Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, is a great city to visit for many reasons. It’s only three and a half hours away by plane, so it’s perfect for long weekend trips. The food is tasty and colorful, its rich flavors complemented by fresh herbs, veggies, and dipping sauces. The coffee alone—strong robusta with condensed milk, yogurt, or even eggs—is worth the trip for coffee lovers. Best of all, your pesos go a long way in terms of food, transpo, and accommodations, so even a spontaneous getaway won’t break the bank.
That said, it would help to know a few things to make the most of your time, money, and energy. Read on for some practical tips that will make your trip to Hanoi even better.
1. Booking accommodations
Before you book a hotel room, check out Airbnb listings first. In the central area of the French Quarter and Old Quarter, there are countless listings that look straight out of a Pinterest board (keywords: cozy, natural light, muted colors, bamboo, plants). Rates are pretty cheap, too—you can get a decent room for two to three people for less than P1000 a night, including all the extra fees.
The caveat is that a lot of these rooms are on the fourth or fifth floor—and there are usually no elevators. Most houses and buildings in the city are tall and narrow, with no space for elevators. The trick is to look for rooms on the ground or second floor. After all, the last thing you’d want to do after a long day of walking is to climb a few flights of stairs.
2. Crossing the street
Hanoi is infamous for its swarms of scooters and motorcycles, the preferred mode of transportation of millions of people. Don’t be surprised if you see not just three (or more) people crammed into these two-wheel rides, but also big baskets of produce, bulky furniture, and even a twin-sized mattress.
The good news is that there’s a rhythm to this madness. Locals advise you to watch the cars—the scooters and motorcycles will go around you. Of course, you have to stay alert and pay attention to your surroundings, but this nugget of wisdom will give you the confidence to explore the city on foot.
3. Going to restaurants
Filipinas and Vietnamese women share a lot of facial features, so it’s easy to be mistaken for a local. Unless you can read Vietnamese, ask for the English menu as soon as you walk into a typical restaurant. That way, the staff won’t assume that you know how to read the menu or signs on the wall. In most restaurants, a server takes your order at the table. You settle the bill by going to the counter after you eat.
4. Eating on the street
Street-side dining is a must when you’re in Hanoi—and honestly, a piece of cake for tummies fortified by isaw and the like. What might be a bigger challenge is fitting into the kiddie-sized plastic chairs of most restaurants, especially for the outdoor dining area. Even the most petite won’t feel comfy for long on these seats. So dress and accessorize accordingly—your micro totes will come in super handy.
5. Spending on food
The food in Hanoi—fresh, tasty, heavy on herbs and veggies—is pretty cheap. A typical meal will only cost you P100 to P150, so feel free to go all out on your food trip.
6. Finding treasures
Since most buildings in Hanoi are tall and narrow, it’s not uncommon for restaurants and coffee shops to be on the top floor of a nondescript building in a narrow alley. Blink and you might miss them, but it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled to find hidden treasures. One such gem is Little Plan Café at 11 Phu Doan, a rustic, French-inspired space bathed in sunlight that will look great on your grid.
7. Spending on transportation
If you’re up for it, you can explore the tourist zones of the Old Quarter and French Quarter on foot and not spend a single cent on transpo. But if you want to give your feet a rest or go farther out, ride-hailing services are pretty cheap. For instance, Grab rides are about P30 or less for every kilometer, with no extra fees.
8. Connecting online
Like in most countries, you can get a local SIM or a pocket Wi-Fi to go online. But in case you have trouble connecting with your device, there’s free Wi-Fi almost everywhere, even in the smallest eateries.