Hanoi is a popular travel destination in Vietnam. It’s a bustling city, with many shops, restaurants and bars.
The city is a starting point for many trips or tours to the north of Vietnam, including Sapa and Halong Bay.
Getting to Hanoi is very easy, there are many bus and flight options from lots of destinations in south east Asia.
We were travelling from Vientiane Laos to Hanoi and after our long night bus journey from Thailand to Laos decided to fly.
The flights were not the cheapest at £80 each but it beats a 30 hour bus journey in my opinion.
As a UK a citizen you are able to get a 15 day visa on arrival. But if you wish to stay longer you must apply for a visa.
We were intending on staying 30 days and were therefore able to apply for an evisa online.
The Vietnamese government visa site is very basic and not always that responsive but it is by far the cheapest way to obtain your visa.
It’s $25 or around £20 online. We met people who had used agents and paid up to £50 to obtain there visas so it’s a big difference in price.
When you apply for your visa you will need to select your dates of entry and departure (obviously less than 30 days), as well as entry port and exit port.
Whilst you can enter on different dates within your elected days your port selection is final, so something to keep in mind.
Getting to Hanoi city from the airport
There are two options a shuttle bus, or taxi. Taxis are significantly more expensive at around $25-30 but are obviously private and depending on flight times sometimes the only option.
However we took the shuttle bus, it was 30,000 Đồng to get from the airport to the old quarter in Hanoi and they left regularly.
When you leave the airport arrivals section turn left and you will see a cream/brown bus with a man outside sorting tickets. The bus takes around 1 hour depending on traffic.
Staying in Hanoi
We decided to stay at Vietnam downtown backpackers hostel. This hostel is part of a larger chain that operates throughout Vietnam and is run by two Australian guys.
The hostel is known for being a bit of a party hostel, but it has really great reviews and we figured it was an ideal place to meet people so decided to give it a go.
Thoughts on Downtown
We did not regret this choice. Yes it is a party atmosphere, the first night we arrived at 6pm and the free beers were flowing and the social area a buzz of people and that theme continued throughout our stay.
We met a lovely group of people whom we have ended up making plans for the rest of Vietnam with. Special shout out to Blair who is with us for the whole of Vietnam now. This was all done with the assistance of the crew at downtown.
Dan, one of the crew, took time to sit down with us, plan our route, tour options and advice us of prices, he even stayed 2 hours after his finish time to help us.
In the end we decided to book a lot of tours through the downtown backpackers hostel. It meant we got free bus travel for the whole of Vietnam and some great discounts on things such as Ninhvana.
Facilities and final thoughts
There are various room options:
Private single/ double/ twin
Dorm beds single/ double (6/8/10/12)
Mixed or same sex dorms.
The beds are comfy, and there are lockers big enough for your whole rucksack to keep your belongings safe.
The showers and toilets are clean and plentiful.
Breakfast is included as part of the cost and is inline with most in Southeast Asia hostels.
The food at the hostel is really good, not the cheapest though (Irish nachos are amazing).
It is most definitely a party hostel, so perhaps consider if that’s your thing before booking. But rest assured the music shuts off at 11:30pm and the party people head out on a bar crawl so if your having a night off you are able to sleep.
Hostel pictures taken from backpackers website.
Exploring the crazy Hanoi
The first thing we did in Hanoi was people watch. The city is crazy, often referred to as Hanoisey due to the constant traffic, horns and tourists, it’s an ideal spot to just sit back and watch.
We sat in a cafe and saw the millions of mopeds dart in and out of the traffic and locals make street food being made.
Water puppet show
This is a strange one, I hadn’t seen a puppet show since I was a small child so the idea of seeing one while traveling was odd. However, it had been recommended by a number of people so we gave it a go.
The theatre is situated near the lake which is a nice area to spend an evening and the tickets are only 100,000 Đồng.
The show will have you laughing at the obscurity, funny sounds and little jokes.
The whole show lasts 1 hour, and I’m not going to lie after 40 minutes I was ready for it to end, but it was still lots of fun.
The show explains Vietnamese history and culture through puppet expression and is a bit of light hearted fun.
As the name suggests it’s a corner or street in Hanoi that you can enjoy a beer.
The best bit though is that a beer only costs 5,000 Đồng, that’s around 17p!
We probably spent to much time here, but who can refuse a 17p beer?
Great place to meet and socialise with locals too!
Bear in mind you might have to move quickly!
The police often come through the street with a truck and a megaphone, anything which is on the street is collected and taken away in their truck.
This includes, motorbikes, chairs, tables and signs. So when they arrive the shop owners grab all their stuff and bring it inside at rapid speeds and everyone helps.
Vietnamese food and drink
While in Vietnam you obviously have to sample the local dishes.
The most popular dishes are:
Pho (beef noodle soup)
Banh Cuon (Vietnamese steam rice rolls)
Bun Cha (grilled pork and noodle)
Xoi Xeo (sticky rice)
Bánh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich)
Pho Ga (chicken noodle soup)
My favourite was Xoi Xeo and Bun Cha.
You also have to try the egg coffee. Egg coffee is made from egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk and robusta coffee.
Hoa Lo Prison was used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners and later by North Vietnam for U.S prisoners of war during the Vietnam war.
Today the prison is used as a museum to exhibit the history behind Vietnam’s fight for independence from the French and the American war.
It’s great spot to learn about the tragic history of Vietnam.
In Hanoi there is a market-street through which a high speed train passes through twice daily.
It is located between Le Duẩn and Kham Thin street in Hanoi’s old quarter.
The train passes at 3:30pm and 7pm daily but it’s best to visit in the day time to ensure you are actually able to see the train. It’s best to get there early too.
Hanoi is a must stop place in Vietnam. It serves as the ideal base point for visiting the rest of North Vietnam and is a great place in its own right.
Vietnam backpackers downtown is so much fun, you meet loads of people and that makes a trip.
You have to try the local food and also learn about Vietnam’s history.