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Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi (Vietnamese: Hà Nội), the capital of Vietnam, and also its second largest city, is a fascinating blend of East and West, with Chinese influence from centuries of dominance, and French je ne sais quoi from its colonial past. It was largely unspoiled by the modern architecture of the 1970s and 80s and is now undergoing a rapid transformation that makes it a rising star in Southeast Asia.

Invading forces from every direction agree: Hanoi makes a fine capital. It has held that title for more than a thousand years, through several invasions, occupations, restorations, and name changes. The Chinese conquered the imperial city of Đại La in 1408 and renamed it Tống Bình. Le Loi repelled the invaders in 1428 and applied the name of Lê Thái Tổ (黎太祖). For his efforts, he received the crown and a slew of legends about his heroic exploits, many centered around the

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Hanoi, Vietnam

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Hanoi (Vietnamese: Hà Nội), the capital of Vietnam, and also its second largest city, is a fascinating blend of East and West, with Chinese influence from centuries of dominance, and French je ne sais quoi from its colonial past. It was largely unspoiled by the modern architecture of the 1970s and 80s and is now undergoing a rapid transformation that makes it a rising star in Southeast Asia.

Invading forces from every direction agree: Hanoi makes a fine capital. It has held that title for more than a thousand years, through several invasions, occupations, restorations, and name changes. The Chinese conquered the imperial city of Đại La in 1408 and renamed it Tống Bình. Le Loi repelled the invaders in 1428 and applied the name of Lê Thái Tổ (黎太祖). For his efforts, he received the crown and a slew of legends about his heroic exploits, many centered around the

Hoan Kiem Lake

in the Old Quarter. The Nguyen Dynasty gave the city its modern name of Ha Noi in 1831, but they had transferred power to Hue by then. Hue remained the capital until 1887 when the French made Hanoi the capital of all Indochina. It changed hands again in 1954 when it was ceded to Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh after almost a decade of fighting, and it became the capital of North Vietnam. Upon reunification in 1975, it assumed that title for the entire country.

The first Western-style universities in Vietnam were founded in Hanoi, and today, it is the leading center of scientific study and research in the country. Hanoi retains much of its older colonial charm, despite the battles that have raged over it. A conflict had the effect of making it largely oblivious of modern architecture, and as a result, few buildings in the city center area are higher than five stories. The Old Quarter is second only to Hoi An for uninterrupted stretches of colonial and pre-colonial architecture, well-preserved on dense warrens of narrow, wonderfully atmospheric streets. It trades the commercial boom and sprawl of Ho Chi Minh City in the south for a more understated charm, worth enjoying for an extra day or two, and with countless transport options and travel agents, it makes a perfect base for exploration of the North. See also Indochina Wars.

As you walk along the street, you may find that people start talking to you. It is a cultural norm there to make conversation with strangers. They might ask you where you are from and other general questions. But be cautious if a comely young lady approaches you and initiates a conversation as she is likely after something. It may take a while to get used to such overt friendliness, however, there are times when this could be useful, such as when you are lost or need help.

The Tourist Information Centre, ☎ +84 4 926 3366, Dinh Tien Hoang, just north of Hoan Kiem Lake, can provide a fairly useful map (bewilderingly, the blow-up of the old town is missing) and other English-language advice, as well as limited free Internet.

There are self-help information booths around the Old Quarter, but their purpose mostly is to give the impression that Vietnam "has arrived" technologically.


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Hanoi, Vietnam: Port Information


Hanoi is served by a cruise port located in Halong Bay (Bai Chay), in 170 km (105 mi) east of the capital.

Liners dock at Halong City's commercial pier. Also, they can moor offshore and then passengers will be tendered to Bai Chay Tourist Wharf.
It will take about 5 hours to get from Halong Bay to Hanoi by bus.

Get around Hanoi, Vietnam


Taxis are the best way to travel long distances, but the cyclos, or pedicabs, are a cheap way to make shorter trips. Taxi fares are not always consistent, and the rates for each taxi company have not been standardized. For lone travelers, rides on the back of motorbikes (actually low-powered scooters) are popular too (known as xe om, literally meaning "motorbike-hug").

By taxi

Hanoi is probably one of the easiest and safest cities in Southeast Asia to travel by taxi in, although there are a few potential issues to keep in mind.

Taxis are readily available across the city. Unless you're trying to travel at a busy time, looking like a lost tourist will attract any number of taxis - but if it doesn't work, wave at every taxi until one stops. Mid-top end hotels and shopping malls will generally have taxis available too, so you could also head for one of these.

Taxi fares are set by taxi companies so they do vary. You're paying more for a bigger taxi, and for being less likely to get ripped off. Whether you think paying 50% extra in order to not get ripped off is worthwhile is up to you.

Some metered taxi owners in Hanoi may attempt to negotiate a flat fee in advance rather than use the meter. If you have a fair idea of how far you're going or how much you're willing to pay, this is probably a good idea. If the driver refuses, turning around and walking away will almost certainly change his mind. Don't worry as it's all part of the negotiation protocol.

Most taxi drivers speak limited English, so it's a good practice to write the name and address of your destination in Vietnamese to show the taxi driver.

There's no need to tip a taxi driver, although it's often appreciated.

Taxi Scams

The safest option is to only use reputable and reliable taxi companies. Opinions on which these vary. Most top-end hotels choose Taxigroup (white taxis with red and blue) who are a grouping of 5 companies including the oft-recommended CP and Hanoi taxi, others ABC (white and pink) and the army-owned Mai Linh (green). Others recommend Noibai Taxi.

It is not unheard of for the drivers of some of the less reputable taxi companies to "fix" their meters to run faster, thereby running up a higher bill very fast. The meter can run as fast as or even faster than a digital clock. Keep an eye on the meter during the journey, but take heart in the fact that they're ripping off locals as much as tourists, which seems to be making the practice less common.

