A Backpackers Guide to Hanoi, Vietnam

 In Asia, Backpacking, Vietnam
Multi-tasking when crossing the road isn’t something i’m going to recommend that you do, should you find yourself in Hanoi.

Here in the capital of Vietnam… 
you will very quickly become accustomed to dodging, weaving and escaping the tracks of motorbike riders and their horns.  
Bikes loaded with items 5 times as large as the driver transporting them will pass you by, as you pass street food stands on every street corner with seats 5 times as small as you are used to at home (in Europe anyway).

Hanoi is a popular place to begin one’s Vietnamese adventure, with an International airport just half an hour drive from the centre, and transport links to airports and destinations all the way down the country.

For us, Hanoi was the final destination on our backpacking adventure navigating south to north of Vietnam and, we loved it!

Hanoi is also a popular place to book onto trips in the north of the country and a perfect place to depart from for trips to the likes of Mai Chau, Sa Pa, Halong Bay, Ba Va National Park.

{we went on trips through our hostel to both Halong Bay (Castaway Tour $169) and Mai Chau (home stay $99) – both of which i will be covering on my blog soon so stay tuned to find out more about those!}

Unfortunately, due to only having 1.5 days to explore the City and all it’s beauty, I cannot promise to turn Hanoi inside out for you and give you as thorough guide as i would like…
from the couple of days I did spend there and from the conversations i had with others, I can tell you exactly what I did do and what the general jist was of ‘must see’s’ when visiting Hanoi.

We stayed at Downtown Vietnam Backpacker Hostel (180,000VND for a bed in girls dorm) located in the Old Quarter (Hoan Kiem District), an area of the city considered to be the business hub and the most popular with tourists.

When we got in a taxi from Hanoi train station (that train journey where i nearly knocked myself out on a taxi boot) we actually asked to be dropped at Hanoi Backpackers The Original,  as it’s voted one of the best hostels in the world… But our taxi driver had other ideas and instead dropped us at the sister hostel downtown, which we actually turned out to love. 
So much so, we never felt the need to explore The Original (but i’ve heard it’s amazing!)

{i’ll show you around the hostel in my next blog post}

Other hostels to consider:

Hanoi Rocks Hostel
Hanoi Party Backpacker Hostel
Funky Jungle Hostel
Box Hotel (not a party hostel but still in Old Quarter)

Search and book your hostel here

Mollie’s Favourite Finds

During our short stay we also (would be rude to have not) popped into one of the many spas and salons lining the streets where we got a shellac manicure for 180,000VD (£5.50) and a shellac pedicure for 180,000VD. The same treatments at my salon back in the UK would have cost me £70 so thats a whopping £58 saving!

The salon we went to, and can highly recommend, was Orchid Nail and Spa which was a 5 minute walk from the Downtown Hostel in the Old Quarter.

It’s weird though, when you’re in Vietnam, as much as you know getting an alcoholic beverage for £2 is a darn good deal compared to the UK, you become accustomed to the prices and suddenly find yourself turning your nose up at £2 because you found the same yesterday, elsewhere, for £1. 

One evening, right by the hostel we found this little spot (where Hang Buom road meets Ma May) that was filled with over 100 little seats, all occupied by a mixture of locals and tourists… Why?
The beer (Bia Hoi) was 7,000VND a glass! That’s 30p for a glass of beer!!

The streets in Hoan Kiem District are filled with locals rustling up traditional dishes such as Pho, Cha ca, Banh goi and the famous vietnamese sandwich- ‘Bamy’.

You really won’t need to walk far before spotting smoothie stands and coffee shops, both of which provide the perfect opportunity for you to, quite literally, sit on the roads and observe the chaos of the city unfolding.

