Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is a fascinating blend of East and West, with Chinese influence from centuries of dominance, and French design from its colonial past. It is largely unspoiled by modern architecture of the 1970s and 80s, and is now going through a modernization that is making it a rising star in Southeast Asia.
Invading forces from every direction agree: Hanoi makes a fine capital. It has held that title for more than a thousand years, through several invasions, occupations, restorations, and name changes. The Chinese conquered the imperial city of of Đại La in 1408 and renamed it Tống Bình. Le Loi repelled the invaders in 1428 and applied the name of Lê Thái Tổ (黎太祖); for his efforts, he received the crown and a slew of legends about his heroic exploits, many centered around the Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter. The Nguyen Dynasty gave the city its modern name of Ha Noi in 1831, but they had transferred power to Hue by then; it remained there until 1887, when the French made Hanoi the capital of all Indochina. It changed hands again in 1954, when it was ceded to Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh after almost a decade of fighting, and it became the capital of North Vietnam; upon reunification in 1975, it assumed that title for the entire country.
The first Western-style universities in Vietnam were founded in Hanoi, and today, it is the leading center of scientific study and research in the country. Hanoi retains much of its older colonial charm, despite the battles that have raged over it; conflict had the side effect of making it largely oblivious to modern architecture, and as a result, few buildings in the city center area are higher than five stories. The Old Quarter is second only to Hoi An for uninterrupted stretches of colonial and pre-colonial architecture, well-preserved on dense warrens of narrow, wonderfully atmospheric streets. It trades the commercial boom and sprawl of Ho Chi Minh City in the South for a more understated charm, worth enjoying for an extra day or two, and with countless transport options and travel agents, it makes a perfect base for exploration of the North.
The Tourist Information Center - tel: (84-4) 926 3366 - on Dinh Tien Hoang, just north of Hoan Kiem Lake, can provide a fairly useful map (bewilderingly, the blow-up of the old town is missing making it useless in that part of town) and other English-language advice, as well as limited free Internet. They aren't completely without bias, however, and seem to support certain companies, for example An Phu Tour (bus company).
As of November 2006, international departure taxes should be included in the price of your ticket, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will be - check with the airline to be absolutely sure. If not, the tax (sometimes called "passenger service charge") is payable in US dollars (US$14) or in dong.
Most folks arrive at the Noi Bai International Airport, 35 km (45-60 minutes) north of the city. Several airlines run flights from Noi Bai, including:
- Vietnam Airlines - 25 Tràng Thi (corner of Quang Trung) tel: (84-4)9349660 fax: (84-4)9349620 - the primary national carrier
- Pacific Airlines (tel: 84-4 9550550)  - discount Vietnamese carrier
- Hong Kong Airlines  - new carrier with daily flights to/from Hong Kong
- Thai Airways International  - two flights daily to/from Bangkok
- Lao Airlines  - small airline with 4 flights a week to/from Luang Prabang in Laos, also from Vientiane and from Phnom Penh
- Tiger Airways (tel: 84-4 9454565)  - low-cost airline with daily flights to/from Singapore
From the airport
- Taxis to downtown Hanoi can be hired at Noi Bai. The driver may try to deliver you to a hotel of his choice so he can collect a commission, but if you are specific about your destination, they usually give in. Taxis from the city centre to Noi Bai Airport charge a fixed rate of about US$14 to US$18 depending on the size of the taxi. However, it is cheaper if you pay in Dong, given the prevailing USD/VND exchange rate.
- Public buses to the city center from Noi Bai airport charge 5000 dong and take about an hour. Bus #07 crosses the Thang Long bridge and goes to the Daewoo Hotel on the western part of Hanoi. Bus #17 crosses the Chuong Duong bridge and goes close to the old quarter.
- Shuttle-buses to the airport depart from opposite the Vietnam Airlines Office on Quang Trung (see above). Tickets cost ~US$2 and are sold in the building in front of which the minibuses park. From the airport, the fare is US$2. (The driver will potentially give you trouble if you have additional bags, but if you push, you will get the same US$2 rate.) The shuttle service will often offer to take you direct to your hotel for an extra dollar once they reach the office. This is purely voluntary, but experience says the drivers are fairly trustworthy and for the new arrival is a good way to get direct to the door. Check, however, that your hotel isn't less then two minutes' walk!
Trains arrive at the main Hanoi train station (Ga Hang Co, 120 Le Duan, tel: 825 3949) daily from cities in the south including Hue and Nha Trang. The Reunification Express goes all the way to Ho Chi Minh City, although there is very little 'express' about it.
There are train services to the north-west (including Lao Cai, from which you reach Sapa - the onward route to Kunming in China is no longer open). To board trains bound for these destinations, you have to enter the railway station compound through the "backdoor" at Tran Quy Cap station. Just tell your driver which destination your train is heading to. Be mindful of any "helpful" stranger who offers to carry your luggage — he probably has a sum more than the cost of the ticket in mind for the help.
However, tickets for all destinations are sold in the main station, though there are two counter halls, north and south, serving the respective destinations. Buy your tickets as early as possible, since especially sleeper-tickets can be sold out several days in advance. If you can't get a ticket anymore, try a travel-agent who still might have stocks. You may also try your luck in the station just before boarding time, agents still holding tickets will be eager to sell as the departure draws near. Nevertheless travel agencies in Hanoi are known for their bad business practices. Some of them will try to overcharge you up to 300%, so better go to the train station by yourself and find out about the prices before you agree on any deal.
Most of the "open-tour" bus itineraries either begin or end in Hanoi, with Hue the next (or previous) stop (12-14 hours, US$8-9), and from there to Hoi An, Nha Trang, Dalat, Mui Ne, Ho Chi Minh City, and other cities in Vietnam, depending on the bus company.
Many of the same companies also sell tickets to Vientiane and Savannakhet in Laos (US$16-18), but do some research before you buy a ticket - rattle-trap scam buses abound on this route.
See Ho Chi Minh City to Shanghai overland if you're interested in crossing over to China by bus or train.
