Best of Hanoi in only 4 days

The big Asian trip has finally arrived and gave us the best of Hanoi in a very short time. My inspiration is also back, together with the tones of materials to write about. So, brace yourselves, lots of articles will follow. 

The big Asian trip has finally arrived and gave us the best of Hanoi in a very short time. My inspiration is also back, together with the tones of materials to write about. So, brace yourselves, lots of articles will follow. 

After a 3h flight from Barcelona to Istanbul, 3h layover and another 10h in the air, we finally landed in our first destination, Hanoi. For the first time, I was able to sleep almost the entire flight so I was ready to start exploring right away. And from here the adventure begins. 

It took me forever to write this post, as there are so many things to write about and I felt that they are all equally important or at least worth to be mentioned. I will try to combine a bit of everything: to do, see, eat, get around as this can be easily written in 3 different posts.

Hanoi in 4 days

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the second most populous city with around 8 million people. It’s a city full of contrast, culture, great cheap food and the famous chaotic traffic.
First, if you have the chance to book a longer trip to Northern Vietnam, please do so, as 4 days were definitely not enough!! Lots of things happened since this trip was booked, so we had to squeeze a lot in a very short time.

Here is the itinerary we followed and few practical bits of advice.

Day 1- Hanoi city

Since we landed quite late, we checked in at our hotel in the Old Quarter (the most central and touristy area of the city) and headed straight out for a stroll on the busy streets. The cultural sock hit us immediately when hundreds of scooters, cars and bikes come towards us from all the directions. I guess the only rule for the chaotic traffic is that there are no rules. Nobody will stop for you at any crossing, so you must find the courage to look both ways and walk in the madness. It might be a bit overwhelming at first, but once you realize there is no other way, you will get used. I say there is no other way as you actually have to walk on the street, given that the pedestrian paths are used either as parking spots for scooters or by the locals/restaurants to cook and eat.

We used the first day (more like half a day) just get used to the  Old Quarter (which is very walkable). We experienced the night market (open only during the weekend), the Beer street (prepare to be harassed by literally every pub to choose them) and walked a bit around the Hoan Kiem Lake (but didn’t see the turtle that returned the sword). The early night ended some local dinner (hello Pho and spring rolls!!). Jet lag kicked in, so we headed to sleep early.

General tip: embrace the chaos, blend in with the crowds and just enjoy the contrast and try some street food.

Day 2 – Hanoi city

Our strategy (mine and Georgij’s) when travelling is to book a hotel with breakfast included. This help us save time and money during our trips as we always ended up walking in vain for 30 min just to find a place to eat.

With this problem out of the way, we headed for:

  • Free walking tourstarted quite early in the morning, just to get a better understanding of the city. It lasted about 3h, in which our guide (a local student) walked us around key points of the Old Quarter (Dong Xuan market, oldest traditional house, beer street again, Ngoc Son Temple). In our point of view is the best way to start knowing the city and you pay the amount you believe it was worth. We also tried the famous Egg Coffee  with egg yolk and condensed milk which was actually way yummier than expected. You can check it out at Giang Cafe, where it was invented.
  • The train street – now mainstream, but super cool place to visit. It’s a very narrow street, with the railway in the middle and the train goes less than 2 meters from the buildings. It became so popular now that there are lots of cafes with front sitting so you can enjoy a beer and watch the train pass by right in front of you. It only goes once per hours so better check the schedule if you want to experience it. We didn’t and we arrived there just in time to see the train from behind. There’s always a next time 😅.
  • St.Joseph’s cathedral – If you are from Europe, it’s just your regular catholic cathedral in a gothic style, but it stands out in Hanoi due to the style and height. We are not really churchgoers, so we didn’t spend much time here.
  • Water Puppet Show– we absolutely loved it. It’s an old tradition, specific to this city and I believe it’s a must when in Hanoi. It’s cheap and it lasts for about 50 minutes and it’s a good laugh as well. They have lots of shows during the day, so you should manage to squeeze it in. 