You can pick up some street food here in Hanoi for as little as 15,000-20,000 VND (50-60p),  but should you be seeking a buzz and a bit of atmosphere head down to Ta Hien, a small street in the Old Quarter.
Ta Hien seemed to always be buzzing with people and is a perfect place to go to dine on some traditional dishes whilst still being in the centre of the action.
The restaurants, from what i saw, served pretty similar menus. Infact, I’m pretty sure they all the restaurants work together because our dishes seemed to be flying in from all directions! One thing I did notice was a lot of DIY BBQ set ups where you’d be given a plate of raw meats and vegetables alongside a hot plate and you sit and cook it yourself to taste.


I took a liking to Pho whilst I was out in Vietnam. A very simple dish lined with a hot broth and filled with rice noodles and your choice of chicken / seafood / beef amongst an array of garnishes. 
Vietnam hosts a lot of rice, pasta and bread based dishes so I loved the lightness of this dish and often  had it for breakfast!
Many of Hanoi’s biggest attractions are located within walking distance of or a just a short ride away from the Old Quarter. On the half a day that we had to explore, we meandered down to Hoan Kiem Lake stopping off and nosying in on everything clothing, souvenirs and frozen yoghurts along the way.
Hoan Kiem Lake is a surprisingly tranquil spot sat right in the centre of the madness. Here you can walk around or enjoy a peaceful lunch or coffee overlooking Jade Island and the gorgeous pagoda it is home too in the middle of the lake.
{P.s. We went to Cafe Thûy Ta where we had some yummy Vietnamese coffees but I also heard Avalon Cafe Lounge is another fab spot that has an elevated view over the lake!}

We also managed to make it to the Women’s museum (30,000 VND) for a brief insight into the history of Women and traditions here in Vietnam. An easy to follow museum with plenty of character and a great way to understand the history of the city you are immersed in.


On a Friday – Sunday, Dong Xuan Market (indoor market) becomes an outdoor extravaganza where you can grab street food, juices a fix of Vietnamese culture and some knock off Calvin Kleins or Nikes!

The Saturday night on which we went, whether it changes by day/week I don’t know, the market was filled with clothes, shoes and phone cases. Not the authentic bamboo and coconut goodies we were after to take home but just browsing and navigating through the immense crowds was an experience within itself!

Aside from hunting down some souvenirs to take home with us, the above was all we had time for in Hanoi, but there is SO much more to do in Hanoi should you have some extended time there. 

Here are some other very popular things to do in Hanoi:

– Learn about Ho Chi Minh at the Mausoleum 
– Watch a show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
– Visit Visit Temple of Literature
– Hanoi Opera House
– Visit Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
– Participate in a Vietnamese cooking class
– Visit Hoa Lo Prison
– Street food tours (see options here)

See more and read more about Hanoi here


My Top Tips for Hanoi:

– Hostels / hotels / travel agents are good for some things but will rip you off on others. Particularly with excursions and tours, make sure you shop around and check online prices to make sure you don’t make a mistake. Refund policies are pretty much non existent, so be careful where you spend!

– If you are heading from or to the airport here in Hanoi you can get a taxi for about 300,000 VND (Split it between 4 and thats £2.50 each). To book through our hostel, they quoted 520,000 VND which is nearly double.

– Most hostels have a free beer / happy hour each evening – TAKE ADVANTAGE.

– If you want a juice or smoothie from one of the many roadside pop ups, make sure you specify ‘no sugar’. They have a weird tendency here in Vietnam so literally spoons heaps of sugar into everything!

– Take hand sanitiser with you! You never know when you’ll be without toilet roll, bum guns or toilet seats!

– Plug adaptors: UK / Euro / Flat 2 pin adaptor needed

– No matter how many £1 mojitos you have… never get on the back of someones moped to avoid taxi home costs.

– You can usually bargain street sellers down to 1/3 of their starting price!

– Wifi is available everywhere, including most restaurants and bars when you purchase a drink!


Have you guys ever been to Hanoi?

What did you get up to? Any recommendations?

Happy adventuring 🙂

Mollie xxxx

P.s. Did you catch my adventure climbing Mt.Batur in Bali for Sunrise?
Read my ‘Top 10 Things to do in Bali’ here
Read my Guide to Seminyak here


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