Hanoi traffic and commerce
Taxis are the best way to travel long distances, but the cyclos, or pedicabs, are a cheap way to make shorter trips. Taxi fares are not always consistent, and the rates for each taxi company have not been standardized. For lone travelers, rides on the back of motorbikes (actually low-powered scooters) are popular too (known as xe om, literally meaning motorbike-hug)
Some meter taxi owners in Hanoi will attempt to negotiate a flat fee in advance rather than use the meter. If you have a fair idea of how far you're going or how much you're willing to pay, this is probably a good idea. If the driver refuses, turning around and walking away will almost certainly change his mind! Don't sweat it, it's all part of the expected negotiation protocol. Adding to this that it has become common for the drivers of some of the less reputeable taxi companies to "fix" their meter to run faster hence giving differences in prices for the same distance in excess factor 30, the recommendation is to only use the reputable and reliable taxi companies. These are (as of July 2008) Hanoi Taxi (Tel (04) 853 5353) and Taxi CP (Tel. 04 826 2626). Another common thing with taxis is that the driver takes you for a "sightseeing" - and extends the tour to make more money. This is very hard to discover unless you know the city well, but if you catch driver doing this (e.g. going around Hoan Kiem Lake twice), demand that he stops the taxi and leave the taxi without paying.
Motorbike drivers can be found on virtually every corner, especially in the Old Quarter. Expect to be offered a ride every half-block (or more). Negotiate a fare in advance, and again, turn around and walk away if you don't like their offer. There are far more drivers than tourists, and they know it - your fare could be the only one they get all day. You might want to write down the negotiated fare to avoid confusion. Even if you do speak Vietnamese, a driver might pretend that you said 50,000 dong instead of 15,000! In case of argument over fares after the ride, keep calm and repeat the original agreement. (Remember, you have the leverage.) A typical 10 minute fare should cost no more than 15,000-20,000 dong. Many drivers will accept US dollars as well.
Negotiate first or avoid using the cyclos services, they demand 200,000VND (US$12) for a short ride of less than 100 metres. At the end of the journey, a few men will come over to translate, they pretended to help and later insisted that you pay the demanded amount, after you made payment, we noticed that the "translator" received some notes from the cyclo driver. (Actual experience at the front of the Water Puppet Theater on 22 August 2008)
Motorcycles can be rented for around US$5-6 a day, and can be arranged by most hotels. This is good for making lots of trips around the city for individuals or duos, but be careful: Hanoi traffic is very difficult place to sharpen motorbike skills. Park on the sidewalk with other bikes, and be sure to lock the front wheel. Locals will help arrange the bikes near their stores.
Scam free, cheap but a bit difficult to comprehend at first, the busses in Hanoi is relatively fast and surprisingly comfortable. Pick up a map with printed bus lines at the Trang Tien street (the book street by the Opera house) and spend a few minutes to identify the over 60 bus lines, find your bus stop, wait for the bus, pay 3000 dong and of you go. If you are unfamiliar with the city, make sure to inform the conductor where you want to get off.
- Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Open mornings only, 8-11am; closed afternoons, Mondays, and Fridays. Admission free.) The city down south may have his name, but only Hanoi has the man himself, entombed in distinctly Lenin-esque fashion - against his wishes, but that's how it goes. No talking, short pants, or other signs of disrespect allowed while viewing; photos are allowed only from outside, in the grand Ba Dinh Square. Purses are allowed into the tomb, but expect them to be searched by several bored soldiers along the way. Left luggage is handled in a complicated scheme: there is an office near the street for large bags, with separate windows for Vietnamese and foreigners, and a further office for cameras, which will be transported to a third office right outside the exit of the mausoleum. Items checked in at the first office, however, will stay there. Note that the mausoleum is closed for a couple months around the end of the year, when the body is taken abroad for maintenance.
Gone bananas at the Ho Chi Minh Museum
- Ho Chi Minh Museum (19 Ngoc Ha St., Ba Dinh, Hanoi; tel. +84-4 846-3572, fax +84-4 843-9837; Open 8-11:30am, 2-4pm, closed Monday and Friday afternoons. Admission 10,000 dong.) [email protected] Right around the corner, this gleaming white museum and its gloriously ham-handed iconography are the perfect chaser to the solemnity of the mausoleum. The building, completed in 1990, is intended to evoke a white lotus. Some photos and old letters are on display on the second floor, but the main exhibition space is on the third floor. Guards won't allow photos of the giant bronze Ho Chi Minh statue at the top of the stairs, but tend not to care about photos of the rest of the exhibits, which include cars crashing through walls to represent the chaos of post-war American capitalism, soldiers charging around with electric plugs, and a cave hideout re-imagined as the inside of Ho Chi Minh's brain. Guides are available in English, French, Chinese and Russian, but don't bother; the displays are labeled in English and French, and it's hard to imagine the guides doing much other than belaboring the point.
- Ho Chi Minh's Vestige In The Presidential Palace Area (No.1 Bach Thao, Ba Dinh, Hanoi; tel. +84 08044529, fax +84 08043064. Open 7:30-11am, 2-4pm in the summer, and 8-11am, 1:30-4pm in the winter. Closed Monday and Friday afternoons. Admission 15,000 dong.) The exit from the mausoleum takes you right into the grounds of the, uh, vestige, where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked from 1954 until his death in 1969. The nicely landscaped complex includes two of Ho Chi Minh's houses, kept shiny and "as he left them" by the authorities, as well as a garage with two of Ho's cars and a carp-filled pond. The Presidential Palace is also nearby, but it's not always open to visitors. Pamphlets are available in English, Chinese, French, and Korean. Guided tours are usually available if you wait.
- One-Pillar Pagoda. Tucked away between the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum. Travelers find the One-Pillar Pagoda either charming and lovely or utterly pointless, depending on how many tour groups are crammed into the small grounds at the time of their visit. Either way, it's free.
- Fine Arts Museum (Bảo Tàng Mỹ Thuật), 66 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street. Only party approved art is shown here and there is no information in English and only little in Vietnamese. But an interesting museum at any rate, with pieces such as the wonderful pictures of soldiers on boats depicted on prehistoric bronze drums, Buddhist art, and revolutionary art of the 20th century wars. Also some interesting silk paintings. Entry is 20,000 dong (in 2008).
- Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu) (On Quoc Tu Giam St., south of the Mausoleum. Admission 5,000 dong.) The Temple of Literature was founded in 1070 and established as the country's first university six years later. The courtyard features numerous stone tablets, each mounted on the back of a tortoise, with the names of graduates.
- Army Museum (Bảo Tàng Quân Đội), Dien Bien Phu Street (Admission 20,000 dong and 5.000 dong to take pictures). Vietnam's military history extends back some two millennia, and this museum covers it on four buildings with interested pieces. Legends on Vietinamese, french and english. On display outside are the ubiquitous MiG-21 jet fighter, T-54 tank and many bombs and articles captured on Indochina and Vietnam wars.
- Air Force Museum (Bảo Tàng Không Quân), Truong Chinh Street (Southwest of center). There's a decent outdoor collection of Soviet-built MiG fighters, a huge Mi-6 helicopter, and other aircraft; unfortunately they've been exposed to the elements for some time and local kids climb over them.
- Natural Museum of Vietnamese History, No. 1, Trang Tien Street (Admission 15,000 dong/Students 8,000 and under 15 just 2,000. 15,000 dong for a camera/30,000 dong for a video). Hours: 8AM-11:30AM and from 1:30PM-4:30PM. This is a collection from Vietnamese history from about 1000 years back until 1945. Many antiques and the such. From 1945 onwards, you can go to the Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution located just a five minute walk away.
- Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution, 25 Tong Dan Street (and 216 Tran Quang Khai Street) Open every day except Monday, from 8.00 to 11.45 and from 13.30 to 16.15. Admission 10,000 dong. This museum gives a very informed and detailed account of the Vietnamese struggle against first the French (starting in 1858 -- on the first floor), then against the Americians (on the ground floor -- ending on 30 April 1975).
- Museum of Ethnology, Nguyen Van Huyen St, Cau Giay district. Open every day except Monday, 8:30AM-5:30PM. Admission 25000 dong (or was it 20000 dong?) for foreigners. It covers mainly the material culture and ritual practices of the various ethnic groups in the whole of Vietnam-- one of the key attractions of the museum is the open-air exhibition, which has houses of some ethnic groups, which even comes with inhabitants in costumes. Accessible by bus no. 14 that starts from Hoan Kiem Lake-- ask the conductor when to stop, and take a 500 m walk towards the museum (backtrack a little from the bus stop, and when you see a large street perpendicular to the street that you dropped off, take that street and walk down the street until you see the Museum of Ethnology to your left). The Museum of Ethnology is houses the excellent Chocolate and Baguettes cafe, which has excellent fare at a reasonable price-- an excellent pit-stop after the museum visit.
- Hoan Kiem Lake is a pleasant park in the center of town, within easy walking distance from anywhere in the Old Quarter. It's the locals' favorite leisure spot, and a great place to watch early-morning tai chi or sit and read in the afternoon. Hoan Kiem means "returned sword", and the name comes from a legend in which King Le Loi was given a magical sword by the gods, which he used to drive out the invading Chinese. Later, while boating on the lake, he encountered a giant turtle, who grabbed the sword and carried it down to the depths, returning it to the gods from whom it had come. (You can see a version of the legend at the Water Puppet Theater - see below.) Rumor has it the giant turtles still inhabit the lake.
- Ngoc Son Temple (admission 2,000 dong) extends out into the lake, with small but attractive grounds, displays on Vietnamese history and, more memorably, displays on the giant turtles, including a mummified specimen.
- Ho Tay, or "West Lake", is northwest of the city, and is mostly a residential hub of the well-to-do. Sofitel Plaza Hotel, one of the most luxurious hotels in Hanoi, is located on this lakefront.
- Hoa Lo Prison ("The Hanoi Hilton"), 1 Hoa Lo, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi. Open 8.30 to 11.30 and 13.30 to 16.30, admission 5,000 dong. This prison was built by the French at the turn of the 20th century, in classical French prison design. This is where the French imprisoned and executed many of the Vietnamese freedom fighters. The prison was also used to hold U.S. prisoners of war. Now a museum (2/3 of the prison was torn down to make way for the Hanoi Towers), the museum gives a very good example of the brutal French colonial regime and the struggle of the Vietnamese people against imperialism.
- B-52 Lake. Until December 19, 1972, this was just a small brackish pond just off Hoang Hoa Tam Street, about 1 km west of the mausoleum. On that day, in a twisted retelling of the Hoan Kiem legend (see above), Vietnamese anti-aircraft guns (possibly with the help of flying turtles) retook the enemy's eight-engined, 100-ton sword and sent it, too, to the shallow bottom of the lake, where it remains today.
- Downed Aircraft Memorial. Along Thanh Nien Street on Truc Bach lake there is a stone plaque commemorating the shooting down of a U.S. Navy (not "USAF" as depicted) aircraft in 1967. Peruse the Vietnamese script and you can pick out the name of John McCain, one of the airmen.
- Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre (57 Dinh Tien Hoang St., across the street from the shores of the Hoan Kiem Lake; tel. +84-4-824-9494, fax +84.4.824-5117) . A visit to the water puppet theater is a real highlight of a trip to Hanoi. Live musicians accompany folk legends from Vietnamese history, told with wooden men, women and dragons, dancing and splashing on the face of the water. The narratives are sung in Vietnamese, but a list of titles is available in several languages. Tickets are 20,000/40,000 dong. There are several performances throughout the day, but it's virtually impossible to buy tickets for the same day, and most performances for the following day will be sold out as well. Camera passes are an extra 15,000 dong, but whether you buy one or not is purely on the honor system. Don't worry about getting wet, but the seats are very small, and visitors with above-average height will have to squirm a bit.
