Hanoi was the most chaotic city I visited in Southeast Asia, but was certainly not the most boring. The city is a mess of honking motorbikes, local street vendors and tourists. You’ll see people running businesses out of their homes and families cooking together outside. People are constantly on the move in Hanoi, and because traffic lights don’t seem to exist, it feels like they just never stop moving. However, somehow in the midst of all the chaos, everything seems to work.
Where to Stay
Backpackers flock to the old quarters of Hanoi. So, in this area, hostels and private rooms are easy to find. You can book the day of or the day before, no problem. We stayed in 2 different hotels:
Hanoi Old Town Hotel: The room was comfortable and had a nice view of the street. Here, you can relax at the breakfast table and watch the passing action. I loved that even in the room, I felt the character of Hanoi. In the morning, breakfast in their rooftop cafe is free. View on TripAdvisor.
The Posh Hotel: This place has a great location and friendly staff. Our room did not have a window, but the room was one of the nicer ones we stayed at. Their rooftop restaurant provides free (quite good) breakfast with a great view of the area. View on TripAdvisor.
Where to Eat
Orchid restaurant and cooking school: You can find a peaceful moment at Orchid, right in the middle of the busiest part of the old quarters. The upper floors of the restaurant block out the noise from the street, so it is a great place to eat and chat. The fried rice here is some of the best I’ve ever had. Then, pair it with the papaya salad for the perfect mix. We ended up here three times because it was one of the most memorable meals of the trip!
Bahn Mi 25: The best Bahn Mi I had in Vietnam at Bahn Mi 25. They were about $0.45-$1.00 per sandwich, so you can’t really beat the price. These Bahn Mi’s were better than the ones on the street in my opinion because the bread is perfectly toasted and the veggies and meat are very fresh.
A Local’s Restaurant for Bun Cha: This one is for meat eater only! The meat, noodles and greens come separate, which you then mix together into one dish. I recommend going to street-side a family run place with the tiny plastic stools. The one I went to was right near the Hanoi backpackers hostel.
Where to Get Coffee
Café Pho Ca: Pho Ca is hidden inside of a silk shop, but once you find it, it’s a relaxing oasis away from the street. To get here, look for the silk shop at 11 Hàng Gai and walk straight in towards the back. Next, you will find yourself at a front desk where you can order drinks. You’ll feel like you’re in an urban rainforest!
Aha Café: There are several Aha Café locations, but the one at 7-9 Hàng Buồm, was a perfect place to go for morning coffee. Though the streets are loud, I found this a peaceful place to sit here and people watch.
Where to Drink
At night, you must experience the quintessential Beer Corner, where backpackers crowd to eat local dishes and drink local beer. The street is packed with people, so the restaurants compete to capture the attention of wandering tourists. Every menu is about the same, so just pick one!
Walk to Hoàn Kiếm Lake: Sit along the lake, read a book, enjoy a snack from a street vendor and take pictures.
Hanoi Sunday Night Market: If you are there on a Sunday night, head to the night market where you can buy all of the souvenirs you want, fake north face gear, elephant pants, fancy electronic lighters and so much more. If you’re not there on a Sunday, there are still many street vendors and booths on any given night.
Take a ride in a Rickshaw: The street bike buggies are a fun way to get a quick ride back at night or just to see the town. Sometimes it’s nice to enjoy the streets without worrying about getting hit by a motorbike.