Coming: Fly into Nội Bài International airport if this is your first stop. If not, you probably took the bus in from elsewhere in Vietnam or Laos. Many times you’ll arrive extremely early in the morning from the night bus (4am) and hostels will charge you for a bed if you want one upon arrival. Once here, you should be able to walk most places, otherwise grab a cab. Unless you’re a skilled driver in Asia, I wouldn’t recommend getting a bike here.
Sleeping: Flipside Hostel: The location is great and the staff was very nice and helpful, but the facilities were not my favorite. The room smelled and was really hot. Switched after one night
Hanoi Rendezvous Hotel: Right around the corner from Flipside, I enjoyed this place much more. The dorm had nice comfortable REAL BEDS (not bunkbeds!) and big lockers. I had to ask for the sheets to be changed (ALWAYS check first!) but other than that it was wonderful. The free breakfast was really good and they were helpful with booking transport and with any questions we had. Didn’t really meet anyone here as the common area was in the dining area with booths and nobody shared our room with us.
Overall: 8/10 Price: $8/mixed dorm A little above average for Hanoi, but you’re getting a real bed
If you’re looking for a party hostel: Hanoi Party Backpacker Hostel, Hanoi Backpackers Hostel – Downtown, Central Backpackers Hostel – Old Quarter, Hanoi Rocks Hostel, Funky Jungle Hostel, Hanoi Rendezvous Hostel are all extremely popular.
Eating: RIGHT outside Hanoi Rendezvous Hotel is an EXCELLENT noodle place.
The place doesn’t look like much- but pull up a plastic seat at the long table and just point to what everyone else is eating. You will not regret it. It’s a noodle dish and it’s savory and sweet and it’s heaven. Unfortunately it isn’t vegetarian friendly.
Try bánh bèo (steamed rice cakes with crispy dried shallots and pork meat).
and bún heo đậm (Pork noodles with crispy peanut, dried shallots, beansprouts, and vinegar )
There’s also some killer kebab in the Old Quarter that is just as delicious for a quick and easy dinner as it is for drunk food.
Doing: Party after hours, visit HCM’s mausoleum, take a free walkinng tour, wander around town
Party after hours- The government has strict rules about business operations shutting down by 12:00. Start your night out drinking cheap beer on Ta Hien Street and end at one of the after hours bars. Ask around about how to find and get in. There are a few clubs that are open until the wee hours of the morning if you’re not ready to hit the hay at midnight.
Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum-To be honest I was way too wiped to do any sort of sightseeing in Hanoi. But I wish I had done this. No cameras, revealing clothing, large bags, bottled water, or any talking. If this is anything like Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow, it’s super duper weird but also oddly fascinating.
Cost: Your soul. Just kidding. It’s free.
Hanoi has a free walking tour. I didn’t do this here but every free walking tour I’ve done has been excellent.
Cost: Free, just tip your guide at the end
Wander- Or just wander around the city. Hit up the shops and take in the vibe.
Staying: Hanoi is a great base camp for places like Ha Long Bay and Sa Pa and therefore many travelers see it more than once on their trip. It’s a bustling city with narrow streets and pollution and I didn’t like the vibe as much as Saigon but I’ve heard the exact opposite from many other people. If you’re traveling to other parts of northern Vietnam you’ll probably end up spending a few days here without even trying. For me, just a few days was enough.
Going: If this is your first stop, exciting! Use this as basecamp Sa Pa and Ha Long before you head south. If it’s your last, like mine, take it all in man. Bordering countries include Laos and China. Both require visas for most nations so make sure to sort that out beforehand.