A very simple way of "fixing" the meter is to black out the thousand separators on it with a marker pen - so a 2-3km trip that should be costing for example 30.5 (so 30,500 VND) will seem to cost 305 - i.e. 305,000 VND. The driver in these cases seems to rely on your ignorance rather than demand the extra money.

Another common taxi scam is when the driver takes you for sightseeing and extends the tour to make more money. This is very hard to discover unless you know the city well, but if you catch your driver doing this (e.g., going around Hoan Kiem Lake twice), demand that he stop the taxi and leave the taxi without paying.

Be very careful with metered taxis in Hanoi. Some have central locking and are known to lock passengers in, and then demand large amounts of money before letting them go. The driver may threaten to have you beaten up or arrested should you not give in to his demands, but if you kick up enough of a fuss they will let you go.

Be vigilant when taking a taxi. A driver may jump out at a destination and dump some of your bags. While you're busy putting a rucksack on, he has taken off with your other bags.

Taxi Apps

Uber now operates in Hanoi, with fares typically a little lower than a taxi for UberX, and around the same as a top end taxi for Uber Black. Payment is via credit card or cash. Uber Black drivers will tend to speak a little English.

Local rival GrabTaxi is also popular - payment is via cash in this case, but it can have greater availability.

By motorbike taxi

Motorbike taxis can be found on virtually every corner, especially in the Old Quarter. Expect to be offered a ride every half-block or so. You should negotiate fares in advance, and again, turn around and walk away if you don't like their offer. There are far more drivers than tourists, and they know it. Your fare could be the only one they get all day. You should also write down the negotiated fare (with all zeros) to avoid confusion. Even if you do speak Vietnamese, a driver might pretend that you said 50,000 dong instead of 15,000 dong. In case of argument over fares after the ride: keep calm and repeat the original agreement (remember, you have the leverage). A typical 10 min fare should cost no more than 15,000-20,000 dong. Many drivers will accept US dollars as well. At the end of a journey, some will offer to hang around to drive you to your next destination. Be clear that you don't want a return trip, or get a price in advance. Otherwise, you might be surprised when the driver tacks on several million dong for having waited.

Keep your wallet out of arms reach of the drivers when you pay. Dishonest motorbike drivers are not averse to grabbing your wallet and speeding off.

By cyclo

Negotiate first or avoid using the cyclos services. At the end of the journey, a few men will come over to translate, and they will pretend to help and later insist that you pay the demanded amount.

Motorbike rental

This is good for making lots of trips around the city for individuals or duos, but be careful: Hanoi traffic is a very difficult place to sharpen motorbike skills. Park on the pavement with other bikes, and be sure to lock the front wheel. Locals will help arrange the bikes near their stores. Many shops that have bike attendants will give you a ticket in exchange for parking your bike. The ticket will either have your license plate number written on it or the ticket itself will be numbered, with that number subsequently chalked somewhere on your bike. In such cases, where you've been given a ticket, the attendants may ask that you not lock the steering column or front wheel of your bike so that they can rearrange the bikes as customers come and go.

By Electric Vehicle

'Green' Electric vehicles now operate 3 fixed routes around the Old Quarter taking tourists past the main market, a couple of 'heritage houses,' St. Joseph's Cathedral and the opera house. The tours start and finish at the northern end of Hoàn Kiếm Lake.

By bus

Scam free, cheap but a bit difficult to comprehend at first, the buses in Hanoi are relatively fast and surprisingly comfortable. Pick up a map with printed bus lines at the Trang Tien street (the book street by the Opera house) and spend a few minutes to identify the over 60 bus lines, find your bus stop, wait for the bus, pay and off you go. If you are unfamiliar with the city, make sure to inform the mostly helpful conductor where you want to get off. Or, use your phone's GPS and Google Maps - it works well with Hanoi buses.

By car

Hanoi's traffic is extremely chaotic, with seemingly perpetual traffic jams, and a large number of almost suicidal motorcyclists, cyclists, and pedestrians. Vietnamese drivers are among the most aggressive in the world, and lanes are effectively non-existent. As such, driving yourself around is not recommended, and you should leave your transportation needs in the hands of professionals.​

What to see in Hanoi, Vietnam


  • Hanoi Citadel

    . Built as a residence for the Vietnamese king, the citadel was mostly destroyed by the French, used as a military headquarters during the Vietnam War and nowadays it is described on the UNESCO World Heritage list as "Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long - Hanoi".

Museums

  • Air Force Museum (Bảo Tàng Không Quân), Truong Chinh St (SW of city center). There's a UH-1 helicopter, Soviet-built MiG fighters, a huge Mi-6 helicopter, and other aircraft. Unfortunately, they've been exposed to the elements for some time and local children climb over them.
  • Army Museum (Bảo Tàng Quân Đội), Dien Bien Phu St. 08:00-11:30, 13:00-16:30, closed on M and F. Vietnam's military history extends back some two millennia, and this museum covers it in four buildings. Item descriptions on museum exhibits are in Vietnamese, French, and English. On display outside are the ubiquitous MiG-21 jet fighter, T-54 tank, and many bombs and articles captured in the Indochina and Vietnam wars. The flag tower is also on the museum site.
  • Fine Arts Museum (Bảo Tàng Mỹ Thuật), 66 Nguyen Thai Hoc St. Tu-Su 09:15-17:00. Only party-approved art is shown here and there is no information in English and only little in Vietnamese. But it is an interesting museum at any rate, with pieces such as the wonderful pictures of soldiers on boats depicted on prehistoric bronze drums, Buddhist art, and revolutionary art of the 20th-century wars. Also some interesting silk paintings.
  • Hanoi Museum

