The essential first-timers guide to Hanoi

The essential first-timers guide to Hanoi

When it comes to budget-friendly destinations, it’s pretty hard to go past Vietnam. Not only will you find a visit to Vietnam incredibly affordable, you’ll also discover the locals are lovely, the food delicious and the sights fantastic. There are some great parts of Vietnam waiting to be explored and one of my favourites has to be Hanoi – the little big city bursting with vibrant colours, rich history and gorgeous architecture. If you’re thinking about visiting Hanoi for the first time, here’s everything you’ll need to know to have an amazing time.

Must-know tips for arriving in Hanoi

First things first, you’re going to need to check out the Visa requirements. As an Australian, I need a visa to enter Vietnam. You can arrange one in advance through the Embassy in your home country or you can sort your visa out on arrival into Hanoi. To do this, when you arrive, head to the visa application desk. You’ll need to complete an application form, provide a passport-style photo of yourself (best to have three with you just in case) and hand over your passport. Once approved, you’ll be $25US. My advice is that it’s easier to sort it out before you go, but if you do end up doing it on arrival, it’s not the end of the world.

Awesome photos from behind-the-scenes of my secret project!

One other thing, prepare for a bit of a wait. The lines at the passport control are pretty long typically and you can be standing there waiting for a while to clear customs. There are some seats in the area though, so if you’re travelling with little kids, someone older or someone unwell, they’ll probably like to take a rest while you queue up for them.

I’d also recommend prearranging a transfer from the airport to your hotel, just to make your life easier. If your hotel doesn’t have an airport shuttle service of its own, you may want to look into arranging a private transfer with a private provider. One other thing to keep in mind when visiting Hanoi, while the locals are the most lovely people, there are the occasional safety issues. Be sure to have your bag and camera securely attached to yourself as, from time-to-time, there are cases of scooter pirates buzzing past and grabbing/slashing your bag from you. Also, be familiar with the currency so you don’t accidentally hand over a 500,000 note instead of a 50,000. uh oh!

Best time to visit

My tip for the best time to visit Hanoi would be January, which is when I visited my second time. While this time of year is considered to be the cold season, I loved it! The temperatures were perfect, not hot at all but in no way cold. Lovely cool evenings mean you can sit outside at restaurants in the evening and stroll around during the day without breaking a sweat. That said, the days were a little overcast but there was still some sun busting through in the afternoons. Other great times to visit are Autumn, from September to November, and Spring, from March to April.

The essential first-timers guide to Hanoi

Where to stay: Luxe to Less

With so many different options available, it can be confusing trying to pick a spot that’s best for you. Here’s a look at two great hotel options, perfect for the budget-conscious traveller and the flash traveller.

Hanoi E Central Hotel 

If you’re conscious of budget, but don’t want to compromise on quality, I cannot recommend Hanoi E Central Hotel highly enough. I stayed here and loved it. The rooms are small but with enough space for two people to have a comfortable, enjoyable stay. The bed is spacious and comfortable, the bathroom is really lovely and clean, with a great shower. There’s a couple of english movie channels on the flat screen tv, perfect for those lazy evenings curled up in bed. The hotel itself is gorgeous, with a great little restaurant downstairs serving a hearty, delicious and compact breakfast. But the best thing about this hotel are the people who work there. Honestly, they’re the most attentive, kind, generous hotel staff I’ve encountered! They make the stay something special. In terms of location, it’s perfect! A short walk down to Hoan Kiem Lake, shopping areas and plenty of great restaurants.

Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi 

If money ain’t a thang, then the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi is just the ticket. This place is next-level stunning! It perfectly captures that French-inspired, old-world, historic charm Hanoi is so famous for. The rooms here are spacious, dramatic, elegantly fitted-out and totally luxurious. Again, it’s centrally located, showcasing its historic, elegant charm within walking distance of Hoan Kiem Lake and all the central highlights Hanoi has to offer. Set among the stunning French Quarter, it offers the perfect base for a luxurious stay.

The best things to see and do in Hanoi

There’s a wealth of things to see and do in Hanoi, here are my picks on a few of the very best.

