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Backpacking Hanoi: Ultimate Travel Guide

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    I had a fantastic 2 weeks in Vietnam and specially enjoyed backpacking Hanoi. I compiled my personal experiences and research into this travel blog.

    If you are thinking about visiting this northern Vietnam city, my Backpacking Hanoi guide should help you plan your maiden trip.

    I will discuss everything from getting there, staying, day trips and local sightseeing. Also, I am sure that my recommendations on things to do in Hanoi should help you fix your travel itinerary.

    Getting a Vietnam Visa on arrival in Hanoi | Backpacking Hanoi

    If Hanoi is your port of entry in Vietnam, then you must have a tourist visa. The 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 VOA counter in the Hanoi Airport.

    Getting a SIM Card

    The first thing you do when you arrive is get a SIM card. Either buy at a Hanoi airport or you can buy a SIM card in Hanoi from a local mart (e.g. Family Mart). Use the internet to book your taxi from anywhere.

    Getting to Hanoi | Backpacking Hanoi

    Hanoi has an excellent train and 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.

    Getting to 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 quite scary!

    Getting to Hanoi Old Quarter from Airport

    You can use the public bus from Hanoi airport to old quarter. The public bus takes about an hour or so to complete the journey. Alternatively, you can make use of the airport shuttle, it’s quicker and is reasonably priced.

    Getting to Hanoi by Train

    For those of you backpacking Hanoi, you’d want to know more about the local railway network as usually it is the cheapest form of travel.

    You can easily get to Hanoi as it lies on the North-South Vietnam Train Route. Hanoi is a major railway hub, with train services from all over Vietnam. I reached Hanoi by train from Ninh Binh.

    It was a passenger train 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 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 my hostel in the Old Quarters. 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 app. Put it in the Maps app and chose to walk to the Old Quarters.

    Getting around in Hanoi | Backpacking Hanoi

    To travel around Hanoi, take either a app based cab or a public transport. You can book Grab (Southeast Asia’s version of Uber), its reliable and provide a cheap way to get around.

    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.

    Getting around while backpacking Hanoi gets even more affordable with motorbike taxis. They are cheap and quick, the best option if you are going solo.

    You can easily spot these motorbike taxi as they usually park by the side of the road. They even call for you if they see you walking alone on the street. As always, do negotiate and fix the price before taking off.

    Where to Stay | Backpacking 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. Here you will a place no matter what your budget is – hotels, hostels and guesthouses.

    I stayed in a 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 travelersPerfect for the ones doing solo travel in Vietnam! Old Quarters is really the best place to stay while backpacking in Hanoi.

    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 USD 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 of sightseeing.

    Staying in a hostel while backpacking in Hanoi will help you keep your budget in check. Some of the best hostels in Hanoi old quarter include:

    • 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, if you are wondering where to stay in Hanoi, the answer is the old quarter – just look for a decent option that suits you. No pre-planning needed!

    Where to eat in Hanoi old quarter

    There is not one but many best restaurants in Hanoi old quarter. Well, if you eat seafood, you are already in heaven! 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.

    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.

    Street food looks tempting too but be cautious 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, head to VinMart for cheapest prices. In VinMart a 500 ml water bottle would cost you around 3000 Dongs. Damn!

    Shopping | Backpacking Hanoi

    Hanoi Old Quarter is littered with souvenir shops, it is a shopper’s paradise indeed. And just as any other place 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.

    While backpacking in Hanoi you don’t have to blow your budget for shopping. e.g. 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.


    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.

    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. Some of the top tourist attractions in Hanoi Vietnam are:

    1. Hanoi Old Quarter

    Undoubtedly, one of the best attractions in Hanoi is the Old Quarter.

    What to see in Hanoi old quarter? To answer your question, Old Quarter itself! 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.

    2. Hoan Kiem Lake

    One of the most visited attractions in Hanoi Vietnam is the serene Hoan Kiem Lake. Walk around the lake, specially in the evening. You can enjoy street performances near the fountain (located near the Hoan Kiem lake).

    You can also visit the Ngoc Son Temple, Confucian in origin, located right on the lake.

    3. Hanoi Water Puppet Show

    If you are looking for fun things to do in Hanoi Vietnam, Water Puppet show is your best bet. The show is organized in the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, located near the Hoan Kiem Lake. The show is short lasting only for a 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.

    4. Hanoi Weekend Night Market

    Keeping with the tradition of many other South East Asia cities, Hanoi too has a night market. 

    A great no. of local vendors descend on the street selling all kind of stuff – from wares and wears to food and tourist trinkets. If you can bargain well, the place is great for trying local Hanoi food and shopping cheap souvenirs.

    The old quarter area of Hanoi is where the weekend market takes place. The market starts around 7 in the evening and goes on till midnight.

    Day trips

    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!

    Sapa Trek

    Sapa is one of the most popular day trips from Hanoi. As there are many tour operators competing, Sapa tours they offer is cheap and convenient.

    To describe Sapa in one sentence – fancy seeing rice paddies set amidst the hills that seem to reach horizons? But be prepared to do a lot of hiking and trekking.

    I, personally, do not see what is the lure in seeing a bunch of terrace rice fields, clever marketing, huh? Head to the hills anywhere in India 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 elitists who always wondered from where the rice in the shopping marts came from?

    Ninh Binh Day Trip | Backpacking Hanoi

    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. Definitely not to be missed when Backpacking Hanoi!

    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 to explore.

    Halong Bay vs Ninh Binh

    If you are in a time crunch, will you go for Halong Bay or Ninh Binh? Both the places have a similar Karst scenery but with a fundamental difference. Halong Bay is in deep sea while Tam Coc 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 too, but if you have already seen Tam Coc, 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!

    FAQ About Backpacking Hanoi

    How many days in Hanoi is enough?

    You should allow 2 Days for sightseeing in Hanoi and 2-3 days for taking day trips.

    Is Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi better?

    Both have there plus and minuses, what I like about Hanoi is the variety of day trips you can take.

    Can you drink the tap water in Hanoi?

    Better be safe and use packaged water, it’s readily available and cheap anyway.

    What is the best time of year to visit Hanoi?

    Same as rest of the Vietnam, the best time to visit Hanoi is during the months of Nov-Feb.


    Hanoi is perhaps one of the best destinations in Vietnam, there is so much to see and do here. Hopefully, this my Backpacking Hanoi Guide should help you in planning a trip to Vietnam.

    As always, do let me know in the comments if you have any questions. Or maybe you have a useful tip on traveling to Hanoi!

    ✓ You on Insta? 👍@triplyzer
    ✓ Find the best offers on your Stays on 🏡
    ✓ Deals on Private xfers, SIM Cards, City tours, Day trips on 🛵 GetYourGuide | on 🛵 Klook

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