    (Bảo tàng Hà Nội), Pham Hung St, Cau Giay District.
  • Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. 08:00-23:00. Closed M & F. Last entrance 22:15. The city down south may have his name, but only Hanoi has the man himself, entombed in distinctly Lenin-esque fashion. Against his wishes, but that's how it goes. No talking, revealing clothing (shorts should be knee length and no exposed shoulders), or other signs of disrespect allowed while viewing; photos are allowed only from outside, in the grand Ba Dinh Square. Purses are allowed into the tomb but expect them to be searched by several bored soldiers along the way. Left luggage is handled in a complicated scheme: there is an office near the street for large bags, with separate windows for Vietnamese and foreigners, and a further office for cameras, which will be transported to a third office right outside the exit of the mausoleum. Items checked in at the first office, however, will stay there. Note that the mausoleum is closed for a couple months around the end of the year when the body is taken abroad for maintenance. Free.
  • Ho Chi Minh Museum, 19 Ngoc Ha St, Ba Dinh, ☎ +84 4 846-3572, e-mail: bthochiminh@hn.vnn.vn. 08:00-11:30, 14:00-16:00, closed M and F afternoons. This gleaming white museum and its gloriously ham-handed iconography is the perfect chaser to the solemnity of the mausoleum. The building, completed in 1990, is intended to evoke a white lotus. Some photos and old letters are on display on the second floor, but the main exhibition space is on the third floor. It includes cars crashing through walls to represent the chaos of post-war American capitalism, soldiers charging around with electric plugs, a cave hideout re-imagined as the inside of Ho Chi Minh's brain, and several other postmodern confections integrated with the main story of the man's life and his country's struggle. One of the more informative museums in Vietnam. Guides are available in English, French, Chinese, and Russian. The displays are labeled in English and French.
  • Ho Chi Minh's Vestige In The Presidential Palace Area, 1 Bach Thao, Ba Dinh, ☎ +84 4 0804 4529. Summer 07:30-11:00, 14:00-16:00. Winter 08:00-11:00, 13:30-16:00, closed M, F afternoons. The exit from the mausoleum takes you right into the grounds of the, uh, vestige, where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked from 1954 until his death in 1969. The nicely landscaped complex includes two of Ho Chi Minh's houses, kept shiny and "as he left them" by the authorities, as well as a garage with two of Ho's "used cars" and a carp-filled pond. The presidential palace is nearby, but it's not always open to visitors. Pamphlets are available in English, Chinese, French and Korean. Guided tours are usually available if you wait. Paying is not enforced unless you are one of the unlucky few to be outed from the crowd.
  • Museum of Ethnology (Bao Tang Dan Toc Hoc Vietnam), Nguyen Van Huyen St, Cau Giay District (Bus 14 from Hoan Kiem Lake - ask the conductor when to stop, and take a 500 m walk towards the museum (backtrack a little from the bus stop, and when you see a large street perpendicular to the street that you dropped off, take that street and walk down the street until you see the Museum of Ethnology to your left). Bus 38 goes from right outside the Temple of Literature to the street the museum is on). Tu-Su 08:30-17:30. Exhibitions cover mainly the culture and ritual practices of the various ethnic groups in the whole of Vietnam. One of the key attractions of the museum is the open-air exhibition, which has houses of some ethnic groups, which even comes with inhabitants in costumes. The museum features actual explanations of the exhibits in Vietnamese, French, and English. There is an excellent café on the premises. 
  • Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution (Bảo tàng Cách mạng Việt Nam), 25 Tong Dan St (and 216 Tran Quang Khai St. Tu-Su 08:00-11:45, 13:30-16:15. This museum gives a very informed and detailed account of the Vietnamese struggle against first the French (starting in 1858—on the first floor), then against the US, ending on 30 Apr 1975 (on the ground floor). It is housed in a colonial French building which was completed in 1932. The building, designed by the architect Ernest Hébrard is considered as a successful blend between the colonial French architecture and traditional Vietnamese architecture, called Indochina architecture. He created double-walls and balconies for a natural ventilation system and protection from sunshine.
  • National Museum of Vietnamese History (Bảo tàng Lịch sử Việt Nam), 1 Phạm Ngũ Lão. 08:00-11:30, 13:30-16:30. This is a collection from Vietnamese history from about 1,000 years back until 1945. Many antiques.
  • One-Pillar Pagoda (Tucked away between the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum). Visitors find this either charming and lovely or utterly pointless, depending on how many tour groups are crammed into the small grounds at the time of their visit. Free.
  • Vietnamese Women's Museum (Bảo Tàng Phụ nữ Việt Nam), 36 Ly Thuong Kiet St, Hoan Kiem District (Central Hanoi, 1km S of Hoan Kiem Lake), ☎ +84 4 3825 9938, fax: +84 4 3825 9129, e-mail: info@baotangphunu.org.vn. M-Su 08:00-17:00. This often overlooked museum has recently benefited from an extensive renovation of its permanent exhibitions. The modernized interior is well laid out with information in Vietnamese, English, and French, and contains a huge amount of information on the fearsome female heroines of Vietnamese history. There are also exhibitions on the rituals and traditions surrounding women in the family, as well as a beautifully presented collection of intricate hand-made ethnic costumes. A highlight is the regularly updated special exhibitions on a diverse range of subjects, from contemporary issues such as single mothers and street vendors to traditional medicine and Mother Goddess worship. English language tours are available on request.