Sit on a plastic chair in front of one of the Bia Hoi (fresh beer) establishments which are invariably situated on the corners of many of Hanoi's 'Old Quarter' streets. This preservative-free light beer is the perfect drink to sip as you watch the city's frenetic life bustle by. The beer costs less than twenty cents and gives you an excuse to relax and take photos of the passing local characters. Should not be missed. Moreover, once you reach the Old Quarter, you will find that almost every corner is filled with stalls selling Pho (Vietnamese noodle) and cafe (the name is not limited only to coffee, but also tea, sweets and grocery items, and yes, even to Pho!).
National Economics University
Hanoi is a shoppers paradise for silk, lacquerware, wood, custom tailoring and other Asian inspired design. The bargains are among the best in Asia. Artisans and craftsmen have set up shop in the Old Quarter for generations, and each street is named after the item traditionally sold there. Among the more interesting sights are the streets close to the lake full of nothing but stores overflowing with wave upon wave of white shoes, and a few shops offering to custom-carve black marble tombstones (complete with portrait) for anyone passing by.
In the quarter between Hoan Kiem Lake and the Cathedral, you'll find numerous shops with the same selection but of better quality. Vendors know that, so prices are higher than in the Old Quarter. Shops can sometimes arrange shipment to overseas destinations, and even with the added costs you'll still have a bargain.
There are two major shopping malls in Hanoi, Trang Tien Plaza and the new-built Vincom City Towers. Both are located in the Hoan Kiem District.
- Bookworm, 4B Yen The (Near the Temple of Literature and the Goethe Institute), ☎ 84 4 943 7226 ([email protected]). 10AM-7PM, closed Mondays. The only English bookshop in Hanoi, apparently. Good selection of new and used books. You can sell your unwanted books to them too.
- Khue Binh Jewelry, 114 Hang Bac, ☎ 9260256. Tiny jewelry shop, operating off-street out of somebody's house. Walk through the narrow passageway and wake up the old lady to buy some exquisite and breath-takingly cheap jewelry.
- Ngo Kim Nhat ART Gallery, 6 Tho Xuong Street (not far from the the Cathedral), ☎ (84-4) 2 700 448 ([email protected]), . Open daily from 10am to 8pm. Affordable contemporary Asian art, professing to offer a warm, relaxing atmosphere for experts and tourists alike.
- Rang Xay Che Bian Cafe, 56 Hang Buom, Old Quarter. A true gem waiting to be discovered. Serves Vietnamese coffee. Must trys are the Iced white coffee with milk, Hot Black coffee & Iced white coffee with milk and hot, thick cocoa syrup! Ground coffee poweder also available for purchase. Simply choose coffee beans of your choice and watch the young teenage boy grind and have them packed them into dainty little shiny foil bags.
Since the mid 90s, Vietnamese cuisine has been catching up again and is now very diverse and most delicious. Most famous remains 'Pho Ga' (chicken noodle soup) or 'Pho Bo'(Beef noodle soup). There are various dishes including chicken, beef, fish and seafood.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of restaurants nowadays in Hanoi catering to everyone's taste. Be careful in your selection of eatery as most often the food on offer is utterly appalling and prepared in the most unhygienic conditions. Often western travelers need to contend with recurring bouts of diarrhea and should prepare themselves for the eventuality.
On Tô Tich, a small street connecting Hang Quat and Hang Gai, you can help yourself to a refreshing fruit milkshake (sinh tố) at one of the stalls (~7000 dong).
You can also try BBQ pork (slice) in soup with vermicelli and lots of vegi at DAC KIM (24, Hang Ga, Hoen Kiem, Hanoi; open 8am-8pm). They serve spring rolls too.
The Sofitel Metropole does an "eat all you can" chocolate buffet each day from 15:00 to 17:30. The price of $15++, tea is available at $4++ per pot. The chocolate is of a very high quality and includes a chocolate fountain and chocolate ice cream as well as a variety of freshly-made "Belgian" style chocolates.
The community of Le Mat (aka the Snake Village) has numerous restaurants specializing in cobra foodstuffs. Live cobras are stored on the premises much the same way one would find live lobsters at a western seafood restaurant. If one orders cobra blood wine from the menu, the waiter will take a live cobra, kill it on the spot, drain the blood into a shot glass of rice wine, and top it off with the cobra's still beating heart for you to gulp down! Not for the faint of heart. Le Mat is about ten minutes across the river from downtown.
A local delicacy in the Hanoi area is dog meat (thịt chó), which is especially popular in the winter. There are a number of restaurants along the Red River that specialize in it. Another exotic regional taste is ca cuong, an extract from the belostomatid, or giant water bug. Just a few drops are added to noodles for the unique aroma.
Look to the Old Quarter for atmospheric street stalls and reasonably priced Western and local fare.
- Hebe cafe' 33, Luong Van Can street, near the Hoan Kiem lake, in the center of Hanoi Old Quarter (inside Hanoi Youth Hotel). Local and Western food at prices to suit travellers. US$1 breakfasts, US$2 pizza, US$8 hot pot.
- Huy Café & Pizza Inn (32 Dinh Liet Street) offers a large Italian dinner combo (garlic bread, soup/salad, pizza/pasta, drink) for only 65,000 dong.
- Kem Tràng Tiền (54 Phố Tràng Tiền) is one of the most popular spots for delicious and refreshing ice cream on a hot day. Beware of motorbikes when entering the establishment, since it is sort of a drive-thru/drive-in ice cream shop. Make sure to try the local cóm or đậu xanh flavors. Ice cream bars range from 5,000 to 8,000 dong. Cones are a bit more expensive.
- Papa Joe's Coffee (112 Cau Go, tel. +84 926-2544; open 8am-11pm) Despite the name, this is actually a full-on restaurant, with pasta, soup, salads, sandwiches, and pretty good burgers (vegetarian included). Drinks and desserts are also on hand. Entrees are 45-65,000 dong. The best reason to eat here, though, is the view over the frantic traffic square and the shores of the Hoan Kiem Lake below.
Great food and frequent visitor program
- Pho on the corner of Nha Chung and Chan Cam sells the traditional watery noodle soup. All of the soups and sides include beef (bo) so this isn't for veggies. A large bowl of pho will set you back 12,000 dong and a bottle of Coke or a beer a further 3,000 dong.
