The Ultimate Guide To Hanoi

Friday, 21 September 2018

For the best part of 2 months Hanoi felt like home. In September last year we spent over a month volunteering with the charity VCV where we taught kids and adults English, before then travelling up and down the country. During our time in Hanoi, we made so many friends and had some incredible experiences which we will never forget (to read more about volunteering at VCV see our post here). Living in a flat with other volunteers from around the world as well as Vietnamese locals gave us a unique opportunity to experience Hanoi in a different way to tourists passing through. In this blog post we've compiled all of the very best things to see and do in the capital - enjoy!

The Very Best Museums in Hanoi

Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

Ms Hay, who ran VCV where we volunteered, told us this was the very best museum in Hanoi, so despite not really knowing what 'ethnology' actually meant, we went along as a group. It's really wel set out and in a great modern building. All of the information is translated into English well and there are some fun outdoor activities such as demonstrations of traditional games, puppet shows and traditional houses. The only problem with the museum is that if you're not familiar with Vietnamese history then it feels strange reading about the depths of Vietnam's minorities. We both felt like we wanted to know more about general history rather than how many different sub-groups there was within the country. (If you feel the same, then don't bother going to the Vietnam National Museum of History as it is truly awful).

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

The Mausoleum is definitely worth a visit. Ho Chi Minh was a communist Vietnamese revolutionary who was and still is looked up to with almost God-like status within the country. The mausoleum is where they keep his body today but it's more than just a dead body to look at - the site is probably the most well maintained area of Hanoi and is a big green space in centre of the city chaos which makes a nice change. You can either take a guided tour or walk at your own pace and along the route around the park you'll pass some pagodas, Ho Chi Minh's old house and the presidential palace.

Hoa Lo Prison Museum

This museum offers an insight into a fascinating part of Vietnamese history. If you're British or American then it's quite common to have only really heard about the Vietnam war in terms of America's involvement but a lot of this museum is dedicated to what the Vietnamese call the French war, exhibiting how Vietnamese revolutionaries suffered at the hands of French colonists. The prison did then go on to be used by the Vietnamese to house American POWs and was the home to John McCain for some time during the American Vietnam war which is equally interesting. The most shocking part of this museum is that it is in the old prison building itself and some of the cells have been left untouched since they were used for torture. This was probably our favourite museum in the city and is a definite recommend. The museum is on the corner of Hai Ba Trung and Hoa Lo streets and 20.000vnd (cheaper for students).

Temple of Literature

Less of a museum and more of a peaceful area to walk around, this place was the site of Vietnam's very first university and dates back to almost 1000 years ago. It is one of Hanoi's most beautiful sites and a chance to see some relatively unharmed old Vietnamese architecture.

Van Phuc Silk Village

Again, not strictly a museum, but Van Phuc Silk Village is there to explain how the locals make and sell silk garments, much like a museum would. If you're interested in textiles then I imagine you'd find this particularly fascinating but even if you're not the place makes a good day out. It's a quiet area to walk around a your own pace, out of the busyness of the city. There are opportunities to watch the silk making process in action, as well as take guided tours and buys a few things if you want to.

The Very Best Cafes in Hanoi

The Note Coffee

Meet likeminded travellers, leave notes and read stories of other travellers! The staff here are lovely and make the effort to talk to you and practise their English. If you want to try something new then I'd recommend the egg coffee (cà phê trúng), devised in the 40s due to a milk shortage. It's not going to be your new favourite drink but will certainly be much better than you'll expect.

Bus Café

Hanoi's coolest undiscovered café, the bus cafe is a bit out of town but really close to Landmark 72/Keangnam tower if you find yourself in this area. It's on the opposite side of the Landmark 72 building a couple minutes along the main road. Click here to find it on google maps!

Café Pho Co

A hidden cafe overlooking Hoàn Kiếm lake, to find this place you'll have to walk through what looks like a silk shop, then somebody's living room, up a ladder and a staircase back into what looks like a local's house before reaching a balcony area. Click here to se where it is.