Parks

  • Hoan Kiem Lake. A pleasant park in the center of town, an easy walk from anywhere in the Old Quarter. It's the locals' favorite leisure spot and a great place to watch people practicing tai chi in the morning or to sit and read in the afternoon. Hoan Kiem means "returned sword", and the name comes from a legend in which King Le Loi was given a magical sword by the gods, which he used to drive out the invading Chinese. Later, while boating on the lake, he encountered a giant turtle, which grabbed the sword and carried it down to its depths, returning it to the gods from whom it had come. (You can see a version of the legend at the Water Puppet Theatre) Rumour has it the giant turtles still inhabit the lake.
  • Ho Tay (West Lake) (NW of the city). Mostly a residential hub of the well-to-do. Hotel Intercontinental and Hanoi Sheraton are on this lakefront.
  • Lenin Statue & Park (Dien Bien Phu St, across from the Army Museum). One can always feel the diversity and liveliness of Hanoi there. In the morning, there is low-energy aerobics class for elders and aerobics class for the young in the morning. During the day, one can enjoy the tranquility in the park since everybody is either at work or in school. In the afternoon, it becomes a playground for children and students as well as for soccer teams and badminton players.
  • Ly Thai To Statue & Park. The park faces Hoan Kiem lake with a beautiful view of the busy Hang Bai St and the serenity of the willows on the bank of the lake. Many locals view this mini-park as their favorite place because it is a symbol of the integration of modernity and tradition. One might encounter a group of youths practicing hip-hop and break dancing while at the same time seeing a three-generation family enjoying a walk in the park.

Temples

  • Bach Ma Temple, 76 Hang Buom St, Hoan Kiem District. Time: the 12th to the 13th day of the second lunar month. Objects of worship: Bach Ma God (the symbol of the sun god), Long Do God ("the god who defends the east"), confer a title of "Thang Long Capital of Nation royal tutelary god". Xuan Nguu presenting rite.
  • Ngoc Son Temple. Extends out into the lake, with small but attractive grounds, displays on Vietnamese history and, more memorably, displays on the giant turtles, including a mummified specimen.
  • Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu), Quoc Tu Giam St (S of the mausoleum). The Temple of Literature was founded in 1070 and established as the country's first university six years later. The courtyard features stone tablets, each mounted on the back of a tortoise, inscribed with the names of graduates.

Wartime sites

  • B-52 Lake (Huu Tiep Lake), Ngoc Ha Precinct, Ba Dinh District. Until 19 Dec 1972, this was just a small brackish pond just off Hoang Hoa Tham St, about 1 km west of the mausoleum. On that day, in a twisted retelling of the Hoan Kiem legend, Vietnamese anti-aircraft missiles blasted the enemy's eight-engined, 100-ton aircraft and sent it to the shallow bottom of the lake, where it remains today.
  • Downed Aircraft Memorial (Along Thanh Nien St on Truc Bach Lake). A stone plaque commemorating the shooting down of a US Navy (not "USAF" as depicted) aircraft in 1967. Read the Vietnamese script and you can pick out the name of John McCain, now a US Senator, one of the airmen.
  • Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton), 1 Hoa Lo, Hoan Kiem. 08:30-11:30, 13:30-16:30. This prison was built by the French at the turn of the 20th century, in classical French prison design. This is where the French imprisoned and executed Vietnamese freedom fighters. Now a museum since two-thirds of the prison was torn down to make way for the Hanoi Towers, the museum exhibits the French colonial regime and the struggle of the Vietnamese people against imperialism in chilling detail. The prison was also known as the "Hanoi Hilton" during the Vietnam War as it held US POWs. Little emphasis is given to this period, however, and to some, the exhibits may seem to be propaganda, such as showing photos only of prisoners being treated well and playing basketball and playing chess. The museum claims to have John McCain's flight suit from when his plane was shot down.

What to do in Hanoi, Vietnam


  • Backstreet Academy, 11A Nam Trang, Truc Bach, ☎ +84 979 545 707, e-mail: info@backstreetacademy.com. 08:00-18:00. An alternative tour experiences platform, they enable locals to offer authentic and unique activities to tourists such as silk weaving, wood carving workshops, paper stenciling, traditional music instruments and even a course where you can make your own traditional paper masks or leather products with local craftsmen. A social enterprise, they work with many underprivileged people who either serve as hosts or facilitators/guides. A great way to interact with local people and take in the culture.

Cinemas

  • August Movie Theater (Rap Thang 8) (On Hang Bai St, 5 min away from Trang Tien Plaza and the commercial area, such as Pho Hue, Hai Ba Trung and Trang Tien St).
  • Megastar, 191 Ba Trieu (On the 6th floor of the Vincom City Towers). The movies are relatively new, perhaps one or two months later than in the US. The movies are not dubbed although there are subtitles so both non-Vietnamese speakers and locals can enjoy them. 

Cooking classes

  • EZ Cooking Class, 49 Lane, 49 Huynh Thuc Khang St.
  • Hanoi Cooking Centre, 44 Chau Long St (close to Truc Bac lake), ☎ +84 4 3715 0088. Cooking school, retail outlet and beautiful courtyard cafe with an excellent menu of Asian and Western favorites. Hands-on cooking classes and short courses in a relaxed atmosphere.
  • Hidden Hanoi, 137 Nghi Tam Rd (aka Duong An Duong Vuong), Tay Ho (On the bund road in the Tay Ho District), e-mail: info@hiddenhanoi.com.vn. Hidden Hanoi runs walking tours and cooking classes. There are many options including the 1 hr walking tour of the local market, followed by the 3 hr cooking class. Cooking class menus change daily, and there are other walking tours available. They also run language classes, and there is a dance school in the same building.
  • Vietnam Culinary School, e-mail: hanoiculinaryclass@gmail.com. Fully equipped facilities to learn Vietnamese cooking. A typical day will commence with a visit to the morning market accompanied by an instructor to select ingredients for your cooking lesson. The class will be followed by a meal in a restaurant sampling your own cooking as well as traditional Vietnamese dishes.

Pampering

  • SF Salon and Spa, 30 Cua Dong, Hoan Kiem, ☎ +84 4 926 2032. Nice, not too expensive spa with a range of services, including massages, manicures/pedicures, facials. They will pay for your one-way taxi fare to the spa. Friendly staff.

Rock climbing

  • VietClimb, So 40 Ngo 76 An Duong, ☎ +84 9 1454 8903. Daily except M, 14:00-22:00. 200 m² climbing surface, a 50 m² café & terrace to chill out, and a climbing pro-shop. Also a great place for finding out where to climb immediately outside of Hanoi.

