So you have a couple of days in Hanoi and have no idea where to start! Fear not, I have devised the ultimate whistle-stop tour for Hoan Kiem, where the action is at 😉 . There are lots more places for each category, but these are my favourites:
*By the way, have you read the story behind the Hoan Kiem Lake??
1. Eat Vietnamese
Hanoi is well-known in foodie terms for two things; it’s street food and for being a coffee-lover’s paradise. Here’s my pick of both:
Pho 10: Pho is a must. It’s the Vietnamese national dish so you need to try it. The filling and hearty noodle soup with beef that’s good for breakfast, lunch or dinner. For this, I recommend Pho 10 which is well-respected and serve up a decent bowl for just 20,000 VND (most places cost 30,000 VND).
Where: 10 Ly Quoc Su, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
74 Hang Quat: Grilled fatty meat, white rice noodles, herbs, dipping broth – what can go wrong with Bun Cha? Best I’ve had was 74 Hang Quat Street. It’s in a narrow lane and easily missed, but rewarding once found. The meat is soaked in sugar sauce and served with a great fish sauce and nem (spring rolls) all for 30,000 VND.
Where: 74 Hang Quat Street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Café Pho Co: Enter from a narrow corridor and pass by a silk shop to a courtyard with bird cages and statues. Walk up lots and lots of steps and voila! You reach a balcony overlooking Hoan Kiem lake with all the hustle and bustle of Hanoi down below. A brilliant place to take in some views and enjoy a lovely fresh smoothie.
Where: 11 Hang Gai, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Café Dinh: Grab a delicious egg coffee for 17,000 VND at the hip and happening place for Vietnamese students. This place was packed when I went and the music was good. Felt very cool to be there, only bad thing was that everyone inside was smoking. (Not to be confused with Ding Tea – which is also nice)
Where: 13 Dinh Tien Hoang, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
2. Get some shoes
Take a walk on Shoe Street – Hang Dau and find good quality knock-offs that come in Western size. You can haggle the price of a pair of Nike knock-offs down from 700,000 VND to 500,000 VND – Maybe more if you’re better at haggling than me. It’s also a great place to get shoes repaired for cheap by repairers on the street – I had to get the soles fixed on two pairs and this set me back just 100,000 VND.
Where: Hang Dau Street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
3. Get a massage
Feeling stressed after all that walking? Don’t worry, Hanoi has you covered. Mido spa is decent. I got 60 minute back massage at a discounted price of 350,000 VND and fell asleep on the massage table, which is an indicator of a successful session. If you’re after a happy ending there are lots of other places where you’ll find that, but I wouldn’t know…
Where: 26 Hang Manh, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
4. Chill by the lake
Just sit on a bench and take in the views of the Hoan Kiem Lake and the Ngoc Son Temple, thinking about the legend of the Lake Of The Restored Sword…
5. Grab a drink
On the cheap: Bia Hoi corner. Sit on an authentically uncomfortable little plastic stool and revel in the glory of having a semi-decent beer for 5000 VND.
Where: 9B Ta Hien, Hoan kiem, Hanoi
Chic and sophisticated: Mojito Bar & Lounge is super chill with sexy lighting and great seating with a really nice fish pond! Brilliant cocktails – the Pho is a must have for 125,000 VND. They put herbs including cardamom and star anise in a tripod thing with lime and pour gin over it three times while it’s on fire. Thrilling to watch.
Where: 19 Nguyen Quang Bich, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
6. Go to a tailor
Tailor made clothes don’t have to come at a premium price! Take a walk on Hang Gai street and go in to all the silk shops. My mum is a much better authority than me on sewing and stitching and even she was impressed by Huong Quynh Shop, where simple pieces can be made for $10.
Where: 104 Hang Gai Street
7. Visit a department store
I know, you can do that anywhere. But being in Vietnam, you won’t see Western brands that much. If you need to top up your makeup supplies or buy a Rolex (OK wishful thinking here) then head to the Lotte Centre or the Vincom Centre. They’re the big ones with the designer and semi-normal brands like Mango and Zara.
Where: Vincom Centre (the one most central) 191 Ba Trieu, Hanoi. Lotte Centre, 54 Lieu Giai, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
8. See the water puppet show
Be a tourist and try and take in some culture at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre! The water puppet show is a great display of Vietnamese music and artistic storytelling. We got really bad seats (come in advance) and nobody tells you what the story is about in the show (and it’s all in Vietnamese) but still fascinating to watch for 100,000 VND.
Where: Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, 57B Dinh Tien Hoang, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
9. See the city lights
Head to the Observation Deck of the Lotte Tower in the special lift that looks kind of like a space craft! Tickets cost 130,000 VND, or you can head to the ‘Top of Hanoi’ restaurant (my choice) and enjoy food and drink for 100,000 -300,000 VND while watching the city below.
Where: Lotte Centre, 54 Lieu Giai, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
OK, maybe not so hard. Vietnam’s party scene can’t compare to Thailand and lots of places start packing up at 11pm. But Hair Of The Dog plays decent music and over in Tay Ho, Rastaman Pub stays open waaaay late for the after-party and you can play your own music! If you stick around Bia Hoi Corner or Ma May Street, you’ll find something.
Where: Rastaman Pub, 25 Xuan Dieu, Hanoi. Hair Of the Dog, 32 Ma May, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
So! That’s your couple of days sorted – you’re welcome. Please let me know if you’ve been to any of these places of if you have places to add – I’d love to know.