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top five guide: hanoi, vietnam

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

Woman on balcony in Hanoi Vietnam 2023

Vietnam’s capital city is a perfectly balanced mix of charm and chaos. With so much to take in at any given moment - from zooming scooters to sizzling street food to distinctively quirky architecture - it can be a bit of a shock to the senses (in the best way possible).

Beyond the buzzing urban life, Hanoi is also the gateway to some of Vietnam’s most beautiful natural treasures in the north, and is an ideal introduction to the country and its culture.

Here are my top five tips for a trip to HANOI:

Old Quarter Street Sunset Hanoi Vietnam 2023

1: old quarter

The heart of Hanoi is its historic Old Quarter, where the streets overflow with life and energy. For first time visitors, this is no doubt where you should stay and explore. We loved our stay at La Siesta Hotel & Spa, a small hotel located right in the heart of the action yet on a quieter street. It had a fantastic breakfast buffet (pho for breakfast? sign me up), a vibey rooftop bar, and extremely helpful staff. You could easily spend weeks perusing the streets and uncovering quirks in the Old Quarter.

Bun Cha Nem Spring Roll Hanoi Vietnam Street Food 2023

2: street eats

The best way to experience Hanoi’s culture is undoubtedly through its FOOD. Don’t go for fancy, tourist-friendly restaurants; instead, look for simple street spots with plastic stools. Many of these "restaurants" don’t have an address on Google, serve only a few items at most, and charge just $1-2 per plate. Avoid spots with long menus or without posted prices or as they may be tourist traps (a trap we fell for on the our first night - lesson learned). A few must-try foods: bun cha (pork noodle sup), pho bo (beef noodle soup), nem (fried spring roll), and banh cuon (steamed rice rolls).

Ha Long Bay Cruise Ship Vietnam 2023

3: ha long bay cruise

No trip to Vietnam is complete without a cruise on Ha Long Bay, a natural wonder with thousands of stunning limestone islands that is located three hours east of Hanoi. One of the most memorable travel experiences of my life was taking a 2-day, 1-night cruise with Renea Cruises. Fear not, cruise-haters, because this is no Carnival-type trip. With much smaller boats, these cruises offer a more unique and intimate cultural experience that includes transportation, food, and activities in the price. Because it will be a smaller group, this is a great way to meet and bond with fellow travelers as well!

Train Street at Night Hanoi Vietnam 2023

4: train street

Train Street is a stretch of cafes located mere inches from an active train track, and one of the most unique and picture-perfect experiences in Hanoi. Though this area is touristy for sure, thankfully the prices don’t really reflect that. Check the schedule and enjoy a coffee or beer while a train not-so-slowly rides past you.

Note: to enter this area, you typically need to be escorted by an owner of a café, who will probably flag you down to take you to a seat. Don't worry, it's not a scam, it's just how the system works to ensure people aren't aimlessly wandering onto the tracks!

Egg Coffee Hanoi Vietnam Cafe Giang 2023

5: cafe culture

Hanoi has one of the strongest cafe cultures of any city in the world, and you would be a fool not to enjoy a few (dozen) Vietnamese coffees during your trip (look for "ca phe sua da"). Hanoi is particularly famous for egg coffee, a delicious, thick, creamy creation born from a milk shortage in colonial times. It reminded me a bit of affogado in Italy: more of a dessert than a morning beverage in my opinion! It can be found everywhere, but Cafe Giang is the O.G. Other great spots to linger over a coffee: The Note Coffee (covered in sticky notes!) and Bancong Cafe (lovely view of Old Quarter).

Have a great trip! Feel free to leave a comment with your own favorites. You can also find these recommendations (and more!) in map format by following me on the Out of Office app.

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