Theatre

  • Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, 57 Dinh Tien Hoang St (Across from Hoan Kiem Lake), ☎ +84 4 824 9494, fax: +84 4 824 5117. Musicians accompany folk legends from Vietnamese history, told with wooden men, women, and dragons, dancing and splashing on the face of the water. The narratives are sung in Vietnamese, but lyrics are available in several languages. Or just ignore the dialogue and narration and focus on the special effects. There are several performances throughout the day. Don't worry about getting wet, but the seats are very small, and visitors with above-average height will have to squirm a bit. 

What to eat and drink in Hanoi, Vietnam


Eat

Since the mid-1990s, Vietnamese cuisine has grown in quality and variation. Most famous remains "pho ga" (chicken noodle soup) or "pho bo"(beef noodle soup). There are various dishes including chicken, beef, fish, and seafood, and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of restaurants nowadays in Hanoi catering to everyone's taste.

In Hanoi, there are hundreds of street restaurants in small kiosks on the sidewalk, with plastic tables and chairs on the pavement. Eating at these restaurants is a great way to experience local food and culture. It is worth mentioning that food quality, freshness, and hygiene can vary greatly. Market food stalls offer fruit portions, sausages, doughnuts, and other foods. Check your change as a few vendors seem to forget to give it, and learn a little Vietnamese because vendors often will not speak any or much English.

For groceries, there is a large supermarket east of Hoan Kiem Lake (Finimart, 27A Ly Thai To, at Tran Nguyen Han).

Exotic treats

Next to Beijing, Hanoi is probably the second in the running to the world's exotic food paradise.

  • Snake Restaurants (About ten minutes across the river from the city center, take Bus 10, 15 or 17 and get off at the large mall" just beyond Gia Lam station, and walk 500m down the road at the right of the mall). The suburb of Le Mat (aka Snake Village) has numerous restaurants specializing in cobra foodstuffs. Live cobras are stored on the premises much the same way one would find live lobsters at a Western seafood restaurant. If one orders cobra blood wine from the menu, the waiter will take a live cobra, kill it on the spot, drain the blood into a shot glass of rice wine and top it off with the cobra's still beating heart for you to gulp down. Not for animal lovers or the ecologically-minded. Cobras are not cheap, but one snake becomes a dozen unique dishes, and enough to share between 3-4 people. Rượu rắn is cobra steeped whole in rice wine – or, especially in tourist areas, perhaps a cheaper, non-poisonous snake with similar coloring whose body has been stretched to give it the expected shape. Carefully investigate customs restrictions before deciding to bring a few bottles home, as some of the snakes used are endangered species.

A local delicacy in the Hanoi area is dog meat (thịt chó), which is especially popular in the winter. There are a number of dog restaurants in the Tay Ho district. Another exotic regional taste is ca cuong, an extract from the belostomatid or giant water bug. Just a few drops are added to noodles for the unique aroma.

Boiled duck foetus eggs are sold by pedlars almost everywhere. The experience consists of the vendor cracking the egg in front of you, and peeling the shell and dropping the contents in a plastic bowl, then garnished with julienned ginger, basil leaf and sprinkled with chili sauce. You can see the severed head and beak of your chick that fell off if you are lucky enough to have your first bite from a different spot.

