Take this with a slight grain of salt. Hanoi is one of those cities that people either love or once was enough. I fall into the later category but that being said, I appreciated my time there. Would I go out of my way to visit Hanoi again? Probably not. Especially when there are so many other places to visit in Vietnam that I couldn’t get to on our trip in Vietnam. Such as Sapa, Hue or Dalat to name just a few. Here are my 6 things you need to know when visiting Hanoi.
Affordable Hotels: There is Barely a Catch
There are some really cool and hip Airbnbs in Hanoi but they don’t come cheap and many are studios. Often times, with no kitchen. So why bother with a room without housekeeping when you can stay somewhere that offers that? Did we mention free breakfast? Often as well, most Airbnbs are just on the outskirts of where you want to be. Staying in hotels are very affordable and often the way to go anywhere in Vietnam we have discovered.
SCAM ALERT: Just make sure it is the actual hotel and that it’s not using the branding images of another hotel that is named the same. Yes, that is a scam so always double check the address.
As such, you will find yourself being able to stay in some great locations at a price that won’t hurt the bank. Rooms range from hostels to luxury rooms equipped with it all. We used booking.com and though you can get better prices sometimes directly with the hotel, I always prefer using a company like Booking because they have customer service. So if you arrive and the hotel isn’t what was advertised, you have some help.
Now, let’s get real. If you are staying somewhere for $20 a night there are going to be a few bumps and catches…
What The Catches Might Be:
- Leaky faucets, leaky toilets or maybe leaky bathroom in general.
- The bidet will have better water pressure than your shower.
- Like hot showers (though honestly, a cold shower is all you are going to want 9/10 times) wouldn’t hold my breath.
- The room might be a little outdated but the sheets are clean and you have a TV!
- The AC might occasionally stop working as well on day 3.
But honestly, for $20 or less a night the rooms are fantastic and the customer service we have found to be incredible!
For those looking for a central place in Old Quarters, I would recommend Chic Boutique Hotel. The Pho offered at breakfast is probably one of the best we had while in Vietnam. I kid you not. The people at the front desk are attentive and the rooms are a decent size. If you can splurge, get a room with a balcony. Also, they will try to upgrade you to another room. Do a little haggle, you might just get the price you want!
Hate Sidewalks? You’ll love Hanoi
If you like leisurely and calm walks than the streets of Hanoi are NOT for you. The main reason being that the sidewalks are more like parking spots for many of the 4 million motorbikes in Hanoi. Making the sidewalks basically un-walkable. Don’t fret though, the side of the streets are free (minus the bikes, cars, and women selling fruit).
Even the streets that are car-free will still have bikes and motorbikes going up and down them (even if it’s one way). It’s part of the chaotic charm of Hanoi, so the quicker you embrace it, the happier you’ll be.
By the time you leave Hanoi, you’ll be a pro at dodging everything you need to while still being able to look around you. Want to know how to spot a new person in Hanoi? They’ll be the ones waiting for ten minutes to cross the busy road. After the end of our time in Hanoi, Sean and I would just go for it. Yes, sure 15 bikes are speeding at us but when the Bahn Mi is on the other side you do what you got to do.
The Food is Better Than Anything You Have Tried:
It is true, the food whether it is street food to the places that offer AC (though be a little weary of AC places) is damn good. I would recommend booking a street food tour on your first day or night. If anything, just so you understand all the options and know what to do. We did a tour with Hanoi Street Food Tour. Now, it is pricey and will have you wander the profit margin but worth it. You’ll discover a place that you’ll love and will find yourself going back to at a fraction of the price later on.
Hanoi and Vietnam, in general, offer great value for food. Now, of course, you’ll have tourist places that offer so-so food but those are few. From restaurants to food carts on the street there is a food item for everyone. A little observation in terms of food carts and how good it is. Ask yourself two things. Are any locals there or is it in an Alleyway? If you answer yes to one of those then you are hedging your changes of a great meal that costs just a few dollars.
SECRET BEST BAHN MI IN HANOI
Listen, I mean read this very carefully. I have made it my mission to find the best Bahn Mi in Hanoi and I tasted all sorts. There was only one that had me see a food god. This won’t make any sense until you are in Hanoi but I’m going to tell you anyways.
- Head to Saint Josephs Church
- Facing the church, there will be the main road behind you. Go right on that main road.
- Stay on the street side of the church.
- You’ll immediately cross a little road with a place to eat. Keep walking past it.
- The very first alley you see, there will be a cart. It is run by an old man and lady.
- You’ll see a little menu. I recommend the mixed one and ask for chili.
- Wait as they make it.
- ENJOY IMMEDIATELY AND YOU ARE WELCOME.
Other Places To Check Out While In Hanoi
- Ngon Villa Restaurant $$
- Bun Cha Ta $
- Bahn Mi 25 $
- Don Duck $$
- Pho 10 $$
- Two places down from this place is another great place to eat that has an incredible Avocado shake and is the definition of cheap eats!
- Highway 4 $$
- Circle K $
Read my reviews of the above places plus one additional place to eat right here!
Always wanted to walk a runway? Every day is runway day in Hanoi.
If you don’t like being eyed up from toe to head then… Either put the shades on or fake that it doesn’t bother you. Despite Hanoi being a big tourist destination, the locals will still look at you. Especially if you are fat. Or even remotely chubby. For the most part, its more out of curiosity but just be aware. It will happen. It can fuck with your mentality. I am used to the occasional stare but here, it just felt so judgemental that is really impacted me and my vibe. If you do love being looked at, then you will love Hanoi!
Every day is leg day
Worried about not getting leg day in while on holiday? No worries here, cause every day will, in fact, be leg day. You’ll be squatting up and down whenever you choose to eat on the street. Not sure why (does anyone know why they use such little chairs?) but it’s all part of the charm of Hanoi.
Love Sweat? Hello, Vietnam!
The humidity in Vietnam is unlike any other humidity I have experienced and I have traveled and lived in many humid countries. As such, expect to sweat. Expect to sweat a lot. Expect to have your hotel people make the following joke when you come back to your hotel. “Did you go swimming?”
If you don’t like Sweat, well you should still come to Hanoi and Vietnam in general. Just make sure to pack extra shirts and a mini-towel. No really, carry a mini-towel wherever you go. It helps to dry it all off so you aren’t some sweat crazed person once arriving at your destination.
Hanoi Final Thoughts
I mentioned that one trip to Hanoi was enough for me and I have to be honest with you. Hanoi almost really broke me. Yes, the food was good but every day was a challenge. In general, Vietnam has been a tough one for me mentally and physically as I am constantly reminded of the fact that I am fat and traveling. It can be exhausting knowing people are staring and laughing at you for your size on an almost daily basis and it’s not always because they are being rude or mean but because they don’t see many my size. Or they find it amusing me trying to do certain things.
It can be exhausting constantly analyzing a chair or bike or even just a walking bridge if it will hold me (it always does except one time but I blame shoddy workmanship, not my weight). Hanoi was especially hard for me. I’ll have one more post about Hanoi before getting to Hoi An and Saigon that will talk about what I did enjoy doing in Hanoi. So stay tuned and thanks so much for following along. I look forward to sharing more with you about Vietnam beyond Hanoi. As I really did fall in love with Hoi An!
Thinking of traveling by train in Vietnam? Read about my 17-hour trip from Hanoi to Hoi An here!