully lit, the Thien Cung caves are relatively small and take around 15-20 minutes to pass through them. Entry fee to cave is 50,000 V.N.D which is included in the basic package. Do remember to confirm this before buying the Halong Bay day trip package.
Where to buy the ticket for Halong Bay day trip?
There are hundreds and hundreds, if not more, tourist agencies in the Hanoi Old Quarters selling the Halong bay one day cruise. Just walk in and inquire the tour package you are looking for. Alternatively, you can just walk into the front desk of your hostel/ hotel and buy the Halong Bay tour ticket from them. Note, that almost, all of them offer the exact same service, so ask around to find the best price for Halong Bay trip. Good thing is due to the intense competition Halong bay one day tour price is dirt cheap.
2. Sapa Trek
I, personally, do not see what is the lure in seeing a bunch of terrace rice fields, clever marketing, huh? Head to the hilly Indian state of Uttarakhand and after a while, you’d not even bother to look at them. It gets pretty old, pretty fast. Definitely a skip, this one. But wait a minute, consider going to Sapa trek if you are one of those Americans or westerners who always wondered from where the rice in their delicious fried rice on their table came from?
That said, Saps is among top day trips from Hanoi. If you have time, you can add Sapa to your list of places to visit near Hanoi.
3. Ninh Binh Day Trip
Ninh Binh is your answer to what to see in Hanoi and around. If you haven’t seen Tam Coc, you haven’t seen Vietnam – that’s all I have to say about the beauty of rural Vietnam. Tam Coc is the most underrated tourist detonation in Vietnam. Get out of the hustle and bustle of Hanoi and head to the city of Ninh Binh which is where Tam Coc is located. You can easily get to Tam Coc by boarding any of the daily passenger trains. If you are not pressed for time, I will suggest you spend 2 days in Ninh Binh, as the area has a lot for you to explore.
Halong Bay vs Ninh Binh
What to see in Vietnam in 3 days, will you go for Halong Bay or Ninh Binh? Is your Hanoi itinerary very short or if you are looking to see Hanoi in a day, and you are wondering whether to go to Halong Bay or Ninh Binh. Both the places have a similar landscape but with a fundamental difference. Halong Bay is in deep sea while Tam Coc, Ninh Binh is in a river.
If you ask me, the choice is pretty obvious between the two – Halong Bay or Ninh Binh… It’s Ninh Binh all the way! I agree that the scenery at Halong Bay is pretty amazing but if you have already seen Tam Coc, Ninh Binh, there is nothing in Halong Bay to make you jump. If you still want to see both Halong bay as well as Ninh Binh, I will suggest you to see Halong Bay first and then Ninh Binh. This way you will not be disappointed with Halong Bay and will be able to appreciate both of them!
What to shop in Hanoi
Hanoi city guide recommends shopping as one of the things not to miss in Hanoi. Hanoi Old Quarter is littered with souvenir shops, it is a shopper’s paradise indeed. And just as any other destination in you need to haggle hard, the prices are often way less than a seller’s first quote. Best things to buy in Hanoi include handicraft and clothes.
Try the Vietnamese red tee shirts which cost you about $2 each. Cheap, I know, right? That’s why I bought 5, couldn’t really stop myself 🙂 Take my advice and indulge yourself in shopping in Old Quarter, Hanoi.
Partying in Hanoi
If you are looking for partying in Hanoi, you won’t be disappointed! I will recommend you to check out Ta Hien street in the Old quarter Hanoi area in the night. The atmosphere there is insane. The small lane is completely blocked by people making merry – drinking, eating, dancing on the street.
Hanoi Travel Guide Conclusion
Hanoi is perhaps one of the best destinations in Vietnam. There is so much to see and do in Hanoi that even 3 days in Hanoi will not be enough. Hopefully, this Hanoi trip blog should help you in planning a trip to Vietnam. After reading this Hanoi Travel Guide you know what to visit in Hanoi and how to prepare your Vietnam trip itinerary.
As always, do let me know in the comments if you have any questions on my Hanoi Travel Blog. Or maybe you have a useful tip on traveling to Hanoi!