- Pho (10 Ly Quoc Su) sells apart from the Pho bo (noodle soup with beef) also noodles with vegetables - and of course beef on top of it. A dish will cost you something between 15,000 dong and 30,0000 dong.
- Pho Tu Lun (Au Trieu) sells apart from the Pho bo (noodle soup with beef) also noodles with vegetables - and of course beef on top of it. A dish will cost you something between 15,000 dong and 30,0000 dong.
- Lay Bac 135 (135 Hang Bac Street - Old Quarter). A friendly and cleaning small restaurant serving sandwiches, western and local food with good prices (about 45.000 dong each). Open until midnight.
- Pepperoni's near the Hang Gai end of Wha Chung is part of a small international chain of pizza restaurants. Locally run, they do regular special offers such as free desserts, eat-all-you-can buffets and loyalty schemes, whereby collecting tokens with east take-out entitles you to a free pizza. Pizzas start from around 65,000 dong and the menu also includes burgers, ice cream and apple crumble.
- Cha Ca La Vong (14 Cha Ca Street, also 107 Nguyen Truong To Street) - this establishment is so famous, the street is named after it, instead of the other way around. There's only one dish on the menu, fried fish in grease, but they've been serving it for five generations. It's 90,000 dong (~$6 USD) per foreign person (as of July 2008) and the portion is rather small. They also charge 1,000 dong for one napkin. They have eliminated the traditional shrimp paste recently as well.
- Huyen Houng Restaurant, 20 Bao Khanh, Hanoi, ☎ 04.8288430. Choose from a wide variety of seafood dishes (many of which are swimming around in tanks) and other Vietnamese specialities. Friendly staff complement the tasty food. about 80000-120000 dong for a meal and drink.
- Hapro, a Vietnamese vodka company, maintains two locations on the southwest corner of Hoan Kiem lake; the indoor location has free Wi-Fi Internet access.
- Little Hanoi - basically Western food with some Vietnamese food.
- Little Hanoi 2 is very good for Western breakfasts and sandwiches.
- Moka Café (In Nha Tho Street close to the cathedral) has an execellent selection of Western, Vietnamese. A little coffee shop atmoshpere food was ok.
- Tamarind Café (Ma May 80, Old Quarter; tel. +84 4 926-0580)  Has a menu full of inventive vegetarian dishes, lots of fresh juices, and a relaxed, stylish interior. Don't come here if you're ravenous and out to fill your belly, though, as the portions aren't very big, and it's a tad pricey.
- La Salsa (in Nha Tho street near the church in old town - just across the street from Moka Cafe) - French food and ex-pat hang-out.
- Paris Deli (near St Joseph's Catheral)offers delicious Italian meal (pasta, pizza, bread, soup etc.)
- La Restaurant & Bar, 25 Ly Quoc Su, Hanoi, ☎ 9288933, 0913221971. Situated near St. Joseph's Cathedral in Hanoi's old quarter, this elegant, air-conditioned restaurant has a choice of delicious western and Vietnamese dishes. While the selection of vegetarian dishes is somewhat restricted, the food is excellent, if pricey by Hanoi standards. La will definitely satisfy longings for quality food after weeks of eating on the street. Think Parisian bistro meets fine dining Asian. About 300,000 dong for a meal and drinks.
- The Press Club Restaurant
- Green Tangerine - By Western standards, very moderately priced. By Hanoi standards, a bit pricey. Very good French restaurant with both an a la carte selection and a set menu.
- Restaurant Bobby Chinn - An amazing restaurant with the trademark green pea pods as the logo. Without a doubt one of the more hip dining experiences of Hanoi, though a bit steep in price compared to Hanoi standards it is without a doubt a place to go. The interior alone is worth a look.
- Sunday Brunch at Sofitel Metropole - If you live to eat and enjoy innovative and unconventional cooking, then treat yourself and your loved ones to the famous Sofitel Metropole Sunday Brunch. It's from noon to 3PM every Sunday and will set you back US$50++/head, but then it also sports approx. 40 meters of buffet with everything your heart can desire, from sushi to carvery, from fresh french oysters to homemade ice cream - you name it - they've got it. Among the highlights are a 3 storey chocolate buffet with a chocolate fountain and the goose liver creme brulee.
Bia Hơi is abundant in the streets of the Old Quarter. At the crossing of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen five separate venues fill up with travellers in the evenings, but you can get more local atmosphere on some of the side streets.
Hanoi is a lively city on the weekends, but the Old Quarter closes relatively early (at midnight) on weekdays, so you might want to start your night early.
- The LOFT Bar & Restaurant  LOFT Bar & Restaurant, 143, Ba Trieu Street, Hai Ba Trung District (5 minutes walk from vincom towers), ☎ 049744398, . 4pm to 12 midnight. One of the most diverse Bar & Restaurant located in Central Hanoi that has a good mix of expatriates & Asian crowd. With live band playing from Mondays to Saturdays. The lounge is on the second floor comes equipped with another bar so there will be a good mix of noise on the first floor with the live band and music and quiet atmosphere (plus pool table) on the second.
- The Jazz Club by Quyen Van Minh  - (31 Luong Van Can - Old Quarter). A good place to drink, eat and listen to jazz music. Founded by Mr Minh (already legendary in Hanoi in the early 90s) in 1999, the bar reminds one of the old bars of New Orleans and of the best around the world. Also the kitchen is very good. Live music really starts at 21h until 23h. You can also buy gifts such as t-shirts and CD's. Open between 7.00 p.m. and midnight.
- Culi Café, 40 Lương Ngọc Quyến, (84-04)9262241 [email protected]  - for the feeling you haven't left your hometown or just need a break from Bia Hoi, this Kiwi-run bar might be the answer. Air-con lounge upstairs, with wireless connections, sports occasionally screened in the bar downstairs. The same bar also runs a travel agency.
- Green Lake (Ho Guom Xanh) 32 Le Thai To, is a crowded bar with weekly performances by popular local singers. A place for the definitive Vietnamese entertainment scene.