Budget

  • Bun Cha, 1 Hang Manh, 67 Duong Thanh (Old Quarter near Hang Da Market), ☎ +84 16 9777 6666. 08:00-19:00. Some rate this as one of the best examples of bun cha in Hanoi, and therefore Vietnam (apparently in the south, bun cha is specifically advertised as Hanoi-style). There you can get a bowl full of tiny minced-pork rissoles that have been char-grilled over an open flame and a massive plate of pork rice paper rolls that have been fried in oil twice. With this, you also get a phenomenal dipping sauce (fish sauce, made from sugar, garlic, peppers usually), a massive plate of greens and herbs, more bun (rice noodle) than you can handle, and a bottle of local beer. It's full of locals and not so many tourists, so you can be assured the experience is authentic.
  • Cafe 69, 69 Ma May St (Opposite Friendly Hotel). Good place to eat Western food in the heart of the Old Quarter, although some visitors have found it expensive and the food inferior.
  • The Cart Au Trieu, 18 Au Trieu, Hoan Kiem (Au Trieu is the street to the right of St Joseph's Cathedral, but The Cart is entered via the backdoor so go down the alleyway and take a left), ☎ +84 4 3928 7715. 08:00-17:00. Try their pies and pasties.
  • The Cart Nghi Tam, 8B, Lane 1 Au Co, Nghi Tam Village, Tay Ho (Follow the road between the back doors of the Sheraton and the Intercontinental till it takes a right. The Cart Nghi Tam is just around the corner.), ☎ +84 4 3718 6967. 07:00-19:00. Good for an early breakfast or a takeaway coffee. Their bacon baguette with back bacon is a rarity in Hanoi. Try the meat and potato pie or the veggie cheese, onion, and potato pasty. 
  • Com Binh Dan (Hang Bo, several side streets in Old Quarter). 11:00-14:00. Inexpensive, home-cooked Vietnamese meals. 
  • Com Chay Au Lac, 277 Ngo Van Chuong (Take Le Duan S, past train tracks, turn into alley after #114). Daily, 07:00-20:30. Typical local vegetarian restaurant like you'll find everywhere in Vietnam except Hanoi, a little off the beaten track in an atmospheric alleyway. 
  • Com Chay Nang Tam Vegetarian Restaurant, 79A Pho Tran Hung Dao (A few streets S of the lake). Lunch and dinner. This excellent restaurant is a good vegetarian option and will please both vegetarians and non-vegetarians with its wide range of innovative dishes, which include fake meat dishes. Restaurant is comfortable with good ambiance and is good value. Well worth the short walk out of the old town.
  • Dac Kim, 67 Duong Thanh, Hoan Kiem, ☎ +84 16 9777 6666. 08:00-19:00. BBQ pork slices in soup with vermicelli and lots of vegetables. They serve spring rolls too.
  • Hebe Cafe, 33 Luong Van Can St (Inside Hanoi Youth Hotel, near Hoan Kiem Lake, in the center of Old Quarter). Cheap local and Western food.
  • Huy Café & Pizza Inn, 32 Dinh Liet St. Large Italian dinner combo (garlic bread, soup/salad, pizza/pasta, drink).
  • Joma Bakery Café (Joma), 22 Ly Quoc Su, & 54 To Ngoc Van (Near the cathedral, and west lake). 07:00-21:00. Fair-trade certified organic coffee. A good range of freshly made sandwiches, other savories, and cakes. Excellent breakfast menu and lunch/dinner options.
  • Kem Tràng Tiền, 54 Phố Tràng Tiền. A popular spot for ice cream on a hot day. Beware of motorbikes when entering the establishment, since it is sort of a drive-thru/drive-in ice cream shop. Recommended is the local cóm or đậu xanh flavors.
  • Minh Thuy's Family Restaurant, 2A Duong Thanh, ☎ +84 4 3200 7893. Lovely Old Quarter expat fave serving great value Western comfort food, classic Vietnamese, and excellent veggie options (rare in meat-loving Hanoi). The head chef was a top 10 contestant in Vietnamese Masterchef! Prices very affordable.
  • Papa Joe's Coffee, 112 Cau Go, ☎ +84 4 926 2544. 08:00-23:00. Despite the name, this is a restaurant, serving pasta, soup, salads, sandwiches and burgers including vegetarian options. Pizzas leave a lot to be desired. Drinks and desserts. A small balcony affords a view over the frantic traffic square and the shores of the Hoan Kiem Lake below.
  • Pho (On the corner of Nha Chung and Chan Cam). All of the soups and sides include beef (bo), so this isn't for vegetarians.
  • Pho Tu Lun (Au Trieu), 10 Ly Quoc Su. Many pho varieties..
  • Quan An Ngon (Delicious), 18 Phan Boi Chau St. Wide range of choices of dishes from everywhere in Vietnam at reasonable prices. Limited seating and many customers, so a wait is certain. Fortunately, they have a large seating area so customers do not have to wait long. Serves both lunch and dinner.
  • Quan Bia Minh (Minh's), 7A Dinh Liet (100m N of the lake), ☎ +84 4 3934 5323. 07:30-23:30. Popular restaurant with lovely casual upstairs terrace. Minh speaks English well and keeps her staff attentive. Variety of Western, vegetarian and Vietnamese food. Reasonably priced.
  • Sen (Lotus), 10 Lane 431, Au Co Rd, Tay Ho District (Next to the water park). Buffet-style restaurant. They have a wide range of dishes from many regions in the country. The dishes are divided into stations where customers can order noodles, rice cakes or rice vermicelli. Serves both lunch and dinner.

Mid-range

  • Cam Chan Quan, 108 K1 Giang Vo St & Ciputra Entrance, ☎ +84 12 3259 7696. This eatery has 2 outlets. The one at Ciputra Estate entrance has staff that speaks English, Chinese, and Vietnamese. A good pit stop for those craving for Asian food upon arrival or before departure, as they are at the mid-point of the city and airport. They serve Asian fare, Singaporean-influenced. Free Wi-Fi. Clean toilets. Their noodles as their not the usual pho, but a more typically Singaporean.
  • Cha Ca La Vong, 14 Cha Ca St & 107 Nguyen Truong To St. This establishment is so famous, the street is named after it. There's only one dish on the (Vietnamese-only) menu, fried fish in grease, but they've been serving it now for five generations. The traditional shrimp paste is now an optional extra. If you really love fish and shrimp, this experience might be for you. Authentic as it may be, it is a rip-off according to the locals. For the same price, you could eat 3 meals at a decent cafe street-side.
  • Ciao Cafe, 2 Hang Bai St. Cosy place for coffee and cake. Not full of cigarette smoke Unlike many other cafes in Hanoi.
  • Huong Ly (Ly Thuong Kiet, close to the Melia Hotel). This is a fantastic bar and restaurant on the ground floor and top floor of a building. The middle floor is a clothes shop. Fantastic food, serving anything from traditional noodles to salmon steak, beautifully presented and delicious. Friendly staff.
  • Huyen Houng Restaurant, 20 Bao Khanh, ☎ +84 4 828 8430. Choose from a wide variety of seafood dishes (many of which are swimming around in tanks) and other Vietnamese specialties. Friendly staff complements the tasty food. 
  • Kaiser Kaffee Restaurant, 34A Ba Trieu. Interesting little place which has excellent Vietnamese and Western food.
  • Little Hanoi, 21 Pho Hang Gai, ☎ +84 4 928 5333. Upscale cafe serving mainly Westerners in a pleasantly lit restaurant.
  • Luala Cafe, 61 Ly Thai To, Hoan Kiem, ☎ +84 4 3936 9899. Cafe and restaurant inside the Luala Store, a luxury fashion concept store in the shopping district. The restaurant offers a variety of gourmet foods, drinks, and desserts.
  • Mediteraneo (Nha Tho St, between La Salsa and Paris Deli). Authentic Italian food, probably the best you'll get in Hanoi. Prices are steep and portions small.
  • Moka Café (Nha Tho St close to the cathedral). Excellent selection of Western and Vietnamese food served in a coffee shop environment.
  • Paradieso Restaurant, 7 Nguyen Sieu (Old Quarter), ☎ +84 4 39974861. Small, warm restaurant with both local Vietnamese and Western food. Good quality and affordable prices. You can have traditional Vietnamese food: cha ca, bun cha, pho, nem (spring rolls), also can have very good crepes. All very good quality in a nice decor.
  • Paris Deli (Nha Tho St across from Moka Cafe). Offers delicious European fare for hearty appetites.
  • Pepperoni's (Near the Hang Gai end of Nha Chung). Part of a small international chain of pizza restaurants. Locally run, they do regular special offers such as free desserts, eat-all-you-can buffets, and loyalty schemes, whereby collecting tokens with each take-out entitles you to a free pizza. Pizzas, burgers, ice cream and apple crumble. 
  • La Salsa (On Nha Tho St near the church in Old Town, across from Moka Cafe). French food and expat hang-out.
  • Tamarind Café, Ma May 80 (Old Quarter), ☎ +84 4 926 0580. Has a menu full of inventive vegetarian dishes, lots of fresh fruit juices, and a relaxed, stylish interior. Don't come here if you're hungry as the portions aren't very big, and it's a tad pricey.
  • Tan My Design Cafe, 61 Hang Gai, ☎ +84 4 3938 1451. One of the Hanoi's best shops for fashion where you can also get nice Asian and Western foods in a cozy ambiance.

