I had only heard great things about backpacking Vietnam so I arrived with high expectations, let’s go! First stop, Hanoi.
I love a big city to kick off a new country. I like to jump in the mix right when I land. Hanoi had an energetic buzz about it and was the perfect start to our Vietnam adventure!
Where to stay in Hanoi
The first thing I noticed when planning for Vietnam, the accommodations are cheap…and I mean CHEAP! We stayed at LaBevie Hotel in the Old Quarter and this nice hotel cost less than $40/night! We were used to slumming it in hostels on our $30 a day budget but at this point in our digital nomad life we had about a $60 a day budget so we were high living in Vietnam!
Funny story: We headed to Sapa for one night after Hanoi and we only wanted to bring our day packs so we asked our hotel if they could store our luggage. We also asked if we could have a late checkout because we were going to take a night train. They said sure but that we would have to move rooms. When we checked in to the other room we crashed and took a long nap. Everything seemed normal. It wasn’t until we woke up that we realized we were in someone else’s room! There were a few belongings and a half eaten apple core. We tried to talk to reception about it but there was a language barrier so we all just ending up laughing. Still unsure what happened!
What to do in Hanoi
Visit Beer Corner
We flew Jetstar from Hong Kong to Hanoi and arrived in the late afternoon. After checking in our hotel, we were starved and ready for a local beer so we headed out to the corner of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen’s “Beer Corner” in the Old Quarter.
Beer Corner is awesome! This is everything I love about Asia. Cheap beer, delicious street food, and sitting on tiny plastic stools. It reminded me of Rambuttri Road in Thailand. One thing this area is known for is the super cheap draft beer called Bia Hoi. There are just random kegs on the corner and you can get a beer for 5000 dong which is only 20 cents! Even our budget was above that. As expected, it was gross but we had to try it.
Crazy story: We sit down to eat and then all of the sudden people start fleeing. I instantly thought tsunami! I think I had watched The Impossible on the long flight to Asia. I mean tables are being jerked away from people with piping hot stews spilling everywhere, people are running and yelling, it was nuts! Then we see the police come through in a truck threatening to fine the restaurants. Once they passed, the tables were put back outside and it was business as usual! We resumed our meal and the party continued.
Take a Food Tour
You can go self-guided or hire an expert. We did a mix of both. I researched foods to try and we had a list to work through. We started with Vietnamese coffee (spolier alert: it has delicious condensed milk) and followed it up with a food tour.
I decided to book the tour as an Airbnb Experience to explore Hanoi. Our guide was awesome and it was so much fun! He introduced us to delicious foods and took us to hidden spots we would have never found ourselves. (Including people’s houses!)
He also told us some history about the city and showed us places of interest while stopping for great snacks along the way. We wrapped up our tour with more coffee at the famous Cafe Dinh. Check out the tour here.
And of course you have to try pho and banh mi! We had excellent pho bo (unfortunately I don’t remember where!) and tried the banh mi at Bami Bread and Banh Mi 25. Both were pretty good, but not as good as the one we later had in Hoi An.
Get a Manicure and Massage
Many of my nail technicians in the US have been from Vietnam so I was eager to get a manicure straight from the source. I got a fun design I wouldn’t typically get. And of course, one of my favorite things about SE Asia is the great massages. At least get a foot one to treat your walking feet!
Shop at the Night Market
The late night shopping in Hanoi is so fun. You can find everything from knock-off Nikes and North Faces to fruit patterned pants! And everything was super cheap. I racked up and if I didn’t have my backpack limiting me I would have bought even more!
Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake
We strolled around Hoan Kiem Lake and it happened to be kid’s day so we saw tons of kids playing and celebrating which was cool. (We have a similar Dia del Niño holiday in Costa Rica and witnessed it when in Galapagos as well!) We also had to try the coffee at this fancy spot along the way (I wish I could remember the name!) Their marketing was so compelling and exclusive but also really weird.
Visit the Hoa Lo Prison
This is the infamous prison coined the “Hanoi Hilton” where John McCain was held POW. We did a self-guided tour and learned a lot. Although museums always leave us Googling more!
Watch the train go by
Oddly enough, one of the popular things to do when visiting Hanoi is to watch the train go by on “train street” in the Old Quarter. There are little cafes you can sit at that are creepily close to the tracks!
Walk over the Long Biên Bridge to see floating houses
This is a semi-recommendation. It was kind of out of the way for us and the floating houses are impoverished. I never know how to feel about things like this (favelas in Brazil, etc). It’s interesting to see how the local people live (aside from what’s curated for the tourist’s eye), but I also always want to be respectful and not witness poor living conditions as a tourist attraction.
How to get around Hanoi
We sometimes took the Vietnam version of Uber, called Grab. But mostly we walked everywhere which was an adventure in itself. There are barely traffic lights much less sidewalks! It’s like Frogger IRL. Day one we were nervous to cross the street but by day two we were jumping in front of traffic like it was second nature!
We only had a couple of days in Hanoi but they were action packed and so much fun! I’m still drooling over the food.
Having fun in Hanoi,
Note: We visited Hanoi in March 2019.