- Le Maquis is a small bar on the northern end of Ta Hien. It's more like a loud rock music binge and smoke pub than a stylish lounge, but there's usually a happy crowd until late and the place has an authentic feel.
Hanoi hotel scams
Although many hotels in Hanoi are helpful and trustworthy, there are still some scam artists around. Touts will try to lure you into a hotel. If you decide to go, be sure to have them pay the transport, and don't hesitate to leave if you do not like the place. Also, do not believe anybody other than the front desk clerk if they tell you that a certain hotel is "full". They'd rather take you to a place that pays them a commission. Any hotel will be keen to have you book a Ha Long Bay trip through them, but wait a day to judge the quality of service you're receiving there - that'll give you some idea of what kind of travel agency they intend to refer you to.
Be aware that unscrupulous hotels will promise deals that are poorly explained until check-out - for example, "daily free water and fruit" that is only free on the first day. In the Old Quarter, Thien Tan Hotel, Old Street Hotel and Ocean Star Hotel indulge in this scam, so avoid them. If you've booked into a rotten hotel and you're planning to leave, don't be shy about taking photos of the minibar right before you leave, lest a few bottles go missing while the staff are "checking" your room. Also, ask explicitly whether tax is included in your room rate. Better hotels will include the tax, but scam-havens like the Old Street Hotel see it as an opportunity to squeeze an extra dollar or two out of you.
You might return late at night to your hotel room to find that all your belongings have been cleared out and you will be accused for not having called during the day. They will then make you believe that there was something wrong with the plumbing in your room, that they were fully booked and you have to change to another hotel which is, of course, much, much more expensive. There are some hotels that will tell you their room is facing an electricity or water leaking problem and arrange you to stay at a much cheaper, maybe lousy hotel on the 1st day. But they actually do reserve the room for Western foreigners. In the old quarters, Hanoi Plaza hotel indulges in this scam.
With the overwhelming amount of motorbike traffic and the common rule to honk a few times before even considering the brakes, it is wise to check your hotel room's location before taking it. Having a room on the street side means being exposed to the honking which doesn't end till 1 AM and starts again around 5 AM. If you go more upmarket, chances are there will be sound-proof glass, but it is still wise to check first.
The Old Quarter is littered with guesthouses and hostels catering for budget travelers.
- Hanoi Backpackers' Hostel, 48 Ngo Huyen St, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi (One block north of St Joseph's Cathedral. Signposted from there. Free train station pickups), ☎ (84-4) 828 5372 ([email protected]), . checkin: 24 hours; checkout: 24 hours. The only actual youth hostel in Hanoi, run by two Australians who have lived there for many years. Clean air-conditioned rooms (including female-only dorms plus double rooms), powerful and hot showers, frequent BBQs on the balcony, free Wi-Fi and Internet and excellent staff who are always available to help. All dorm beds have a large personal locker (no extra fee), shelf and nightlight. Tour bookings, train tickets and visa extensions/applications can also be dealt with here by guests and non-guests alike. Part of the Hostelling International association, so valid card-holders will get a discount. Also possibly the cheapest hostel in the world where you can apply for such a card which can be used elsewhere. $7.5 per night dorm / $30 per night double inc breakfast.
- Especen Hotel, 28 Tho Xuong street & 41 Ngo Huyen street, Hoan Kiem dist, Hanoi (The hotel is located about 30 meters from St. Joseph's Church (Cathedral) on a quiet alley off of Au Trieu street. This convenient location allows us to be just a 5 minute walk from Hoan Kiem lake, Vietnam Airlines booking office & Quang Trung bus stop (for service to Noi Bai airport). You can visit all famous travel points, restaurants, pubs and art galleries... in Hanoi. Most with-in walking distance from the Especen hotel.), ☎ (84-4) 8244401 ([email protected], fax: (84-4) 8259460), . checkin: 24 hours; checkout: 24 hours. Rooms are new remodeled, clean, quiet, bright with windows, some rooms include balcony, big beds, satellite TV, hot water, air conditioner, refrigerator, IDD telephone, ☎ VoIP CallShop  to call around the world as cheap as local call. Free internet access at lobby & WIFI in room. $12 to $25/room.
- Kangaroo Hotel, Hang Luoc St (about 10 mins walk from Hoan Kiem lake), ☎ (84-4) 8258044 ([email protected]). checkout: 12 noon. Small hotel in the Old Quarter. Comfortable beds, amazing hot water pressure for showers, good air-con/fan combos. Satellite TV, free Internet and free breakfast (order omlette). Very helpful staff with good English. For the budget traveller - best to book with a group. Famous Cha Ca restaurant is less than a 4 minute walk. From 4 US$4.
- Win Hotel, 34 Hang Hanh St, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, (84-4) 8287371. Very well received guesthouse, close to Hoan Kiem Lake with rates from USD 20 to USD 30. Excellent reviews.
- Hanoi Paradise Hotel, 01 Yen Thai St, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, (84-4) 9286139. Recently opened, and offers the rare amenity of a heated indoor swimming pool.
- Camellia 5, 81 Thuoc Bac Str (about 10 mins walk from Hoan Kiem lake), ☎ (84 4) 828 2376 or (84 4) 828 3128 ([email protected], fax: (84 4) 828 2404), . checkout: 12 noon. Small hotel on the heart of Old Quarter. Clean rooms and baths with good air-con, satellite TV, free Internet and free breakfast. Friendly English speaking staff who will help you book good value tours etc. from reception. From 12 US$12.
- Hanoi Youth Hotel, 33 Luong Van Can street, tel: +84 4 8285822 [email protected] , is conveniently located near the Hoan Kiem lake, in the center of Hanoi Old Quarter. The hotel has 17 rooms, including standard, superior and deluxe with rates from US$12-30. Rooms are large and have big beds, and WiFi, but air-con is sometimes poor. However, this seems to have changed recently and now the rooms can become quite cool.
- Lucky Eden Hotel, 35 Quan Thanh, tel: +84 4 7341 249 [email protected], is located near the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, and close enough to most popular places in Hanoi. From cheap single rooms to deluxe rooms.