Splurge

  • Restaurant Bobby Chinn, 77 Xuan Dieu St, Tay Ho, ☎ +84 4 3718 5988. An amazing restaurant with the trademark green pea pods as the logo. One of the more hip dining experiences of Hanoi. The interior alone is worth a look, while the menu is delightfully eclectic.
  • Don's Bistro, 16/27 Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho, Ha Noi, ☎ +84 4 3719 2460, fax: +84 4 3719 5998, e-mail: donchef@donviet.vn. 08:00-23:00. Multi-concept establishment serving classic and innovative international cuisine, including Vietnamese favorites, with indoor and outdoor settings. Don's houses 2 restaurants: one with a cigar den, wine cellar and rotating art gallery as well as a rooftop Skyline Oyster Bar featuring live oysters and live nightly music. The first floor is geared for more casual dining, serving pho, cocktails, coffee, fresh baked goods, wood-fired pizzas, shisha.
  • Green Tangerine, 48 Hang Be (A few steps from Hang Be St), ☎ +84 4 825-1286. Excellent French restaurant offering rich and delicious French food with both an à la carte selection and a set menu. Popular with expats.
  • La Restaurant & Bar, 25 Ly Quoc Su (Near St Joseph's Cathedral in the Old Quarter), ☎ +84 4 928 8933, +84 9 1322 1971. This elegant, air-conditioned restaurant has a choice of delicious Western and Vietnamese dishes. While the selection of vegetarian dishes is somewhat restricted, the food is excellent, if pricey by Hanoi standards. "La" will definitely satisfy longings for quality food after weeks of eating on the street.
  • Ly Club, 4 Le Phung Hieu, Hoan Kiem, ☎ +84 4 39363069, e-mail: info@lyclub.vn. 11:00-23:00. Top-notch Vietnamese and European cuisine in a French colonial mansion. On the expensive side for Hanoi, but the atmosphere and good quality of food make up for it. A pianist alternates with piped music.
  • Pane e Vino Italian Restaurant and Wine Shop, 3 Nguyen Khac Can & 98 Hang Trong (100 m from Hoan Kiem Lake), ☎ +84 4 3826 9080, +84 4 3928 6329. Fully air-con. Serves a wide range of traditional regional Italian dishes. An extensive wine list with Italian wines from Veneto, Tuscany, Puglia, Sicilia, and Piedmont. Friendly service. A great place to relax and get recover after a long walking and shopping day. Drop in for a chat and a complimentary digestivo with the manager.
  • Pots 'n Pans Restaurant, 57 Bui Thi Xuan St, Hai Ba Trung District (Follow Ba Trieu St S from Hoan Kiem Lake 5 min), ☎ +84 4 3944 0204, fax: +84 4 3944 6599, e-mail: info@potsnpans.vn. 11:30-late. Vietnamese food with international flair. Fine dining and lounge bar which is staffed former street children from Hanoi's KOTO Training Programme, now rising stars of the Vietnamese food scene. Happy hour 7 days from 17:00-19:00.
  • Press Club, 59 A Ly Thai To St, ☎ +84 4 3972 0888, fax: +84 4 3934 0899, e-mail: hongngoc@hanoi-pressclub.com. Fine dining with Western cuisine and a good selection of wines. 70 seat restaurant, private wine room for 12 and another cozy private room for 4. A combination of old and contemporary features with a classically trained chef.

Drink

Bia Hơi is abundant in the streets of the Old Quarter. At the crossing of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen five separate venues fill up with travelers in the evenings, but you can get more local atmosphere on some of the side streets.

Hanoi is a lively city on the weekends, but the Old Quarter closes relatively early (at midnight) on weekdays, so you might want to start your night early. Other places outside the Old Quarter stay open later and vary in closing times. Local young people gather around the cathedral located in Ly Quoc Su to have lemon ice tea (tra chanh) and sunflower seeds in street bars. After dark, it gets quite crowded.

Sit on a plastic chair in front of one of the bia hoi (fresh beer) establishments which are invariably situated on the corners of many of Hanoi's Old Quarter streets. This preservative-free light beer is the perfect drink to sip as you watch the city's frenetic bustle. The beer costs less than twenty cents and gives you an excuse to relax and take photos of the passing local characters: should not be missed. In the Old Quarter, you will find that almost every corner is filled with stalls selling pho (Vietnamese noodle) and cafe (the name is not limited only to coffee, but also tea, sweets and grocery items, and even to pho).

On Tô Tich, a small street connecting Hang Quat and Hang Gai, you can help yourself to a refreshing fruit milkshake (sinh tố) at one of the stalls.

Breweries

If you are looking for something less watery than Bia Hoi, excellent freshly brewed Czech or German-style beer is available at several breweries, including Hoa Vien (Czech), Goldmalt (Czech), Legend beer (German), with several branches around the city.

