Hanoi is the main metropolis in the north of Vietnam, near the hills of Ba Vi National Park and close to the dramatic limestone cliffs of Ha Long Bay. While this country is communist, they have fully embraced free markets and have a vast array of shopping, restaurants, and coffee bars throughout the city. The cultural center of the area revolves around the Old Quarter, where some French influence still exists from past colonization in the 1900’s. Weekends have large open markets, food and night life for all ages. Nearby, tourists can spend plenty of time at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, Perfume Pagoda, Temple of Literature, and many museums.
Where to Stay
Throughout Vietnam, a variety of accommodation options exist for travelers on any budget. Our experiences with Airbnb brought us to a host of sprawling condo and hotel-like stays throughout the region for very reasonable prices. This is especially true for groups of people who can split the costs of the larger villas.
Foodies can enjoy Vietnamese traditional cuisine like Bahn Mi sandwiches, Pho (pronounced ‘Fa’), and fried rice dishes of many kinds. One new favorite that is specific to Hanoi is Egg Coffee, where espresso is combined with a heavily whipped egg for a frothy and delightful treat. A few places claim to have invented the drink, but rest assured that you’ll have no problem sampling several around the city to declare your personal favorite.
Hanoi transportation is affordable and reasonably easy with an extensive taxi system available along with Grab app drivers. This does add to the horrific traffic which is truly terrifying to maneuver through by foot. Having seen traffic from all around the world, we can honestly say that we’ve never been so scared as pedestrians as in Hanoi. Regardless of what the cross walk may say, keep an eye toward oncoming traffic, walk at a steady pace and say a prayer. Even though motorists see you, they probably aren’t planning to stop as they make their way around you. You can do it!
From Hanoi we took a day trip to Ninh Binh for river canoe down the Tam Coc river and bike tour of the area. Tam Coc is basically an inland version of Ha Long Bay, where towering limestone cliffs shoot up from the plain. Unfortunately, we did find any hikes to the top for pictures so all of our views are from the bottom. Also included in our tour was a water puppet show and a stop at tapestry/statue shop. There are many different excursions to choose from in the region. Although boating down the small river in Tam Coc is really cool, we enjoyed the biking part much more. On a bike, you have more flexibility to take photos and stop where you want. Most tours include a Vietnamese lunch and bottled water along the way. We booked our tour last minute and they did a fantastic job of picking us up at our hotel and guiding us throughout the day.
We felt like four days was plenty to experience the city, but history/museum buffs may want to allow more time. It was suffocatingly hot when we were there (first week of July) so keep an eye on the time of year to pack accordingly. Get ready to enjoy a friendly and unique culture in this fast paced city.