- Real Darling Café Guesthouse, 33 Hang Quat, Old Quarter (2 minutes walk from the north side of Hoan Kiem Lake) tel: +84 4 826 9386 fax: +84 4 824 3468 [email protected] has basic but cheap rooms (US$6+, dorm beds US$3/night, long stayers can get lower rates) with fan, hot showers and optional air-con; there's a steep climb up to all the rooms. Helpful and friendly staff; the café on the ground floor does a good breakfast; they run a cheap and fair travel agency downstairs that doesn't try to rip you off; bicycles and motorbikes for rent. Keep an eye out for construction on Hang Quat (Fan Street), though.
- Thang Long Opera Hotels (formerly Thuy Tien Hotel) - only three minutes to Hanoi Opera House and five minutes walk from the Hoan Kiem Lake or Hanoi Old Quarter.
- Thanh An Hotel at 46 Hang Ga Street offers rooms with attached bathroom after some haggling for 80000 dong. Be prepared for damp walls, cockroaches and a hostile management.
- Wing Hotel, 23 Hang Non, Old Quarter, not far from Real Darling, the Wing Hotel has clean rooms, friendly and professional staff and a book exchange. Breakfast is available. Some rooms have balconies overlooking the street. A double can cost as low as 160,000 dong, although the standard price is 192,000.
- Old Quarter Hostel, 91 Hang Ma, +84 902 29 1886, . Cheap, very friendly and helpful service, clean rooms. Bunk is $6, single or shared rooms at $10 to $15 respectively, including the 10% tax. Includes breakfast and internet access in lobby and rooms. Just a few minutes by walk to Dong Xuan Market (wholesale market). Very clean, spacious and secure rooms, located in the heart of Hanoi's Old Quarter. Staff are incredibly helpful, offering advice, helping with pronounciation and booking tickets. The free Internet and breakfast.
- Stars Hotel  26 Bat Su, Old Quarter tel: +84 4 828 1911 or +84 4 828 1912. Outstanding hotel staff, very friendly and helpful. (Ms Vuhn, Mr Guang & Mr Doh) Clean rooms with impressive bathroom. Breakfast available. Just a few mins by walk to Dong Xuan Market and Hoan Kiam Lake. Rates from USD$15 - $28. Free Internet available in some rooms and also at dining room at ground level.
- Continental Hotel - 24, Hang Vai, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi  Boutique-style hotel, has clean and spacious rooms; Hotel staffs are courteous, friendly and warm. Walking distance to Hoan Kiem Late, easy access to restaurants and shops. (around US$24 for a single room, US$28 for twin sharing, incl bf and taxes)
- Ocean Stars 2 Hotel, No.10 Ngo Dao Duy Tu lane, Hoan Kiem, ☎ +84 4 8281711 (mailto:[email protected], fax: +84 4 9263745), . Established in November 2007, Ocean Stars 2 Hotel is situated in the heart of Hanoi's Old Quarter. The 25 rooms offer with hot water, private bathrooms, and fan or air conditioning. There is also a fridge, satellite TV, telephone access, internet access in the rooms and the lobby. Note, this hotel is not located on Dao Duy Tu St, instead on Ngo Dao Duy Tu. Look for alley at 52 Dao Duy Tu St. US$16-30.
- Green Park Hotel - overlooking the immense green of the biggest park of the city and along the vicinity of Thien Quang Lake. Its architectural design combines the 19th century French assembly with modern Vietnamese concepts.
- Hanoi Phoenix Hotel ,No.43 Bat Su street ,Hoan Kiem district., Tel: +84 4 9232683, fax :+84 4 9232111  Situated in the heart of Hanoi's Old Quarter. The 30 rooms offer with hot water, private bathrooms, and fan or air conditioning. There is also a fridge, satellite TV, telephone access, internet access free of charge in the rooms and the lobby. Prices start at US$15, plus breakfast.
- Hanoi Elegance Hotel, No 85 Ma May Str & No 8 Hang Bac Str., tel: +84 4 9263451, fax:+84 4 9263452  In a street in the Old Quarter that thanks to a curb doesn't see as much through-traffic and thus is quieter than most. The newly built boutique hotel offers luxury accommodation in elegant settings with modern facilities & amenities served by professional staff. Rooms US$28-70 with TV, fan, air-con, hot shower, bathtub or Jacuzzi and optional breakfast. In-room computer with Internet access is free of charge. The friendly staff can help with arranging tours etc.
- Hanoi Pacific Hotel, ([email protected]), . In the Old Quarter, Pacific hotels are centrally located to all shopping destinations and key Hanoi attractions. US$25-55.
- Huyen Trang Hotel - one of the most beautiful 2 star hotels in the city, next to Hoan Kiem Lake.
- Majestic Salute Hotel - in the Old Quarter, a newly built boutique hotel with marvelous French architecture.
- Queen Travel Hotel, 65 Hang Bac-Hoan Kiem, ☎ + 84 48260860 ([email protected], fax: + 84 4 8260300), . "The stylish Queen of the Old Quarter" touts its friendliness and reliability.
- Quoc Hoa Hotel - in the Old Quarter. Opened in 1991, and one of the first private boutique hotels in Hanoi.
- Rising Dragon Hotel 61 Hang Be Street - Vietnamese and American managed, next to Hoan Kiem Lake, new facilities in renovated historic building of the Old Quarter. Prices start at US$25 (all taxes included, plus breakfast, internet, and wifi).
- Sunshine Hotel, 42 Ma May Street  has clean rooms in the middle of the Old Quarter (around US$30 incl. taxes & breakfast)
- Sunny Hotel - enjoys views towards both the Old Citadel and the West Lake.
- Viet Anh Hotel, 11 Ma May St., Tel: +84-4 9261302, Fax: +84-4 9261306, . A terrific hotel with friendly staff, reputable tours, and newly remodeled rooms, located on a shady, beautiful street in the Old Quarter. Internet and a good buffet breakfast (with chef on hand) are included in the room rate. Room rates can be negotiable depending on the season, with some as low as US$15, but official prices range from US$18 for a standard room to US$60 for a family suite.
