Hanoi’s original streets of the Old Quarter reveal periods of French and Chinese occupation, and offers a glimpse of the past and while defiant real-deal farmers, city folk and goateed grandfathers display Hanoians’ resilience, pride and ambition.
- Getting your Visa
You can get a pre-arranged visa on arrival online but the Hanoi airport visa officers might spend their time processing and cause you delay. It is recommended you get it done before leaving for your trip via your local embassy or travel agent.
2. Booking your flight
Don’ book too soon or too late. Most tourist jetsetters would recommend you book two to three weeks before your designated date of departure.
3. Arranging day trips
Your travel agent or hotel can easily book a day trip for you. Some suggestions are the Halong Bay, Perfume Pagoda and Sapa. If you do take the Halong Bay trip, spend the night at the boat and go kayaking or explore some caves. If you’re looking for fresh air and a chilling boat ride, go for the Perfume Pagoda. If you’re on for some adventure and trekking, go visit the mountains of Sapa, you can reach it by train or minibus. Hiring a guide is necessary for the mountains.
4. Get updated on your vaccines
Travelers whether jetsetters or backpackers are always advised to consult their doctors first before making the trip to get the latest protection against common diseases especially Hepatitis B, tetanus-diphtheria and typhoid. It is also recommended you take anti-malarials and dengue medicine if your trip includes travel in humid and hot months or any place outside major cities.
5. The weather and climate
Plan for the weather. June to August months are full of heat and humidity and mosquitos, reaching up to temps of 40C. March to May is season for rain showers and puddles. September to November is good for walks in parks and easy strolling. December to February is cold but humid.
The conversion of Vietnamese Dong to US dollar is approximately 20 000 VND to 1 USD. Cash ATMs are everywhere and some international banks like HSBC and ANZ Banks have branches here. Most ATMs have a maximum withdrawal of 1 million VND or 50 USD. If you need more, you can go to ANZ ATM near Hoan Kiem Lake, which has a limit of VND 9.9 million.
Most locals now only basic and few phrases of English and the Vietnamese Language is tonal and heavily accented so the phrase book is also a far bet. Best would be to hire a personal tour guide or communicate via body language.
Anyone who comes to Hanoi should try the chicken noodle soup or locally known as pho ga. Exotic delicacies such as cobra and dog dishes are more commonly written about but not really common in real time Vietnam, in fact most locals tend to avoid them.
Hanoi’s bia hoi are about drinking beer. The beer experience consists of sitting on a plastic chair and sipping mild beer. Best to start drinking at 5pm as they run out of beer at 8pm.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is filled with stores and stalls of fashion, souvenirs, snacks and trinkets. If you’re looking for a modern air-conditioned mall, visit the Vincom City Towers with its luxury brands, cinema and colorful gaming area.
11. Places to visit
Most popular places for tourists would be Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum/Museum, the Hanoi Hilton prison (officially called Hoa Lo Prison), Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre and “green” city tours on electric carts. What’s best about these places is that you could visit them all in one day.
Check out Long Bien Bridge and stroll around aimlessly in the night market in the Old Quarter. The night market will open 7pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
13. Scooter traffic
Hanoi people tend to use scooters mostly as a means of transportation which makes crossing the road difficult. Small roads and neglected traffic add to the problem. In crossing the street, do as locals do, cross with intent and walk slow with confidence, the scooters will avoid you.
14. Internet connection
Contrary to belief, Hanoi has good internet connection. There are also internet cafes almost anywhere and most cafes and restaurants have Wi-Fi connections.
15. Taking pictures
Hanoi is one of the most picturesque and photogenic places and most tourists would be tempted to just click away at everything in sight. Most locals especially the older generation get offended when they get their pictures taken. Always ask permission first.
Hanoi has three most reputable cab companies, with cheap and decent rides. Fare from Noi Bai airport to town would be around VND 350,000 (US$17) and a 10-minute ride in-city around VND 30,000. Call Hanoi Taxi (+84 (0)4 3853 5353), Taxi CP (+84 (0)4 3826 2626) or Mai Linh Taxi (+84 (0)4 3861 6161).
17. huttle buses
If you’re looking for a cheaper ride, take the shuttle bus. Fare from airport to Old Quarter is around VND 40,000. If ever the driver tries persuading you to change hotels, don’t believe them.
If you’re going for broke, try the bus. You’ll have to pay a fee for baggage though. Standard fee is VND 3,000.
19. Scooter taxis
Best way to experience Hanoi however is the scooter taxi. Wear a helmet, don’t carry too much stuff and negotiate price before riding. A typical 10-minute ride should cost around VND 10,000-15,000 (US$0.50-0.75).
20. Enjoy and smile
Hanoi can be overwhelming to most tourists especially those from the west. The difference between cultures and people just add to the unique flavor of adventure. If ever lost, smile and ask someone for help.