Hanoi is Vietnam's capital where the street culture is very much alive and vibrant. The old way of doing things are still evident and practised despite increased tourism. Hanoi, like the fruit Durian, has no middle ground - you either love it or hate it. You cannot be neutral about it. In Hanoi, you feel the grit, edge, and texture of its culture.
Cafescape of Hanoi's Old Quarter, Vietnam(Jan 6-24, 2019) Vietnam as a country is unique in its cafe culture, from as far south as Phu Quoc Island to as far north as Hanoi. At the Old Quarter of Hanoi where shophouses are clustered according to trade, you would still see cafes sprinkled here-and-there. Of course, there is a bustling cafe area within the Old Quarter as well.....more »»
Peoplescape of Hanoi(Jan 6-24, 2019) Always, the travel experience in any place is highlighted by the people I meet. Hanoi is no exception. From locals to travelers to expats, I've had the pleasure of meeting the most amazing lives.....more »»
Exploring the Culinary Specialties of Hanoi(Jan 6-24, 2019) Hanoi, even to the admission of most Vietnamese across the country, is the gastronomic capital of Vietnam. The globally popular beef noodle soup, Pho, has its genesis in Hanoi. I'm rolling up my sleeve and putting-on my bib into my exploration of Hanoi's fabled cuisines....more »»
Ca Tru Hanoi at the Dinh Kim Ngan Temple(Jan 18, 2019) Ca Tru is a long-enduring Vietnamese musical genre reminiscent of an opera. As a musical tradition, its future shakes in precarious balance as veteran performers age and younger people turn to more popular music. But Ca Tru comes alive in Hanoi at the Dinh Kim Ngan Temple through the tireless efforts of the Hanoi Ca Tru Club....more »»
Hanoi Food Tour with Harry(Jan 16, 2019) Searching on Google for events in Hanoi, I stumbled-upon Harry's Free Hanoi Food Tour. I like food and I like a free tour. I was in! After a satisfying broth dish, coffee at an ancient cafe and meeting amazing people, I was a happy traveler....more »»
Hanoi Revisited(Jan 6, 2019) Having exhausted my visa days in Thailand, the cheapest destination was Vietnam. Since I'd been to HCMC and DaNang recently, I chose Hanoi. It's been 4 years since the last time I visited. Then, I was traveling with a local and stayed with a Vietnamese host. This time, I'm alone and winging it like I always do. I wonder what awaits...more »»
Exploring the Northern Capital of Vietnam - Hanoi(Jan 4-7, 2015) It is said that the people of the north are loud, aggressive and headstrong. If a revolution will happen in Vietnam, it will start from the north. I was equally fascinated at Hanoi's cityscape and its people. I've already toured the west of Vietnam, the south and now, I'll be experiencing the grit of the north....more »»
Hanoi (city), Vietnam
Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) to Old Quarter, Hanoi by Bus
The airport is about 30kms away from the Old Quarter so it could be pricey if you cab it. For budget travelers, there is the air-conditioned tourist bus #86 which starts from inside the airport when you walk out the door and takes you all the way to Old Quarter for only VND35k, 30 mins.
NOTE: if you use Google Maps, it will tell you that you have to walk 1km to catch the #86 bus along the main road - this is wrong!
FYI / Tips
- Hanoi's Old Quarter is the backpacker area like Bangkok's Khaosan Road. The tourist establishments (hotels, restos, travel/tour agencies, cafes) are interspersed with local traditional businesses
- Grab XeOm or moto taxis are abundant
- street culture is alive and kicking at the Old Quarter. Family-owned and managed shophouses who have been doing their trade for generations are still around. Old Quarter hasn't been touched by shopping malls yet.
- best place to exchange foreign currency is with the jewelry/gold shops (see list on map). Worst place are the tour shops/hotels.
- BEWARE of resto tourist traps. Usually, they sell only one meal like Bun Cha. No menu, no prices. They are crafty in herding unsuspecting tourists (you will notice no local eats there) and serve them the Bun Cha without asking them (because it's the only thing they sell). You'll just be jolted when you receive the bill. I was had for VND 90k!
Things to do, Places to go in Hanoi
- Old Quarter - this is old Hanoi where family-owned business flourished with its specialty trade. The streets are narrow and busy. Nowadays, it's the center for backpackers visiting Hanoi
- lakes - Hanoi is littered with many big lakes, some of them have numerous pagodas along its bank. West Lake is the largest with an 18km circumference, ideal for joggers, hobby fishing and just finding quiet time
- Tran Quoc Pagoda - the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi lying on its peninsula by West Lake
- Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum - it's a massive marble structure housed inside an expansive park with manicured gardens
Vietnam FYI / Tips / Dos and Don'ts
- Hanoi Grapevine HCMC Update - for the latest events in Vietnam
- Vietnam establishments will not accept US dollars, unlike Cambodia. You have to use Vietnam Dong (US$1 = Vietnam Dong VND 23,255 = Php 53.20 as of Aug 1, 2016)
- Vietnamese smokers will smoke in air-conditioned establishments, air-conditioned buses packed with people including women, children and babies. They also smoke inside hospitals with no smoking signs.
- Vietnam ranks almost the same as Thailand and Cambodia for cheap price. Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia cost more
- internet speed is generally fast and reliable but during important events like Tet holiday, election, etc., it slows down
- Vietnamese generally do not speak or understand much English. It will be a challenge.
- best to dress appropriately, not revealing too much skin (Saigon is an exception - the ladies there set the trend in very short shorts)
- remove your shoes when entering a home or place of worship
- ask first before taking someone's picture. If they say no, don't persist or offer money
- best to carry your hotel's business card with you when going out. You can just show it to the cab driver or XeOm driver if they don't understand English
- leave your valuables, passport, travel tickets, etc. with the hotel's safety deposit box
- when lying down, don't point your feet or the soles of your shoes to anyone or to a family altar
- carry only enough cash for your needs that day
- don't lose your temper in public - Vietnamese people are warm, generous and polite. They look down on people who lose their composure
- don't take pictures of military installations - you can go to jail
- refrain from taking videos of minority people until permitted to do so
Lesser-Known Vietnam Destinations
- Phu Yen Province - by the beach
- Hoa Binh Lake - locals' alternative to Halong Bay
- Ninh Binh - Trang An Grottoes, Tam Coc, Mua Caves, Bai Dinh Pagoda, Van Long Nature Reserve
General Travel Tips
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
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