  • Hoa Vien.
  • Goldmalt.
  • Legend Beer.

Bars

  • Green Lake (Ho Guom Xanh), 32 Le Thai To. A crowded bar with weekly performances by popular local singers. A place for the definitive Vietnamese entertainment scene. Seems to combine part live singing with drag performances and a host club.
  • Mao's Red Lounge, 30 Ta Hien, Hoan Kiem (Down the street from Tet and Cheeky Quarter). Small, but lively bar in the heart of the Old Quarter. Has two levels, the top floor which is usually packed with Westerners smoking loads of cigarettes. Mao himself is usually in presence, playing all kinds of music from his iPod. He's extremely friendly and will strike up a conversation with anyone willing to listen.
  • Minh's Jazz Club, 1 Trang Tien, Ha Noi (Alley behind the opera house). This longtime institution of the Hanoi music scene is still run by the same Mr Quyen Van Minh. It seems to move venue every couple of years, so worth checking in advance. It's currently in an alley behind the opera house. No cover charge, beers get more expensive shortly before the music starts at 9 pm, but cocktails are the same price. Offers food.

Coffee

  • Highlands Coffee (Opposite KFC). On the 3rd floor in a ship-shaped 5 story building overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake and Vietnam's "Piccadilly Circus". Great spot to relax in a scenic location where you can watch all the traffic and pedestrians go about their business below you along their outside balcony or stay inside their comfy air-conditioned interior.
  • Cong Caphe. Several locations across the city, although the most central is probably the one at 54 Ma May. Serves various coffees, chocolates, and teas including their specialty Coconut Coffee Smoothie. Popular with a young and relatively hip but well off a crowd, and open late.

Shopping in Hanoi, Vietnam


Many places accept US dollars, and cash is king. Most shops quote much higher prices for tourists (including Vietnamese people from other regions) than for locals, and the belief that tourists are rich and hence should pay more than locals is firmly entrenched in the local culture. As such, most vendors will insist that as a tourist, you pay the tourist price and will refuse to let you bargain the price down to the local price even if you know what it is. If you have a trusted local friend, you can save a fair bit of money by getting your friend to buy the item you want in your absence.

 

Books

  • Bookworm Hanoi, 44 Chau Long (Hanoi Cooking Center), ☎ +84 43 715 3711, +84 912 561800. New and used books.

Markets

  • Cho Hom (The equivalent meaning in English would be "Noon Market" but the translation is not close), Pho Hue. A huge range of goods, and famous for the fabric market on the second floor. There are many kiosks selling different types of fabrics ranging from cheap, affordable to best quality with a high price. When shopping, take your time and never rush into buying anything. Sellers often quote a very high initial price that you can bargain down considerably.
  • Dong Xuan. Famous for being the market for wholesalers. They have school supplies, stuffed animals, clothing. It is quite an experience to spend some time in the market observing the sellers and buyers.
  • Hang Da. A 6-story building to house the market is currently under construction. All the kiosks are now in the neighboring area, either on Phung Hung (second-hand clothing), Duong Thanh, or Ly Nam De Streets. Sell a huge range of goods including pets, groceries, prepared foodsб and fabrics.
  • Night Market. 19:00. This market gathers on a walking street in the old quarter. Has anything from pirated DVDs to traditional ornaments. Prices are negotiable but watch out for the "foreigner pricing" which is fairly common.

Money changers

Money changers found in most guesthouses and banks give bad rates. Jewelry shops consistently offer a better rate, the best ones are located along Ha Trung Rd (5 min walk from Hoan Kiem Lake) and Hang Bac. Just walk into the shop and ask them if they change money. Ask 5 or more shops to see which one gives the best rate. Don't exchange money from the black market people on the streets.​

Safety in Hanoi, Vietnam


Walking the streets of Hanoi is not for the faint of heart. As is the case everywhere in Vietnam, traffic in Hanoi is dominated by an incredible number of motorbikes, all of which seem to be making a mad, desperate dash for something just out of reach, all of the time. The simple act of walking can be intimidating for visitors, especially in the narrow streets around the Old Quarter.

There is no such thing as one-directional traffic in Vietnam. When you leave the curb, look not only left and right, but to the front and back. Even up and down would not be amiss. Take each step deliberately but resolutely. Patiently allow the motorbikes to pass. Don't rush. Do not make any erratic movements. This way the drivers are aware of you and can anticipate your vector (along with all of the other motorbikes). It may look chaotic, but be patient and pay attention when you're crossing any street, large or small, and you will be fine.

Be vigilant when taking a taxi. Drivers have been known to jump out at the destination and remove most of the bags from the trunk. While the passenger is busy putting on a rucksack the driver takes off with the remaining bags. Ask your hotel which taxi companies are reliable.

Be careful of hustler hawkers. In Vietnam, there is a two-tier pricing system, for locals and for foreigners. No other place in Vietnam is this practiced more emphatically than in Hanoi (and in Ho Chi Minh City's Ben Tanh Market) where vendors charge differently according to how they gauge your net worth.

Pickpockets

You've read warnings about pickpockets a hundred times, but in all of Asia, it's rarely as true as for Hanoi's busy and narrow Old Quarter or the Dong Xuan Night Market. The crowd, loads of tourists, the distraction of heavy traffic and the narrow confines guarantee opportunities for thieves. And the general belief that tourists have too much money creates a moral climate in which thieves abound. Even if you're attentive, you'll get some pockets of your backpack opened, maybe even twice a day. Expect female pickpockets. Don't let them surround you. Approaching you with "Hello, I'm a student" seems to be a quite popular pick-up line for them, so be forewarned.

Language spoken in Hanoi, Vietnam


Vietnamese is the official language. English is understood in tourist places.

LOCAL TIME

6:51 am
September 22, 2019
Asia/Saigon

CURRENT WEATHER

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