Bonus things to do (we covered them in another day before we departed but can easily be done on the same day)

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – where you can see the body of the most famous leader of Vietnam (as in the actual embalmed body!!). Check the schedule as the entrance is only allowed in the morning and be prepared for lots of security and lines). Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

The Temple of Literature – it was built as a university, dedicated to Confucius in 1070, now it’s a beautiful attraction where you can witness Vietnamese architecture and stroll through the gardens, courtyards and pavilions once dedicated to the aristocrats.

Tips to get around: as I mentioned, the Old Quarter is super walkable, but to reach the Train Street and Mausoleums, get a Grab, the Asian version of Uber. We paid as little as 0,04 Euro for a 1,5km trip!! How mental is this?!

Tips on what to eat: this is a hard one. We sort of ate our way in Hanoi, all the dishes that looked appealing and sounded yummy (we weren’t always successful, but the risk is worth haha). However, we were a bit afraid to eat on the street restaurants (the table and chairs are literally on the pedestrian side), so we tried to find the regular sitters (still Vietnamese) through Foursquare or TripAdvisor. If you are looking for a quick delicious bite: Banh Minh (aka Vietnamese sandwich) is your best friend and cheapest option. We paid less than 2 Euro for 2 sandwiches.

Day 3 – day trip to Halong Bay

Another must while in Northern Vietnam is a trip to Halong Bay, a Unesco World Heritage site that is beyond amazing. There are thousands of limestone islands coming out of the blue waters, all covered with rainforest vegetation making for a scenery out of this world. We usually book day trips through GetYourGuide, but this time we reserved through the local agency directly. There are day trips, as well as 2 days/1-night trips, spending the night on a super cool boat while navigating the amazing views. Being pressed by the time, we could only choose a day trip, but it was memorable enough!

We were picked from the hotel early in the morning by the agency. After a 3h drive, we arrived at the Bay. We had some traditional lunch on the boat (mostly seafood) while heading deeper into the site. We stopped to see the Rooster stone, the Heavenly Palace cave (most beautiful cave I’ve ever seen) and enjoyed the view from the boat’s deck.

We had to choose between a kayak tour or a bamboo boat with a local and we chose the latest, just to avoid getting all wet.  The highlight of the day was the sunset over the bay that was just stunning. I guess it’s one of those once in a lifetime experience. Definitely, a must-do.

Tip when booking a day trip: We like and trust GetYourGuide, but sometimes it can be more expensive. However, we always had good experiences with them, and you can cancel the activity up to 24h in advance with a full refund. You can try to book it directly through the local operators, but the cancellation policies are stricter. Also in case something unexpected happens, I’m not sure who’s going to cover you as most of them don’t speak very good English.

Day 4 – day trip to Hoa Lu, Tom Coc and Mua Cave – aka my favourite day

We read different blogs and articles regarding Northern Vietnam, so we knew how beautiful it is. Therefore, we decided to use again GetYourGuide for another day trip to Hoa Lu. It was personally my favourite day in Vietnam as I got to see so much beautiful nature (fields, lakes, mountains) and a bit of rural Vietnam. The trip started early in the morning and we got to bike for 30 min in the Tom Coc area, took a traditional sampan boat on the Ngo Dong river, fed the Instagram madness in a lotus field and la piece de resistance, climbing the Tam Coc mountain and the huge dragon placed on the top of it. There were only 500 steps to climb, but in that heat, it was ones of the worst hikes I had, given that I’m totally out of shape. The view over the river from the top of the mountain was simply beautiful.

It’s so funny, this was my favourite day, but can’t find the words to describe it. Therefore, I will just let the pictures talk for themselves.

Conclusion

This being said, I hope you enjoyed reading about our short but amazing stay in Hanoi and Northern Vietnam. It was definitely not enough time, but we had a blast. I totally loved the city, the buzz and chaos, how affordable it was (from my point of view, coming from Europe), the amazing food and how welcoming the people were. I read and heard that the South is different so I can’t wait to experience it as well. But until I reach Ho Chi Minh City, the next stop is Kuala Lumpur.

AlexD.

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