Cộng Cà Phê

It's always good to know a good quality chain cafe. In Vietnam it is Cộng Cà Phê. These are dotted all around town and across the country as well. Inside you'll find communist themed retro décor and plenty of caffeine options.

The Very Best Bars in Hanoi

Lotte Tower Rooftop

The Lotte tower is the second highest in the city and therefore makes for good views. Western prices (v expensive for Hanoi) but worth going up for a drink for the view before heading elsewhere.

Beer Street (corner)

Beer street or corner can be found at Ta Hien Street and is where most nights out seem to start and finish. Cheap restaurants and bars spill out onto the road - grab a little blue stool and get talking to the locals and other tourists.

Pirate's Den

An edgy 3 story bar in the centre of the Old Quarter, the Pirates Den seemed to be a place we kept stumbling upon. Its one of rthe few places to stay open after 1am and often has really good live music.

Unicorn Bar

A cool cocktail bar also in Old Quarter, the Unicorn bar is known to make a  big effort with presentation. We tried pho cocktails here which were weirdly better than expected.

The very best markets in Hanoi

Night Market 

Taking place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening, this is the very best place to pick up super cheap clothes, tourist tat and anything in between. More so than some of the other markets, this place is set up for tourists and so pay attention to the price you're paying for things to avoid getting scammed. A lot of the stuff on sale here is actually from China rather than local factories and so be wary that the quality of the products are likely to be very low. That said, I picked up a 'North Face' pack-up raincoat for under £5 which is honestly the most waterproof thing I've ever owned.

Student Market 

One perk of living with the locals was that we could take them shopping with us to help find us the cheapest deals and the best quality. One great place to start for this is the student market as the locals know how to seek out the best prices without awful quality.

Dong Xuan Market

If you get stressed out by small crowded places then you'll want to give this market a miss. However if you're not so put off by this then definitely head down to Dong Xuan market. It's mostly indoors and is on 3 floors, each packed with what seemed like hundreds of small stores selling everything and anything. There is an area on the ground floor full of tourist stuff and some great bargains to find on the higher floors. Even if you don't want to buy anything, we'd still recommend giving this place a visit for the experience!

Hang Dau Street

More commonly known as 'shoe street' this road sells lots and lots guessed it, shoes.You'll actually find decent quality in many of the shops so don't expect to be paying rock-bottom prices. It'll still be cheap, but think around £10/15 for trainers.

Hang Gai Street

Also known as silk street, this is your place to find great quality fabrics and clothes for a fraction of the price back home. You can also take the opportunity to get some clothes tailor made to pick up the next day, although if you're heading South to Hoi An then you're best off waiting until then.

Other Things to Do in Hanoi (that you might not have thought of!)

Escape Room

There are a number of escape rooms in Hanoi which are just as cheap as everything else there. We did one as a group one day and had a great time (although sadly didn't quite escape!)They're set up for tourists and the clues are in English so if you're looking for something different to do on an afternoon then why not give it a try!


Just like escape rooms, cinemas are also really cheap in Vietnam and almost all of the films are played in English with Vietnamese subtitles. If you're like us and love going to the cinema but can never justify paying £10 on a ticket then you'll soon get into the habit of going regularly when travelling in Asia!

Landmark 72 Swimming Pool

It can get incredibly hot in Hanoi so finding a swimming pool where you can relax for the day might not be such a bad idea. We went to the one at Landmark 72 Keangnam building which was great. It's a little more expensive then most things in the city but then it's part of a fancy hotel and there aren't many pools around to choose from.

Well, that's the lot! If you've got any questions about Hanoi or travelling in general, please send us a message on Instagram or Facebook or comment below.

Go to the Football

Hanoi have a local team in Vietnam's top league, as well as a decent national team which is one of the best in Asia. We went to watch a game in the Asia Cup, Vietnam vs Cambodia (we won!!!) which was really fun, despite the torrential rain! 

Thanks for reading,

Will & Melissa


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