- Zephyr Hotel - just a few steps from the famous Hoan Kiem Lake, and within walking distance of the Opera House.
- Daewoo Hanoi Hotel 360 Kim Ma St, Ba Dinh District  US$170+ - The Daewoo Hotel was the first "5 star" hotel in Hanoi and has since been renovated. This hotel is located about 15-20 minutes by taxi from the center of town, which makes it a quieter if less convenient place for tourists to stay. The hotel is part of a larger apartment and business complex that includes 7 restaurants and cafes, 2 banks, and even a dance club. There is a large pool, exercise room, business center with translation services, and free broadband internet access in the rooms.
- Guoman Hotel - on Ly Thuong Kiet Street.
- Hanoi Horison Hotel - opened in 1997.
- Hanoi Hotel - near the city centre and International Trade Exhibition Fair Centre.
- Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel - adjacent to the Hanoi Opera House.
- Melia Hanoi Hotel - Ly Thuong Kiet street . USD139++ onwards-- Rooms are big, and offer great views of the city, service is also excellent. Rates include an excellent international buffet breakfast. Located within very short walking distance from Hanoi Towers and Hoa Lu prison, and is about 15 mins slow walk from the Old Quarters.
- Sheraton Hanoi Hotel - on the shore of Hanoi's largest West lake, with lush gardens, sweeping lawns and tranquil courtyards.
- Sofitel Hanoi - 15 Ngo Quyen Street (between the lake and the Opera)  US$169-390
- Sofitel Metropole Hanoi Hotel - within walking distance of the Hanoi Opera House, Hoan Kiem Lake, etc.
- Sofitel Plaza Hotel (formerly Meritus West Lake) - renowned as the most scenic hotel in Ha Noi with a zig zag facade and stepped architecture.
- Sunway Hotel - boutique style, 143 rooms
- Hanoi code: 4
- VoIP calling at Especen hotel (28 Tho Xuong street) as cheap as as local call. See VoIP rates at CallShop
There are plenty of Internet cafés all over the city. Most are used by Vietnamese teens playing online dance or battle games. Rates vary, but can be as low as 3000 dong/hour. Some of the better cafés, particularly in the Old Quarter, have computers that are Skype-capable for international phone calls. Close to Hanoi Youth Hostel there is a cybercafe that charge tourist ten times the actual cost. It is next door, and has no name. If you are in a hurry use another one.
Monks crossing the street
Like everywhere else in Vietnam, traffic in Hanoi is dominated by an incredible amount of motorbikes, all of which seem to be making a mad, desperate dash for something just out of reach — all of the time. In other words, pedestrian traffic can be overwhelming for visitors, especially in the narrow streets around the Old Quarter. When you leave the curb, look both ways, and take each step slowly and patiently while trying to make eye contact with any oncoming drivers. The key word here is slowly — don't rush. This way the drivers are aware of you, and can take you into account (along with all of the other motorbikes). It may look, and indeed is somewhat chaotic, but be patient and pay attention when you're crossing any street, large or small, and you should be fine.
Embassies & consulates
- British Embassy, Central Building, 31 Hai Ba Trung, ☎ ++ (84) (4) 9360550 ([email protected], fax: ++ (84) (4) 9360562). 08:30-12:30 & 13:30-16:30.
- Embassy of India 58-60, Tran Hung Dao Hanoi Tel. 00-84-4-253409 252310
Embassies in Hanoi with websites
Others without website
Check the link: .
If you are the adventurous type or simply bored temporarily of the city atmosphere, then consider a cruise in the northern countryside. A round trip will bring you to a lot of charming villages and through hills and valleys with stunning nature. Main roads are generally in good condition and you can easily do a couple of hundred kilometers a day. The villages and provinces are generally safe at night, and you get to see a lot of Vietnamese culture such as various tribe folks. While bus services are in fact available (albeit not always reliable), a recommended alternative is to rent a bike or car and make the trip on your own. Motorbikes in decent quality can be rented for as little as US$5 a day, and many places have suggestions for routes.
- The Perfume Pagoda is a Buddhist pilgrimage site about 60 km southwest of Hanoi. A full-day excursion involves a boat trip, hiking up a mountain, and visiting various temples and grottoes.
- Bat Trang is a village world-famous for its pottery, 9 km southeast of Hanoi. It is accessible by taking Bus 47, which originates at Long Bien. Just hop on (the bus will be clearly labelled with the number 47 and the text "Long Bien - Bat Trang"; bus fare is 3000 dong one-way as of 2008) and take it to the last stop, which is directly opposite the pottery market (haggle for lower prices, and insist on paying in Dong). Head back up the street to the factories to see artists at work.
- Cao Bang, featuring the beautiful Ban Gioc waterfall, is five hours away by bus, near the Chinese border.
- Staying overnight in a boat on the breath-taking Ha Long Bay (or in a hotel on Cat Ba Island) is the most popular side-trip from Hanoi.
- The northern village of Sapa, home to ethnic minorities, gorgeous mountain scenery, and trekking paths connecting many tiny mountain villages, is also a popular two or three day trip. It is accessible by train (to Lao Cai) followed by a minibus link to the town. The trekking paths have no signs, so a hiring a guide is well-advised.
- Tam Coc/Hoa Lu: Located in Ninh Binh province, this day trip is a combines heritage tourism and natural landscape tourism. Hoa Lu is the site of the first capital of Vietnam in the 10th century, and was home to two kings-- Dinh Bo Linh (Dinh Tien Hoang) and Le Hoan-- there are now two shrines dedicated to these two kings. About 30 mins away from Hoa Lu is Tam Coc [three grottoes]-- also known as Halong Bay on land. It features karst landforms surrounded by padi fields, and is accessed by little wooden boats. Boats are for hire at 3.5 USD/trip, which takes about one hour. This is an excellent alternative to Halong Bay for those who have short attention spans, as the boat trip takes a mere hour vis-a-vis Halong Bay boat trips, which take 5 hours - 2 days. One minor annoyance involves peddlars on boats hawking their wares, and your boat rower trying to sell you embroidery. Trip can be booked in Hanoi backpacker cafes at about 20USD.
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