  • Spend some time wandering the Old Quarter, don’t be afraid to stroll down laneways and see where they lead you
  • Take a visit to a local silk store and stock up on gorgeous scarves, there’s a great shop in Hoan Kiem, named Ngoc Diep, who sell top quality silk scarves at affordable prices (around $5AU or so) at their store on So 9 Ago Bao Khanh
  • Be sure to check out the stunning Temple of Literature
  • Wander the French Quarter and marvel at the gorgeous buildings lining the streets
  • Visit a Day Spa and spend a few hours unwinding with a full body massage
  • Get up super early and watch the very special ceremony put on by soldiers at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum 
  • Take a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake and snap some photos of the red bridge
  • You can also visit the road around Hoan Kiem Lake on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening when they close the road to vehicles and it becomes a bustling playground of life and activity for locals and visitors alike
  • Find yourself a cooking class and learn how to make your favourite Vietnamese treats
  • Go shopping mad and spend some time haggling with locals for bargains on shoes, clothing and more
  • Take a day trip out to the stunning Perfume Pagoda or organise a trip out to Halong Bay 
Where to eat and must-try food

So much food, so little time! There are a lot of great places to eat and awesome food to try in Hanoi, here are my tips on a few of the best.

  • Make sure you eat at least one meal at Madame Hien, it offers a great vibe for outdoor eating and the tasting menus are heavenly!
  • For rooftop dining with a great view, check out The Gourmet Corner, which sits on top of a hotel and offers great, affordable food
  • Be sure to have coffee at Cong Caphe, this place has a few cafes dotted around Hanoi and I love the dark, old-world fit out and AWESOME coffee
  • Get your hands on awesome Banh Mi at Banh Mi 25 
  • Feast on fantastic local Vietnamese food at Red Bean Restaurant 
  • If you’ve ever wanted to eat Cobra or dine on 11 different dishes in one sitting, head directly to The Hung Snake
  • Try local street food favourite, Bun Cha, at the low-key Bun Cha Ta 
  • For great food, an awesome setting and the best views of Hoan Kiem lake, grab diner or lunch at Cau Go 
  • Last, but not least, you absolutely MUST eat at least one meal at Anh Tuyet’s… if it’s good enough for Anthony Bourdain, it’s good enough for me.
What to pack

There’s absolutely no need to overpack when visiting Vietnam, in fact you’ll want to leave room in your luggage for all the things you pick up along the way. I’d recommend packing light, comfortable clothing that breathes well, especially if you’re visiting in the warmer months. If visiting in the rainy or cool seasons, pack an umbrella and maybe one light cardigan or scarf to cover your shoulders in the afternoon.

It’s important to keep in mind Vietnam is a conservative country, so while it’s not required, it’s respectful to wear clothing that observes this. I recommend light cotton dresses and skirts that aren’t too short. You should also be wary of donning low-cut tops and exposing your mid-region.

Watch the TVC’s

I filmed two television commercials for Hanoi Tourism and CNN. They’re being aired globally, broadcast to millions! I gotta tell ya, when I quit my job a few years ago I’d hoped for opportunities like this one but never really thought it was possible. I’m so thankful. I’d love to know which one of the two TVC’s is your favourite, so watch em both and lemme know what ya think. All love and credit to the amazing team at Propagandeur – Adrian, Hillian and Hugo, who filmed, edited and did all the many other things involved in creating these awesome TVC’s. A huge thank you also to Hanoi Tourism, Vietnam Tourism and CNN.


Phoebe Lee Profile Image

Phoebe Lee is a travel writer and award-winning blogger with a love for storytelling. Phoebe creates practical, fun and engaging written content designed to inspire and energise travel-lovers and dreamers. Follow her and Matt’s adventures at home and around the world, right here on Little Grey Box and through InstagramFacebook and YouTube.

2 Comments on The essential first-timers guide to Hanoi

  1. Many thanks for the recommendation. We will miss you a lot and special thanks for the first photo, I AM FAMOUS now kekekeke

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